The Beginner

From:  http://www.morguefile.com


The slight, shy leader in front of me had started tango lessons a few months before, dabbled in it a bit, and with many other dances, but within the last month decided to get serious about tango. That night he was attending his first milonga.

I was happy to see him return to tango. When I met him in a class a couple of months prior to that, I was struck by his warmth and gentleness. So when he asked me to dance, I accepted, and told him how happy I was that he was coming out to the milongas. He smiled warmly and embraced me with such tenderness that I was momentarily too surprised to move. Had I mistaken him for someone else? Had we danced socially before and I just didn't remember? Nope - this was the same leader I remembered from the class.

We changed weight for a moment and I decided to risk startling him (which happens sometimes with new leaders), and hold him like we'd been dancing for ages. He embraced me back with the same sense of affection and, most startlingly, relief.

With that, we were off. He walked softly, a little hesitantly, with some rock steps and an ocho cortado or two. The cruzada was still a little bit of a challenge and he took extra time to make sure I was where he thought I was before exiting the step. (I appreciated that.) He tried leading back ochos but when he would have needed to open the embrace to make that work, he adjusted, changed weight and pulled me back in front of him, continuing his walk. I smiled against his cheek, and he smiled back, and patted my back lightly - almost absentmindedly.

Between songs he said, "I tried other things [dances], listened to other music. But this," he pointed to the speakers on the wall, "this is what makes me feel like dancing. It's so beautiful. I had to come back."

With that, he returned me to his chest and hugging him back, I whispered in his ear, "I am so glad to hear it."

I felt like the Grinch at the end of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"  - my heart grew three sizes that day.

I sat down later with my friend and asked if she had danced with Mr. Shy, and she answered enthusiastically, "Oh yes! That man is going to go far!"  At that, we both giggled and watched him circle around the dance floor, smiling.

Now I look for him at every milonga (and I'm not the only one).

Rejection




Going through emails and messages over one of the links I posted on Facebook, to Irene and Man Yung's Tango Blog about "Mean Girls" about the hows and whys of rejection. These are quotes from two of the comments and they both reflect what I hear a lot from leaders:

D: "What I was objecting to was the followers who insist on only dancing with expert leaders despite having relatively low skills themselves."

D: "When you
[comment addressed to me] talk about not betraying the dance, you are talking about people's skill level, their artistic ability, not about the danger of injury, and not about manners. And this is a topic that comes up a lot, and it's usually quite explicitly about skill level."

All I can say is - no, I'm not actually talking about skill level, and I really don't know how I can make that more clear. *exasperated sigh*  

Please highlight this as possibly the most important thing I may ever write about tango:   If I don't feel safe, if I don't feel connected to my partner and the music - then I am not dancing tango. I am going through the motions of the dance, but not engaged in the spirit of the dance. Period.

Plus, it is very easy to think you can judge someone's skill level simply by watching them dance, and I'm telling you that you can't. You can pick out those things that you think are indicators, but beyond watching someone make a hazard on the floor for others, those indicators only speak to your preferences and your experience - not the dancers engaged in the embrace and their experience of each other during the dance.

What I want to know is how are you so sure what's really going on? I have dozens of reason for seeking out particular partners. I hate to disappoint them, but most of the time it's not about their "expert" level of dancing. Experience can give you a few things that are very desirable, however - comfort in your own skin, confidence, familiarity with the music. I won't deny those factors - but those are generally not easily observable from outside the embrace.) Most of the time, okay pretty much 100% of the time, it's what they bring emotionally to their dance with me.

My favorite message so far from a friend in the UK,

"Why do we
[followers] keep bringing up how the dance feels and yet they [leaders] keep hearing it's about their skill or about how the woman wants to look??? How many different ways can we say 'tanguero, most of the time it's your attitude. It's about how you feel!'"

Exactly.

The most important rule of dealing with rejection - don't assume you know why you were turned down. Chances are, you don't.

What I hear most often from leaders when followers decline dancing with them:


"She doesn't think I'm good/skilled/experienced enough."
"She only likes dancing with experienced dancers that make her look good,"
"She thinks she's too good for everyone,"
"She wants someone who shows her off."
"She only dances with older leaders/milongueros."
"She only dances with younger leaders/hot shots."


What I hear most often from followers when they decline a leader:
(excluding the most common ones which are actually- "I just don't feel like dancing right now," and "I'm afraid he's going to get me hurt.")

"His embrace is uncomfortable." (Sometimes this is about height difference - not something personal that the leader is doing.)
"I don't like how he makes me feel."
"He pushes/pulls, shoves too hard."
"I don't feel a connection with him."
"He's dancing his own dance (and not with me)."
"He doesn't seem to like/hear the music." (This comes into play not because of how a leader is dancing to the music so much as other things - especially talking through the music.)
"This is a vals/milonga/favorite orquestra - and I want to dance with my favorite vals/milonga/so-and-so-orquestra partner."

My own experience on rejection:

There are about a dozen men who almost never dance with me, including a few who have never danced with me in the almost 3 years I've been dancing in this community. I don't look for their cabeceo anymore, but more importantly for my own sanity I've given up trying to figure out why they don't invite me and beating myself up over it. Does it still sting when I accidentally make eye contact and they abruptly look away?  Sure. But unless they talk to me at practica or seek me out some other way, I don't have a very reliable way to find out their reasons. I can guess, but that's rarely worth my energy.  I seek feedback from the leaders who are willing to work with me and focus on that - there's more than material there.

So how do you find out why someone is declining to dance with you? 

 - Ask if you can work with them at practica or in class.
 - Ask who they study with or have studied with in the past, and then, if you're feeling particularly industrious, go to that teacher to find out what might be going on with your dance.
 - Observe how they are dancing when they seem happiest - what is their partner doing? What is the music?
 - And once again, don't assume anything.

Most important: For godsakes focus on the folks who do want to dance with you (and that you want to dance with of course)  who have probably been patiently waiting for you to pull your head out and notice them. (I've been guilty of that, so I know of what I speak here, folks.)


Anyway. those are my thoughts thus far on the matter. If we're friends on Facebook, you can follow the conversation here:  https://www.facebook.com/marijohnson/posts/211751532239400   If we're not connected on Facebook, feel free to send me an invite.
Dancing in Austin, Denis and Deena's Milonga // --Mari


The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

From Essential Rumi
by Coleman Barks

Be that Guy

San Telmo Plaza Dorrego - Wikipedia Images



"There is always an elderly, overweight, Argentine guy in a suit who slowly dances around the edge of the dance floor, and all he does is walking and maybe an ocho once in a while. And he has usually an amazingly beautiful girl who dances incredibly well plastered all over him. Be that guy.

"There is also always a someone on the dance floor who wrestles his partner through all kinds of maneuvers, interrupted only by short pauses where he repeats a move 5 time till it "works", or where he explains just exactly how the follower has to move to make the 40 step sequence he wants to do work. Note that he dances mostly with beginners. Note the frozen smile on his partners face.
Don' be that guy."


Still one of my favorite quotes about tango, originally from Dance-forums.com - http://www.dance-forums.com/showthread.php?p=514203

Body at War, Body at Peace

(Picture courtesy of http://www.morguefile.com )


Fragments of a Conversation

Body at War

I can't remember a time when my body was not on guard. Ready to decide - stay and fight or run away. My secret daily routines as a child included having a bag packed at all times. Scanning every building for places to hide. At a very young age, I knew if I were running from someone, don't go up, don't go into rooms with no exit or window, don't get trapped. This isn't the sort of information a child should have to know, is it? I don't even remember where or how I learned it. I just knew I always had to have a plan. If I couldn't make myself safe, I could make myself ready. I lived in Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Arizona, Massachusetts, and finally landed in Texas. Every place I lived, until I moved in with my husband, I had a bag packed. Every time we moved, I made plans for where I would need to go. 

