The Healing Dancers

I've been working on this post for over 2 months. (Insert exasperated sigh here.)

I'm still getting emails, having conversations, asking questions. I thought I would wait to publish until I was done, but like all things on this tango journey - this will never be "done."

When I began looking into the question I got most from leaders, of what women want from them, a whole new road opened up. I started to hear, from followers and leaders, common attributes applied to their favorite dance partners. I also started to hear a description pop up again and again. 

"This dancer
 . . . heals my terrible day,
 . . . heals some old wounds,
 . . . rejuvenates my spirit." 

I started to hear about more than good dances, but also about healing dancers.  I've written about my own experiences with certain "painkiller" leaders - but I thought I was the in the minority in that experience.

Then the emails started.

In my GMail folder on this subject, I have 90+ messages. And they keep coming. I had two more this morning. This topic will never be done, which tells me we need to share more - as we can, when we can, however we can - about the effect we can have on each other when we dance.  This has gotten so huge, and the conversations so sprawling, that I suddenly feel inadequate to the task of summarizing what I've read/been told. All I know is that it's made for some amazing conversations.

I can offer a few small, consistent observations that have cropped up.

1. (This is the most important thing.) - Healing does happen. You may not give a flip about it. It may not happen to everyone, it may not happen to you - and if it does, it may not happen consistently - but it happens. However, the thing that will ensure it does not happen, is expecting it - or expecting that you are the passive receiver, and not actively involved in creating that energy in the dance.

2. The embrace is the key. It's not limited to any particular style - it can happen in open or close, though most of the people who responded to my queries dance close embrace. That is more a skew with my tango social group, and the audience of my blog, I think. In general, even in open embrace, and nuevo style dancers, I heard from - the embrace tended to be softer, never jarring. Very smooth, well supported, well grounded. The embrace, in all of its variations, felt secure.

3. Dancers who responded said they felt these particular partners put their partner's comfort, well-being and happiness before their own. It wasn't just about being well connected, but about feeling valued, important - and feeling treasured - as followers and leaders. Twelve readers used the specific words, "[he/she] makes me feel loved" even if it's just for a few minutes.

Observations from the tangueras . . . .

"While people may feel like embrace is something to be 'acceptable' at, or as an addendum to their dance, or something that's a mere vehicle to enable them to dance, IMO it informs the entire dance. A poor embrace (which often goes hand in hand with poor posture and poor technique) will not just be uncomfortable to a follower, but affects her own posture and puts strain on her to conform to a leader (sometimes subconsciously) in ways that create pain for herself (the reverse can be said for ladies also)."

"If there was one thing I would recommend for leaders (anywhere) to become both a favorite and perhaps give a more "healing" experience, it's have a really good embrace (other technique will tend to come along with that). And I mean REALLY work on it; have lessons only on that; work on it consistently."

"I'm always looking for "smooth" leaders -where you feel like you are floating down a river together.  I think that smooth factor comes from a combination of knowing the music well, knowing how to walk well, and him being respectful of my body and my style."

"I would say, musicality, embrace, connection and creativity. I get totally energized if we are being creative and in sync with the music."

"I'm looking for that feeling of Ahhhh......I guess it can be defined as a good balance between the leader and I.  I have danced with him before, I recognize his gentleness, his caring and he wants the same thing I do:  to dance a good tango, not involving to much effort but creating a great connection, sharing some wonderful energy, and matching our intention, good vibrations and level of dance."

"Is fully present -- with his partner, in the music, in the embrace. Completes each move/figure before beginning the next. Dances for the shared delight, not for self-gratification -- doesn't dance to impress others or to show off his tricks to his partner. "

From the Tangueros . .

"I like to dance with women that enjoy dancing, that like being held in a warm and caring embrace, that are not hung up about the physical closeness, that rather enjoy the closeness and are happy to be held by someone [ ... ] What followers do I seek?  One that will let me lead her, one that can let go, one that enjoys being close, one that when a mistake happens just giggles.I like making people feel good, especially women, and if I can do that it makes me feel good about myself that is where my healing comes in."

"For that [healing] experience, I look for followers who want to dance with me, not just kill time and get out on the floor. They don't dance for themselves, or by themselves, but engage in this fragile, 10 minute relationship with everything they've got."

