The Texas French Bread Weekly Milonga

(Photo 1: Warming up the floor before the milonga.)

There is a lot to love about dancing at Texas French Bread (a campus-area restaurant and bakery). Walking in and smelling herbs roasting for the dinner entrees, warm bread, plus cakes and other desserts from the counter - irresistible! Outside, the street is gray and dark, lit only with the cold fluorescent lights from other buildings and street lights. The lights from TFB's windows shine gold and warm - so inviting. If I arrive a little late, Glover Gill is already playing and I can hear the piano just as I get to the door. When I close my eyes, I can hear layers of music, glasses clinking, shoes whispering over the floor.

This milonga is the highlight of my week.

This last Tuesday I only had enough time for a few tandas, then I had to return to campus, and then take the bus home.

First tanda of the night, I danced with El Oso ("El Abrazo de Oso"), I was still so cold from being outside. We danced off the chill by the end of the first song. Dances with El Oso unwound the knots in my mood - smoothed the furrow I could feel between my eyebrows.

Then the next song started... I danced to Malena with El Leon. How could my night get any better than this?

Third tanda with a tanguero who is always so playful (and patient). (He doesn't have a nickname yet.)

Back in my chair just in time to check my watch - already time to go. I switch shoes, say my goodbyes and dash for the door.

Tuesdays at TFB are never long enough.

(Photo 2: Glover Gill at the piano in Texas French Bread.)

Tango Homework

What I’m working on now in my tango journey . . .

After recording and reviewing a video of myself dancing, I was able to get an idea of a few things I need to focus on. It’s one thing to know that certain things feel off, or unstable, or wear me out a little too soon – it’s another thing to be able to see video evidence of what’s causing it. It’s still hard to watch myself dance, but I always get so much more information from it (after I get done wincing and cringing).

(Photo 1) The biggest problem lately – actually, it’s been the biggest problem for a long time, is my tendency to “sickle” my left foot. (See photo below of me dancing with one of my teachers, Stephen Shortnacy, of Georgetown Tango.) As I extend into my back steps, my tendency is to land on the ball of my foot then roll out toward the outer edge of my foot and through the heel. The goal is really to keep mostly on the inside edge of feet, which I’ve been able train my right foot to do. But I’ve been having a lot more trouble with my left foot. Not only does this make me a lot less stable, it can make me feel heavier on my partner’s right side and cause soreness in my back and legs.

(Photo 2) The next thing, though it was hard to get a picture of from the video, is my tendency to raise my shoulder (particularly the left) and drop my hip. I also, even though I’ve made some improvement on this, occasionally pull my shoulder blades together, which pulls my shoulders back and away from my partner. Again, this adds to my back pain, and makes it harder to lead me.

(Photo 3) And, I’m still not collecting consistently. After learning even the tiny bit I know about leading, I can tell you it’s tough to keep track of where your partner’s feet are if she doesn’t collect. I’m far better than I was, but during milonga tandas especially, I tend to overlook collecting.

So now I have a new list of strengthening and flexibility exercises that are helping a great deal. Plus I have the usual list of musicality, breathing, relaxing, walking, balance items from my "tango laundry list" to work on as well.

Enrique Rodriguez and the Missing Bing

(Warning: my music education is pretty much nada, so please forgive my usage of such technical terms as, well, "bing", for instance.)

Enrique Rodriguez
King of the Missing Bing

Melina and Detlef dancing to "Llorar por una mujer"

Scenario - You and your partner are dancing to the lovely "Llorar por una mujer" and you can hear the smooth phrasing build to the traditional end and listen for the end "bing" that signals "this is the end of the song" so you can end your dance smoothly on the beat. Except the bing doesn't come. The song just ends.....

No "bing". Sort of like hearing someone sing "Happy Birthday" except at the end, the last line just goes, "Happy birthday to."

Welcome to the tangos of Enrique Rodriguez, King of the Missing Bing.

