22T 15 | Rites Of Passage


Rites of passage are an acknowledgment and an understanding that you will come and approach and go through several “anticipated” and “known” life phases as you mature. In this episode, Linda Sutton explains why undergoing rites of passage is essential to preparing you for the next phase of your life. It’s important to understand that when you’re not successfully going through rites of passage, not only will you be unprepared, but you could also be wreaking havoc on all of the other members of your family. When you’re not prepared, you could prevent your relatives from progressing through their phases, or you could be showing a bad example to the younger members of your family. Tune in and learn more about the different rites of passage in the various phases of life, their impacts on personal development, and their effects on relationships.

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Rites Of Passage And Its Impact On Relationships

We are going to be talking about rites of passage and its impact on relationships. Some of you may or may not know that prior to being involved with Tango, I was an instructor and professor of African dance forms throughout the diaspora. Meaning, African culture and dance forms and how they not only were dispersed and distributed throughout the world, but also the corresponding that African dance, music and cultural elements had an impact on cultures all around the world. That was my area of expertise. It’s how I got involved in Argentine Tango as I was exploring the African roots of Tango. It took over my life for different reasons in terms of what I was learning from it spiritually.

Rites Of Passage As A Cultural Element In Africa

We’re going to go into Tango’s African roots and talk about some cultural elements that come into play when it comes to relationships and a cultural element that comes into play that can greatly impact relationships. I know that might have seemed like a little bit of a riddle, but by the end of this episode, all of that will make sense. Some people may not even be aware of what rites of passage is. I’m going to start there and make sure we’re all on the same page. I do want to have a caveat. I will talk about African culture, music and dance. I want to acknowledge that Africa is a continent that has many countries and those countries have many ethnic groups.

Africa is not a country. It is a continent that is comprised of many countries, different ethnic groups and therefore, different cultures that are attributed to those different ethnic groups in those countries. It’s not an overarching thing. However, there are some fundamental concepts and elements that you will see across all of the ethnic groups and all of the cultural groups on that continent as well as throughout the world. For example, dance. Dance is a cultural element that you will see across many ethnic groups in Africa as well as in Europe, Asia and America. We start talking about African dance or music or those cultural elements. I’ll talk about them in an overarching way.

In an African cultural paradigm and you also see this throughout the world, rites of passage is a cultural element that is embedded in the life of the people. Rites of passage is an acknowledgment and an understanding that as you mature in life, you will come and approach and go through several “anticipated and known” life phases. Throughout your life, there are several life phases that you will approach that we can anticipate, for example, from childhood to adolescence to adulthood. Those are life phases that we can anticipate that everyone will go through at some point as they mature and as they grow in adulthood.

Rites of passage understand that those life phases and those life stages are coming. They’re expected. We can anticipate them coming. Therefore, as you move from one life stage to another, there is a preparation that is needed, required and desired as you prepare to enter into that next phase or stage. There’s an understanding that as you move from one life phase or stage to the next, there’s some preparation that needs to occur to prepare you to be ready for what is involved in that next stage. Those who have gone before you know what some of those are. What they do is they take you through this process, which is called rites of passage loosely or it’s referred to in some way as rites of passage, in order to prepare you and get you ready for that next phase or stage.

22T 15 | Rites Of Passage

Rites Of Passage: Many relationship breakdowns happen because people have not successfully gone through the rites of passage to prepare for the next phase of life.


They understand that you may not understand what is necessary, but their role and their goal is to equip you, train you, and ready you for that next stage and phase. That is usually embedded in cultures all around the world. It’s common in cultures around the world from bar mitzvahs to quinceañera. Those represent rites of passage that exist in a natural part of different cultures. Those kinds of things and even circumcision sometimes could be acknowledged as early phase rites of passage. This is important to understand because in the Americas, especially more in the US culture, that is not necessarily as common or as formal.

We may talk about the sweet sixteen or coming to age at the age of eighteen, and then the coming of the next level of age at the age of 21. Those formal preparation stages at least in current culture and society may not be as common as we would expect in other countries and other cultures. From an African cultural worldview, those rites of passage ceremonies preparations are usually formal and comprehensive, as I say, from cradle to grave. From the beginning of life to one sunset years. From someone’s sunrise to someone’s sunset.

