Buenos Aires on the Horizon and Tango as Therapy

Photo courtesy of www.morguefile.com.

While I dance I can not judge, I can not hate, I can not separate myself from life. I can only be joyful and whole. This is why I dance. - Hans Bos

It seems like I keep having the same conversation over and over about my upcoming trip to Buenos Aires.

"Are you studying with [famous name]?  Or, [another famous name]?  Or, how about [this other famous name]?" 

No. No. and No, not that one either.

For three reasons.

1. I'm going to see/study with friends who have been so positive and so supportive of my dancing and blogging for the last 3+ years. They are my priority. I'm going to study with Cherie and Ruben, Alejandro Gée, Iona Italia, and one of my tango partner's teachers, Natacha Iglesias.  How much I'm able to study with them, or with others, will depend of course on scheduling, time available, and my own stamina.  There are so many more people I wish I could study with and visit - people I've talked to via my blog, friends of friends, my teachers' teachers - but there have been too many scheduling conflicts and lack of funds to get to everyone.

2. I'm spending a significant chunk of time visiting sites of Argentina's Dirty War as part of my work in Human Rights (mostly prisoners' rights, treatment and torture) causes here in the US.

3. I'm effing broke. The only reason I can afford this trip is because the flight is being paid for in airline miles - otherwise this vacation would be years away.

Numbers 1 and 2 are pretty clear I think. Surprisingly, it's number 3 I seem to have to explain a lot. It's taking just about every dime I've got to pay for the travel and lodging. I've got just enough money to take some lessons from people I've been corresponding with who are teaching tango from the perspective I'm most interested in - tango as therapy (see second half of post below.)  (Plus as many milongas as I can squeeze in.) And that's it.

I'm not buying shoes, leather goods or tango clothes - I might be able to swing a key chain souvenir or two.  I know inflation is rampant and prices are higher than ever in Argentina. While I am sympathetic to circumstances, that fact does not create any additional spending money. The situation is what it is. I simply don't want to (and couldn't even if I did want to) pay the same amount for a private lesson with [famous teacher] in his Buenos Aires apartment as I pay here in the US when he's on tour.  Everyone is absolutely entitled to make a living and I don't begrudge anyone charging fully what the market will bear. However, I'm just as entitled not to spend my money. I'm astonished to get this attitude from some people that if I were truly serious about this dance, I would find a way to study with so-and-so etc. Find a way? Unless your way involves magic money trees, I'm out of ways.

Plus, I simply can't make myself believe that it's worth it.  Maybe it's because I already have a teacher I like so very much. My maestra, Daniela Arcuri continues to develop me as a dancer far beyond my expectations. Even after all this time, when I have a lesson with her, my body feels better, my dance feels more natural and effortless, and my partners' feedback is glowing. I study with other teachers, locally and those who touring the US, and I learn a lot from them as well. But when it comes to putting the pieces together, I go back to Daniela.

I have come to a place where I know what my goals are in this dance, where I am, and where I am going as a dancer. I'm not going to Buenos Aires to prove that I'm a "serious" tango dancer - and lessons with famous tango teachers wouldn't prove that either. I am studying with people that will not only help my dance, but buoy my spirit, and nourish my soul.

The Heart of my trip: Tango as Therapy

" . . . movement is one of the great laws of life. It is the primary medium of our aliveness, the flow of energy going on in us like a river all the time, awake or asleep, twenty-four hours a day. Our movement is our behavior; there is a direct connection between what we are like and how we move."  (Whitehouse, 1969-1970, pp. 59-60).

Everyone comes to tango for different reasons, with different stories, and different needs and expectations. I can't judge anyone else's reason for dancing, and rather expect the same consideration.

Is tango a physical therapy?

Four years ago I sat in tears, when my doctor told me that if we couldn't reverse the muscle damage, I would very soon need a cane to walk. I was 36 years old and couldn't get up a flight of stairs without resting. I am now 40 years old and barely recognize my body. Even though I am still not ahead of the muscle loss, I am gaining ground. I am more toned than I have been in many, many years. Stronger, faster - and fighting. I fight to keep dancing.

Is tango emotional/psychological therapy?

I don't know that anyone can answer that for someone else. It has been for me. It has been for many people I know - here in Texas, in Buenos Aires, and all over the world. Some of the details of that have been covered in other posts, the rest of the story is no one's business but my own. I have seen incredible changes in people as a result of dancing - should I not believe my own eyes and ears?