Even now, when I walk into a room, I note the easiest exits, the paths of least resistance, in case I need to leave quickly. I never unlearned the habit. When was the last time I actually had to do that? I can't remember. I've never been safer or had circumstances like these, where I should feel so content and secure, before.  I feel safe at home, safe with my husband - but especially in public, the habits remain.

When my doctor asked me how long it had been since I'd had a solid week of good sleep, I couldn't remember. It hasn't been months or years - it's been a couple of decades. When did I last have surgery? I slept a lot then, I told him. That's not what he meant. I don't know then, I said, I'm an insomniac. It doesn't feel like my mind is ever entirely at rest. Even when I'm exhausted, I still try to function in my half-awake state, holding conversations, getting ready for work - only truly waking up some time later wondering how I'd gotten my clothes on, checked my messages and managed to make coffee, while apparently still sleeping.

Now I have to question the consequences of living so many years ready to fight, or ready to run.

My recent diagnosis has me wondering if the effect of a lifetime spent looking for a fight, has left my body with no other way to behave. An auto-immune disorder means my body is essentially at war with itself. Is my body tearing itself apart looking for a threat that doesn't exist? My doctor is trying to trace the battle lines for clues - why are these muscles being affected, and not those. Why the muscles, but not the joints?

More questions from my doctor. "Do you meditate?" (Yes.) "Do you practice yoga?" (Yes.)  "When are you most relaxed?"





"When do you feel safe?"


Body at Peace

"When I dance."

"So you relax when you dance? What is that like?"

"How much time have you got?" I ask. He shrugs and leans forward. On my phone, I show him a video of me dancing with Mr. X at Copa. It is clearly not what he expected to see. No gymnastics, no jumping or kicking. Just walking.

I tell him, it's not relaxed in some passive, nap-like way. I don't know. Can you relax actively? He shrugs.

Cradled against a man's chest, listening to the music through his body, breathing in the smell of his cologne, I can feel safe. I don't know what combination of factors creates that alchemy, but it works. I listen to his breathing, a few breaths go by, and we're in synch. If we pay attention, we can feel a little of each other's history in the way we move, in the tiny ways we adjust to each other. It's different every time.

It's not just that being held that way feels good - of course it does, I don't think that really surprises anyone. But for me, for someone to make the effort, and to put in the energy, to make me feel safe, to make me feel like something precious in his arms - to put his embrace before the steps he wants to dance - that makes me feel safe.


Safe enough to stop running. Safe enough to stop fighting.

I can surrender.


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

What is it that you do?







"So, what is this that you do? You don't want to teach. You don't want to perform. You don't want to compete. Yet you're going to South America for it! What are you ever going to do with tango?"
I can't explain and that makes my heart ache.
"I'm just going to dance, grandma - until I can't anymore."

Site/Blog Update - Commenting

Hopefully issues with the ability to comment are resolved. If not, please email me at infinitetango (at) gmail.com directly and I'll put in another ticket with Blogger.

Tonight

(Picture courtesy of www.morguefile.com)


Me entrego a tus brazos
Con miedo y con calma
Y un ruego en la boca
Y un ruego en el alma


-- Con Toda Palabra by Lhasa de Sela


Tonight there is a heaviness in his heart.
I can feel a melancholy weight between my hand on his back,
 . . .  and my own heart beating.
He is sad about something. . .
Or someone.

Tonight, he smiles, but the smile doesn't reach his lowered eyes.
He embraces me the way he always does, then pauses . . .
very still,
not even a breath,
his arm holds me a little closer.
I hold him a little tighter in return and he relaxes slightly.
We take a deep breath together.

The second phrase starts and we glide into the stream of dancers.
He is here, but also somewhere else . . . .
. . . . reliving something that the music has brought to mind.


Translation (courtesy of Lyricstranslate.com)
"I surrender to your arms
with fear and with calm
and a prayer on my lips
and a prayer in my heart"

Festival Lesson - Ask for What You Need

(Picture courtesy of Morguefile.com)

The Fandango de Tango festival is over and I'm back at work, trying to remember what it is I do in the daylight hours. I must be dreaming music at night because when I wake up, the silence around me is heavy and sudden - like someone switching off a radio.

I think I danced  more at this festival than any previous one I've attended. Five milongas (no classes) - and then I danced again at our local Monday night milonga at Cafe Medici. I wish I could go tonight. I'm pushing off the inevitable tango hangover, but it's coming. I can feel it.

The biggest lesson I learned this weekend - nothing beats just asking for what you need.  I think I need to tattoo that on my hand so I don't forget.

I danced far more than I thought I would be able to, but it wasn't easy. By the third night it was clear to me, and probably to many of my partners, I wasn't going to be able to keep up the pace.  Saturday night, at least I think it was Saturday? Maybe it was Friday.  I can't remember for sure now.  A friend asked me to dance for a milonga tanda and I almost declined, worried I wouldn't be able to keep up. Instead of declining, I just let him know I was hurting. So even though it was a milonga playing, I needed to dance soft. If that was okay with him, I was ready to dance. He accepted the challenge and much to my delight, he danced me soft. It was gorgeous. It was such a relief to dance a milonga without the fear that I wouldn't be able to keep up, or be afraid that I would hurt afterward, and instead be able to focus on all of the things we could do in the music.

To give an idea of the tanda felt, all I can say is that it reminded my of this video (and the one below it came courtesy of Terpsichoral Tango.)





And this:




Tandas over the next couple of days were, thankfully, much the same. I let my partners know what was going on and told them I would completely understand if they wanted to skip it. They danced with me anyway, and I had some truly beautiful, restorative dances. I was completely spoiled by embraces that melted away my aches and my worries.  Every time it happens I'm still so amazed by how curative this music, and this dance, can be - how it can untangle the knots and ease the pain, both emotional and physical.

Thank you to the leaders who were so careful with me, and took extra time, this weekend. I am more grateful to you than I can possibly express.

5 Things I Learned from Exotic Dancers

Picture courtesy of Morguefile.com


At different points in my life I've had the opportunity to work with several exotic dancers, as a coworker in their "day job", and as their make-up artist, photographer etc.  I've been amazed at how transferable the advice I got from them about dancing around, and with, men, is to women in tango and other partner dances.

1. Smell good, but don't smell strong. Leaving a "fragrance trail" on gentlemen is not usually appreciated by them, or by the next woman who dances with them.
2. Limit (or preferably eliminate) the glitter or anything else that will end up on your partner. Married or not, it's not likely your partner wants to wear glitter home - or transfer it on to the next woman he dances with.
3. Same goes for make-up - waterproof and transfer-resistant is the way to go. It's such a cliche but it's disturbing how often I see lipstick on collars.
4. Care about the music you're dancing to - it shows in how you dance. If you're bored, you look bored.
5. Your body really is your temple. Your body tells your story. Take care of it and be proud of it 

A Little Advice, Honey

This is not C, but the picture captures the mood. Courtesy of morguefile.com.


I had the conversation below outside of a milonga at Esquina tango, about 3 months after I started my tango journey.

C was visiting from out of town and was staying only that night, then she was off again to Chicago. About two hours ago, C. emailed me just to say, "What I told you two years ago is a hundred times more true in Buenos Aires. Have fun, dear!" (and to give me permission to publish this.)


Esquina Tango, 2009


C. waved me over with her cigarette like she had something very urgent to tell me.

C: I like your blog, honey - you write great. But I think you are way too naive about tango.

Me: *scowling*  How so?

C: Look, in tango, you're gonna be attracted to men, you understand? Very attracted to a lot of men. Okay? (She said this with such a grave tone that I thought she was going to follow it with 'and it's going to ruin your life', or 'give you leprosy', or 'turn you into a communist!' Something serious, anyway. )

C: It's natural. You're a woman - you're not dead. They're not dead either. And this is tango. (She shrugged like this was completely obvious to everyone but me.)

