Grrl Power - the Good Stuff

Once again I'm inspired inspired by Stephanie over at J'ai mal aux pieds, and her article about The Myth of Women Competition ( I've heard similar rumors from other communities about women competing for dances, for prime tables and seating etc. etc. - an overall atmosphere that women must compete with one another for dances.

"Milongas are for dancing, not socializing."
"There's never enough men!"
"Men always want to dance with... dancers younger than me/older than me/beginners/advanced dancers . . ."

I can't tell you how grateful I am to have never encountered this attitude. I've never known so many beautifully talented, brilliant, gorgeous women as I have in tango. Women who have encouraged me to come out when I was feeling to blue, too tired, too sore - whatever. As much as I talk (well, write) about experiences dancing making my milonga - so many times, it's my experiences with my girl friends that have made my night. We learn from each other. Share secrets. Trade stories. Occasionally covet each other's shoes!

From the woman who's been dancing longer than any of us, to the one who started lessons last week, we gather during the milongas, scoot together at the tables, share wine and stories - occasionally practicing our cabeceo on each other. We laugh at the fact that we're so lucky that it's hard to finish a conversation since we're each getting up to dance so much. And we laugh when we get to catch up and actually finish a story. Maybe because it's still new for me to have so many friends outside of my work, that bonding with my girl friends is every bit as rewarding as the most blissful tanda. Every bit of it is "the good stuff" of the milonga.

Entrega soup

After reading Alex's response to my last post, I found my response getting too long to leave in the comments.

He wrote:, "There are many tango communities where the overwhelming majority of followers prefer (demand?) this style..."

Alex - your choice of words is appropriate - I do find myself just on the edge of "demanding" estilo milonguero - though I don't mean to. I want to adapt to my partners - to match their styles and preferences. However my preferences show through whether I mean them to or not. In open embrace, with a more nuevo-style dancer, I have experienced entrega one time. With milonguero and apilado dancers, I experience entrega frequently. So I find myself playing the odds. Who wouldn't? (And when a typically open embrace dancer pulls me close to him, whether to execute a step or maybe to experiment, I wonder if he can feel the "thank you for this" in my embrace?)

Regarding your wonderful posts about surrender (found here and here), I had one thing to add that I think plays a very important role in a woman's ability to surrender to the lead - the venue. I have had several opportunities where I have wanted to offer so much more to my partner, and to our dance, but I couldn't because we were dancing at Tazza Fresca. The venue itself is wonderful - warm and inviting, friendly. But the experience on the pista can be utter chaos which leaves me feeling too intimidated, too nervous, to let go. At Esquina on the other hand, the floor can be so packed that I can hear the quick inhale of the follower behind me, and still surrender to the embrace of my leader.

It's not about the sophistication of my partner's lead, or his repertoire of steps - though it is very much about his experience of the music - almost more than my experience of it. If he feels nothing for the music - I can't find my way to him through the music. Yet my experience of a piece of music has been transformed by my partner's love of it.

The possibility of entrega emerges from this mixture of things - my leader's connection to the music, the feeling of relative safety in the venue - and another thing that is hard for me to describe. He has to want it. There are men I've danced with who feel, to me anyway, that they would prefer not to feel responsible for the surrender of their follower. It feels like it would be unwelcome. It's too much. We come to tango for different reasons and some dancers want to enjoy the dance and the music a different way than I want to. That's life.

So many things fall into place to create that moment - and it passes too quickly. In our culture it's amazing we have this experience at all - let alone an avenue to recreate it. It humbles me to think about it.

Hold me like you mean it.

“The great living experience for every man is his adventure into the woman. The man embraces in the woman all that is not himself, and from that one resultant, from that embrace, comes every new action.” -- D. H. Lawrence

(Photo credit: New York Times article "Argentine Nights" by Denny Lee back on March 16, 2008.)

Over at J'ai mal aux pied, Stephanie has written a thought-provoking entry asking readers what it is that they most want to feel in an embrace. Johanna, at Tangrila, author of The Tao of Tango, sums up what does it for her with her post, "I'm so easy to please."

What feels best to you? How do you want to be embraced? Is it different with different partners? Different music?

