Men's Strategies

A recent thread, called "Men's Strategies [for dancing in Buenos Aires]" on Tango-L got me thinking about the codigos again. Austin isn't Buenos Aires, and my expectations are, for the most part, adjusted accordingly. I'm not making a character judgment based on whether a dancer follows the codigos. (I know that might seem hard to believe after reading some of my posts, but it's true.) And I'm not offended or hurt or angry when a gentleman doesn't walk me off the pista after a tanda.

But here's something to keep in mind from a dancer on Tango-L, regarding this particular aspect of the milonga codes:

"Sometimes the friendships are so familiar and casual that the man does not escort [the follower] back to her chair.. However, I find that if the man really appreciates and enjoys the tanda he had with me, his final and most all-encompassing thank you and sign of respect and appreciation is to escort me all the way back to my seat, not just to the aisle. Typically, they hold your hand the whole way back to the seat or leave their arm around your waist, it is a very flattering way to let you know that you are a Diosa (goddess). Even what appears to be some very rustic men, maybe from the Provincias, extend this incredible courtesy, as though the woman has just performed her heart out for him and has to be assisted back to her seat to recover...very nice... how often do we see this in communities outside of BsAs....not so much...."

Some gentlemen leave me in the middle of the pista after a tanda, which doesn't particularly make me feel one way or another about him (unless it's very, very abrupt.) Like I said, it's not that I think it's rude - it's just not, well, . . . anything. Then there are a few men who walk me back to my seat (our milongas don't really have more than one row of seating), holding my hand and making me feel like I'm valued and cared for. Followers remember that kind of thing.

So really, I'm just asking . . . Which tanguero would you rather be?

The Sensual Conversation

From a previous post's comments (thank you Happyseaurchin for the post topic):

"In the post, you mention the distinction between sensual and sexual. I have that distinction too, and I was wondering if you could elaborate on some future post. Many people I speak to don't seem to be aware of this, and I was wondering how that was "wired" into your being...? I presume your partner is not threatened by your tango exploits, precisely because of this distinction? Whether I have been in a relationship or single, the experience of this distinction is ever present. Your observation of your own experience in this matter would be most appreciated."

This will be my fourth draft on this topic. It's such a difficult thing to write about and feel like I'm conveying what I mean to convey. I've tried twice before, here and here. And I still don't think I've done the topic justice.

I have told people this frequently, but until they experience it for themselves, it won't make any sense. Tango, the music and the dance, is both intimate and universal. Tango asks us our secrets, but not our name. We can reveal so much, certainly at times more than we intend to, that there is almost an understanding that crossing lines without invitation puts the freedom to express ourselves at risk.

Ninety-nine percent of the time the overtly sexual aspect is simply not relevant whereas the sensual aspect is absolutely everything. Does that make sense? I suspect that the fact that I'm married makes my situation different than if I were single. (And you are correct in assuming my non-tango dancing husband is very supportive of my dancing, and thankfully not threatened by it.) There is nothing to prove to me - I'm not looking for more than the dance. I've been told that takes some of the pressure off. Maybe that's the case and it changes things. It's really hard for me to know from my side of the embrace.

To me, in this dance we are constantly communicating with one another. There is a line that, once it's crossed - when the feeling goes from sensual to sexual, creates a very different conversation.

And this is only my experience, which is limited of course to where I dance, how long I've been dancing, and with whom I dance. My tango world is quite small, and maybe naive.

The Lion

El Leon is returning. :)


(Picture courtesy of

A new face.

Well, new to me anyway.

One follower told me how beautiful his dynamic, nuevo styling felt. Another how comforting and secure his close embrace was. One would tell me how light and quick he was on his feet. Another how grounded and secure he felt. Were they all talking about the same dancer?

Then, the invitation to dance.
To embrace.

The first song played while I tried to open the map to him, to get a feel for the terrain. Was he fast or slow? Light or heavy?

Sometimes, okay more than sometimes, this is my favorite part of the dance. Listening. Adapting. Does he prefer a Ferrari or a Rolls Royce? Grace Kelly or Ava Gardner? (You could say that dancing tango is ultimately about being yourself, and of course it is - but it is also a little bit about being more than yourself. More than the self that goes to work, picks up groceries, and watches the latest movie from the Netflix queue.)

Yet as we danced, each time I'd get a feel for some preference of movement, some adjustment of the embrace, I'd feel him shift again, just slightly, and adjust to me.

I hesitated as he started a closed-side turn, which is always challenging for me (mostly due to lack of practice), yet before I could adjust, he'd seemed to have already felt the hesitation, and disassociated a little more to make me comfortable, to make the movement almost effortless for me. From then on turns to that side, where I was weakest, rather than leave them out, he simply gave more support, which made me feel more accomplished, rather than simply accommodated.

