Wisdom. For me tango is what partner dancing can be. It's what all the other dances were leading up to all along. The other dances insist I march to a certain beat. Tango insists I find the beats I want to dance to and ignore the others for a moment, letting them build in me until they force me to take the next step. In other dances I danced to the beat. In tango the melody dances me. Melody is the wisdom in music. The magic of tango is once that door is open, once I'm set free of quick-quick-slow or one-two-three or hit-the-break, my attention redirected to the melody, I can apply it to any melody, not just tangos. All my favorite waltzes, blues, nightclub two-steps, ballads, rumbas, swing tunes, anything: dance to the melody, not just the beat. Dancing was transformed. It will never be the same again. I adore synergy; detest compartmentalization. Specialization is for insects, indeed.
Traditional tango music. Part of what kept me away from tango for so many of my years as a partner dancer was how dreary the traditional music seemed. I understand the problem is at least as much in me as it is in the music. As I've persevered with tango I've learned to appreciate some of the traditional music. But it's a slow process. The music I love dancing to is rooted deep in my past, my musical background. Traditional tango music is not. I grew up deeply steeped, even trained a bit in European classical music, blues, jazz, rock and folk. My first dance music was swing. I liked it already. It's jazz and blues. My background in classical and folk (Pentangle, Fairport Convention and the people they learned from) made it easy to connect with waltzes. But I was mystified when people told me they were drawn to tango because they loved the music. You what? I'm coming around, but I would never have warmed to the music if I hadn't loved the dance so damn much. The sentimental pop music from the 1930s and 1940s I love comes from the Great American Songbook, not BsAs.
Musicality. Dancing musically means the music drives my dancing. That can only happen in the moment, without thinking or calculating. Mental activity robs dancing of its immediacy, its urgency, its passion. A lot of dancers, especially guys, think musicality means memorizing songs so you can hit the breaks and end just right. Memorizing is mental, and musicality isn't. Musicality is feeling the music and letting it move me. It's helpful to be familiar with music but if I rely on that familiarity I'm dancing to my memory, not the music. That makes my dancing flabby, makes it wooden. Tango dancers are more focused on memorizing songs than any other dancers. For many tango dancers that's all the musicality they can handle. If you don't have that they're not interested in dancing with you. But dancing from memory is not being musical, it's being memorious. It's dry and conceptual. Musical dancing is passionate and bloody. It can mix tango with other kinds of dancing. It can be sexy as hell.
Insult. Tango suffers more than any other dance from culture disease: confusing an art with the cultural milieu it grew up in. Culture has an impact on the development of an art. It influences the mood and specific practice elements. The art is the gift the culture offers the world. The art is the distillation of that culture into a pure form, an art anyone can become an artist in if they start young enough and work hard enough. You don't have to be an Argentine to become a tanguero. The vast majority of tangueros are not Argentine. Mimicking the culture itself is an insult to that culture. Pretending to be Argentine is laughable. Any real Argentine sees you as a clown, a disrespectful one at that. But if you become an artist of tango you're paying homage to Argentina's great art. Argentine tangueras and tangueros respect that. I came to partner dancing too late to ever be an artist. But I'm a musical dancer, which makes the right partners happy to dance with me.
The sweet spot. The blues is always late. That bit of pop wisdom is the secret to dancing musically. Guys who think a lot, like me, tend to dance woodenly, without passion because we lack that wisdom. Thinking gets in our way. The more familiar I am with a song the more my thinking and memory get in the way. My mind is always racing ahead. That's what minds do. I know Lil Green's Why don't you do right like the back of my hand. But if I dance to my memory I'm not dancing to the music. Dancing from memory, I can arrive at my weight shift at the exact same moment as Lil hits her note. That's not musical. To dance musically I have to wait until I hear the note so I can respond to the note. That makes me late. My reaction time is a sizable chunk of a second. If I wait to hear the note and respond musically, I'm dancing in the sweet spot. The perfect musical moment that makes my dancing part of the music. If I'm leading, I want to give the sweet spot to my partner, not claim it for myself. The calculations that would require are mind boggling. If I'm connecting with my partner with grace and generosity no calculating is required. I give her the sweet spot because that's what I want to do. It's an impulse of love, of generosity. It comes from the heart, not the head. That's what they call a good dance connection.