Un tal Gavito

"If I could suggest a theme for our walk it would be : Tango es entre paso y paso. Tango is between one step and the next. Steps are not tango, steps are memory and choreography. Tango can never be in the things that are said. It is in the improvisation. The steps learned in dance schools are not improvisation, they are choreography. Small choreographies, brief ones. Then you learn how to connect one figure to another but one thing is still missing – tango. There is no step."

Gavito in “El Farolito”, Oct. 2003






Almost all of Carlos Gavito's dancing that I had seen until this past week, was stage tango. Choreographed, elegant, dramatic. For all the drama, his performances were still more "contained" than many other stage performances. What few clips on YouTube I had seen of his teaching gave me a glimpse of another side of his dancing. Every move was as elegant, and yet perfectly efficient, as it could be made - for his partner and for himself. His movements looked smooth, controlled, yet powerful, and so precise.

So began my quest for DVD's of his teaching. Every time I would find a site that sold the DVD's, they would respond that they were out of stock. Finally, I found the 3 DVD set at The Tango Store. For around $50, I got all three DVD's and the arrived in a few days.

From the cover: "Un tal Gavito" (A certain Gavito): "a different way of dancing tango. Carlos Gavito and Marcela Durán will take us to their particular world, surrounding us in their embrace, suggesting with their looks, telling us with their feet that tango is a three minute romance. They will show us that technique and emotion also are united, that the intention is feeling and not steps... that dancing is the same as loving."

I would say that I wish I had had these DVD's earlier, but I'm not sure they would have done me as much good as they're doing now. I would have been watching them without a context for understanding the movements, and certainly for understanding the unique qualities of those movements that set him apart. Simple, powerful, graceful. Stillness when one should be still, fluid movement when the music asks for it. Presence.

Presence is important. There are a few dancers I've met who have it. Yet every time I try to talk about it, or explain what I mean by it, I sound like a character in Star Wars. A disturbance in the force, er... milonga.

When I had a lesson with Darryl Gaston, a student of Gavito's, the first thing I noticed was his presence. In truth, I wouldn't have been able to ignore it. His presence, his "being there" filled the room. When someone is so completely present in the moment, so powerfully still, you can't help but feel it. I can only speculate how much of that would be Gavito's influence.

There is a sense of that controlled, compelling power even in something as detached as his performances on DVD. What can appear as simple theatrics in watching Gavito on stage, looks and feels completely different when watching him teach movements appropriate to a crowded milonga, and then explaining his experiences. It can never be as good as it would have been to study with him, but I'm grateful to have this much.

Thank goodness for subtitles, because Gavito actually speaks quite a bit about his philosophy on walking, on dancing small in the milongas, on movements that are more comfortable, and yet supremely elegant on the dance floor. And for someone who was known for intensely dramatic performances, his manner and the details he shares, his reasons for doing something one way, rather than another, make his instruction very accessible. His philosophy is at once romantically idealistic, and pragmatic.

I'm so happy to have found these and I highly recommend them.

The web is a-flutter . . .


. . talking about tango connection.

Sallycatway got the ball rolling with her post,, called "The Milongueros I love - The Gift (Pt. 1)" - a brilliant post you should read right away.

Really, it's okay, I'll wait.
. . .

I told you it was brilliant, didn't I?

"I have a theory that the milongueros I love the most of all, share a secret. And, it is the secret of how to obtain the gift. The gift is unbelievably precious, is given by women in the tango embrace, and once tasted by a man, cannot be resisted: it will keep him dancing tango, in pursuit of bliss, until the day he dies.

"What is the gift? If you dance tango, you’ll probably know what I mean, or maybe you will by the time you’ve finished reading this post. Let me describe the 6 classic bliss-seeking behaviours of all the milongueros I love the most: various combinations of these things guarantee that I will give the gift to them, and these guys know it, the clever devils."

Now she asks two questions:

Tango dancing guys reading this, have you experienced the gift that I speak of, for yourselves? Do you understand the secret to getting it and would your behaviour show me that you do?