This may shock some of my readers, a few of which have told me that any therapeutic aspect of tango is a North American/marketing invention, but the first person to tell me about tango as a physical and psychological therapy, was a porteño. He generously shared his story with me, along the stories of two of his friends who found tango to be a way to survive after truly life-shattering circumstances. He has since put me in touch with others, in Buenos Aires and elsewhere, who have similar stories. Tango has been therapeutic for them.  I can't help but want to explore this further. So with the encouragement of many friends, dancers, teachers, and health professionals (both here in the US, and in Buenos Aires) - I am pursuing knowledge in that field.

Will I come back from Buenos Aires a better dancer? Who knows? Who cares? Going there isn't about leveling up, or upping my game or whatever. I hope to come back a better human being.

"I see dance being used as communication between body and soul, to express what it too deep to find for words."  - Ruth St. Denis


Janis said...

Many come to BsAs without an agenda. That's not your situation at all. Good for you.

Tango is therapy. There is even an annual congress held this year in Rosario. http://www.congresotangoterapia.com/disertantes.html

You'll see for yourself that workshop tango is not the same as tango in the milongas.

See you in Lo de Celia.

Tangocommuter said...

Great post: I find myself agreeing 100% with everything you say, every comment on tango, every reason for your choices. It sounds as if you're well placed to have a very fulfilling trip, and wish you all the best!

I used to dance with a woman who was completing a PhD on 'el proceso' and its aftermath, and she insisted I visit ESMA when I first went to BsAs. I still feel chilled at the memory of that morning, but it gave me an insight into the lives of everyone I met in the city. In one way or another it, and places like it, is still part of everyone's experience there, and I can't imagine being there without that awareness. Best wishes for your human rights work too.

Have a wonderful trip!

Jane Prusakova said...

Great post!

Forget famous people, learn from those who dance and teach _your_ dance. And enjoy your trip.

Jane Prusakova said...
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David Phillips said...

I hope you enjoy a thoroughly wonderful trip! Your comments have helped inform me for an eventual trip to Buenos Aires. Thank you.

I didn't come to Argentine Tango for therapy. After three decades of lots of other dancing it seemed like time to satisfy my curiosity about tango. Lo, I discovered that it did act as therapy of sorts. I kept learning things about myself and others and relationships and patience, things that had never before come up in my dancing. I'm so happy to have found my way to the tango community.

tangocherie said...

Thank you, Mari, for the link. Ruben and I are looking forward to meeting you in person, especially as I feel we already know you!

Every vacation is a gamble that it will be worth the time and money we will spend on it. But in a way that's part of the fun: What's going to happen? Who will I meet? What will I learn? What will I think of the place once I'm there and will it be different than I imagined? etc.

Your trip will be short and jam-packed. I can promise you it will be fulfilling, possibly in ways you don't expect.

See you soon!

Marika said...

Janis - I didn't intend to have such a filled-up agenda, it just sort of happened. I had goals, and everything kind of fell in place with a few emails - lucky for me. I look forward to Lo de Celia for sure!

Tangocommuter - I've gotten to the point, after hours and hours of conversations with so many people, that I have to visit these sights and learn more of what happened. You're right that it colors the mannerisms and dance of several people I know who survived it. And from what I've learned so far, there's nowhere you can go in the city and not see, or hear about, the scars of those years. I'll document as much as I can while I'm there - and share it here of course. :-)

Marika said...

Jane - fantastic advice for everyone!

David - If I had known how much I would have to learn about myself, and about this culture, I would have been too intimidated to start. Thankfully, I dove in without looking too deeply first lol. I'm so glad you found your way into tango.

Marika said...

Cherie - Thank you so much for your comment - see you soon, amiga!!

Iona Italia said...

I am really honoured to be included in this list of teachers. I hope I can live up to your expectations and help you with your dance. I'm certainly looking forward very much to giving it my best shot.

Marika said...

Iona - Thank you for your comment. I have no specific expectations of anything or anyone except for learning something more than when I arrived, so no worries at all. Just having someone to practice with and get feedback from is tremendously helpful. Plus I'm ridiculously easy to amuse. :D :D

Mark said...

I know you've been looking forward to this trip for a long time, Mari. I hope it's every bit as fulfilling as it can be and you have a fantastic time.