What Tango is for Me

I'm still catching up. Job changes, recovering from the flu, and so many other things going on have put me way behind in answering comments on the blog, and in email. So please be patient with me as I try to catch up. Meanwhile, I'll be publishing a few things here and there that have been sitting in drafts too long . . .

Diary entries

03/07/2011 - Is tango fun?

From the free dictionary online: "Fun (noun): A source of enjoyment, amusement, or pleasure."

Jantango said in a comment that she does not dance tango because it's fun.

"This may come as a surprise, but tango isn't fun for me. It's so much more. Lots of things can be fun for a moment, but then it passes and you want something else to satisfy. Tango does that for me."

I am glad that tango does that for Jan, but the implication seems to be that if I'm having fun, somehow I'm not really getting it - not really experiencing true tango. Or maybe I'm not serious enough. If I'm misunderstanding this Jan, then please let me know.

Quite often I dance tango because it is fun. But why would saying that tango is fun exclude it from being anything else? Or from it being a lasting or satisfying enjoyment?

I don't judge anyone else's reason for dancing tango. We all come to it for different reasons, and those reasons are subject to change over time.

I know a man who came to tango, as many do, for the love of a woman. She left. He stayed. Is tango fun for him? He frequently says so. Is it more? Undoubtedly.

I came to tango to heal my body and found that it also heals the soul. Is tango fun for me? Yes. Is it more than that? It is beyond anything I could have imagined. My blog might be quite a bit more sparse if it weren't.

What does it matter? Who am I, or is anyone else, to analyze or criticize someone's reasons for dancing tango? Or what they get from it? Why would I even presume I could know someone else's experience of tango?

03/14/11 - What tango is for me tonight . . .

I'm reading the news before bed again. I know I shouldn't because it will probably keep me up for hours (not that blogging is likely to send me to bed any sooner.) I have been catching snippets and comments, watching the news as if from my peripheral vision. Trying not to take it all in fully.

As if I could take it all in.

There's too much.

DH is frustrated because I cry over the news. Crying accomplishes nothing and keeps me awake, so why spend the energy? He asks this of me, yet he knows I cry over tango songs, sad movies, and even a few melodramatic television commercials. That I'm crying over the devastation in Japan, over the political (and human rights) crises that have erupted all over the Middle East, and over the venom being spewed by politicians here in the US in place of the true work that needs to be done - should really come as no surprise. I'm overly emotional about all sorts of things. Maybe for that reason, I have found such a perfect home in tango. I can be as emotional as I need to be.

So I read the news. Have a good cry. Then I put on my vals CDs to make the world seem okay again. Or at least okay enough for now so I can get some sleep.


The three of us were in Daniela's kitchen - Daniel "El Latigo" Ponce, Daniela Arcuri and me. The lesson was over and there was a pause in our chatting. The transition was happening - from tango life to the non-tango life. Like leaving through an airlock - a change in pressure. My outside life was returning to my shoulders. I was suddenly very tired. We all seemed to breathe out at once.

I looked at Daniel and answered a question he had asked me earlier. "I dance tango because when the world falls apart, I can still, for now at least, get up, find a milonga and dance."

Teaching at the Milonga

It seems like this has been covered before on nearly every tango blog, yet it always surprises me to see it happen at milongas. There were three instances this weekend. *sigh*

A few words of advice for dancers that feel the need to teach at the milonga . . .

Leaders: Don't assume that if a follower doesn't follow something you led, that she doesn't know how to follow it. To be clear, that doesn't mean you need to assume you led it wrong - there could be other reasons she chose not to follow it (there wasn't room, it was uncomfortable, skirt was too tight/short etc.) To take those instances of a lead being missed, or ignored, as a "teaching moment" at a milonga, may find you getting a lot of averted eyes the next time you look for a dance.

And really, if a leader has to explain a step to get a follower to follow it, there are already problems. The follower wasn't ready to be led the step, or wasn't in a position to follow it for whatever reason and explaining it verbally, in front of others at a milonga, worsens the problem and puts your reputation as a desirable leader on thin ice.

