The biggest barrier to Tango!


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Good physical condition

The 3rd of December is the International Day for people with disabilities. A few days before that I had posted an article about technique and the obsession that sometimes we have with technique that takes away our focus from the real pleasure of the dance which is the communication of emotions. In one of the groups, I received a comment that you cannot do something without technique, and that you need to spend time and energy and you need to be in “good physical condition” to dance. The phrase “good physical condition” triggered my curiosity even more. What did they mean? I asked but my question was received as an attack and the conversation stopped abruptly by getting a response that I don’t know what it is like to be in a wheelchair.

I agree. I don’t know what it is like to be in a wheelchair. I have however discussed so many hours with blind persons during my PhD and with nurses in nursing homes during my later career steps and if there is one thing that I took out of it, this is that we are all potentially disabled. It all depends on the context. For example, when I drive, I am blind to my phone. I have the same needs as a blind person using a phone. When I use a baby stroller I have the same needs as a person in a wheelchair when moving in the streets or within a building. It all depends on the context. It all depends on the environment and the specific conditions that create the limitations or not. If there is a ramp in the building I enter and spacious aisles no matter if I have a baby stroller or if I am in a wheelchair, I don’t have any limitations to move. This is in a nutshell what is called the social model of disability. In essence… there is nothing a person cannot do given the right contextual or environmental conditions.

Dancing with a disability

It was an after-marathon party and she was looking for a partner to dance. I had seen her on the dancefloor but never noticed anything strange. She didn’t seem to be quite advanced. Usually, I like dancing with people I don’t know because I think this is part of the tango magic. When I see someone interested in dancing with me… I will try it. So when I saw her looking at me I thought… let’s go. I approach… we enter the dancefloor and she tells me that she cannot embrace me on the close side because she is missing her hand! It was only then that I realised that her left hand was a wooden prosthetic one!

We started dancing. We occasionally make mistakes, but as always I keep my cool and act as if nothing happens. I actually don’t really care much. I know it’s not the perfect tanda… but it is the best we can do and we both try our best to communicate given the limitation of the missing hand. In the end, we both left the floor happy that we shared those ten minutes. From then on the thought never left my mind. What are the limits of dancing? Is there a limitation that can actually exclude someone from dancing Tango? Given that you can somehow move in space… can you dance Tango?

The biggest barrier!

Given the explanation of the social model of disability, I would say that there is no limit. No. If someone wants to dance tango or any other dance for that matter, as long as they can move in space and want it… they can find a way to do it. (Thanks to David Phillips for the resource) We can find a way to create the appropriate environment and lift the barriers. But do you know what is the most difficult barrier to move away? Us! Yes… Ourselves! In tango, your partner is part of the context. They are part of the environment. The most important part of it. If they know how to overcome the challenges they can become your ramp in the building, they can be the braille keypad on the elevator etc. If not, nothing changes.

What does this mean? Should we start learning how we can dance with people with all kinds of disabilities? How can we adjust and help them overcome the barriers? No… That is in some cases difficult. That is why such persons will probably enjoy the dance under specific conditions and mostly with a select number of people who know better how to overcome the challenges effectively. But still, they can dance!

However, there is a lesson to be learnt here. Every single one of us had, had or will have some sort of “disability” at some point. It may be a slight injury, a health problem that kept us inactive for some time, ageing, our new shoes that hurt us etc. How would you like the rest of the environment to be in your local milongas when you visit them in your “disabled” condition? Would you prefer people that act as your ramps, as your braille keypads, as your inclusive assistive technology that helps you overcome the barriers or would you prefer them becoming even more barriers for you? Of course, you would prefer the first choice. Now think about how you act towards those people today. How do you see a beginner who cannot pivot well? How do you see an older dancer who cannot perform complex moves? How do you see an outsider in the community who struggles with social anxiety? etc. If you are still considering dancing with them no matter their limitations… Good for you! If not… Well… See you on the other side!

Tonight’s Goodnight Tango

Since I heard the story of Charlemos, tonight’s Goodnight Tango, I cannot forget it. A blind person is meeting a girl and she gives him her phone. He calls only to realize that she gave him another number. After chatting with the random girl who answers on the other end of the line, when she proposes to meet, he declines because he is blind. There are so many more things to unpack in this story but I will continue in another post.

So how about you? Have you ever felt being limited in a milonga? Did the participants help to increase the barriers of your limitation or to alleviate them? How do you react towards people who have an obvious limitation in their dance? Do you neglect them? Do you consider dancing with them?

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3 responses to “The biggest barrier to Tango!”

  1. davidtangotribe Avatar

    Beautiful, simply beautiful.

    1. Christos Kouroupetroglou Avatar

      Thank you (once again) very much!

  2. […] In my last post, I wrote about the story of Charlemos. What I find really striking in this story is how the man being blind refuses to meet the girl on the other side of the line with the excuse of being blind. To me, this end seems like he thinks of himself as unworthy of meeting a potential partner not to mention being loved by someone. Remember that we talk about a song written decades ago when disability was probably a taboo. Many people in the past considered people with disabilities as people of lesser value. […]

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