Home & + | Search
Featured Categories: Special Focus | Performance Reviews | Previews | DanceSpots | Arts and Education | Press Releases
Join ExploreDance.com's email list | Mission Statement | Copyright notice | The Store | Calendar | User survey | Advertise
Click here to take the ExploreDance.com user survey.
Your anonymous feedback will help us continue to bring you coverage of more dance.
ExploreDance.com (Magazine)
Other Search Options
Susan Kavaler-adler
Health Corner
Argentine Tangos
Pierre Dulaine Dance Center
United States
New York City
New York
New York, NY


by Susan Kavaler-adler
February 2, 2003
Pierre Dulaine Dance Center
25 West 31st Street, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10001
(212) 244-8400


February 2, 2003

Also see www.kavaleradler.com.

"It takes Two to Tango": March 15 2002, conducted by

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).


October 19, 2002: "It Takes Two…"

The second Psychoanalysis and Argentine Tango workshop was very actively involved with the dance of Argentine Tango itself and with the etiquette of tango dancers in the Argentine Tango atmosphere, touching on important gender issues and gender feelings. As in the first workshop, the psychological seminar, conducted by Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler, preceded the historical and videotape seminar conducted by Ellen Sowcheck. The participants in this workshop played a very active role in creating dialogues and discussion. Consequently, a group interaction blossomed. The latter part of the day included an Argentine Tango lesson conducted by Ellen and dance demonstrations by Susan (Dr. Kavaler-Adler) and Helmet Salas, Susan and her husband Saul, and by Ellen and Helmet (two dances). The lesson focused on each participant exchanging roles of leader and follower to appreciate the subjective experience of each partner in the dance. The intersubjective experience of the dance created a third subject (or character), the dance itself, within the "potential space" and "play space" existing between the leader and follower.

Susan's lecture/discussion focused extensively on the concept of surrender and on how a mutual surrender was required by both partners in Argentine Tango just as it is required (in different ways) for both partners in the psychoanalytic couple (Analyst and Analysand or patient). Susan spoke about the confusion that people often have between the idea of surrender and the idea of submission. She articulated critical differences between surrender and submission, particularly in terms of the retaining and owning of one's power in surrender (being the agent and having one's own axis) in contrast to giving up one's power to the other in submission. The term surrender was explained in its psychological sense which is distinctly different than how it's used in the military field. Susan explained how yielding and letting go of control in surrender is a high level capacity in psychological development. She spoke of cases of well known women artists and writers who she has written about in The Compulsion to Create and The Creative Mystique to illustrate two different levels of development in relation to the ability to surrender. Trauma within the first three years of life can disrupt self development and create profound forms of defensive controls. The repetition of such trauma is compulsively enacted in the life of women artists as a "demon lover complex." This is a syndrome characterized by an attempt to transcend the self in a state of surrender, which dramatically fails. This results in submission by women to male possession as the woman is forced to give up her power rather than yield to it. In the literature and artistic work of women with the "demon lover complex," sadomasochism results, instead of surrender and sensual and erotic modes of merger. Possession is followed by abuse and abandonment by the male "other" onto whom the woman has projected all her own power. The repetition of early trauma as repeated symbolically in literature creates incessant themes of possession and death. When the desired surrender to an all powerful muse results in submission to a demon lover the alter ego characters of the women artists and writers all die both psychically and physically (the voice of the woman poet being extinguished, as in the work of Emily Bronte). Emily Bronte speaks of the hoped for moment of creative ecstacy, imagined by the woman poet as she cried "My outer sense is gone, My inner essence feels." Then her fantasy masculine god muse turns into the negative side of the father image. This negative father image is pyschically imposed on the inner child self. It is imposed onto the internal helpless two year old psyche with primal mother loss, evocatively creating the psychic projection of a demon lover figure. Possessed by the projected demon lover, the female poet's voice is extinguished and her poetic character meets her death in the image of a tombstone (see The Compulsion to Create, 1993, 2000). Her inner being is annihilated. In her novel, Wuthering Heights (see Kavaler-Adler, 1993, 2000, The Compulsion to Create) Emily Bronte has her male character, Healthcliff, extinguish the life of his female "love" (Catherine), when he is compelled to possess her. The sheer force of his controlling manic erotic intensity knocks her out of consciousness and then out of her body, and further, out of life.

