under the weather

Sick and tired of being sick and tired . . . Found a BBC video (that tango dancer Keano posted on Facebook) to cheer myself up:

Argentina's love affair with the Tango

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/world_news_america/8215510.stm

Feeling better already. :)

More on taking care of tango toes!

Great video posted on Tango Connections' (tangoconnections.ning.com) Tango Health Group




and more exercises . . .

An Exact Present - el duende

"All love songs must contain duende. For the love song is never truly happy. It must first embrace the potential for pain. [...] goodness cannot be trusted unless it has breathed the same air as evil." -- Nick Cave, 1999

"All arts are capable of duende, but where it finds greatest range, naturally, is in music, dance, and spoken poetry, for these arts require a living body to interpret them, being forms that are born, die, and open their contours against an exact present." -- Federico García Lorca

My friend,

You asked again about the duende when we talked about tango the other night. I'm always at a loss for accurate words on that subject. Which is ironic since, at its best, the duende can be the writer's greatest inspiration. At its worst, it can strangle your muse and burn your words to ash while you sit gibbering at the unfairness of it all.

Is it coincidence that the same day you asked me, another dancer (and writer) said that she was constantly looking for the duende, seeking it out in her dance, and in her writing.

Surely that must mean I should say something. Give some answer to you.

But the answer is I don't look for the duende anymore. Though it's never really far away. Sometimes I catch it loitering around my thoughts like that friend your mother warned you about.

Twice I've fallen deep into its euphoria, the feeling that breaks over your skin like the worst fever of your life. It's in that moment of realization that everything - you, me, and this wonderful source of euphoria whatever it is (or whoever it is), have an expiration date. Nothing lasts. It can all be taken away. That moment between having and not having, when the balance shifts....

the duende.

The first time I wasn't even dancing. Dancing tango had been the furthest thing from my mind. But the music played. It was so beautiful I couldn't breathe. One moment my friend, the one who brought tango into my life 7 years ago, was there and the next moment she was gone from this world. The music captured the void left behind like a snapshot.

The second time, I had finally started dancing to the music I'd listened to for so long. In that cocoon of elation, joy, beauty - it was still there. The duende was the ache at the center of it all. Ever patient, the duende waited until just that perfect time, stars aligning in the heavens, to remind me that all things end. That is what makes every wondrous, beautiful thing possible.

So for now, I'm happy to dip my toes in the shallow end of the pool. I find myself soothed and comforted in the music and the dance. When I see the shadows swim a little closer to the surface, I take my leave.

Just for now.

Some day I'll dive back in, I'm sure. I'm a writer - I can't help myself.

Here's to showing up . . .

But the traveler that flees
sooner or later stops his walking
And although forgetfulness,
which destroys all,
has killed my old dream,
I keep concealed a humble hope
that is my heart's whole fortune.

"Volver" - Lyrics: Alfredo Lepera, Music: Carlos Gardel

"Ninety-percent of life is just showing up." -- Woody Allen

I just went through pictures from 2009's Austin Spring Tango Festival and experienced a huge shift in perspective. I had only had a couple of classes (literally two classes) and had only been to one milonga. I knew exactly 3 people out of the several dozen in attendance. Far too intimidated to dance, I haunted the back rows of chairs and watched, completely mesmerized by the dancers and then later, the performances by the guest instructors.

Looking through the pictures now, I can't believe how many people I know. I now recognize more than half the people in the pictures. I've danced with about a dozen of them. It's only been about 5 months since that night. That night of pacing outside the main dance floor, wondering what on earth I thought I was playing at coming to a milonga like this. Finally going in only when I heard The Immortal, Gardel's voice. Volver. I took it as a sign. After all, you can't leave a dance during your favorite song.

I didn't dance. But I didn't leave either.
Here's to showing up . . .