Rodriguez gets quite a bit of play at milongas, locally anyway, and his pieces have a nice balance between strong rhythm and silky melody that make dancers pretty happy. (Except for the endings.) I should clarify that not all of this tangos drop the last bing, and neither do his vals or milonga selections.

It's also not just a scholarly interest at work here - I want to dance well to Rodriguez and, because of this particular characteristic, his tandas are a little easier to pick out now. I may not get the first song, but once I hear the ending - I'll have an idea of what I'm in for in the next 2-3 songs.

So I listened to his arrangements and watched dancers on Youtube to see how they cope with the missing "bing" - some dancers are ready, some are caught midstep (like I almost always am). However, if you get familiar with the sound of Enrique Rodriguez' arrangements it can really help interpretation of the music on the dance floor.

Once I was familiar with a few selections, I gave "Danza Maligna" a listen. It not only incorporates Rodriguez's signature missing beat at the end, but uses breaks and pauses much the way Biagi does in a few of his tangos. Very exciting stuff!

Danza Maligna
Music by: Fernando Randle
Lyrics by: Claudio Frollo

Lyrics (Castellano) can be found HERE.

Further Reading:

No Perfect Art

Tango is Art.

. . .

Art class. Mr. Agacinski.(Forgive me, Mr. A, if I misspelled your name. Of course you always mispronounced mine, opting instead to call me, "a real stand-up broad" - which I kind of liked, so we can call it even.) :-)
Mr. A laid out the rules very simply. All projects would be graded on a scale of 1-99%. A large portion of the class was outraged (really, I'm not kidding, outraged!) that earning 100% on an assignment, or for the semester, was impossible. So seeing that several of his students were clearly disgruntled by his rule, he acquiesced.

Sort of. . . He offered a deal.

"All or nothing."
You could have a chance to earn 100% on an art project, but if he found a flaw anywhere in the piece, the grade would be zero.

Several students smiled, getting the implication. Others still balked. "But there's always going to be something you can find wrong with it!" "How can you judge if a painting is perfect???"

To which Mr. A responded, "exactly".

"Seeking perfection is in direct opposition to creating art."

"Now sketch these peanuts left over from my lunch."

The kind of dancer I want to be.

I've always asked people why they started tango - what they wanted from it. It's an important question and it's related to the question I ponder a lot these days, "What kind of dancer do I want to be?"

Which really translates, for me, to what kind of follower do I want to be?

I spend a lot of time watching other dancers, teachers - both local and visiting, in person and online. I try different things, different techniques, different ways of expressing the music. I try a few things on and see how they fit. When something doesn't fit or feels off, I try to figure out why. Keep what works. Let go of the things that don't work.

Here are the things that make up the kind of dancer I want to be - in no particular order.

I want to be soft.

Many of these descriptors are going to be troublesome to explain. All can do is kind of dance around the idea and hope I get it clear by the end of my explaining. "Soft" is one of the tough ones. Some dances feel "hard" - not in difficulty, though they often feel that way too. It's similar, in my head at least, to the way some martial art forms appear to emphasize the "snap" - sharp, precise movements. Other forms, like Tai Chi and many others, emphasize a kind of fluidity. All styles have elements of both - but which ones are stressed is what's important

My most comfortable leaders move softly. No jerking, no snapping, no "popping" my leg out for displacements, no whipping the head around, angry tango. Even very quick changes of direction (for boleo leads) feel smooth, effortless - fast, yet soft. That's also not to suggest I want a weak lead - I love the very strong torso lead, what Gustavo, one of my teachers explains by saying "walk like you are walking 'through' her!" But it's the strong torso lead that makes the softness in the steps, and fluid movement, possible.

See what I mean? So hard to explain with words. I love the dances that feel soft.

I want to be musical.

Unlike some of the posts on, I do believe that musicality, to a large extent, can be taught. Or at least you can expose one to it. I believe that if we want to progress as dancers, we must learn about the music, learn the structure, the purpose of it (which means learning the context and history of it) - the music is why we're here.

I know that when a leader feels strongly about a piece of music - I can feel it. I appreciate it. I admire it. It moves me that he is moved.

