Sticking the End

(image courtesy of

When I was in middle school I decided to take gymnastics. I have no idea, even to this day, what possessed me. It was, as the kids say, and epic fail. I was terrible at it. My balance was always bad. I had little-to-no natural grace. I seemed to run and jump about as if I were playing dress-up in someone else's body for the day. I could never get my limbs to do what I wanted them to do, when I wanted them to do it. As painful, and occasionally absurdly ridiculous, as that experience was, I managed to take away two lessons from my year in gymnastics:

1. Do the things that scare you.
2. "Stick the end"

The first lesson is pretty self-explanatory - and it has always paid off well for me.

Sticking the end, as my coach constantly reminded me, meant ending my routine resting in a balanced, stable position. If the routine was set to music, it was also a way of respecting and acknowledging the music. It meant learning precisely how much momentum I would need to get to where I was ending - and no more. It meant being in control of my body - not just hurtling myself to the spot where I stopped. For my coach, it was the epitome of grace and precision. It was a statement in itself.

That second lesson came back to me when I started letting myself really feel the music. Some music in the milongas was familiar, but much of it was not. The more I learned, the better I could move my body with true intension, to the music. When I watched other dancers who "stuck the end" of songs, I was struck by the grace of it - and how much seemed to be required to do it. I would not only have to really learn the music, but be in control of my body while I was being led by someone else. A lot of factors to contend with when one can barely manage a molinete.

NOTE: "Sticking the end" is not synonymous with ending in a "tango pose". I find those a bit silly. They're fun for playing at in practicas ("You be Gavito, and I'll be Marcela Duran, okay?" Yeah, I love that game. So sue me.), but not something I'm comfortable with in a milonga.

The feeling I like best is simply an acknowledgment of the music and ending in a balanced, comfortable position rather than being caught off guard mid-ocho when the music stops. Daniela Arcuri made a point of saying several times that marking the end of the song, like some adornments and embellishments, need not be visible to anyone outside the couple dancing. Although I heard that months ago, I didn't truly know or appreciate it until quite recently.

I admit there is a part of me that finds being able to mark the end of the song in some visible way a little too gratifying - especially when the music is quite challenging. It's a bit like trying to prove how well I know the music, when there's no one I need to prove that to. Once I start down that path, I begin dancing for the tables, and that's not where I want to be in this dance. Every so often I have to remind myself about what my priorities are. Sticking the end is really for me - for my relationship to the music.

A story . . .

A few weeks ago, I recognized something in the dance with a couple of my partners that perhaps had always been there - but I just hadn't appreciated. I still wonder, have I been missing it all this time?

The last song of the tanda was ending. We were gaining momentum in that build-up phrase that comes before the chan-chan. It was Pugliese, so the last phrase was long, and the chan-chan coming was soft and slow. We came to rest on the first chan - and as the last note played, my leader gathered me to him, closed his eyes, smiled against my temple and sighed - marking the end of the song in gestures no one else would see.

A gift for me, not the tables.

Thank you.

Behind your Back

(Tango at a nightclub in Buenos Aires, 1924. Source:

A Scenario for Leaders:

Your favorite orquestra begins to play and the follower you enjoy most for that music is looking for your cabeceo at just the right moment. You meet at the edge of the dance floor, look for the nod from the leader behind you, and as the first few bars play, you find the most blissful embrace in each other's arms.

Just as you take your first step, another leader suddenly enters the line of dance, butt first, backing into your surprised partner. Oblivious to the run in, he takes off down the line of dance. The spell is broken and now you and your partner have to wonder if this tanda is going to be spent in "defensive driving" mode.

This scenario, or a similar one, happens at almost every milonga I attend. This is after we had a very well attended workshop discussing, in detail, how to enter the line of dance.

I've written about this before, and I've discussed it on forums, in emails, and in person. For every leader who uses the "male cabeceo" and enters the line of dance respectfully, there are 2 or 3 who don't - or don't know how. I know dancers don't mean to be rude or disrespectful on the pista. I don't believe anyone intends to be impolite and many people don't know that there is a better way to do things. I also know it can be awkward to try to make eye contact with other leaders - particularly if they ignore you, or blatantly move into the room you need to enter the dance floor.

Leaders, if you think it's awkward trying to make eye contact and get "permission" to enter the dance floor, take a look at it from your partner's point of view.

Behind your Back

Here's what happens from my perspective when my leader barges into the line of dance.

My leader's back is turned so he doesn't get to see the expression on the other leader's face - I do. When my leader cuts off another leader in the line of dance, I have to, with my facial expression and the look in my eyes, apologize for my leader's behavior and acknowledge the space the other leader has had to give up for us. Even when it is completely accidental and both couples simply misjudged the room they had, which happens quite often, the follower and the leader behind, frequently acknowledge each other with a mutually apologetic nod - just as when you brush or bump another couple. It happens - but there are ways to minimize that, and courteous ways to handle it when it does happen. I've been rightfully chided when I've broken the rules and those lessons have been more important to me than much of the material I learned in my classes.

The reality is that followers should be every bit as responsible for following proper etiquette on the dancer floor and when a leader charges on to the pista, she often, though not always, has an opportunity to "suggest" that her leader at least acknowledge the gentleman behind him. Followers also have the responsibility to respect the line of dance and not jump in front of a couple themselves.

How we enter the line of dance sets the tone for that tanda. It affects not only us, but the couple behind us. That chain reaction of acknowledgment, or lack of acknowledgment, sets the mood of the entire pista.

Something that does still baffle me, is that it took visiting teachers to bring this point of floor craft to everyone's attention. This isn't a new concept - it's published all over the web (there are 3 examples below). This should be a fundamental part of any tango curriculum. When it's not, it shows. It's exasperating to see the same behavior again and again.

When Murat and Michelle brought up in the class, followers practically cheered out loud because leaders, if you think you're uncomfortable making eye contact with other leaders - how uncomfortable do you think we are having to look at the angry face of the leader you just cut off?

More resources about floor craft:


"Leaders when entering the line of dance, make eye contact with the on coming traffic of leaders and acknowledge that you’d like to enter the line of dance and ONLY enter when you have consented acknowledgment of the leader next in the lane of dance. This also means do NOT allow your follower to jump onto the floor or into the flow of dance. YOU as a leader are responsible for her. However if there is an open gap in the line of dance, you MAY be able to slip in, but that gap should be several partners wide. Don’t think a few feet here, but rather YARDS of space."
From Tango Colorado

"Entering the Line of Dance: Please be aware that the line of dance is moving on the outside lane as you step into the line. Wait for a slight break in the line and be courteous to the couple coming up behind you. Frequently there are only one or two places where couples enter the dance floor so be aware of everyone around you."

From Niko Salgado:
"When entering an already active floor even if it's the beginning of the song in the middle of a tanda, it is effective to visually catch the attention of the leader dancing in the outside lane to let them know you are entering. It's like asking permission. Being cut off in line or in traffic is very annoying. This respects the flow of the dance floor. Sometimes you have to wait for the next one if the leader is not paying attention. Do not just jump in, that's for the beginning of the tanda."

It's a Wonderful Life

Sometimes my mind goes down such useless roads.
When things are going badly, it seems so easy to get lost in thorny tangles of what if I had?
What if they had?
What if I never?

Maybe I would have finished college.
Maybe I wouldn't live my life in pieces at a time.
Maybe I would look further ahead than the end of the month.
Maybe I wouldn't feel so raw so often.


But if the bad things hadn't happened . . .
If better things had.
If my route had changed . . .
and my life changed . . .

I wouldn't have met my husband . . .
or his family that became my family . . .
I wouldn't know the people I know
who care so much for me and for whom I care so deeply.

and tango . . .

my life, all the ugliness and beauty, pain and elation, brought me to tango.
So I've got to shake this off - this useless interrogation of the past.

