An Intimate Mixture




"I prefer to explore the most intimate moments, the smaller, crystallized details we all hinge our lives on."

Poet Rita Dove

Intimate
1600–10; intim(us) a close friend (n. use of the adj.)

- characterized by or involving warm friendship or a personally close or familiar association or feeling,
- (of an association, knowledge, understanding, etc.) arising from close personal connection or familiar experience,
- worn next to the skin,
- showing a close union or combination of particles or elements: an intimate mixture,
- inmost; deep within,
- of, pertaining to, or characteristic of the inmost or essential nature; intrinsic,
- of, pertaining to, or existing in the inmost depths of the mind,


In the US, the word "intimate" is a loaded word. When I say I have close, intimate friends - the meaning could be innocent (itself a misleading, and loaded, word.) But if I say feel an intimate connection with my partner when we dance (especially when we talk about tango), suddenly we're talking about something else. When people watch tango from sidelines, it certainly looks like something else. The tango is about passion after all. But the passion of tango is both personal and transcendent.

We try so hard to make things black and white in this country. The answer is either A or B, yes or no. You are either in the "lover" category or the "not lover" category. If you are in the "lover" category, then we are intimate and we can't be (just) friends. If you are in the "friend" category, we aren't lovers and we can't be intimate. We can be this close, but not that close. This feeling is okay, that feeling is not.

Tango, the tango of Argentina, the tango that sweats, sighs into our neck, whispers in our ears, sings in our blood, and aches through our limbs - is intimate. It is "worn next to our skin." Under our skin. How can it be anything else to do what it does? We long for intimacy. Our world, this modern Western marvel of civilization (particularly in America) isolates us, and strips us of pieces of our humanity. Forcing us to turn off inappropriate emotions, avert our eyes from uncomfortable scenes, push each other away, build walls. If we are lucky enough to encounter tango - to fall into the culture of the milonga - the transition from "outside world" to the milonga is palpable. Like changing our clothes... or skin..

"Let me slip into something more comfortable . . ."

My addiction to tango was born and lives in the milonga. If I had to, I could give up the classes, the workshops, the festivals, everything else - but I could never give up the milonga. Before I dance my first tanda, I can feel the effect of the milonga over my skin. Warmth. Sometimes it's sad, sometimes it's euphoric. Each milonga, each night, has a personality. Sometimes, more than sometimes, it's nostalgic. It longs for something lost. The energy is intimate - familiar, essential, deep within.

Tango, and the milonga, gives permission to be human - to feel things, to be overwhelmed, to be nostalgic for our humanity and our connection to each other, to be intimate with strangers. To hold and be held. We may not learn each other's names. But in a tanda we learn and share more than we intend to. The dance demands it. To connect, really and truly connect for this dance - we must stop lying. To ourselves mostly. All of those things that are so important on the outside - our jobs, our status, our possessions - mean nothing in here. If we face the truth, that these things don't matter and connection, our intimacy, with other human beings is what really matters - how can we leave unchanged by that?


It is not accidental that our greatest art is intimate and not monumental.
German Social Scientist, Max Weber

What the Japanese can Teach us about Tango

In 1990-91, I spent several months learning the Japanese tea ceremony. Depending on how you learn the process, it can have over 90 steps and though the etiquette, use of the implements, and order of steps is very strict, the possibilities of expression and creativity within that structure are endless. Preparation for the ceremony, from the materials, implements, food to the location of the ceremony itself, can be daunting. Frequently, the preparation can take far longer than the ceremony itself.

Depending on the occasion, the season, the space, and the people - the ceremony can express many different things. It can celebrate the changing of the seasons, an anniversary, or mark an important event. Mostly though, it is a gift from one person, the host, to the guest(s). It is a gift of time, peacefulness, stillness, and of devoted attention. For the duration of the ceremony, host and guest are occupying a space of their own apart from the rest of the world. Neither person is of higher or lower status. There is very little talking. though there is most definitely a conversation going on. There are expressions of gratitude and appreciation in each motion and gesture, between host and guest.

I have had a love affair with so many facets of Japanese culture, as has my husband. For so long I could not figure out how I could experience the same profound centeredness, peacefulness, in tango as I did in performing the tea ceremony. That concentrated effort, the focus on my guest, the attention to detail - culminating in something as transient as drinking tea.

Then I read this quote on the tango blog: En Tus Brazos (http://golondrina-entusbrazos.blogspot.com/),

"You have to love dancing to stick to it. It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive. It is not for unsteady souls." -- Merce Cunningham

The tea ceremony blooms before us for one moment in time, and then it's gone. Like tango, we unwrap this gift in stages, in layers, only to find that the gift itself can't be held in our hands.

There has been a significant focus on the Japanese and the tango experience in Japan since Kyoko and Hiroshi Yamao won the Seventh World Championship of Tango (http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gg264kJVlkEW5_XjF1x__HoI-v3w) in the Salon category. Tango has been danced in Japan since the 1930's, so this is no new fad to the Japanese. In fact, much of the work done to preserve and restore traditional tango music can be credited to Japanese aficionados and dancers, in particular Tsunami Megata: http://www.todotango.com/English/biblioteca/cronicas/tango_en_japon.asp who, after learning tango in Paris, started the first Tango Academy in Tokyo.