I nodded agreeably and wondered if this conversation was going anywhere in particular.

C: . . . and you will be shocked by the men that attract you (squinting one eye and jabbing her cigarette into the air for emphasis) Shocked!

C: You will dance with some old man with 3 teeth, an old suit and no hair, with great cologne, but bad breath who stumbled into the milonga with a walker! (I couldn't help thinking that was awfully specific.)  This little man, he will dance you to the rafters and back.  Then, then (she repeated, pointing to me, both eyes squinting at me this time), when the music stops and you part for the cortina, you will look at him and think to yourself, "My God, what a man this is!" she shouted, clutching her heart dramatically.

(She leaned in close, the same way you lean in over a campfire, talking low, when you're telling ghost stories and the bit about the man with the hook for a hand is coming up. )

C: Don't you think for a single moment, (lowering her voice even more, and jabbing the air again with her nearly extinguished cigarette) that he (jab) doesn't (jab) know it! (jab). 

(C. leaned back, winked and smiled knowingly, satisfied with her proclamation.)

Me: (I'm sure my eyes were wide, wondering over the deep significance of this revelation.) So what do you do?

C: Dance! You dance! Dancing tango is for saying things you can't say, doing things you can't do. All the stuff you didn't do and should have - and things you did that you shouldn't have. All of it!

Let him know in the dance. Then there is no harm. If he is listening, he will know. If he is not listening (and by the tone of her voice I would not want to be one of the men who didn't listen), he is not worth the message.

(I nodding again because that's all I could think to do.)

C. crushed her cigarette out in the pavement, picked up her bag and started toward the steps into the milonga. With her hand on the door handle, she looked over her shoulder and laughing, added "and for God sake don't write about it in your blog!"

Which is why for two years I never blogged this conversation. With my last email exchange, I got her permission to share this, in honor of planning to visit Buenos Aires.

I'll be looking for a little guy with a walker and 3 teeth . . .  If you see him, send him my way.

Buenos Aires, Treatment, and Gratitude


I'm going to Buenos Aires in May.

The words don't feel real yet, but I am definitely going. I'm excited and terrified at the same time. This is one of many times that I'm completely in awe of my mom. She went to Brazil on her own, at 19 years old, during the military dictatorship, and without knowing a single complete sentence in Portuguese. Damn. I've never travelled anywhere outside the US.

My practical reason is that I have enough points to convert to Delta Skymiles to pay for the round trip flight, and that was the biggest obstacle. Now I just have to come up with the money to pay for everything else.

The emotional reason is quite a bit different. It's not intellectual, not practical, almost not rational. It's visceral. Or, lately as I talk about it more, it's a feverish infection taking over my higher reasoning.  I try very hard not to let fear guide any decision I make, but while fear may not be in the driver's seat right now, it is almost certainly in the passenger side pushing, cajoling . . .

whispering . . . 

'drive faster.'

I'm afraid I will run out of time to travel to Buenos Aires - at least as a dancer. 

My doctor has given me three diagnoses and, maybe it is my upbringing showing through, but to have the names of these things gives me some measure of  power over them.  I have autoimmune polymyositis (my immune system is attacking my muscles/connective tissue) and that has given me a sort of road map. I can make a plan. I can learn. I didn't, however, expect that the diagnosis would be just the beginning. As my muscles have weakened, I've learned that the strength I had built in my muscles had actually been masking other problems. Once my muscles began weakening, some even deteriorating, other problems were revealed. Can't it ever just be one thing at a time?

Still, it's amazing how the body compensates for things, how it picks up the slack when and where it can.  The muscles around my knees and ankles had been picking up the slack (almost literally) for ligamentous laxity (loose ligaments from years of abusing my lower joints).  The upside is that I have great range of motion in my ankles - the bad news is, as the muscle supporting my ankles have weakened, the stability and strength in my ankles, and my balance generally, has suffered.

I also have chondralmalacia in both knees which is a fairly common condition but complicates how I treat the instability caused by the ligaments being weak. I support my ankles and knees with braces - both because of the laxity and the muscle pain. However, when my joints swell from overuse or whatever, I can't brace them because it worsens the pain from the chondralmalacia by compressing my joints and making them feel like sandpaper rubbing against sandpaper.  I can take anti-inflammatories and a very few muscle relaxers, but not narcotic pain killers due to allergic reactions, so my options are further limited. I feel like I'm living in the middle of a Venn diagram of ouch.

The most immediate problem is preserving muscle and halting any further deterioration. I have physical therapy, weight training, and a combination of pilates and yoga regimen that I now have to follow. I work on the 3rd floor of my building and, while it takes awhile, I take the stairs four times a day. Sometimes I get to my desk panting a bit, but I can still do it.

I skip the two campus shuttles that would take me from my commuter stop to my building, and walk the mile and a half to and from my building at least half the days I work (that's about 3 miles a day).  Walking as fast as I can, it still takes me half an hour to walk a mile and a half. I used to walk more than twice that fast. I meditate. I read up on mindfulness. I keep a log of my muscle measurements every week. If I continue to lose muscle, we have to take the next step - high dose steroids.  My doctor and I are trying to avoid that for as long as possible.

The pain attacks still come every couple of days, but that's down from 2 or 3 times every day. I still don't know the mechanism that causes the pain attacks. There seems to be no particular food, drug or environmental factor that my doctor and I can find. They come when they come and I wait them out. I breathe through them. I try to listen for the message, look for a pattern.

And I still dance.

I asked my doctor if I was making any of my conditions worse by dancing and he said the benefits outweighed the risks of further damage, for now.

"Keep dancing. Whenever and however you can."  So I do.










In this season of gratitude, I am grateful, so incredibly grateful, for the leaders who dance with me. They have been patient and generous. Warm, soothing and kind. Saturday night I felt like I was passed from one protective, almost cocooned embrace to another, all night long. Even a shy, newer leader I had never danced with, held me as though I was the most precious thing he could hold in his arms. Please tell me the teacher who is teaching him that!  I will send everyone to them.

Meanwhile, I try not to apologize or focus on what I can't do, and focus on what I can give in the moment.  With Fandango starting on Wednesday, I have those little fears in my gut - what if something happens? What if I can't dance? What if I'm terrible? Festivals don't seem to bring out the most helpful self-talk. I'm working on that.

One thing at a time. Fandango this week. Austin Tango Festival in March/April. And then, Buenos Aires in May.


I'm ready.

Tanguero's Lament




An (online) conversation with my very amusing friend, a tango dancer born in Buenos Aires, and currently living in Europe.
Name withheld to protect the guilty.  ;)


J:  The best part of dancing with porteñas is they way they connect so completely with me.
J: They are so close, so completely connected, it feels like they are trying to dance inside my shirt.
J: There is nothing the same.

Me: Wow, that's very close indeed.

J:  Yes. And why I am so deeply sad.

Me: Because you're in [European city] right now?

J: No.  Because they don't actually want to dance inside my shirt  . . . .
J:
. . .
J. I feel so used . . .

Me: *smirk*

J: hmm.  I sense you do not sympathize with the heavy burden I must carry.

Guest Post: Connection in Tango



From fellow tango dancer and blogger, Jan Ulrich Hasecke, a lovely guest post on connection and embrace. (Thank you again Jan, for letting me post your thoughts on my blog.)

Connection in Tango
Jan Ulrich Hasecke

I promised to write something about my thoughts about connection in #tango.

"What does connection in tango mean to you and how do you create it?" I was asked on Google+. I bragged that I could talk the whole day about connection in tango but was too busy to do it at once. Ok, I won't talk the whole day about connection and maybe I won't find the right words to describe what I mean, but here I deliver on my promise.

