A Sense of Belonging

In my Twitter stream, I stumbled upon a link to an article comparing Cross Fit and Soul Cycle to religious cults. It was interesting. The need to belong, to become a part of a group or to be one among many like-minded people seems to be an essential human trait. We seek out the companionship of other humans with similar outlooks, aspirations, beliefs, and opinions.

A long while back, I delved into cults as a research subject. I’ve always been fascinated by the inclination to BELONG and the desire to meld the self into a larger whole. I devoured books about Jonestown and Heaven’s Gate—two cults that ended in mass suicide/homicides. My research resulted in a couple of terrible mystery manuscripts and a deep skepticism with regard to any and all groups with mandated doctrines.

Still, I’m left with the understanding that the desire to belong is human. On a personal level, I “belong” to loose associations of people with common interests—like Argentine Tango dancers. But I’d be hard-pressed to describe myself as belonging to a “cult of Tango” because Tango draws people from all walks of life, all points on the political spectrum, a wide range of religious beliefs, etc. And, to be frank, Tango dancers have a hard time agreeing on anything related to the Tango—with heated debates about every aspect of the dance from the embrace to the music. Maybe I can “belong” to a group of Tango dancers because there is no clear doctrine?

Many artist groups have had manifestos. I’m particularly fond of the artists associated with Dada and Die Brücke (The Bridge). I think the Dadaists might have been more like Tango dancers with their intragroup conflicts, but the artists of Die Brücke (Ernst Kirchner, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Erich Heckel, Fritz Bleyl, Emil Nolde, Otto Mueller and Max Pechstein) supported each other with publications of prints that were critical to the progress of each other’s careers.

The article that got me going this time, talked about gyms and workout programs as the new churches/community centers, where people check up on one another, support fitness goals, and discipline recalcitrant members who fail to achieve. Again, this is WAY too much outside interference for me. Yes, I’m happy to chat with other members of the local health club and it’s nice to know that I’ve been missed when I travel for a few weeks, but I don’t want the club manager, the locker room attendant or the Zumba teacher chastising me for being AWOL…

Guess I’m just not “cult” material.

Perhaps I could belong to the cult of the Tango shoe?


  1. Tango has so many of the attributes of a religion, it’s quite disturbing. There is the ‘haj’ – the journey that everybody makes or plans to make to Buenos Aires. There is the need to gather for communion regularly. Listen to people apologising for not having been to a milonga for a few weeks (or, in extreme cases, more than a week). (And it’s not that they have to go to milongas to dance. My partner and I have studio space at home, but have still been out three of the past four nights.) There are the rituals (actually referred to as the ‘codiglia’ or codes). One well-known Buenos Aires venue actually has the ‘Ten Commandments of Tango’ displayed on the wall. OK, it’s a joke – sort of. But a joke that takes the form of an enormous mural.

    The constant rows (sometimes truly religious in their intensity) between the cabaceo crowd and the verbal invitation newcomers, or between different musical factions, or different styles is far from evidence that tango is not a cult. It is evidence that it is a religion so broad that it *contains* cults.

    Tango can be incredibly powerful. It has certainly massively changed my life. A natural introvert, who struggles in most social situations, I am suddenly at home in crowds where, because I know the rituals well, I can relax and enjoy the company of my fellow dancers. One girl that we introduced to tango ended up leaving her husband and travelling the world to dance, first tango, and then a range of other things. She is still travelling. We sometimes feel a bit guilty about that.

    This is something I’ve been thinking of writing about for a while. I do occasionally post blogs about tango. Perhaps I should write more on the subject.

    • Candy Korman

      You should write more about Tango!

