As we progress through our tango journey, our goals and needs will change at certain points.
Tango students occasionally require guidance on developing their technique, understanding information regarding tango music to improve their musicality, getting pointers for organizing a tango trip to Buenos Aires, and studying Spanish, the language of the dance.
They could also be interested in hearing more about things like the tango’s rich history or the códigos (unwritten rules) of a milonga portena. Anyone interested in learning more about tango can do so by settling in with a good tango book.
One of the best tango books to read is “Tango Intoxication” by Batt Johnson.
“Tango Intoxication” is the most comprehensive, practically encyclopedic collection of unique insights and motivations for the Argentine tango dancer that has ever been put together.
Written by Batt Johnson, this book provides a fascinating look at the culture and art form of Argentine tango, gleaned from his studies with more than 170 teachers.
Batt Johnson: A Short Biography
Batt Johnson is a college professor, dancer, and choreographer specializing in Argentine tango.
According to his biography published on the Tango Intoxication website:
He has worked as a TV and milonga host, researcher, writer, and producer on a worldwide tango radio show called Espresso Tango Radio.
For many years, he also worked as a communication consultant, award-winning actor, award-winning music radio broadcaster, producer, and writer.
Dizzy Gillespie (left), Batt Johnson (right)
The arts — particularly dancing and music — are very important to Batt Johnson.
He was raised in a home where there was always some kind of music playing in the background.
When he was a very small child, his two elder sisters were the ones who taught him how to dance.
He started dance studies many years later as an adult in 1997, and he has not stopped dancing and studying dance since.
He studied in both North and South America with over 170 of the most influential tango dancers, tango teachers, and tango performers of our time…
Batt taught in dance schools and many outdoor events, directed, acted, wrote, co-wrote, and danced in tango plays, tango films, and has organized milongas.
Aside from writing Tango Intoxication, Batt Johnson has authored three more books on topics as diverse as acting, public speaking, and jazz, along with penning a regular column for ReporTango Magazine.
Despite the fact that he occasionally teaches Tango, Batt Johnson views himself as a learner of tango dance and music for the rest of his life.
On Tango Intoxication
Tango is much more than just a dance.
The embrace offers a higher awareness, a standstill in time, and the enigmatic feeling that there is a secret contained within. Beyond that, there lies a vast, black, and seemingly immobile ocean of time — realizing that everything is ephemeral while experiencing a mix of bittersweet nostalgia and wistful joy.
An encounter with tango is an intoxication of delight, humor, respect, and poetry. It is resonant with song, rhythm, artistry, nuance, and touch.
Reflecting on these types of emotions,
“Tango Intoxication” is Batt Johnson’s way of revealing his insights, appreciation, and adoration for this extraordinary form of dance and music.
Available on Amazon.com
This book was penned with both today’s and tomorrow’s tango dancers in mind.
One of the author’s primary goals is to forewarn new tango dancers of potential pitfalls while also motivating them to develop and improve their skills.
The book’s website reveals what the term “tango intoxication” means to Batt Johnson:
Tango Intoxication is the feeling I crave every night even before I touch my partner’s hand while entering the embrace of Tango.
It is a special piece of magic which stupefies me, places me in an intoxicant induced state of excitement, joy, and elation well beyond the limits of sobriety, a tango high. It is as if a pulsating orb of invisible, yet blurred color surrounded and gently massaged me. This is an evasive, clandestine form of intoxication that does not readily avail itself to the uninitiated.
You have to work for it, and even then, there is no guarantee this sensation will find you.
The art of tango dancing has the power to induce a trance-like condition in the dancer, transporting them to a realm where time, hunger, thirst, pain, and other physical, mental, and emotional challenges, as well as worldly problems, seem to vanish almost entirely. With “Tango Intoxication,” you’ll have a better grasp on the idea and be ready to embark on that journey.
When you have been intoxicated by Tango there will be no hangover, no regret. Tango intoxication is not imaginary, it is a real feeling I have experienced.
It is a feeling of intoxication without the consumption of a Malbec. This very special form of intoxication is like a runner’s high, an endorphin laced feeling of euphoria and a soft, round glow of warmth, satisfaction, temporary love, and happiness. I have felt this both during and after, sometimes way after an amazing dance or evening of dancing.
As far as tango books are concerned, “Tango Intoxication” boldly goes where others haven’t dared to go. As Johnson opens up about his love for dancing as well as his experiences with it on an emotional and spiritual level, the tone of the book shifts from lighthearted to profound.
In an interview with Ultimate Tango, Batt Johnson reveals who can benefit the most from the book:
Maybe for people who want to learn about Tango, because there’s a lot of beginner stuff in the book. It’s not for seasoned professionals who travel around the world dancing tango for a living.
Even though, I’m sure there is some information in there that they can learn from as well, but they won’t buy it, they won’t read it because they think they know it all.
Batt Johnson’s Perspectives
Different people can have varying ideas about what tango means. The music might captivate some listeners while the dance moves others. When asked, Batt Johnson believes tango is akin to religion:
Obviously, Tango is a dance, but it’s many things to many different people. And for me, it’s like a religion. It’s something that I discovered I could do with the body, mind, and soul of another human being like I’ve never experienced before. And you know, Tango is a culture. It’s a cult.