Espejo (updated)

"I recall avoiding my own gaze for many, many years. It was somehow creepy, and this look-alike stranger returning my stare made me feel very uncomfortable. There was an aversion, no doubt fueled by the fear of discovering something grotesque, to looking into those eyes. Of catching myself in a lie; or seeing the hypocrite; of discovering that part of myself for which I needed to accept responsibility.The part that was responsible for my own misery. Because I knew, subconsciously perhaps, that if and when I ever did accept responsibility for myself, I’d have to do something about it, or I would never know peace. I would never be able to dance."

--The Tao of Tango, by Johanna Siegmann,"The Mirror Chapter", http://www.taooftango.com/PDF%20and%20Documents/Mirror%20Chapter.pdf


When I first started, I couldn't face you at all. I could look as far as your ankles before flinching and turning away. Technique classes where we must stand facing one another, you and I, are torture. My teacher points at you and says, "look! watch!" I nod, but look away again.

Now, I can reach your waist. I get that far only because at first I didn't recognize your legs. Narrower than when we'd started. More aligned. But still clumsy, stepping too heavily. Your waist is as far as I can look.

Sometimes, by accident, I see you. Again, I look because at first I don't recognize you. But as soon as I do, I look away. Very rarely, I catch your face over some leader's shoulder and wonder who you are looking so serene through half open eyes, smiling. Happy and sad at the same time. Where did that expression come from? How did you get here?

Tango Feet: technique and exercises

After watching the video of my dancing, I was startled at how different my feet look from not only the dancers I admire most, but also from simply more advanced dancers. My instructors are always telling me to turn my feet out, caress the floor, point my toes etc etc. And while I attempt these various things, it never comes off to my (or their) satisfaction. I was clearly missing something. I've tried exercises to strengthen my ankles and my feet, increase my flexibility - but I still felt there was something missing in my alignment. I could see it in the video very clearly. I was stepping, but not dancing. So time for more research.

I started with Ney Melo and Jennifer Bratt's excellent advice HERE

Then followed with Tango and Chaos's extremely thorough page on the subject HERE

But it wasn't until I read this on Dance Forums, that I really got the alignment issue nailed. That post can be found HERE

Now I'm doing dozens of exercises under my desk and already feeling the subtle difference in my walk/gait. Hopefully soon I will look like I'm dancing, and not just stepping to the music.

Turbulent Milongas

Another tango blogger (http://me-likey-tango.blogspot.com - check him out!) used the word "turbulence" to describe a milonga that seemed to be particularly strange-feeling (or maybe chaotic is a better word.) The vibe just isn't the same as it usually is at that venue. I've run in to this a couple of times. It's especially jarring, and sometimes very disheartening, when it happens at a milonga that is normally very comfortable. The music is good. There are lots of familiar faces. But the feeling just isn't the same. Dances feel a bit bumpy. The line of dance can be erratic. Everyone seems to be hearing different music.

I think there are few things that can contribute to turbulence. A higher number of new dancers than usual (not just beginner dancers, but dancers who don't usually attend that particular venue). If one or two dancers who are normally the "glue" of milongas (those dancers who welcome new faces, dance with all the new people etc, make the rounds, saying hello to everyone) are feeling out of sorts, or are absent, That can be enough to throw off the feel of a milonga. Sometimes it's just a mystery.

How to handle those milongas? That's a personal preference sort of thing. If you're up to it and haven't been too discouraged, make the rounds and chat a bit. Introduce yourself to new people. Be liberal with the hugs. Wait a few tandas and watch the floor. If there seem to be a lot of collisions or just some visible unpleasantness, you may want to sit out for a little while. For me, these milongas tend to get better much later in the evening. In the mean time, look for your usual partners and say hello. Ask how they're doing, even ask their impression of the floor - but resist the temptation to get too negative. Negativity seems to build on negativity and soon no one's having a good time.

Has anyone else encountered these sorts of conditions? What did you do?

Molinete/grapevine help?

This may not be something that can be addressed in words, honestly. I'm planning to take a private soon, and will certainly address it there. But as I've found that many followers in my classes have been corrected on this also, I thought I'd ask for any advice.