Tango dancing girls, do you know when you have given the gift? And what, in your favourite dance partners, ensures that you can — any of the behaviours I’ve listed above ring luscious-sounding bells?


Ponder that for awhile and leave an answer for her, if you haven't already.

It's a wonderful discussion that's cropping up in other places as well. TangoCommuter has taken up the topic on his blog as well, and that's definitely worth the read.

Over on Dance-forums, a poster has asked questions along the same lines: Trying to demystify the whole "magic connection/tango bliss" topic. It's getting loads of responses, so dive in.

Get in on the discussion(s) - let other readers and dancers know what things your favorite dancers do to give you that "gift". Do you have specific ways that you offer it?

Canyengue!

I know I've always talked about how devoted I am to estilo milonguero tango, and I really am - but this looks like so much fun!! Every once in awhile a hear of a class or workshop - so next time I may just have to dive in and give it a try.

Thank you Irene and Man Yung, for posting it on your wonderful blog!

Abrazo




At the milonga . . .
Me: (Surprised to find myself closely embraced.) I thought you preferred open embrace?
Him: I find I prefer what the lady prefers.
Me: ♥ ♥ ♥

Dancing to Piazzolla


Flow


Watching videos of some milongas in Buenos Aires is mesmerizing for me. The music and dancing are beautiful generally, but, especially with some of the more crowded traditional milongas, if the camera angle is just right, you can see the mass of people moving counter-clockwise as one flowing, beautiful, multi-legged organism. Each couple is doing something different, but they are within the music together, with the rest of the floor. Some dancers call this "flow". When you've felt it on the dance floor, there's nothing else like it. It requires a high level of floorcraft and a certain willingness to not stand out - if that makes sense.

Within the flow, my partner and I can relax a little, be soothed by the music, each other, and the mass of bodies around us. It's deeply moving, almost meditative. Blissful. Soothing on an almost cellular level. That is the milonga experience I crave and it's so rare. I hear it's rare pretty much everywhere outside of Buenos Aires. It's a shame, because traditional tango music seems designed to create that flow - the structure of the music opens the opportunity for it. Flow is one of the three reasons, the other two being connection and the music itself, that I dance tango. Simbatango talks about the same three things in his blog post, the Three Fundamentals of Tango.



Guilty Pleasures

I know Piazzolla is considered listening music, not dancing music, by many, maybe even most, tango dancers (certainly in Buenos Aires I'm told). But when the chance affords itself, as it did last night with Austin Piazzolla Quintet playing at Esquina Tango, I can't resist, I dance.

It's challenging to say the least. Whatever you're bad at, whatever your tango weakness is, it's amplified 10 times dancing to Piazzolla because you have to do everything much more slowly, deliberately. It's exhilarating, intense, emotionally-charged - and exhausting. I couldn't do a milonga like last night's, with mostly Piazzolla, very often. As gorgeous an experience as it is - it's missing one of the essential three things I covet - the "flow". The structure and style of Piazzolla's music (and some would argue Pugliese's music s well) is not conducive to dancers finding that sort of communal, enveloping, shared experience, it seems. It's a different animal altogether. There are exceptions. There are some songs that fall outside of "Traditional" or "Golden Age" tango that seem to also be conducive to connection and flow on the pista - I think those might vary from community to community.

The only way I have been able to describe the different feeling, for me anyway, is that it feels a little bit like going to an elegant costume party. It's exciting and mysterious, adventurous - but (again for me) not relaxing. Not as soul-soothing. Beautiful - but in a different way. I love dancing to Piazzolla and Pugliese and Neotango/alternative tango etc - they push my dancing in new directions, explore different territory. But the feelings and experiences I have with most pieces in those categories of music are fundamentally different than what I go to dance tango (socially) for. It's a wonderful dance experience, but not so wonderful a tango experience. I'm not trying to weigh in on the what is and what is not genuine/authentic/real/legitimate tango here -I'm only trying to describe how the different music feels to me. Which is all I can ever do really.

So now, while I take my ibuprofen, nurse my sore feet, and drink my tea - I'm settling into some Di Sarli, then later, some D'Arienzo, or Calo.