[O]nce you’ve become addicted to the dance, and the culture, and the scene, and the music, you don’t want to get out. You don’t want to get out because an addiction is an addiction, and they’re obviously much worse things to be addicted to. But personally, I don’t want to get out.
I mean, discovering this dance, and it’s like an onion where you peel the layers back and the more layers I peel back, the more I learn, the more I want to learn. And the more people I dance with, the more I discover.
He retells his story of how he discovered tango;
while casually strolling down the street, tango music struck him like a lightning bolt, and he’s never been the same since.
After some time, he decided to dip his toes into tango.
[O]nce I decided to learn the dance, obviously I started taking classes, but the other thing I did, this might be one of your secrets.
The main thing I did was every single night when I went to bed with a Walkman, listening to tango music every night, every night, every night, every night. As a result, now I know what almost every instrument is doing in every song that’s played the most.
By listening to the music, I wasn’t just listening to the music, I was studying the music, which is something most dancers don’t do. Most dancers, obviously social dancers, only listen to tango music when they go to the milonga. So when the music is played, there are things in the music that come as a surprise to them because they don’t know.
For Batt Johnson,
one of the most important things to teach in tango is walking to the music. To dance is to move in time with, as a response to, or out of the enjoyment of music.
So, someone who doesn’t move to the music isn’t really dancing.
It’s kind of like writing on a piece of paper with lines. The lines are on the piece of paper to write on. If you’re not writing on that line and you look at it, it’s not very pleasing. The same thing.
The first thing I teach in every class I’ve ever taught is walking to the music, the three rhythms of the tango family. We’ll walk to Tango, we’ll walk to Milonga and we’ll walk to voss.
And I explain a little bit from a musician standpoint, exactly what the music is. And, for me, that’s the most important thing.
However, some American students find that following the beat of tango music can be challenging. After all, they have been brought up listening to music where the bass and drums provide the rhythm.
In Tango, there are no drums unless it’s one of those eccentric Piazzolla pieces, but there is a bass. And if there’s no physical bass, the piano player with his left hand will play the bass. So there is a bass, but there are no drums.
Unless you grew up in a household that listened to classical music, this music is really strange to you. And it’s really difficult to find the beat if you grew up in a household that didn’t listen to classical music. Teaching the students to find the beat is a whole other journey.
Still, many try tango and fall in love with the dance, but ultimately give up. In one piece for ReporTango Magazine, he shared his thoughts on tango from a student’s perspective and offered a theory for why people often lose interest in the dance.
People dance for many different reasons: as a form of physical therapy after an injury, to maintain or lose weight, because they enjoy dancing, or maybe it’s something they’ve always wanted to do.
But why do people stop dancing? Johnson said, “The reasons are numerous, but I submit to you one reason that is not often discussed… Frustration!”
Frustration is a major factor in why many tango students give up.
When learning the dance, students frequently try to rush things and take on too much at once, which can lead to burnout and a false sense of competence.
Remember, this incredible dance is based on a walk, that’s all. You might be saying to yourself, “A walk? I can walk, but when I walk, it doesn’t look like THAT.” To be able to dance Tango is to be able to walk Tango, and that takes time.
Students are better able to grasp and implement more complicated steps due to the firm groundwork laid by constant walking and familiarity with the technique.
The process of mastering the walk is tedious yet essential.
According to Johnson, students need it in order to dance the tango. He continued this point, saying:
This article is being written for my fellow students who are in a hurry to get to the advanced class. If you want to increase your level of stress, frustration and embarrassment, rush to the classes that are above your true level. Believe me, the advanced class is not all it’s cracked up to be, but the beginner class is. How can that be?
The beginner and beginner/intermediate classes are where you learn your foundation, learn to walk, the importance of your feet, your frame, your posture, your head, your shoulders, your shoulder blades, the separation of your upper body from your lower body.
If you don’t have solid groundwork, you can still develop as a dancer, but you’ll likely pick up a lot of poor habits that will be challenging to break. Whoever has tried to break a habit knows how challenging it can be. To finish this thought, Johnson said,
“So why do many students stop dancing? Many of them stop because they didn’t learn the basics or build a foundation, got frustrated, and quit.”
Discover the Humor, Insights, Stories, and Secrets of the Most Intimate Dance in the World
Tango is beyond words. It is not only a dance, but it also means different things to a lot of people.
It provides a distinct intoxication that is reminiscent of the euphoria experienced by athletes; a rush of pleasure laced with endorphins; and a soothing feeling of contentment, fleeting love, and joy.
Batt Johnson’s “Tango Intoxication” is full of helpful advice and anecdotes from tango instructors all over the world.
Tango students will benefit greatly from gaining some of this multidimensional insight into the dance, and they will also find it to be immensely hilarious, interesting, entertaining, and enlightening.
It doesn’t matter if you are entirely new to dancing… or have been dancing your whole life. We distill everything you need to know to be able to hit the milonga into simple, easy-to-understand steps. Regardless of your level, this course has something for everyone!
At the end of Tango Passport, you’ll be able to improvise and dance the tango…. anywhere in the world. More details HERE.