The Beginner


The slight, shy leader in front of me had started tango lessons a few months before, dabbled in it a bit, and with many other dances, but within the last month decided to get serious about tango. That night he was attending his first milonga.

I was happy to see him return to tango. When I met him in a class a couple of months prior to that, I was struck by his warmth and gentleness. So when he asked me to dance, I accepted, and told him how happy I was that he was coming out to the milongas. He smiled warmly and embraced me with such tenderness that I was momentarily too surprised to move. Had I mistaken him for someone else? Had we danced socially before and I just didn't remember? Nope - this was the same leader I remembered from the class.

We changed weight for a moment and I decided to risk startling him (which happens sometimes with new leaders), and hold him like we'd been dancing for ages. He embraced me back with the same sense of affection and, most startlingly, relief.

With that, we were off. He walked softly, a little hesitantly, with some rock steps and an ocho cortado or two. The cruzada was still a little bit of a challenge and he took extra time to make sure I was where he thought I was before exiting the step. (I appreciated that.) He tried leading back ochos but when he would have needed to open the embrace to make that work, he adjusted, changed weight and pulled me back in front of him, continuing his walk. I smiled against his cheek, and he smiled back, and patted my back lightly - almost absentmindedly.

Between songs he said, "I tried other things [dances], listened to other music. But this," he pointed to the speakers on the wall, "this is what makes me feel like dancing. It's so beautiful. I had to come back."

With that, he returned me to his chest and hugging him back, I whispered in his ear, "I am so glad to hear it."

I felt like the Grinch at the end of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"  - my heart grew three sizes that day.

I sat down later with my friend and asked if she had danced with Mr. Shy, and she answered enthusiastically, "Oh yes! That man is going to go far!"  At that, we both giggled and watched him circle around the dance floor, smiling.

Now I look for him at every milonga (and I'm not the only one).


Going through emails and messages over one of the links I posted on Facebook, to Irene and Man Yung's Tango Blog about "Mean Girls" about the hows and whys of rejection. These are quotes from two of the comments and they both reflect what I hear a lot from leaders:

D: "What I was objecting to was the followers who insist on only dancing with expert leaders despite having relatively low skills themselves."

D: "When you
[comment addressed to me] talk about not betraying the dance, you are talking about people's skill level, their artistic ability, not about the danger of injury, and not about manners. And this is a topic that comes up a lot, and it's usually quite explicitly about skill level."

All I can say is - no, I'm not actually talking about skill level, and I really don't know how I can make that more clear. *exasperated sigh*  

Please highlight this as possibly the most important thing I may ever write about tango:   If I don't feel safe, if I don't feel connected to my partner and the music - then I am not dancing tango. I am going through the motions of the dance, but not engaged in the spirit of the dance. Period.

Plus, it is very easy to think you can judge someone's skill level simply by watching them dance, and I'm telling you that you can't. You can pick out those things that you think are indicators, but beyond watching someone make a hazard on the floor for others, those indicators only speak to your preferences and your experience - not the dancers engaged in the embrace and their experience of each other during the dance.

What I want to know is how are you so sure what's really going on? I have dozens of reason for seeking out particular partners. I hate to disappoint them, but most of the time it's not about their "expert" level of dancing. Experience can give you a few things that are very desirable, however - comfort in your own skin, confidence, familiarity with the music. I won't deny those factors - but those are generally not easily observable from outside the embrace.) Most of the time, okay pretty much 100% of the time, it's what they bring emotionally to their dance with me.

My favorite message so far from a friend in the UK,

"Why do we
[followers] keep bringing up how the dance feels and yet they [leaders] keep hearing it's about their skill or about how the woman wants to look??? How many different ways can we say 'tanguero, most of the time it's your attitude. It's about how you feel!'"


The most important rule of dealing with rejection - don't assume you know why you were turned down. Chances are, you don't.