A little perspective

"I've had a few arguments with people, but I never carry a grudge. You know why? While you're carrying a grudge, they're out dancing." --Buddy Hackett

One of the trickiest aspects of writing a tango blog, when you are personally known to your tango community and to your readers, is that it creates an added level of insecurity-angsty-ness when you're already feeling your lowest.

Now, when sitting and wondering why it feels like everyone is dancing but me - I don't just have the usual favorites, 'Is it my dancing?', 'Is it the way I look?', 'Was it something I said?' - but also, 'Was it something I wrote?' It's a hazard of the job... er.. hobby. Public posts are like kids wandering around the mall trying out all the new words they heard you say when you were mad. I just run behind them face-palming and saying 'I didn't mean it exactly like that! Well, I kind of did. Seemed like a good idea at the time . . .' Part and parcel of the trade, second guessing every word that makes it out of your brain and into the world.
Mostly I love getting feedback in person on something I wrote. Then I'm in a conversation and that's what it's all about - what all of this is for. But sometimes, warming the chair on the sidelines of the milonga, I'm just trying to gauge the repercussions of imagined slights.
I tell myself the usual things, it's probably not personal. It could be any number of things. It may be drama that has nothing to do with me. Or, it really could be me. After two milongas in a row of a particular leader asking every follower at my table to dance twice each, and not saying hello to me, it certainly felt personal.

The inner monologue started.
Was it my dancing?
Something I said?
Something I wrote?

I could have asked. But I've covered that topic before. I'd rather have a bit of chocolate and wine and get over it, than ask. This time it took longer than usual to get over it, though. Between milongas, I even went over to Tango-Beat, and re-read fellow tango blogger's excellent posts on rejection. But the pity party was in full force for some reasons that had to do with tango, and several that didn't. Doesn't really matter. PMS. Alignment of the stars. Is Mercury in retrograde ? Whatever.
In the midst of having my inner-tantrum pout-fest, I heard my tough-love inner voice say, "Maybe you could shut up your ego and be grateful?"

Oh yeah.
Let's get some perspective.

I danced a lot during both of those milongas. I'd had several blissful tandas, warm embraces, wonderful conversations and gorgeous music all weekend.

And yet...

Every once in awhile, she creeps back in telling me I'm not good enough, not pretty enough, not graceful enough, not tactful enough, not sophisticated enough, not anything enough. This morbidly addictive focus on all the things lacking, pulls me away from the light and energy that tango brings. As Jantango noted, attitude is everything. When I let me ego drive, I frequently find myself in a ditch.
So I let it go. I got back to work on the things that I could change (mostly my attitude).
My blogging life and tango life are inextricably linked, as they are for blogger, Farnoosh Brock. They require a lot of the same things from me - honesty, transparency, humility, kindness, willingness to connect. And a lot less time letting my ego do the driving.
One of the first people I met in tango told me that the only thing tango really requires of you - be willing and be kind. Everything else is secondary to that. Good advice.

Flawed


A tanguero's frustration.
He sees "perfection" in the couple before him. A "master" leader able to lead a beginner to dozens of graceful movements while he could not walk her to the cross. "Perfect," he whispers.

"Do you think so?" I ask. The follower's face is blissfully light, animated, as if astonished at feeling suddenly gorgeous.

"Obviously - look at what she can do in his arms. He's a master! He can lead anything!"

He is watching the follower's legs move fluidly from step, to step, weaving in and around her leader.

I am watching the leader's face.

The master leader is engrossed by his follower's movements. And there it is - a quick change. He had meant to go one way, but her response changed his plan. He smiled, led her comfortably, gracefully into something else. He pays such close attention and never assumes she will be where he led her. Yet there is no furrowed brow, no impatience in the lines of his mouth. He only smiles, raises his eyebrows - tries something else.

"The mastery isn't that this Maestro can lead any move to an absolutely beginner - it is that when she doesn't follow what he has led, he adjusts to her. Meets her where she is. Makes something beautiful with what she provided for him. On the fly."

This is tango. In a dance of improvisation, against what could we possible judge perfection or imperfection?

the music,
a tanda,
a single song,
an embrace,
a shared breath

Gemstones made more beautiful by occlusions, not less. Improvisation bending the light in unforeseen directions.