How well we know that in Argentine Tango the woman can never surrender to the soul of the dance and its music unless she can surrender to herself. To allow this, the leader, usually male, must clearly direct her and support her in the frame of the embrace (similar to the analytic frame surrounding the analyst and patient). If instead, the leader controls the woman she can only submit or rebel, and can never surrender. One of the workshop participants spoke of how in the 1980s, when Argentine Tango was first taught in New York, the teachers were performers involved in "Tango Fantasia," rather than teachers and practitioners of social tango. The male workshop participant got up to demonstrate to the group how a teacher from that time had a woman in a class down on the floor, commanding, "You don't move! I will drive you!" He totally abrogated the woman's own sense of self agency, demeaning and defacing the visage of Argentine Tango as it is known to us today.

The topic of surrender versus submission opened up many other topics related to the Singles Scene in the Tango world and the partnerships within couples in the Tango world. Susan spoke of her experiences both in dance partnership with her husband and dancing on her own, with other partners. One ballroom couple in the workshop group spoke of a repeated dispute between each of them concerning where the husband should put his hand. When Susan initiated a psychic visualization in which everyone closed their eyes, breathed deeply, and imagined a dance in which they attempted to repair a disruption in the partnership as it occurred in the dance, often bringing the experience to the verbal level of communication, the husband in the ballroom couple spoke of having a conversation with his wife in his visualization that was better than any he had had in reality. In his visualization he spoke about how he felt when she corrected him during the dance, by moving his hand into the position she wanted him to have his hand in.

A woman in the group spoke of being in mourning during the visualization for her deceased husband. She cried during the visualization and was able to tell the group that she had imagined dancing with her husband again, with whom she had "done every dance except tango." This woman, a hypnotherapist, said that although her marriage with her husband had much friction in it, sometimes being volatile and leading to psychic separations, she and her husband seemed in perfect harmony when dancing. In her visualization, she imagined dancing with her husband again, and she wept for the lost mutual surrender into harmony, saying she couldn't imagine there being a disruption in the partnership while they were dancing.

Since this workshop member had spoken of her "in the moment" mourning experience within the workshop group, Susan spoke of how intimately connected the capacity to surrender was to the capacity to mourn. She spoke of her monthly therapeutic mourning group in which individuals can mourn with the support of the group and of how she has written books and articles on how the ability to mourn allows for love and creativity to unfold anew throughout a life time. She spoke of how Charlotte Bronte could mourn, in contrast to her sister Emily, since her critical losses took place after the age of five, rather than during the first three years of her life (her mother dying when she was five and her sister only two and a half). Charlotte Bronte had the psychic development to mourn within her creative work, as she demonstrated in her last novel, Villette, where her alter ego character, Lucy Snowe, grieves the losses related to unrequited love. Through the mourning process Lucy Snowe (Charlotte Bronte) is able to renew herself and proceed with her psychic development. Then she can surrender to a man's love and have him surrender to her, with the result that both characters transform and evolve. Charlotte Bronte's characters stand in sharp contrast to Emily Bronte's characters who are psychically arrested and who kill each other off. In real life, as well as in her fiction, Charlotte Bronte mourned and surrendered. It was only after she wrote her last novel, Villette, (after her more famous novel Jane Eyre) that Charlotte Bronte was able to yield to a man's marriage proposal and was able to enjoy the intimacy-in the moment surrender-of marriage.

