Behind the Postcards with Sasha Cagen / by Chris Tyre

behind-the-postcards-sasha-cagen-nomad-and-camera.jpg

Passport Please...
Name: Sasha Cagen
Website: Sasha Cagen // Discover You Tango // Quirkyalone
Nationality: USA
Current Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Next Destination: Brazil for reconnection because Brazil has a piece of my heart. Europe or Bali to travel... a possible home base in the US... It’s all up for grabs.

Behind the Postcards is an interviews series I'm doing with nomadic souls from around the world sharing their story from going from "normal" to nomad. I recently met with author and tango extraordinaire Sasha Cagen at Pastroneria, a delicious, gluten-free cafe in Buenos Aires. (Doesn't that sound urban-chic-hipster...) We talk life as a non-Millennial digital nomad, being a women's life coach, and how to get a tang-asm. Especially how to get a tangasm!

N+C: Hey Sasha! Thanks for doing the interview. Can you share with readers who you are?

SC: Hey, I’m Sasha Cagen. I’m a nonfiction writer and life coach originally from Rhode Island and now I’m hiding out in Buenos Aires working on a memoir about my “life churn” that took me to South American on a journey of searching for happiness through sensuality. I also teach tango and what you can learn from the metaphor of tango for personal confidence and healthy relationships through a 7-day immersion course in Buenos Aires. I am most well-known as the author of Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics and the creator of the quirkyalone movement, which supports people who prefer to be single rather that settle.

N+C: To start, what was your first solo trip and why that location?

SC: A few months after I graduated from college in 1996, I did two months of solo backpacking with the Eurail pass across Western Europe. My connection with Europe began with my teenage love affair with France—the language, the food, the sophistication. I went on a monthlong homestay with a family in Pessac, a suburb outside of Bordeaux, when I was only 14, and another exchange program when I was 16 and that time lived with a family in Paris for a month. I always loved speaking French and also the different model that Europe offered in terms of social welfare, intellectual life, style, food, and life itself. I’ve always been interested in travel in terms of seeing places, but mostly, discovering how people live as an inspiration for my own life.

Meeting Sasha at a cafe in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Meeting Sasha at a cafe in Buenos Aires, Argentina

2. Now as some readers may know, you are the author of two books, Quirkyalone and To-Do List: From Buying Milk To Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us. Quirkyalone sparked its own global community which lead to you getting interviewed by Anderson Cooper. (Amazing!) It’s been 12 years now since the book was published. Is a 2016 "quirkyalone” person the same as a 2004 “quirkyalone” or has the movement evolved?

quirkyalone (kwur.kee.uh.lohn) n. adj. A person who enjoys being single (but is not opposed to being in a relationship) and generally prefers to be alone rather than date for the sake of being in a couple. With unique traits and an optimistic spirit; a sensibility that transcends relationship status. Also adj. Of, relating to, or embodying quirkyalones. See also: romantic, idealist, independent. (source)

SC: The quirkyalone concept has always given people a lot of comfort and validation. Basically, quirkyalone is a way of saying you are not alone. You might be single or single for a long time but you are not the only one in that situation, and often it’s the people who are single the longest are the ones who don’t settle. In the meantime quirkyalone philosophy is to fully embrace life being single without denying it can be lonely to be without a partner. The key is to find happiness within yourself so you have that as a resource when you are in a relationship too.

So how has being quirkyalone evolved? Quirkyalones have an easier time finding reflections of themselves in our culture than there were when I first starting writing about this in 2000, whether we are talking books, TV shows, or movies. In the last few years a lot of great books have added to the conversation that Quirkyalone and other books started, e.g. It’s Not You by Sara Eckel, All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traisterman and Going Solo by Eric Klinenberg. Then you have Aziz Ansari and Chelsea Handler and a thousand pop icons representing the modern dilemmas of single life. All that culture gives a lot of support and was not around when I was 24.

nomad-and-camera-sasha-cagen-quirkyalone.jpg

In some way I feel the millennials are living en masse what I identified as an emerging trend in my life as a Gen-xer.

