He's just not that into you.

I'm turning my blog into a Dear Tango-Abby for just a moment. This kind of question has turned up on other blogs and forums, so I thought I'd address it more thoroughly here. The usual caveat applies - what follows is my opinion from my observations, and may or may not be relevant in other tango communities. YMMV.

From my email . . .

"There's a leader that I really like, but he's never asked me to dance. Is it okay to ask him why?"

Short answer: No.

Much longer answer: There might be an opportunity to approach him in a constructive way during practica or a class that you both attend, to simply ask if you might practice sometime on whatever it is you or he is working in class/practica. And then leave it to him. You said in another part of the email that you've tried the casual small talk at the snack table and cabeceo'ing him - so beyond that, depending on the preferences in your community, I would leave it at that.

If, however, it's quite common for ladies to ask gentlemen to dance (and it's a successful practice) then you can give it a try. But don't simply ask him why he hasn't asked you - stay in the present. And if he does turn you down when you ask, then politely say, "all right then, maybe another time" smile and walk away. Don't ask him why, just smile politely and move on. You can, if you know some of the followers he does ask to dance, talk to them casually about how he likes to dance and that sort of thing. That kind of conversation can give you some insight. But just think if the situation were reversed how you might feel if someone approached you that way. Depending on who it was and the situation - it could be very uncomfortable for both of you. The codigos serve to avoid hurt feelings and embarrassment of just this kind.

It's hard not knowing why someone seems to avoid dancing with you. There are leaders in my community that have never asked me to dance, or almost worse, have danced with me once months ago and never asked again. I've cabeceo'd and made small talk, but no dice. Granted, for several months when I started I stumbled and apologized through every tanda. So my first thought is they think I'm a bad dancer. Or I said something wrong - I've done that often enough. Or they don't like something I do, or the way I dress, or... whatever. A girl can make herself crazy wondering about it. The truth is it may have nothing to do with something we've done or how we're dancing. It's hard but try not to spend so much time wondering what's wrong - and focus on the leaders that do want to dance with you. We're there for them - for the leaders who are asking.

My lesson learned...

One night an out-of-town dancer I admire, who comes to Austin very rarely, turned up at the milonga I was attending. We had danced once or twice - but of course I was very green at the time. Clumsy, apologetic, nervous. Twice I tried the cabeceo and twice he looked at me, and then turned away. 'Nuff said. Or rather, not said. It stung. A lot.

While I was nursing my hurt pride, I failed to notice that there were gentlemen present who did want to dance with me and I wasn't meeting their eyes. I was too busy second guessing myself. I lost almost an hour of the milonga licking my wounds. And while I was sitting there not dancing, leaders I love to dance with were wondering why I wasn't meeting their cabeceo.

Stay in the moment. Give your attention, effort and energy to the leaders who do want to dance with you. That's what we're there for.

That's my two cents...

The Essential Role of Tango Instructors

(As usual, what follows is only my opinion and should in no way be construed as expert advice on anything.)

There's been some teacher bashing happening on a few of the tango forums lately. Not particular teachers (thankfully) but of the practice of teaching tango to begin with.

- http://tangoconnections.ning.com/forum/topics/abrazo-apilado?x=1&id=2259628%3ATopic%3A38885&page=5#comments ;
- http://www.dance-forums.com/showpost.php?p=756595&postcount=15 ;
- http://pythia.uoregon.edu/~llynch/Tango-L/2006/msg12104.html

From Chris_UK, on Tangoconnections ( http://tangoconnections.ning.com/ ): " . . . From this POV classes are a massive success. No matter that the 1-yr drop-out rate amongst their students is around 90%. Amongst instructors it's nearer 10%, because giving classes very much works for them. Further, a large proportion of students that do graduate do so not to the milonga but back to the classroom, as the next layer of instructors in the pyramid scheme we see today. Classes are primarily a means of rewarding and creating instructors, not dancers."

While it would be lovely if most people's first experience with Argentine tango would occur at a milonga - it seems rare in many (most?) communities - certainly in the US. How would I have ever stumbled across a milonga a year ago? Mostly they take place in dance studios - though we do have one in a local coffee shop that's well established. I would never have guessed it was there. We now have two restaurant milongas so exposure is increasing slowly. For many communities though, milongas are not held in such publicly accessible venues.

Most people's first exposure to tango is in a class. Would critics rather people have no exposure to tango than starting in classes? The teachers I have met teach tango because they love tango. They're certainly not getting rich from it. There are far easier and more lucrative business models than teaching dance.

Teachers, in the process of promoting their business, also promote tango culture and expose more people to it then you can count on just stumbling into a milonga. Many teachers go much further and have outreach programs that benefit their local communities: (http://www.esquinatangoaustin.com/index.php/KnowUs). These teachers are frequently cultural advocates, who bring the world of Argentine tango to their local area - but then also represent their communities at festivals and events all over the country. Two teachers in my area not only encourage their students to attend milongas and become competent dancers in that environment, but also arrange yearly trips to Buenos Aires for the students who are interested, to dance and learn in the heart of tango culture.