La vida es una milonga y hay que saberla bailar,
Life is a milonga,
you gotta dance to how it goes . . .

So let's just dance
Let your body tell me your tales,
and I'll let mine do the same.
Our feet can trace out
our battle scars in the dust on the floor,
and our hearts can whisper secrets
to each other in their beats.

Our hard won miles brought us here
to this music,
this tanda,
this moment . . .

There is no time,
for what if I had,
what if I hadn't.
Just this - right now.

La vida es una milonga y hay que saberla bailar,
que en la pista está sobrando el que pierde su compás.

Life is a milonga—
you gotta dance to how it goes;
it'll leave you behind on the floor
if you're one to lose the beat.

(Translation courtesy of TangoDC and photo courtesy of . )

Putting all the Meat on the Fire - Part II

We've danced before - though not often. He visits rarely, and I'm always a little nervous when we dance. He is one of a very few dancers I know with who grew up with tango music. He was not always a dancer - but the music is his heritage and I can feel it. On those rare occasions when he visits Austin, and asks me to dance, I silently pray to the tango gods that every song in the tanda will be one that I know well. Though I know it is the leader's job to shape the interpretation of the music, when I don't know the piece, it feels like he can tell. (Now, this little panic is entirely my own making, as he's never said or done anything to make me think he was being the least bit critical of me - exactly the opposite, in fact.)

Despite my case of nerves, I was very pleased to see his cabeceo. As I accepted with a nod and stood by my table, I noticed the dance floor was so empty. I suddenly felt very visible. I was even more nervous than before. My partner for the last tanda, with whom I dance often, and I were just out on the pista relaxing, playing with the music, trying new things - even the slightly more dramatic things like volcadas that we almost never have room for. Where was that daring woman now? The "Daring Me" must have locked herself in the loo and left the "Timid Me" there standing in her shoes.

It wouldn't be so bad except that he knows when I'm nervous. He adapts, reassures, calms - he always makes it work beautifully. I almost never know whether I've made a mistake in following something because he transitions to something else so quickly and smoothly, I barely register it. What makes me nervous is being so transparent.

He always feels every change in my face, every tiny hesitation - and manages to shape the dance around how I react to what. It's not a critical scrutiny, rather an intense awareness of how I am feeling generally, how I'm feeling the music and his lead. It's weirdly reassuring and unnerving at the same time.

The first song went by in a flash. I don't know what he led or what I followed. It flowed and I relaxed, finally.

In the middle of the second song of the tanda, he led a small volcada, inviting me to lean, and I stepped forward - out of the invitation. I don't know why. I was just doing these in the last tanda for heaven's sakes. There was practically acres of room. I knew I could trust his lead. I knew he could support me. I can't fathom why I walked out of it. It would have fit the music beautifully. I was annoyed with myself. I could feel his eyebrow rise against my temple, yet his smile never left his face. He worked with my step forward smoothly and moved on as if it was what he had intended all along.

Later in the song, very gently, he invited me to a slight lean again and though I didn't step forward that time, I hesitated to release my axis, and almost as soon as I did, I crossed and stepped down before he'd led me to step. He just smiled. A partial victory? Was I was getting braver in small increments? As he led me in such beautiful, musical steps, making me feel like such an accomplished dancer, I felt like an anxious beginner on the inside.

At the start of the last song of the tanda, I wondered to myself if I'd been only paying lip service to entrega all this time. I was still nervously holding back. I could give myself to the experience with people I danced with often and knew well, but for the ones I didn't know well - it was so hard to trust, no matter how wonderful their reputation. No matter how beautiful their dancing. I remembered the words of a friend who has danced tango for many years. He told me the ability to surrender to the experience, to the lead, to the music, to your own emotions, within the embrace of a stranger is (for some at least) the beauty of tango.

What was the worst that could happen if I truly let go? Screw up the step? Hardly fatal. It was time to stop holding back. It was time to put all the meat on the fire.

The last song played, and I could hear another place for a volcada coming in the music. I could feel the shape of it in the phrase (does that even make sense? feeling a shape?), and I wondered if he would try one more time. I hadn't given him much reason to but I wished I could let him know that I was ready this time. So, I did the only thing I could. I shut up the inner voice, stopped "trying to dance", and just danced.

Did he know? Did he feel a change in me - or just guess?

I still have no idea. I felt it in his breathing and his chest - he was going to give it another try. I felt his invitation and without hesitation, I surrendered my axis as he took me into a quick, sweeping arc. I felt weightless and graceful. I was flying . . . He smiled against my cheek, and I smiled back.

"Ah," he breathed, "I knew you could do it." I could feel him hug me just slightly tighter for a second or two.

It wasn't a "you passed the test" remark - not that feeling at all. It was more a recognition that I had overcome something important. It's a silly thing - just a volcada, I'm led (and follow) them all the time with leaders I dance with often. But if I can only surrender to the dance/to the experience/to the lead/to the music, when there is no risk - that's not really surrendering at all.

The Embrace Begins with the Eyes

He invited me into his embrace and, as I always do, I looked down
. . . and away.
It's not just with him - I do it with almost every leader.

I can finally use the cabeceo with relative ease, yet as I enter the embrace I'm still shy in making eye contact for more than a moment. The (few) previous times we've danced, he's just smiled and enveloped me.

This time he stopped.

He held me out from him for a moment or two longer and said, 'the embrace begins with the eyes.' He then smiled warmly and, in no particular hurry, invited me to settle into his embrace.

The first song went by so fast that I was almost surprised to find myself on the other side of the room. As we separated between songs, once again my eyes sought out the floor. He softly cleared his throat, waiting, and when I looked up he smiled broadly. He held my gaze a second or two longer, and the welcomed me to into his embrace again.

I'm learning.

( Image courtesy of )

Get Ready for Austin's Spring Tango Festival 2011

Early Bird Registration is open for the Austin Spring Tango Festival 2011

Create your own video slideshow at


March 25, 26, and 27

Our Master Teachers will be:

* Tomas Howlin and partner (TBA)
* Cecilia Gonzalez
* Somer Surgit
* Anabella Diaz-Hojman
* Mario Consiglieri

* 18 Classes and 3 Milongas
* Three levels of classes at all times
* Milonga every night
* Special Asada Milonga on Sunday

More Festival Observations from Fandango de Tango


At the milongas, I was very disappointed to see several "Master" teachers cut off and ignore other dancers behind them as they entered the line of dance.

The cabeceo was more consistently used by local dancers, than by visiting dancers (though there were a few much appreciated exceptions).


Over-use of the 8-count basic at the milonga was greatly reduced this year and floor craft was generally a bit better than last year. However it was a lot less crowded this year, too - making things much easier. That said, there was still far too much "teaching" on the milonga floor. As Alex wrote:

"Do not ever teach or work through 'moves' on the dance floor at a social milonga. You are embarrassing yourself, and you are embarrassing the woman you are dancing with. We are embarrassed for you, and feel sorry for her." (

Lack of food

No surprise here. Hotels, because they'd prefer you patronize their restaurants and bar, often do not serve snacks or beverages (other than water) at the milongas. If for that reason alone, hotel milongas are never quite as welcoming-feeling as those held in other venues where food and drink are more readily available - even for sale.

Two hours of Master Teachers' performances
(during the Saturday milonga.)

I know a lot of people really like the shows, but two hours is a very long time to be sitting. I think it's a difference of perspective that will probably never be resolved. Many people look at the $45 cover charge for the milonga to be worth it because there's a show. Others look at that $45 and think, why am I paying more to dance less? The big show brings the big(ger) crowd, and so theoretically more dancing. Still, I'd rather have an hour less of performances, and another hour to dance.