A minute or two later, another couple veered quickly out of their lane and almost in to us. My leader shifted weight, turned and pulled me to his chest (even closer than I already was) in such a swift, smooth movement that I didn't entirely put together what had happened until I saw the other leader's eyes widen at the collision that had almost occurred. Still wrapped tightly in his embrace, I exhaled and settled in there - wondering if now that the danger had passed, he'd let go of me. He didn't. I was happy to be where I was and he seemed just as happy to keep me there.

The first song ended and we parted. Made small talk. The usual things. The music. The heat.

When the second song started, he invited me into his embrace and I immediately found the place I had been before. I felt enveloped, like I was being carried. I had to remind myself I needed to be actively listening to his body. And then I caught the thought that almost drifted away without observation - I was getting exactly the dance I wanted.

The turns, the embrace, how he stepped - all done in the way that felt most comfortable, most natural for me to follow.

Which suddenly made me uncomfortable.

I should be elated, right? Mostly I was. To be danced in the way your body most wants to move is an extraordinary gift. Tears welled in my eyes at the relief of that feeling. But then, as the edges of my observation solidified, I got nervous. Please forgive my journalism analogy, but it was like being an interviewer and suddenly realizing you're the one being interviewed.

The table was turned.

For me, there is a not-so-healthy side to wanting to adapt to my partner. A side that's become particularly strong these last few months as tango became a means of escape from a toxic work situation. I danced to forget, at least for a short time, large pieces of my life. I danced so I wouldn't spend all of my time examining and picking apart the things that were going so wrong. I could escape into an embrace and put all of that energy and attention on the music and the man in front of me. An unfortunately familiar pattern, being someone else was becoming easier than being me. For all my talk of entrega, I had actually found a way to out-maneuver surrendering, by keeping my self hidden. I could give all of my focus, my effort, my feeling for the music and the dance, to my partner - just not all of me.

They say you dance who you are, but that can mean a lot of things. What you see depends very much on how you look at it.

I've been running away for a long time.

It's not ideal, maybe it's not even right, but it worked. It gave me an outlet. It bought me time.

The storm, for the most part, has passed, but the habit is still there. Having someone listen intently to me, and adapting to what they heard, made me feel exposed.

At the end of the tanda, I struggled with conversation as I tried to figure out what all I had revealed.

I wondered if I'd been caught in my bait-and-switch.

And yet . . .

As I watched him return to his seat on the far side of the pista, I wondered, am I the only one playing chameleon to buy a little time.

In Defense of the Perpetual Tango Student

"The only reason for mastering technique is to make sure the body does not prevent the soul from expressing itself." - La Meri

There's been a lot of criticism thrown about lately on tango blogs, forums and on Facebook, regarding the "perpetual tango student" and of course the corresponding tango teachers that encourage their students to continue to take classes (presumably rather than learning the "traditional" way of just showing up and dancing socially - though I've never been too sure how that was supposed to work.)

I've only been dancing a little over two years and I still take classes, though mostly I take private lessons and workshops, when I'm able. Most of the people I dance with, in fact most of the people in my community, take classes from one or more of the teachers in town. A few dancers travel to Buenos Aires to take classes.

This is the usual advice I hear from people who tell me classes aren't necessary:

Just walk naturally.
And for followers, walk naturally, backwards.

Okay, let's clarify "naturally". My natural walk before I started tango, was walking on the outside of my feet (never in high heels) and with a posture that rather suggested I had an invisible pole up my butt. That kind of natural? Or do you mean the way South American women walk? They are not the same thing. "Walking naturally" has to be one of the biggest myths of learning tango. There's an excellent post here with some ideas addressing the tango walk.

My point is that I had to take lesson first of all to learn how to walk for this dance. If you've always worn high heels and have a beautiful, fuild gate, good for you - maybe you won't need lessons. The rest of us will probably always be working on our walk.

Just listen to the music. The music will tell you how to dance.

Okay . . . and then what?

Sure the music will tell me how to dance - but you probably won't like it. I was a Goth dancer. Let me tell you, very little of that "skill set" is applicable to tango. Or anything else really.

If I didn't know anything about tango as a social dance, I'd just amble about, more or less (most likely less) on the rhythm. Having no vocabulary or clue about body mechanics, I wouldn't know:

- to disassociate to stay with my partner during turns,
- or not constantly split my weight between both feet, leaving my partner wondering what foot I'm on,
- or backweight my posture pulling my partner off of his balance.

In fact I doubt I'd know to pay any attention at all to my balance. As a result I'd probably (and I'm sure I did in the beginning) hang on my partner like a wet coat because I wasn't able to keep my balance, trip over my feet, trip over his feet, kick people, and make a very uncomfortable dance for my partner. Of course it would be a milonga so my partner wouldn't be able to say anything to me, he'd just politely drop me off at my chair after a dance or two. And since I wasn't in any classes, the likelihood of my knowing about any practicas (since they are usually, though not always, hosted by teachers), would be pretty much nil.

