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  • Writer's pictureSherry

Tango Harmony in Tokyo

Updated: Jun 17

Dance has evolved in many different forms across Japan.  Foreign influences have been seeping into dance culture and social norms for a long time yet Japan has its own distinctly diverse and divine culture.

We just returned from a trip to Japan with a tango dancing group comprised of dancers from United Kingdom, France and US. We attended daily tango workshops and evening milongas. When we first heard of this trip last year, it was a surprise to me that tango had existed in Japan since the 1920's. 

I have to admit that although I knew tango began in Argentina at the end of the 19th century, I did not realize that over 100 years ago the passion of the dance and captivating music took hold in Japan. Beyond the traditional ritual dances, dramatic theater dances of Kabuki as well as folk dances during Buddhist festivals, other dance with roots in far-away cultures such as Tango from Argentina sustained a strong local following. Music and dance have always been and continues to be a big part of Japanese culture.

In 1920, Baron Tsunayoshi Tsunami Megata, a Japanese born grandson of a samurai, travelled from Japan to Paris for a medical procedure. During his years of stay in Paris, he learned and mastered the art of dancing the tango.  Upon his return to Japan, Megata brought some of the best tango orchestra music with him and started an academy to teach others.

Social dancing in Tokyo is called Milonga, as it is in any country. It is a delightful evening of social dance for those of all experience levels who love to dance. Even though dance spaces are very small, and personal spaces are very limited, there was a respect for just the right amount of space on the dance floor.  At least for us, it did not feel like their underground train at rush hour! Local dancers genuinely wanted us to enjoy the tango experience and learn about their culture.

Harmony, beauty and balance matters in all aspects of Japanese life.  You see this in how people interact with a strong emphasis on respect. You see this in how people consider others but also in the simplicity, grace and beauty of their cuisine, art, architecture, gardens and definitely in dance.

Their consideration shows up on the dance floor. I describe tango as “dancing as one” with a focus on what happens in between each step, rather than the step itself.  That concept reinforces the importance of balance, being present and grounded. We felt this and experienced it in the dance conversation between the movements of leader and follower.  It is a dance of improvisation requiring the dancers to be one with the music as well as with each other. Easier said than done. We remain in learning mode as many tango dancers will admit it is a life-long journey.

In Japan, that oneness wonderfully fits with the culture of harmony and balance.  Every aspect of this trip allowed us to appreciate their values of beauty, respect, kindness, order, inspiration and pride.   The cherry on the top was getting to dance with others in their community who embrace the beauty of using all the senses and also happen to love tango.


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