ocho pivots: is that my booty?

I've been having trouble consistently nailing my ochos. As soon as I stopped having such a wobbly axis, I seemed to have trouble pivoting enough - and with enough disassociating to make the step look and feel smooth, graceful .. and precise.

I got a bit of advice from my instructor Monica, who I believe she said she got from Silvina Valz, regarding turning during ochos. She said pivot until you can see your butt (over your shoulder). How literally you take that is, of course, up to you. To my surprise, I found it incredibly helpful in remembering to disassociate my hips and first of all, not use my partner for leverage, and second, it gave me something more tangible to monitor my consistency.

Do you have other ways you monitor how a step or movement needs to "feel" or look to know you've completed it correctly?

(PS - that's me looking for my ocho booty and modeling my new Flabella tango shoes. :) )

Carlos Gardel - Por Una Cabeza

Reminded of this by an advertisement from Buenos Aries

"Losing by a head of a noble horse
who slackens just down the stretch
and when it comes back it seems to say:
don't forget brother,
You know, you shouldn't bet. "

Short documentary: Tango in New York City

Video features clips from milongas all over NYC as well as a few words from Murat Erdemsel.

Top down or bottom up? Somewhere in between?

There seems to be a way of leading that I hadn't noticed until recently. Or at least I hadn't truly appreciated it for what it was. In fact, it wasn't until I was feeling awful at a milonga - tired, nervous, sore - ready to give up on the night, that I really felt the effect of it.

Most leaders test the waters when the dance with me (or anyone, I presume) to find out the skill level of their partner. Sometimes, they do the movements and patterns they enjoy and just watch and see what gets followed and what gets missed. If something is missed, usually they don't lead it again. They adapt. (Some leaders continue to lead it, getting both partners more and more frustrated, but that's another story altogether.) These leaders have an idea (of course) how they'd like the dance to go, with the particular music playing, and make adjustments on the fly.

Some leaders start with their fanciest stuff first - eager to impress and dazzle their partner and the observers. I call these guys the "top down" leaders. Because they're leading their best sequences first - if it doesn't get followed correctly it's not only disappointing to both partners, but it can set up a feeling of needing to prove oneself throughout the dance. The leader frequently wonders if he's leading the step correctly and frequently tries the same sequence again and again, trying to "clarify" it. The follower meanwhile, becomes frustrated that she can't figure out what's being led, or what she's supposed to do. The connection can then become more difficult to maintain making even simple steps, well known to both partners, more difficult to perform.

Then there's the last kind of leader. These are rarer and I treasure them most - the "bottom-up" leaders. It wasn't until I had a very rough night, feeling awkward, heavy, tired, that I realized the profound effect that kind of lead would have on me. These leaders also have a dance in mind, constantly changing with the floor condition, of course. But they start very simply. First, they walk. Usually these guys are also my favorite walkers - but that's also another story. Once we have a good connection with the walk, we move into a cross, then some ochos. Then, with confidence built for both partners, and the connection going strong, they start to move into more complex steps and sequences. By that time, when they do lead something I don't know, the chances are quite favorable that I'll be able to follow them anyway - with a small amount of guidance (in the lead, not verbally) or extra time. Success builds on success, our comfort in each other increases and suddenly the music is over and we wonder where the time has gone. I go back to my chair feeling like someone listened to me, listened to my body communicating things I'd never be able to communicate verbally. And because I felt heard, it was easier for me to listen. To trust. To be open to more possibilities than I had originally seen.

Is this something other people feel or have experience with? Is it just me?

Sonnet XVII - Pablo Neruda

Several people have recommended this poet to me, and there were so many beautiful, haunting poems to choose from that it took me ages to settle on this one - such a crystallized expression of la duende, (and of tango of course), of the dark places we carry with us and still manage to love from.