Connection in tango means everything to me. It's the reason I dance. Showing some cool steps is nice but I can only enjoy them when they add to the connection and don't spoil it. A great dancer and teacher once said in his workshop that tango is the only dance, where you dance /together/. To get and to keep the connection is what I want to achieve while dancing.

There are a few things I can do to create it. I always try to get in a good position with my partner. I adapt my height to the height of my partner so that our torsos are on the same level by bending my knees. I always have difficulties to dance with a partner who is much smaller than me. It is easier for me to dance with someone who is rather tall, even taller than me.

When I feel that we lose our connection during the dance I try to adapt my height again. This helps often. This may sound a little bit technical, but I discovered in a workshop that it is very important that the center of the two bodies are on the same level. If the two centers are on the same level the energy of the movements can better flow from the leader to the follower and back again.

Of course I try to keep the connection during the dance and avoid all things that would destroy it, but the connection is dynamic. It gets stronger and weaker with the music, there is tension and relaxation, there is willful playing, allurement and intense, calm moments.

Sometimes, with very few partners, I feel something that I'd like to call a spiritual connection. The connection is so strong that my interpretation of the music is instantly reflected by my partner. It feels as if not me but the music leads us or something inside of us leads us. And at the same time we are both very aware of each other.

About Jan:  
Born in 1963, Jan works as an independent text writer for advertising agencies and companies. He discovered Tango Argentino in 2003. He had never danced before, because he never liked the way standard or Latin dancers behaved on the dance floor. Two dance courses with 15, that was all. He began taking real courses in 2004 together with his wife. So they've both danced for seven years. Tango has really changed their lives, but this is a story many dancers know… ;-)

Ladies Room "Come to Jesus" Meeting

 . . .is enough.   

 [written on a napkin on the way home from a milonga . . .  Very rough draft, but sometimes it's better to leave it that way.]


How many painful tandas does it take before I learn?
I've got to break this habit of telling myself,
It must be me.
it must be something I did.
I'm not good enough.
If I just adjust, it'll work.
My mistake was thinking this was a bad tango habit.
It's not.
In fact, this isn't really about tango.
There's a much longer history at work here
and you know it, I thought, accusing my red-eyed, disheveled reflection.

My reflection in the milonga venue's bathroom mirror blinked back and sighed.
I scowled at her and thought sternly (in my best "I mean it this time" voice):

"If it hurts, I'm done."
No matter who it is,
no matter where I am.
Even if we're friends,
especially if we're friends . . .
Say thank you for the dances, but you're hurting me,
and walk the hell off the goddamn floor!
 
Now I'm rattled and hurting and wondering whether to call a cab.
Was it worth that? No.
Does it do him any favors thinking this is okay with me? No.
So that was the last time. Got it?
My reflection and I nodded.
Got it.




"Come to Jesus" meeting: A time when a polite ultimatum is given, generally followed by a less polite ultimatum, then a threat. Drug and alcohol "interventions" are often referred to as "Come to Jesus Meetings".

(Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com.)

Prove it.

The last couple of posts sent me searching for one of my favorite quotes/videos of Gavito (one I'm told he took a lot of crap for at the time. But since I wasn't there, I can't really speak to that.)

The bit that I'm referencing starts about 4:25 as Gavito is teaching a class on giros. The sound quality is poor, but this is what he says to the followers:

Gavito:

"We accompany each other (during the giro). [ . . . ]
Do I have to push her? Does she listen to the music? Is she deaf? I don't think so.
Are you deaf, girls? You listen to the music?
Then prove it. Prove it that you listen to the music!"







More on the Tango Conversation - a bigger issue?

My answer to Cherie's comment, which was:

Really interesting post and one that obviously you have thought a lot about.

Please don't take it as a negative when I say that the dancers of traditional tango milonguero here in BsAs don't feel that way.

The idea of a conversation between two bodies is rather recent, and foreign. Enclosed in the tango embrace, the body is one--not with four legs, but with two, as this body is only standing on two legs at any one time.

It's Ying/Yang--one whole from two parts that meld together and make something new.

When I dance I don't feel the need to tap or to do rulos or raise my left shoulder in time to the music--I am completely within the music and at the command of my partner, and with his design of the dance, I can express myself and the music perfectly in his embrace without adding anything but elegant posture and good technique.

It's not a struggle between two minds of how to dance this song, but a blending of souls.

Well, that's the way I would describe it anyway.

Besos,
cherie

And my answer, which was too long to put in comments, according to blogger.

Cherie -

I don't take your post negatively and I respect your opinions on the matter very much. (I also hope that my response doesn't come off too negative.) Actually, I expected more responses like yours.  Maybe others who usually comment similarly have given up on me. Your post was kinder than theirs' would have been though, I think.  Please forgive me for using your comment to address a somewhat larger issue that comes up so frequently over posts like this.

As my post wasn't about traditional milongueros in Buenos Aires, was your comment meant to inform readers who may want to travel there? I do know several dancers have been "surprised" (run off the pista) as a result of their ignorance of the differences in dance cultures. I suspect people who have been reading this blog know that I'm specifically addressing tango as it's danced in North America - though I can start putting the disclaimer in the beginning again.

You're absolutely right, in North America tango has a more conversational quality to it. And I know the traditional milongueros don't feel the way about it that I wrote in my post.

I do take exception to this: "raise my left shoulder in time to the music" - which I didn't say and didn't mean. What I wrote was, "moving my shoulder slightly"  (which I'm told I do occasionally on the last note of some songs.)  *shrug*  Leaders do similar things on that last sharp note - so what would be so terrible about it?  Raising my shoulder in time with the music, on the other hand, would look rather like a spasm and not something musical. I was trying to think of examples of things I, or someone else might do if they felt it in the music.

I want to clarify one thing that wasn't clear from my post - when I "adjust" my interpretation of music in a dance, 95% of the time I'm quieting it down - not adding something in. There are a few orquestras I get (possibly) overly-excited about and have to temper my enthusiasm. I very rarely (and usually at practica or in class) consciously add stuff in - but how else should I write it? "A little toe-raise was manifested"? Language fails me for things like this because dancing has always been about, and for, the things I am not able to write - ironic I know, considering how much I write about tango.

I did want to ask about this - "It's not a struggle between two minds of how to dance this song, but a blending of souls."

Really? Every single time? You never have a different feeling from/about the music playing than your leader? You're always in synch? Wow. If that were the case here, I would probably feel exactly the same way. No sarcasm at all - I really would. But I'm not writing about traditional milongueros in Buenos Aires.  I'm writing specifically about the times when that total synch is not happening - or at least not happening right away. 

For example, most nights I dance, someone tells me they've never heard a particular song that's playing - so it's a whole new adventure for them, and for me when I'm dancing with them. They're feeling their way through the music - and trying to connect with me at the same time. So there's a key difference again - in Buenos Aires, the dancers know the music on a very different level. And that brings me back to the point I mentioned earlier about comparing the Buenos Aires dancing experience to, well, anything else really.

As my dear friend (who has traveled to Buenos Aires a few times a year for the last dozen or so years) told me, and tells those who come back from dancing there, "Adjust your expectations." Please note she did not say, and did not mean, lower your expectations.

If I go into every dance looking for that experience, not only would I likely end up disappointed and sitting a lot because I was looking disappointed - but I would be missing the beautiful strengths and unique treasures the leaders here offer me every night that I dance. People come to tango for different reasons, with different histories, and different gifts.

It's not that I don't appreciate hearing how it is in Buenos Aires - I do, and I am hopeful that I will get there. My circumstances don't allow for it right now and, I suspect, not for quite awhile. It's just that sentiments like that, create this idea that until we (North Americans) "get it" and start dancing like they do in Buenos Aires, we're not really dancing tango - we're just dancing some kind of inferior imitation. Almost like we're somehow not worthy. The tone of it is very often belittling.  It's not the words "that's not how it's danced in Buenos Aires" - it's the implication behind the words, whether you mean them or not. Often, it feels like, 'what you're doing doesn't really count as tango.'  When it gets said again and again, and when that standard is the only standard by which all tango in the world is judged, it alienates a lot of people who love the dance, and the music so very much.