So very soon I would be sitting on the sidelines not getting danced and wondering what I was doing wrong. I woudn't know anyone because I wouldn't have met anyone in classes, so I'd pretty much have to maneuver a new and intimidating social scene feeling completely inadequate to the task. That'll keep me coming back for sure!! Not.

But don't worry - I'm sure some very helpful tanguero would offer to take me under his wing and teach me all sorts of wonderful moves, especially all of those sexy, kicky ones, (that he can't get anyone else who actually knows how to follow) to do. And through him I would learn the "One True (his) Tango" and be just peachy without any classes at all. Think of all the money I'll save ( so I can get a couple of pair of really deadly stilettos!)

Meanwhile the people who start with classes enjoy all sorts of benefits I would be missing:

- Community. As soon as you start a class, in Austin anyway, you become part of a community. You're welcomed as soon as you show up - just for being willing to try to learn what certainly feels like the hardest dance in the world. Our teachers introduce you to other students and event organizers, guide you through the schedule of activities in the community - milongas, practicas, classes, workshops. We have tango events just about every night of the week, and live music to dance to weekly. Luckily our teachers promote one another's events and attend each other's events - I know many communities don't have that luxury.

- Encouragement. I would never have braved a milonga or a practica on my own without knowing people from classes. From what I've heard from other dancers, very few people would. Being in classes gives students a feeling of camaraderie and a sense of belonging that can help so much when coping with the more challenging (read: embarrassing, awkward) aspects of learning tango.

- Consistent practice time. Not only to physically practice the dance, but to listen to the music with other dancers. To hear and see other people's reactions to the same music. To be able to talk about the dance, the music, the history of both. To be able to ask questions and not expect someone on the social dance floor to spend what should otherwise be a relaxing time for them, basically teaching me how to dance and behave without using the pista as a classroom.

- Music, music, music. Teachers have vast quantities of music and they want you to hear it. They want to share their experience of it, information and history about it, technique for expressing it.

- Technique. Dancers who take classes (ideally) learn how to prevent injury to themselves and to others by strengthening muscles, improving balance, and increasing flexibility. Some dancers need more help with this than others. If I were 20 years old, I wouldn't have needed as much help - but as it was I was 36, with bad posture, back pain, and very limited flexibility. If I hadn't had classes to improve those things, how many dances do you think I would have gotten? You could argue that with continued dancing things would have improved on their own, but from what I've experienced, I doubt that. Sometimes the easiest thing for your body to do in a situation is not the best thing - and can even be harmful to your dance partner. We tend, without anyone to tell us otherwise, do whatever comes easiest or most natural. But what's most natural for a body that's out of alignment is frequently not the best thing.

So why STAY in classes?

Technique frees my soul's musical expression.

This is where my quote from about comes in. When you don't have solid technique and at least a basic vocabulary of movements, you are very limited in the ways you can express the music. You may not know how you want to express a piece of music - you'll only know that what you're capable of at the moment isn't it. The more experience you have, the more you are able to do with your body (in disassociation, in good posture, flexibility, balance), the easier it is to express how you feel the music gracefully - and the more easily you can recover from mishaps and prevent injury to your body.

When I stop taking classes, I forget to continue working on my technique - or I do it haphazardly. And I don't have the sort of body that maintains it's current state. I backslide. My balance suffers. My flexibility diminishes. And when I'm not in classes with other people, I'm not getting exposed to other people's ways of seeing things, and hearing and expressing the music.

I like to work on my weaknesses. When I got too comfortable in traditional, very close embrace, I took a few (very informal) classes on open technique and worked with leaders who danced more in that style. A year into dancing tango, I was still terrified of milonga tandas - so I signed up to take classes and through myself into milonga for several months. Now I have such a love for milonga, that I've made myself turn my focus back to tango and vals as my technique in those areas has started to slip a bit. I found myself unable to express the music the way I felt it inside. It's frustrating to feel the music a particular way, but be chained by my body's inability to do it gracefully. So back to work. For me, it's not a chore, it's a work of love and devotion to an art form.

Back to community - time to pay it forward . .

The last, but maybe the most important reason I try to take classes or workshops when I can, is to work with dancers with less experience. (Or experienced dancers who just want to work on something different.) Continuing to take occasional classes keeps me interacting with new people, old friends I don't see often, and visitors from other communities. It also gives me more time to interact with them than I would normally get in a milonga.

"Freedom to a dancer means discipline. That is what technique is for -- liberation." - Martha Graham

On the Edge

Every time I dance, I stand on the edge of myself to reach you.
Whether you are open, or closed, or on the edge trying to decide,
I will be there waiting in the music.
Standing on the edge to reach you.

You dance inside

"You dance inside my chest, where no one sees you,
but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art." -- Rumi