Tango instead of therapy Michael Knorr-Vieten two people dancing in colourful laneway

Tango instead of therapy – the eight basic steps of love

In Community and Relationship, Love, Sex and Sexuality by Michael KnorrLeave a Comment

Being part of a couple is like a dance: the closeness and distance, the longing for independence and connection. In the vortex of ambivalent emotions we are spun around within our relationship.

Love is like a tango

For us Tango Argentino is a wonderful dance, which we have been practising for 20 years. And at the same time it is a metaphor for being in a relationship. Learning to dance the tango means to engage in the relationship process. Its eight basic steps represent the eight basic steps of love. In a genuine tango man and woman are equal, but not the same. Both are mutually responsible for the relationship – and for the success of the tango. However, each person has their individual role.

With each step the tango shows us how we relate to each other and with ourselves. Can each of us exist individually? Am I appreciated and does my partner respond to me or does he/she just want to promote his/her movement?

Leading and surrendering

Leading does not necessarily mean dictating and commitment does not mean that one surrenders. In a genuine tango man and woman are equal, but not the same. Both are mutually responsible for the relationship – and for the success of the tango. However, each person has their individual role. In their connectedness they find a new strength, through a common goal. The man has to show clarity in the movement, without being rigid or dominant. The woman needs to commit herself without losing her individuality.

In the tango movement is considered to be a dialogue. The man ‘says’ something and thus reveals something about himself. He gives an insight into his uniqueness as a man. The woman also shows her uniqueness as a woman and her emotions. Both study each other in their movements. Thus the woman takes something from the man and transforms it into her own – which strengthens her femininity. The man takes something from the woman und transforms it in his own way – that strengthens his masculinity.

Before they dance the couple has to find each other

How do couples find each other? They look for each other and make choices. Having a clear idea is a great advantage. This is a kind of power that connects us to our ancestors. Having a clear idea means being connected to our own history. With this notion we choose our matching partner – not knowing what that means, but with the intuitiveness of a part of us that wants to be released and answered.

Our first love and relationship is with our parents. This love always involves both fulfilment and disappointment. Having internalised both we look into the world and at our (dance) partner. He/she ought to fulfill what we long for or need from our relationship with our parents.

Each of us has developed infantile patterns, which today determine our partner choice and also come into play during crises. We might not be aware of those inner ‘sentences’, but with a spirit of research they can resurface:

  • “ If I do everything correctly and make an effort, I am loved.”
  • “Although I have exerted myself, I have not received what I wanted. Now I don’t want it any more from my parent (from my partner). I’m miffed.”
  • “I have to make sure there is no conflict.”
  • “I cannot do anything. So there is no point in doing anything.”
  • “Nobody acknowledges me and what I am is of no importance to others (to my partner).”

The ‘perfect’ partner..?

Then we meet HER or HIM and think: ‘Finally!’ We fall in love with the belief and emotion that we have finally found what had been missing. That is love at first sight. This lasts for a little while, but is not sustainable. The infantile longing for love to last in a merging way, as well as the partner being unique, distinctive and irreplaceable will surely be disappointed. My partner has their limitations. These emerge more and more and become increasingly important as time goes by.

The most important and woebegone experience in love is that the partner can only love and understand us within their limitations – and that our ability to love and understand them is also limited.

Love and healing demands a lot from us then. It forces us to turn to where we would not want to go naturally, to the most painful corners of our soul. One could say that the need for being understood transforms itself into the need to understand ourselves. This is where love at second sight commences.

Mature love needs the willingness to be disillusioned. The disillusion hurts and everyday life heals. Love at second sight is more balanced, calmer and deeper.

The drama within the relationship is that we challenge each other at our most vulnerable spots, that we love exactly the person we later curse, because he/she can hurt us so deeply. At the same time this is also the person that we can most easily work with through the pain – just like a sparring partner.

Happiness in the relationship in this sense is work for us, a ‘labour of love’ and an art.

Tango instead of therapy Michael and Tanja

Michael and Tanja in Melbourne. Photo by Emma J Stephens.