Pictured above - Rutilated quartz has slender golden needles of the titanium oxide mineral rutile within its crystals. Another variety called “Herkimer diamonds” often contains bubbles filled with gas and liquid or occasionally dark petroleum.

What's really hurting floorcraft

As I write this, based on notes I started more than a month ago, I know I need to make two points before I start in.

1.) This post is only my opinion and observations of things. That's it. YMMV*.

2.) I haven't been bumped or kicked for the last several milongas (not since the festival). Floorcraft, even on really tight floors like Texas French Bread which was set up even tighter this week, seems to be improving.

On nearly every tango forum, blog and mailing list there are discussions and even very heated arguments about floor craft. Nuevo dancers take a large part of the criticism, partly because they're an easy target. Their dancing is considered "bigger" and their moves are more visible on the floor. But I think the blanket criticism that "nuevo (or open embrace) dancers just dance too big" not only ignores the skilled dancers who manage their space well, tightening up their use of space when the floor is crowded, but also misses what's really creating the problem. I've been kicked and bumped just as often by close embrace couples as open embrace couples. So what did they have in common, if it wasn't the embrace?

Unpredictability seemed to be the biggest factor.

When a group of dancers flow smoothly together around the pista, it's due to a certain amount of predictability. Dancers relax more when they have a better idea what's coming. Conversely, when there is a lot of unpredictability for whatever reason, lots of new dancers, out of town dancers, non-dancers moving in and around the line of dance, dancers take on a more defensive demeanor. Leaders have to constantly watch out for risks to their partner, followers take a little longer settling in and feeling safe, and all of this is going on even before anyone actually gets bumped. Things can eventually settle into sort of a routine, and as the night wears on, people get more relaxed.

There are two habits that seem to contribute most to that state of unpredictability and make dancers feel the need to be more protective. Overtaking and moving in and out of the line of dance (or frequent lane-changing).

Overtaking

I will admit upfront that overtaking is a pet-peeve of mine. A large percentage of the times I've been kicked or collided with, it was because someone didn't have as much room as they thought when overtaking either partner and me, or another couple close to us. But it's also that it creates a bad feeling when it's done constantly. Overtaking, especially on the right side - through the blind spot of the leader in front in the line of dance is rarely necessary. Sometimes a leader has no choice but to overtake the couple in front of him, either for the safety of his partner if the couple in front is dancing dangerously, or because another couple has stopped to do seemingly endless figures on the spot. It happens. However, being annoyed that the line of dance isn't progressing the way you think it ought to, is not a good enough reason to overtake. Someone who constantly overtakes other couples can make an entire floor of dancers feel like they have to constantly be on the look out. Then who can relax?

Overtaking on the right side should be especially avoided. The passing leader may know he has plenty of room, but he's walking into a space the leader before him can't see - or see well. That is, for the leader being overtaken, inherently unpredictable. The follower of the couple in front usually tightens up when she sees or hears the couple behind her leader coming up - which sends a signal to her leader that there's something to watch out for. As I said, sometimes that's unavoidable. When in doubt though, work the space you have.

Lane-changing

Dancers that cut in and out of the line of dance (not overtaking couples) - moving into the center and back out again frequently are the other cause of unwelcome "suprises". Lane changing happens - sometimes it's necessary to navigate the floor safely. But you know what people think of drivers that are constantly changing lanes? That's what other dancers think about leaders zigzagging through the line of dance. Lane-changers may not be bumping anyone, but that's likely because everyone is moving away trying to avoid them. I've seen two zigzagging couples put an entire dance floor of couples on edge for two hours. And for the record, both couples were in close embrace.

In my opinion - as all of this has been, the best way to impress your dance partner - learn how to dance in this:




*"Your Mileage May Vary"

Heartbroken II... Update

I'm still sorting through the emails from my "Heartbroken and musings" post and it may be a little while before I get to everyone. I didn't realize how many ways my post could be taken - though I should have. So I'm writing this follow-up to hopefully clear up some misunderstandings.