The idea that you would prefer to be single rather than settle has spread to many more people (just like gay marriage) and quirkyalone is perhaps no longer quirky at all. In some way I feel the millennials are living en masse what I identified as an emerging trend in my life as a Gen-xer. I was on the cutting edge of calling that trend because I myself felt it intensely and it’s my natural tendency to ponder personal things deeply on a socio-cultural level!

Being in a couple is still normative, and dating has become even more confusing with the proliferation of technology. I also think a lot of people just are not that interested in relationships in their twenties now as compared to the past.

People still are in tremendous need of validation because the message that there’s something wrong with you if you are not in a relationship or single for years still gets internalized by many people, especially young people. I get a lot of messages from young women who have never been in a relationship and are totally freaked out, and I think, there are so many of you! Don’t worry.

Quirkyalone has evolved a lot of for me personally as the creator because for a while I felt burdened with this “happy single girl” image and I actually wanted to be in a relationship. I have put a lot more focus on the desire to be in a healthy committed relationship in the last five years. That’s part of my evolution of getting more clear about what I really want, and for me, a deep connection through partnership is important to me.

At the same time I haven’t wanted to settle, and there are certain experiences in life I want to have. So being willing to be super clear about what I want, even when I don't have it, and learning the skills of being quirkytogether communication and negotiation is something I have personally put a lot of focus on through therapy, coaching, and continuing to work on relationships I might have ended earlier in the past. I got the fact that relationships are work and a spiritual path and embraced that idea, you could say.

I have shared those lessons with my community in quirkytogether/quirkyalone online classes and one-on-one coaching for others who are on that path. A lot of students and clients who were single for a long time found that quirkytogether relationship, or the quirky unicorn as they say. That’s great. A lot grown in other ways, for example, in their self-love and confidence, and both are positive outcomes that are satisfying for me as a coach and teacher.

N+C: While you were getting national attention from your books and had a startup going on in San Francisco, you decided to turn your attention to traveling to South America instead. Why SA over SF?

SC: I loved San Francisco for many years as a unique creative city but it started to really change while I lived there, about halfway through my 20 years total in the Bay Area. I disliked the way the tech boom changed the housing prices and the nature of who could afford to live in San Francisco. During my early thirties I was worried that I was never going to make enough money as a freelance and book writer in such an expensive city, so when I got the chance to join a friend in starting a street fashion social media company as a cofounder/Chief Marking + Community Officer and I took it. It seemed like a good idea. We did well and sold the company within 9 months of founding.

nomad-and-camera-sasha-cagen-6.jpg

A lot of the tech world is full of press-release-bullshit with very little relationship to reality or to meaningful products that will help people in their lives.

The whole Silicon Valley experience made me pretty cynical and I felt lost. A lot of the tech world is full of press-release-bullshit with very little relationship to reality or to meaningful products that will help people in their lives. Around 2007 I was borderline-depressed working as a product manager for the company that acquired us.

While I was at that job I went on a 3-week trip to Brazil, the first solo travel since that Europe trip, and was completely inspired by the way I saw Brazilians in Rio living at a different vibration of generosity, present-mindedness, sensuality, and happiness in everyday life. I decided, that’s the life I want to lead so I left my touch-starved, tech-driven Silicon Valley and moved to Rio. I wound up living in Brazil 6 months that year, and that experience had lots of ups and downs that I am writing about in my memoir-in-progress Wet.

I made incredible friends in Brazil, and I will always be grateful to that country. I sometimes cry when I hear Brazilian music. I credit the Brazilian spirit, a relaxed, insouciant joy for life and extreme kindness toward foreigners, with bringing me back to life through a tough time.

nomad-and-camera-sasha-cagen-3.jpg

But finding those answers from Brazilians for a happy sensual life didn’t turn out to be as easy as I thought, at least not for a girl who grew up in sexually repressed New England. I ran out of my six-month visa limit without feeling satisfied in my quest so I went on to Colombia and that’s where I discovered tango, in the world capital of salsa, actually: Cali! I fell in love with the pleasure of dancing tango and started following tango as a path. If tango didn’t give me that perfect happy life I first dreamed about in Brazil, it gave me a path of pleasure to heal and work on myself that has changed my life and help me be for myself rather than against myself, if that makes sense. Tango really helped me become the woman I am, even with its machista culture.

