Why we argue about the codigos

This is far more information and analysis than anyone wants, but it's been on my mind a long time. So maybe it's time...

This post is in response to a forum discussion going on at Tango Connections about the criticism at the milonga, and tango codigos.

If you go to the Tango-L listserv (mailing list/forum) archives, you'll find that from the very near the beginning (of the archive list anyway) tango dancers have been arguing about the codigos, about milonga manners and floor craft etc. The archive only goes back to 1994, but the first specific post I found was November 1995 - http://pythia.uoregon.edu/~llynch/Tango-L/1995/msg00050.html. That's just one place - there are sites archived elsewhere with the same debates and they go back years.

The Social Human

So why do we constantly, heatedly, unrelentingly argue about the milonga codes? Because we are engaging in a shared, emotional experience. Defining terms and setting rules makes it feel safe to do that. Why else would we talk about sharing tango bliss, finding flow on the pista, and the sense of belonging within a community?

I'm not advocating relinquishing responsibility of one's reactions to another's emotions - only that we understand that the influence of others' emotions on us is pervasive and necessary for human beings and societies to be healthy. If spending time with a particular person leaves me feeling frustrated or unnerved or annoyed, I have to decide how to respond to that. I don't chalk it up to, "it's his fault, he makes me feel bad." But I also don't try to tell myself that it's all up to me not to feel that emotion anymore.

Our culture (in North America) advocates precisely the opposite position. So much of what we see, hear, and read reinforces that we are enclosed, independent individuals. The individual's needs often trump the community's needs for that reason. The problem is that human beings are social. To be healthy, happy people, we need each other. The influence of others gives us a reality check to our own responses.

Back to Tango 

For example, when I have a really tough dance with someone, and other followers adore him - I now have more information than, "he makes me feel bad, he must be a bad dancer." Maybe it's my embrace. Maybe it's that our bodies just don't fit each other well. It gives me a bigger picture - which is one reason not to make comments of that sort at a milonga.

Criticism at milongas is an emotionally-charged issue because when someone criticizes us, it can feel like a threat, even if it's a small threat, to the social bond we've formed with our tango community. If I'm a bad dancer, do I have to leave? Will people stop dancing with me? Of course the "offending dancer" then gets defensive and tries to justify their place within the group. There's a huge difference between setting an expectation or standard of behavior and making a personal criticism - especially in a public way.

So many people come to the milonga to share in a sense of connection and belonging - with each other, with the music, with the community. We must agree on at least a basic standard of behavior to achieve that. When someone disregards an expectation or standard of behavior, we feel a need to address it and re-establish our shared experience. We try to get everyone back "on the same page."

Because this guy can say it better than I can:

“Sharing an emotion with others may also alter the experience itself (1). For example, in the chapter, Clark and Finkel argue that the expression of emotions can either repel people from one another or promote a strong bond, all depending the nature of the initial relationship. In addition, several contributors to this volume emphasize the ways in which sharing an emotion within a collective provides the feelings with a certain social reality. Indeed shared emotion with the group may indicate a shared understanding of the world.

The Social Life of Emotions – Edited by Larissa Z Tiedens (Stanford) and Colin Wayne Leach (University of Calfironia, Santa Cruz. (Cambridge Press) ( 1.) Manstead & Fisher, 2001; Parkinson, 1995.)

In short (I guess it's too late for short), human beings are social and interdependent - and so are our emotions. So, to Trini's example on Tango Connections - if "John's making me mad" - the problem is with the interaction between us and not an isolated piece within only one of us.


Kirra said...

For me it all comes down to respect. If I don't feel the respect and regard (for whatever it is ie. myself, the group, the space, tango) if I don't feel that then my hackles rise.

I also feel that to know where we are going we need to know where we came from. History of tango, both in Argentina and in your own area are vital for us to 'all get along'.

Cheers Mari and thanks for this.

Mari said...

Kirra - Happy New Year and thank you for your response. This was one of those posts I expected to hear virtual crickets chirping. Social/emotional group dynamics isn't the sexiest of topics lol.

You're so right that respect and context are so important in understanding the codigos and the appeal of Argentine tango overall. Tango didn't grow in a test tube - it grew out of an environment and circumstances that don't exist here. We, as tango communities around the world, have to find the balance between keeping true to the intentions of the traditions while adapting to our own social environment.

I also liked very much what your wrote on Tango Corazon about the ebb and flow of group energy here: http://tangocorazon.wordpress.com/2009/12/10/tango-energy/ That's an inspiring analogy.

Sorry, there I go again. Trying to fit a book into a comment box. ;) Thank you again for your comment - abrazos!

Elizabeth Brinton said...

I have heard that milongas originated in some rough neighborhoods, and that having rules (codes) helped to keep things going dance and business-wise. I think it is still true. Milonga organizers have a responsibility to provide a peaceful and safe environment, (e.g. stepping in when people misbehave, mess up the floor, ackt like jack-asses.) Respect, once more, is the only unbreakable rule...too bad people break it all the f-ing time.

Tango Therapist said...

Even if we believe that the codicos are important (like religious rules), we sometimes stumble. I have stumbled/bumbled and experienced dancers have done the same to me. Some comments still hurt. Interesting that in order to keep dancing we have to be willing to forgive.

Mari said...

Elizabeth - totally agreed. Milonga organizers to encourage (and occasionally enforce) respect for the rules - even if they can't seem to enforce respect between dancers all the time.

I may find myself putting my money where my mouth is soon as I look into hosting my own milonga. Have to admit, I'm very nervous at the prospect.

UTT - We expect, or at least hope, to feel safe in milongas. In order for that to happen we need enforce the rules of the milonga - but also be willing to forgive mistakes.