Rites Of Passage In The United States

I’m going to focus on the United States. What I have observed is that in the United States, these rites of passage ceremonies, rituals and preparations are not as common and as formal. A lot of the relationship breakdowns that we see are because people have not successfully either gone through rites of passage to prepare for that next phase of life. They don’t understand what that next phase of life involves. They are in denial of that next life phase. From childhood to adolescence, to adulthood, to becoming a husband or wife, to becoming a father or mother, to eldership, each of these life phases requires an understanding of the upcoming phase. It requires preparation for the apparent shifts that will happen.

When you don’t understand those life phases and those shifts or you’re not prepared for them or you deny them, not only does it disrupt your own personal development. Because those around you, in front of you and behind you in terms of chronology are going through those phases anyway, you can impact the development of those around you. If you are not prepared to move into your next phase, you can not only disrupt your own personal development, but you can disrupt the development of your children perhaps or your grandchildren. They are going to be going progressively through their phases as well, so you might see a clash there.

Lack Of Preparation For Eldership

One of the areas that I’m seeing the most prominent in terms of lack of understanding and preparation, and a denial of this life phase is the rites of passage into eldership. I’m seeing a real lack of preparation and understanding for our men and women that are moving into the phase of eldership and into their sunset years. I don’t want to confuse retirement with eldership. Eldership is standing in the community. Retirement is standing in the workforce. Those are different and you can arrive at a state of eldership sooner than retirement because your retirement may be set by law in terms of age. However, your status as an elder may come at a different phase as your children move into the creation of their own families. That might put you into eldership at a different timeframe or age than which is set by retirement. I want to acknowledge that.

Those who’ve gone before you take you through the rites of passage to prepare and get you ready for the next phase in your life. Click To Tweet

I will do a whole episode on the breakdown of family relationships when that rites of passage and eldership do not move forward successfully. I’m going to do it as it relates to the father and the mother, or the man of the house and the woman of the household. When they do not successfully move into eldership, they create these two different phenomena that we joke about in culture. That is about becoming the monster-in-law or the mother-in-law, and this idea of the crazy uncle or the Romey Rome, the perpetual man who is tempting to reclaim his youth by becoming a bachelor retroactively. I want to do an episode completely on those two things because I see it’s becoming more common in culture and it’s creating a ripple effect in the development of the generations coming behind them. It needs to be addressed upfront.

In a summary fashion, I want to acknowledge that as far as eldership is concerned. When there is a lack of preparation for eldership and there is a lack of preparing and facing one’s mortality and potential frailty, if you subscribe to those things, but that’s a whole other conversation. Most people, as they move into eldership, are facing their own mortality and frailty. When they don’t face those or prepare for them, it creates a ripple effect for the generations coming behind them. It often puts the onus for that preparation on the generation of their children that they should have taken on themselves, at least in terms of thinking it through. I will do a whole episode on those because it’s intricate in terms of the ripple effect that has on the generations when a parent, a mother or father does not prepare for the phase or the coming of their own frailty or mortality, or the shift of their role as it relates to their family as their family matures.

When they do that, they usually don’t shift the roles successfully and create a problem in family dynamics in that way. Many times, they will attempt to recover their youth. Because they’re attempting to recover their youth, they wind up competing with the youth of the coming generation rather than preparing the youth of the upcoming generation. You may even see elder men competing with their sons and grandsons for female mates rather than preparing their sons and grandsons to be successful fathers and husbands. Those are the kinds of dynamics that you may see. A mother fighting for her son’s attention rather than supporting the new rising matriarch of the family. As their son moves from being a son to a husband and a father, the mother may become at odds with the new wife and mother that is coming up through her son. You see all kinds of tensions there. Those are the things that happen when you do not successfully go from the rites of passage into eldership.

Lack Of Preparation For Parenthood

Another area of rites of passage that can cause a breakdown in relationships is parenthood. When children that are adults are not prepared for the rites of passage of parenthood, then they have not usually been groomed to understand the impact, implications and consequences of their sexual engagement. They may not be prepared for the fact that this is a potential consequence. They also might not be prepared for the outcome of their consequence. They may be sexually engaged. You have families that haven’t been planned and prepared for. The father or mother may not be mentally, physically, emotionally or financially prepared for that. However, when they receive their training upfront, then they can start the process of preparing for that in their early adulthood before they become spouses and become parents. I know I’m going to go in reverse but when they get this preparation, they start to understand that the choices that they make could impact their lives for the rest of their lives.