No Practicas

That's really a lose/lose situation. If dancers don't get a chance to practice what they've just learned in (rather expensive) classes, they'll start to lose the information pretty rapidly. I know I do. The other option is to break with the accepted etiquette and practice their moves at the milonga which will likely frustrate them - and annoy the other dancers (particularly their partners who were not in the same classes with them.) See Alex's comment above, and his post regarding ideas like a dedicated practice room.


I did, despite what I wrote above, have very good time at Fandango and had loads of wonderful dances. I enjoyed seeing people from out of town and dancing until the wee hours of the morning. Spending time with friends, at the milongas and during the day, was the highlight of the festival. But mostly, just like last year, Fandango made me miss the atmosphere of my local venues and look forward even more to Austin's Spring Tango Festival. (Registration is open now, by the way. :-) Just in case you're interested.)

Hotel Elevators at Tango Festivals

Apparently, entering an elevator in a slinky dress, stiletto heels and fishnet stockings, without luggage, does not immediately make the other passengers on the elevator think "tango dancer".

At least I wasn't wearing "over the knee" boots . . .

(start around 2:35)

Fandango de Tango Festival

The Tango Festival

A few days of living a fantasy tango life,
for me it was a (short) milonga life.
Eat, dance, sleep, dance. Repeat.
Dancing with friends, old and new. Dancing with strangers.
Unfamiliar music, and old favorites.

The fiercest, raciest Pugliese tanda I've ever danced - was that really me?
Hair in my face, breathless, heart racing - flying over, and yet still sinking into, the dance floor . . .
yeah, that was me.

A Hugo Diaz song that seared my heart and made me feel like I was dancing several inches into the ground.
(That feeling of rough, wet soil under your feet, sinking a little,
surrounding your toes, holding you to the earth . . .
that's what Hugo Diaz feels like for me . . . )

Heart-melting vals sets,
Joyful milonga tandas that pushed away every care and worry.
The freedom to dance and dance and dance until I could hardly stand up.

But the world, my non-tango life, marched on.
It knew I would have to come out some time.

Thank you to Dearest, Darlingest Husband, and to Patrick, Mardi, Mark and Marcus, for making it possible for me to participate in Austin's Fandango de Tango. I wouldn't have been able to do it without you all.

And to friends and dancers, near and far, I hope to see you all again at the Austin Spring Tango Festival.

Leveling Up

I forced myself to wait for quite awhile before posting this. As it turns out, time isn't making me less annoyed, so here goes.

For some reason (or maybe many reasons), I am simply infuriated by this:

From Sherpal1 on Tango-L,

"[To Michael] are absolutely correct...woman show no sense of taste or discrimination...and it perpetuates the existence of clowns in a community...women need to know it is better not to dance than to dance poorly...i know of no other commodity that is consumed endlessly regardless of taste, excellence, value, expertise, effectiveness besides dance...woman just want to dance and they accept any old bone....women need to bring their sense of consumerism to the dance floor and only accept the dance of a man that is their equal or better....practicas are where a woman can assist an inferior dancer to be better. I do not want to seem harsh here, only to encourage women to stop rewarding bad leads with a dance...."

There are so many problems with this, I don't know where to begin.

1.) How would one determine, without previously dancing with a particular dancer, what his or her skill level is? Should you only dance with people you know so as not to take the chance?

2.) How do you know that a previously "inferior dancer" is still inferior?

3.) Maybe those things that you might judge as inferior are more about your dance, than their dance. How can you be completely sure it's not at least in part, you?

4.) and most difficult to ascertain - how do you judge inferiority? Inferior in what way? Vocabulary (which is meaningless to me in most cases, presuming you can manage your way around the the pista)? Musicality - isn't that a matter of interpretation? Connection? Navigation? What? What if you are great at musicality, but his gift is navigation and connection? What then? Is he still "inferior"?

The only dancers I turn down are the ones who have hurt me, or gotten me hurt, on the dance floor. Even then, I'll keep an eye on them, work with them at practicas, and give them a try later, if they are so inclined.

What I have always seen to be true at least in my community, is that you just never know. That awkward, hesitant gentleman who may have started tango two months ago, may have a sense of the music that knocks followers' socks off. The rest will come. If the "more experienced" dancers never dance with the less experienced dancers in a milonga where they can really learn how to behave in context of social dancing, how will they ever grow? Practicas are awesome and I don't think it's possible to have too many, honestly. But they're not milongas and eventually dancers have to be tested, and put their miles in, there.

Speaking from my own experience, which of course is limited and not completely comparable, I would rather spend my time dancing with those gentlemen who have invested in my dancing from the very beginning - men who started with me, those that started after me, and those who were far more advanced. I would rather dance with those dancers who stuck with me through my brilliant moments, and my immense suckage, who invested not only in me - but also invested in the community.

For me, because as usual, I can only really speak for myself, dancing is not about leveling up. It's about community. When I dance with my partner, we are both also dancing with everyone else on the pista. When we behave in a way that feels as though we are all looking out for one another, instead of trying to out step/run/gancho/boleo each other, there is no better feeling I know of. To embrace, and be embraced by, a community is not a default state. You have to work at it. All . the . time . The work never stops.

The lovely dancers, leaders and followers, in my community who mentored me (and continue to mentor me), have always stressed that if you don't invest your time and energy helping and building the community, that's absolutely your prerogative. No one will make you. But don't complain later that the community doesn't meet your expectations.

I'll tuck my soap box back under the bed now. Thank you as always, for reading.

Trainers and Teachers: Walking the Walk

Does your expression match your words? (Picture courtesy )

There's been some great discussion going on around the blogs and tango forums about teaching - when to teach, best practices etc. And it's provided a lot of thoughtful material. I have strong opinions on the subject, but since I'm not a tango teacher, I wanted to wait and think on it for awhile before jumping in with my two cents as a student/consumer and as a trainer.

I've mentioned in previous posts that in my former life as a makeup artist, I was a trainer for many cosmetic lines. I was also a trainer who trained trainers. I use that knowledge absolutely every day, and when I forget the lessons I learned in that environment, I'm almost always sorry for it.

What I Learned Training Trainers: Everyone is Listening

The last cosmetic retailer I worked and trained for had no commission structure. We were a team of 22 people selling every line (theoretically) without favor. I learned to maintain a very fine line when I started training on the different lines, and then training to train incoming staff. No favoritism meant that one week I would be teaching team members the amazing benefits of "Company A" skin care, the next week I would be training the competing "Company B" line. Often these training sessions would go on during store hours to build excitement from customers coming in to browse. How could I promote every line in the store without sounding like a hypocrite? It was, at first, very awkward and stressful. I was more enthusiastic in my training on some products than others. We all did the best we could, and we admitted our biases pretty openly to each other, and to customers when it came up. But we all had to keep our biases in check to meet the overall goal of the store - and to make people feel comfortable shopping with us.

Essentially, we could (and were encouraged to) promote every line equally. It's a great goal, and I tried very hard to do just that. I focused on the strengths of each company's products, "Line bashing" or criticizing particular lines or products, especially in generalities, was very much discouraged. Not only because it's distracting from the goal of actually learning the material (and selling the product), but you never knew who was listening. You never knew if someone's background, customer or student, put them in a far more knowledgeable position than your own. The message was simple, don't assume what they know, or don't know. This of course leads to one of the most important bits of advice - know your audience. If you don't know - learn, and learn fast, because training and selling are about what they need from you - not about what you want to give them.

Respect your students/customers. One of my trainers reminded us frequently that when you dismiss or belittle someone's preference for a competing product/style/service - you're also belittling their judgment, their taste, even, depending on what you're trying to teach or sell, their sense of worth. It was perfectly acceptable to tell students and customers our personal preferences, as long as they were framed as exactly that - personal preferences.