"The followers that I've noticed are most rejuvenating, especially if I'm having a pretty tough milonga, are the ones that aren't looking for some perfect experience, but they're in the moment, ready for whatever happens. They don't bring judgement or ego into the embrace.  The embrace me, the moment, the music, all of it - and care about it."

Baby Steps

Picture courtesy of
Guest post by Jane Prusakova

Foot out, step, collect back, foot out again, step, transfer weight, collect the other foot,  leap and swing back... Brave and very scared, holding on tight and venturing into the unknown...  My 9-month old is taking her very first steps.  

It is also my Argentine tango steps. Admittedly, not every tanda is a venture into the unknown, but I cherish those that are.   

I love the simplicity of the basic AT move (a step), and the complexity of the dance  -- the richness of the movement, the abandance of possibilities.  Any step could be followed by a multitude of other steps - and it is betweem the leader and the follower to choose which ones will come into existence.    The fleeting moment before that choice is made, the split second full of opportunities and the uncertainties, is where the world ceases to exist, only the music and the connection remain. 

Can I trust what comes next? Will I fall, tripping over my own feet? Will I fly, gliding off the floor with the next turn of the melody?  Those question are eternal, and the answers are very personal.  As for me - I am learning from my baby. And she is choosing to make the next step

La Leona - Diversion and Metaphor

Courtesy of

This post is expanding on something I wrote on Facebook that a couple of people have emailed me about. It is only slightly tango related and it takes awhile to get there, so be patient. Or feel to free to skip it entirely and wait for the next "stiletto heel in the calf" rant - I won't be offended.

. . . Backstory . . .

Over the years, my friend Sara had read my palms, done tarot readings (sighed sympathetically as I pulled "The Tower" repeatedly) cast runes. She would efficiently and rather clinically, tell me bits about my past, present and future with mostly accurate results. As any good fortuneteller does, she read more of the information from my face and body language, than from whatever medium she was using.

One day she offered to do something she'd never done for me - she wanted to cast my zodiac chart. For her, this was no small endeavor. When she did these, she took her time - and it was a lot of time. I went about finding my birth certificate and asking relevant questions of my mother and grandmother (whose recollection was a bit better than my mother's - those being the days of labor with a considerable amount of drugs.)

Three days after presenting her with all of the relevant data, Sara called me back and said, "weren't you premature?"

"Yes," I answered, "by about 3 months. My first four months of life were spent in an incubator fighting pneumonia." She asked me to find out, if I could, my actual due date. With that information, helpfully provided by my grandmother, Sara went back to work.

The next day, more questions from Sara.

"What sign is your mother?" Leo.

"What sign is your grandmother?" Leo.

"I see," she said. "umm.. how many Leo women are there in your family?"

I started rattling off names and counting on my fingers, and just before I ran out of fingers, Sara stopped me and sat back in her chair. "Okay, okay, I get it," she said.

"Wow. That's a lot of lions."

The next day, over lunch, she laid out several charts and lists and summaries. She told me about my personality, challenges I was likely to face, the future I might look forward to. I smirked a bit because she had been my friend for so long, I didn't know how she could have said anything else - knowing me as well as she did.

After a few minutes, she stopped rearranging charts. She calmly stacked the papers into a neat pile, folded her hands on top of them and stared at me.

. . . Born into the Lion's Den . . .

"Here's the big thing - what you really need to take away from this," she said, waving her hands over the papers.

"That you were born that early, into that sign - is important. You wanted to be a Leo so much that you were born three months early to do it. Don't betray what you were meant to do with that. You were born surrounded by lions and expectations have always been high. But it's not their expectations you have to meet - it's your own worth you have to do justice to. Does that make sense?"

I nodded 'yes,' but I'm sure my face said, 'not really.'

She took my hands, and sighing, she looked again at my palms. "There will be times you won't feel much like a lioness. When that happens, remember who you are. Remember what you went through to be here." The look on her face made me wish I could go back to pulling "The Tower" all the time from the Tarot deck.

Over the years my belief in fortune-telling/divination technique waned quite a bit. Ninety-nine percent of the things Sara told me, while accurate, were broad enough in context that they could applied to almost anyone. My Leo personality has come through, though some have said I'm a little bit tempered by the sign I might have been (Scorpio) had I not been born so early. I've earned several nice, and not so nice, nicknames as a result.

. . . La Leona . . .