The picture above, from shows the most obvious characteristics of my favorite embrace. I like to feel the man's right arm all the way around my back - and I like it pretty firm compared to some followers I've talked to. One woman who shares my love of that sensation describes it as, "hold me like you mean it." Good description. In a way it doesn't matter how you hold me in the mechanical sense - but hold me like you mean it. Hold me like it's personal. That's not to say that I don't want the leader's arm doesn't move, or lift, or slide as we move, as we change our positions to accommodate the dance itself. And I'm not fond of the boa constrictor embrace - I do like to be able to breathe. The embrace can feel slightly fluid, but it always comes back to that all encompassing feeling of safety and warmth.

How do you like to be embraced?

A tango story . . .

This experience I'm about to relate sounds like such a tango cliche. . .

A small group of dancers from out of town visited a local milonga. The oldest of the group, a man in perhaps his late 60's or early 70's invited me to dance after quite a smoldering cabeceo. I had never seen him before, but as I'd only been dancing a few months, I wasn't especially surprised by that fact. He didn't say a word as we walked to an empty space on the edge of the floor - only nodded and smiled very slightly. I was nervous and tried not to show it. He held out his left hand and as I took it, I wrapped my left arm around his shoulder. His embrace took me completely by surprise.

He embraced me as if he'd known me for ages - as if we had history. No hesitation, no fear. His arm reached around me, his fingertips applying soft pressure to the right side of my ribcage. He waited - the music had started, but he hadn't moved - he was just waiting. How can it feel like he's waiting and yet not hesitant? I can't explain. A question waited on his fingertips - are you going to let me give you this embrace? Was I going to fall into the abrazo - or maintain pressure against his arm?

I leaned in. Fell in. I took a deep breath against his chest. His hand flexed slightly against my side and we took off with the next phrase in the music. I don't know what he led or if I followed it all correctly. If mistakes were made he just worked with it and moved on. I felt him breathe in and out with the music. Between phrases occasionally he would take in a deep breath and his arm would lift slightly, settling back in as he exhaled and propelled me down the line of dance.

I don't think we said more than a few words to each other between songs or at the end of the tanda. And I don't remember what those words were. I forgot them instantly. At the end, he let go of me as one lets go of the past, of paths never taken. I let go of him the way I let go of a daydream - shaking off wisps of imagined futures. I don't know his name or where he was from. Asking seemed at once irrelevant and at the same time, too personal. I haven't seen him since.

We aren't precisely ourselves when we dance - or not only ourselves. We are all of the things we need each other to be in those few moments. At once strangers, whole new worlds, to each other and yet infinitely known, recognized. In the perfect embrace of our imperfect souls, we can feel all the possibilities in our past and our future.

So, I'll ask you the same question with my fingertips resting on your back - will you let me give you this embrace?

Tango Moments of WIN - "IMMT"

"It Made My Tanda/Milonga"

You may have seen the very funny website, "It Made My Day" ( - or "IMMD". People post something they overheard or saw that made them laugh (or sometimes just feel good). I have frequently caught myself thinking that one particular thing made the tanda wonderful, or even my whole evening at a milonga. Sometimes something funny happened and took the pressure off.

So how about you? Can you think of something that made your tanda? Or your whole milonga?

Here are a couple of mine . . .

I was dancing with one of my favorite partners when the beautiful song "Malena" came on. My partner hummed softly to the beginning, and then very quietly sang along - in Spanish. And then in English. IMMM

Just as I was about to leave a particularly rough milonga, a very sweet tanguero asked me to dance. I told him I was so tired and not dancing well, and he said "that's okay, we'll just walk." And we did. It was the most soothing, beautiful dance all night. IMMM


I had so many more to add, I had to wait until I got home to write them up!

After a challenging and exhilarating Biagi tanda, the music stopped and I was still breathless. Instead of letting go of me, my leader hugged me closer for just a moment before walking me to my table. IMMT

She was the first person to greet me at my first milonga (I was literally shaking I was so nervous) and when I said goodbye, she hugged me like she'd known me for years. IMMM

When this particular tanguero (with whom I took vals classes) looks for me during a vals tanda - It Makes My Tanda.

When I realized that the talented leader I'd just had a lovely dance with was the same tanguero I had been corresponding with online (neither of us had any idea who the other was) - It Made My Tango Festival.

Generally speaking, when I can feel my leader being moved, physically and emotionally, by the music - IMMT - often, it IMMM.

