“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?
Psicotango has helped me to understand myself just as much as talk therapy has—and it’s changed my life and made me a much more powerful woman.
Loneliness in a new city
Here’s the story of how I found psicotango. I came alone to Buenos Aires in need of connection. I came 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. Rio in fact is more immediately welcoming than Buenos Aires. In fact, when I discovered psicotango, I was a perfect student, because I was rather lonely.
I met many men dancing tango in the Buenos Aires milongas, elegant or alternative halls where we dance tango, but after dancing a tanda (four songs), 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.
Tango for psychos, or . . . ?
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.
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. 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 is uniquely Porteño (Buenos Aires). The capital of Argentina is the only city where Freud still holds sway, and therapy is common.
Psicotango is 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. 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.
I introduced a Canadian woman Linda to psicotango earlier this year on the Tango Adventure. When we left, she told me, “I can’t believe there are men who choose to do this on a Thursday night.” Later she explained why, “I was surprised at many aspects: how many men there were, that they had come there to talk about a dance, and then at the things they were saying, talking about their feelings and about things they wanted from the dance like acceptance, closeness in the embrace. These feelings struck me as representing things we all want more broadly from relationships and life. The psicotango session seemed like a soft, exploratory space that did not necessarily fit with the stereotype of tango that I had been exposed to until then: a steamy, fiery dance, with perhaps a contest of wills and some edge between partners.”
Stage tango emphasizes the battle in tango, but in fact, social tango is much more about the bliss than it is about the battle. This is the bliss we find in an embrace.
The heart of tango: sublime connection
While most tango classes are about technique or figures, psicotango goes to the heart of tango: connection, the sublime feeling you can have with another. (To connect with another you must connect with yourself, and this is what makes tango a deep personal quest.)
Psicotango also seemed like a needed contrast to regular tango classes that are all about doing it right. You don’t need to have ever danced a step of tango to take a psicotango class. In 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: connection. I remembered that you can feel sublime connection, or even a tangasm, as a beginner, sometimes more easily than when I was more experienced, bothered by thoughts of dancing “perfectly.”
A whole-hearted embrace circulates energy between our hearts as we dance. A true embrace heals. 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—and I think that is because of the energy circulating through a more committed hug.
This energizing, healing hug is also what keeps me going back to Buenos Aires to dance.
Monica Peri and Ignacio Lavalle, the founders of psicotango, and the authors of Psicotango: Danza Como Terapia, believe tango is the most healing dance in the world.
They also see tango as a path that rescues us from pain and loneliness, as it did for the original immigrants who created this intimate partner dance in Argentina.
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. The questions are mine and the answers come from Monica and Ignacio.
What is the core mission of psicotango?
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.
How do you bring Freud and tango together, and why?
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.
What kinds of issues do you see people working through or resolving in psicotango seminars?
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.
What is the best thing you have gotten out of tango?
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.
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?
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.
What is the value of embracing our sensuality in tango?
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.]
What can a foreigner learn about tango in Buenos Aires that they would not discover elsewhere? 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.
For those who understand (Argentine Spanish), enjoy this video where Rodolfo Dinzel, Monica Peri, and Ignacio explain why tango is uniquely healing among all dances, recycling energy between partners in a dance of the heart. The name of the video is “Tango: A Passion that Heals.” And for those who have never actually seen tango danced, watch this video and you will see real tangueros and psicotangueros enjoying the dance.