Of course, to be musical, we must listen, so . . . .

I want to be quiet.

If I close my eyes, as I frequently do, on the milonga floor, there are a few dancers I can hear no matter where they are on the floor. I can hear them talking, I can hear the way they strike their heels against the floor. Not random whispers and taps - but identifiable sounds unique to those dancers. During a performance, taps and strikes mark and emphasize the music, but during the milonga, it's distracting. Just as a non-stop conversation from the couple behind me can be. (And I know I've been guilty of this - and have been corrected accordingly.)

This is, for me, a "quiet" and "soft" dance:

I want to be gracious.

Have blog, will bitch. Arlene wrote about it on her blog here. I can get too negative. I can get pissy when I'm hurt, or tired, or especially when I'm both. I have my preferences for things which means other people get to have their preferences too. No more getting drawn into the neuvo vs. salon vs. apilado vs. whatever, debates. Losing battle - by which I mean everyone loses. I was told when I started tango it only really required two things - be kind and be willing.

I want to be adaptable . . . to a point.

Here is where I get caught between two truths in tango:

- "To be a good dancer you must learn to adapt to your partners" (especially true for followers) and,
- "You can't please everyone."

I can't be good at everything, but to "specialize" in tango can make me seem unfriendly and unwilling. I have a small (and getting smaller) amount of money, time and energy that I can spend on improving my dance and so I have to make choices. To spend $30-$50 on a nuevotango workshop is not time or money well-spent for me. I will do my best and when resources allow, to try to expand my knowledge. But for me to give my best and get what I need and want is to focus on what I enjoy most and can do best/most comfortably.

Surveying the damage: Floorcraft Rant


Two tandas . . .

Two bruised toes from getting stepped on.
One abrasion and bruise on the side of right foot from a stiletto heel (ocho taps adornment).
One bruise in right calf from stiletto heel (boleo).
One bruise on my left Achilles tendon from a (not my) leader's kick (gancho).
One silver-dollar sized bruise on the inside of knee (back sacada).

Fairly ranty requests:

Teachers: every single class you teach about any pattern/sequence/step whatever, should include floorcraft. Every one of these injuries could have been prevented by following the most basic rules of good floorcraft. When your students, leaders or followers, kick people, it's a reflection on you.

Leaders: If you think the floor looks pretty tough and you may have trouble navigating it - you're probably right. Either dance small, and by small, I mean *small* - for example, two large steps to walk me to the cross is not small, or sit out until later in the milonga. If you're not sure you know the basics about floorcraft, then you probably don't. Start here:

Tango L rant from Jai Jeffryes:
Tango floorcraft from

Followers, if we're close enough to feel each other's skirts swish by, keep your *expletive* 4" Comme il Faut *expletive* heels on the *expletive* floor, *expletive*.

*/end rant/*

Milonga Manners: Rewarding the Wrong Behavior

This has been coming up more and more as dancers (online and off) have been discussing the merits (and pitfalls) of using the cabeceo at milongas.

Here's one example of what often happens...

As soon as the cortina starts, especially if the milonga is very busy, leaders scramble to find their first choice next partners in scattering dancers. Because people are seated somewhat haphazardly and there's no single point of exit from the pista - visibility is tricky, even if the lights are brighter (which is rare). So gentlemen have little choice but to walk up to the table where their intended follower is sitting and simply ask her. Knowing that the milonga is usually set up poorly for the cabeceo, the follower accepts invitations that way, rather than appearing rude and declining an invitation, and "punishing" the leader for asking in the only way he had the opportunity to.

So we usually accept the invitation.
There are times when it would be even more prudent to turn down an invitation that way - such as when repeated cabeceos were *not* returned and then the leader decides to come up directly in front of the follower and ask her to dance. This has happened recently to me with a leader who swings me around like a rag doll when I dance with him and nearly pulls my arm out of its socket to do his big finale tango poses. I avoided his cabeceo for three cortinas - even getting up and leaving my table to avoid it. Finally he just appeared in front of me and asked me.