Okay, I have to stop now or I'll be at this all night. So many moments like these...

Thinking too hard

"So, pick and choose. Improvise. Hide away. Run after them. Stay still. Move at an astonishing speed. Shut up. Scream a rumor. Turn around. Go back without returning. Upside down. Let your feet do the thinking. Be comfortable in your restlessness. Tango." Tango and the Political Economy of Passion by Marta E. Savigliano

Something is up, but I don't know what. I'm restless. I'm writing, but nothing is good enough lately. Nothing comes out the way I want it to. With my friends, I'm either reaching out or pulling away, but never still. I'm dancing more because I'm having such a hard time writing. I want to dance until the buzzing in my head goes quiet. All my thoughts feel like white noise with no content - like the scrolling headlines on the news channels. It's all important, so none of it is. There's just too much.

No more excuses . . .

At least there's one more tiny victory. I no longer start every tanda with a new leader with the words, "I've only been dancing a few months . . . " I realized it ultimately doesn't matter. At first I just told myself I'd see how the first song went. If i completely embarrass myself, then I'll say I've only been dancing a few months. As soon as I stopped beginning with that statement, I started dancing better. I thought I was lowering their expectations by warning them that I was still fairly new. But I wasn't. I was lowering my own expectations. And I was, in turn, dancing to those expectations before dancing with my partner. When I stopped saying those words before the tanda started - I didn't need to say them later.

Saturday night wallflower

I was a little gloomy Saturday night at Esquina. So many people I didn't know at the milonga. At one point almost half the room was filled with people I didn't know. It's been awhile since that's happened. It was like starting over. I was nervous. This was my favorite venue - my most comfortable milonga, and I was turning into a wallflower. I tried to cabeceo a leader I've really been enjoying dancing with lately, but he was across the pista. In the low light I couldn't tell if I was cabeceo-ing him, or the bar stool next to him. (My vision really is that bad in low light - even with contacts.) Embarrassing really. Eventually he came over to me, thank goodness, and we had some lovely dances.

Angry tango

I also had a good tanda with a gentleman I always seem to be annoyed with lately. Maybe he's baiting me. You know what, I'm sure he's baiting me. He says I dance better when I'm angry because I stop thinking about dancing. There might be something to that, but it's still annoying. At practica he told me I should learn to do something some particular way (I'm sorry I should remember what that was he told me to do but I was so annoyed that I forgot it.)

Anyway, he said, when you learn to lead, you'll need to be aware of . . . ( whatever that was that I've already forgotten.)

I answered, why would I want to lead? I can barely follow - I don't want to learn to lead.

You should, he answered, all of the good ones do.

The good ones what?? Ms. Milonguera doesn't lead,
I shot back triumphantly. (Ms. Milonguera is one of the dancers I most admire not only for her dancing skill and grace, but also for her very generous spirit within our community. So I did not invoke her name lightly into this argument.)

Well, she should!!
as if that was that. Finito.

Ass. I'm so going to blog this!
Ha. I got the last word. I turned on my heel and strode to the bench.

Damn. He was so baiting me again. I could hear him laughing behind me.

Great. DH has weighed in on this argument after the fact. He thinks I should learn to lead too. It might make me a better follower, says he. I think he, along with my grandmother, have grand ideas of me becoming a tango teacher (so that I can afford my bi-annual trips to Buenos Aires that I day dream about incessantly).

Fancy Feet

The first time I watched the video of myself dancing, I thought my feet looked so terrible. Instead of being turned out a bit, walking on the inside edge, my feet were turned inward. I looked pigeon-toed and awkward. I was following what was led, not making mistakes, and I felt well connected to my partner. But I just couldn't take my eyes off my feet. So, I told myself I'd continue working on it, but ultimately what mattered most was my connection to my partner and my ability to follow what's led. After all, my leader can't see my feet. Right?

Still, I watched other dancers. I asked teachers and followers about balance and foot placement. I put into practice what Silvina Valz taught about ochos (and the various steps that can be led from that position) which was to keep the knee of the non-weighted leg slightly behind (instead of in front of) the weighted leg's knee. That makes the appearance of the swivel or pivot sharper and allows for faster and easier change of direction. (I may not be explaining this well, so if someone has a better explanation of how she teaches that, please feel free to comment on it. It was a very visual thing.) Silvina also taught a sort of helpful visualization about pivots as "drilling into the ground" as if the goal is to actually execute the pivot below the surface of the floor. The visualization is extremely helpful for creating a stable pivot and eliminating wobble.