1. I do not dislike Nuevo Tango. Period. It's a beautiful, expressive style of dance that I do, granted on rare occasions, feebly attempt to dance. My "problem", as one reader put it, with Nuevo is logistics at the milonga - especially crowded milongas. And it's the same problem I would have with estilo milonguero dancers that would hold up the line of dance to lead endless ochos or something. Bad manners are bad manners - no matter who is doing it. The biggest difference is that dancing bigger, or more open, makes it that much easier for others to see mistakes and navigation issues.

2. I do believe that there are challenges for Nuevo dancers in managing space and accurately gauging how much space their movements require. Some dancers are great at this. Others are not so great. I don't think teachers address these challenges enough. (Similarly, I also think there are challenges that close embrace dancers face in performing off-axis moves like volcadas and the like, that they have not been prepared for adequately in classes.) Learning good technique is the challenge for tango dancers no matter what style they dance. Again, nuevo dancers have the burden of being far more visible when something goes wrong.

3. Estilo milonguero and apilado are styles of dance that I strongly prefer - I'm not making any claims to it being "authentic tango" - not because I don't have beliefs on the matter, I very much do. I just don't believe I have the expertise/perspective/background/experience to make that kind of determination. I'll let other writers/dancers duke that out. I have opinions, and that's all they are.

4. My post was in response to things that were said to me, and written in other blogs, over about a week. It wasn't something I came up with while pondering "the great meaning of tango" or anything. It was in response to feeling hurt, hence the title. And I know that some of the comments I was responding to were in response to others feeling hurt - or feeling the need to defend their position. Which leads me to my next point . . .

5. There is far too much stereotyping in these discussions - and all they do is set people to defending their positions. I've been guilty of it, and I've seen it on all sides of the argument. It's divisive and in the end only hurts communities. Address the action - colliding with people, kicking people, etc. and resist making comments that such-and-such dancer is (or group of dancers are) rude, insensitive so-and-so's.

6. The primary/most important/personally impacting reason I don't like certain moves that are frequently associated with open embrace/nuevo styles, like deep or frequent volcadas, colgadas etc. is that they're uncomfortable for me physically. When I try to tell partners that at practicas, the response is usually a lecture on how much I would love such-and-such a move if I just learned better technique. Might be true, might not be. There are things that no matter how many classes and privates I take, I will probably not be able to do comfortably. I'm actually not all that comfortable going into that with people I don't know well because, like I mentioned above, it begins to feel like I have to defend my position on not wanting to do something. If I say that something is uncomfortable for me, I'd really like that to be enough.

7. I don't dislike or want to devalue performance tango. (I do dislike stage tango at the milongas - that's a different matter.) The biggest reason I have no interest in learning stage tango, as this is now being offered in our community the topic has come up, is that it would take time and resources away from the things I could use more often and more easily at milongas, and it would be so uncomfortable, even risky, for me physically. That's it. Again, it's not a philosophical argument - it's personal.

8. This blog is only a collection of my opinions. I'm not, and have never claimed to be, an expert on anything, including tango. Not only do I believe that my readers should take everything I say with "a grain of salt", I don't think dancers should take anything anyone says to be the gospel truth of tango.

One final caveat - my opinions, like everyone else's, are subject to change at any time, without notice. I feel one way today, and I write about it in my blog. I may feel a different way tomorrow as a result of a particularly enlightening conversation, eureka moment, life-altering experience, full moon, extra chocolate, whatever - likely I will blog about that too. That's why I have a blog. I frequently spout off about things I may, or may not, know nearly enough about to have such opinions. That's just what writers do. Sometimes we write just to sort things out and get feedback. I will always publish comments, negative or positive, unless they are personally abusive. And frankly, they have to be pretty bad. I'm not censoring comments or cherry-picking the responses I like. So fire away.

Out of Balance

Last night I had to face how out of balance my life is right now. In the midst of learning tango, I've forgotten, or been unwilling, to take the lessons that tango teaches and apply them to the rest of my life. For me, and I suspect I'm not alone, tango has been, among the many wonderful things, one less desirable thing (at least when it comes to having balance in my life) - an escape. I think most people go to milongas because it relieves a lot of stress in our lives - but it can go beyond that so easily. The milonga (and classes, and festivals, and practicas) becomes a place to run to when the rest of our world seems too overwhelming to cope with.