I should have declined but I didn't. I rewarded the behavior and got a sore shoulder for the trouble. Simply because I thought it would be more rude (and obvious) to turn him down. So in a way, I was punishing the nice gentlemen who might have been trying to make use of the cabeceo by getting up and dancing with a man who had, by the standards of milonga codigos, been rude. I also, by accepting his invitation, rewarded his style of dancing even though it's frequently inappropriate for the social dance floor. One leader said it sends a pretty clear message when they see that happen: Nice guys finish last (or at least sit out more tandas).

So in these situations where at least half of the leaders can't or don't use the cabeceo - is there any way to reward, and thereby encourage, the leaders who do, at least when they're able to? Of course we can be observant and available for the leaders that use it, but usually by the time we think someone *might* be trying to cabeceo us, another leader has already approached and asked.

From Embrace to Entrega - Feeling the Invitation

So much of my tango education has revolved around learning to wait. To wait until something is led. To wait for the music. To wait for my partner to open the space before moving into it.

In my abrazo apilado class with Daniela Arcuri, she stressed the importance of followers waiting until there is a clear invitation to lean into their partner before doing so. The leader invites the follower to share her weight, often by stepping back slightly. If I lean on my partner without that invitation, I just feel heavy and off-balance to him.

During the next practica, I felt for the invitation in the leaders who had taken the class with me. I knew they would be practicing it, so it wasn't a surprise to feel the tiny step back, or the slight dip in their elevation. What did surprise me is when I felt the invitation from another dancer, El León, who had not been in that class. Had he always been inviting me and I just kept closing the distance? I was so surprised, I didn't even ask - I was just elated to be able to practice it even more.

It got me thinking, though - had I really been listening or feeling for invitations? I may not have been taking the steps too early (like auto-ochoing) - but was I still anticipating what was coming?

Feeling the spaces in between . . .
After getting used to feeling for invitations from that class (and practica), I started to "feel" more kinds of invitations - where a leader would give me space and time to take a step more slowly, more musically. Had they always been doing that? Have I just been in this constant state of, "what is he going to want next?" - that I hadn't been listening for these opportunities?

Later, I had another two milongas and a few more experiences of what Rick McGarry (of calls the Holy Grail of Tango - entrega. Surrendering. Maybe only moments at a time within a dance - but there it was, surrender. I couldn't believe my luck.

That's when I realized that entrega, like the embrace, is invited... negotiated. It doesn't magically materialize when the stars align. So how was it that some leaders seemed to open this space from the beginning, and others kept a little more distance?

A little case study: How a leader may invite entrega, observing El Oso . . .

Waiting for the music . . .
At the milonga, El Oso (nicknamed for his bear-hugs) and I had been talking about Chile and the earthquake and countries contributing army teams to help with the rescue effort. When the song that was playing finished, El Oso stopped talking, looked around the restaurant, and listened. Waiting for the music to start, he invited me to dance after he heard the first few moments of Malena, one of my very favorite tangos.

Waiting for the music sends a message from my leader to me that he chose me for this tanda - not just the next tanda. It conveys a sense of intention - and also a connection to the music. It's by no means a requirement, and it could cost some leaders the partners of their choice by waiting (see Caveat below). But when it does happen - when my partner and I are "prairie-dogging", looking around the room for each other when Biagi, or Pugliese, or a vals tanda comes on - it feels so much more personal.

Caveat - In my community and many that I hear about, waiting for the music is a luxury that many leaders don't feel they have. By the time they've waited for the music to start, other leaders have already asked followers to dance - usually as soon as the cortina started. It isn't an essential part of the invitation, but it can be, when possible, a very special part of it.

The embrace . . .
This is hard to describe because it doesn't seem to speak to how someone would feel invited to surrender, but it does for me. It's not just that El Oso holds me close to him (most milonguero leaders do too, it's the nature of the embrace) - but he holds me like he's embracing a long, lost friend. Like I just stepped off of a plane after a long trip and I'm coming home. Without hesitation, he hugs me to him, my temple against his, like it's a relief that I'm there.