I am weak on my molinete/grapevines, not because I can't do them, but because I often get ahead of my leader. When I wait for the explicit lead, leaders have gotten impatient because I "missed" their lead. If I'm unsure that it was led (in other words, I'm guessing) - then I of course get ahead. When I am told to express my steps to the music, then I sometimes end up ahead of my leader again. Conversely, when I slow down and wait again for the explicit lead, I end up behind the music. Any advice out there for a confused newbie tanguera?

Embrace update ... and what I left out

This post is the result of realizing that I had added something important, that I had accidentally left out of the original post (My First Tango Workshop), in my responses to readers' emails, but never put in the post itself. So I want to take this opportunity to clarify a point, and update longer term effect on my dancing.

After the workshop with Oliver and Silvina (and after the "caca embrace incident"), as I was packing up and talking to another dancer, I mentioned feeling a bit over my head as I'd only been dancing for 4 months. At that comment, Oliver turned around and asked, "4 months?" I nodded. He remarked in a kinder tone, that for 4 months I was doing very well. Silvina had turned at that point and nodded agreement. So there was some ... I'm not sure what the word is that I'm looking for... resolution? I felt better, anyway - not quite so inept. I wrote that several times in answering emails from people - but apparantly only imagined that I'd written that somewhere in my post. Leaving it out somewhat misrepresented the situation as a whole, and I've tried above everything else to open and complete about these experiences in my tango education.

There is one more point that I need to add. What I learned from them was very helpful, more helpful than I thought it would be at the time. I added Oliver's advice to my repertoire and used it where it felt natural and useful. Even though I don't staunchly keep my hand on the shoulder blade or bicep of my partner (because I don't find that to be workable or preferable for many of the leaders with whom I dance), I have been complimented a few times since then on my embrace in particular. I'm still surprised when I get any compliment on my dance - but I was especially surprised to be complimented on that.

Like everything else in tango it seems, the more awkward/embarrassing/painful lessons sometimes (frequently?) teach the most.

Humbling . . .

This past Saturday's milonga could definitely be classified as a "learning opportunity" for me. There were a lot of unfamiliar dancers from other cities, and more than the usual number of beginner to almost-intermediate dancers (like me). Floor craft was not as consistent as it usually is. Normally, this is my most comfortable, familiar milonga. I know almost all of the faces, if not the names. I've danced with most of the leaders etc. Not so last Saturday night.

There was a short beginner class before the milonga as usual, which gave us the opportunity to get to know one another. Once the milonga started in earnest, I felt I was dancing with beginner after beginner. My usual partners either weren't asking me to dance, or weren't present at all, though a few came much later. It felt like I was having a harder and harder time dancing with anyone. I started to worry that I was looking like I was fresh from my first tango class. That was where the trouble really began. I started to worry more about how I was appearing to dance - than how I was actually dancing.

Soon, I started feeling critical of some of the leaders. Clearly it was their leading and not my following that was to blame. I felt manhandled, pushed, shoved, irritable. I'd been backed into other dancers. Finally, I just sat down. I had a glass of wine. And sulked. As I tried to shake off the pity party, I looked at these gentleman that I had, a few seconds earlier, started to regard as "less skilled dancers". I watched them lead other partners into far more complex steps than I had been able to follow. They looked graceful, generous in their lead, musical.

It wasn't them.
It was me.
It had probably been me all along.

I had carried baggage from one dance to the next, becoming increasingly difficult to lead. Heavy. Even selfish. I had begun to worry about my appearance. By the last new leader I had danced with, I wasn't even offering a truly genuine follow. I blamed being tired, collisions early on, stress. Deep down I was just getting a bit, well... pissy, actually. I tried to think of a classier word - but there you have it. I was being pissy.