The tango world can, surprisingly, be a very orderly place in contrast to lay-offs, money worries, and home pressures. It's so much easier to find connection and feel valued at the milonga that it is, for instance, in my job where we just finished a round of "justify your job" meetings. It's that way for a lot of people. But instead of taking the valuable lessons that tango teaches about reaching out to people, about accepting people where they are and not where we would like them to be, taking responsibility for misunderstandings and valuing even difficult relationships, I left them in tango. Add to that fatigue from dancing so much and treating my home like a hotel I only sleep in between work and tango, my life has become astonishingly out of whack.

Of course I'm the only one whose surprised by that revelation - and that's the point. The people around me have been patiently waiting for me to notice that everything else has been sliding - my writing, my work, my relationships outside of tango. I have managed to maintain a few friendships outside of tango, but distantly - and always worked in around the milonga schedule. Where I used to build and work to maintain common ground with those closest to me, I've now let that go untended. The bridges aren't burned, but they're not in good shape. My attitude, though I don't think I every really expressed it directly to myself or anyone else, has been one of "they don't understand". Where the important lesson is that I haven't been trying to understand. I've been taking the easier path and hiding out from the people and things that need attending.

Tango is a tough journey and teaches so many valuable things for the whole of our lives. Seek first to understand. Value the experience of others. Respect the needs of the people around you. Take care of yourself.

And the biggest lesson in tango - first, before everything else, take care of your partner.

A lesson I left at the milonga.

It's time to take home what I've learned and find some balance.

Heartbroken and musings

If I cared less about tango, statements like these (in bold italic below.) wouldn't break my heart.

"Why dance tango if all you can do is walk?"
"the milonga is too crowded to do 'anything good' "


My heart sinks when I hear those sentences. I hear variations of them all the time.

I regret showing how much that first statement bothered me at the time. I was so shocked that someone who had read my blog (and had danced with me), could first of all believe that, and second, actually say that to me. I took it personally and it wasn't intended to be personal at all. It was just that suddenly this leader that I was standing only inches from, seemed miles away.

I tried to explain. Tango is a walking dance - not long sequences of steps, but simply walking and moving to the music. I put one hand on his chest, over his heart, and my other over my own heart. I said, tango is only this - between your heart and mine, in the music. That's all.

He came to tango to understand women . . .

I think he may now be more confused than ever. For every follower like me, that tells him about the elegance, connection, and bliss of a simple, musical dance, there are 5 followers who want dances filled with double ganchos, lightening fast, waist high linear boleos and triple volcadas. It's their prerogative to want what they want, and mine to want what I want. What's a leader to do? Can I blame him for, at the very least, playing the odds?

The Tango Path(s)

It got me thinking about how we all come to tango. What did we see? Who did we talk to? What moved each of us?

I wonder how many people would dance tango if they had never seen a stage performance - if they had only been exposed to, what is for me anyway, the heart of expressing tango music - the social dance. How many people would dance tango if they couldn't see what steps the other dancers were using - if no one could see their steps.

Of course if it weren't for stage/performance tango being so very popular - tango might have stayed a strictly Rio de la Plata phenomenon. Tango dancers outside of Argentina and Uruguay owe their tango experience to the stage performers that toured during the 1980's and 90's - and continue to tour and perform. But if they'd never seen "tango fantasia" - would the social dance hold the same appeal?

If they had seen only this, would they have still wanted to learn tango? (Milonga at Nino Bien):



With only a few exceptions, when a leader tells me I should learn more nuevo moves and dance more open embrace, it feels just a little bit like a potential lover that says, "let's just be friends". It's not meant to be but it feels like a little rejection.

As I said above, there are exceptions. There are a couple of open embrace/nuevo dancers who have such emotional connection to the music and to me that I think I could be across the room and still feel that connection roll off their bodies. It's a rare thing, and mesmerizing. They still take up twice as much (at least) room on the dance floor as everyone else, which creates its own problems - but that is a separate matter. I've seen milonguero dancers take up large quantities of room with poor technique, it's just a little more rare.