He waits for me.
Several things seem to happen, almost like a combination lock, before we begin to dance. He waits for my breathing to settle into his rhythm (it's not an expectation - just an easy way for him to know that I'm ready) or he adjusts to mine if I don't settle in. He waits for me to feel the music with him. I think this is the biggest reason that these few leaders wait for the music to start - it's important for them to know that the music will move both of us. Which brings me to the next point . . .

He shares his emotional response to the music.
This is the hardest to explain because it's different for every leader - really, every dancer. El Viajero hums or sings softly with the song - to me, not just randomly, but usually to express something he cares about in the music. El Leon breathes into the music and his right hand, around my ribs, presses slightly more firmly during more intense pieces of music. El Oso's face changes - I can feel his brow tighten or relax, his eyes close briefly - he shows the music in his face. With El Teologo, I can feel it in his arm around my back, and in his breathing. Of course it's more than just a collection of observations - it's an almost overwhelming sensation of feeling the same things in the music at the same time.

To some degree, all leaders who feel connected to the music, share their experience of it - that's how the dance happens. With the experience of entrega, there's an additional feeling of vulnerability where the experience of the music emotionally, takes priority over everything else. That's obviously not a quantifiable statement, it's simply how it feels to me.

He "dials in", (as another blogger, Ampstertango, describes it.)

A visiting tanguero noticed the moment my smile slipped from my face (as a whirling dervish of a dancer started tailgating us) even though he couldn't see my face - only feel my cheek. Some leaders know almost instantly when I'm not "with" them - when I've missed something, and are very responsive to that. Other leaders don't seem to notice for a phrase or two that I haven't been able to keep up or follow what they've led. Leaders have a tough job - so that's no surprise. They're navigating the floor, the music, leading me, watching out for other dancers. (How leaders can keep track at any given moment what foot I'm on is still a wondrous thing to me.)

The experience, dialing in, comes from both sides - I need to be "dialing in" to my leader to know when his pace is about to change in response to what's coming in the music, or when he's responding to conditions on the floor etc. Frequently those signals are in his breathing, and a change in the feeling of tension in his torso. "Surprises" on either side are usually kept to a minimum so that both partners feel they can relax completely and not feel "exposed", like when a leader suddenly drops one, or both (really, it happens) sides of the embrace, for example. Or I suddenly decide to auto-ocho or perform unled boleos. Some surprises are fun - those are not. I wonder how often I've closed the connection simply by not paying attention to the space my leader opened for me.

Again, most of the leaders I dance with do at least some, or most, of these things and I am lucky to have so many wonderful dances with them every week. But when a leader does all of them, it sends a message to me that a more intense kind of connection is welcome.

I just have to wait for it.

But now I wonder, how do followers let their leaders know that the connection is welcome? What are the ways that we open that door?

People will talk

A rare stellar alignment resulted in far more men at the last milonga than women. While I enjoyed dancing nearly every tanda (though my feet are now less than impressed by that fact), it brought other things to light that I would have preferred not have had to deal with. When there are far more men than women, it can feel particularly obvious (I'm not sure that's the word I mean, but I can't think of a better one) when certain men don't want to dance with you. When there are 5 or 6 men that appear to rather sit out than ask the one woman left sitting (me, in this case) to dance, it stings. I know appearances can be deceiving - and I have been known to be airheaded and miss cabeceos from leaders. But when it's the entire evening - and the same leaders, it's hard not to take it personally.

Still, I've learned to try to make peace with that and not make too many assumptions about it. However, the situation was made far worse that night when another dancer suggested that I wasn't trying hard enough to circulate. At the time, and maybe still, it felt like insult added to injury.

At one point there were three men at my own table I would have loved to dance with and none of them cabeceo'd me. But again, I've been known to be oblivious. I tried to make eye contact with each one of them, but after a few short remarks - no invitations, no cabeceo. So I had a second tanda with a few of the previous leaders I had danced with. When I sat down again, I tried again to cabeceo the three previous gentlemen, and a fourth who had just arrived. Again, nothing.

