I am thrilled to announce we have another guest post by Sasha Cagen, author of “Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics”, relationship and life coach, and the creator of the Quirky Heart Tango Adventure in Buenos Aires. (Learn more at the bottom of this post).
“Tango remains from its origins as a hug, an embrace, to rescue us from pain and loneliness, central pathologies of consumer society. Tango is a path that connects us with our own personal story.”
—Monica Peri and Ignacio Lavalle, Psicotango founders
What if you could work through your emotional problems by dancing tango?
Monica Peri and Ignacio Lavalle, the founders of psicotango, a unique workshop in Buenos Aires, and the authors of Psicotango: Danza Como Terapia, make a bold claim. They believe that tango is a uniquely healing dance, more healing than any other. They believe that tango could help you unravel your problems. See yourself more clearly on your own and in relationship to a partner. Connect better. To yourself and others. Even to understand your primary bond with your mother in a way that will help you in your intimate relationships as an adult.
They also see tango as a path that rescues us from loneliness, as it did for the original immigrants who created this intimate partner dance in Argentina.
Lucky for me I discovered psicotango when I was lonely. I came alone to Buenos Aires to pursue my passion for tango in fall 2012 after falling in love with tango in Cali, Colombia in 2010. I thought it would be no problem to make friends because I had made friends easily when I moved to Rio de Janeiro in 2010.
Buenos Aires is not Rio, and it’s not necessarily the friendliest city for a newcomer. I met many men dancing tango in the Buenos Aires milongas, but after dancing a tanda, we would say goodbye. Women sat with me at tables, but our attention was fixed on men’s eyes to get dances. I did not have budding friendships. I distinctly remember a month of seriously questioning my decision to move to Buenos Aires, saying to my mother on Skype, “Living without a partner is OK, but living without friends is hell.”
Feeling a raw alienation in a large city that I had not felt since transferring to Barnard College in New York City at age 20, I searched online for people who might be my people. I found an ad in the Buenos Aires Tango group on couchsurfing.org. An Estonian woman Nele posted an ad. She was looking for people to help translate a Psicotango book from Spanish to English. Psicotango! Even the combination of words fascinated me. Would there ever be a psicosalsa or a psicozumba, or was this unique to tango? Was this tango for psychos? There are a lot of “characters” in the tango scene. Nele said in her post that psicotango would be big. She seemed overly optimistic. I thought, nah, but I thought, psicotango could be big for me.
On a deep level, I knew that psicotango might hold the key to finding my community in Buenos Aires so I joined the psicotango translation team, volunteering to translate passages of the book. I’m not a psychologist, but I am a relationship and life coach, and deeply interested in how we can create better relationships with others and happiness within ourselves. I wrote a book called Quirkyalone, which is all about finding happiness within yourself as the foundation for connecting to another. From the very first moment when I saw tango danced in Colombia, I knew tango had a lot to teach me about life, relationships, and connection. Psicotango was a place where other people saw that too.
Psicotango was a kind of dream come true for me, a group of people who were interested in tango in the same way I was interested in tango, a uniquely Porteno (Buenos Aires resident) seminar, a book, and a set of ideas combining psychology, community, and tango, creating a space for people to explore what tango means to them. Buenos Aires is the only city where Freud still holds sway, and therapy is not shameful. So in this culture, psicotango was more normal than it would be in San Francisco. They meet weekly or biweekly in an elementary school, which turns into the Universidad de Tango at night. When I have brought visitors to psicotango, they are a little shocked. A Canadian woman Linda said to me afterwards, “I can’t believe there are men who choose to do this on a Thursday night.” Yes. There are men also at psicotango.
While most tango classes are about technique or figures, psicotango goes to the heart of tango: connection. (To connect with another you must connect with yourself, and this is what makes tango a deep personal quest.) my first psicotango, we each shared a moment of “ethereal connection,” whether through tango or in life. I could tell this would be a way to get out of my head and back to the thing that originally drew me to tango. I remembered that I could feel sublime connection, or even a tangasm, as a beginner, sometimes more easily than when I had been dancing for years, bothered by thoughts of dancing “perfectly.” Tango is not all about technique.