What I hear most often from leaders when followers decline dancing with them:

"She doesn't think I'm good/skilled/experienced enough."
"She only likes dancing with experienced dancers that make her look good,"
"She thinks she's too good for everyone,"
"She wants someone who shows her off."
"She only dances with older leaders/milongueros."
"She only dances with younger leaders/hot shots."

What I hear most often from followers when they decline a leader:
(excluding the most common ones which are actually- "I just don't feel like dancing right now," and "I'm afraid he's going to get me hurt.")

"His embrace is uncomfortable." (Sometimes this is about height difference - not something personal that the leader is doing.)
"I don't like how he makes me feel."
"He pushes/pulls, shoves too hard."
"I don't feel a connection with him."
"He's dancing his own dance (and not with me)."
"He doesn't seem to like/hear the music." (This comes into play not because of how a leader is dancing to the music so much as other things - especially talking through the music.)
"This is a vals/milonga/favorite orquestra - and I want to dance with my favorite vals/milonga/so-and-so-orquestra partner."

My own experience on rejection:

There are about a dozen men who almost never dance with me, including a few who have never danced with me in the almost 3 years I've been dancing in this community. I don't look for their cabeceo anymore, but more importantly for my own sanity I've given up trying to figure out why they don't invite me and beating myself up over it. Does it still sting when I accidentally make eye contact and they abruptly look away?  Sure. But unless they talk to me at practica or seek me out some other way, I don't have a very reliable way to find out their reasons. I can guess, but that's rarely worth my energy.  I seek feedback from the leaders who are willing to work with me and focus on that - there's more than material there.

So how do you find out why someone is declining to dance with you? 

 - Ask if you can work with them at practica or in class.
 - Ask who they study with or have studied with in the past, and then, if you're feeling particularly industrious, go to that teacher to find out what might be going on with your dance.
 - Observe how they are dancing when they seem happiest - what is their partner doing? What is the music?
 - And once again, don't assume anything.

Most important: For godsakes focus on the folks who do want to dance with you (and that you want to dance with of course)  who have probably been patiently waiting for you to pull your head out and notice them. (I've been guilty of that, so I know of what I speak here, folks.)

Anyway. those are my thoughts thus far on the matter. If we're friends on Facebook, you can follow the conversation here:   If we're not connected on Facebook, feel free to send me an invite.
Dancing in Austin, Denis and Deena's Milonga // --Mari

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

From Essential Rumi
by Coleman Barks

Be that Guy

San Telmo Plaza Dorrego - Wikipedia Images

"There is always an elderly, overweight, Argentine guy in a suit who slowly dances around the edge of the dance floor, and all he does is walking and maybe an ocho once in a while. And he has usually an amazingly beautiful girl who dances incredibly well plastered all over him. Be that guy.

"There is also always a someone on the dance floor who wrestles his partner through all kinds of maneuvers, interrupted only by short pauses where he repeats a move 5 time till it "works", or where he explains just exactly how the follower has to move to make the 40 step sequence he wants to do work. Note that he dances mostly with beginners. Note the frozen smile on his partners face.
Don' be that guy."

Still one of my favorite quotes about tango, originally from -

Body at War, Body at Peace

(Picture courtesy of )

Fragments of a Conversation

Body at War

I can't remember a time when my body was not on guard. Ready to decide - stay and fight or run away. My secret daily routines as a child included having a bag packed at all times. Scanning every building for places to hide. At a very young age, I knew if I were running from someone, don't go up, don't go into rooms with no exit or window, don't get trapped. This isn't the sort of information a child should have to know, is it? I don't even remember where or how I learned it. I just knew I always had to have a plan. If I couldn't make myself safe, I could make myself ready. I lived in Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Arizona, Massachusetts, and finally landed in Texas. Every place I lived, until I moved in with my husband, I had a bag packed. Every time we moved, I made plans for where I would need to go. 