Now, there were a few leaders there that almost never ask me to dance - and so I don't get especially offended when they don't ask. They're often the more advanced leaders that dance more open and lean almost more toward a nuevo style. They're beautiful leaders and I would certainly accept their invitation, but I might have trouble following some of what they lead, and they probably know that. Or they might think that because I dance primarily "estilo milonguero", that's all I want to dance. Whether that's what puts them off or whether it's my ranting in my blog about boloe/gancho craziness, or something else entirely - who knows. I just don't hold my breath for their invitations. So just to be clear, the men that I was trying to make eye contact with were leaders who I've danced with before, and dance more close embrace generally.

I wanted to circulate and to dance with gentlemen I hadn't danced with - but failing that, I still wanted to dance. So a leader I had danced with twice already cabeceo'd me for a third tanda. Another leader made a stern comment to him about noticing that this was our 3rd tanda and then told me I need to circulate. I was even surprised at how irritated I was by his comment.

First of all, I had just finished dancing with the leader who was criticizing me. Second, I had tried to be available and cabeceo other men, but I can't make them ask me!

Here were my options as I understood them.

1.) Turn down leaders I'd already danced with - in which case, I'd have to sit out that tanda anyway, or
2.) just get up and dance.

Will people talk? How the heck should I know? Ultimately, this is a man's game. I had, I thought, done what I could to try to let them know I was interested, but I'm not going to turn down invitations and sit out tandas, to try to work out if someone else is going to ask me. Usually I have no problem abiding by milonga etiquette and occasionally doing something (or not doing something) because of how things might appear but that night, I'd really reached my limit.

When there are far more followers at a milonga, than leaders, I admire the gentlemen who make such an effort to get around to as many of the followers as possible. The gentleman who was criticizing me, was actually one of those men who makes such an effort. But the rules of the game are not the same for me as they are for him. I can only decline invitations, not make them - or I risk getting negative comments about being too pushy by asking.

In the end, I danced with the leaders who asked me and, focusing on them, tried to push all the other nonsense thoughts out of my head. I had to take my own advice. The milongas, and life, are too short for me to concentrate on the men who aren't asking me to dance.

The Authentic Tanguero/a

Nearly every tango forum, blog and listserv seems to have a percentage of posts that read something like this:

- no one but Argentines can really dance tango the way it's supposed to be danced,
- Argentines are natural tango dancers/have natural musicality/naturally better posture etc etc and don't need classes.

Then there are the constant references to what the portenos/as do that we can never hope to understand...

Am I the only one who doesn't really care about not dancing like a portena? I don't want to be misundestood here - the way that tango is danced socially in the milongas of BsAs and Montevideo (why does no one seem to mention that this heritage is shared by Uruguay?) is the ideal I hold in my head. And I very much want to go to Buenos Aires (and Montevideo) and experience tango where it was born and where it flourishes still. But there are two fundamental ideals that are the core of tango heritage and experience that I think are getting lost with posts like those above:

1. "You dance who you are." (Nito Garcia). I will never be a portena. I will always be just who I am. Within that, I want to be the most capable follower I can be, but I will always be dancing like me, and not like a portena. The point of tango, I truly believe, is to dance your heart. Trying to constantly prove myself against an external ideal isn't what tango is about for me. You dance who you are, and that's the point. "Authentic tango" isn't dancing like an Argentine if you aren't Argentine - it's dancing your authentic self. (Which in no way means making up your own style of dance, claiming *that's* your authentic tango, and inflicting it on other people - but that's another post.)

2. "Tango is a feeling that is danced." (Cacho Dante) There are more than a few people that claim no one can truly "feel" authentic tango if they are not from Argentina (again, few people ever seem to mention Uruguay in those kinds of statements.) But tango songs speak to the human condition, of coping with isolation, loneliness, loss, grief, rejection, homesickness, heartache - the specific references and stories are about Argentina and Uruguay - but the emotions are basic human feelings.