And yet . . .
a reality check.

Having said that, there are definitely limits to the value of some classes. I still get a lot out of most classes I take, even if it's just more practice and spending time with friends. But there has definitely been a transition in the way I learn and improve my dancing. The bulk of that learning and improving takes place at practicas, privates when I can afford them, and in more intensive workshops - rather than the weekly classes I used to attend so regularly.

The reality for me, and a lot of followers in my community, is that many to most of the men in the regular classes don't go to milongas and only a few go to practicas. Conversely, almost all of the men at practica go to milongas. So if I want to spend time learning how to dance well with the men who attend milongas - practicas are a much more efficient way to accomplish that. I've also found that a lot of what is taught in those regular monthly classes is more and more focused on improving the repertoire of the leaders. That's great for the leaders - less great for me.

To some extent, I think that's the nature of the beast. The longer we dance, the more different followers' and leaders' instructional needs are. They still overlap in some areas, particularly in musicality-based workshops, balance and strength, and floor craft classes if one's community is lucky enough to have those. However, when money's tight and I have to choose where to allocate those limited tango funds, it's the weekly classes I drop first.

I am still learning from teachers, because I believe there is so much value in what they have to teach - but the setting is different. And, their role isn't any less valuable because I happen to also learn a great deal at practicas. That learning wouldn't be possible without the classes that served as the foundation of my tango education.

So, from my perspective, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Teachers provide much more than some of the critics would give them credit for - certainly as advocates for their communities. Yet, I don't think it's possible to get a complete tango education in classes - no matter how many you take. Tango is social and it is in the social setting that our knowledge is really tested - and greatly expanded.

So that's what it feels like . . .

At practica Sunday . . .
I finally fully extended into my steps, relaxed my hips and kept my rib cage tall - all at the same time. Okay it lasted about a minute - but I got it. I got what it feels like. The difference is . . . well, I wish I could describe it. I just know that I get the "why" of it now. None of the explanations of how it felt or why it was important fully conveyed to me the difference it would make. The description of "how" from Mardi and Stephen (of Georgetown Tango) got me the closest to understanding it. Like standing at the kitchen sink, reaching up to change a light bulb above the basin. It feels like that. Except different with a person in front of you.

Without my glasses, I could only make out my profile in the mirror, but that was enough. Ooooh, that's what it looks like . . . What felt to me like a deep lean, looked far more natural and fluid in the mirror. It didn't look a thing like me. Well, the me in my head, anyway.

I wish I could maintain it for longer periods of time. Practice, practice, practice . . .
It's also incredibly frustrating to work on it one piece at a time. Fully extending into my steps is next to impossible without relaxing my hips. And it's hard to relax my hips if I'm feeling unstable in my stride or tilted too far forward or back through my torso. I'm constantly making tiny (and not so tiny) adjustments on the fly. I'll get my torso feeling tall, but then my legs and hips would be tense while I concentrated on that. Constantly tweaking. And remembering to breathe. And relax. And be on the music...
And just when I finally got all the plates spinning on sticks - the music stopped. Time to change partners and start the process all over again.
Regrettably for my cute tango shoes - it's far easier for me to do in lower heels - or as the case last night, no heels. It's no easier on my feet, since I'm still coming up on the balls of my feet. But it is much easier for my stability and for relaxing into my strides.

Now I just hope I can find that alignment again . . . with a leader and not just my sink . . .

The Orchestra Matters

Full disclosure: I can't name the orchestra when a tango comes on. I can, however, hear the differences between versions of a song - particularly one that I like a great deal. If I had a better music vocabulary, I think I might have an easier time remembering the names because I could attribute certain characteristics between version and orchestras. As it is, I have my own little internal dialogue that goes something like, "oh this is the version that's slower in the beginning then speeds up." Or, "this is the one that stays slow and melodic, but ends really abruptly."

While I was trying to explain the importance of listening to several versions of songs to get an idea of the range of the music, I thought of an example that seemed to almost make my point for me. So to the tanguero who asked, this is why I think the orchestra is important. . .

Here is Eric Clapton (Cream) song Layla (1983) with Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page:

And, here is Clapton and Mark Knopfler doing the same song but much more slowly - a very different energy and feel to it. To really express the music, you'd have to dance them differently.

They're both great pieces of music but evoke, for me anyway, very different feelings when listening to it.

Now take El Choclo, one of the most recognizable pieces of tango music. First check out todotango's page for the background of the song: http://www.todotango.com/english/las_obras/Letra.aspx?idletra=24

Now, here is Tango el Choclo, Orquesta de Francisco Canaro:

And here is Piazzolla's El Choclo:

And if you're really interested: Nat King Cole's Kiss of Fire for comparison:

Solidarity isn't enough . . .

In response to an email I received about being too sanguine at the milonga, and not doing enough to ensure others (followers) got to dance . . .

I did say we should look out for one another and encourage each other, you're right. We should. But that will only go so far - the rest is up to each individual dancer.

To get dances at the milonga, you have to look like you want to dance.