The Japanese feel a strong empathy for the Argentine experience expressed within tango music. Japanese culture (especially literature) has common themes that speak to that experience.

Kyotani Kohji, bandeneon player, said, "Tangos are basically sentimental, as are we Japanese. When we play, we try to communicate to our audience the similarity of our feelings (with those of the Argentinos) rather than the contrasts between the latino and the Japanese; it is what we have in common that counts - sentimentality, sadness." (Kyotani, 1990, Interview)

Some recurring themes throughout Japanese cinema, art and literature are:

Mono no aware (lit. "the pathos of things"), also translated as "an empathy toward things," or "a sensitivity of ephemera," is a Japanese term used to describe the awareness of mujo or the transience of things and a bittersweet sadness at their passing.

Wabi-sabi, the aesthetic defined as the beauty of things "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete"

Yugen is said to mean “a profound, mysterious sense of the beauty of the universe… and the sad beauty of human suffering”

Shibui - "The word has no translation, but it means something like the bitter appearance of that which is positively beautiful" -- (1934) Arturo Montenegro, an Argentine diplomat in Tokyo.

Wouldn't these concepts easily fit into our understanding of el duende and the "in the moment" beauty of tango?

References: Tango and the Political Economy of Passion, by Marta E. Savigliano (Westview Press, 1995, ISBN 0-8133-1638-3, paperback)

Vanity - Dancing over the gap

Another follower and I were discussing the futility of make-up at the milonga. These days I can manage to keep mascara and eyeliner on - everything else is gone in about half an hour. So I don't bother with much else. Plus, when dancing close embrace, I can't imagine leaders would be all that thrilled to share my make-up. Every once in awhile I catch a glimpse of my reflection and I ready myself to flinch. But then I realize there's rarely anything to flinch at. I look how I'm supposed to look. I'm happy with the flushed face and freckles. Why shouldn't I be, right?

It's only a surprise to me because I have more than a dozen years of training tell me that I should be unhappy. I'm a refugee from the beauty industry. Almost two decades as a makeup artist, more than ten years in the skin care field, and a year as a trainer. When I started in the industry, the most fundamental sales technique was instilling a constant and pervasive sense of dissatisfaction in clients. You're never young enough, smooth enough, toned enough, soft enough, radiant enough. The core "take away" from this (and so many other consumer industries) - You Are Never Enough - not as you are. You will always need something more to attain beauty. In fact, beauty is external to you - not something you are, but something you might be able "to get." (And right now we have a gift with purchase!)

When I was in the business, I was what's only half-jokingly referred to as a beauty junkie. A lemming. Whatever was new and hot, I had to have it. At the same time my own satisfaction with my looks, my worth, plummeted. So I worked harder. I blew away my sales goals. I ran up debt to fill the ever widening chasm between who I thought I was and who I thought I should be.

At my worst, there was very little of "me" that anyone could actually see from the outside. My hair was blond (or sometimes very red), I wore acrylic nails, false eye lashes.. you name it. Even when I left the industry and started working in the healthcare field, my picture of myself didn't heal. Now I'm a smart cookie. I "knew" better than that - I just didn't "feel" better. Intellectually I knew my worth wasn't wrapped up in my looks or my possessions - but it still felt like it was. My "self" was in retreat.

What I never expected was that my "self" just needed to dance. Dancing tango didn't just give me a way to "get beautiful" - by losing weight (though it did), improving my poise (also did) - but dancing tango made me feel like I was already beautiful when I arrived. That it wasn't external to me - but part of me and everyone else. Sounds saccharine I know. This should be on Oprah, shouldn't it?

I still have the ongoing battle in my closet over what to wear - what doesn't fit anymore, what doesn't look quite right on me. That's human. I fuss. I still fret over my looks. Then I go to the milonga and let it go. I'm too busy dancing to give it the energy. The gap between who I think I am, and who I want to be, is narrowing, and I'm dancing over the gap.

Just thank you

I'm too sleepy to do the full blow-by-blow of the milonga tonight. Besides, I 've kind of already covered how much I love Esquina's milongas generally - and this one was every bit as good. I didn't get to dance with everyone I'd wanted to - but every dance I had was wonderful. Tonight was just a reminder of the gift that tango is in my life. Every dance, every conversation, and hug, and smile - is a gift. And I'm so grateful.

Victory

I have taken professional classes in all manner of topics - writing, photography, cooking, makeup artistry - tons. I've left those classes feeling secure in my knowledge, even victorious over mastering some new skill.

Tango classes aren't really like that.

When you leave tango workshops, you generally have a grocery list of new things you get to work on, new areas where you now know that you're weak.

In apilado class, we covered a style I've been wanting to learn very badly - but enthusiasm will only take you so far. Then you have to get to work. And work hard. I still pulled my shoulders back. I still wasn't bending my knees enough or extended my leg back far enough - or rather starting the motion where it was supposed to start, much higher up. And if I worked on one part, I stopped working on others - like keeping my ankles together. In apilado position, you become much more aware of your comfort and that of your partner. You're suddenly aware of how tall you are, where and how you fit together. Some people are easier instantly - some take more adjustment - especially when you're first learning to trust each other and the dance.