Altering the Conversation - A Follower's Perspective



Ghost,

Here is my response to your questions in the comments of my "Hearing through my Partner" post.

Altering the conversation
(from this follower's perspective)

When a leader leads a movement, there are varying degrees of energy, speed, fluidity etc. he or she can lead the movement with. That tells me about the structure I have to work within. This is an area where I think perhaps some nuevo tango teachers might be doing a better job explaining certain dance concepts like energy exchange, compression, and expansion etc. I'm trying not to generalize, but I've noticed that this topic comes up more in nuevo-based classes, which I think has a lot more to do with how nuevo developed as a teaching method, rather than the actual sequences and moves that are taught and then associated with "nuevo tango".

There are so many factors in deciding how much I can contribute, before I even get to what the music might actually call from my body to do. That's why this post has taken so long to write - and even now I think I've only gotten the tip of the iceberg. And as long-winded as this post is, the amount of time I actually spend actively thinking of what to do when while I'm dancing seems like the blink of an eye. It's only in retrospect that I get a picture of why something worked, or didn't work.

Regardless of the music, ask yourself, "Is this a conversation?"

First, as a follower, I have to decide if I'm actually having a conversation with my partner - or rather, am I being invited to have one. On only one occasion have I felt that I was allowed no input of my own into the dance. An out-of-town dancer was visiting Austin for a weekend with his partner and I had the opportunity to dance with him a few times during classes. The first time I danced with him was the first time I felt tango, as it is often cliched, as a fight. We were dancing to a song I liked very much and I wanted to have a part in its interpretation. He was having nothing of it. I felt like I was in an iron cage. I couldn't have mis-followed his lead even if I had tried. When I gave resistance of any kind, he simply moved and placed me where he wanted me to be. This is the surprising part - he never actually hurt me or caused me physical discomfort. His embrace was very firm, nearly rigid - but not painful. How he managed that, I have no idea.  It was just very restricting. I felt a bit like furniture. The only time he relaxed the embrace even a little, was when I glued myself to his body from my temple to my hip. I don't mean just connected - I mean glued, without a sliver of daylight between us. When I was able to do that, he relaxed a little. The point is, we were not having a conversation. I was going to dance to his interpretation of the music, period. In that situation I had to decide if it was worth it to adapt, or chose not to dance with him. Maybe it was my Leo personality, but I saw it as a challenge, and continued to dance with him several times that weekend to try to figure him out. I learned a lot, but I think I would have to skip dancing like that in a social setting.

Second, do I have the skill?


Pretty self explanatory. I may hear a beautiful triple toe tap opportunity or something, but I'll likely never get that in my repertoire.

Third, do I have the time?


Even if my leader is willing and able to give me freedom in the dance conversation, with some pieces (like milongas) I'm not going to have much time. My window of opportunity is going to be very slim - though some leaders still manage to somehow give incredible freedom and space even in the fastest milongas. If I'm not sure I'll be fast enough, or if I don't know my partner well, I'm likely to skip adding a lot of my own interpretation into the milonga - at least until I know my leader's style and preferences better.

Fourth, do I have the space?

This comes in two parts. One, is he or she giving me the space I need to do things I would like to express the music? I won't fight my leader for the space - if he gives it, great. If not, I work with what I have. Second, are the floor conditions conducive to what I would like to do with the music? My partner could be giving me the room for the the larger, sweepy move I hear in the music - but if I can feel the hem of the follower's skirt behind me (for example), I'm going to play it safe and small.

Fifth, do I have the energy/momentum from your leader?


I've heard from leaders that one of the worst feelings they can experience from a follower is that they are being used as almost physical leverage for the follower to do her own movements. One gentleman told me that, at best, he felt sort of irrelevant when that happened, at worst, dragged off balance and a danger to other dancers on the floor.  If my partner isn't providing the energy, or the momentum for the movement that I'm feeling in the music, I skip it. Maybe he doesn't feel the energy in the music quite the same way.  Maybe he's afraid the the resulting movement will be too big or take too long. Whatever the reason, the opening/invitation isn't there.

For example, when I have the momentum from the lead and the inspiration in the music, I like to occasionally decorate a front ocho with a rulo (see Jennifer Bratt's demonstration here).  Once I hear the opportunity in the music, how the leader leads the ocho determines if:

 1.) I have the time,
 2.) the momentum, and
 3.) the space.

As often as I have heard the opening in the music in the 2 years I've danced (and was led the necessary front ocho), outside of practica or class, I've probably only executed this particular step about half a dozen times. And at least two of those - I should have skipped it because I didn't have the time I thought I did, and I could feel it interfere with the leader's timing. Lesson learned.

Which leads me, sort of, to my last point: Are we, as followers, thinking (only) with our feet?

There are limitless ways to express the music that having nothing to do with our feet. Closing my eyes, moving my shoulder slightly, smiling, changing my breathing - all of these things, and so many more, reflect how I'm feeling the music. I can feel the same things in my leader's body, so we really are sharing a conversation Best of all, since most of these things are invisible - they are messages expressed to, and for, my partner - not for an audience at large.

The Early Thank You



The tanda was not going well.

After the first song, I broke my rule and apologized, telling my partner that I couldn't keep up with him and could we slow down a little bit. My leader had taken a couple of large steps against the line of dance and bumped another couple, so I was rattled and for some reason, I couldn't seem to get my right ankle to cooperate with me. Quick steps and traspies were taking their toll.  He even started telling me verbally what he needed me to do. All I could do was answer, I can't - not that fast. I should have sat down, but I'm always so apprehensive about giving an early thank you - I only do it if there's no other way I can make a tanda work out.

The second song went even worse. He seemed to go faster, not slower, and when I couldn't move fast enough, his fingers dug into my ribcage harder. I was heartbroken that I seemed to be dancing so badly to music I loved. My ankle wase getting stiffer, even as I tried to stretch it. The second song ended, and the third, a slower song, began. Within moments, my relief at the slower music choice evaporated. My partner gave me an abrupt early thank you and returned me to my table. I tried to smile and acknowledge that it was probably the best thing, but I was deeply embarrassed. I didn't want to look at anyone while I made my way back to my seat.

Just as I sat down, surprised (which I really shouldn't have been) at the first early thank you I'd gotten in over 2 years, my former partner held his hand out to the dancer next to me at my table and took her out for the last song of the tanda. She's a superior dancer by far, so I can't blame him (though it irked me to have him do it directly in front of me)  - but as I watched them dance, I saw him slow down and lead her with what looked like far more care than he had led me. It wasn't just that he slowed down, but he seemed to generally show more care for her comfort as they danced. I asked my friend who came to sit next to me, "What gives? He's not dancing her like a rag doll!"

My friend nodded and replied, "Because he wouldn't dare dance her that way." It was true. The dancer in my former partner's arms always seemed to bring out an elegant maturity in tangueros.

After a few moments, I excused myself and went to the ladies room to nurse my wounds, both physical and emotional, and see what the hell was up with my ankle. The condition of my ankle wasn't really surprising - it was stiff because it was swollen. My doctor had warned me that there had been, and would likely continue to be, times when I count on a muscle for support and that support simply wouldn't be there. Some muscle groups, particularly in my back and legs, are starting to atrophy. The joints of my ankles have been weak for years (having broken them both at different times) and the muscles supporting the joints have always picked up the slack. Not tonight.  The FHL muscle was tight, swollen and sore and sending a very clear message. Bitch, you need to sit down. (Lately my muscles have had a real swearing problem.)

