Are there mistakes in Tango?



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Dialog perspectives

“There are no mistakes in Tango darling!” Al Pacino says in the famous scene of “The Scent of the Woman”. It certainly is a good catchphrase if you want to relax and convince a not experienced dancer to dance with you… but really… have you ever questioned if there are mistakes in Tango?

As we say very often and I write in every other post here, Tango is like a dialog. A dialog has at least two different perspectives one can look at it. The first is the linguistic perspective. In this, every language is bound by rules that we must obey to communicate. In this sense, when you speak with another person, you must use the correct words, cases, tenses, etc. in order to communicate as best as possible what you want.

The second perspective is the higher level of the actual ideas and thoughts that are communicated. In this layer, our ideas and thoughts are formed based on experiences, biases, beliefs, etc. They might be different but you can’t say they are wrong. Maybe they don’t fit in a specific context… but they might fit in another. So what is considered wrong now, might have been correct in another place and time and vice versa. Therefore, in this layer, there are no hard rules that can tell us what is a mistake.

Tango dialogs and their perspectives

So if you think of Tango as a dialog, then the answer to the question, of whether there are mistakes in Tango, depends on your perspective. If you look at the purely linguistic perspective when the leader for example proposes to move forward and the follower goes in a different direction this is a mistake. If you look at it from the ideas and thoughts perspective however things can be totally different.

In a good dialog… a fruitful one… there are no good and bad ideas… there are no right and wrong opinions. Good conversationalists know to listen well, understand, and then formulate and express their opinions. Moreover, they are open to getting their opinions changed. So they constantly listen, think, judge, and decide what is the best of the opinions according to their background. They can also accept that the best opinion for them might not be the same for others. In the end… if you have a discussion you can either agree or agree to disagree. In both cases what is right and wrong is just subjective.

The same happens in Tango. We constantly take decisions… form opinions and express them. Then the partner either agrees or disagrees. Of course, some can agree partially… some can agree and express another angle of the idea… or also disagree mildly… strongly… etc. So let’s say I decide to go to my right and express it. Let’s say my partner disagrees and stays put. I then have to think… it might be that I wasn’t clear in my expression, maybe I did a mistake in my basic grammar, so I know that I need to try being clearer next time… or it might be that she indeed wanted to stay there. In this case, I have to decide… how should I change my opinions from then on? What can I do to accommodate her opinion and express mine? So… in short… I need to adjust!

The secret of good social dancers

This is a key element of many experienced dancers. They don’t pay attention to the linguistic level. Or to be exact… they pay attention to it… but when mistakes happen on this level they look at them purely as different opinions. So they quickly know how to adjust themselves and accommodate, include, and incorporate these different opinions in their dance. They respect their partner regardless of their experience and take into account their possible linguistic mistakes as opinions making them feel comfortable.

Tonight’s Goodnight Tango

So this is why Al Pacino’s phrase actually makes sense. It is a matter of perspective. Once you change it, you realize how different can your and your partner’s experience become. By the way, have you ever tried to have a conversation with a person who corrects every little grammar or syntax mistake you make?… how did you feel?… that’s a subject for another post.

Tonight’s Goodnight Tango is also about mistakes… but in love. Similar to Tango it tells us that there are no mistakes in love!


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