Behind me, as we rotated partners, I heard Daniela say, "I need a bigger girl" (to demonstrate with) and I giggled, until I realized she meant me. I knew what she meant though, I think. The young woman she was demonstrating with before that was very, very petite - and just learning this like the rest of us. With inexperience all around, choosing a woman closer to her frame is simply easier to demonstrate with and less intimidating for the student. Dancing with Daniela feels very comfortable. She feels secure - especially when she's telling me, "lean, lean, more, more, more - good!" I must admit to thinking that being led apilado steps by a woman would feel uncomfortable - and that truly wasn't the case. It's always nerve-wracking to dance with the instructor - but I felt such a strong, secure lead from her that I couldn't help but relax a bit and just get to "work". As we rotated around, I found I had different things I needed to do to get comfortable and balanced against their frame. Connection is paramount to absolutely everything else in this style.

From there we went into Milonga class where I had my a** handed to me on platter, as my dad would say. I'm a bit of a disaster during milongas - which is why I took this class. As we went through exercise after exercise, drill after drill, she finally said, 'okay, get a partner!' You mean that was the warm up??? I was already sweating like mad, and my ankles and calves were burning. Now you want me to do all of this craziness to the music!? You betcha - with all of the little pauses and 'rushes' in the phrasing. And keep connection. And collect your feet. A**. Platter. Thank you.

So now I have my list of stuff to work on - some things I already knew, some new areas.

But I did have one victory and it's a big one. (Other than just getting my butt to the class - which is a bit of a victory.) I could watch myself in the mirror - all of me, not just my feet - without flinching. I could keep an eye on my shoulders, my posture, my hips - everything, without having the sudden and pervasive desire to look away. I could face myself and my areas of weakness, my areas of progress - and really look.

(If I could have managed it in that state of exhaustion,) maybe I should have a victory lap after all.

My Life as a Tango Blogger

My tango experience has combined three of my favorite activities - dancing, writing and photography. I think that's what makes this such a thorough addiction. Tango has worked it's way into so many parts of my life. Still, it's very challenging. I have a husband (who does not dance), a job, two shiba inu (dogs), and one nutty cat. Essentially, I have a full time home life, full time job and full time hobby.

My morning starts at 5:30am. I stumble to my office (sometimes I remember my glasses, most of the time I don't) turn on the monitor and open Firefox. It's usually about that time I remember I don't have my glasses on and have to go fetch them. If it's Wednesday, I'm extra sleepy because of the Tuesday night milonga, which usually puts me in bed around midnight or 1am the night before.

I log on to my email before I do anything else and open the same five tabs.

1. Gmail - I usually have 5 or 6 emails from tango dancers that I need to answer first thing, so I do that first.

2. Blogger (I have to check everyone else's blog updates, write comments if I have any.)

3. Dance-forums.com (Tango Argentino forum). I'm just addicted to it. No real excuse for that one except maaaaaybe "research". Mardi, I blame you for this :) .

4. Tango Connections - http://tangoconnections.ning.com/ (Are you on this yet? It's like mini-Facebook for tango dancers!) I usually have a few emails to answer on TC and on Facebook.
5. Facebook.com (I never cared about Facebook until I started dancing, ironic isn't it?) The brilliant thing about Facebook and other social networks is that through them, I've gotten to know several tango dancers from all over the place - a few of whom have visited Austin since we connected online.

I also check Twitter.com occasionally ("@mkjohnson" if you want to follow me). Though I'm checking this one less and less as there seems to be more tango activity with my Facebook contacts.

By this time (usually about 20 minutes later) my stomach is growling and the puppies are circling (or is it the dogs that are growling and my stomach that's circling?) Either way, it's time to get busy on the rest of the day. Eat breakfast, walk dogs, wake husband, feed and worship the cat, wake husband again, go to work.

Then at some point during the day I get busy on the actual tango blogging. In between working and writing, I'm also prone to checking my email and Facebook updates compulsively. I love the internet. Really.

The Stuff I Write

Blogger - on MyTangoDiaries (http://mytangodiaries.blogspot.com/), I take a look at my stats, visits, comments etc. Compose a new post. Crosspost links to it on Twitter, Facebook, Vox, and Livejournal.

Tango Connections - there isn't much crossover between my blogger site and TC, so I mirror most of my posts so that they're on each page/site.

Topix Tango - http://www.topix.com/music/tango - I'm the editor of this little beauty. I get updates from Google news and Google blogs about Argentine Tango all over the world and "push" whatever articles aren't already automatically generated for the topix page. Then I go through event announcements and press releases and post those. (Note to teachers/organizers/dj's/webmasters - if you have tango news you'd like covered, just send me an email and I'll get it posted.)

Squidoo - I'm a "Lens master" for Central Texas Tango (http://www.squidoo.com/infinitetango) and Austin Spring Tango Festival (http://www.squidoo.com/astf) As I get more info, videos, pictures etc from local events, I post them on either or both of those pages, as appropriate. As an interface goes, I'm not all that enamored of Squidoo but it is very useful. It is very limited

And now I have our community's Spring Tango Festival Website project too - http://www.austinspringtangofestival.com/ (It's under construction - so I'll post a notice when that one's ready. Right now it has last year's information up.)

