Tim Ferriss and the Myth of Tango Mastery

Dear tanguero,

I feel I should explain my reaction to your comments about Tim Ferriss. It touched a nerve and I didn't really explain my apparent hostility. It was certainly not meant for you.

Several people have brought Tim Ferriss to my attention over this past year. I can usually make it a month before his name pops up again. For readers who are unfamiliar with him, he's the author of "The 4 Hour Work Week". He set a Guinness record for the most consecutive tango turns and has competed with his partner, Alicia Monti, at the Tango World Championship. As a social dancer the idea of a tango competition seems absurd. I don't think I will ever understand how something like tango could be judged - or why anyone would want it to be. But I digress.

I think the most crucial detail of Ferriss's history, as I relate it to tango, is his winning Wired magazine's "Greatest Self-Promoter of All Time". If there is any concept more out of synch with social tango, I can't think of one. Self-promotion may be an admirable quality in the business world, but at the milonga, it should have no place.

For Ferriss, and many like him, tango is one more thing to master. Yet another "skill set". To start at that place, on that path, is to miss the point completely. There is no mastering tango. You may someday master yourself, and find your dance, your tango, but trying to master tango is tilting at windmills.

Tango is elusive. The moment you think you've got it in your hands, it slips away like smoke. Tango is in the imperfections. It's for all of the things we don't have words for - and for the things we wouldn't dare talk about even if we had the words. Tango finds you in your failures, not your triumphs. In tango we can dance our secrets, tell our tales, hear our stories in the music.

When we danced, I could feel your heart beat, your breath on my skin, your intention before your first step. Why would we want anyone to judge that experience? Or have it be just one more thing we know how to do?

For me, Ferriss represents everything that tango is not. If tango is anything, it is close to this:

"When you find pools of pure, sweet light, bathe in their waters, balm for your lacerations. For the whiplash scars the bandoneon is leaving on your soul. If this were the old milonga of the slums, or those popular songs about painted faces and purloined love, you could let distance sketch a smile on your lips. Cheap irony. You won't get away that easy. This music is for you. It always had you in mind, your habits, your twitches, the tiny blood vessels bursting inside you when you hide what you feel."

Tanguero, this dance could change your life if you let it. Of course it won't be pretty. It's a hard road. It's the road Ferris never took. But you can.

I encourage you to read the entire quote, from Piazzolla's Zero Hour liner notes, here.
And for another take on Ferris, visit Penelope Trunk's blog.


Stephanie said...

Excellent post, as usual.

It's actually spooky how you can read my mind but, actually, what you write is a lot more coherent and smart than what I think :D

I admire Tim Ferris greatly. He's a master, really, I've read his book and follow his blog religiously. he is one of the few people who managed to make a living (and a very nice one at that) out of thin air. Smoke and mirrors. Considering whatever I do in life is so darn hard and every little achievement is so dearly paid, I can only conclude that he's the smart one.

I saw that tango thing a few months back and got a good laugh out of it. Yes, on top of the rest, Tim Ferris does make me laugh.

However, I don't envy him. Not one bit, not for a minute. Tango fills me, spiritually and emotionally, physically and intellectually. Tango was not that generous to Mr. Ferris. I feel for him. At least, he does not know what he's missing. You and I, we know.....

Mark Word said...

Mari... I love your passion. Tango is the one dance that loses its magic the moment you are doing it for anyone other than you partner. Love is that way too. The world will always have competitions. And Argentina even hosts this stuff. When no one wants to compete there will be prizes for things like "peace" and "made people smile" and "made people dance."

Mari said...

@Stephanie - we must be sharing a brain lol! Thanks for the compliment about my writing, but your blog is outstanding, too. I get plenty of duds posted, believe me - I've got the feedback emails to prove it lol. I admire Tim Ferriss too, in some ways - you have respect what he's been able to do. But it just seems empty - like you said, smoke and mirrors. And thank you for reminding me to be a bit more compassionate toward him regarding the opportunity he has missed in tango.

@Mark, you're right of course. I can hardly wait for the day we give out prizes for "made people dance." Maybe we can start now . . .

Kirra said...

Thank you. I had read the liner note in the past but did it ever strike a cord with me today. 'Dance with the tiger.'

For some tango is like a jacket that they try on for a while, for others it is in their blood, bordello blood.


Game Cat said...

Nice post. I particularly liked:

"It's for all of the things we don't have words for ....we can dance our secrets, tell our tales, hear our stories in the music."

It all comes back to the music, and what endlessly deep music it is too. Although it is so distinctly a product of its time and place, there is so something timeless and utterly human about it. On the floor, with the right song and partner, where does life end and art begin?

Clint Steele said...

Hi Mari,

This is a topic that I have been thinking about for a while now. How do you know if you're a good dancer?

Some people need proof and competitions are the only thing that they can think of.

It is good to remind people that dance is more than competing, and that they should consider others ways of measuring progress other than competitions. Like others have said here, you need to remember your partner.

Thanks for the blog post.