1. Sit as close to the dance floor as you are able. Remember Jantango's Front Row Advantage. "But my friends are sitting in the back." Then you might have to make a choice - chat or dance. This isn't Buenos Aires so you don't have to sit in one spot all night long - you can move around, chat a bit, then take a seat in the row of chairs along the floor for awhile.

2. Appear ready to dance. Your posture counts, even when you're sitting and not dancing. Feel tall, even in your chair. (I'm guilty of constantly slouching, so this is my own personal pet-peeve.) Uncross your arms.

3. Look around and look interested. Watch the dancers. Scan the room. Make eye contact.

4. Smile. ("I don't want to look too eager." Yes, you do. "Eager" is exactly the look to go for.) Looking like you just bit into a lemon or watched a screening of Schindler's List doesn't exactly encourage tangueros to approach you.

Tangocherie has two great posts here and here about how to get more dances at the milonga. Follow her advice.

Did I mention smile? Smile. A lot.

Marianne Williamson: "... as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

Tango solidarity when it counts . . .

Some fellow tanguera-bloggers and I have been having a wonderful online "conversation" via blogs, Twitter, Facebook and email - about the importance of sisterhood and solidarity. You can find Stephanie's post, here and her follow up here, and then Tangocorazon's here.

I was so bouyed by the idea of women bonding, helping and supporting each other that I took some things for granted. I took for granted that it would always be easy, enlightened as I am /*cough*/ to be the sort of consistently nurturing and helpful tanguera that I am (in my head). The truth? Where the rubber met the road (or rather when the discomfort hit the milonga), I wasn't.

Here's a little background that gave me a better perspective on the events at the New Year's Eve milonga. These guidelines appear under the heading "Behavior at the Milonga" on Vancouver Island Tango:

" . . . The smaller the tango population, the more 'effort' required from each one of the members of that community. Generally, in Practicas and Milongas, there are more ladies than men. Suppose there are 20 ladies and 10 men. Each man 'should' dance with at least 2 ladies during the evening. If there were 5 men then each of them should dance with at least 4 ladies. It doesn't have to be so mathematical ... the numbers are just to be more clear. Most of the time men actually go beyond this proportion. At that point, all of the ladies who have already danced with these men who did their share (or more) need to be grateful whether he danced well or not ... at least from the social point of view. The rest of the ladies, whether they danced or not with these good intentioned men should be grateful with them as well! This hardly ever happens. . . .

As you see, each of these situations is about solidarity, having concern for the group, being aware of supporting the whole. Another external example would be: If a man arrives with a bottle of wine this should be shared since it is a social situation. Similarly, a single lady occasionally should also arrive with a bottle of wine. In that way, also, she should arrive at a Milonga with a man. In other words, all those women who regularly enjoy the partner of other ladies should make more effort (at least once in awhile) to bring a new man, whether he is a good dancer or not, but at least a man. So, when that lady is dancing, the man she brought can be entertaining and socializing with another lady. Ladies who never invite men to go along with them to a Milonga are only thinking about themselves and not the whole situation. Women need to bring men, at least occasionally.

Moral: In each one of the descriptions above there is a common denominator ... tolerance and solidarity. Unfortunately, these two social virtues are not the first seeds to appear, not the most popular ways of being in these post modern times. "

That's the context. Now let me set the stage for our NYE milonga.

- more women then men as usual. No big deal, happens all the time.
- more fairly new dancers than at the regular milongas.
- perhaps most frustrating for tango dancers - as the night wore on there were fewer and fewer tango dancers compared to salsa and other types of dancers. What had been labeled as a milonga eventually turned into a tanda and cortina-free dance party.

Not enough (tango dancing) men + not enough tango music = tango dancers on edge.

I had invited a visiting tanguero from out of state to come to this milonga thinking at this more traditional venue he and his date would get to enjoy a more traditional milonga. This is the second time he's attended a milonga I've recommended and been treated to a large proportion of non-tango music. I felt like I'd misled him again. I was getting bumped, kicked and shoved on the pista by dancers who weren't dancing tango and the unlucky tango dancers trying to dodge these others in the line of dance. There was far more drinking than is usually done at regular milongas of course, because it was New Year's Eve. All of the factors together left me sitting in my chair looking desperately for cabeceos by the gentlemen I felt most comfortable with. In fact, with the increasing chaos on the floor, most tango dancers sought only other dancers they knew to dance with.

I was so intent on scouring the floor for a familiar cabeceo that I didn't notice the beautiful beginner follower behind me (who I had reassured into coming) having to warm the bench for so much of the milonga. I was too busy trying to enjoy what Janis Kenyon calls the Front Row Advantage. When she tapped my shoulder, it finally dawned on me that I had been completely wrapped up in my own discomfort and hadn't paid attention to her's.