On the weekends I shoot and edit photos from milongas, classes, practicas - whatever I've managed to cover. I usually need a fairly large block of time for that so it all gets saved up for Sundays.

So that's my life as a tango blogger.
(PS - If you like the tank top, click on the picture to buy it from "IQ Therefore I am" on CafePress.)

Tango Apilado - Time to put my money where my mouth is

Those of you readers who are also on Tango Connections may have seen my post about abrazo apilado asking if the apilado embrace was widely used in different communities. Locally, tango salon is more widely danced than either milonguero or apilado (though the line between milonguero and apilado can be blurry.) Though it's rare, when I have had the opportunity to be led in that style, I really enjoyed the embrace and the musicality of it.

So, fast forward to yesterday when I get an email announcing that Daniela Arcuri is going to be teaching a class on Tango Apilado on Saturday. What are the chances??? I can't believe my luck! Not only will I get to learn and practice the technique, but I'll get to see who else has an interest in that style!



You can see another example of apilado style with Tete Rusconi here and a video here.

Update on Tango Health Project - Adjusting Assumptions

Responses to the interview questions are still filtering in and I find that some of my original assumptions (some of which I wasn't even aware of) have needed adjustment.

The original questionaire can be found here.

The biggest assumption I had made was that those people who credit their tango experience with improving their physical health would attribute that improvement *only* with tango. In fact about a third of the respondents said that they got just as much benefit from other forms of dance. Tango may even be their favorite form of dance at the moment, but those respondents cited that it was dance itself, physical activity and connection to the music, that brought the benefit.

Other observations:

- Very few of the respondents have cited strong connection to tango music itself (I am referring here to traditional tango music) as part of the experience of health improvement. Any music that makes you dance seems to be the important thing. Of those participants who did find particular benefit in the music, they were very specific in what composers were the easiest/least stressful to dance to.

- Only a third of the respondents who credit AT with health benefits dance close embrace most of the time. This data is probably skewed however since the followers who responded will tend to dance what their leaders lead. Women are told that they choose the embrace, but that really is something of a negotiation rather than a strict choice. Many communities are simply "open embrace" communities with few teachers teaching close embrace.

- Less than 10% of the respondents discuss dancing and health with their doctors.

One observation that was not a surprise:

- Two thirds of the dancers practice yoga, Pilates and/or Alexander Technique. - Half are getting concurrent massage and/or physical therapy for their injury/health condition.

How far would (or do) your local milongas go to follow the codes?

There is much discussion lately, on forums and blogs, about three organizers of a Hong Kong milonga establishing their venue according to traditional Buenos Aires codas. At Las Chinitas, men, women and couples will be seated separately. The cabeceo is to be used. Dancers will never start inviting people to dance before the first song of the tanda is played. You can read the full set of rules here:

http://laschinitashk.blogspot.com/

I can certainly see the usefulness of many of the codes, but I think there would always be a portion of the community who would feel stifled at having such rules put into place. For me there is only one major code that I think I would have trouble with in the beginning at least - separating everyone by gender (and couples). I'm used to being able to socialize with dancers of both genders, so even though I admit to spending my time mostly with other followers, I would have hard time getting used to not having the option of having a conversation with a leader.

Do your local milongas follow the traditional codes of Buenos Aires milongas? Would you like them to? Which codes would you like to see enforced more strenuously? Encouraging the use of the cabeceo? Clearing the dance floor during cortinas? Separate seating for men, women and couples? Dancers waiting until the music starts to ask their partner? Leaders walking their partner back to their table at the end of the tanda?

More dancing through the scariest things in tango

An update on "Dancing through the scariest things in tango"

Before you start reading this, commit to reading it to the end. I'm writing the bad news first and the good news at the end. But I'll give a preview to the good news -

Dancing tango is worth every bit of it.

Here's the original list from April 13th, 2009

1. Being the least experienced dancer in class. (I missed the first two classes.)

2. Being the last person picked as a partner (in the same class as above. No one wanted to dance with the absolute beginner.)

3. Being the worst (least experienced) dancer at a milonga. The mix is different at every milonga. Sometimes there are other beginners (from your class for example) and sometimes you're the only beginner there. Very rough but worth going!

4. Being dropped after the 1st song in a tanda because you can't keep up with the leader.

5. Being dropped after the 2nd song in a tanda because you can't keep up with the leader. (Does that mean I'm getting better?)

6. Going to milongas by myself - which is almost every time. It's nerve-racking each time it's a new venue, and then I'm over it.

Since then, I've added these:

7. Being the only tanguera not dancing at the milonga. Three leaders not dancing - and me. That gave me a bit of a complex. My mistake: I left early after that. More people, including leaders I dance with frequently, arrived a few minutes after I left. I have never regretted sticking out to the end, so that's my advice to people now. Hang in there. (Actually, my feet might veto that.)

8. Getting corrected harshly (I thought, anyway) in a workshop in front of the entire class. (See My First Tango Workshop Experience)

9. Watching a video of myself and one of my partners dancing. My partner looked wonderful - meanwhile I was doing everything I was told not to do. (Still, this is one of the very best ways to figure out what's really going on in your dance.)

10. Having a leader correct me on the milonga floor, in front of a table of other dancers, and then count through the steps I was "missing". Twice.