Still, I get offended, far more than I should, when nuevo dancers imply that "traditional" tango dancers just aren't as creative.

The New Tango

"To dance like what everyone did 50 years ago, would be like going to a museum everyday and copying the oil paintings of Picasso. I am not saying it is wrong. It is the way to learn an art, but it should not be the ultimate goal." (Monza's blog here.)

It is easy to take that statement as yet another Nuevotango vs. Traditional tango argument. On the surface, it can certainly seem so. But the problem lies deeper than that. The first problem is "what everyone did 50 years ago". There has never been a single, definitive, cohesive style to tango. Different neighborhoods had varying styles - different venues' characteristics encouraged different techniques. No two tango dancers dance the same way. The fact that this is not easily observable from the outside is a problem for the observer, not the dancers.

The next problem, for me anyway, is looking at Nuevo Tango as something creative and new in some way that traditional tango is not. The "New Tango" masters themselves, two quoted near the bottom, have said that what they developed were variations of what was already there.

In my lesson with Phyllis Williams and Darryl Gaston, to help ease my nervousness about performing in front of new teachers, Phyllis told me that tango comes down to only a few things - a side step, a back step, and a forward step. Everything is a variation of those things. You can do them bigger, with more momentum, or more speed, but ultimately, it is still only those three things. (If you differentiate pivots from that list, then you get four things - it's a matter of preference. But still, even that is only 4 things - and nearly infinite possibilities come from those few elements.)

[T]oday there is a new generation that learned to dance 2,3 or 5 years ago, who only know how to do the new styles, the ganchos, the colgadas, but who are not in contact with everything that came before, and I go to the milongas and I see people that know how to move but that don’t know how to dance, people don’t breathe tango like they did before.
–Mariano ‘Chicho’ Frumboli

"What did we invent? Nothing. Yes, we came up with line(ar) boleos or ganchos like this, but everything was already there. Even what in the beginning we called them "alterations" and then later we called them changes in direction. We didn't invent them, they were there. A change of direction is a simple ocho, really." -Fabian Salas

. . .

Afterword

I've always believed that we each come to tango for different things, for different reasons, different goals. Some people learn simply because it's great exercise that gets them out, mingling with other people - it's just something fun to do. Other people like to "see and be seen". For some dancers, the milonga is relaxing and soothing. For others, it's exciting and energizing. And there's every experience and combination of experiences, in between. What matters is that we all come together at some point and share the music and the floor (hopefully).


Maybe I should just relax and paraphrase Dolly Parton, from Steel Magnolias:
"Oh honey, tango don't care what style you dance, long as you show up (to the milonga)."

Austin Spring Tango Festival Recollections


My brain is still too full. The festival, the lessons, old friends, new friends, stress, elation... Too much going on in the little gray cells to pull together many coherent thoughts. I danced Tuesday and Thursday nights, and just couldn't seem to pull together what I learned. In fact just following was challenging. All I could think about was that I should be remembering more of what I learned. Instead, everything seemed bottlenecked - too much information with nowhere to go. Maybe E. is right - I need more time for the things I learned to travel from my brain to my feet.

Austin Spring Tango Festival

The festival was wonderful, exciting, exhausting. I missed so much of it due to illness, but I find that I still got *enough* - enough of what I was looking for, enough of what I was needing... enough. I'm sad to have missed what's been called the "best milonga ever" on Sunday night at Esquina Tango. You can see video of it here.

You can also see/hear the Austin Piazzolla Quintet perform at the Saturday night milonga at Dance Institute here.

And you can see a didactic demo that Somer Surgit and Carol Horowitz did after one of the classes (Weight Shifts, Unwindings, Crossing and Uncrossing the Follower") I attended here.

If you're really bored and have exceptional eye sight, you can see me in a video of another of the festival milongas here.

Private Lessons and more video . . .

I was lucky enough to have back-to-back private lessons with my teachers, Mardi Brown and Stephen Shortnacy of Georgetown Tango, and with visiting teachers, Darryl Gaston and Phyllis Williams, from Dallas.

