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)


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."


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 . . .

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.