Then there's the only moderately embarrassing stuff - like accidentally kicking my partner (he forgave me), kicking myself (really), tripping over my own feet (at least it was in time to the music), and being suddenly unable to follow the basic box step while demonstrating in front of the class.

So if tango has been so scary, why do it at all? Because:

1.) for every disaster there are half a dozen glorious, "I-can't-believe-I-get-to-do-this-every-week" moments, and,

2.) every time something embarrassing happens - there are at least two dancers who come over and commiserate. Everyone has been through this stuff. So instead of feeling isolated, frequently you find new friends that deepen your appreciation of all the wonderful possibilities in the dance. Sounds "Pollyanna", I know. But there you have it.

It's all worth it.

On Sitting Alone and the Milonga Fairy-godmother

Every time I walk into the milonga venue, no matter how many times I go to milongas, I have that nervous feeling. Where am I going to sit? Who's going to be there? How do I look? What if I dance badly? But the most pervasive discomfort is sitting alone.

If I don't see anyone that I sit with regularly, I skirt the edge of the room (almost always to the right because of my lopsided vision) and take a seat by myself. Then I put on "the face". The face that says (or I hope it says) I don't mind sitting by myself - I'm just happy to be here. While it's true that I am just happy to be there at the milonga, I do mind sitting by myself. But walking up to an occupied table always feels intrusive. It happens less and less, as I make more friends, get more familiar with everyone. And some venues are better than others at encouraging interaction. At Esquina Tango in particular, there's almost no chance of having to seat by yourself since the tables are so close together. To get a table by yourself, you'd have to be the first one there - and that wouldn't last long. It's one of the things that makes Esquina milongas so friendly, everyone has to sit almost on top of each other. You have to get to know your neighbor because later on you might have step over them to get to the loo.

(I'm told the need to socialize is very much a North American attitude, as we spend so much time isolated from one another during our day to day lives. It sounds reasonable and I can't really argue the point as I've never been to Buenos Aires.)

There is one person who is at nearly every milonga (if tango has a fairy godmother, she is it) who finds all the new faces, all the people sitting alone, and introduces herself, draws them out, introduces them around. If you've been to the Austin area milongas, you know who I am talking about. She's the epitome of milonga class. She makes every dancer feel welcome, every leader look gifted, and every milonga feel "right".

Do you have that person in your tango community - a fairy-godparent who reaches out to other dancers and makes them feel welcome? If you don't, I recommend becoming that person.

Tango teachers - Help! Please teach the codigos.

This is another one of the ranty sort of posts that I've been debating about releasing from it's "Drafts" status. I may regret this, but I think it needs to be addressed.

Milonga Manners

My first milonga at Esquina Tango included the mini-beginner tango class (as it quite frequently does) and part of that class included instruction on using the cabeceo and other points of tango etiquette. This information was reinforced frequently by other tango dancers and teachers in the community. Even though I've been guilty of some missteps in navigating milonga protocol (see previous post on the folower's responsibilities regarding the cabeceo), I do try very hard to respect the codigos. Most of the "rules" of the milonga are there to keep everyone feeling comfortable and, in the case of the cabeceo, to save face. Because most of the dancers I encounter honor the codigos, I'd started taking for granted that everyone knew about them - that is was part of our tango education.

(I have been corrected on one code in particular, regarding correcting on the milonga floor- not for doing the correcting, but for soliciting that kind of feedback during the milonga. I have been guilty of occasionally giving my permission to be corrected or reminded of something I have a habit of doing wrong. I've since been reminded that that gives the wrong impression to not only the person (leader or follower) doing the correcting, but to other partners who might be led to believe that it's okay to correct and be corrected during the milonga. It also puts my partner in the position instructing. So that is my breach of etiquette.)

But now I face another conundrum. At a recent milonga, I encountered someone who seemed completely unaware of tango etiquette. I have danced with him on two occasions and both times he seemed not to know that there are certain things you do not do on the milonga floor. There are personal questions you . do . not . ask. In "talking up" your own impressive tango experience and your teachers, you do not repeatedly instruct and correct your partner in an obvious manner, in front of a table onlookers, while stopping the line of dance. It's humiliating. Some things are more of a gray area. If your chamuyo is a bit lacking in finesse, that's not really poor manners as it is awkward. The fact that your tango education includes counting steps isn't really a matter of manners either, but counting to instruct your partner, is.

I probably should have said more than, 'can we move on?' But to say more, I felt would have put me in the position of correcting and instructing on the milonga floor. And addressing it to only him might not solve an even greater problem - that his instructors aren't teaching these things. I really don't believe this leader was trying to be rude at all. I'm sure he thought he was being helpful, and that his behavior would be desirable. I think he simply has not been taught how to behave during the milonga. So do I discuss this with him? Do I let it drop and risk letting him continue this way and just hope at some point he "gets" it? I would want someone to tell me if I were making people uncomfortable. (And, as I said above, they have.)

For the sake of thoroughness, the often cited, best resource on milonga etiquette, see Ney Melo's article, The Rules for Inviting. Also see Miles Tango's articles (for followers and leaders at the milonga) at Barefootango.com .