Followers: The same goes for us. Unless a leader is painful or uncomfortable (emotionally or physically), to follow, it is not okay for us to teach at the milonga either.

Teaching, or worse, reprimanding a dancer over mis-followed or mis-led steps, doesn't make you look smart, it makes you look like a jerk.

Learning . . . Bring it On, Baby

"When we love and accept ourselves as we are, we engage in the vulnerable act of learning without the fear of looking foolish." -- Laurence G. Boldt

Workshops with Hugo "Gato" Valdez and Andrea Monti

I had doubts about these workshops. I went in with a fairly skeptical attitude.

Local teachers Juan Carlos and Alicia Suarez , hosted Gato and Andrea, and I wasn't familiar with them at all. When I searched for information (and YouTube videos of course) about them, all I found was performance dances and very general details about their style. From their website, "Andrea Monti and Hugo “Gato” Valdez were both trained as tango dancers and teachers in their native city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, sixteen years ago (Andrea) and twenty-five years ago (Hugo). They met in 1998 and since then, they have been working continuously in Argentina and around the world."

Their website is here and their Youtube channel is here.

The class descriptions were a little bit general, but still intriguing:

Tango I Workshop
Dance with style and musicality: different possibilities when walking for parallel and cross systems; double time steps in the walk. Use of the pause. Changes of directions. Turns. Good resources for good navigation. Easy sequencies for the social dance. Close and open embrace.

Here's the deom from their first class:

Tango II Workshop
Turns with “entradas” and stops. Technique of the "sacada". Special moves and positions for sacadas. Technique of the “barrida”; barridas inside the turn and from different positions. Coordination and musicality. Line of dance. Flexibility of the embrace. Combinations and Sequencies.

Here is a demo from their second class:

Tango Vals Workshop
Rhythm and musicality for vals. Figuras from cross system. Turns with syncopation for vals; double time in the turn. Turns with sacadas and voleos. Specific sequencies and combinations for vals.

Milonga Workshop
Rhythm and musicality. Close embrace and connection. Different walks. Easy, useful and playful moves for the social dance, leading tranfer of weight. Combinations.

After some persuading from a friend (and my curiosity about the class subjects), I decided to give it a try despite my reservations. I am so glad I did!

As with most tango workshops, the classes were pattern based but with two very welcome differences. First, each pattern was made of 3 interchangeable chunks that could be worked into nearly anything. Gato and Andrea showed several ways to get in and out of each chunk and change it up as needed. At the end we would string the sequence together and play with it some more. They allowed time for practicing each part and throughout the workshops, Andrea taught a few posture exercises to make each movement more graceful and distinct.

Second, and most surprising to me given the fact I could only find performance videos of them to watch, was that every step/sequence/movement they taught was immediately useful and appropriate in a milonga setting.

No ganchos. No boleos. No colgadas, soltadas, or volcadas.

Everything was on the floor. The "fancy" stuff came from small, well placed and timed sacadas, amagues, arrastres, and changes of direction. (See glossary here for terms.)

I learned a great deal in their classes though not much of it related to the sequences themselves, but more about waiting to feel for the transitions between movements. I also, as I always do, had ample opportunity to work on my posture. I wish I had been able to record their Vals and Milonga class demos as I was especially impressed with those classes. Andrea is excellent about breaking down and explaining each part as well as letting you know what you need in your posture and alignment to lead/follow each part well.

As far as their style goes, they are flexible embrace dancers but seemed comfortable in everything from very close embrace to completely open embrace, depending on how the students in the class preferred to learn.

If you get the chance to study with them, I highly recommend them. They have their schedule posted here: http://www.gatotango.com/htmldocs/schedule.html though it appears that it might be outdated. Their contact info is here: http://www.gatotango.com/htmldocs/contact.html.

Thank you to Juan Carlos and Alicia for hosting Gato and Andrea in Austin.