Lesson: Be impeccable with your word.(1) Understand your own biases because they will show in your tone of voice, in your facial expressions, in your posture. Stick with what you know. Admit what you don't know. Acknowledge openly that it's okay for your students and customers to like what they like. But here's the trick: you have to mean it. Walk the walk you're talking.

Saying you're just trying to provide options, in a tone of voice that says, "but the other options suck" - is pretty much belittling under the guise of educating. It's not professional and it will bite you in the ass later. Smirking, rolling eyes, deep sighing - all of those things let your students know that you may be saying that it's okay to have your own preferences - but really it's only okay if they agree with yours.

The same goes for outside your classes. Derogatory comments made in social settings aren't any more acceptable. It's not fair, I realize. It would be nice to be able to say what we like when we're "off-duty" but as teachers surrounded by potential students (for me students and customers) there is no off-duty. Same goes, unfortunately, for teachers/trainers with blogs. You're running a business. Think carefully about what you write. And remember the deep and meaningful wisdom of this age-old business adage: Be careful whose toes you step on today, they might be attached to the ass you have to kiss tomorrow.

The point of all this . . .

By now, very patient readers, you're probably getting where I'm going with this. Just as much as it is a culture, a lifestyle, a heritage - tango is also a product for sale in cities all over the world. Every instructor has their own strengths and preferences. No teacher can be, or really should try to be, all things to all people. I don't have words to express how much I admire teachers that stay out of the in-fighting and "trash-talking" and instead build communities - often from the ground up. All while walking that very fine line of promoting themselves and growing the community. It's a hard job and I'm grateful for the teachers that take up the task.

(1) - While I'm not big on self-help books, there was one book whose premise I've tried very hard to remember in every interaction of my life, and that's the Four Agreements. In teaching anything, training anything - the four agreements have served me very well.

Experimenting with the Nuevo Side of the Force

I finally took a pre-milonga mini class with different local tango teachers, who tend to teach (though not always) open embrace, and more nuevo-style moves. They may classify things differently, but when the pattern you're teaching includes a few sacadas, a gancho and a high boleo, in open embrace - that falls into nuevo for me.

The Embrace

At first I was a bit excited because our teachers said this class was going to focus on connection. I thought, wow, how did we get so lucky? Then they demonstrated the pattern we were going to learn, and I got confused. The embrace was open, with the woman's left hand on the man's right tricep. We were to keep our arms (on the closed side of the embrace) relaxed but firm, and close to our sides so we could feel the "connection". When I felt awkward trying to maintain the embrace, the leader told me that I should really try to "grip" the man's tricep. The only time I have ever heard the term "grip" in tango, it has been preceded emphatically by the words "DO NOT". So, like open embrace volcadas I learned about last month, this was all totally new territory for me.

I think I would have to spend a lot of time really practicing open embrace for it to feel anything but awkward. Right now, truly open embrace feels a lot like this to me:

I feel like I'm miles away from my partner. It's hard to hear/feel the music in my leader through what little connection we have in our arms and occasionally sides. And while our teachers described the embrace as 'flexible', what I had always thought of as flexible embrace was pretty much close embrace moving to open-on-one side embrace - not completely flung apart, holding on to my leader's arm. That's all new stuff for me as well.

I'm actually starting to get used to the flexible embrace (that moves from close to "v") - it's not quite as good as close all the way through, but I understand that close embrace limits the vocabulary somewhat. Opening the embrace on one side means we get to do some other fun things and I get that, I really do. Plus there are a couple of leaders who are very good at making me feel secure and warmly embraced, even through the opening and closing distance. Maybe not surprisingly, my comfort in the dynamic or flexible embrace has a lot more to do with the leader's connection to the music, then his skill with the moves.

I did try to get the (open) embrace right and get a feel for it during the class - and a bit during the milonga later. But it's a bit like when a leader asked me, after he insisted we dance a milonga tanda in open, "wasn't that much more fun than in close?"

Um.. more fun compared to what? Compared to dancing milonga in close embrace where, by the end of the song, I can feel your breath against my cheek, and our hearts racing against each other's chests? Not so much compared to that. Still okay, mind you, there's still a lot of fun to be had. But it's just not the same feeling.

The Boleos and Ganchos

So here were 6 dancers (3 couples - an even match, hooray!) of primarily close embrace, traditional tango, learning a pattern that we would probably never execute in its complete form on the pista during a milonga. In that 45 minute class of practicing this, and another similar pattern, I'm pretty sure I performed more boleos then I had done in the 20 or so months I've been dancing tango.

Surprisingly, my high boleos don't completely suck from lack of practice.* Since the dance floor was almost empty, we practiced them again, and again, and again, and again. . . And as the milonga that followed had maybe 10 couples (and never dancing all at one time), a couple of my leaders felt inclined to lead them more often. This time, since we had acres of space, I actually followed them as high as they were led.

I still don't get the appeal of them though - at least not socially. On a stage or during a performance you need to perform moves that can be seen - not just felt. To me a smooth arch connecting with the floor feels more sensual, and has more possibilities, than kicking up into the air, but maybe that's just my own limitations. At least I know I *can* follow them high if they're led - assuming I'm ever on a dance floor with that much space again. But rest assured, there's absolutely no risk of me turning into this follower any time soon:

As for the gancho... it's still not my favorite. No matter how many times or how well they're led, they just always feel a bit forced. Like gilding the lily. I keep trying though, and maybe someday I'll feel natural following them, but it may be awhile. (Also, it would be very helpful if teachers would emphasize to leaders that simply opening your legs is not actually leading a gancho. But I digress... )

So that was my excursion into tango nuevo/open embrace dancing. While it was more entertaining than I thought it would be, I still couldn't wait to get back to milonguero. I'll keep giving it a whirl every time they have one of their pre-milonga classes, at least so I can better understand what the leaders taught by those teachers are actually trying to lead when I dance with them.

* That's probably because Silvina Valz, who taught the only boleo class I've ever been to (and that's because I was photographing it), teaches them very, very well. It may have been a year and a half ago but I still remembered the material.

Making the Honeymoon Last, Part 3

Part 3: Making the Honeymoon Last, for other dancers . . .
The Care and Feeding of New Tangueros/as

I am not a teacher and these are only my thoughts on what appears to work in my own community. I hear a lot of the same advice in other communities, so I'm pretty sure this is pretty applicable stuff. Please feel free to shoot down, comment, argue, debate, add, etc.)

1. From the very beginning, let them know the expectations of the community - the etiquette, floor craft, the ways of doing things, resources they can seek out for info on music, on history, on community affairs. Emphasize the community before the steps. The steps aren't going to keep them in tango - the community experience probably will.
2. Dance with them.
3. Spread the word. Talk them up. Introduce them around. For leaders, if appropriate, let them know who might be most likely to accept their cabeceo. (It's really best to check with potential tangueras beforehand.) And make sure they now how to use the cabeceo.
4. Dance with them.
5. Limit criticism to classes and practicas - and try to keep it encouraging. And of course, encourage them to go to practicas as much as possible.
6. Dance with them.
7. Get them involved in events.
8. Dance with them.
9. Share your experiences - good and bad, enlightening and embarrassing. Empathize.
10. Dance with them.

Making the Tango Honeymoon Last, Pt.2

Part 2: Making the Honeymoon Last
Get Busy

Note: This is about the Austin tango community and I'm told again and again, that Austin is the exception and not the rule. Your community might not be like this. But what if it could be?

After I had been in tango for a short while, maybe 9-12 months of going to milongas/classes/workshops dancing 10-15 hours a week, I noticed a fairly sharp decline in invitations to dance. Some gentlemen who had been inviting me pretty regularly seemed to be moving on to the next round of new tangueras and it stung a little bit. I thought it meant that I wasn't new enough (or young enough) to be novel anymore, and not experienced or skilled enough to attract invitations based on my ability. The newer ladies coming in from the University's tango class were about half my age, and looked far better in their stilettos than I looked in my conservative 2.5 " tango t-straps.

