Sunday, March 21, 2010

Why I Dance The Tango

Reprinted with permission; originally published at Life At The Margin on April 12, 2009

I think the role of chance in our lives is overwhelmingly underrated by almost all people. I would prefer to live in a world where it is universally understood that random events drive reality.

I have been asked the question, "How did you get into tango?" over and over again, and I have never thought seriously about the answer. I feel that people who ask this are often looking for a clean definitive answer. Something like "My wife dragged me out to a lesson" or "I wanted to find a girlfriend and wasn't working for me." Quite a few people seem to 'know' already that the answer involves a TV show called Dancing With The Stars.

The truly honest short answer is really "I don't know." The honest long answer is convoluted and riddled with uncertainty.

A proper answer could not be given without recognition of the role of chance. I do believe there is a connection between dancing salsa and starting tango, but I don't remember why I started salsa. That is probably related to the fact that I like to move methodically and that the club scene in Seattle is wholly unsatisfying.

One might say that it makes sense that Dancer X dances tango because she is a professional dancer. The connection seems clear. Yet it is uncommon for professional dancers to be involved in tango, and a randomly selected dancer at a practica or milonga is unlikely to have any professional background or aspiration.

The inherent randomness of life, dominant though it is, would be uninteresting to someone trying to learn something about the person of whom he is asking the question. As well, the importance of the non-random aspects (choices) is significant.

I once heard a religious right fanatic explain that it is ridiculous to ascribe to chance the existence of humans as a result of a process that began with single-celled organisms. But this is a complete misstatement of evolution. There is nothing random about natural selection; this should be evident from the word 'selection' but some people ignore that. It is the creation of the group of organisms that are to be selected from that is random. Evolution has two fundamental processes: the random mutation of existing genes and a competition that naturally determines which of those mutations is best suited to the complex
world around them.

Everything about us can ultimately be ascribed to chance, but decisions made along the way serve to shape the set of possibilities that chance offers us.

Outside of conversation value, I don't think the story of how I came to tango is very interesting to me. A far more interesting question to me would be: Why do I continue to dance the tango?

Perhaps that book will someday be written.

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