Contagious harmony


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Missing it

“I miss the harmony. Looking at the people dancing, I miss the harmony. It’s like I see people fighting.” She told me in the after-marathon milonga casually discussing her experience. I asked for more explanation but she couldn’t really give me an example to understand what she meant. Sometimes it takes time to understand something. Two years later… A different dancer at the after-marathon party of the same marathon told me the exact same phrase. “There is no harmony. It feels like people are fighting.”. That was strange. Kind of like a deja vu but with totally different people!

In between those two years, I had visited a few more events. Towards the end of the events I often remembered myself sitting out for a Tanda and with a big smile on my face looking at the floor. I was looking at it and I was feeling at peace like I was looking at a beautiful sunset. When I heard the same phrase this year I looked back on these memories, compared with the missing harmony one and realized what those dancers meant and I think I found a way to explain it.

The opposite experiences

I recently had a trip to Paris and visited the Louvre museum. In one of the rooms Mona Lisa of DaVinci stands in the middle of the room and a long queue of people stands in front of it waiting for a few moments right in front of the painting to get a picture of it. It is obviously one of the artefacts of the museum that attracts a lot of attention.

Right opposite of Mona Lisa, stands another painting.  A huge one that very few people stand in line to check out. But most of the people who pay attention to it, don’t just stand and watch it for a few moments. They are mesmerized and somehow stand for longer. It’s the “Wedding Feast at Cana” by Veronese. To be honest, I didn’t have the time to wait in line to see Mona Lisa. I just got a glimpse of it from the side. Even if there was no queue and the room was empty I would look at Mona Lisa for a few minutes but then stare at the Wedding Feast at Cana even for hours.

If I had an eye-tracking device on me, I bet you could see that my eyes were changing focus between the whole picture and different elements on it. I would look at the overall picture and then focus on something specific and then back to the general picture and to some other detail and another detail and so forth. You probably had the same experience with paintings like these. Full of different elements that coexist harmoniously with each other. Beautiful details which could even stand alone as pieces of art, that mesmerize you and you just don’t want to take your eyes off them.

On the other hand, paintings where a single element is attracting your attention could indeed be beautiful, but I think it’s very easy to lose that attention too. There is definitely something in them but it’s mainly a single element that stands out. Try to remember what is in the background of Mona Lisa… can you? Is this what stands out in the painting? Obviously not. Nobody pays attention to the background. Everyone focuses on her enigmatic look and smile. In those paintings, your eyes would focus on the limited parts of it that would attract attention. You would see them… Analyse them and then… Gradually lose interest and leave.

Mobs and Rondas

Milongas are much like a painting. They can become either Wedding Feasts of Cana or Mona Lisa. Who is responsible for that? Us. Yes. When you participate in a milonga the way you act (not dance) determines if the total image will be one of harmony or fight. It is a matter of mob psychology and power dynamics. Let me explain.

In Thessaloniki, a few weeks ago there was an incident which showcases what I mean. A group of about 200 persons started mocking and harassing a couple of trans persons. Now, I am certain that some of the people in this mob acted this way just because of the size of the group. Maybe a couple of them started the teasing and then it progressed as more and more joined the mob. You probably have found yourself in situations where you act differently from what you would normally do if you were not part of a group. A very common example is when you watch a football match alone or with friends or in the stadium. A person’s behaviour is different and sometimes even totally the opposite of their normal ones. It’s an instinctive reaction to our surroundings because we always want to fit in to survive. Being alone in the Stone Age possibly meant death. So we never like to be outcasts and we follow the mob.

The dancers in a milonga act more or less like a mob. The overall image of the milonga is built based on the attitude of the dancers. Now, the biggest influence on the image comes from the advanced or professional dancers. They kind of “dictate” the general atmosphere. That is because they are more prominent than others in the community and therefore have more power. But why does power play a role?

Fight or flight

In real life, a person who has more muscles has more physical power. If such a person, approaches you with tense muscles, an angry face and a quick pace it exudes intimidation. You can have two kinds of reactions. Fight or flight. Either you will mirror their stance to show you are not intimidated or you will back down and try to avoid conflict.

How does this translate in the milonga? If the advanced dancers want to attract attention they will try to use more space, do larger moves maybe also do more frequent complex moves than usual etc. Trying to take more space is classic behaviour that goes with intimidation. So the image they project is one of power and intimidation. If the dancers around who feel the pressure react in a similar way and try to stand their ground, you immediately turn the area into a fighting zone. This zone can easily expand if the next couples around also mirror the same behaviour. In the end, the whole ronda starts looking like a fighting arena. Of course, there will be people who will back down and shrink but they will be lost in the larger “fighting” crowd.

On the other hand, when advanced dancers don’t want to attract attention but collaborate for the overall beauty of the milonga, they will use their power differently. In the real-life scenario if the bodybuilder approaches you with a smile, relaxed muscles and slow pace you are more likely to not consider them a threat. In the milonga, this translates into modulating your behaviour by not taking much space, being aware of the dancers around you, being respectful, trying to get permission when entering the ronda, etc. Couples next to such dancers will not have a reason to fight for something. They will also stay relaxed and friendly. This again automatically transfers to the whole ronda.

After all, there is a reason why we say “fight for attention” and “offer collaboration”. The first one is an act of taking and the other is an act of giving. Powerful dancers know how to use their power to offer the rest of the participants an enjoyable experience or fight to attract attention. It is in their hands. Really powerful dancers don’t try to take… but give. Because they know that the return from giving is much better than the return from simply taking.

This is how those events can look so different between them. It’s the attitude of the powerful dancers which is contagious and spreads all over the place that makes the difference. If they choose to fight… It will be an arena… If they choose to offer… It will be a “Wedding Feast at Cana” painting.

My taste

Given my description of the two famous paintings in the beginning you can understand which kind of milongas and events I prefer. I am not a person who will ask for a fight. I will try to compromise, negotiate and even leave rather than get in a fight for nothing. When I go to an event I want to leave with the pleasure that harmony leaves into you. Not with emotional, psychological and even physical bruises.

Having said that, I understand that there are people who like the other type of events. It’s totally ok… But it’s not my thing. Don’t expect me to get into the arena with you anymore. Been there… Done that… And won’t do it again.

Tonight’s Goodnight Tango

Tonight’s Goodnight Tango comes from the orchestra that comes to my mind when I hear the word harmony. It’s none other than Carlos DiSarli. His sound and especially the amazing signature tuttis in his arrangements, create a unique sound of harmony between all the different elements of the orchestra much like the roundas and paintings I could stare at for hours. It’s called “Champagne Tango” and I think it fits perfectly with a glass of champagne and a nice harmonic picture of a ronda.

So how about you? Have you ever identified this contrast between fighting and harmonious events? Which ones do you prefer? Do you think there are other factors that contribute to the general image of the event or milonga? What are they?

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