I looked around the pista - none of the newer tango dancers were dancing. The leaders looked a bit shell-shocked by the floor. The newer followers, including my friend behind me, were sitting on the sidelines as the their peer leaders sat out, and more experienced dancers looked for other dancers they knew. So, bringing the girl-to-girl network to bear, I went to a woman who's husband I knew was a gentle, thoughtful and very talented dancer, and asked if she would mind steering her partner in my friend's direction. Moments later, the gentleman in question asked my friend to dance. But that was one tanda - I didn't even know how long she had been sitting. So much for putting my money where my mouth (or pen) was.

Soon after that, a few more tango dancers left and even I was feeling urge to give up. But I so much wanted to dance that I kept my eyes on the floor when I should have sat back and had a glass of wine and a chatted with my friend. I was sending the very message I'd just told my readers they would never get from me. By keeping my eyes on the dance floor and not sitting back with her, I was sending the message I never wanted to send to anyone, "You're on your own, chica."

When things got tough, I forgot my own rules. So now I'm here, writing this, to say next time, and every time, "chica, I got your back."

What to expect from your 11 mo. old (tango) baby

I needed some cheering up . . .

"At the age of 11 months standing and cruising around the room by holding onto furniture keeps your little one very busy.

(Crusing around the room yes, but I draw the line at holding on to furniture.)

Baby may even take a few steps on her own. Some babies like standing so much they refuse to sit down! This will wear off eventually.

(About the time feet start hurting . . .)

Some of the major milestones for the 11-month-old include the following:

- Standing by herself for a moment or two, and maybe walking if her hand is held.

(Yes, please hold my hand, I still get lost trying to find my table. You should walk me there anyway since that's probably where you put down your eye glasses.)

- Waving and turning around without falling.

(We'll see about that.)

- Using one word to mean a whole thought, and using the word "no," even when meaning yes.

("No, really, I'm done dancing. See my shoes are off and everything! Okay, just one more.")

- Copying everything she sees, wanting approval, and testing you to see what she can get away with.

(I'm over that, I promise. Well. mostly. Half the time.)

Source minus my commentary: http://solutions.psu.edu/Parenting_612.htm

Tete Rusconi - dancing on the clouds

So now I add my own post to the dozens popping up all over the tango blogosphere - milonguero Pedro "Tete" Rusconi, has died. Of particular note are Alex's at Alex.tango.fuego and Deby's at TangoSpam: La Vida Con Deby.

I read the "news" first on Facebook - a post from a couple different tango dancers. I was shocked since I had only just read of him dancing at a milonga a few nights ago. I searched other social networks, Google, a few news sites - nothing. How, I asked myself, could such a man die and there be no news online about it? Maybe it's just a rumour. I asked around - no one had a link to news site. Maybe it's a terrible hoax.

Still - no news even of the rumour. Nothing. And then I really thought about it. Outside of tango, who knows this man's name? I had seen video footage of him dancing before I started dancing tango - but I wouldn't have known his name. In a short 11 months, I had gone from barely recognizing different teachers to becoming a Tete-rabid-girl-fan. How does that happen?

Still more status updates on Facebook about Tete. Now coming from friends in Argentina. Now I know it's true. Everyone begins posting their favorite videos of him. I posted mine and tried to watch it. I made it about 1 minute before I had to stop it and close the screen.

Why was I so upset? Red-eyed and sniffly over a man I'd never met, never corresponded with. Selfish really ...

I had been hoping to get to Buenos Aires and at least watch this milonguero dance in person. If the stars and timing and finances aligned - maybe to be able to learn from him in person. Now he's gone. All that's left is watching videos and talking to people about him, about his style - about how he felt/lived/loved/breathed tango.

More than that, he represented a style of dancing tango that I don't see so much here. (I can only speak really to the style that he "appeared" to dance, since I have no firsthand experience to go on.) That chest-to-chest, cheek-to-cheek style of tango that I find so exhilerating. Ricardo Vidort, Carlos Gavito, now Tete Rusconi. I'm not just sad for the loss of these men, but for what they represent in the collective experience of tango.

There is a woman I know, our own milonguera, who says there are younger ones learning, dancing, and thankfully, teaching, tango in that style. I can only hope she's right. Purely selfish again. I want the future of tango to look at least a little bit like these dancers.

Why we argue about the codigos

This is far more information and analysis than anyone wants, but it's been on my mind a long time. So maybe it's time...

This post is in response to a forum discussion going on at Tango Connections about the criticism at the milonga, and tango codigos.

If you go to the Tango-L listserv (mailing list/forum) archives, you'll find that from the very near the beginning (of the archive list anyway) tango dancers have been arguing about the codigos, about milonga manners and floor craft etc. The archive only goes back to 1994, but the first specific post I found was November 1995 - http://pythia.uoregon.edu/~llynch/Tango-L/1995/msg00050.html. That's just one place - there are sites archived elsewhere with the same debates and they go back years.

The Social Human

So why do we constantly, heatedly, unrelentingly argue about the milonga codes? Because we are engaging in a shared, emotional experience. Defining terms and setting rules makes it feel safe to do that. Why else would we talk about sharing tango bliss, finding flow on the pista, and the sense of belonging within a community?