Cabeceo - The Follower's Responsibility

(Picture: “The Cabeceo” A great picture by Tom Gettelfinger of Memphis)


I had a conversation with a fellow tango dancer a couple of days ago, outside of the milonga, and said to him it seems like ages since we danced and I was looking forward to seeing some of the new moves he'd been learning. He smiled and shrugged and said he'd tried to cabeceo a couple of time, but I was never looking - always chatting or dancing.

Oh dear.

It's true.

In an effort to seem nonchalant about my desire to dance, sometimes I appear downright uninterested. When everyone else at my table is dancing or otherwise occupied, I do watch the milonga floor and make a little eye contact. Well, very little. Old habits die hard. I want to look interested, but not over-eager. And by over-eager, of course I mean desperate. I almost always dance as much as I want to dance, occasionally more than I *should* dance if my feet had a vote in this, but I still have that fear of looking needy. Also, part of the reason I go to the milonga is to visit with my friends that I never get to see the rest of the week. But in an effort to be social with my friends, I'm occasionally appearing a bit indifferent to leaders. I'm especially guarded seeking the cabaceo from leaders I don't dance with often, or have never danced with - and these are precisely the dancers I should be seeking out. I'm still in that stage where every dancer seems far more advanced than me, so the voice of insecurity wins out.

And I want to be clear - I am a cabeceo advocate. Having a leader turn up in front of me without warning, hand held out expectantly makes me feel a bit pressured. This almost never happens and when it does it's usually a leader I've never (or very rarely) danced with. Luckily, in my tango community we have a wealth of leaders with fabulous cabeceo technique - experts at the compelling eyebrow lift and nod. But if I haven't looked up from my conversation for awhile, I'm not giving these guys a lot of choice. In trying to alleviate my own anxiety, I'm putting the pressure on them to come over without a clear invitation and risk rejection.

When I walk over to the refreshments table and a leader makes eye contact and/or smiles at me, my first instinct is still to smile sheepishly and look away. It's worse if I don't know him at all - a total stranger's gaze sometimes sends me into full "duck and cover mode" with me racing back to my seat. How is he supposed to read that? Probably not with the accurate assumption that I'm interested, just neurotic.

Of course there are those who would say that the milonga is strictly for dancing, and not for socializing (see Jantango's comment to an Ask Arlene post). But I truly can't see myself sitting for hours at a milonga not talking to anyone. I would be missing out on one of the joys of milongas, which I truly believe are inherently social, and that is catching up with friends.
In summary (-insert encouraging deep breath-) it's time to be brave and be alert.
Maybe I should practice in front of a mirror . . .

I couldn't have said it better myself . . .

From Eugene Grigoryev's "What is Tango"

"The social aspect of milonga is fascinating. It holds anticipation, surprise, heavenly music, moments of contact and separation. The challenge and satisfaction of rhythmically moving in unison with another person is what lures us to Tango. The experience is both physical and surreal. In three minutes of a song, you can experience a rollercoaster of emotions, but you will not experience them alone. For those three minutes there will be a person embracing you, sharing what they are feeling with you… all without a single word being spoken… pure, raw emotions expressed through motion.”

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back and other frustrations . . .

I seem to be developing a pattern. Take class or a private. Work on something and start to see some improvement. Find out something else has started to suffer. Multitasking has never been my strength.

For example, my instructors were able to help me work on breaking the habit of pulling my shoulders back away from my partner. But then I found I was using my hip (and collapsing my torso) to complete giros - especially when I got tired. When did I start doing that? Have I been doing it all along?

When I focus on my musicality, my posture slips. When I strengthen my core, direct my energy - suddenly I'm walking on the outer portion of feet (and looking rather pigeon-toed.)

Same answer as always, I know. Keep getting feedback and keep practising, practising, practising.

< --Very Biased Rant-->

(Special note to leaders reading this - please read the post all the way to the end.)

In other news, I found out that lately there have been more workshops and classes on volcadas, ganchos and boleos. Unfortunately for me, this usually means that lots of leaders are going to be trying out their new moves at the next milonga. Miles Tangos sums it up best on his "@ the Milonga Page":

"The Flashy Move! Do not go to a workshop, pick up some flashy move and expect to pull it off immediately. You won’t. The only way that that will be true, is if your name is Homer Ladas. Is your name Homer ? (Apologies to Homer) I think not. Instead, here’s the right thing to do. Go home and practice, then practice, then practice some more. And we’re not talking for an hour or two once a week, you practice every day for a month. You practice not just the flashy move, but the underlaying technique involved…more than likely you’ll see that its related to one of two things, walking or disassociation or a combination of both. In short, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, and did I mention practice ? Now for the kicker, use of the flashy move…ONCE IN A BLUE MOON! That’s it, that’s all. The staple of your dance should be walking her, ochos, and the molenete. Nothing more fancy than that. Spice up your dance with a flashy move ONCE IN A BLUE MOON, just not every 5 seconds…ok ?"

At a milonga a couple of weeks ago, many of the leaders in attendance had just had a workshop on ganchos. Nearly every leader I danced with led them repeatedly. I "got it" - followed the lead correctly without hesitation - exactly one time. Gentleman, I was not in that class with you. I'm probably already going to have a bit of trouble following it. So if you don't have it down confidently, I'm not going to be able to help you with it and we'll both be frustrated. Occasional ganchos are fun and I know that there's a lot of pressure on leaders by followers who really want to do them, (and sometimes do them whether they are led or not.) I also know that much of this is my own personal bias on those sort of moves on the social dance floor. Okay, maybe 99% of this is my personal bias. But that's a topic for another post.

