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.