Before I left the ladies room, I checked one more thing. I lifted my shirt to see the side of my ribcage, expecting to see that I had overreacted to my partner's handling of me. I hadn't. I had pink marks along my ribcage that would later turn an interesting shade of light purple. I bruise a little easily - but not that easily.

I passed by another dancer as I returned to my table and we briefly commiserated about our ankle troubles. He offered the use of his brace which I gratefully accepted. Once I slipped it on and the compression took affect, the relief was incredible. Why the hell didn't I carry one of these all the time? Oh yeah, because I hadn't needed it at a milonga before. The best part was that I could still put on my tango shoe over it. I felt a small wave of triumph over that, but the whole situation surrounding that tanda still stung.

As I sat and listened to the music and watched the other dancers, I tried to unravel the snarl that I was so hurt about. I don't know if it stung more that I had gotten an early thank you (which was probably just as well), or that he immediately picked up the dancer next to me at my table right in front of me. I was still embarrassed, and wondered if I would get anymore dances that night.  I was annoyed with myself for putting my comfort and health at risk, which made it feel so much worse. I risked further injury to my ankle and got a bruise on my ribs for the trouble of trying to keep up when I should have just sat down.

After resting up a bit and re-hydrating, I received a very welcome cabeceo from a favorite partner and decided to give the borrowed brace a road test.  After that I felt a little more like myself. I had a some very lovely tandas with very patient gentlemen who turned the whole evening around for me.  No more pushing, shoving, bumping. I'm glad I held in there.

This is the most extreme incident in a series of incidents that's making me increasingly selective in who I dance with. I tell people, and write so often here, to be open minded - to give every dancer the benefit of the doubt and a welcoming embrace. After all, you can't truly tell from outside the embrace how a dancer feels to dance with. But these days the risk for me greater. Add to that the overwhelming relief I feel from leaders who do take the time and considerable effort to feel where I am - and not get frustrated at me for the things I can't do, is immeasurable.

Divorcing Facebook - A Non-tango Post

Dear Facebook, I quit.




I finally did it.

I divorced Facebook.

I haven't closed the account, because frankly that doesn't really delete my info anyway and if people absolutely have to reach me that way, I can still (eventually) get the message. But I deleted all but a couple of pictures, notes etc. Also, I removed the ability for anyone but me to post to my wall or tag me in posts or pictures (without my permission anyway.) 

I have moved to Google Plus that I love more and more.  I have friends all over the political and religious spectrum, and we manage to have actual civil discourse about issues without the usual hateful remarks or flat out trolling. It's amazing!  The downside is that my traffic to my blog is way down since so much of it was driven by Facebook. So I'm forging new paths on Google+ and using Twitter a bit more. It's coming back up, slowly. I'm keeping my blogs, my Twitter account, and LinkedIn. I'm only dropping Facebook - because honestly, it's only Facebook that pisses me off this much.

You can find my Google + profile here:  http://gplus.to/marijohnson .  Circle me, and if you let me know that you're a tango dancer, I'll share my circle of 200+ tango dancers in my circles for you to get started making connections. If you're just starting out with G+, please remember to fill out your profile and post a few times to make it easier for folks to know what you're about and circle you back.
Listen well.




Learn to be quiet enough to hear the genuine within yourself so that you can hear it in others. ~ Marian Wright Edelman



(Thank you Heather for the quote. Picture courtesy of Morguefile.com .)



Hearing through my Partner - a Confession



The Friday night milonga a couple of weeks ago was both incredibly beautiful and, at times, intensely frustrating.

I had several amazing, connected dances Friday with wonderfully patient and generous gentlemen. La Tazza Fresca has a wonderful vibe that keeps people coming back despite the hard, concrete floor that's murder on the knees.  The sound system is a bit rough but the food and atmosphere are fantastic.

The rough sound system plus the number of loud conversations along the side of the dance space made it impossible at times for me to hear anything but the strong rhythm of the music. The problem is, only part of the frustration is the result of the venue. Most of it is me. I've yet to write about it, and have talked about it very rarely, because as a dancer I'm still embarrassed. I know better, but the little voice always comes back . . .

If leaders know I can't hear - no one will dance with me.

I have congenital Sensorineural Hearing Loss (when I was diagnosed as a child, it was simply called nerve deafness.)  It's worse in my left ear than my right (and my eyesight is worse in my right eye than my left - which was very disorienting growing up.) SNHL isn't quite like other forms of deafness. I can still hear sounds fairly well - in some cases very well.  Mostly I have problems differentiating sounds - s's, sh's, j's, and th's for instance. (Which makes Castellano challenging for me.)  High pitched sounds are tough. Voices are the hardest - especially if I'm trying to follow a conversation when there are lots of other conversations going on in the background.  And yet I'm very sensitive to loud noises - go figure. So it isn't that I can't hear the sound, it's that if there is background noise especially, I have a hard time hearing the smaller variations within the sound.

My hearing issues sometimes give me a bit of anxiety - which is why I haven't talked about it much. When I can't hear something, it's like I'm immediately transported to grade school, struggling to hear the teacher among talking students. Or understand dialogue in movies. I hate talking on the phone because it makes the s/sh/th/j thing so much worse. And I don't have the benefit of having the person's face to watch.

 . . . but back to Friday night . . .

Wonderful music, warm, comforting leaders - yet I became increasingly frustrated and anxious with my dancing because I couldn't hear the softer components of the music. Tango music is beautiful to dance to because there is so much going on in each song. Shifting melodies, pauses - decorations to the music, that I can only hear when the ambient noise is very low. (And let's face it - that's pretty rare.)

Hearing Through my Leader

Between songs in a tanda, I had to have a mental reset. There is a way I cope with my hearing in dancing tango. It's one of the biggest reasons I love the dance so much. The trouble is it requires even a little more trust than I normally give to my partner. I have to let go a little bit of my interpretation of the music. I want to contribute and not just be moved around on the pista, but if I can't hear the music well, I have another option. I can let my partner provide the piece(s) that are missing.

It does make me feel a little guilty. Like I'm making him do all of the work. I am still listening to the music - I'm just listening through him. That night I felt like I needed to explain since I was sure my partner could feel my frustration - and I was so afraid he would think it was him causing the stress. He understood my situation, and what I was trying to do to remedy it. As usual, this tanguero was extremely supportive and I felt the weight lift a bit.

My experiences in tango somewhat echo Terpsichoral's post here (I highly recommend reading the whole thing, as well as the informative comments): .

The author writes, "When the leader is musical enough, you can tune your body to respond to the tiny changes in the way he prepares physically for each movement and read in advance the exact cadence of his step."

That has been my experience. I also rely on this when my interpretation of the a piece is profoundly different from my partner's. At that point, because I am following and not leading, I make an effort to turn down my interpretation, and tune in more to his body's response. I can feel the details in changes in my partner's breathing, the flexing or relaxing of his hand on my back, how hard he pushes into the ground with each step, the muscles tightening or relaxing across his shoulders and back. All of that creates a picture of the music overlaying my own. At times that Friday night, his picture was all I had.

"Where are the girls?" Followers and Community





This topic recently came up in conversation, and then again in Katya Merezhinsky's note on Facebook titled, "Conversations about a Follower's Technique" (concerning followers in Washington, DC):

The issues according to Katya, in Washington DC anyway:

1.) It is very common that women in the class are there just to accompany men, but not to learn their own part.
2.) The majority of students are men.
3.) The level of followers in the city has dropped significantly compare to the leader's progress.

I bring these up, even though she is specifically speaking about Washington DC, because these conversations are happening in tango communities all over, even in Austin.

