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Tango Zen: Walking Dance Meditation

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by Chan Park


Open Book

Review by Deborah Fisher

What exactly is "Tango Zen"? It sounds rather like a mixture of the erotic and the sublime, and I believe that is what was intended.

The next thing that might strike one about it, particularly after absorbing the subtitle, "Walking Dance Meditation", is that it is an exercise made for two. Photographs of couples (including the author, Chan Park, and his wife) adorn the frontispiece, as though to underline that this is not a style of meditation you can practise alone. Reading a book is essentially a solitary activity, and one that cannot easily be done while moving. This represents a double obstacle to Mr Park’s aim of instructing us in the art of Tango Zen, but it does not seem to deter him.

Let’s be quite clear about this. If you don’t already know how to dance the tango, you won’t learn it from this book. Quite early on, I began to wonder whether Zen meditation can be practised during any other kind of dancing. It seems as though it should be possible. The quotations liberally scattered throughout the text imply a connection between physical movement and the emptying (or concentration, depending how you look at it) of the mind. Isadora Duncan, for example, described dance as "the highest intelligence in the freest body". Well, she would, wouldn’t she? However, there is no suggestion that tango is the only way to go. Besides the dance, the music has a role to play in creating an atmosphere conducive to meditation. From that point of view, I imagine that head-banging to heavy metal or pogoing to punk, whilst they might indeed lead to an absence of intelligent thought, would not result in the effect Mr Park’s philosophy strives for.

With his background in music, dance, martial arts and Eastern philosophy, it is no wonder that Chan Park has been able to develop a set of skills that are not easy to impart in print. Although the blurb tells us he travels around the world teaching his style of tango, I somehow doubt he will ever find his way to the wilds of south Wales or, for that matter, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. We can only hope.

This is certainly a very attractive volume, with black-and-white photographic images that underline the soothing and positive effect of Tango Zen on its practitioners. Calligraphy and drawings are used for additional illustration. The instructional section does not begin until page 69, which is perhaps a little late. Most of the exercises are geared towards partners, which meant I could not attempt them, and I therefore cannot judge how well they work. Reading is no substitute for doing, and this book is really no more than an introduction to the concept. It is certainly an interesting concept, and one I might well like to try for myself if there were a class (and a partner) readily available, but I fear I am one of many who will never have the opportunity.

ISBN 0 9759630 0 7

Tango Zen House, 2004

88pp, illustrated paperback

Retail price $9.95