I'm not advocating relinquishing responsibility of one's reactions to another's emotions - only that we understand that the influence of others' emotions on us is pervasive and necessary for human beings and societies to be healthy. If spending time with a particular person leaves me feeling frustrated or unnerved or annoyed, I have to decide how to respond to that. I don't chalk it up to, "it's his fault, he makes me feel bad." But I also don't try to tell myself that it's all up to me not to feel that emotion anymore.

Our culture (in North America) advocates precisely the opposite position. So much of what we see, hear, and read reinforces that we are enclosed, independent individuals. The individual's needs often trump the community's needs for that reason. The problem is that human beings are social. To be healthy, happy people, we need each other. The influence of others gives us a reality check to our own responses.

Back to Tango 

For example, when I have a really tough dance with someone, and other followers adore him - I now have more information than, "he makes me feel bad, he must be a bad dancer." Maybe it's my embrace. Maybe it's that our bodies just don't fit each other well. It gives me a bigger picture - which is one reason not to make comments of that sort at a milonga.

Criticism at milongas is an emotionally-charged issue because when someone criticizes us, it can feel like a threat, even if it's a small threat, to the social bond we've formed with our tango community. If I'm a bad dancer, do I have to leave? Will people stop dancing with me? Of course the "offending dancer" then gets defensive and tries to justify their place within the group. There's a huge difference between setting an expectation or standard of behavior and making a personal criticism - especially in a public way.

So many people come to the milonga to share in a sense of connection and belonging - with each other, with the music, with the community. We must agree on at least a basic standard of behavior to achieve that. When someone disregards an expectation or standard of behavior, we feel a need to address it and re-establish our shared experience. We try to get everyone back "on the same page."

Because this guy can say it better than I can:

“Sharing an emotion with others may also alter the experience itself (1). For example, in the chapter, Clark and Finkel argue that the expression of emotions can either repel people from one another or promote a strong bond, all depending the nature of the initial relationship. In addition, several contributors to this volume emphasize the ways in which sharing an emotion within a collective provides the feelings with a certain social reality. Indeed shared emotion with the group may indicate a shared understanding of the world.

The Social Life of Emotions – Edited by Larissa Z Tiedens (Stanford) and Colin Wayne Leach (University of Calfironia, Santa Cruz. (Cambridge Press) ( 1.) Manstead & Fisher, 2001; Parkinson, 1995.)

In short (I guess it's too late for short), human beings are social and interdependent - and so are our emotions. So, to Trini's example on Tango Connections - if "John's making me mad" - the problem is with the interaction between us and not an isolated piece within only one of us.

Ghosts in my Machine

Tonight I needed to dance too much. My days at work leave me pining for connection and music and warmth. Going to the evening milonga on Tuesdays is like finally getting to come up for air. The problem is that I've been holding my breath all day. Or the equivalent of that. I hear the music, hug my friends, change into my shoes and feel such a huge sense of relief. But the problem remains - I've been a coiled spring all day. My muscles ache, my head hurts. My knees feel weak. These things don't make for great following ability.

Tonight it felt like a bit more than that, though. I felt haunted. There's something on my mind, I just haven't sorted it out yet. Annie Lennox sang it just right. I'm haunted by the ghosts in my machine. I feel melancholy and restless - can you feel both of those at the same time? I thought somehow those would be mutually exclusive.I guess not.

(I don't know if any of you dear readers will know what I mean by this but the feeling is so similar I can't help using the analogy. Gentleman, feel free to stop reading here. It's a bit like have restless leg syndrome. Completely exhausted but unable to keep my legs still. With RLS, it's not that my legs are shaking - that would be easier. It's like there are impulses being fired off into the muscles screaming, "move! move! move!" but I'm so g-damned tired from pacing and pacing and pacing. It can be agonizing trying to wait it out. Usually I just keep moving until I can't - until there was nothing left in me for the RLS to move.)

Dancing with my partners tonight, I struggled to stay with them - to stay in the moment, and in the music. Distracted by onlookers, the cold (and then the heat). Distracted by ghosts. Months ago another dancer across an ocean told me, 'if you get lost, find his heart with yours.' Torso to torso, feel for his heart. Listen to his breathing. Get back where you're supposed to be. For a few moments at a time I could do it - get focused, push everything else to the side. And then it would slip away again and I'd miss simple steps. I caught myself shifting weight nervously like I'd only started classes last week. It felt so good, so soothing, to be dancing - but it was getting harder with every song. I was tired and getting more tired by the minute. If I had a specific problem to focus my attention on, it would be so much easier. But I didn't. Still don't. Melancholy and restless. Chasing ghosts.

Make it an early night, I thought. Prepare for tomorrow. Give my eyes a break from allergies and contacts. (And then stay up too late writing blog posts... but I digress.)

Maybe tomorrow I can do a little ghost hunting.

A new voice . . .

For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.