Sonnet XVII - Pablo Neruda

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way
than this: where I does not exist, nor you,

so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

More of Pablo Neruda's poems can be found here:

Tango Instructors Silvina Valz & Oliver Kolker Return to Austin's Esquina Tango Studio

Silvina Valz & Oliver Kolker
Back in Austin Summer'09!
July 6-13th

Get to know them! This will be their 3rd year to come to AustinNot to miss! Experience, Energy, Elegance: true tango soul & inspirationTruly fun people, great teachers and now friend and part of our community! Not to miss!!Take your tango to the next level with exceptional instruction & stunning performances!

Download Registration Form Here!
Click here for inspiration:
“Dime mi Amor” Tango Demo
"Arrabalera" Milonga Demo

Austin Tango Visitor Info

Class Schedule

Saturday, July 11th - All Levels
2:15 - 3:45pm Tango Salon: Structure
4:15 - 5:45pm Milonga: Tuning Turns

Sunday, July 12th - Intermediate Level
2:15 - 3:45pm Tango: boleos & Interesting Resolutions
4:15 - 5:45pm Milonga: Fun Combinations

Extra Special Class
Monday, July 13th - Interm/Advance Level
7:00 - 8:30pm: How to build a Choreography
Work on fun moves, increase creativity & style on the socialdance floor. Get fancy with it!

Private Lessons Available July 6 - 13th
Slots will fill fast! Contact Esquina to schedule!

Early Bird by July 1st:
All Class Pass: $85 Esquina Member $105 Non-Member
A La Carte: $25 per class
After July 1st:
All Class Pass $95 Esquina Member $125 Non-Member
A La Carte: $30 per class
All Class Pass includes all 5 classes! Yeah! Not included is Sat. milonga
Grand Full Time University Student Discount
Full Pass $50 A La Carte: $10 per class

Weekend Milongas
Thursday, July 9th, 9pm-midnight, free
"EsquinaPassion" at EsquinaTango
Hosted by Vance. Potluck style
Celebrating Argentine Independence Day

Friday, July 10th, 9pm-1am, free
"Milonguetta Tanguetta" at Tazza Fresca
Hosted by Fil & Bryan. 519 W. 37 St.

Saturday, July11th, 9pm-1am, $10
"Noche de Tango Vivo" at EsquinaTango
Glover Gill & Tosca String Quartet Live!
Master Performance by Silvina & Oliver
BYOB. Snacks provided

All registrants should attend classes appropriate for their level. All Class Pass does not include Saturday night MIlongaEarly Bird must be mailed by 07/01. Refunds only till 07/06 (-$25 fee )Schedule subject to change.

Nessun Dorma (No one sleeps)

"Yes, Giorgio" (1982) was not a great film. It wasn't especially well acted. It was predictable. And yet I've seen it more than a dozen times, and I cry through the end every time I see it. Luciano Pavarotti was a brilliant singer - but a slightly less than brilliant actor. In this film, he essentially played himself.

A famous opera singer, "Giorgio Fini", loses his voice during an American tour. He goes to a female throat specialist, Pamela Taylor (played by Kathryn Harrold), with whom he falls in love. Giorgio is married, and though he and his wife have an understanding regarding his affairs while he travels, Pamela is unable to resign herself to being perpetually "the other woman". At the end, during his triumphant return to the stage, as he sings Nessun Dorma, she applauds his beautiful performance and then leaves the theater, as they both knew she would.

The story is, as I said above, predictable, almost cliched. But the end moves me every time I see it. Love can be everything, all encompassing, opening our lives and our world in ways we could never have foreseen. There is a poem that I can't find anymore unfortunately, that said we don't get to choose the form and circumstances, love does. We can take it as it comes or give it up.

Sounds like a tango song.

After much searching, I found the video of that portion of the film. Not only is the piece sung beautifully (of course) - but the dialogue of facial expressions exchanged between the two main characters is some of the best (non-)dialogue in the entire film.