In short, I was bummed.

It took awhile for me to more accurately gauge what was happening, find a new way to approach it, and stop taking it quite so personally. Almost 2 years in, I have a ~slightly~ better understanding of what was happening, then and now.

One of the followers who was in my class and finding herself sitting a lot more right along with me commented, "well, looks like the honeymoon is over." At first I agreed. It felt a bit like that, honestly. I felt like I was at loose ends - not knowing what I needed to do to dance more. And it's hard to keep positive attitude when you're sitting a lot more than you want to.

So, I did what I always do. I asked the more experienced dancers who were dancing a lot what they thought the key was. I watched them, saw how they behaved - and how the gentlemen who asked them to dance behaved.

What follows, I think, is the key to why the Austin tango community is as strong as it is . . .

Several of our most experienced dancers (by most experienced I mean dancing the better part of a decade or more), both leaders and followers, invest a great deal of time, effort and energy welcoming, encouraging and helping newer dancers. I'm not referring to the teachers in town, though they make their own contributions. These non-teaching advanced dancers consistently go to practicas and work with other dancers. They chat with and introduce new people around. They network - and encourage other dancers to do the same. They offer encouraging words, and if asked, some advice on navigating the tango world. Occasionally, they talk up some of the newer dancers and spread the word about good dance experiences with them. Once a dancer's 'training wheels" are off, usually anywhere from a few months to a year or so later, that support can drop a bit as they have to spend time on the newer dancers coming in.

Their advice to me, without exception: "Get busy." Now that I had a little more experience (just enough to be more experienced than the absolutely newest people), it was time to start paying it forward. Of course I wasn't in a position to help leaders with the technical aspects of their dance, since I was still pretty new myself. But I could do a lot of other very important things to help ensure their success (and my own).

The first thing I did, since I had time on my hands during the milongas, and because I couldn't sit still for very long anyway, was to start socializing more with other dancers who were also sitting for one reason or another. Learned names. (OK, I friended them on Facebook, because without Facebook, I can't seem to remember anyone's name. Sad, I know.) Got to know people - and let them get to know me.

I kept going to the beginner classes (along with the intermediate classes) until I couldn't afford to take classes anymore. This was not only good practice, but I got to work with more and more people, make more friends, and learn more about the tango community I was becoming a part of. That's when I noticed that many other dancers continued to take the beginner and intermediate classes far longer than their skill lever required them to. They did it for the practice, but mostly to help the next group of dancers coming in.

This experience crossed over into the milongas. I noticed the more I danced with less experienced leaders, the more I got asked to dance generally, by all levels of dancers. I got to know more and more people, and got to involved in more events. That's when my learning process really shifted.

I still go to classes and workshops when I can afford to, but it's not very often. I learn the most from social dancing (in practicas and milongas) - from dancing as much as I can, with everyone that I can. I don't go to everyone milonga and practica, because DH would prefer that I have at least some nights at home, but I still dance about 10 hours a week. Sometimes I can't dance with everyone I would like to either because I run out of time, or because I'm in pain - but I try.

If I have enough time at the milongas to feel bad that I'm not dancing enough (and it does happen), I have enough time to get busy helping someone else.

Making the Tango Honeymoon Last, Pt. 1

Making the Tango Honeymoon Last - for you, and for other dancers too.

Part I: Vignette
"At the Crossroads . . ."

Maestra: Grande! Grande! (exasperated sigh) You dance too small, too quiet. You hold too much back.
Me (looking at my feet and feeling disproportionately defensive by her remark): Well, I get plenty of dances at the milonga. (I admit, not one of my better moments.)
Maestra: (sigh) That is because you are simpatico.

Despite the sound of it, Maestra was not criticizing me, or giving me a backhanded compliment with that description, however nor was she complimenting me. Her appraisal was almost completely neutral. I thought about that remark for weeks.

What did she mean? Was I only getting dances because I was nice? Did she mean my dancing wasn't very good? Was I coasting? Did leaders just feel sort of bad for me and that's why they asked me to dance?

Finally I came to a realization about myself and about what tango means to me. If I get danced as much as I do because I'm comfortable, or because I'm nice, or because I'm easy to please, or because, as my husband suggests, I giggle any time I dance to anything - then I think that is a good thing.

I asked myself the question, if I had to choose between being asked to dance because I was a skilled dancer, or because I was a kind dancer - which would I choose? (Obviously, I would like to be both - but if I had to choose.)

If I could only be one or the other, I would rather be kind.

Sometimes I think that can be the harder path to walk. The rules are fuzzier. The risks and vulnerability feel far greater. But the pay off is out of this world.

Tango: a Dance for a Lifetime

From Wikipedia Media under Argentine Tango (Photographer: Christian Aastrup, 2004)

Melina Sedo wrote, in the comments on her new blog, "Melina's Two Cents",

" . . . please look at youtube-videos of famous dance couples: you'll find lots of rather homely, round or old famous Maestros, but very few of their partners will weigh more than 55 kilos or be elder than 35."

I wanted to comment about this since it was mostly the dancers I have listed here, and the several outstanding local tangueras (all over the age of 50) that inspired me not only to start my tango journey, but inspired me when I was feeling down about my dancing. Here are a dozen famous milongueras and teachers all over the age of 35, in various shapes and sizes, dancing all over the world. (I decided to stop at 12 since I ran out of time - there are many, many more.)

Maria Nieves
Maria del Carmen
Marcela Duran, still performing and touring with Forvever Tango
Nito y Elba Garcia
Neli, Coca, and Mary Ann Casas here in "Lunch with the Milongueros"
Oscar y Mary Ann Casas:
Pocho y Neli
Osvaldo y Coca
Tete (RIP) y Silvia

Brigitta Winkler
Manolo Salvador y Martha Anton
Facundo Posadas & Christy Cote
Chiche y Marta
and the milongueras making an appearance in El Ultimo Bandeneon.

He Says, She Says, at the Milonga

There is a very popular belief that, when given the opportunity, tangueros will most often choose the younger, prettier (and often newer) tango dancers over the older, more experienced, or less attractive tangueras at the milonga. After all, the assumption goes, men are more visual, more interested in looks over quality etc. etc. Women, the assumption continues, are more interested in quality over appearance. Is that true?

In my (granted limited) experience, sometimes yes, mostly no. That's the problem with generalizations - in the end, they just aren't helpful. They don't provide any real anwers. Assumptions and stereotypes accomplish little more than encouraging negative feelings - about others and about ourselves. "Leaders only want to dance with hot, new 20-something tangueras." "Followers only want to dance with advanced leaders who can help them 'level-up' in their dance." These comments and stereotypes are MOST hurtful to the people who don't behave that way. And let's face it, the ones who do fit that MO, probably aren't reading your (or my) blog. That's just the way it goes.

There are many reasons men ask, or don't ask, particular women to dance on any given night. When I was curious enough, I asked leaders, both local and remote (since I have a blog and people seem to be used to me asking all sorts of questions) how they choose their partners. Note, none of these are new comments or ideas. Tango bloggers all over the web have written similar things - but I wanted to put together a more concise list of the reasons I felt were most important to note in this context.

Leaders reading this list, especially those who I did not get to ask, please weigh in on this list - and add your own reasons, too.
They choose:
1. . . .their friends and the people they know best. This just reaffirms what we should already know, tango is social.
2. . . . followers that were in their classes or workshops. A couple of dancers told me this was especially true during festivals which gave them the opportunity to cautiously work in at least some of the material they learned with partners that would have a good idea of what to expect.
3. . . . new people, regardless of age or ability - meaning new to tango, or simply new to the community - it doesn't matter. They make an effort to welcome the unfamiliar faces.
4. . . . followers who are sitting a great deal - but mostly if they're by themselves (not socializing).
5. . . . followers who make them feel good about their dancing,
6. . . . followers they don't get to see very often - out of town/visiting dancers,
7. . . . followers that look happy dancing - and look happy (and approachable) off the dance floor as well.

