The transformation of dancing. 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 heart and soul of music. Once that door is open and I'm set free of repeating patterns like quick-quick-slow or one-two-three or hit-the-break, focused on the melody instead, I can apply it to any melody. All my favorite waltzes, blues, ballads, rumbas, swing tunes, nightclub two-steps, 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.
A new way to connect. Human relationships fall into a few categories, defined by the roles we take with each other: friend, lover, family member, student, teacher, coworker. Tango introduced me to a new category of human relationship, the kind I have with a tango dance partner. Other partner dances may offer some of this, but tango takes it much deeper. That depth is fostered by the codigos, time-tested ways of doing things right at tango dances. The cabeceo, for instance, gives a direct shortcut to physical intimacy, setting aside the usual chitchat involved in meeting someone new. I may never have seen this person before and I may not know her name, yet after a brief negotiation with eyes and head gestures we're in each other's arms in close embrace, body to body, moving to music. We dance a full tanda together, usually three or four songs, another codigo. If all goes well that tanda is the start of a dance friendship. What's different about meeting someone this way is we get to know each other bodily first: how we move together, how we feel to each other. Close embrace dancing is a form of body sensing for two. How this dancing feels is direct guidance from Leela. We have time to form a deep dance connection or discover we can't make one before any of our shallow mental projections come into play. I used to think that only with a lover could I have the physical intimacy I long for. Tango shows me I can have rich physical intimacy and friendship with any number of partners. All that's required is we both want it, we each love to dance with the other. We love to hold each other in our arms and move together in the embrace of partner dancing. That's a sweet connection.
Traditional tango music. Part of what kept me away from tango for so many of my years as a partner dancer was how moribund 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, bloody, sexy as hell.