Aydan Dunnigan-Vickruck on how the Tango functions as a release for intimacy and passion.
Crimes of passion
Nothing prepared me for this. In fact, I had invested a good portion of my life energy trying to avoid it. In what is dubbed as a pleasure-seeking society I was certainly an anachronism, a Victorian Era throwback.
Such was the impact of childhood sexual trauma. It convinced me that the pursuit of pleasure was in fact the root of all evils. What other explanation would a young innocent give to the sexual atrocities that visited him in his formative years? I interpreted them as crimes of passion, (with age and insight I see them clearly as acts of perversion).
Hormones and religion
Preoccupied with distancing myself as far as possible for such offenses, I set out to protect and purge myself of all things sensual and pleasurable. As a young child I developed the skill of dissociation, by which I could separate my spirit and body and imagine I was somewhere else or someone else.
With the onset of puberty, I needed stronger medicine to withstand the pressure of adolescent hormones. At the acned age of sixteen, I converted to fundamentalist religion which kept me from acting out in the way adolescents do. The system was not fool-proof. Following St. Paul’s advice, who advocated marriage as an alternative to burning with lust, I did just that. And for good measure entered the ordained pastorate, started a family and settled down into a small rural parish.
All of this should have been sufficient to keep me on the straight and narrow. It worked reasonably well for several years. But at mid life, still running from myself, my past finally caught up. Passion began to seep through the cracks in my ascetic façade. My fear based strategy of repression and denial was crumbling.
The dam bursts
FInally the dam burst. I fell in love with a parishioner, also married. Before we had opportunity to run off together the Bishop orchestrated a quick and unceremonious exit from the pastorate. A divorce followed. In short order I was on the street without a career, community, family or faith.
So much for my life prescription of restraint and self-control. I was was now left alone to confront head on, the demons of sensuality, sexuality, passion, and pleasure, without the buffer of theological platitudes or church censorship. Although perhaps a little late in life, my unconscious was pushing me forward into new explorations, fuller experiences of vitality that had been locked up for virtually my entire life.
I revisited the core beliefs that formed the foundation for religion and relationships: the body is evil, pleasure and sensuality equals sex, sexuality is the interplay of power and submission, intimacy is the invitation for abuse, passion needs to be subdued.
The process of jettisoning these beliefs along with the structures that supported them, involved the deconstruction of my ego as well as my lifestyle. The process was long, convoluted and painful, but at the same time, more and more, life-engendering elements were mixed in: Playing with my children, identifying nurturing adult relationships, marrying the love of my life.
Into the confluence of these divergent streams flowed tango. Dance was one of the cardinal sins of my religious tradition; All that shaking and vibrating to a strong back beat was seen as an opportunity for the devil. Body-sensitizing would inevitably lead to sex which leads to getting into God’s bad books. (Not so sure why. Supposedly it was all “God’s idea” in the first place.)
Tango—A risky proposition
Tango confronted these issues full-on. It pressed all the buttons. More than any other dance, Tango presents one with the risky proposition of engaging in an intimate encounter in a public venue. The close, sensual embrace, coupled with continual improvisation and the distinctly different skill-set and steps of the lead and the follow, brings together on the dance floor all the relational dynamics and communication patterns that one experiences in full-life relationships.
Immersing myself in the sensuality of the dance empowered my body to resolve at a soul level the turmoil and confusion that the mind could not begin to process. I began to release the residual from childhood trauma that had been stored in my cellular memory. I began to trust my innate physicality that I had previously feared. As past phobias and inhibitions surfaced I could work through them in the safe constraints of prescribed steps and a sheltering embrace.
Through this interplay of reflection and movement, body and spirit, the moniker of victim has been displaced by that of the inspired artist who embraces the breadth of pathos and passion as part of the dance.
Photo credit: Praynito Photography/flickr