Monday, January 11, 2010

The Tango-Effect in Therapy

When I started dancing tango, I had no idea about its power.  I have made progress in understanding its power because it has revolutionized my therapeutic practice working with Post Traumatic Stress patients at Fort Hood.

Tango is more than a dance.  It has the power to change a soul.  If you are reading this blog, you probably already know this to be true.

I have many examples, but I will just tell you the latest profound discovery about tango and how it has led me to new frontiers with psychotherapy.  I recently had been dreaming a lot while on vacation. I would wake up and know that I was dreaming intensely. Yet, I couldn't remember what it was that I had dreamt.  The "Tango Effect" has changed this.  I now have access to my dreams in a way I have never experienced before.  But before telling you the method of dream recovery, I must explain how tango revealed important clues that touch my soul.

About seven days ago, I started doing conscious eye movements one morning and my dreams came back without dream recovery being my goal. I was actually just physically trying out a different kind of eye movement that I had learned from the tango walk.

The therapeutic use of eye movements for trauma victims is called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy.  In EMDR the eye movement is just back and forth but I was trying the infinity sign instead of merely going side to side. In a graceful tango walk there is a figure that happens on the floor, with the hands, shoulders, chest, pelvis, knees, legs and feet that forms an eight or infinity sign. In Spanish (and tango) this is called the "ocho."  

In June of last year, I started discovering what a once-sculptor-now-tanguero (Murat Erdemsel) once briefly mentioned in a private lesson about making this very subtle "ocho" with the chest as one walks. I understood what he meant but never really FELT what he meant until months later when I was out on a long walk and I was just trying to walk with the grace of a tanguero. Walking with this ocho in my shoulders, chest and hands felt so powerful, that I woke up early for a month just to experience it, and now I practice it each day, not as a dance but for what it does to my mind and how I feel.  I have run 14 marathons and I could immediately identify that I was running more efficiently too.

After only one lesson with this sculptor-tanguero, more than a few women noticed -- even more than I -- a huge change in the way I dance.  Infinity has power.

Back in June I did not know about the other ochos (infinity signs) that were simultaneously happening during a tango walk. Each time after I found yet another ocho, I was amazed that I had never noticed it before.  It is "obvious." I am sure that others have seen these simultaneous ochos, but I have never heard anyone talk about them. I discovered that beyond the chest, the hips are doing ochos and the hands are making ochos.

Three weeks ago, I discovered that the right and left legs are forming one ocho if we collect fully and walk (as milongueros do) as if on an invisible tightrope.  Plus, each leg is making its own eight.  Walking down the street the day I left Germany two days ago, I discovered yet another ocho in each shoulder which is tracing the same ocho being made with the leg below it.  As with other times I scolded myself, "Why didn't you ever see that before!"  These ochos and infinity signs are very small, but I practice them very big when I am walking by myself. So here is the the list for a graceful tango walk:
  • The chest = infinity sign (IS)
  • The pelvis = IS
  • The hands = IS if held up as if with a partner.
  • Each entire leg (including the knee and foot) = 8 x 2 legs
  • The feet together tracing on the floor = 8
  • Shoulders tracing the same path of the corresponding leg = 8 x 2 shoulders
There are probably more, but is it not interesting that when these are all added up there are eight?  This last eight is something I just discovered as I wrote the above list.  The Babylonian creation myth is the first known 7-day creation.  Of course seven to the Babylonians was a sacred number.  The Hebrews followed and had a 7-day creation story.  The New Testament mentions the number seven more than any other number.  Other religions have given the number 9 sacred significance.  But our bodies in movement are saying:  "Eight is the way of grace."

These discoveries have had a huge impact on not just my dancing but my life.   As I said, I feel so much better when I practice this graceful walk (usually on a deserted country road).  But I think that there is something essentially human, even spiritual, about finding out how to be more in my body and graceful. 

Is the Universe trying to tell us something, but we are are just not seeing the obvious?  Is it just a coincidence that somehow the most mysterious mathematical symbol, the infinity sign, manifests itself 8 times in graceful walking?   Is it a coincidence that the practice of graceful walking has such a regenerating feeling for me when I practice it alone and in my dance?

So, paying attention to these discoveries, I have applied the best tool I have to help soldiers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  This treatment tool I have mentioned above is called Eye Movement Desensitization  and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR).  I have yet to try the infinity sign with EMDR with PTSD patients (which is usually just eye movements back and forth), but I have now found out from another therapist colleague just four days ago, that many EMDR therapists do use the infinity sign.  My colleague uses it every time she uses EMDR.

The Application of Tango-EMDR
During my vacation in Germany, I was dreaming more than usual.  But I could not remember the dreams.  Using the infinity sign for my own eye movements has in every case allowed me to  remember my dreams for the last week. So far every morning I have been able to remember parts and sometimes huge sequences of dreams.

The most interesting recovered dream allowed me to experience what it is like to love, but not respect or like, one's mother.  So many people on this planet have this experience.  In my dream I saw my mother living in a trailer, smoking a cigarette, watching some mindless TV program and I was massaging her feet as she was sick. I loved her, but I didn't like her. This version of my mother was the opposite of my real-life mother. I had very few moments when I did  not respect my mother. I liked her and loved her. There were brief moments, like any relationship, in which I was angry with her, but they were amazingly brief. Nanoseconds?  Somehow I knew that the purpose of the dream is that I would develop empathy for others. This is just as important in my professional life as in my personal life -- especially as a father.

Empathy for my children cannot give me the power to bestow the treasure that I have with my parents, whom I respect and love. I can only give this treasure through my love for my boys and being a person they can respect.  But now I have walked in the path that many children must travel -- although it has only been in a dream.  My dream recovery has re-energized me to do all I can to be physically and spiritually closer to my own children.

There are more experiences I have to tell you about the Tango-Effect in therapy.  But for now, I will close with a request:  Please start walking with grace.  Feel its power!  Perhaps St. Paul was right in a way did not even intend when he proclaimed:  "By grace you are saved."


Dzesika said...

All very interesting points! Thanks for sharing these. Definitely some stuff to think about as my car is making ochos on the morning commute! :)

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Are you teaching Tango to the PTSD patients?

Tango Therapist said...

PTSD and tango question: Not yet, but it is something I want to do. --Mark