I go back to Buenos Aires every year now for some months and have formed a community that includes many psicotangueros. I am now a psicotanguera. I love having found this community of people who approach tango on a deeper level. I go back for the hug too. Psicotangueros know that the embrace is more “committed” in Buenos Aires. It is not a technical, faint thing the way it sometimes feels in the States. A whole-hearted embrace circulates energy between our hearts as we dance. By contrast, sometimes when I dance in San Francisco, I feel tired from doing “steps” and “exercise,” where more often in Buenos Aires, I feel more energy after dancing—because of the energy circulating through a more committed hug.
A true embrace heals.
I want to bring the psicotango ideas and method to a wider English audience. I interviewed the founders of psicotango Monica Peri and Ignacio Lavalle and translated the interview to share their viewpoints and mission.
SC: What is the core mission of psicotango?
M & I: The primary mission of psicotango is to show that tango is healing, more healing than any other dance in the world. We believe that tango is more healing than any other dance because of the closeness of the embrace and the game of playful improvisation.
SC: How do you bring Freud and tango together, and why?
M & I: Our perspective as psychologists is holistic. We incorporate not only the perspectives of Freud and Lacan from psychoanalysis but also others like Jung from his analytic psychology, the analyst of play Winnicott from the cognitive and the Gestalt. Each one serves us to help us find answers to our central hypothesis that the dance of tango is healing.
SC: What kinds of issues do you see people working through or resolving in psicotango seminars?
M & I: We understand that behind every difficulty there is fear. To move the body, to get started with the first steps of tango, we recognize there is fear in the psyche and in the body, in diseases of all kinds. Psicotango is intended for all those who suffer from fear.
SC: What is the best thing you have gotten out of tango?
M & I: Tango remains from its origins as a hug, an embrace, to rescue us from pain and loneliness, central pathologies of consumer society. Tango is a path that connects us with our own personal story.
SC: I have heard you say that what’s unique about tango is the closeness of the embrace, and this close embrace approximates behind held in a mother’s arms. You say that tango is a search for the return to bliss, even being in the womb. Now we search for this bliss from an adult perspective. Can you tell me more about this?
M & I: In a utopian way, we are born fused with our mothers then we must let go of this utopia. In adolescence we rebel against our mother and as adults we look in the mirror and we realize that our life of relationships is cemented by the primary link with our mothers. Psicotango gets into the crack, or primary bond with our mother, that we all have and helps us to explore it, to know it, to dance better in tango and life.
SC: What is the value of embracing our sensuality in tango?
M & I: The full contact with another with the possibilities of a game of improvisation is something that no other dance or activity has, with the exception of making love. Bonds and connection are at the center of where psychology bases its theory of health and disease, whether someone is healthy or sick. We call the milonga a “venue of sublimation.” These are “embraces of sublimation.” We go thirsty for hugs to recover our repressed libido. [Note: Defined more narrowly, “libido” refers to an individual’s urge to engage in sexual activity, defined more broadly, “libido” represents all our instinctive energies and desires.]
SC: What can a foreigner learn about tango in Buenos Aires that they would not discover elsewhere?
M & I: In Buenos Aires people of the world gather to dance tango in a committed embrace where the real body gets involved. Our folkloric and intimate rituals are part of this too: mate, asado (barbecue), tango.
Sasha Cagen created Quirky Heart Tango Adventure in Buenos Aires where you can learn in one week what she has found in a year of living in Buenos Aires, including psicotango. All tangueros look forward to their first trip to the holy land. Coming on this trip, you’ll have so much more support and insider info than if you come alone. The next Quirky Heart Tango Adventure are February 21-28 and March 14-21 in Buenos Aires. If you go, tell Sasha that you learned about it on SFLovesTango.com!