Another helpful bit of information I've gotten from friends who live and dance in Buenos Aires, is that there are plenty of Portenos/as who have bad posture, poor musicality, lack of manners, and insist on step collecting and showing off. Of course the percentage is far smaller than in the US - but they do exist. Just like truly amazing, connected, musical dancers exist here that have never been to Buenos Aires or Montevideo.

I've also noticed that people who are most adamant about the "Authentic Argentine Tango Experience"(tm) - aren't Argentine themselves. *shrug* Seems to make it all the more silly to hold to that ideal.

Learn tango however you need to learn it. If you have a community filled with well attended milongas and practicas, and superior dancers willing to dance with less experienced dancers - then you might be able to go quite a long way without any/many classes. If you have few milongas, fewer practicas, few advanced dancers - or dancers willing to invest time and effort dancing with the less experienced ones - the classes may have to be the route to go. But no one should ever give the impression to someone willing to start this journey, that they won't ever be good enough if they:

- aren't Argentine,
- need to take classes,
- don't go to Buenos Aires and dance in the milongas (without the help of taxi dancers of course) to somehow prove themselves.

To be accepted as an adequate dancer in the milongas is one thing - it requires a minimum level of skill (depending on the milonga), and understanding of milonga culture and manners, etc etc. But I believe that the heart of tango, in its history and music, finds you where you are. It speaks to you in the voice you need at the moment, in whatever place you are in your life. Tango is the dance of the people - of all the people who hear the music.

The only people I have to please, whose expectations I care deeply about meeting - is the leader in front of me, and myself.

"I think those who say that you can’t tango if you are not Argentine are mistaken. Tango was an immigrant music... so it does not have a nationality. It’s only passport is feeling..” Carlos Gavito

Tim Ferriss and the Myth of Tango Mastery

Dear tanguero,

I feel I should explain my reaction to your comments about Tim Ferriss. It touched a nerve and I didn't really explain my apparent hostility. It was certainly not meant for you.

Several people have brought Tim Ferriss to my attention over this past year. I can usually make it a month before his name pops up again. For readers who are unfamiliar with him, he's the author of "The 4 Hour Work Week". He set a Guinness record for the most consecutive tango turns and has competed with his partner, Alicia Monti, at the Tango World Championship. As a social dancer the idea of a tango competition seems absurd. I don't think I will ever understand how something like tango could be judged - or why anyone would want it to be. But I digress.

I think the most crucial detail of Ferriss's history, as I relate it to tango, is his winning Wired magazine's "Greatest Self-Promoter of All Time". If there is any concept more out of synch with social tango, I can't think of one. Self-promotion may be an admirable quality in the business world, but at the milonga, it should have no place.

For Ferriss, and many like him, tango is one more thing to master. Yet another "skill set". To start at that place, on that path, is to miss the point completely. There is no mastering tango. You may someday master yourself, and find your dance, your tango, but trying to master tango is tilting at windmills.

Tango is elusive. The moment you think you've got it in your hands, it slips away like smoke. Tango is in the imperfections. It's for all of the things we don't have words for - and for the things we wouldn't dare talk about even if we had the words. Tango finds you in your failures, not your triumphs. In tango we can dance our secrets, tell our tales, hear our stories in the music.

When we danced, I could feel your heart beat, your breath on my skin, your intention before your first step. Why would we want anyone to judge that experience? Or have it be just one more thing we know how to do?

For me, Ferriss represents everything that tango is not. If tango is anything, it is close to this:

"When you find pools of pure, sweet light, bathe in their waters, balm for your lacerations. For the whiplash scars the bandoneon is leaving on your soul. If this were the old milonga of the slums, or those popular songs about painted faces and purloined love, you could let distance sketch a smile on your lips. Cheap irony. You won't get away that easy. 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."

Tanguero, this dance could change your life if you let it. Of course it won't be pretty. It's a hard road. It's the road Ferris never took. But you can.

I encourage you to read the entire quote, from Piazzolla's Zero Hour liner notes, here.
And for another take on Ferris, visit Penelope Trunk's blog.