Dance what you know. I don't get to choreograph the dance to play to my strengths and abilities - so I'm trusting you to choreograph our dance according to yours.

PS. To the wonderful leaders who wanted to lead those moves - thank you for thinking (okay, maybe just hoping) I'd be able to follow them. Thank you for trying to create an exciting and musical dance. And thank you for your patience while I tried to figure it out. (And then having to endure my little rant above.) Every one of the leaders I danced with that night was a beautiful dancer. I just hate to leave the milonga floor feeling that I somehow failed my partner.

< --/Rant-- >

(pictured above, Silvina Valz and Oliver Kolker demo at Esquina Tango.)

Lovey's Loot: Fab Fashion for Tango Dancers in Austin

First let me say that I really love my neighborhood. My home base is centered around 182 and Spicewood Springs. On the southwest corner of that intersection is the greatest strip mall. It has the best coffee and cupcake shop, Cupprimo, an amazing cajun place, Sambets, several restaurants, locally owned shops (plus a Big Lots, Dollar General and a hardware store.) When I talk to owners, buy things in their shops and generally shoot the breeze - I'm talking with my neighbors. The same people I see walking their dogs and getting groceries at our local grocery store. That's my neighborhood.

One new gem (well, new to me anyway - they've been there about a year actually) is Lovey's Loot. A vintage (as well as new merchandise) boutique that has everything a fashionable tango dancer would adore. Skirts and dresses with tons of style - but still completely danceable, plus evening gloves, scarves, fishnet stockings, fedoras, jewelry, wraps, ladies hats, slips, corsets - and so much more. But there's one more exciting feature at Loveys Loot - the gallery adjoining next door, In'Trigue, a fine art gallery of paintings, sculpture, imports and home decor. The space is already used for fashion shoe, live music and art exhibits. Soon it will also have "Jungle Boogie Cafe" which will serve food and tea. Which got me thinking . . .

In'Trigue is a large rectangular space with a wood floor, tables and chairs - and they'll soon be serving food and drinks. There's only one milonga on my end of town at Uptown Dance near 183 and Burnet and it's only once or twice a month. They already stay open late occasionally for other events . . .

What do you think? Milonga material? (Click on the pictures to see full size.)


Get up and dance.

When I arrived at Saturday's milonga, I felt I was in no condition to dance. My ears were ringing, I was exhausted, distracted, melancholy. Friday brought news of the death of a friend - a stupid, senseless death. I was angry at fate, maybe even at God, for taking a friend from this world in such a heartless way.

It's been long enough now that I at least recognize that it's better to go and sit at the milonga, to listen to music and talk with friends, than to sit at home contemplating the unfairness of it all. Still, I was in no mood to dance. But I can't help smiling when I walk into Esquina Tango. No matter what's happened, how my day has been - walking up the steps to Esquina is like going to the home of a favorite relative. It's cozy and warm and welcoming.

Milongas at Esquina always bring pleasant surprises. I don't know why or how that happens - but it happens every time I go. Tonight brought an old friend I hadn't seen in almost 15 years. I couldn't believe me eyes when I saw her after so long. Loss doesn't work like a balance sheet, but finding an old friend in the same 24 hours as getting the news that I'd lost another - I had no way to process that timing.

The mini-beginner class started and I got up to join in. I'd planned on doing some walking to the music and the usual pre-milonga class exercises. Nothing too taxing. Just another way to enjoy the music. When it came time to actually practice some dancing, I returned to my seat. But they were a woman short and so I got back up and joined the partnerless leader. This was the first time I would be dancing socially with this gentleman though he'd been in my classes.

The music started and I closed my eyes. The ringing in my ears stopped. The music got through the haziness in my brain and it felt wonderful. I didn't think about it, I didn't apologize for anything, I didn't warn him that I was tired. We just danced. How on earth did I think it would be better not to dance? Each song we danced I was completely surprised by the end. How did it go so fast?

When the milonga started, I danced and danced and danced. I chatted and caught up and hugged. Glover was wonderful. Fil played outstanding music during the breaks. I sniffled through Pat's birthday vals. The milonga was over before I knew it.

Maybe the best time dance is when I think I can't.

Seven month old tanguera . . .

(Warning: this was written on 3 hours of sleep. Please kindly forget that I was an English major while reading this.)

I missed commemorating my 6 month anniversary in tango ... and next week will mark my 7th. Baby steps. I almost hate telling people that it's been 7 months. I feel like I should be so much better by now. In the beginning I didn't know the things I was doing wrong, the lack of grounded technique, questionable musicality etc. I was happy to be dancing at all. My expectations were that low. Goal for the day: don't fall down.

Now I'm aware of too much all . the . time . Pulling my shoulder blades back (hence pulling away from my partner and pulling him forward, decreasing our stability.) Landing on the outside edge of my foot. Wobbly giros. The list goes on and on. It runs through my head constantly when I'm dancing - lower your shoulders, turn your foot out, maintain your axis, pull in your tummy, push down through the floor, direct your energy up, stay with the music . . .

and relax . . .
and breathe . . .

