The Real Tango Lesson: Responding to God’s Movement



Lent brings into sharp focus God’s direct involvement with humanity through the life and particularly, the Passion of His Son. As Catholics, we are blessed with the beauty of various spiritualities, including Ignatian and Carmelite spirituality, that foster intimate encounters with Christ through the reading and incorporation of Scripture into our daily lives.

On my last silent Ignition retreat, the image of God as a loving dance choreographer, embracing and providing me with sure and gentle guidance, and tender directional correction when needed, is an image that arose and percolated through me. So, last week, on a winter February morning in north Texas as I listened to the patter of sleet on my living room window and sat mesmerized by the glow of the fireplace embers, I recalled this image and was struck by how beautifully and with what immediacy Nature and the Creative Arts can, in an instant, provide glimpses into the Divine. This prompted my recollection of the Argentine tango, a dance of improvisation that at times allows for moments of transcendence—the ’tango moment’. Why did God allow me to discover this artistic expression years ago, and what lessons might it convey today?

To think of this dance in spiritual terms might initially strike one as strange. However, when one considers God as Creator of the universe, it is not difficult to describe Him as Artist, Author and Choreographer. As St. John Paul II commented in his letter to artists:

“…the divine breath of the Creator Spirit reaches out to human genius and stirs its creative power. He touches it with a kind of inner illumination which brings together the sense of the good and the beautiful, and he awakens energies of mind and heart which enable it to conceive an idea and give it form in a work of art. It is right then to speak, even if only analogically, of “moments of grace”, because the human being is able to experience in some way the Absolute who is utterly beyond. “ (Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists 1999)

With that, allow me to humbly outline a short lesson plan.

1. Invitation

The embrace: The embrace sets the tone and the framework for the entire dance. I have experienced embraces that were weak, and I sensed apathy. I have experienced embraces that were heavy-handed, and I felt aggression and disrespect. In the great embrace, the leader invites me into a shared space that still allows for my freedom of movement. I melt into a state of meditative readiness in such an embrace and my eyes immediately close. For in it, I feel safe and protected but also edified and respected. Furthermore, I do not need to know where he is leading me, just that he is leading me.

In the Divine Embrace God invites me in countless ways to come into His presence particularly during the Mass and during Adoration. However, I must allow God to come close in order to have a deep encounter with Him, and this requires that I trust—trust that He has my best intentions in mind (which of course He does) and that in every circumstance He will take care of me (whether apparent to me now or not, and always in accordance with His will!).

In the tenderness of this embrace, His deep abiding love for me rests deep within my soul and its source is unmistakable.

2. Initiation

First, a good leader ‘marks’ the step well-meaning that he makes his intention to move clear and unambiguous and then creates the space into which I will move. Although I have the freedom to direct the character of that movement, he initiates it. Thus, it is my responsibility to receive his lead and then commit to my response. What is required of me? First, I am attentive. I give him my full attention without letting my eyes wander around the room or look over his shoulder to ‘see’ what is happening. Likewise, my gaze should always be fixed on Christ and His example of perfect love. Yet even when well initiated, I can easily become distracted by worldly responsibilities which vie for first position in my life. Refocusing and fixing my gaze firmly on Him is the key to getting quickly back in the line of dance.

Second, I am still, knees and feet collected, weight fully on one axis (centered and balanced), with custody over my body position. Likewise, with God, I must eliminate external noise as well as quiet myself interiorly to really hear His promptings. It is in this state of recollection that I begin to notice His interior movements and my own responses.

Third, I wait in a state of ready receptivity for his lead. If I anticipate the dancer’s lead (and every follower has done this at one time or another), I change the course of that part of the dance. The seasoned dancer will incorporate this into the dance without effort or criticism, but I miss the creativity that might have been. Likewise, with the Father, presumptuously anticipating His plan for me creates unnecessary tension and may stifle the graces He has in store for me. Yet, He gives me free will and makes all things work for the good.

We know that all things work for good for those who love God. (Romans 8: 28)

3. Execution

Ten years ago, I was practicing with a friend who is an exquisite dancer and choreographer in Buenos Aires, when he commented, “I feel a slight hesitation in you; it’s very subtle.” Somehow, I sensed immediately what he had noticed. I am a processor, an analyzer who ‘tests’ before reacting. I was mentally ‘processing’ each lead before genuinely ‘accepting’ it. “Lead me,” he said. I did so without hesitation-for to lead was, for me, a natural inclination; to follow required greater discipline. My friend followed well, and I learned from his example.  It was an important lesson.

In spite of knowing that our Lord is traveling at my side, it is so easy to resist His lordship in my life, to challenge Him, second-guess Him or to put Him to the test. It is a form of rebellion not unlike that of our first parents.  Yet, Christ, in His infinite mercy provides a perfect example of total submission to the Father in the carrying of His cross.

I am continually called to surrender, which requires embracing humility and abandoning the pride that drives me to seek authorship of my story, rather than trusting that God has His own plan, has written it, and is perfectly capable of executing it!

For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord. (Jeremiah 29: 11)

The Tango Moment thus occurs when, fully attentive, collected and in trust, I move with deliberate intention and in total commitment, wholly surrendering to the dance and to my partner. The result is a grace of movement and a moment of unity of breath and heartbeat, synchronized to the drumbeat of the music, and grounded in the earth below my feet—it is harmony of the ‘created’—and it should be enjoyed with poverty of spirit, that is with gratitude as a gift of the Creator.

In fully accepting God’s lead of love and surrendering to His Will, we conform to His plan for our lives, radiating His love, taking on His image, and becoming who He meant for us to become. This is the real lesson.

Lord, you have probed me, you know me:
you know when I sit and when I stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.
My travels and my rest you mark; with all my ways you are familiar.

Behind and before you encircle me
and rest your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is beyond me,
far too lofty for me to reach.

Where can I hide from your spirit?
From your presence where can I flee?
If I fly with the wings of dawn
and alight beyond the sea,

Even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand hold me fast.
Probe me, God, know my heart;
try me, know my concerns.

See if my way is crooked, then lead me in the ancient paths.

(Psalm 139: 1-3, 5-7, 9-10, 23-24: New American Bible, Oxford University Press)

Tya-Mae was introduced to Argentine tango in Philadelphia but truly learned the dance in San Francisco where she trained with some of the best tango masters in the world. Though she now dances rarely, she is grateful for every authentic tango moment she experienced in North America, Buenos Aires and Europe.

Photo Credit: Tya-Mae Julien

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3 thoughts on “The Real Tango Lesson: Responding to God’s Movement”


  2. I love this metaphor — our relatuionship with God as a tango, (“It takes two to…”) I’m also reminded that over and over the Old Testament –Exodus, 2 Samuel, Psalms — extols dance as part of worship.

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