|Many dancers say they enter a meditative state when they tango.|
I know more about meditation than I once did, and I'm not so sure this dance can be considered actual meditation, but I do believe it shares many of the same qualities and benefits.
•Meditation has been proven time and time again, study after study, to reduce stress and anxiety. Physical activity, dance in particular and tango even more specifically are also well-documented stress and anxiety reducers. (I even once gave a presentation to a group of educators on tango for stress reduction.)
•Meditation improves concentration. The practice of mindfulness meditation begins with concentration exercises, which may lead eventually to a meditative state. In the practice of yoga, there are eight limbs, or steps. The physical poses (asanas) are third, while concentration (sixth) comes before meditation (seventh). Tango, too, is an exercise in focus and concentration. We have many tools – music, movement and a partner – at our disposal to help us. Many meditation techniques also use tools: a voice to guide us, a sound (such as a chant) or our own breath to help us focus.
•Meditation has been shown to increase happiness, ultimately improving practitioners' self-image and outlook on life. If you dance tango, I don't need to tell you that it, too, can bring new joy to your life. The socialization aspect, the enjoyment of the music and the sense of accomplishment as we improve our skills are all proven mood-boosters.
•Both meditation and tango increase self-awareness. I wrote a whole blog post on the subject of tango and body awareness a couple of years ago. Developing an awareness of our bodies in turn develops our overall self-awareness.
•On a psycho-emotional level, meditation and tango have much in common. Being a good tango dancer and attentive partner involves some letting go of the ego, which is an important concept in meditation. Tango dancers also need to be able to let go of the plan – another concept present in the process of meditation (and another topic I have touched on in my blog). And have you ever taken a tango class in which the teachers didn't mention the need to be present? In the moment, in your body, for your partner. Meditation, too, is an exercise in presence.
Anecdotally, people who compare tango to meditation all say the same thing: It allows us to let go of our thoughts, worries and stresses and to live completely in the moment. This is one of the things that drew me to dance and to Argentine tango. I have an overly busy brain – the kind that loves to wake me up at 3 a.m. or to distract me from the task at hand – and tango is one of the only activities that is pretty much guaranteed to still my mind and make me fully, truly present. Meditation attracts me for the same reasons, though the work there is more challenging without the music, movement and human contact to help.
I cannot write about meditation and tango without encompassing yoga. Yoga is not a synonym for meditation – you can do the physical part of yoga without practicing meditation and you can practice meditation without yoga. But in my personal experience as a yoga practitioner (and now a teacher), the two are inseparable. Real yoga is much more than downward dog and sun salutations, and meditation is an integral part of it. If we add the benefits of the yoga poses to those of the meditative process, the similarities with tango only multiply. Both yoga and tango require and improve our posture, alignment, strength, mobility, balance and cardiovascular health. In yoga, the physical poses come before meditation because if we are not able to be well aligned and well positioned we will be uncomfortable and have difficulty meditating. In tango, if we are not well aligned and well positioned we will have difficulty dancing because we and our partners will be uncomfortable.
My partner once said to me "what yoga is to fitness tango is to dance," meaning yoga and tango both require an awareness of body and self that is not as present, or at least not often taught, in many other forms of exercise or social dance.
Even the advice I read about learning meditation resembles that which I give my students:
- Consistent practice matters more than long practice. Better a few short sessions a week than just one long one.
- If your mind wanders, that's OK and maybe even a good thing. In meditation we want to notice what is happening in our minds and redirect our thoughts back to the focus of our practice. If your mind wanders, it doesn't mean you are not meditating. And if your mind wanders while you're dancing, it means you're not overthinking and you're dancing what you feel, using your instinct rather than your conscious mind.
- Avoid striving for perfection. Even long-time practitioners find meditation challenging. And even professional maestros find tango challenging. Both are life-long, life-enhancing practices that are about reaping the benefits of the journey rather than trying to reach a final destination.
Of course, tango is a social activity, which is probably the biggest difference with meditation, a pretty solitary pursuit. However, meditation is centred around the connection to oneself, and, as mentioned above, we also have to connect to ourselves if we want to improve our dancing.
In tango you are using tools – music and movement – that help channel your concentration and distract you from your busy mind and the outside world. My yoga teacher might argue that this is not true meditation, because distractions are, well, distracting us from the process. However, tango is certainly a type of concentration exercise, and, again, concentration is a step on the path to meditation.
A couple of years ago I went on a meditation retreat and along with the many hours of silent, seated meditation we practiced what is called walking meditation, where we would walk through the woods in silence, trying to be present and fully focused on our movements, surroundings and sensations. Sounds a lot like tango, doesn't it? Minus the music and partner, of course.
So I guess tango, while not meditation, could be said to be meditative. In any case, it benefits us in a lot of the same ways.
While researching this topic I read an interesting article by McGill's Patricia McKinley on the many benefits of Argentine tango.
I also came across a book (which I have not read) called Tango Zen : Walking Dance Meditation.