The first person to call me Leona was an uncle after I refused to put on a skirt for a family gathering, and insisted on wearing pants. (Considering the pants were part of a shiny green, pink and yellow striped, polyester pant suit, in retrospect I wish I'd gone with the skirt.) Over the years various cousins and friends have made reference to it, but it never really stuck. It was sort of something to pull out when I needed it - like an umbrella.

Lately, though, Sara's words have come back to me.

Pain, as it does for so many people, makes me feel small, weak, incapable, insufficient, inadequate to the tasks of my life. Very un-lion like. Over the last few years, weakness started to creep into my identity - to how I thought of myself.

Before tango, the only time I felt at all "lion-like" was working in the Cashier/Insurance office at the Student Health Center. Part of my job was to fight with insurance companies to get students' health care bills covered. One student, after spending two hours on the phone battling Cigna for an MRI, called me "The Rottweiler". I may have sounded like a rottweiler, but I felt like a lion. Every student that came through was my cub, my responsibility. I would fight the insurance company, I would fight the physicians who refused to document findings (which would cause claims to get denied) and get the costs covered any way I could.

It was exhausting, but I loved that job. I left when my work day became more about pushing paper around than fighting for the kids. When I lost that function as part of my work identity, I also felt I lost the last tie I had with La Leona.

. . . And then came tango . . .

I don't know exactly when or what woke la leona up, but about a year into dancing tango, she started to stir. I felt stronger, more capable, more graceful. I would have setback after setback with my body, but I kept coming back. Not exactly stronger - but more determined. When my dancing changed, when my focus changed (thanks to my teachers for getting me on the right track) to my embrace rather than chasing patterns, La Leona became a constant companion.

Last Spring after my surgery, I thought I'd lost her again. I was down and I didn't know if I could get back up. I was having to work so much harder, and getting hurt so much more easily. My pool of partners to dance with, without risk of injury, was getting smaller. Rather than looking at the limitations of my new situation, I tried to turn things around. I started looking at the partners with whom I could dance well - and without risk of pain. I focused on them, on what they were doing, and what I was doing differently when I danced with them. I worked harder and practiced more. I ramped up my physical therapy to get my (abdominal) range of motion back.

By the end of the summer, La Leona was back. No longer my companion some of the time, just when I needed her - she was stretched under my skin to the ends of my fingers and toes. There is a comfort in feeling my face against my leader's face, that makes me purr. A slinky, soft density I sometimes find in my steps.

. . . Conclusion: a Vignette . . .

A leader from another city mentioned that there was sometimes a ferocity, or fierceness, in my dance - even in my embrace. Especially during Pugliese. (Well, of course, it would be Pugliese, wouldn't it?)

I answered as innocently as I could, "I don't know what you mean. I just like to snuggle into the embrace."

"Can one snuggle ferociously? Is that a possible thing?" he asked.

"I don't know - but it sounds pretty good."

A Tale of Two Couples

A very small rant.

In front of my table, along the festival dance floor, danced two couples.  The couple to my right was so compelling that I was grateful the line of dance was moving so slowly. I could have watched them all night. In a pause in the phrase, the leader had no room to move, so he simply rocked her slowly with the music, three times like a slow heartbeat. I could see her exhale against his neck. Waves of emotion rolled out from them. It felt like they were struggling to contain such intense emotion in each elegant, graceful movement. I couldn't look away.  When they stepped again, it was so soft, so smooth, I wondered if she knew she was moving.  Every turn, every step, so deliberate, so smooth, so connected, it made my heart ache a bit to watch them.

When I could no longer see them well, my eyes shifted to the couple behind them. They whirled, tapped, kicked and stomped around and around in only occasoinally contained chaos. They were hitting every beat, and about 3 beats between each beat. Loud, fast. Their eyes staring at the floor in intense concentration, they whirled around taking up every inch they could, forcing couples around to avoid them. One couple wasn't quite fast enough and a stray stiletto swiped the another dancer's foot. The whirling couple didn't notice the other couple leaving the floor. Didn't apologize. Didn't alter their dance at all.

The difference in their dances was obvious. But here's the most ironic, and to me most disappointing, part: the first leader is a teacher, but hired for our festival to dj. The second leader (and follower) were teachers hired to do workshops and privates.

It made my heart sink.