And what about the biographical story of Suzanne Farrell and George Ballanchine as it stands in contrast to the story of the sculptress, Camille Claudel and the sculpture Rodin, written about by Susan in The Creative Mystique: From Red Shoes Frenzy to Love and Creativity? Suzanne Farrell never demonized Ballanchine despite his rather demonic behavior towards her. She was able to separate through a psychic mourning process, even when he demanded she marry him, even when he blacklisted her all over America when she married someone else, and even when she was forced by him to leave his New York City Ballet company. Suzanne Farrell separated, found a job as a prima ballerina in Europe and was later able to return to Ballanchine.. Farrell continually sustained a positive image of Ballanchine in her mind. She never submitted to his power, and she never projected an image of an early bad mother onto him. She kept him as a muse and never turned him into a demon lover.

By contrast, the female sculptress, Camille Claudel, projected all her rage onto Rodin when she and he broke up a long term affair. She never dealt with the cold and narcissistic mother who had emotionally abandoned her from her earliest years. Instead she projected the hate towards her mother onto Rodin, turning him into a demon lover in her mind, assigning blame for emotional abandonment onto him, and thus projecting the image of her mother. She, unlike Suzanne Farrell, could not mourn, because the loss of a mother had occurred so early. Consequently, she could not separate from Rodin, nor could she retain a positive image of him. In hating him rather than her mother who had rejected her from birth, she never let herself consciously know that it was her mother who was responsible for her being incarcerated in an insane asylum for the last thirty years of her life. Her mother had the power to release her and always refused. Camille blamed Auguste Rodin and ended her days in psychic as well as social isolation, the consequence of not being able to mourn her early mother loss, preventing her from transforming through the grieving process into someone who could create and sustain interpersonal connections, which involves the capacity to understand the separate perspective of another person. Suzanne surrendered and Camille submitted. Suzanne continued to dance psychically, even when retired from the stage due to a hip operation, as she taught students to dance and to dance Ballanchine ballets. Camille Claudel withdrew from sculpture as she withdrew from Rodin. She refused to continue her art, even when offered to do so in the Asylum. She submitted to an empty incarcerated life, and submitted to psychic denial, never wanting to know the truth about her mother. She submitted and opposed, but never surrendered to her art, to herself, or to a man again!

Another workshop participant's psychic visualization was about one sublime Argentine Tango with a mysterious partner in Argentina. She said that she has never experienced the sublime ecstasy of surrender that she experienced at that time since.

Yet, when this Argentine male partner asked to see her after the dance she could only think of getting enough sleep to attend her workshop the next day, and she further evaded him by failing to go where she had told him she would go the next day. The whole workshop group (21 people) sighed as this lady exposed her story, when she was prompted to return to her Argentinean experience within Susan's guided psychic visualization. The lady then wondered and pondered her own behavior. Why would she not go out of the bounds of the dance of tango when she was single and might have had a romantic experience with her male acquaintance? This report intermingled in the workshop dialogues with discussions of the Argentine Tango world allowing for intimacy without involvement, and the Singles Scene built around this ethic. The positive and negative sides of this equation were commented on by various workshop group members, mainly women.

The whole topic of women asking men to dance Argentine Tango in America, as opposed to in Argentina, was also addressed. Participants commented on how it felt in terms of the woman being married or not. Susan spoke of being glad to be in America where she felt free to ask many men, some male friends, some strangers, to dance, as well as dancing with her husband. Ellen spoke of needing to be respectful when in Argentina of the Argentinean traditions, which differed from American traditions in relation to gender politics. She spoke of the "coda" that allowed a man to tell from a woman looking at him or not whether she would accept an invitation to dance. Ellen also spoke of how men "lost face" in Argentina and had to literally leave the milonga if they asked any woman to dance who refused the offer.