      I’ve observed much of what you’ve discussed and usually describe my introduction to the Argentine Tango as, “falling into the tango vortex.” I’ve been in it since. But My relationship with the tango is a fraught love affair. Sometimes we get along and sometimes we don’t. I used to joke with one of my favorite teachers that I would be an apostle in his ‘church of the tango’ but of course it was a joke. I’ll always maintain my outsider/insider position. Perhaps that’s part of my writer stance? I’m always a bit on the outside taking notes… That’s not to say I haven’t written about Tango and its magnificent allure, primarily in fiction and, sometimes in the context of a Tango dancing vampire.

      But the cult question is interesting. To some dancers, yes, the Tango is their cult. It’s those factions & styles that create cults and those factions—and fractures—that keep people like me dancing, but without adherence to a cult/group.

      Tango is a powerful catalyst of change in dancers’ lives. I’ve traveled for Tango, changed sleep patterns, and my style of dress is influenced, too. Most of all I’ve met some amazing people through tango. People with whom I share genuine off the dance floor friendships and THAT is better than any cult!

  2. Thanks for your long reply. I will write something at some point, I guess. Meanwhile, if you go to my blog (I can’t link here because it says that’s spam) and search ‘Tango’ you’ll get a few posts – and quite a few photos.

    I loved your comment on the changes it has brought to your life. My partner used to like to be in bed by 10.00 and that’s gone. And she used to be the sort of person who wasn’t that into clothes shopping while now we love finding new things to dance in. And, yes, so many of our friends now are people we met dancing. I’ve found that, although it has its share of self-important, arrogant, unpleasant people, the tango community is generally kinder and more supportive than most.

    I wish we could meet, but I doubt I’ll be dancing in New York anytime soon. People tell me that the dancers there take it very seriously and can be a bit scary. If you are ever going to be in London, be sure to let me know.


    • Candy Korman

      It’s true that some dancers in NYC are a bit too much— too serious, too self-involved, too focused on dancing with each other… but I’ve seen similar, insularity in other Tango communities, too. I’ve never danced in London, although I tried a long while back and stood waiting for a bus on a cold November night before I gave up, I will make it there again! Will check out YOUR blog now…

      Last night I attended one of the milongas near my apartment. I don’t usually go there because it does feel a bit like a club and, although many of the club members know me I’m not a member. I went with three friends who happen to be popular, professional dancers and that helped increase my allure. I had a marvelous time and danced more than I expected. Still, I wonder if I’d gone there last Monday by myself… I know my reception would have been less enthusiastic, but maybe I should go more often and “join” simply by my continued presence? There is a tribal/animal aspect to becoming “one” of the members of any group of dancers. Breaking in as an outsider—especially as a solo traveler as I’ve done many times—is a huge challenge. Maybe I should put a little more effort into my crazy (cult-like, tribal) hometown scene? If nothing else, I can always admire the fashion choices that transform folks from all walks of life into dancers.

      In the meantime, I’ve got a Tango story in a short story collection… Check it out if you are inclined toward vampire fiction.


  3. I can’t comment on the tango but I’ve often wondered about those Facebook groups that create their own ‘bubble’. Do they have the beginnings of cult behaviour embedded in them?
    I’ve always been wary of any group that demanded adherence to one core philosophy or belief system. I guess that’s why I became an atheist in the first place. :/

    • Candy Korman

      I’m always wary of ANY group that demands adherence to a core philosophy. That means I’m wary of all religious, political, and philosophical orthodoxies—all of them. As for Facebook groups, I haven’t encountered one that went beyond sharing ideas about a common interest. But then, I’m not a big joiner. I think people turn basically good ideas, interesting hobbies, fun activities into something larger, something cult-like, if they are so inclined. I’ve heard of international private party Tango events—with guests vetted for both experience and taste in music, they even require that dancers adhere to a specific set of rules, i.e. you cannot dance more than two tandas (sets) with the same partner or you must dance in the milonguero embrace and not the salon embrace, etc. Again… I’m not a big joiner and would feel inhibited by the rules & rule-makers, even as I prefer the chosen close embrace and enjoy a variety of partners over the course of an evening.

      Cults and me? Just for fiction… LOL