Why they might not choose a particular tanguera -

1. Some leaders have said that they're simply too intimidated or nervous to ask certain dancers (particularly teachers and advanced dancers). Often this is because of a past bad experience of being lectured on the milonga floor, though not even necessarily by the follower in question.
2. if it looks like she's been dancing a lot, and someone else is dancing far less.
3. if she's scowling or frowning at the dance floor.
4. (I was surprised by this, but shouldn't have been) if they have heard her make disparaging remarks about other leaders or other dancers generally.
5. if they're facing away from the dance floor and/or are appearing to be involved in a conversation with friends.

At the end of all this, we simply can't know why Tanguero A invited one tanguera over another. It's easy to make assumptions, but making those assumptions can suck the joy out of the dance and keep us out of "the moment". And railing against the unfairness of it, even if the assumptions are true, doesn't turn things around at all.

There are tangueros in my (relatively small) community that almost never ask me to dance - a couple of them have not asked one time in the almost 2 years I've been dancing. Sometimes I think I might know why, but I really don't. I can guess, speculate, stew about it - but guessing doesn't change it, and doesn't help me. I have to focus my attention - ALL of my attention - on the leaders who do want to dance with me.

Michelle Erdemsel said it well, "we're (followers) not victims." Ultimately we are all responsible for our own enjoyment of the dance, the milonga, the music, and of our tango communities. Some nights will be blissful - other nights will make us wonder if it was worth shaving our legs and putting on makeup. Same as the rest of our lives. We can be frustrated, annoyed, even angry at certain things, but to stay in the moment and find the joy in tango, and in life, we have to find ways to connect to each other and keep our minds open.

What happened?

I know I should post my complete notes on Murat and Michelle's class before diving into something specific (and ranty), but this can't wait. M&M spent a great deal of time and effort, not just talking about etiquette on floorcraft, but demonstrating it. The two concepts I was most happy to hear about were the "male cabeceo" and leaders forming "trains" on the pista. For people who have traveled to Denver and some of the larger tango festivals, this wasn't new information, but it's something that isn't taught very often in our local classes.

The male cabeceo - making eye contact (essentially getting approval) from the leader that will be behind you as you enter the dance floor with your partner.

More on that from Miles Tangos (
"Leaders when entering the line of dance, make eye contact with the on coming traffic of leaders and acknowledge that you’d like to enter the line of dance and ONLY enter when you have consented acknowledgement of the leader next in the lane of dance. This also means do NOT allow your follower to jump onto the floor or into the flow of dance. YOU as a leader are responsible for her. However if
there is an open gap in the line of dance, you MAY be able to slip in, but that
gap should be several partners wide. Don’t think a few feet here, but rather
YARDS of space."

Murat and Michelle also talked about forming the "train" and creating flow on the dance floor, Basically, choose your space (what leaders you want to dance between) carefully. It's worth the wait to try to get more conscientious dancers at least on one side of you if you can.

"Leaders follow leaders." Murat and Michelle discussed the advantage of shaping your dance in a similar fashion to the leader in front of you (this is why it's important to choose your space carefully). If you hate the way the leader in front of you is dancing see No.2. Now that you know how he (or they) dances, you can choose more carefully where you enter the dance floor next time, and avoid him/them. Of course when they're careening around the floor twice as fast as everyone else, they may be very hard to avoid for long.

More from

"A phenomenon seen at festivals such as Denver and Portland, where many of the
best dancers in the country congregate, is that people form a “train” by
sandwiching themselves between other dancers with good floorcraft. Not only does good floorcraft lead to a better dance experience, but bonding often arises out of mutual respect."

The above comes from an excellent guide on floor craft.

While Murat and Michelle were here, several of the dancers that attended the classes made great effort at floor craft during those weekend milongas. We all tried to pay extra attention during the milongas and work together to create a sense of flow and comraderie on the pista. It was truly a lovely experience.

It's been a little more than a week and it feels like the material is just evaporating. During Saturday's milonga, which was a beautiful milonga despite this following rant, one leader backed into the line of dance, knocking his posterior into my partner and me, and didn't say a word - just kept going. And he did this several times - sending the couple behind him veering into the middle of the floor to avoid him. He was in the class where we talked about this very thing - and why leaders should not enter the line of dance that way.

Only a very few leaders made eye contact with the other leader behind him before getting in front of him, or even looked for an entrance into the line of dance. Two other leaders ping-pong'ed around the line of dance, zipping around other leaders.

There is a reason this topic was discussed, gentlemen. Leaders who attended the class, did you notice the look of relief and almost pure elation from the followers when Murat talked about how important it was that the follower feel safe? That good floor craft was the key to everyone enjoying the dance? That community and environment were just as important as steps, musicality, partnership - and you - your own experience of the dance?

An occasional bump here and there happens, particularly on a busy floor. But if you're bumping several times a dance - it really might be you.

So leaders, please think about these things:

1. Do not enter the line of dancing by backing in, butt-first ahead of the couple behind you.
2. If the couple in front of you isn't moving as fast as you'd like, chill out. If you get frustrated, that's pretty much all your partner feels from you - frustration. How great of a dance do you think that feels like?
3. If you have to pass more than one couple in a dance - it's more than likely not them, it's you. Slow down.

One final note, that I should have mentioned first thing:
To the leaders I saw making eye contact with other leaders and working so hard to maintain and encourage flow on the dance floor, thank you, thank you, thank you. You guys rock.

October Pictures from Neil Liveakos

The ever-traveling photographer-tanguero, Neil Liveakos visited our community last month and took lovely photos at our milongas, including some gorgeous ones of Austin Piazzolla Quintet at Esquina Tango, and the one below from our Texas French Bread Restaurant milonga. (For some reason, my favorite pictures of myself are almost always in motion.)

Follow-up on "You've Got to Accentuate the Positive"

EDIT: I left out two sentences from the reader in BsAs's comment, that I thought I had copied and pasted from drafts, but didn't. I shouldn't publish when I'm so sleepy . . . .

I've gotten a tremendous amount of email regarding the last post, and I think you so much for all the feedback, both good and bad. There were a few things I wanted to share from my inbox that I thought might be enlightening, or didn't get addressed in the original post.

From reader in BsAs who says, "followers should have no style of their own. Their job is to follow, that's all. (ADDED-->) Many followers say they are expressing the music when all they are really doing is back leading. Tango is not a democracy."
I am not a piece of furniture, nor am I deaf.
This topic is address rather well in a video here.

From P in California, "Are there pictures of you somewhere in a post or something?"
I don't know honestly. Maybe. I haven't seen any - at least not related to this subject. There are certainly pictures of me doing the things listed in those posts - splayed fingers, arm too high, and ironically, too low, flexed ankles etc etc.

From reader in Georgia who asked, "Where are the posts that you're talking about?"
I decided not to link to, or list, or name, the blog and forum posts that I referenced because frankly, they get enough traffic without me. I want to support the sites/writers/blogs/posts that have positive things to say, and critiquing that's done without ugliness. Speaking of which, I really ought to list more of the good ones. There are several great resources.

From my friend T, who suggests the offending parties watch this: Salt-n-Pepa's 1993 classic - None of Your Business (probably NSFW). While that's extremely funny, it probably wouldn't encourage a very open dialogue. Hilarious though. And thanks a lot, now I have that song in my head.

