In the midst of movement and chaos keep the stillness inside you.
Why exchange roles? There may be many responses to this question. Perhaps because dancing socially, after all takes place in a social context and today’s world is increasingly becoming a place where gender role and boundaries have become fluid. Yet, ironically fluidity is part of the beauty of dance. Through tango we connect to ourselves and to our dance partner and fluidity is part of the alchemy of refined dancing.
But didn’t tango start with men dancing both roles and exchanging? However, as the dance gentrified and moved from streets and among the workers, and found its way in the salons favored by the rich, the role exchange was lost. It was the golden age of tango; which solidified men’s leading female following- mirroring social ideal of masculinity and femininity of the early part of the 20th century. High society and its taste has known to transform or rather rigidified other dances as well, from what I have heard from belly dancers in Cairo, belly dancing once common among the peasant-the Bedouins (from which the music genre originates) was about rejoicing femininity-women dancing with and for each. Yet, once it up scaled the dance become a form of entertainment for the king, the rich men of local and European colonial elite.
A simple Google search of tango shows reminds us that there are hardly any popular tango shows with reversed roles, men lead, women follow and in many cities some dance places carry an atmosphere of homophobia. But wait a minute, why role exchange has become such a foreign concept to tango and why indeed one should reintroduce role exchange. Perhaps one good reason is as we learn to tango where “traditional” tango salon rules(women follow men lead) we mold ourselves into a cast no longer mirroring the society. Breaking “traditional” tango rules can become breaking a habit so common to us today-forgetting our bodies. It is perhaps one of the ways that we can be reminded of how mind and body can work together as a catalyst for mind body connection.
Allyson Manta as one of the pioneers of tango teaching in Montreal has based part of her dancing pedagogy on role exchange. I was introduced to her class last year and since then have participated in her after Sunday afternoons practica at Air de Tango. Interestingly, my motivation has been to challenge my brain and to bring my mind closer to my body as Allyson encourages us to push ourselves to where the familiar is no longer familiar and one has to pay attention and be present.
Her class for me has become where my mind has to work to learn and to realize how the body does not necessarily follow-Oh the good old mind your body. But one needs it if one wants to build dance technique. Indeed it is important to understand that the two have to work together in learning. Her class has become a highly meditative space (being in the present moment), solving a complex puzzle of how to do things in a different way, and at the same time become humble, since what you thought you knew well is reversed creating total chaos. Though in the end on learns to laugh at one’s mistake. While we have to use our body to move differently, we benefit from building mind body connection. This is interesting since as members of today’s society leading a physically sedated life, we may often be on autopilot navigating through our days. Allyson enjoys this class precisely for the type of dance pedagogy she uses to build mind body connection.
She typically starts her classes with some basic lead and follow and slowly builds toward making the familiar unfamiliar and that is where learning takes place in not just tango but in reintroducing our mind and body to work together.
For me being reminded of the value of presence as one becomes entangled with one’s physical movement brings a great sense of rootedness and it is through minding my body, a sense of stillness emanates peace and joy.
Montreal-based Scholar and Writer