The private lessons answered so many questions and corrected several things I was having trouble with. They also reinforced the foundation I had been given by my previous teachers, so that was reassuring.

Instead of, "you're doing a,b and c wrong - do this instead," I got, "here's how you can make this more comfortable/more effective/easier on your partner/more connected etc." Nearly all of my private lesson time was focused on the embrace and walking - moving with intention and fluidity, filling the spaces offered by my partner.

The video revealed that some things are getting better (the left foot sickling thing and collecting) and some things will still take a lot more work (lifting my shoulders, dropping my hips etc.)
Even though I'm so happy to have taken part in the festival, I'm glad to have things returning to normal. Smaller crowds, cozy surroundings, more relaxed dances. Hopefully at some point what I learned will start to show in my dance.

Dancing to Biagi

When I have a music question, I have to go find a sympathetic, and patient, musician to ask. As I've written in previous posts, I don't have the remotest education in music, so just looking something up doesn't really work. The terms don't mean so much to me. Someone has to take the time to break it down and explain it. Thankfully, we're lucky to have tango composer Glover Gill in our community who not only plays several times a month at milongas, but takes time to answer my random tango music questions.

So here's the scenario . . .

As the music starts, you invite your partner and step onto the dance floor. As you step to the beginning of the next phrase, you noticed that at the next strong beat, where you would normally be stepping down, you're actually in midstep. So, maybe you shift weight a bit, start with the next phrase - and there it is again - where other orquestras have placed the "weak" beat, this one has placed emphasis - a strong beat. Notes that you were expecting to hear are missing, or very soft. The rhythm that seems almost in the background of other orquestras' performances, is almost eclipsing the melody in this one. And while he doesn't have the "missing bing" as consistently as Enrique Rodriguez, that last note is frequently very soft - almost inaudible depending on the venue.

(Speaking of venues, some places are better than others for listening to Biagi in particular. Poor sound systems, or too much background/crowd noise can make the more subtle aspects of Biagi's music almost impossible to hear.)

Welcome to the music of Rodolfo Biagi . . . What follows are my hurried notes from our conversation at Texas French Bread about learning to dance well to Biagi.

My question for Glover this week was, "Why is Biagi harder to dance to than say, Di Sarli for example?"

A little background on Biagi's music - it's usually dominated by an almost aggressive rhythmic style, heavy syncopation, dramatic pauses, breaks and accents where you don't normally hear them. All of that can make Biagi seem very complex, even intimidating, to dance to but, Glover assured me, his pieces do follow a pattern. All you have to do is learn what that pattern is. Another hindrance to understanding (hence dancing well to) Biagi is that for many dancers, as tango students, we haven't necessarily been exposed as much to Biagi in classes because other composers/orquestras are easier to learn to - like Di Sarli, for instance.

But back to deciphering Biagi . . .

Once you know that the normally "weak" and "strong" beats are often reversed, it can be easier to sort out the rest. Unlike Pugliese for example, Biagi's rhythm is very regular, so start there by listening to the rhythm. Next, listen for the phrases. When you're listening to/mapping/charting the music, you'll notice the first few phrases sound one way (the "A" portion), the next few sound different ("B"), then "A" comes back again, and the pauses (or syncopation) returns. Now that you can hear the structure - you can predict the other elements that were so tricky in the beginning.

Glover's advice - listen to Biagi a lot before you start trying to move to it. Pick a piece and listen - map it out if you have to. I did this with Belgica, the song I tend to giggle through because listening for the breaks has become "the-best-game-ever" for me. (I don't know why, truly, I don't. It just is.) Sure enough those "random" breaks and pauses aren't the least bit random - they fit in the "pattern" of the song.

I couldn't find Belgica for the player below, but you can listen to that particular song here. Meanwhile, have a listen to a few samples of Biagi's work in the player embedded below.

To find out more about Rodolfo Biagi's life and work, visit TodoTango.com .

A Biagi Sample Playlist




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Thanks again to Glover Gill for spending the time and energy answering my questions.