So that’s why I now have this relationship with Buenos Aires, because of the tango culture, the tango business I started here, and the friends I made here. I’m living in Buenos Aires now because it gives me more time and space to write my second draft of Wet, this book about this sensuality-spiritual-happiness journey.

Living in Buenos Aires is probably not a forever choice, but it is more because I wanted more time now to work on this book project. I still love Oakland (as opposed to SF), and I think about living there or New England near my parents.

N+C: What inspired you to start Tango Adventure?

SC: Tango has taught me so much for my life, and one day I had a revelation while taking a walk in Buenos Aires: I can pass along those lessons in a weeklong experience teaching others in a week what I learned in years. Tango is an intimate dance that requires you to be totally centered in yourself, so taught me a lot about how to show up centered in myself in relationships and life in order to connect better with others. Learning tango helped me stop hunching as a woman and straighten my posture, literally and metaphorically. I wanted to give that experience to other women. Now it can be men too. Tango has this sexy mystique and the dance can be quite a spiritual and personal growth experience. Tango is also a fascinating culture, music, history.

nomad-and-camera-sasha-cagen-tango-adventure.jpg

We've been offering the Tango Adventure since 2014 and it's been really satisfying to teach people who come to meet us and observe how tango changes their confidence and lives, even if they only dance it for a week. I also have a great team here who help me deliver the experience.

N+C: You use the term tangasm in your marketing. Can you tell our readers what it is and if they’ll need to read your answer in a private setting?

SC: Ha! When I say tangasm a lot of people are literally thinking it is a climax, and that’s not what I mean.

A tangasm is the overall-body-feeling of pleasure that a person feels when she or he is dancing tango and feels connected to her partner, the music, the room, and the moment. It’s bliss. When you have a tangasm, you feel like you are being embraced by the universe.

After a tangasm you may be on a high, maybe even for 24 hours. You can have a tangasm with someone who is not your romantic partner and who you are not attracted to. Or maybe you are only attracted to them on the dance floor. This is an essay Is Tango Better Than Sex? I wrote about my first tangasm that people might like to read in addition to this story I told at a live storytelling event in Berkeley about my first tangasm.

N+C: It seems a job trend in the digital nomad community is to become a coach of some kind. You are a life coach for professional woman in positions of power. First, I think that officially makes you Superwoman! Second, how does one become a life coach? That sounds awesome but like a lot of pressure.

SC: That’s true. A lot of digital nomads are or want to be coaches. I take the whole coaching thing pretty seriously and I was intimidated by becoming a coach. I was totally scared about taking on that position of authority to help people with their lives, what if I messed it up? Now I have been coaching for five years and I like the intimate nature of the one-on-one work and helping people make real change in their lives.

I became a coach because after my life churn of traveling for a year in South America I wanted to my work to be something I could do anywhere and a lot of people had told me I would be a good coach. I didn’t even know what that meant but once I started the training I do have a talent for coaching and I enjoy helping people this way.

I wound up doing a 10-month life-coach training program. I learned the coaching methodology of CTI, the largest coach-training institute in the world. The big hurdle after doing your coach training is launching a business and a lot of people who do coach training don't take that step because it’s hard to get your niche and market yourself.

Like anything else, you just have to jump in. In the end you are a coach when you have clients, you are helping them make changes in their lives, and they keep coming back to you. In some ways I feel a little more akin to a therapist than a coach because I do have an ongoing relationship with many clients and work with people on a variety of issues, though I would never claim myself as a therapist since I’m not. Also the word coach is just weird and life coach is awful but I don’t have a better word for what I do.

nomad-and-camera-sasha-cagen-tango-2.jpg

N+C: Haha! Yes, it’s a strange, but intriguing term. If you don’t mind me asking, I’m curious, what kind of clarity or help are clients typically looking for?

