Hunger of the Soul

by Sandra Vander Shaaf



“We probably have wondered in our many lonesome moments if there is one corner in this competitive, demanding world where it is safe to be relaxed, to expose ourselves to someone else, and to give unconditionally.  It might be very small and hidden.  But if this corner exists, it calls for a search through the complexities of our human relationships in order to find it.”  -Henri Nouwen



Loneliness.  In the past few days, on three separate occasions, three friends confessed to me that they often feel unspeakably lonely.  I say “confessed” because their words carried a note of shame, as if they were to blame for their own affliction.  It’s hard to acknowledge loneliness when the evidence (busy schedules, full-time work, demanding families) seems to point to a life rich with social possibilities.  The experience of loneliness among the crowds, or in the midst of hectic lives is nothing new.

In the early 1900s, Buenos Aires was a city on the fast track to economic prosperity.  Vast agricultural wealth and rapid industrialization drew immigrants to the city by the tens of thousands in those years–with everyone looking for jobs and the promise of better times.  Tango historians point to the vibrant mix of European immigrants, African slaves, and indigenous peoples to tease out tango’s musical and cultural roots.  But I dare say that the thing that pulled tango into being was not the coincidence of these varied traditions, but, more fundamentally, the deep loneliness experienced by a city of displaced persons.  As author Christine Denniston put it, “The unique pressures of this extraordinary city, in this extraordinary moment of its history, formed the evolving Tango, and made it into something more than just a dance. The Tango became an expression of a fundamental human need: the hunger of the soul for contact with another soul.”  (The Meaning of Tango, page 15.)

What is it about tango that invites soul-to-soul contact?  What conditions foster the potential for mutual vulnerability in tango’s embrace?  What conditions undermine this potential?  And, how might the answers to these questions influence our relationships off the dance floor?  Food for thought.

Originally published on, February 2013.


johannah 2013-03-24 - 9:29 pm

Oh, this is fascinating! I’ve often wondered about the cultural context of Cuban Salsa in a similar but different vein. I’ve been feeling lonely, too, the past few weeks and just a few days ago I realized, I’ve also not been dancing. I wondered at that connection. Its deeper than I think! So I went dancing last night! 🙂

Sandra Vander Shaaf 2013-03-29 - 11:48 am

And so continues our mutual inspiration, Johanna!


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