Continuing on the rites of passage in terms of becoming a spouse, you usually see that come in the form of a bridal shower and a bachelorette party at least in the United States. Maybe some premarital counseling. The kinds of preparing a young man and a young woman to become a spouse and to become a parent is something that needs to be coming up through their early adulthood phase. Not only the training but the preparatory steps that are needed. Young men being prepared to understand that they will need to be able to provide financially and emotionally and in terms of commitment to the woman that they mate with and create children with. Those kinds of things are training and rites of passage that need to occur prior to it occurring.

22T 15 | Rites Of Passage

Rites Of Passage: Just because you do not know the purpose of a thing does not mean it does not have one.


When it does not occur, then you have broken homes, families that are not completed, and children that are not being provided for by both parents in a healthy holistic environment. Just because we’re functioning and surviving outside of that concept construct, that was not a part of the design. It requires both a man and a woman to create the child because the child requires more time to mature. The contribution of the mother and father to be present in that child through all of the stages of early development are needed and needed in proximity because that’s how they learn. Children learn by watching their parents and by observing all the life skills that they need. If you don’t have parents in the home, engaging with each other in a healthy way, not only do they not go through the early stages of childhood development successfully, but they also don’t learn the skills that are necessary in order to have successful relationships in the future. That’s reality. It has a ripple effect.

On continuing to go backward, the rites of passage into adulthood is essential because children are learning to become fully responsible for their actions legally, morally and societally. As a young person, until they come of age, the parents absorb some of the responsibility for the actions of the young person because they are not legally responsible for some of those actions in most cases. As they come into adulthood, not only are they socially, morally and societally responsible for their actions, but now there’s a legal component. When a young person is prepared for rites of passage, they understand the responsibilities, implications and consequences that come with that new legal responsibility for their actions.

Adolescence As A Rite Of Passage

Continuing to go backward, adolescence is a rite of passage. In some cultures, you may see a little bit of it in terms of the sweet sixteen, quinceañera, which is the fifteenth birthday, and the bar mitzvah, which is where we acknowledge that the young person has started to shift into adulthood. That is in part because of the physical changes that they’re going through, the hormonal changes. They’re beginning to seek independence along with those accompanying hormonal and physical developmental changes and maturation. However, during this phase, they are not yet legally responsible for their actions in most cases. The parents are still legally responsible. They’re learning how to manage in that new space of wanting independence and wanting to be treated as being responsible but not being legally, morally, and societally responsible. Also, learning that they don’t yet have the experience to make certain decisions and are to be trained and prepared for that.

Moving From Infanthood To Childhood

In some ways, you might see cotillion and things like that, charm schools and things that you may have seen in the past where young ladies and young men were being prepared in the early stages of preparation of what it means to be an adult. Also, the early stages of what it means to be a spouse and a potential parent. The early stages of grooming and the rites of passage start in adolescence. Acknowledging that hormonal and physical developmental change that is occurring, and then moving from infanthood into childhood. There are some rites of passage that you see this. The child is moving from complete dependence on the mother in terms of their physical needs and nourishment to starting to go through the phases of development and varying levels of independence throughout their childhood phases.

One area where you may see rites of passage is when the child goes from being an infant at home or in daycare to going to school. That’s a big shift in terms of the rites of passage and preparing the child to no longer be 100% under the care of the parents, but now being expected to be away from their parents for longer periods of time. Interacting with other adults and other children successfully. That can be rites of passage. I know I went in reverse, but just to do a quick review of the various rites of passage. You go from infanthood to childhood, childhood to adolescence, adolescence to adulthood, adulthood to becoming a spouse, a spouse to becoming a parent, and a parent to becoming an elder are the most commonly known life phases.