SC: Most fundamentally I think the clarity people want is about the life that they really want and then they want practical strategies along with accountability. A lot of my clients did therapy and may not have gotten insight but they didn’t see change. So coaching offers another approach that is more about forward-looking with behavior and belief change. My approach is deep and emotional but also creative and practical.

Sometimes it’s about self-love and self-care and work-life balance, or it’s about the kind of career path or work they really want to be doing, or what they should do strategically in a career. For others, it’s about getting the courage to make a change to leave a safe job or explore a new field or business. Sometimes it’s about getting clear about the business they want to launch. I have a lot of experience in walking through fear and change so I know how to help as well as a lot of business experience in Silicon Valley and with my own projects.

Sometimes it’s about getting clear about what they really want in love and relationships because a lot of people don’t know what they want and have self-defeating beliefs blocking them. Or it’s about reconnecting with themselves and what they want after a divorce. Sometimes we talk about the choice of whether to have children or not. There’s no bigger clarity conversation than this one.

Finally I also work with people around sex, fun, and pleasure. Fun gets neglected from a lot of women’s lives. My approach is that if you are a workaholic type when you bring in more pleasure and fun clarity will come about what is most meaningful for you and the path forward. I love helping people with sex too!

N+C: What’s the best part about the journey that you’re on now?

SC: The best part is feeling that I am being true to myself even if it’s not always easy. I know what it’s like to not be true to myself, it sucked. You only get so much time on this planet; for me, doing work that matters and living authentically was more important that making a lot of money in a job that didn’t suit me. Maybe that will change in the future and I would take a job for more security, but I need to believe in the company and mission.

nomad-and-camera-sasha-cagen-tango.jpg

Writing this book Wet feels like an important mission for me even though sticking with it has been challenging. I’ve been working on it for 4 years, much longer than earlier projects. I am eager to get through a second draft this year so at some point in the future I can share the ride and lessons with my readers. People can learn about Wet here and listen to a podcast interview I did about the book.

N+C: Lastly, for readers interested in joining you on a Tango Adventure, what are the top three things they can look forward to?

SC: Here are three things you can look forward to:

  • Having your first tangasm! We set you up with amazing teachers and dancers so you can have that experience of bliss. In many ways, beginners are best suited to having tangasms because you don’t have rules or technique blocking you, so don’t let being a total beginner stop you.
  • Your taxi dancer experience. We set you up with a private dance for hire, the first time you go out to a milonga with the intention to dance. This helps you take your first tango steps in Buenos Aires. You will have a lot of support for learning the dance.
  • Tango shoe shopping. We help you find the tango shoes to support your dream of dancing well, whether you have wide or narrow feet, or sore arches.

Plus you’ll have two leisurely beautiful meals with me at my favorite local spots where I am your insider guide to tango and help you connect the dots on what you are learning in tango and what you are learning for your life.

Because our clients have busy work schedules, we are now offering the experience on an individual booking basis. You tell us when you want to come and if it works for us we book it!

We are booking for the Fall Semester (Spring in Buenos Aires): September to December. Spots are super limited since this is so personalized so if this calls your soul then get in touch today!

To start the conversation about your trip to Buenos Aires, head to DiscoverYouTango and enter your email address on the front page.

N+C: I’m glad you mentioned the tango shoe shopping because I felt my sluggish tango performance in BA was due to a lack of tango attire. I will also give Is Tango Better Than Sex? a read when my girlfriend is not around. But anyway, Sasha thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview and share your incredible journey with me and the N+C community. I will let you know the next time I’m in Argentina which is hopefully sooner than later! You can follow Sasha’s tangoing and other adventures on her Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.

All photos (minus the one of me and Sasha) are courtesy of Sasha Cagen.