So now I was faced with a decision - go home or stick it out and see if it gets better. I've just written a post on staying to the end of the milonga - would I give up now? I had a little "come to Jesus" meeting with myself in the bathroom, freshened up, smiled, and walked out like I was starting over. I danced all the way to the end of the milonga. Unfortunately, it was too late to be gracious to the gentlemen I had not given my best to. So I'll keep an eye out for them at local milongas and hope that sometime I get the chance to give them my best dance.

The video . . .

I finally worked up the nerve to record my dancing. My most frequent vals partner and I decided it was time to see how we were doing. If you haven't done this, I do highly recommend it. But be prepared for a certain amount of cringing and wincing. As I watched the recording, this is roughly what was going through my mind:

"omg I didn't collect my ankles.
geez, I'm still not collecting . . .
my ochos are crap . . .
I need to pull in my tummy ...
my toes aren't turned out, I look pigeon-toed!...
ugh..."
I nearly watched the last half of the video through my fingers.

And then I relaxed. Took a deep breath.

I looked for the things I was doing right.
I've stopped hesitating before walking forward and outside of my partner.
I'm not shifting weight without my partner, anymore - or occasionally sharing weight on both feet.
Little things, but I am making progress.

The best part though, was watching my partner. I never get to see what he's doing when we dance. I can sort of imagine how he looks when he leads what he does - and of course I can watch him dance with other followers and get an idea of his dance from that too. But actually putting together what I feel being led with how it actually looks when it all comes together, that's really something.

Since I don't have permission from my tango partner to share the video, I won't be posting it anywhere. But I'm fairly confident there will be more. In the mean time, I'll be working on my ochos in my kitchen.

Stuck on vals!



After a month's "intensive" on vals at Esquina Tango - and then the continuation (due to popular demand) of vals classes into this month - I'm finding that I'm not only far more comfortable dancing vals - but that I get disappointed when little or no (gasp!) vals is played at the milonga. How did that happen so fast? Maybe it's just that the steps/patterns/choreography we've been learning involve a lot of turns (for example the "turning box" which is one of my very favorites so far) - a lot of fast turns. Most of the leaders I've danced with know that I'm pretty easy to entertain on the milonga floor - but turns of nearly any kind are my favorite. If I'm a little dizzy between songs - I'm having a good time. (I just have to refrain from making happy "wheee!" noises in my partner's ear.)

Next mission - conquering my fear of milonga!

Daniela Arcuri's Workshop at GoDance Studio

Sorry for the delay in getting this post written - seems like ages since the workshop.

I was only able to take the first of Daniela's classes which focused on posture, strength and balance exercises. The class included around 30 people from experienced dancers to "I just walked in off the street, what class is this?" dancers and I believe that she accomodated all of us very well. The exercises, while simple and straightforward, were not easy to hold - which was her point. Bending knees deeply into lunges, while disassociating the torso and twisting - and, because you can always do more afterall, check foot position so that the toe is pointed out. She walked up and down the lines of dancers to check foot position, lower shoulders, straighten backs - meanwhile several dancers (including me) were starting to quiver from the exertion. We were barely moving but we were working hard just holding the forms.

Most of the time Daniela maintained a careful balance between pointing out areas that needed to be improved without making anyone feel singled out. She did address one gentleman's walk (the ballroom panther sort of walk) by saying it looked feminine, but quickly added that the style he was walking is commonly taught that way - but that she didn't teach it. She then demonstrated the style that she preferred instead. The rest of the time any criticism she made, she made subtly and quietly (in that class anyway.) I can't speak to the rest of the classes since I only attended the first one. I was told later that the other classes were quite good and complemented the material being taught by our local teachers.

After the class I talked with another follower who was a little disappointed in the class because it didn't cover any new patterns and steps. There seems to be a segment of dancers in every class (most often followers, strangely) who believe that the classes never go fast enough, never teach enough new steps, never cover enough new ground. I find myself repeating the same advice I was given a couple of months ago - if you already know the steps/pattern/style being taught, then work on your technique. As a dancer, you're never, ever done working on technique.

If Daniela holds any further classes in Austin, I'll try to check them out - particularly if they focus on form and technique.