Last night's beautiful alternative tango music

Milongas at Dance Institute (hosted by Laura Pellegrino) always have fantastic music - but the alternative pieces are always especially lovely. My favorites from last night:

la valse d' amelie

Nothing Else Matters - Apocolyptica

Loreena McKennitt's Tango to Evora

I'm in.

Today I'm celebrating my first 4 months of tango. I have been to 23 milongas, 26 practicas and I don't-know-how-many weekly classes. Over 120 hours of tango - probably closer to 150 hours. Still, I know dancers who've clocked more time, more hours, more miles in the same period. At once it doesn't seem like it's been 4 months and yet my pre-tango days seem to get farther and farther behind me. I can't remember very clearly how I looked at my world before I saw it through the milonga's lens. I have sound and smell associations that I'd never dreamed would be so powerful. The smell of red wine. The sound of whispering shoes on wood floors. The bandeneon as it weeps, shouts in anger, breathes a sigh. The leader that hums softly in my ear. The teacher that whispered "wait". How many miles on the milonga floor so far?

Not enough. Never enough.

Four months.

I'm still a tango baby.

I still don't have tango shoes and my poor ballroom shoes have taken such a beating. I'm pinning and tucking my various skirts and blouses as I've lost weight dancing so much. There is no workout on the planet that feels like this. A trip to the gym has never left me buoyant and giddy and completely exhausted at the same time.

And even more important than the above - the new people, new friends - and new world, that I am a part of now. I go to every milonga I can because there are different people in attendance at different venues and I want to see them all every week. I want to visit, chat, laugh, watch, admire, drink a little wine, giggle, make faces, cry, tell jokes, hug, kiss, comfort and be comforted.

I get asked almost every week how I fell so far into tango in such a short period of time. How can I be this addicted, this obsessed? I don't know, though I can speculate. First, I'm a writer - and writers are always ready to jump in. But there's more. I fell because I was ready to fall. Never more ready in my life. I stood on the precipice and faced a choice - fall in or fall out. I couldn't walk the line and observe. Tango asked me, "are you in or are you out?"

I'm in. All the way in.

Dangerous territory

I've been meaning to write this post for a long time. The problem was that I had too many thoughts about it and couldn't sort through which ones to tackle first, and which ones to leave off completely.

It started with this story in the New York Times, about hugging in schools and the restriction thereof.

“Touching and physical contact is very dangerous territory,” said Noreen Hajinlian, the principal of George G. White School, a junior high school in Hillsdale, N.J., who banned hugging two years ago. “It was needless hugging — they are in the hallways before they go to class. It wasn’t a greeting. It was happening all day.”

Hugs happening all day? Needless hugging? I'd wait in line for some needless hugging (as soon as I could figure out what that was exactly.) We have metal detectors in our schools and this is what you're complaining about? Where do I start with what's wrong with that?

Can't we be allowed to connect with each other without someone regulating it, defining it, and probably taking every bit of joy (and ultimately any real connection) out of it? Yes, there are dangers in not setting boundaries, especially for our children - but some things go beyond common sense.

And then I thought about tango.
Because I always end up thinking about tango.
And connection.

Does tango attract because it allows us a context to (as freely as we can) connect with another person? For 3 or 4 songs I can embrace and be embraced by another human being, whose name I may, or may not, or may never, know. For those few minutes we have the opportunity to tell our stories to each other with our dance, comfort each other and allow ourselves to be comforted by another person's physical presence in the music. All of this (for some there is more, and for some there is less) in a context that rewards connection instead of discouraging it.

Outside of the milonga, we have to place boundaries between what is my pain and what is your pain; what is my joy and what is your joy. Reaching out to other human beings (certainly to ones you hardly know) is a sign of impulsiveness, weakness, neediness, even sickness. We're constantly conditioned to be self-reliant, self-sufficient, on guard, disconnected. That can't possibly be what it means to be human.

Back to tango . . .

Inside the milonga, we connect with our partners, the music, the floor, the other dancers while moving together in the line of dance. In the moment, our "sphere of influence" expands and becomes nebulous. We can reach out, ideally at our own pace and comfort, to all of those who would reach out to us.