T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding"

Review of Workshop - G-town Tango's Milonguero Dips and Back Volcadas

Normally I don't go for workshops that have steps in the title - classes like "The Twelve Ganchos of Christmas" or "Fifty Ways to Lead Your Rulo" tend to leave me cold. However, when instructors have a reputation of teaching steps and combinations that work well on a crowded milonga floor - I'm far more willing to give the class a shot. Georgetown Tango's Special Topics Workshop last month featured Milonguero Dip* & Back Volcadas for the social dance floor.

Here are a couple of examples of the Milonguero Dip:

Ney Melo and Jennifer Bratt
The Milonguero Dip (at 0:55, 0:59 and 1:03):

and at 0:38 here:

Like some of the best stuff in tango, how the Milonguero Dip looks on the outside is nothing compared to how great it feels in the embrace. As the man collects his knees and twists he creates the slight drop which gives a "swoosh" (dip) feel to the resulting forward ocho. (That's highly technical phrasing, I know - "swoosh!" ) It's also far more complicated to lead than it looks (as is nearly everything tango, isn't it?) It looks so effortless and feels pretty natural for the follower once she's aware of the possibility. The biggest problem is that so many times we, as dancers, try to minimize changes in height - but this is exactly the effect we're going for.

Back volcadas are also deceptively simple looking and beautiful when executed well. It requires the follower to 1.) know the difference between a back ocho lead and a back volcada lead. It's very easy to interpret the beginning momentum as the start of ochos and forget to "feel" for the twist that actually causes the pivot. (If there's no twist - don't pivot.) and 2.) release the free leg.. Really release it. This is a subtle lead and keeping the free leg stiff and tense will keep the leader from being able to "place" the follower's leg (and foot) where it needs to be. At best it will feel stilted and awkward - at worst, it simply won't work.

Here are Homer and Christina Ladas demonstrating back volcadas (of varying size and speed - they get pretty big and dramatic after awhile) after a class:


Not only are both of these types of steps appropriate on a busy pista (I'm referring here to the small variety of back volcadas) - they're very expressive musically.

I've been to several classes from respected teachers that have focused on adornments and a few of them have mentioned, very generally, where you might lead them in the music. What I haven't seen/heard as much, until now, is a teacher focus on musical phrasing from the outset and then put music on within which you can actually feel the step. As the song our teacher selected played, and we tried out different combinations, we all "heard" the potential for the steps - perfect pauses and lilts in melody. Not just marking a beat or the space between beats - but using the steps to almost illustrate the music.

(I'm pretty sure there are better terms and phrases for what I'm trying to describe - both in the dancing and the music. But having a background in neither one, I'm doing my best to muddle through.)

I was so happy with the material taught in those classes that it gave me much more confidence on the milonga floor. I didn't just take away how to follow a sequence of steps, but I gained an understanding of how, why and where it could be led (and followed) in the music. I also learned how to very express my own musicality within the step as it's led. That little bit of information translated into so many other things I've been working on. That's my favorite feeling at the end of a class or workshop - like a whole new set of possibilities has opened up. A close second "favorite feeling" is when a visiting tango dancer (who was obviously not in the same class) leads the step (in this case the milonguero dip) and because I can follow it, I can really enjoy the movement - the "swoosh".

(*As the topic of the "Milonguero Dip" has come up on other sites, there has been some debate on the name - or on naming the sequence at all. Personally, I like having something to call it because if we can, at least for the purposes of the class, agree to call it something, it helps me organize my thoughts. )

Leading, following, whinging

I admire women who can lead. And I am in absolute awe of women who really own the lead. They're not just going through the sequence, performing all of the right moves in the right places in the music. They're not leading the way they imagine they should lead. They're leading - from the heart, from the music, and from the core of their bodies. There is joy in their lead. Love for the music and for the dance. I know two such leaders who have such emotion and connectedness in their lead that I can fully and completely relax into the dance. I can feel the music through them. One of the leaders is playful, bright, and almost effervescent in her lead. I smile all the way through the tanda when we dance. The other leader is more serious, more intense - at first almost intimidating. But once the music starts - there is only the music and the feeling of total embrace. They lead like they mean it.

So when I was faced with having to lead due to lack of men in the intermediate tango classes I had signed up for - I tried to think of those two leaders and how it felt to be led by them. It was not easy. Mostly I was irritated that I had spent money on classes that I would now have to focus on leading in, rather than working on my following technique. As I wrote in a previous post, I had zero experience leading. Zip. Nada. Can't even walk a follower to the cross. And here I was in an intermediate class trying to figure out how to lead molinetes and sacadas. As I entered the third class with still more followers than leaders, my teacher said I would probably "get to" lead again. He added, it was great to learn to lead in case there were too many women at the milonga and you get bored. Bored?

Here's the thing. I've been to (loads of) milongas where I had to sit more due to not enough leaders. I don't mind sitting - especially when I get to catch up with my friends and chat. Have some wine. Rest my feet which I don't do enough. I also dance with the female leaders who ask - our community has some great leading ladies, including the two I mentioned above, and I enjoy dancing with them. However, I have no desire to lead "because I might get bored". I'm not saying it will never happen - it just hasn't happened yet. And the reasoning just felt like an excuse. 'Sorry you're not getting the class you thought you were getting, but this will be so much more fun.' Not so much, actually.