Even now, when I walk into a room, I note the easiest exits, the paths of least resistance, in case I need to leave quickly. I never unlearned the habit. When was the last time I actually had to do that? I can't remember. I've never been safer or had circumstances like these, where I should feel so content and secure, before.  I feel safe at home, safe with my husband - but especially in public, the habits remain.

When my doctor asked me how long it had been since I'd had a solid week of good sleep, I couldn't remember. It hasn't been months or years - it's been a couple of decades. When did I last have surgery? I slept a lot then, I told him. That's not what he meant. I don't know then, I said, I'm an insomniac. It doesn't feel like my mind is ever entirely at rest. Even when I'm exhausted, I still try to function in my half-awake state, holding conversations, getting ready for work - only truly waking up some time later wondering how I'd gotten my clothes on, checked my messages and managed to make coffee, while apparently still sleeping.

Now I have to question the consequences of living so many years ready to fight, or ready to run.

My recent diagnosis has me wondering if the effect of a lifetime spent looking for a fight, has left my body with no other way to behave. An auto-immune disorder means my body is essentially at war with itself. Is my body tearing itself apart looking for a threat that doesn't exist? My doctor is trying to trace the battle lines for clues - why are these muscles being affected, and not those. Why the muscles, but not the joints?

More questions from my doctor. "Do you meditate?" (Yes.) "Do you practice yoga?" (Yes.)  "When are you most relaxed?"

"When do you feel safe?"

Body at Peace

"When I dance."

"So you relax when you dance? What is that like?"

"How much time have you got?" I ask. He shrugs and leans forward. On my phone, I show him a video of me dancing with Mr. X at Copa. It is clearly not what he expected to see. No gymnastics, no jumping or kicking. Just walking.

I tell him, it's not relaxed in some passive, nap-like way. I don't know. Can you relax actively? He shrugs.

Cradled against a man's chest, listening to the music through his body, breathing in the smell of his cologne, I can feel safe. I don't know what combination of factors creates that alchemy, but it works. I listen to his breathing, a few breaths go by, and we're in synch. If we pay attention, we can feel a little of each other's history in the way we move, in the tiny ways we adjust to each other. It's different every time.

It's not just that being held that way feels good - of course it does, I don't think that really surprises anyone. But for me, for someone to make the effort, and to put in the energy, to make me feel safe, to make me feel like something precious in his arms - to put his embrace before the steps he wants to dance - that makes me feel safe.

Safe enough to stop running. Safe enough to stop fighting.

I can surrender.

"I prefer to explore the most intimate moments, the smaller, crystallized details we all hinge our lives on."
Poet Rita Dove

What is it that you do?

"So, what is this that you do? You don't want to teach. You don't want to perform. You don't want to compete. Yet you're going to South America for it! What are you ever going to do with tango?"
I can't explain and that makes my heart ache.
"I'm just going to dance, grandma - until I can't anymore."

Site/Blog Update - Commenting

Hopefully issues with the ability to comment are resolved. If not, please email me at infinitetango (at) directly and I'll put in another ticket with Blogger.


(Picture courtesy of

Me entrego a tus brazos
Con miedo y con calma
Y un ruego en la boca
Y un ruego en el alma

-- Con Toda Palabra by Lhasa de Sela

Tonight there is a heaviness in his heart.
I can feel a melancholy weight between my hand on his back,
 . . .  and my own heart beating.
He is sad about something. . .
Or someone.

Tonight, he smiles, but the smile doesn't reach his lowered eyes.
He embraces me the way he always does, then pauses . . .
very still,
not even a breath,
his arm holds me a little closer.
I hold him a little tighter in return and he relaxes slightly.
We take a deep breath together.

The second phrase starts and we glide into the stream of dancers.
He is here, but also somewhere else . . . .
. . . . reliving something that the music has brought to mind.

Translation (courtesy of
"I surrender to your arms
with fear and with calm
and a prayer on my lips
and a prayer in my heart"