Ellen's views were enlarged in her part of the workshop, where she expounded on the origins and traditions of Argentine Tango, bringing us back to the poor male working immigrants who gathered in brothels to escape isolation and to seek female company, beyond the actual sexual format. As she spoke of the evolution of Argentine Tango in this environment the rituals of male and female stereotyped roles in Argentina today became more understandable. Ellen also showed how Tango was used to advertise clothing, and even hair pins, in 1913, the 1920s and 1930s. When she followed this with vivid video clips of modern day Argentine dance couples, the workshop group was able to take an active part in looking at what appeared to them as genuine connection within the actual dance between the male and female partners, (including sons and mothers, and fathers and daughters), as opposed to stereotyped or stylized interactions (as she showed in movie clips of Rudolf Valentino, despite the passion expressed). The workshop participants voted on the degrees of connection in each couple. Ellen was intrigued to find that the votes were on par with those of the last workshop, much agreement being seen in what was considered connection: sensual, playful, and or romantic.

So in a workshop that began with analogies between the "in the moment" experience of psychoanalysis and Argentine Tango we arrived at a place where one female workshop group member could say that "When men learned the steps of tango they often lost the ability to connect that they had in the beginning of doing tango." Learning steps that create an agenda in the man's mind can interfere with him surrendering to connection with himself, with the music, and with his partner in Argentine Tango. Similarly in Psychoanalysis, the analyst, like the female follower, needs to surrender all agendas, allowing free floating attention that opens the analyst's unconscious mind to being a receptive organ for the unconscious of the analysand (patient), as first spoken about by Sigmund Freud. The female follower in tango needs to relinquish anticipation of the leader's next moves, similar to the analyst surrendering "memory and desire" (British theorist, Winnifred Bion), when listening to and responding to the analysand (patient). The analyst allows all theory to be in the back of his/her mind as she surrenders to the moment and to tuning into where the patient is within that moment. The patient, like the male Argentine Tango leader, must be in the moment of the dance, allowing free associations to flow from the internal and unconscious life, not inhibiting himself with the defense of conscious controlled thinking through agendas. When this cannot happen resistances must become conscious and be addressed so as to open the avenues to true self spontaneity in the moment. The analyst, like the male tango leader listening to the music, listens to the music of the patient's internal life through associations, as well as through emotional and body feelings. As the male tango leader senses which foot his partner is on, the analyst senses which part of the person in her consulting room is speaking at any one moment, whether speaking on the symbolic level of words or on the protosymbolic level of body language and feeling state expression. Neither partner, leader nor follower in tango, nor analyst or patient in analysis or psychoanalytic psychotherapy, can allow the dance of the process or the process of the dance to proceed without relinquishing conscious control and surrendering to the inner life of the creative moment. To be too conscious of the steps or the technique is to impede the process. The analyst and the tango partners "listen with the third ear" (Theodore Reik) and have states of "reverie" (Bion and Thomas Ogden). The analytic patient listens with a third ear as well as he or she learns to go beyond awareness of his/her manifest communications to those of the latent unconscious and preconscious levels. This is how we can "be in the moment" as the workshop participants were in these two special and successful workshops on Psychoanalysis and Argentine Tango.

Vidoetapes of the workshop are available by calling Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler at (212) 674-5425. Those who wish to purchase her books, or who want information on her mourning therapy group or her writing and creative process group, as well as those who want information on individual therapy, can also contact Susan Kavaler-Adler for information.

Dr. Kavaler-Adler is in private practice in New York City, and has both uptown and downtown offices. She is also the Executive Director of the Object Relations Institute for Psychotheapy and Psychoanalysis, which trains psychotherapists and psychoanalysts. She has a new book coming out this spring through Routledge, entitled: Mourning, Spirituality and Psychic Change.

Ellen Sowchek, M.S., M.A., is a University Archivist at Pace University in New York A long-term student of ballet and ballroom, she has been studying and dancing Argentine Tango for seven years, and frequently flies to Buenos Aires to study with the great masters. She teaches Argentine Tango at the Pierre Dulaine Dance Club, where she hosts both Tuesday night and Thursday night tango salons, and holds classes with prominent Argentine tango teachers

Search for articles by
Performance Reviews, Places to Dance, Fashion, Photography, Auditions, Politics, Health