From reader IC, location unknown, "Why do you quote Gavito so much?"
Because I'm a rabid-Gavito-groupie-fan-girl. Sorry, I know it's very sad. Plus he has loads and loads of really awesome quotes to use. Of course I get that way over Biagi, Pugliese, Calo and Rodriguez (Enrique) - but they don't have tons of easily applicable quotes. *shrug*

From M, location unknown, "The post is good, but a bit long for the subject don't you think?"
Yes I did consider writing a post that was less lengthy on the subject. In fact the first draft was quite succinct. However, I thought later that "kiss my ass" might not encourage the sort of dialogue I was hoping for.

Another M, location withheld,
" . . . what brings us all together is our love of this dance- and if people have joy on their faces and lightness filling their heart then who cares what they look like, because really, isn't that what we wake up for and look for every day of our lives? "

Exactly. I couldn't have said it better. Ever consider starting a blog? ((abrazos))

"You've got to accentuate the positive . . ."

Gavito: "It's tango y nada mas. Tango and nothing else. And that's the tango..."

"This is for those who use the Internet for a lot of hanky panky things, okay? If you use the Internet, use for the positive basis of tango, not negatives. Talk about the ones who dance well. Don't talk about the ones you don't like. Ignore them."

I know it has always been this way, and this is probably wasted breath, but there is just so much negativity in the discussion of tango when it comes to the issue of styles and embrace etc.. I've reached some kind of critical mass and can't bite my tongue anymore.

I am a fairly conservative tango dancer. I strongly prefer close embrace/milonguero/apilado embraces. (Or, as my teacher put it, I just like to be 'buttons to buttons'.) If you lead me a high boleo at a milonga, I'll follow it low and on the floor. It takes a pretty sparse pista to get my heel off the floor. So I'm definitely not one for advocating big or flashy moves on the dance floor - quite the opposite.

What I don't understand is why people post pictures and videos (on blogs, forums, news lists, Facebook etc.), of tango dancers, both famous and anonymous, and then ridicule them? When the idea is to illuminate problems of posture, or suggest more comfortable alternatives, as Tango Cherie does here, that's actually very helpful - and not the sort of post I'm talking about.

I'm talking about the posts that start out as thinly veiled advice and then just get mean. The idea should be to educate but sometimes it goes much further than that, to making character judgments about the dancers shown. Is that really necessary? This happens again and again, and then ironically, sometimes in the same post, the poster criticizes dancers for "dancing for spectators". Well, it might be because they've seen their video on your blog along with a list of the 40 things they did wrong in the 3 minutes they danced.

Some of the especially irksome posts are about the follower's embrace (note above, there are good posts about the embrace as well.) First, I am curious as to why so few of these posters bring up the man's side of the embrace? Isn't he just as likely to have his arm to high, or too low, or worse, digging his fingers into her spine? Where is the outcry (with pictures) over that? I'm not endorsing meanness over that either - I'm just curious as to why there are 5 posts about the woman's embrace, to every 1 post about the man's. Next, and most importantly to me anyway, there are so many assumptions made about the follower with her "poor embrace," without taking into account the most basic things.

Perhaps the leader simply prefers that embrace and she is doing precisely what she's supposed to do as a follower, she's adapting to him. Or perhaps his embrace leaves no other comfortable alternative. Instead of assuming she's "dancing for the tables", or "would rather be leading" or "doesn't care about connection" or she "wants to control the man" - maybe consider that there could be (and probably are) loads of other factors of which others would not be aware. And others are not aware of them because they're not really anyone's business. The embrace should be negotiated between leader and follower and what's needed for their comfortable connection. Isn't that what we're here for?

Cripes, now when I dance I'm worried that my fingers are too spread apart on my partner's back, or not relaxed enough, or my arm is too low, or too high, or my ankle might appear too flexed, and what about the angle of my head??? Like I don't have enough to think about trying to "keep my energy up", collecting my knees and ankles, not pulling down or putting my weight (unless invited) on my partner and the myriad things followers always work on. All that to worry about, plus my fingers, my hands, my butt, my ankles - and people wonder why a dancer may not "look relaxed"?

God forbid someone snaps a pic, slaps it up on their blog, and makes me poster child for bad tango. A beautiful dancer was photographed (with permission) by another blogger and dancer. That picture was then used by a different blogger to criticize her embrace - the most personal, intimate part of tango. If she's not embracing you, then why is it your concern? If her partner has a problem with it, he can let her know that he needs to adjust the embrace to be comfortable. No harm, no foul. Leaders have adjusted their embrace for my comfort and I've adjusted mine for theirs.

I care about what other dancers are doing if they're affecting my dancing. If they're not kicking folks, being rude, or disrupting the line of dance or the milonga, I don't really care what they're doing inside the embrace, how well they're connected to the music, their partner, or to the context and history of tango or anything else.

That is, until they're dancing with me. That's when it becomes my business.

Why not focus on posting the embraces, posture, ankle alignment, head alignment etc. etc. etc. that you like instead? Keep things positive. Wouldn't a beginner tango dancer especially get more from that? I know I did (and do).

And just to make sure I take my own advice, and keep it positive - here are some embraces I love:

Tina Ferrari and Pedro Sanchez

Cherie and Ruben:

Murat and Michelle Erdemsel:

And for the record, here's me with one of my favorite dance partners . . . with my fingers spread, my head facing "the wrong" angle (or so I'm told) and goodness knows what else. I just remember that was an amazing dance. (I'd give credit for this one if I could remember who took it, sorry! Eduardo C. maybe?)

Another night, another leader, different music - and a different embrace. (Actually, I think I was in the middle of an ocho cortado.) (Thank you Neil Liveakos for this one.)

Anyway, the point is I have no idea from one dance to the next if I'm displaying the proper tango embrace, or the proper foot placement, or head alignment - or anything else. Right now in my dance experience, that's just too much for my brain to keep track of.

"You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between."

- "Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive"

The Tango Week in Review

Most of our assumptions have outlived their uselessness. Marshall McLuhan

Tuesday at Texas French Bread Milonga
with Glover Gill

Glover Gill at Texas French Bread Bakery's Tuesday Milonga

As always, I had so many wonderful dances with generous, gifted and warm-hearted tangueros at TFB. What is it about that place that brings such a beautiful feeling? I was in a state of joy from just about beginning to end.

A tall tanguero arrived from out of town. We had danced before, but I was a little bit greener then. (Okay, I'm still green...) I couldn't quite remember - did we dance close? Was I still keeping my distance then? Seems like ages ago . . .

He asked with a nod, and I accepted.
At the edge of the crowded dance floor, he offered his close embrace. I wonder if he noticed I was relieved. The music started and in a moment I found it - the sweet spot on his chest. I could hear the music through him. Even the crazy Santana piece later. (Things get a little wild toward the end of TFB's milongas.)
I think I closed my eyes and just grinned against his shoulder.
No translating, no analyzing, no working it out, no trying to dance - just there, dancing.

This, I thought to myself, is why I dance close embrace . . .

To know that I can go to milongas all over the world, dance with strangers and old friends alike, and within moments, be held like this. It doesn't happen every time. It doesn't even happen at every milonga. But the fact that it can happen at all, is a gorgeous-freaking-miracle.

You know what they say about assumptions . . .

And speaking of close embrace . . . There are a few tangueros who are very skilled, graceful, and musical dancers who I still tend to shy away from because I never see them dancing close. If I only see a leader dancing big, flashy moves, I'll tend to avoid eye contact. Some of that is a preference of style and some of it, if I'm completely honest, is my own lack of skill. There was one such tanguero at TFB on Tuesday.

This time, as luck would have it, I didn't get the chance to more closely examine my shoe strap before accidentally-sort-of-on-purpose meeting his cabeceo. Without thinking, I asked him, "you have seen me dance right?" Maybe he had me confused with someone else? Which was really my (poorly worded way) of trying to say, "I don't know how to do 90% of the things I've seen you lead!" The latter sounded sort of panicky, so I went with the first one. He chuckled and said "of course I've seen you dance, what kind of question is that?" All I could do was shrug.