I managed to learn to lead one pattern. I did have a great feeling of accomplishment at being able to figure out very basic walking, pivoting and walking to the cross in one sequence - but I did not enjoy leading. I was too aware that I could not seem to get into the right place in my head to really connect with my partner. Truthfully, I was probably too busy mentally whining and bitching about the situation - but there you are. I hadn't signed up for a class to learn to lead. With my internal chatter pulling me down, I was not even able to approach the mindset of being a good leader - leading with my being - with my heart. That's where the lead starts. Without that I was just attempting to go through the motions. And that's exactly how it felt. Other women who were leading seemed to get so much more out of it (and were far better) than I was. I just couldn't get past that voice that said, what am I going to do with this later?

What follower technique I did get from the classes, were the same things I always work on - collecting my ankles and knees, working on my walk and my balance, keeping my core firm. The embellishments class (for leaders and followers) was comprised of adornments I'd learned already in practicas - amague, lapiz, and taps. I also, during the practica after class, got some much appreciated advice on following boleo leads low and slow.

Maybe I should have just commited myself early on and really thrown myself into learning to lead. Just suck it up and deal. At least then I might have gotten that much out of the classes. But I still can't help thinking that money could have gone to a private lesson.

The final irony of the whole experience was the teacher's advice to students to go out to the milonga that same night and try out what we'd learned. (**facepalm**) Because [sarcasm] that's what milongas are for, practicing your new moves.[/sarcasm].

I live here now . . .

The first milonga of 2010. A new decade. So many wonderful tandas. A more relaxed milonga than NYE. Dancing with J. and F. in particular, always makes me feel so grateful to have stayed in tango. My first challenging/constantly apologizing/anxious dances with them all those months ago - I thought surely neither of them would ever ask me to dance again.

On making resolutions . . .

I'm not making resolutions this year. That is, I'm not making specifically New Year's resolutions. I am always working on things - always setting goals for myself. There are things I would like get through/get over/get done - as always, but they are ongoing. Sometimes I'm disappointed that I can be in such completely new territory and still have so many old, bad habits. That's the rub I guess - we always take ourselves with us, no matter how far we go.

For example, I would like to be consistent about not apologizing for the things I don't know, or don't do well. It's better - and getting better all the time. The words may not make it out of my mouth, but they're there - on the tip of my tongue.

I would like to stop being so nervous dancing with instructors. At the milonga, they aren't quizzing me, they're dancing socially. But I still fret. I have those fleeting moments, usually toward the end of the tanda, when I can let go of the instructor and just embrace the man. And let him embrace me. Those moments are such sweet relief. Why should it still be so hard? I should take dear Ampster's advice and turn it around. It needs to be all about him.

Milonga-Mari . . .

About 6 months ago I wrote about my world of tango and the rest of my world colliding. Johanna responded with a beautifully wise comment, and a prediction, that has now come to pass. She wrote:

"The truth is that you already ARE milonga-Mari. And it's not so much that you have to admit the outside you into the milonga, but that you invite milonga-Mari to visit more often in your "other" life."

There is less and less 'transition' between my tango life and the rest of my life - whatever that means now. I live in my tango life. There is still that exhilaration (and sometimes anxiety) right before entering the milonga. But, at least for now, my life is a life in tango. In all the lessons I learn during every class, practica and milonga - in the wisdom of my friends and teachers. My tango life is the lens through which I see everything else. The last hold out - that last piece of my life that seems devoid of tango heart, is my job - where I need it most. The lessons I've learned about reaching out, connecting, risking trust first - those are the lessons I need to apply most at my work. I could change everything. But it seems like such a big risk sometimes. To exert so much energy, to risk loving an organization that doesn't seem to love me back. But that's the point. Give first. Trust first. Otherwise I'll wonder - could I have done more?

Classes and Follower Drop-out

In the beginning of taking tango classes, I couldn't imagine a time when I wouldn't want to take every single class I could afford. Now I find I've changed my mind. Not because I think I don't need them - I do. But what I need from them has changed. I think that what followers and leaders need from classes change the longer they dance. The worst part, for me anyway, is when the gender balance is off and I find myself having to lead in an intermediate class.

It's one thing when you're in a beginner class, you're learning beginner lead technique and patterns. I'm in an intermediate class because I'm an intermediate follower. I'm a (very) beginner leader, however. Now I've found myself in the position of trying to lead patterns with sacadas and molinetes when I haven't even learned to lead a follower to the cross. That isn't to say I didn't learn anything from the classes - I did. My technique of various things always needs a lot of work. But rather than learning to follow these new combinations - I was focused on trying to learn to lead (at all) and trying to lead the patterns.

This comes on the heels of another incident that has had me questioning how many and which classes I should continue to take. Sitting on the bench waiting for the milonga to start, I watched the end of the intermediate class that was just wrapping up with a demo of what was taught. The gentleman sitting next to me asked me if I was taking notes to learn this new pattern. No, I answered, I'd already learned it in practica and the milongas. It was a a beautiful combination frequently led by two leaders I dance with a great deal.