During a workshop given by Stephen Shortnacy and Mardi Brown, I learned how to do pretty moves like leg wraps, very, very small (with the heel pointed down) so that my feet and legs could be pretty without pegging all the dancers in a three foot radius. Yet more tools for my tango toolbox. A similar demonstration to what was taught in that class can be seen here (notice how Jennifer Bratt consistently keeps her heel pointed to the floor, particularly the leg wrap at 0:30 and again at 1:09 when she steps over Ney's foot.) Jennifer also keeps her boleos very small and controlled.

Ney Melo and Jennifer Bratt

When I had my lesson with Daniela Arcuri she repeated over and over, step with the inside edge! Don't walk on the outside of the foot. (In fact, my dance shoes were already worn on the outside edges of the heels - making it that much harder to stay on the inside edge.) Here is a (very elaborate) demonstration of what Daniela was talking about. Instead of focusing on the embellishments themselves, watch the angle of her ankles and feet.

Daniela Arcuri

I continued practicing ochos with my ever-loyal double oven who makes up for lack of strong leading skills by being constantly available. One of the exercises I was practicing was this (again keeping the non-weighted knee a little behind the weighted one and staying on the inside edge of my foot):

Gavito and Maria - ocho/lapiz exercises

Skip ahead a few months, dancing at the milonga at Texas French Bread. I happen to open my eyes and peer over the shoulder of my partner to see restaurant diners watching the dance floor intently - a few even taking pictures. They're not taking pictures of all of us as a whole - they're taking pictures of our feet! I'm not even wearing fancy tango shoes and two women snapped pictures of my partner's and my feet. Well, I thought, they're not dancers. These are probably the same people who watch So You Think You Can Dance and think that's Argentine tango. Of course they watch the feet. For them, that's where the action is.

Now to last night's practica which had a great turn out. Again, as my partner and I were dancing past the line of seated dancers, I looked over my partner's shoulder to see the majority of them watching everyone's feet. Now these are dancers. These are, for example, leaders that I'm hoping will ask me to dance later.

Oh. Now I get it. That's why it matters what your feet look like. Generally, your leader won't know if your feet are pretty or well-positioned unless it affects your ability to follow what's led. It can, however, influence how skilled you appear on the pista - and that can affect who asks you to dance. Connection maybe king - but if you never get the chance to connect, the point is moot. The feet matter.

As I was pondering the implications of that, I started dancing with my next partner. He smiled at me and said, "I was watching in the mirror and your ochos are beautiful - very well-styled. Don't lose that."

Pardon? My ochos? Was I finally starting to get it?

I could hardly wait to tell my oven!

Important Note: Johanna just reminded of something very important that I didn't emphasize nearly enough. It's not fancy embellishments and adornments that result in more advanced leaders asking us to dance. One of the very best dancers I know does very few adornments and yet there's practically a waiting list to dance with her at milongas. Her connection, her embrace and her graceful musicality make her one of the most desirable followers in our community. So it's not so much that I needed to learn something fancy to make my feet more attractive - but I needed tools to make my execution of steps less unattractive. By not paying attention to what my feet were doing, I was looking awkward, off balance and wobbly. Keeping my heel pointed down and walking on the inside edge of my foot are simple things (though definitely not easy things) for me to work on that make me feel, and look, for stable and less awkward on the floor.

My Body's Conspiracy

Some days I feel like my body is conspiring against me.

First it was the heat . . .

Friday night in the midst of the most wonderful dances, I felt suddenly too warm. Then hot. Then very, very hot. Not the kind of hot from a warm room filled with lots of people dancing - I mean radiating hot. This after making a concerted effort to relax all of the muscles that I could - to release tension. After reading Movement invites Movement's post. I decided to try a little conservation of energy as it were. And it was working. Releasing all of that tension that was keeping my muscle taut was making me feel cooler. Of course it helped that I was dancing primarily with favorite partners to favorite music -relaxed and comfortable.

And suddenly I wasn't.

At first I thought it's much too early for it to be that and then I checked my watch. Almost midnight. Never mind. It was right on time.