We got to the edge of the dance floor and I suddenly found myself in close embrace for an entire lovely tanda. Holy-Mackerel-Heavens-to-Betsy. If I had a blackboard, I would write on it 100 times,

"I will not make assumptions about other dancers."

I know in a milonga setting, we have little else to go on but what a dancer looks like on the pista. But I also know that I've been surprised before. I should have known better.

Lesson learned.

Texas French Bread's milonga is always good, but by the time I finally sat back down at my table, my facial expression could easily have been confused for this, except not fake.


Friday night had no tango events. It was a very sad, long night. Boo. :-(

Saturday at Esquina Tango, with Austin Piazzolla Quintet, featuring the fabulous Daniela Ruiz.

Just some thoughts about dancing to Piazzolla, performed live.

1. It's incredibly beautiful music, but my brain hurts after a night of that. I can't imagine how crazy hard it must be to lead this!
2. Cohesive flow on the dance floor in a room full of dancers trying to coordinate themselves to difficult music played in somewhat unfamiliar arrangements - pretty much impossible. Surprisingly, it still went fairly smoothly. Bumpy - but not disastrous. There were only two incidents that were real issues, which leads me to the following:
2a.) [RANT] If you are a leader and you kick the follower behind you (or anyone, really), you bloody well stop and apologize. The only time I got kicked all evening, and it was by a leader who didn't even seem to notice. [/RANT]
2b.) When the music is particularly challenging, and the floor is particularly crowded, please have your 4-person conversation away from the line of dance. kthxbai.
3. If the music is difficult, please don't speed up - slow down. What is it about really challenging music inspiring this need to dance faster and faster?
4. After a couple of hours of dancing to Piazzolla, even Pugliese feels easy in comparison. Of course that was about 1am, and I might not have been at my best to judge the difficulty of anything at that point.
5. Dancing to Piazzolla also apparently makes my brain so melty, that I dance until 2:30am at a milonga that was supposed to end at 1am, without noticing.

Sunday's Practica at Tapestry Dance Studio. . .

First, aerial lifts to Poema? Really? Really?? ::double facepalm::

Anyway . .

While other followers have been taking classes in colgadas, volcadas, soltadas and all the other fun -adas, I've been under rock, coming out occasionally to take privates that only focus on the most basic things - walking, embrace, music. I've narrowed the scope hoping that constantly working that foundation will make everything else easier later. But I've missed out on a lot of vocabulary in the process.

I know the theory is that if the follower is "truly following", she should be able to follow anything that a leader leads, if he leads it correctly. But the follower has to know what possibilities exist. And that requires building a bit more than a basic vocabulary of steps and movements.

For example, open (and flexible) embrace volcadas. (You can see a few examples here.) I honestly had no idea such things existed. I still don't understand the "why" of them, but I have a better idea of the "how". The technique and posture are different than close embrace volcadas, and for now, are a little less comfortable for me. I couldn't follow them initially, because it felt like a move gone wrong. I expected more full-on chest connection if I'm going to be pulled off my axis, and apparently that's not required. They're pretty moves, and I can see why they're appealing. They're easy to turn into/lead into all sorts of other pretty things. But they they just don't have the swooshy/weee/*giggle* ( <-- highly technical term) feel that close embrace volcadas have.

Practicalities/Things to work on

I'm still not keeping my abdominal muscles as strong as I need to, or rather the effort is still inconsistent. It's also much harder the higher the heel I wear. Back to Pilates training.

I got to practice walking forward a bit more, this time circular - walking (in close embrace) around my leader. Halting and hesitant at first, when it finally came together though, I loved it.

Think of the magic of that foot, comparatively small, upon which your whole weight rests. It's a miracle, and the dance is a celebration of that miracle. -- Martha Graham

Texas French Bread Milonga

Warming up the floor at Texas French Bread Bakery.

Pure bliss.
Coming home from the Texas French Bread Bakery milonga . . . My skin and clothes smell like coffee, baked bread, and men's cologne.
Es la dulce vida . . .

Tell me who you are . . .

There is always going to be someone better at what you do, than you are. There's always going to be someone prettier, or smarter, or faster, or stronger. That's the way of the world. But no one can be you, better than you. Get a sense of your self, who you are and the way you are in the world. There will never be anyone else exactly like you - so get that right.

From March 28, 2010. Notes I never published, but meant to, from an amazing lesson with Darryl Gaston and Phyllis Williams.

Darryl was standing in front me, scowling slightly, searching for the right words. He felt like he was looming over me, though truly he's not that big. He just feels big. He fills the room, he's so present. I fought the urge to back up. (Like so many followers, I was "forward phobic" - I couldn't walk forward into my partner without hesitating, or back weighting.)

"When you walk forward, I want you to walk into me," he spread his fingers over his chest, "into me!"

His voice was low and quiet, but it felt like a roar. I looked down. I was becoming very familiar with the floor boards. This was precisely what other teachers had told me, and I couldn't figure out why I was having so much trouble. I continued to hold back my own energy.

"Don't look for the space, take it! I opened it, it belongs to you so walk forward like you mean it. Walk like you own the space."

He embraced me again. It was hard to feel anything but enveloped, contained - but that's not what he was asking for. Before he stepped back he inhaled a deep breath and as he stepped backward, it felt like he was breathing into my chest. My body felt like it was sinking into the floor and forward, like I was caught in an undertow. But I still didn't take control of it. I let myself be swept by it and almost pooled into the space, rather than deliberately moving into, and taking the space. At least I didn't hesitate this time as I had been.

"Better, but you're still letting me carry you. Bring that energy forward. Fill the space. Try again."

The embrace. The undertow. But this time he moved very, very slowly. He wasn't letting me 'fall into place', I had to take it. I let my weight sink slightly into the floor and pushed forward from the floor boards with all of the energy I had as I exhaled. I felt him smile against my temple and a "swoosh" as I took the moment of my step forward and turned my around 180 degrees.

"Yes," he said, "like that. Now do it again."

Every step and movement we practiced, he challenged me to stay with him, to be assertive in taking the space he opened, to move as if I owned each movement. I thought of Gavito's words as written by Terence Clarke, as Gavito led Susanna, Clarke's partner for the lesson. She too, had looked at the floor, avoiding Gavito's gaze.

"No! Look at me. Tell me who you are. Make me work for your attention," said Gavito.

Now, 7 months later - I get it. I give my energy to my partner and to the dance, instead of guarding it so anxiously. There was so much fear in really letting myself feel that much energy through my body - and even more fear in letting someone else feel it. While there will always be dancers far more skilled than I am, no one can bring my particular energy to the dance. Only me. All I will ever have to give in this dance, ultimately, is myself.

And if I don't give that, what is the point of dancing?

"This music is for you. It always had you in mind, your habits, your twitches, the tiny blood vessels bursting inside you when you hide what you feel." -- Enrique Fernandez, Piazzolla's Zero Hour Liner Notes

This weekend . . .

They held me like they meant it.
I received a cabeceo from far across a dance floor that nearly knocked my socks off.
I waited,
I surrendered,
and I found my tango.

I stopped trying to dance, and started looking for the sweet spot. I'll be honest, I don't know how to do it in open embrace. I don't know how to find it. In close embrace, it's all I need. It's everything I need.

The sweet spot is, for me, that place on a man's chest that, when you connect, you get the most information. Not just about his lead but about his music - what he's hearing in the music, how it's affecting his breathing, his heart beat, the intention radiating through his torso. Once I've found it, even the tiniest changes are completely clear.

Now, instead of evaluating and analyzing, all I do is listen to my partner's breathing, and feel for the "sweet spot". When those elements come together, I have no idea what he's leading or what I'm following or how we look. It all sounds so cliched and melodramatic, but I am wrapped in my leader's breathing and heartbeat - and the sound of his music.