I always considered myself an open hearted person. I was kind, compassionate, sensitive and really believed in the power of love and romance. You could say I almost lived for it.
What I didn’t realize was that there was a healthy way to be in connection with love and the heart, and one that could actually close you off, not just from receiving true love from others, but also in giving it, especially to yourself.
Who knew that Tango would play a big role in teaching me how to really love myself, and how to connect to my heart center in a more balanced way.
Although I hadn’t learned about the chakras when I was first taking tango lessons, I was lucky enough to have instructors who were very in tune with the centers in our body- both physically and energetically.
I remember Nina Perez, one of my first instructors, always bringing to our attention which direction our chest was aiming while dancing. She would get us to imagine that we all had our own individual light in the center of our chest, and that we needed to make sure we were shining that light straight outward and slightly upward. Most of the time, this was also in the direction of our partner’s chest. So our “lights” would be aimed at each other.
But later, I realised that the light wasn’t just about shining outwardly for others. It was also to get us in touch with our inner light in that area, our heart center.
Every tango instructor I took lessons from had their own style of sharing what they knew of this beautiful dance. But whatever their method, they always emphasized a connection with our partner through the chest. The chest needed to be expanded and lifted to achieve this. I was surprised at how much my chest was naturally dipping downwards and easily disconnecting. I thought it was because I had poor posture or that I just wasn’t used to this new dance. But I started realizing that actually, my heart center was out of balance. And this was showing up in the way I held my body, especially in my upper torso.
The heart chakra, referred to as the Anahata in Sanscrit, is located in the center of the chest. I loved learning recently that anahata means unstruck, unhurt, unbeaten, because I believe this is how we are meant to show up in that energy center. When our heart chakra is in balance, we are able to trust in others, in ourselves, and in the universe. We are not overprotecting ourselves out of fear, or closed off with a hunched over posture. Our light does not get dimmed down. We are able to hold our chests up confidently, feeling held and supported. Instead of leading with hurt or pain, we lead with love and light towards others and especially towards ourselves.
But when we go through experiences that shut us down, cause us pain, or literally feel like our hearts have been broken, our bodies compensate for this. They either go in protection mode, where the heart chakra becomes underactive, fearful of opening up to others or our surroundings, or, as was my case, the heart chakra becomes overactive. I didn’t realize I was giving too much, and depleting myself of my own energy so I had nothing to give to myself. I also was so focused on giving that I didn’t know how to receive. Tango was going to change that for me.
The more I was tango dancing and taking classes, the more I was constantly bringing awareness to my heart center. And they say that where your attention goes, energy flows. didn’t realize that my energy was stagnant and stuck in this area. Instead of living up to the unstuck, unhurt anahata name, I was very blocked from past hurts and pains. I just didn’t know it.
But in tango classes, whether we were walking in a straight line, executing turns, crosses or embellishments, the chest and its position was made so central to the movement. Even if we were walking backwards, and ESPECIALLY if we were walking backwards, we were reminded that the intention forward and up from the chest was paramount in creating balance. This countered the downward and backward motion of the lower body. And I was amazed at how much stability and centeredness this gave me.
Even in turns – like molinetes- and ochos- and especially in the fancier boleos, or volcadas, the lifting and connection of the chest turned out to be the secret ingredient in successfully executing the movement. Otherwise, the follower would be too heavy, and the connection would be lost, or completely fall apart. The constant reminders and practise of bringing awareness to the direction that my chest was pointing, even if that direction was different to that of my hips, allowed me to maintain a strong connection with my dance partner, but also with my own center. And this made this center come more alive for me.
The lessons that really stood out to me were the ones in which we practised leading and following without the use of our hands or arms. We had them tucked away and behind our backs. This way, we HAD to use our chest, or we would end up not moving anything. It felt awkward and difficult to maintain at first. But we realized it was because we were over using our arms otherwise.
Once we did connect our hands and arms together again with our partners, there was no more pulling or pushing to force a partner into a particular position. It felt effortless, like we were really dancing as one, with our bodies, not our arms. And the dance and connection flowed so much more easily.
This also gave our arms and hands a chance to connect more organically to our partner’s back, shoulder or arm. to be more flexible in the positioning, rather than stuck or heavy.
What I started noticing was that this also helped my chest to naturally lift and feel lighter, There was less tension in my upper body. And I felt more held and free. Less stuck in my energy and movement
I learned recently that the heart chakra isn’t just about the heart. The arms, hands, diaphragm and lungs also make up the heart chakra. So the parts of my hands or arm that would connect to my partner’s back, as well as my own back, are actually very important to the balance of this chakra. This makes so much sense to me through the context of tango especially.
But again, if we are out of balance in these areas, it can show up in the way we connect, or don’t connect, in dance and in life. I was constantly being reminded by my instructors to connect my back into my lead’s arm. This way, he could feel and hold my presence, before moving to another direction. But instead, I would rush ahead trying to do it all myself rather than working as partners.
It was as if I literally didn’t trust that my partner had my back. That he wouldn’t hold me.
When in balance in our heart chakra, we trust that the universe has our backs. That we can lean into that support and trust that we will be guided instead of having to force things to happen.
I was so used to endlessly giving, that I didn’t know how to receive- support, guidance, or even give space to my lead in this beautiful dance to do his job. I didn’t realize that in not leaning into my leads, in not letting them feel my weight, I was robbing them of the opportunity to show up for me. But tango wouldn’t let me get away with this. The connection would constantly be lost if I continued this way. So I had to start practising trusting in that lead, in that arm, and my ability to lean into it and be held by it. It came slowly to me, but the more I did it, the more it became familiar and felt really good actually.
And in learning years later that the lungs are not just found at the front of our bodies but also wrap around the back, I understood more why the arm around the back was so comforting. Our lungs hold a lot of grief and sorrow. And this can make us push people away. But tango was teaching me to accept help, a hand, a supportive arm. And the more I felt it, the more I really liked it.
The music and atmosphere of tango also really supported whatever was going on in the hearts of us dancers. It ranged from solemn, somber, passionate, sensual, melancholy, and sometimes even angry sounding. Whatever it was, it was always deep. I loved how Tango, like me, was never really interested in small talk. It liked to go deep, and that gave us dancers permission to show up deeply as well, You didn’t have to pretend in tango. You could just be and feel what you were really feeling, and it would take you, embrace you, exactly the way you were.
In other areas of our lives, we are often made to feel that vulnerability and emotions and being heart centered is weak, or could be easily taken advantaged of.
But tango taught me that there is so much strength in opening up our hearts. The key is to do it in a balanced, more expansive way. Not from a place of fear or depletion. It really stems from our own relationship with ourselves first.
When we have a healthy trusting, loving relationship with ourselves, that’s when we have enough in our hearts to be able to give more fully and authentically to others. Thanks to tango, I can tap into my heart center now in a more empowered and compassionate way, never forgetting about compassion towards myself.