I have to breathe and relax too? Maybe you'd like me to knit an sweater for you while I'm at it.

Tango kicks my ass.
In a way the constant struggle with my own dance made me look for "tango bliss" outside myself - outside of my interpretation of what I'm supposed to be doing. My community is always good for a reality check. So now I spend more time connecting with other people, trying to meet the ones I haven't met yet. Of course there's the usual tango-vangilism I'm frequently guilty of. I'm a tango-pusher. What Pat calls doing "tango missionary work." And I spend more time watching now instead of constantly scanning the room for a cabeceo. I have a better understanding of certain things now.

Things like . . .

Why some leaders wait until the music starts before they chose someone to invite to dance. Choosing your partner based on how you dance together for a particular type of music makes so much sense to me now. I "knew" it before - but now I understand it. It's not as personal as it sounds actually - or at least I don't take it personally, like I did before. For example, during milongas, if my partner's dance is very heavy on side-steps and traspies (I'm talking about 70-80% of the dance) - I'm not your girl. I don't have the strength and the stamina through my hips and quads to maintain the tempo for 3 or 4 songs. I'll get slower and further behind the music. I can feel it. That's just where I am in my dance right now. There are other followers who seem to have endless stamina for traspie-heavy milongas and look absolutely beautiful doing it.
If tango kicks my ass, milonga just wipes the floor with me.

Vals on the other hand . . . I've had two months of classes on vals (which is the tiniest drop in the bucket of vals education) and that has served mostly to create a secondary tango addiction. I can't spend my dance constantly questioning my ability because I'm too busy grinning and laughing and thinking, "oh-my-god-this-is-the-most-wonderful-thing-ever!!"

Other things came as a complete shock. My 2 favorite milongas are on the smallest, most crowded dance floors. One of my new favorite places to dance, Texas French Bread, has a challenging floor which could have resulted in frustrating, stressful dances but instead led to people laughing, improvising and relaxing. We could let go of trying to make every dance perfect. As one dancer said last night, tango was never about perfection. The sooner we put that impossible horizon to bed, the better for our dance. Hell, the better for our lives.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, 7 months...

Still a baby. Still a total tango n00b.


Seven months ago, if anyone would have told me that I would love being on a hot, crazy-crowded dance floor, buttons-to-buttons with men I met for the first time 5 minutes ago - I would have told them they were delusional. That I would make my plans around the milonga schedule. That I would get a little bit sad when there are no tango people on my "online (chat) list" on Facebook. (Okay that's the intersection of tango dancer and geek right there.)


So there I am. Seven month old tanguera.


tango tears

I've cried once during Poema . . .

Of that one intoxicating poem,
nothing is left between us,
I say my sad goodbye,
you'll feel the emotion,of my pain…

Lyrics by: Eduardo Bianco
Music by: Mario Melfi

I consistently tear up through Sur and Adios Nonino...

Nostalgias of things that have past,
sand that life swept away,
sorrow for the barrio that have changed,
and bitterness for a dream that died.

Sur - Lyrics by: Homero Manzi, music by Anibal Troilo

I constantly have a handkerchief tucked into some pocket or article of clothing when I dance for precisely that reason. I also have a speech prepared for explaining the waterworks to bewildered partners. "No, I promise I'm not injured - you didn't step on me. Really, I'm just fine - just a bit emotional over that song." It's not just the song though. When it's happened, it's been a kind of alignment of factors. The right time, the right music, the right partner - the right dance. Not a perfect, flawless dance. Not even an overwhleming passionate dance of the sort you read in romance novels. Sometimes it's a feeling of being overwhelmed by comfort.

Very, very occasionally, I'll see damp eyes on my partner and feel a bit of relief. Maybe it's not just me. But then, of course, I catch myself wondering the same thing they do - did I just step on his foot?

(translation of lyrics by Alberto Paz, http://www.planet-tango.com/) Image above, Pablo Vega, available here: Art.com

Austin Spring Tango Festival Squidoo Page

I've created a Squidoo ("lens") page for Austin Spring Tango Festival and will be adding material as it becomes available. The main page for ASTF, http://www.austinspringtango.com/ will be updated with 2010's information soon. Meanwhile, feel free to leave feedback and let me know what you'd like to see!

Austin Spring Tango Festival on Squidoo: http://www.squidoo.com/astf

Central Texas Tango on Squidoo: http://www.squidoo.com/infinitetango





Frustration

"If there was more room on this dance floor, I could really dance some tango!"

I have heard variations of that same sentiment more than a dozen times over the past couple of months. And when I don't hear the words, I still feel it in their lead - the frustration, the impatient sigh. The dance my leader has in his head is not possible to dance on the floor in front of him. I can feel him crane his neck, quickly turn his head, shorten his breath - looking for daylight between the other couples on the milonga floor. The simple fact is, and has always been, you can't change the floor.

So change the dance in your head.

"If there was more room on this floor . . ."

Tango was born on the crowded milonga floor. That's where it lives and breathes, in the small spaces between bodies, between breaths, between the notes. When the space gets too open, the connection drifts away or maybe it just evaporates.

We get this moment, this alignment of music and connection, only once and then it's gone. Dance for this moment, not for the tables - and I will dance for you.