Psychoanalysis by Day, Argentine Tango by Night

Reflections on Intersubjectivity or "It takes Two to Tango": Workshop (March 15 2002), conducted by Dr. Susan kavaler-Adler and Ellen Sowchek.

They came from Canada, Israel, Massachusetts, Chicago, Pennsylvania, Oregon, California and New York City. They were psychoanalysts, psychoanalytic patients, psychotherapists, dancers, and Argentine tango dancers. They all gathered in the Pierre Dulaine dance studio (35 participants) to hear about the overlaps between "being in the moment" in psychoanalysis and Argentine tango. They heard Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler (psychologist-psychoanalyst-28 years of practice--and Argentine tango dancer) extemporaneously speak about the lack of anticipation for the follower in Argentine Tango being like the "lack of memory or desire" in the psychoanalyst, which is accompanied by "free floating attention", corresponding to the "free association" of the psychoanalytic patient (analysand: the "leader"). A multitude of analogies followed concerning the partnership in analysis and in tango.

Then they heard and saw Ellen Sowchek's (Argentine tango teacher, ballroom and Argentine tango dancer, hostess of Pierre Dulaine's Tuesday evening milonga TangoElegante) narrative on Argentine tango history with video taped clips of famous and infamous tango couples, with distinctions between Rudolph Valentino movie stereotypes and Argentine tango couples performing today. Ms. Sowchek challenged the workshop participants to tune into the degree of connection in videotaped tango couples, and to see whether they held up as authentic or bit the dust of contrived stereotypes contaminating the couples connection. All this interacted with what Dr. Kavaler-Adler described as "potential space," "play space," "inter-penetration," "psychic dialectic," "love-creativity dialectic," "dialogues of holding and receptivity," "true versus false self," and "disruptions through the contrived agenda." What is the spontaneous emergence of self in the moment, through the authentic self core, through the partnership, and through the music? How does spontaneity differ from impulsivity, from compulsivity, from breakdowns in dialectic due to the sealing off, dissociation, or repression of self parts?

How do disruptions in a tango coupling kill off or facilitate a potential partnership? How can self awareness within disruption allow for interpersonal dialogue that brings the psychophysical experience in dance to the verbal level so that communication can repair the coupling and possibly facilitate the partnership? This was the focus of Dr. Kavaler-Adler's "psychic visualization" experience in the workshop, which she led as the participants closed their eyes and focused on their breathing, their bodies and the thoughts tripping or plodding through their minds and on the people appearing within their internal worlds that they wished to communicate with. Does the person respond or not when they speak to them? Can they share their internal visions with the group? Thus, another dialogue in the group began.

The dialogues in the workshop evolved as Dr. Kavaler-Adler referred back to her own personal experience with "free association in movement" in her early 1970s dance therapy training with Blanche Evan, one of the pioneers in the beginning field of dance therapy. Following earlier experience in modern dance, and simultaneous with getting a Ph.D. in clinical psychology (prior to her training as a psychoanalyst and her founding of a psychoanalytic training institute: The Object Relations Institute for Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis) Dr. Kavaler-Adler had experienced what it was like to dance from one's own unique, in the moment, self expression. She conveyed to the audience that it followed naturally to later fall in love with the Argentine Tango, and it also followed naturally to later fall in love with psychoanalysis, where she "listened with a third ear," (Theodore Reik) and turned her unconscious like a "receptive organ" to the unconscious of the patient (Sigmund Freud), as she as a follower in tango turned her intuitive body receptors to the body gestures of the leader. But coming out of her office, where she sat still listening to those who sat up or lay on the couch to convey the often dark terrors and struggles of a rich internal life, to the excitement and thrill of body concentration and release in Argentine Tango, did not totally shield her from the pain that could haunt those living deeply in the tango world. She felt the hurt too, when a connection didn't happen, and she was dropped by a potential partner. She also struggled with the ups and downs of an ongoing tango partnership with her husband. Sharing some of this allowed others in the workshop to begin to talk about their frustrations and longings within the tango world, and to share their own insights and philosophies of this unique culture. One participant from Canada spoke of how important the "pauses" were both within the dance, and within the intervals before and after, and claimed that New Yorkers were more in a rush to actually dance than those in Canada, which she felt could forestall the sustained intensities of the tango, disrupting the pauses and foreclosing that which Dr. Kavaler-Adler was referring to as "potential space."

Ellen Sowchek shared fabulous pictorial images in drawings, sheet music, photographs and videos, of Argentine tango back to its inception among immigrants in the Buenos Aires' brothels. She showed the accompanying fashion of the dance as it emerged from 1913 into the post-Victorian world and eventually burst forth into modern life. Then, after a dinner break, from which all returned, Ellen taught a lesson in Argentine Tango for all participants.

The final part of the day came in the early evening, when both Susan and Ellen performed some Argentine Tango for the workshop group. Susan danced with both Helmut Salas and her husband, Saul Adler. Ellen performed two numbers with Helmut Salas. Both Susan (and her husband) and Ellen have studied with Helmut Salas at DanceSport. Susan also studies intensively with Ronan Khayat at DanceSport.

For those interested in related reading, Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler is also the author of several books on the creative process, including The Compulsion to Create: Women Writers and Their Demon Lovers (Routledge, 1993, OtherPress, 2000), The Creative Mystique: From Red Shoes Frenzy to Love and Creativity (Routledge, 1996) and Mourning, Spirituality, and Psychic Change (Routledge, in press).