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.

Tango Husbands, again . . .

Due to popular demand (thank you, my friends for much needed clarity on the subject), I am reposting this. I should have trusted myself, and my readers, more.

It is beyond my ability at this time to express the thoughts any more clearly than I have. Truly, I regret that it upset a reader and a friend. However, it was a mistake for me to remove this post. In doing so, I questioned not only my ability to say what I needed to say, but my own right to say it. It won't happen again. For better or worse, my posts on this blog stand because they mark a place in my journey.

And right now, this is where I am.

Here is the original post.

Every so often I repost the link to Twists and Tango's "Tango Husbands, Boyfriends, and One Night Stands". My favorite part, the one I'm constantly reminded of, is this:

"Tango Husbands:

They are consistent, faithful, tried and true. Their lead never fails, their connection is always spot on. They know how to not only make you look good on the floor they know your weaknesses. Where your tango boyfriend is about the good time your tango husband knows that your left molinete is your weak side; that you prefer low boleos over high ones, he knows your favorite music and how you like to be embraced. Your Tango Husband is thoughtful and caring. He will work with you to improve your technique at practicas and dance with you for fun at a milonga. There is a downside to the Tango Husband. While you can have one Tango Husband.........he can have many wives......." (Though I've heard rumors of followers with a few tango husbands.)


I would add that the "their lead never fails" isn't quite the feeling I have for, or from, tango husbands. It's that whether the lead fails or succeeds doesn't matter. The issue is simply moot. Maybe someday I'll be able to explain that better, but for today, that's all I can manage. I do know that the attendance of a tango husband can get you out to a milonga when nothing else will. They can smoothly rebuild your confidence after a particularly rough tanda. (And you can rebuild theirs.) Recently the topic of tango husbands came up again and as I watched the dance floor, I couldn't help but wonder who was dancing with their tango spouse?

Can you see it in their faces? In their embrace? Looks can be deceiving, after all. Tonight, one couple catches my eye. (And there is always at least one couple.) Holding each other tightly as if braced against a storm only they can see. But tango is filled with cliches . . . There are a few knowing nods and raised eyebrows as they pass. 'There must be something going on.'

Yet so often it is because there's nothing going on that this dance can be what it is. Memories of past encounters, old flames, unrequited love, flights of fancy down paths not taken, worlds of 'what if', intimate and universal, all wrapped up into 10-12 minutes of music, dance and touch. Then gone like a dream you can almost remember upon waking, but not quite. Hard to explain, hard to describe - even to one's self. We walk away, hopefully, with a feeling that enriches everything else we see and do, on and off the pista.

Clear as mud

(Picture courtesy of


I am not Associated Press and I am not 'reporting' from the milongas. Bloggers (who are not citizen journalists), essayists, memoirists, describe things less literally and more creatively than their journalist counterparts. I'm no exception. Most of the time when I'm referring to characters at a milonga, or in a class, or at a festival, it is actually a combination of many people, local and distant, online and off, and many incidents, of mine and others', distilled into one snapshot to capture a moment, or an emotion. It's a painting - not a photograph. Occasionally people have asked me to relate their story in a more general way because they don't want to publish under their own name. I've done that too.

I made a mistake in thinking that was understood and for that I apologize. I hope this has clarified things a little bit. If not, feel free to send the pitchforks and torches an email to infinitetango (at)