1. Are the followers slacking in class?


As to the first point, in Austin when I have been able to attend workshops, I haven't noticed this to be true thankfully. In fact I've overheard a great deal of frustration from followers when their partners decide they'd rather work on something else during a class, and not work on what's being taught. It's also not clear if the author, by "learn their own part", means learn how to follow what's being led (by which I mean reading your partner's body, listening for the potential in the music, learn how to move your own body to make the sequence comfortable/easier etc.), or simply memorize the pattern. To me, there's a danger in just learning the pattern. If followers in a class only memorize the pattern without actually learning how to follow it well, chances are only the ladies in class will be able to "follow" the pattern when leaders lead it at the milonga.

2. Where are the women?


The second point has come up several times lately - usually in the form of, "why aren't there more women in the intermediate and advanced classes?"

In fact, two people in one evening asked me why I wasn't taking classes anymore and wasn't I worried about my technique slipping. First of all, I'm not taking classes "right now" - it's not that I'm not taking classes "anymore". There's a difference. There are two major reasons for me, the same two reasons I've had for awhile. The first reason is money. I simply don't have the funds for classes right now. I've blown out two pair of shoes (hence the new pair) and with Fandango de Tango Festival coming up, and I'm doubting I'll have enough to even attend the milongas, let alone the workshops. I'm missing Murat and Michelle's workshops this weekend for the same reason - and their technique and musicality teaching knocked my socks off last year.

The second is my health. I have to choose whether to take classes or be able to dance socially, and you can bet when I have only enough energy for one, I'm going to choose social dancing. That's what all the classes have been for, after all. As far as my technique - I don't know if it's slipping or not. If it is, and it certainly could be, I don't know if it's lack of practice or lack of strength and stamina - or more likely a combination of the two. I practice and exercise at home, to the music, almost every single day. When I'm able, I go to practicas and take privates because they seem to be the best use of my time and money. If you're a leader who isn't satisfied with my level of technique, by all means please stop asking me to dance.

So am I already losing dances because I'm not working hard enough? There was an instance quite recently with very few people in the room (5 people - 2 were dancing) and I was the only woman available to dance. The two gentlemen seated next to me gazed into their smartphones for the entire tanda.  Usually the use of the cabeceo and other social structures prevent one from feeling rejection quite so acutely, but there you have it. For whatever reason, they didn't want to dance with me. Was it my technique? My "style"? My personality? I have no idea. Does it sting? Of course. But it is what it is. Truly, I would rather sit and be embarrassed then feel like someone was dancing with me who didn't really want to dance with me. Feeling someone's disappointment within the embrace is a much deeper hurt.

There is another reason, however, that I don't sign up for every class I can. And this is a somewhat pervasive reason with several followers I know (by no means the majority, however). Many classes, especially pattern-based classes, are geared and tailored for leaders. Not all, but many of them. The technique discussion and explanation is geared for leaders. We often feel like we're just there for the leaders to practice on. In some of the more "rigorous" classes - back/trap/combo sacada classes, volcada/colgada/boleo combos etc., for instance, more than one follower has told me they felt like a "crash test dummy" by the end. Bruised, sore and grumpy. I know it's important for us to be exposed to what's being taught, to see what's possible, to learn optimum technique for following it, and to help leaders the best we can - but it is frequently an expensive, exhausting, and sometimes downright painful proposition. Sometimes it comes down to, do I want to learn clever gancho/boleo combinations, or do I want to be able to dance tonight?

When Jorge Torres was here, I went to all but one class that I had a schedule conflict with  - sitting through parts of them when I was too tired to stand up anymore. When I can afford it, and when the material is going to be technique focused, I'm happy to commit to it fully. I am, however, very discerning in which classes I choose to spend my time, energy and money.

3. Followers losing ground as a group?

As to the third point, I don't think the overall follower technique is falling behind the leaders - but I'm not in the best position to judge that, obviously.  (It's funny because I've heard the same thing from both sides - a few leaders complaining that followers aren't as committed to technique as leaders, and followers saying that leaders aren't putting in enough effort in their technique. Thankfully neither is a common complaint.)

There are a lot of things happening at once lately in our community. We have an influx of a lot of new people - several experienced dancers from other communities, and lots of new beginners just getting their feet wet. Our University Argentine Tango Club is doing an amazing job of bringing new people into the fold.  So it's hard to judge the overall skill level of either leaders or followers as a single group. And generalities can get you into trouble anyway. How can you be sure if the dancer in your arms is "slipping in their technique" or if they're working twice as many hours every week, and this all they've got to give right now? Should they stop dancing until their schedule clears so they don't risk disappointing anyone? How do you know it's not you? Or the combination of their new workload and your new allergy medication? (I've been part of that equation - it's a challenge. lol)

Conclusion


If any activity's skill level ought to be judged (if that's even the right word or approach) on a case-by-case basis, it's tango. Communities shift, change, experience growing pains. Stereotypes and generalizations get in the way of seeing the person standing before us as they are in this moment, in our arms.

The New Tango* Shoes - A Review



Technically, these are street shoes. But I'm taking my teacher, Daniela Arcuri's advice, wearing shoes that fit and do the job well, regardless of the label inside.  (Her exact words were, "I don't care if they come from Payless, if they fit well, support you, and slide easily, they work for tango."

Specs:

Brand: Adrienne Vittadini
Retail price: $99
Marshall's price: $49
Heel height (somewhat hidden by the carpet): 3.75"
Material: Leather upper and hard leather sole.
Colors: Available in gold/beige and black/silver.

The shoes have excellent arch support and shock absorption. While the sole is very sturdy, it is still flexible and I can lift my heel another inch or so off the ground when I flex my foot. The heel is set slightly forward, the same as my tango shoes. The heels are well balanced with no wobble. I thought the zipper heel was sort of gimmicky until I put it on and it conformed really well to my hard-to-fit narrow heel. (Plus my feet are significantly different sizes - the zipper actually helps with that.)

These are higher than any of my tango shoes, yet strangely just as comfortable as my most comfortable tango shoes (which are from Jorge Nel). I wore them all night Friday and Saturday night (finally trading them out for my dance slippers for my last tanda of the night when I was too tired to wear shoes of any kind) and had no pain, no blisters, no pinching.

Now the test is to see how long they last to the abuse dancing dishes out.







Soul's Expression

 

"Tango is a dance that is about a movement between here and there, about an exchange between two bodies, about the pain of disconnection and the desire for communication." Erin Manning, "Politics of Touch: Sense, Movement, Sovereignty"

I keep trying to explain something that I have no good words for. I can't even explain why it's so important to me to express it. Maybe this is why so many people, when they are most passionate talking about tango, throw their hands up and fall helplessly back to cliches.

Tango is a feeling that is danced.

I know that my own experience is coloring my judgment on the matter.  Maybe it's worse than that. Maybe it's my way of making excuses for myself.

When I stand on the edge of the pista, my leader in front of me, I falter. I have just a second of flight response. I wonder what new way my body will conspire against my best attempt at a graceful dance. I can't offer an athlete's body or myriad exquisite maneuvers to capture every nuance of the music. My body sometimes feels slow, weighted - suddenly uncoordinated. Some nights I can't even offer a solid axis.

So as I falter, my inner voice rattling away the things I cannot give, I remind myself of the one thing I can give . . .

Me.
All that I am in the moment - not what I can do, but what I am made of.

The miles walked to this place. The sighs, the heartbeats, the tears, the peals of laughter, that brought me to this moment in your arms.

If you want it, I can give you that.
 . . in my embrace.

And in return?
The same.

I've lied, really. I've always said that I'm easy to please, which isn't true. I am demanding - and more demanding now than perhaps I have ever been. Entrega. I want permission to give it, and I want it in return. I didn't mean to lie - it seemed like it should be simple. Now I know it's not. If it was hard for me to learn to surrender, why should I think it would be easier for a leader to do it? But that's what it's really all about for me.