When the music stops we can go back to our lives - hopefully with traces of blissful entanglement, attachment, connection, still lingering over our skin.

(There is a delicate dependency necessary for this environment to work. It has to be safe, physically of course - but also emotionally. The milonga codas/codes serve to put everyone on the same grounding, following the same rules.)

For Bebe

Here's to making a house out of a wagon,
to letting the chickens out of their pen,
to accidentally setting fire to a barrel,
to hiding in barns, fields, attics and basements,
to being black sheep.

Here's to you, Bebe,
I'm sorry we let go.

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

Friends tell friends how to prevent cervical cancer.  Learn how at www.PearlofWisdom.us

Enrique Fernandez, Liner Notes from Piazzolla's Zero Hour

Often reprinted and quoted, so forgive the lack of originality in this post. Before I ever danced tango, I listened to this. It was Piazzolla that started my high-heeled journey. So every once in awhile I put the music on again, and re-read these liner notes.

Strip to your underwear if you're not in black tie. Get obscene if you want, but never casual. You feel an urge? Touch its pain, wrap yourself around it. Don't put on airs. What you seem must be what you are, and what you are is a mess, honey, but that's okay, as long as you wear it inside. Look sharp! Don't slouch. See anyone slouching here? Stay poised, taut, on guard. Listen to your nerves. It's zero hour. Anxiety encroaches, wave after wave, with every squeeze of the bandoneon. Already twisted by the contraposto of uprightness and savagery, this new tango turns the screw even tighter with its jazz dissonances and truncated phrasings. No relief. No quarter. At zero hour only passion can save you. Time is flowing backward and forward into the vortex. From the rooms come a warm air and a choked melody of syncopated gasps. Something throbs. A vein under your skin. It's inside you now, this bordello virus, this pleasure that tastes so much of anger and grief. When you find pools of pure, sweet light, bathe in their waters, balm for your lacerations. For the whiplash scars the bandoneon is leaving on your soul. If this were the old milonga of the slums, or those popular songs about painted faces and purloined love, you could let distance sketch a smile on your lips. Cheap irony. You won't get away that easy. This music is for you. It always had you in mind, your habits, your twitches, the tiny blood vessels bursting inside you when you hide what you feel. So walk in the parlor, bring your friend or come alone. Come hear the master as he unravels the wind inside the box, as he presses the growling tiger that threatens to embrace him and shapes the beast into a purring kitten. And tiger again. And kitten. It's all a game. You're going to play it too, you're going to dance with the tiger. Don't worry, your life is in danger. Remember your instructions. Listen up. And suffer, motherfucker, this is the tango.

-- Enrique Fernandez, liner notes to Astor Piazzolla's Tango: Zero Hour

D&D's Anniversary Milonga at UT's Quadrangle Room

Good tango danced badly

It happens. A rough night. A beautiful milonga danced badly. Saturday, my legs felt like anvils. I know I must have felt so heavy and unresponsive to my leaders. After the 3rd or 4th time scraping my heel across the top of my other foot, I knew it was time to call a spade, a spade. I could hardly pick up my feet, let alone dance. Even the two leaders I love dancing with most had trouble leading me. One of them told me so, and even though I knew it was true, it stung terribly. It seemed I wasn't following anything correctly. There were so many people I'd hoped to dance with that night. Now I was dreading making eye contact with anyone.

My last dance was with B., a partner I didn't know well - we'd only danced once before. I told him I was still such a beginner and getting very worn out. He smiled slightly and said that's okay, we'll just walk. And we did. I was so soothed by gentle walking, the occasional small ochos and turns. I hadn't noticed the first time I'd danced with him what a beautiful tango walk he has - and I told him so. I'm sure I felt heavy and awkward to him too, but for one tanda I didn't feel like it.

After dancing with B., I thanked my friends and made my way to the door.