The choices you make could impact you for the rest of your life. Click To Tweet

I know culturally and societally, things may change, but those are phases that should come up. Many of them are in preparation for the next phase and next stage for a reason and rightfully so. If you do not know the purpose of a thing, you will abuse it. As I like to say, just because you do not know the purpose of a thing does not mean it does not have one. The rites of passage process has a purpose, whether or not we know what it is or understand it or think it’s outdated or no longer needed or useful. When we do not go through them, it has an impact on our development, relationships, family units and therefore, community and society.

This is important and critical that we understand that when we are not successfully going through rites of passage and we’re not prepared, not only are we not prepared, but we could be wreaking havoc on all of the other members of our families because they aren’t progressing through their phases. If a gentleman is not prepared to go into eldership and he goes through what we call the midlife crisis, and now he’s competing with his son for a mate, that creates a whole different dynamic. If a young man is coming of age where he is looking for mates that are his contemporaries, meaning his same age, but his father or his grandfather or his uncle is competing for the same young ladies, that creates a real power struggle and clash. It creates a disruption in the flow because normally, that young man might be seeking advice, wisdom and guidance from the gentleman on what to do. However, he can’t seek that if he is competing for the same young ladies as his uncle or his father or his grandfather.

This was real. We don’t like to talk about it. We’re in a different cultural paradigm. We have different dynamics. Just because we have different dynamics does not mean that there’s not a natural disruption. A sapling is not a redwood. Just because we want to say that they’re all trees, it’s true but the trees are in different stages of development, maturation and life. Therefore, they have different requirements and things that they are bringing to bear. We want to acknowledge that because these things are important and can create mental, emotional, spiritual and financial challenges that get shifted. I wanted to acknowledge that from an African and world cultural paradigm, that we might want to start looking at those for ourselves.

Even if we don’t have formal mechanisms in our community for doing that, seek to create them because those things are coming into play. For those who come from generations of cultures where that is formalized, we can provide guidance to those who are not aware. Perhaps help them to understand that some of the disruptions that they may be experiencing in their own personal lives or in their relationships or in their families are in part because they did not go through rites of passage. They did not make the transition physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, even though they are progressing. That is what’s creating the schism and there’s no congruency there. They are an elder, but they’re not acknowledging that they already moved into that life phase from a developmental standpoint.

In Tango, you will see that. I like to bring it to Tango. We’ve talked a little bit about it, but I want to bring it to the forefront again, which is you’re going from being in a single state to a state of partnership. There are things that you do to prepare yourself physically in terms of your own technique in your training to prepare you to be in partnership. For example, being able to manage your own balance is something that you might work on without a partner to prepare you to be with a partner more successfully.

I love this because there’s your own independent technique, training and study as a single person or as a single dancer that prepare you to be in partnership with a partner, and to be in a dance with your partner successfully. Similarly, you see that in the rites of passage, which as single people, they are learning to prepare in terms of what it means to go from being single to be in a spouse or committed relationship. To transition and prepare spiritually in your season of singleness for your season of partnership. You see that even in your Tango training.

With us, we have two different training programs or systems that I created. One is the You To Tango system, which is how you prepare yourself in your training as a single person and preparing for partnership in the dance. Of course, Two To Tango, which is the dance of relationships and the dance of partnerships. There was a period of preparation for partnership. If you can understand the new role that you’re about to enter into, then you can also understand the responsibilities that come with that and the consequences of moving from a state of singleness to a state of partnership.

Usually, there’s some testing even in Tango that occurs either with your peers or your elders or other members of the dance or even your partner in terms of testing your readiness to move into the next stage. It could come in the form of your instructor. Your instructor could say, “You’re not ready to get out on the floor by yourself in a social environment. You don’t know how to navigate yet.” We may keep you in the classroom setting training here before you are ready to go into a social environment. Because you don’t have navigation skills, you might not be able to successfully and safely negotiate in having your partner on a dance floor. We might need to keep you in a training environment until it’s ready, and then your partner or your instructor or other dancers within the community may let you know that it’s time for you to move into that new space and that new place that we know as the dance of Tango.

This is Linda. We’ve been talking about the rites of passage and we’ll circle back around and talk about the monster-in-law and Romey Rome, the uncle here on The 22Tango Show and how going or not going through rites of passages successfully can have an impact on your relationships, the dance on relationships, and even your Tango. As we say here on The 22Tango Show, it not only takes two to tango but absolutely it takes you to tango.