Ultimately, I don't care about the shape of your body,
the precision of your lapiz,
the smoothness of your walk.
I don't care how you look,
or if your interpretation of the music is the same as mine,
or if you prefer Golden Age or alternativo . .

And . .

are you ready for this?

I don't care which embrace you prefer - close, open, fluid . . .

I'll admit it's far more rare to feel the connection I'm so longing for in an open embrace.
But it has happened.

So what do I want from you as a leader?
You. Your story. Not your teacher's story.
It's not about the steps you lead.
I can feel it in how you hold me.
Or maybe more importantly, why you hold me.

Dancing who you are isn't about your technique, though good technique can keep our bodies from getting in the way of our soul's expression. (1)
Dancing who you are is being relaxed enough to let me in.
I will hold you in my arms like you mean the world to me because, at least for the few minutes we get,
you do.

That's not what everyone wants from tango, I know.
And I'm finding that dancers are somewhat self-sorting in that regard.

Right now, that's where I am in my dance. That's what I long for. I'm so lucky here that almost every night I dance, I find it. Often more than once. For some reason that seems to make the times I can't reach my partner all the more painful.







"What happens when you dance totally? The dancer disappears in a total dance. That's my definition of the total dance: the dancer disappears, dissolves; only the dancing remains. When there is only dancing and no dancer, this is the ultimate of meditation - the taste of nectar, bliss, God, truth, ecstasy, freedom, freedom from the ego, freedom from the doer. And when there is no ego, no doer, and the dance is going on and there is no dancer, a great witnessing arises, a great awareness like a cloud of light surrounding you."
- Osho


(1) -The only reason for mastering technique is to make sure the body does not prevent the soul from expressing itself. - La Meri

(2) - Image courtesy of morguefile.com

Just dance

Courtesy of morguefile.com

It had been an evening of favorite music - I couldn't believe my luck. I can't dance as often as I would like these days, and it seemed like I was making up for lost time in warm, wonderful dances. A Rodriguez tanda started and I was smiling so hard my face almost hurt.  Halfway into the first song, my partner tried a somewhat complex sequence and, in close embrace, it just didn't come off.  Once around the floor, he tried again, and again it didn't work well. We shifted a bit, got back on track and continued. During the next song, he broke the embrace and pushed me away, led the sequence completely and then brought me back to close embrace.

I couldn't get the connection back. I can't think of any other way to put it than my feelings were hurt. To me it felt like he put the "move" before our embrace. I didn't want to settle back against his chest if he was going to just push me back out again.

I wish this were a rare occurrence, but especially after workshops or a festival, it becomes ever more common with lots of dancers. There is a difference, to my feeling, between expanding an embrace to accommodate for comfort and/or musical expression - and breaking the embrace to perform a pattern or a move. I can't explain it well - it's just a feeling. There's a difference in technical execution of course - how smooth you can make the expansion feel - not too abrupt or sharp for example. But there is also a difference in how the intention feels.  As a leader, are you expanding the embrace for comfort - or breaking it just to "do" something? Is the move you're trying to work in worth making your partner feel like she's just an accessory to your dance? If you're working on something that you can only really do in open embrace then just leave the embrace open - or better yet, wait until practica to "work on stuff."

Sometimes it's not even a matter of breaking the embrace that's the problem - but the feeling that somehow the dance is flawed or worse, ruined, if my leader can't get me to follow some move or pattern. Ideally, when a move doesn't work, we just transition into something else and keep going. With some of my favorite partners there's a mutual, grinning "whoops" like kids playing a game. Not serious at at all - just an opportunity to do something else instead. Sometimes though, far more often than I'd like, I get a feeling of disappointment from my leader. Disappointment in how he led something - disappointment that I couldn't follow it. It doesn't matter if a leader thinks it's all his fault, or all my fault, or somewhere in between - the feeling of disappointment like that should have no place in a social dance. The worst part of that feeling is that it's infectious - I end up unintentionally carrying it with me to my next tanda. I get self-conscious and feel like I must be dancing badly. I don't want to bring that mentality to my next leader - it's not fair to him. It brings an unwelcome third party into the dance - a judge.

At practicas and in classes and lessons, I want to work - and work hard. I take my dancing, and my technique, seriously. But at the milonga, I want to dance socially. I'm there to connect with the music, my partner, my friends and relax. If things fall apart - they fall apart. So what? I'm not obsessing over my embellishments or the depth of my cruzado - why are you?  This isn't an operating room. No one's going to lose a limb if the molinete doesn't work out.  We're supposed to be getting away from the stress of our workaday lives, right? Can't we take a break from the constant evaluating and comparing we feel in our everyday world?

I just want to dance.


The joy will burn out the pain


Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.  -- Lance Armstrong

My old companion is back. Sometimes it is resting on my shoulders, sometimes squeezing my ribs, sometimes clawing at my legs. In its wake, I'm sore, angry, tired . . .  and scared. More paralyzing than the pain, as always, is the fear of the pain which has settled over my skin.

I'm dancing less and less. I go as often as I can, dance as long as I can. Saturday night I made it two tandas and then my calf seized up hard enough to turn my ankle and pull my foot under.  My partners have been patient with me. I can feel the change in my dance, I'm sure they can feel it too. A couple have said so.  I'm slower, less responsive, heavier. I can either dance in pain, or dance under the sedating effect of muscle relaxers that minimally help control the pain. Every time I get up to dance I wonder if it's a mistake. Moving makes me feel better much of the time, but I'm putting my partners in the position of compensating for me.

Anxiety sets in with that thought.

How long before I can't dance anymore at all? How long before my skin hurts so much I can't even be held?

Two days ago, for the first time in my life, I needed help to get off of a city bus. The driver gently chided me, saying that if I had an impairment I needed to be seated at the front of the bus where it's easier to get on and off. I told him I hadn't been impaired when I got on the bus. How could I explain? I never get warning before hand.

So now my cell phone is always charged and ready should I need to call for help. I sit at the front of the bus. I double the amount of time I think I'll need to get anywhere. I've always tried to operate under my own power and I'm not going to stop now. It's just that everything seems so much more complicated now.


Looking for answers

I had a visit with my new Osteopath yesterday.
After much discussion, prodding, patting, stretching and poking, he said, "Well, I know what it isn't."
Me: "um, okay?"
Him: "It's not fibromyalgia."
Me: "Excuse me? That's what I was diagnosed with years ago."

A small, hard panic formed in my stomach. Was I going to have to start all over convincing someone that the pain wasn't all in my head?


Him: (flipping through my chart) "and that's what you had years ago. I don't doubt it at all. This is something different. You don't have the tender knots under the trigger points. We're going to have to start all over - first with rather a lot of lab tests to rule out some things." CPK, C-reactive protein, mineral levels, thyroid, sed rate . . . the list went on and on.
Me: "Well what do you think it is, if you had to guess?"
Him: "Right now? Based on nothing but symptoms," he looked at me under knitted brows, "Polymyositis. It means 'many-muscles-inflammation'," he said in answer to my confused expression, "a little bit like rheumatoid arthritis, but in the muscles and connective tissue. It's treated with short term, high dose steroids among other things. But let's make sure that's what it is."

He ordered the tests and sent me to the lab just before closing time. Next week I should have more answers about what to do next. Meanwhile, my instructions are pretty clear cut. When I'm not in pain, move, exercise, walk, dance as much as I can comfortably. When the muscles cramp, stop - stop everything. Don't try to stretch it out (which is incredibly hard not to do since it seems like it should work - but it never does.) Get the muscles in as neutral a position as possible and wait it out. Otherwise, because the muscles are in such a vulnerable position, it's very easy to do damage unintentionally.


So now, I wait.
I dance when I can. Stretch, walk, move when I can.
I listen to tango.


Find a place inside where there's joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.
  -- Joseph Campbell