The Lows - A Thousand Kisses Deep

"Lean into the sharp points and fully experience them. The essence of bravery is being without self-deception. Wisdom is inherent in (understanding) emotions." ~Pema Chodron

After the festival, my non-tango life came back far too soon.

I wasn't ready.

Mondays (especially after so much dancing) are often saturated with tango hangover. The non-tango world seems too bright, too cold, with too many sharp edges. Bad news, crises, politics, business as usual - all took their toll Monday. I danced at lunch to cheer myself up, but it wasn't quite enough.

For once, a non-tango song brought my very tango aching to the surface. As I listened, everything felt so suddenly overwhelming.

"You live your life, as if it's real,
A thousand kisses deep."

I have never been very nostalgic for my past. I am, on occasion however, quite nostalgic for the fantasies I've held. I sometimes miss the lies I told myself and could make myself believe.

Today was the day of reminders and hard lessons. Necessary, but oh so soon after being cocooned in my tango bliss.

so I lean into the sharp points.
I make myself be grateful for truth,
as I should be,
for seeing things clearly.
But sometimes, I wish the fantasy
would last just a little bit longer.

My teacher's words come back to me . . .   some day, she said, you just won't be able to go back, to leave the tango life.

A Thousand Kisses Deep
(the song version*) 

The ponies run, the girls are young,
The odds are there to beat.
You win a while, and then it’s done –
Your little winning streak.
And summoned now to deal
With your invincible defeat,
You live your life as if it’s real,
A Thousand Kisses Deep.

I’m turning tricks, I’m getting fixed,

I’m back on Boogie Street.
You lose your grip, and then you slip
Into the Masterpiece.
And maybe I had miles to drive,
And promises to keep:
You ditch it all to stay alive,
A Thousand Kisses Deep.

And sometimes when the night is slow,

The wretched and the meek,
We gather up our hearts and go,
A Thousand Kisses Deep.

Confined to sex, we pressed against

The limits of the sea:
I saw there were no oceans left
For scavengers like me.
I made it to the forward deck.
I blessed our remnant fleet –
And then consented to be wrecked,
A Thousand Kisses Deep.

I’m turning tricks, I’m getting fixed,

I’m back on Boogie Street.
I guess they won’t exchange the gifts
That you were meant to keep.
And quiet is the thought of you,
The file on you complete,
Except what we forgot to do,
A Thousand Kisses Deep.

And sometimes when the night is slow,

The wretched and the meek,
We gather up our hearts and go,
A Thousand Kisses Deep

The ponies run, the girls are young,

The odds are there to beat . . . 

 *There is also a deeply moving poem (also by Leonard Cohen) which is quite different (but with similar themes) recited by Cohen himself, here:

Austin Spring Tango Festival - Higher Highs

Picture courtesy of Morgue File Stock Photos

Another Austin Spring Tango Festival has passed - my third year.  Feet, ankles, knees are all swollen. I slept for 10+ hours last night, and I'm still exhausted. I didn't have the stamina I had hoped for - but I had enough to enjoy some absolutely, heartbreakingly beautiful dances.  Old friends, and men I had only just met, held me with such warmth and tenderness, I felt like I was floating every night.

This was the first festival I attended that I really knew who I was - as a dancer, as a woman. I was comfortable in my own skin, not trying to mimic a teacher, or any other dancer. I learned so much - not in classes, but within the embraces of the men who held me, and in conversations - at the milongas, at practica, in hallways and in my kitchen at 5 in the morning. At Whataburger at 4:30 am, talking about tango in the deep, meaningful, silly ways one is prone to talking at that time of morning. I learned so much I'm having a hard time even sorting through all of it.

There was a kind of pressure - self-imposed as always, to be the woman that I write I am. To walk the walk I talk in this blog. To bring my heart, body and soul to every dance. To embrace my leader with the feeling that he is the most important person in the world while he is in my arms - because he is. He should be . .   at least one tanda at a time.

To my surprise and immeasurable gratitude, I was held that way in return. By men who knew me from the beginning of my dancing life, to men who had never met me. I needed to know it was possible. Sometimes, too often, it doesn't work that way. You arrive, your heart to his, and find the wall. The door closed. It is a very intimate rejection. No one can see it - but the feeling saturates every movement.

But not this weekend. Not even once.

By Sunday, the pain and exhaustion set in. Once again I missed the last milonga of the festival on Sunday night. I fell asleep around sundown, sore, tired, and elated.