(Warning: Like it wasn't bad enough that I wrote about bras and body odor - now I'm going to write about menopause. Or technically perimenopause in my case.)

Hot flashes. Fabulous. I was already flushed, but I think I deepened a shade at the thought. It's silly to be embarrassed - and mostly I'm not. Just at these inconvenient times. I excused myself and stood by a cracked open door that was letting in the night's cold air. While it felt so good, I could still hear my mother's voice saying, 'you'll catch pneumonia doing that!' I decided to take that chance. No clothes to change into I just waited it out. The heat wave didn't really stop for about an hour - but going to stand by the door helped.

The lovely bottle of wine brought by another dancer may not have helped the heat, but it certainly made me feel a little better about it.

Then it was the pain . . .

I'm hoping it's just the cold weather causing ever increasing bouts of pain. I don't want to think it's a new baseline level for me. I refuse to believe it. At least it waited until the next morning to really hit me and didn't start during the milonga as it's done before. I decided to risk it and go to Saturday's milonga anyway. Often the pain gets better with dancing - or maybe I just don't feel it as much. It doesn't matter - the end result is feeling better. I didn't dance well. I kept having to change stance (in some cases shifting weight without my partner and then quickly trying to shift back - which never works) to favor parts that were hurting. My balance was suffering. The later it got the more I felt it. And the pain was getting worse, not better. Then the heat rolled in again. I wasn't even dancing when it hit.

I didn't make it to the end. I said my goodbyes and called it a night.

By the time I got home, the heat had subsided and I was freezing cold - so cold that I couldn't bear the thought of icing down my muscles and feet. I crawled into bed and dreamed of dancing. Tonight I'm missing practica so that hopefully I can dance again by Tuesday.


To all the men I've dissed before

The emails keep coming, along with comments, and so far, one phone call. My ranty post, "Insert Rude Gesture" has generated rather a lot more feedback than I anticipated it would. I have also heard from a few of the tangueros who made the comments that inspired the post. The responses have ranged from. "I didn't mean it like that" - to "I never said that" (actually I still have your email right here, boy-o.) It doesn't really matter who said what, when. Those exact comments are all over dance forums and mailing lists.

The email that gave me the most pause was the one that said, "you promised no trash-talking on your blog." That's true. And my last post rode that line. I still reserve the right to rant and rave occasionally because it's still my blog and my soapbox. I didn't think I was getting personal but it was taken that way. I am sorry for that. However, I am not sorry for my opinions. My post may have seemed harsh - and it was certainly more caustic than my usual entries - but that doesn't change the meaning of what I wrote. However, it's almost impossible to learn when you're being defensive. And I was being very defensive.

So here is all I was trying to say: don't judge.

I don't judge another dancer's skill, commitment level, sensitivity, artistry, musicality, ability to hold their axis - based on what style of tango they prefer. I don't associate their preferences with some sort of character flaw. And just as I'm tired of hearing that estilo milonguero dancers are boring or can't maintain their own axis, nuevo dancers are tired of hearing that they're only it for the show/can't manage the space on the floor. Those are generalizations and ultimately do a disservice to our community. We're human and it's our nature to sort - in this case to divide people into "dances like we do" and "doesn't dance like we do".

Tango is personal - in your face, body-to-body, heart-to-heart personal. It's hard not to get defensive when someone else's taste in the dance/style/embrace seems so alien to us and vice versa. But if we're all respectful of each other, the floor and the music - there's room for all of us on the pista.

Insert Rude Gesture


I don't mind dancing open embrace. I don't even mind being led nuevo moves if there's room on the floor (despite my boleo-bashing rants I occasionally post.) There are a few leaders I dance with on a regular basis that dance only open embrace and I enjoy dancing with them.

What I do mind is being told that I enjoy close embrace/estilo milonguero/apilado because:

1.) it's easier than open embrace/nuevo,
2.) I don't have to be on the music (wtf?)
3.) I don't have to support my own weight,
4.) or maintain my balance/axis,
5.) because I'm (with the rest of apilado dancers in particular) lazy. (double wtf??)

I also don't agree that I should like open embrace/nuevo because it "exposes all your mistakes and makes you a better dancer."


PS - I did try to come up with a classier title than "Insert Rude Gesture" but since the first working title was "Bite Me", I figured that was improvement enough.