This is going to make me sound like so many frequently vilified followers who say they learn all they need to know from the milongas - and that's not what I mean. I just think at this point, topic-based workshops, intensives and private lessons are going to be the way to progress my dance outside practicas and milongas. With up to 3 practicas and 3 milongas a week, that's probably all my schedule will allow anyway.

So Happy New Year tangueros y tangueras, near and far, who have been so wonderful, supportive and generous with their time and energy. I can never thank any of you enough for helping me get to this place. I hope the next year is filled with blessings and beautiful tandas.

Winning the (pain) battle

Thanks to Mardi Brown of Georgetown Tango, this morning was the first morning after a milonga I didn't feel like a 100 year old woman trying to hobble around the house. Her recommendation of Tacco metatarsal pads (added to cushioned foam insoles) was right on the money. I can't believe how much better my feet felt. I was really starting to wonder if capsulitis was going to win and I was going to have to either quit or severely limit my dancing.

Anyone with pain in the ball of their feet should consider the Tacco line. You can get a few of their inserts, like the "drop-shaped" metatarsal pads at Austin Shoe Hospital, if you're in the area. You can also find them at FeetRelief.com . Also, please consult with your doctor if the pain in your feet is persistent, acute or if you get little to no relief from otc pain relievers.

You can get more information about foot pain conditions at Foot-Pain-Explained.com as well, but this does not take the place of medical advice.

A Life in the Music of People

La Vita Nuova

"Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness." ~Maya Angelou, Gather Together in My Name

I took one last look around at the dancing/partying/hugging frenzy on the pista before leaving the New Year's Eve milonga last night. Is this my life? I could never have guessed a year ago that I would find myself here - surrounded by new friends, a new family, really. So many perfect coincidences . . .

- I arrived that night with P., the first tanguero who ever asked me to dance, and his wife, who finds herself coping, like my husband, married to a tango fanatic. The four of us had lunch earlier and I couldn't help thinking how lucky DH and I are to have their friendship.

- I danced with a visiting tanguero, for the second time, that I had met online through my blog writing. How amazing to embrace someone from so far away whose only connection is this lush tango life.

- and such a relief to see and at least be able to hug the tanguero who started tango almost the same time as me. This past year has had so many personal challenges for him, and yet he brings such heart to the pista and to his dance. We've been tango babies together - growing and evolving into this sense of our tango selves.

- last night, for the fourth or fifth time, with different partners, I was the first on the dance floor. It's hard to let go of that fear of screwing up when everyone can see. I'm still scared of tangueros taking note of leads not followed, un-collected ankles, or some other glaring mistake I might make. But I'd rather dance. Period. Fear takes a back seat - when I let it in the car at all.

- and getting a few moments to talk with "La Milonguera" - the first person to greet me in my tango social life (outside of a class). From the first moment I saw her dance, and as I watched her make the rounds greeting, smiling, chatting, laughing - I saw the possibilities for a different kind of life than what I had been leading. A life in the music of people.

I am so thankful that I don't have the words to adequately express it. I'm thankful to so many dancers, teachers, bloggers, friends (tango and non-tango - I do still have a few of those), that I would need far more time than I have allotted tonight to write them all down.

Something I don't write/say/express enough though, is that none of this new life of mine would have been possible without my husband's encouragement and support. At the end of the milonga, when I feel so sad that the night has ended, almost as soon as I step outside, I can suddenly hardly wait to get home and tell my DH all about my night. He smiles and lets me unwind my tales of the milonga or practica or class that I've just come from. It's his embrace that has made all of the other embraces of this new life possible.

The road ahead I can hardly imagine. Last year I would never have imagined this much. If I had, I would have been afraid of it. I want to do more, dance more, welcome more, hope more - and fear less, worry less.

About the picture:

Every so often I create one of these images as a sort of fortune from a digital cookie, to see what comes up. I choose a random image from stock photos, a random wikipedia page for a "band name", and the last four or five words from a random quote off of Quotations Page (see full instructions below.) This time I chose personally appropriate fonts for a giggle. And the image above is what I came up with.

Album Cover - Band Name: (from random Wikipedia page: "Wide Open Throttle") Font: "Shifty Chica"
Album Title: (pulled from random quotes: Accident, n.: A condition in which presence of mind is good, but absence of body is better. --Anonymous Font: Zero Hour
Picture -stock image.

Instructions: Play the Album Art Game:

1 - Go to "wikipedia." Hit “random”
or click http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random
The first random Wikipedia article you get is the name of your band.

2 - Go to "Random quotations"
or click http://www.quotationspage.com/random.php3
The last four or five words of the very last quote of the page is the title of your first album.

3 - Go to flickr and click on “explore the last seven days”
or click http://www.flickr.com/explore/interesting/7days
Third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover. (try http://mikelietz.org/code/flickr-ccgettr.php for rights free flickr images)

4 - Use photoshop or similar to put it all together.

5 - Post it with this text in the "caption"