The river of love

So one is on the right side of the river and the other one on the left side. Both have a standpoint, each from his/her riverbank. It is not useful if one only insists on his/her standpoint. The river flows past them. In order to be able to dance with each other, both have to climb into the river and its swirl.

Reconciled they look at each other and the man says to the woman: I love you. And you have something that I do not have and I need it. I have something that you do not have and I give it to you willingly. Now the man is the one in need and the giving one, because he has something to give.

The woman looks at him and says: I love you. You have something that I do not have and I need it. And I have something that you do not have and I give it to you willingly. Now the man is not the only needy one; instead both are in need of something and both give. This makes them equal.

When the man says: I need it and the woman says: I do not need it, but I give it to you there is an imbalance and the man becomes the needy and the woman the giving. Then the woman is the mother who gives and the man the child that takes.

Learning to dance the tango means to engage in the process. Its eight basic steps represent the eight basic steps of love.


The first basic step is communication: I turn towards you – even when I am angry. The couple knows that they never argue just between the two of them, but there are always four – two shadow personalities; patterns from childhood that lie in the darkness of a dark cellar. They emerge during an argument. So, behind every accusation there is a need. Instead of attack and defence during a fight it would be more appropriate to decipher the hidden need.


The second basic step stands for the different rooms: my garden, your garden, our garden. Often the couple’s communal garden is neglected, due to daily routine or after the birth of a child. This is fatal because children really need a happy couple. If the couple does not look after its relationship, it worsens. That is for certain. Therefore, in tango we practise conscious presence for ourselves and our partners.


The third basic step is the acceptance of one’s own imperfection. Hence the art of living as a couple lies in the ability to accept each other in their imperfection. Each one knows about their own building sites and works on them with support from the other. That connects. Thus both practise the tango and rejoice in every accomplished step.


The fourth step teaches us to think about rituals in love. Rituals create the space for us to compare notes about the balance of giving and taking. Forgiving is as important as acknowledging one’s hurts and balance one with the other. The tango is a great ritual of the encounter between man and woman.


The fifth basic step is physical intimacy, the tension in the dance. Tango is ‘tenderness in standing’ – this is the energy of this erotic dance. In this display of intimacy the woman and the man show their true colours. Unresolved issues from other areas of the relationship surface in this delicate realm. If you want exciting sex, there needs to be an examination of the respective areas of the relationship.


The sixth basic step describes how everyday life can exist without letting go of love. Tango aims at making the most of each step by tuning into the partner and the music – rather than just making many steps. Holding and making aware that lightness (ease), playfulness and relaxation need room: that is what the ‘danced pause’ in tango implies.


The seventh basic step is about discipline in love. The partners share the bliss of the common movement as much as the failure of the steps. Hence those who can share can dance well. To get there it needs practice. Practice needs the readiness to ‘start from scratch again’. That needs discipline.


The eighth step searches for what connects the couple. What connects the couple beyond children and how does sharing occur? On the side where the couple hold hands there is a space. In this space there is room for something else – a third presence borne of their relationship. It is the space that every couple embraces, carrying with them this third presence. While dancing both appear as individuals – two persons dancing with each other. Through music, presence and devotion they become one body.

Vamos, let us dance the tango!


Michael Knorr and Tanja Vieten have written a book about systemic homeopathy and have published several articles. In Germany they educate a group of homeopaths in systemic homeopathy and are invited to present their work as a training for homeopathic doctors. They both love dancing the tango Argentino and founded a special therapy for couples combining body experience with systemic work. With their tango workshop they have been invited to Russia, Italy and Australia. Their book about how to work with couples “Tango instead of therapy” was published in 2014. http://knorr-vieten.de/

About the author
Michael Knorr

Michael Knorr

Michael has worked as a psychological adviser for more than 30 years and offers supervision and specialist counselling. He started his career as a child care worker, and was amazed about the love that mistreated children still feel for their parents. That led him to the systemic view and he followed Bert Hellinger’s work. He has led trainings in family constellations for more than 15 years and has written a book about systemic work in the social context.

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