Dancing Tango with Pope Francis

by Sandra Vander Shaaf


What could Christianity possibly have in common with Argentine Tango?  Good question.


Yesterday afternoon, soon after the announcement of the election of an Argentine pope, a CBC reporter and cameraman showed up at the home of local tango instructors Santiago Yanez and Deborah Lynne for an interview and tango demo.  Naturally.  If the pope is from Argentina, there must be a tango connection, right?

I hope so.

Argentine tango is a dance of improvisation, an act of beauty created by two people in an embrace of mutual humility, mutual generosity, and balanced strength and tension.  It requires that the partners be profoundly attentive both to each other — body and soul — and to the spirit and movement of the music.  When it all comes together, something exquisite comes into being, and the dancers know they’ve experienced tango at its best.


It was tango at its best that first drew me into Vancouver’s tango community.  It was the beauty I witnessed and came to experience — a powerful, transformative Beauty — that kept me coming back, over and over, night after night.  Tango inspired me to live a more fully embodied life, healed my broken femininity, and taught me about trust and balance and respect in relationships.  What else did I learn?  I learned that like any other institution that involves human beings, the tango community can be a place of unpleasant rivalries, hurtful gossip, twisted power dynamics, mean politics, and bad behaviour.  And that exquisite embrace?  Sometimes, in spite of the most beautiful music and sweetest ambiance, the embrace can be experienced as a place of unwelcome dominance, manipulation, and control, a place where power is willfully exerted over another’s body and spirit.  This is tango at its worst.


I’ve tasted the best of tango.  I’ve tasted the worst.  I persist in my love of this dance because I crave more of its best, more of its beauty, more of its power to change me and to remind me that I am body-soul whole, and beautiful.  This is why I am ever hopeful when I step into the embrace of a partner on the dance floor.  This is why, when the bandoneon rushes in with its invitation to dance, I dare to hope that we might, together, taste something good and right and true.


At its best, Christianity is a dance of improvisation, a way of life that fosters mutual humility, mutual generosity, a community of servants not power-mongers, a gathering of people who commit to be attentive to each other and to the Spirit of a God of grace, mercy, love, compassion, hope, and transformation.  I have tasted the best of this faith.  And I have tasted the worst.  Christians have made a shameful mess of it more often than not.  I am embarrassed to be associated with a religion that has such a long and ongoing history of shameful, shameful, shameful failings.  But I can’t ditch the faith.  I tried.  The thing is, there’s something beautiful here, something holy, something that has taught me that I’m body-soul whole, sacred, and beautiful, and the world is too.  And that gives me a hope I can’t explain and can’t let go of.


3198-self portrait Yes, judge Christianity.  Judge the Church and its leaders and followers.  Judge the leaders and followers of every organized religion.  But don’t mistake their atrocious failings for the Truth and Beauty they are meant to point to.   Don’t mistake the flawed messengers for the message.


One of Pope Francis’s official titles is “Servant of the Servants of God.”  This puts him firmly on the same ground we all stand on.  He is just as capable of crafting something good and true and lovely in the world as the rest of us.  And just as capable of failing miserably at it.  Can we see His Holiness as one who is — like us, and with us — invited onto the dance floor to try to bring something beautiful into the world?  He will fail, just as we fail.  He will succeed from time to time, just as we will.  He will hope for more — more grace, more wholeness, more healing, more transformation.  Will we?



Originally published on www.passionateembrace.ca, March 2013.


Peter 2013-03-19 - 6:29 am

Very eloquent. Thank you.

johannah 2013-03-24 - 9:25 pm

Sandra, your dancing with words continues. Thanks for this!

Steve Lympus 2013-08-01 - 7:54 pm

I really loved this, Sandra…thank you. And for many conversations across the coffee bar, cheers!


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