The Great Central Texas Tango Shoe Survey(s)

I'm doing market research on the tango shoes that are most needed in Central Texas/Austin community.  What I have been hearing lately at practica and in my classes/consultations, is that dancers around town would like to see some more choices in:
1. Low-heeled ladies tango shoes
2. Ladies practice shoes
3. Men's shoes
4. Men's practice shoes.
5. Wide and narrow widths
6. Shoes with more padding
7. Ladies shoes with strappy toe box to accommodate various foot issues.
In an effort to see how feasible bringing more shoes of the above variety into town, I am collecting data on what dancers wear, and what they like. Please feel free to comment here or send me an email at infinitetango(at)gmail(dot)com.

Meanwhile here are the two surveys:

If you're having trouble finding tango shoes in Central Texas - take the survey and let me know what you're looking for. (Keep in mind, I can't stock the shoes you want, if I don't know your preferences.)

Also, since the picture didn't attach to the survey, here is the picture to refer to for heel styles:

Third Annual Austin Day of Tango Festival - December 6-8!

Join the Academy of Tango-Texas in celebrating the third annual “Day of Tango” Festival in Texas!

Featuring: Performances, Live Music, Workshops, Dancing & more!

The Day of Tango has been celebrated in Argentina every year on December 11 since 1965 to honor the birth dates of two men responsible for the worldwide promotion of the Tango: Carlos Gardel and Julio De Caro. With the approval of La Academia Nacional del Tango de la Republica Argentina, The Academy of Tango-Texas is proud to bring this momentous celebration to Austin!

December 6-8, 2013

For more information please visit:
Or call: (512) 695-1024

Schedule of Events:
Friday, December 6th @ Ben Hur Hall
Workshop 6:15 - 7:45 PM Fabian & Roxana
Workshop 8:00 - 9:30 PM Patricio & Eva
Milonga 9:30 - 12:30 AM

Saturday, December 7th @ Ben Hur Hall
Workshop 11:00 - 12:30 PM Fabian & Roxana
Workshop 12:45 - 2:15 PM Fabian & Roxana
Workshop 2:30 - 4:00 PM Patricio & Eva
Workshop 4:15 - 5:45 PM Patricio & Eva
Milonga 8:30 PM
Performances 10:00 PM
Closing 1:00 AM

Sunday, December 8th @ Esquina Tango

Workshop 12:00 - 1:30 PM Patricio & Eva
Workshop 1:45 - 3:15 PM Patricio & Eva
Workshop 3:30 - 5:00 PM Fabian & Roxana
Workshop 5:15 - 6:45 PM Fabian & Roxana
Milonga 7:00 PM

7811 Rockwood Ln, Austin, Texas 78757-1139

A Little Kindness . . .

“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt
“Isn't it kind of silly to think that tearing someone else down builds you up?”
― Sean Covey, The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective Teens  
I posted this one Facebook in response to a link share, but I think it needs to go here on the blog as well.

The original link on Facebook was to Paul Yang's post on "In Search of Tango", titled, "Why People Quit Tango." 

It was shared by several people, but Shellie Hubbard's comment summed it up beautifully:

"Very short and to the point. A good read for all, but I want to take a moment to address a very small, yet very destructive, segment of our tango society.

So, to you select ladies... Enough with the, "I didn't feel your lead" followed by instruction on the floor garbage. Also, stop leaving the new men to twist on their own while you dance exclusively with the more experienced leads. If you as a lady aren't bringing a lead to the socials, then good God, stop driving away the ones who come on their own or with others. (And stop complaining about how there are "no men." The few in attendance HEAR YOU and wonder why you don't consider them adequate.) If you think I am talking about you, then I probably am! Wake up, honey. You are part of the problem."

Saturday night I heard a woman rant several times about the quality of the leaders in attendance at the milonga. These weren't floorcraft observations of collisions or that sort of thing. Her comments were harsh, bordering on cruel - and loud enough for me to hear as I passed by with my partner on the ronda.

Later I heard from one of the leaders who was the subject of her rant. He, and others around him, were also affected by her words. So I wasn't the only one who'd heard her.
I am guilty of making comments when I see collisions and rude behavior and the pista. Mostly these are directed at dancers who've been dancing long enough to know far better than they're behaving. But even those comments, as justified as they feel at the time, don't help anything. They don't address the behavior to the individual(s) responsible and can contribute to a sour mood in the milonga. I've been trying more and more to keep my mouth shut and my mind open.
But comments like what I heard Saturday night go even beyond critical observation. I remember vividly what it was like to be the least experienced dancer in the room - repeatedly. Or when I was more experienced, having a rough night and just dancing badly. A couple of times comments directed to me, or about me within earshot, were enough for me to reconsider continuing to dance. I stayed with it because more people encouraged me than discouraged me.
We all have opinions all the time. We're human and I'm no Mother Teresa. (If I had a dime for every floorcraft related *facepalm* I've done at the milonga, I'd have a lot more tango shoes . . . ) But for God's sakes keep poisonous judgments to yourself. Beginner leaders can become great leaders, and they remember those comments - and the women who said them. The same is true for followers who remember, often with deep embarrassment, the men who chided and instructed them in the middle of the dance floor.
A little a kindness goes a very long way.

Next Practica de la Leona - Sunday, August 11th!

Another Tango Practica de la Leona - August 11th!

When: Sunday, August 11th


PRACTICA DE LA LEONA: from 12:00pm-3:00pm

Where: 8650 Spicewood Springs Rd #104 Austin, TX 78759 (Austin Bellydance Studio)

Cost: by donation. Donation is not required to participate.
DJ: Patrick Stallings

(On the opposite end of the shopping center from Big Lots - near Cupprimo and Liberty Pharmacy.)

A map can be found on Bahaia's "Instruction" page here. )

Description: The next Practica de la Leona will be Sunday, July 28th from 12:00 pm - 3:00 pm at Austin Bellydance Studio. Come practice what our wonderful visiting instructors have been teaching us with wonderful friends on a great floor!

Bottled water will be provided along with snacks. Feel free to bring treats to enjoy or share, but please understand that the owner of the studio would prefer that we keep food, and non-water beverages away from the dance floor and enjoy them instead in the back room area.

There is plenty of free parking in the shopping center, plus places to eat etc.

Please send any suggestions, feedback etc., any time - and thank you all for your support and ideas. Also, Betsi would be happy to rent out her studio space for any classes, workshops, private lessons etc., and for the summer, the schedule is very open. One time bookings are $30 an hour for the space. Weekly bookings are $25/hr. Please contact Betsi Robins (Bahaia) at for more information.

abrazos y besos!

What Makes a Successful Dance Space?

A theory . . . some "woo woo" ramblings on organizing practicas and milongas . . .
What makes a milonga successful? Or a practica?  Any individual factor can be bad enough to break it - if the floor is truly awful, many people won't risk injury to dance on it. It will be tough to reach "critical mass" attendance. If there is no parking, again, reaching critical mass will be tough. It can be done, but it will be that much harder. It's easy (for me anyway) to rattle off the qualities I like to see in a milonga/practica space - but there is one factor that's much harder to quantify. With this one factor, I will dance on a bad floor, happily pay a parking fee, go to another city to dance etc. 

What's the factor?

Is the space loved?

Not loved just by the owner of the space (though that is incredibly important) - but does the organizer feel strongly about the space itself?  Not its floor, or parking, or lighting or sound system individually - but the space, as abstract as this sounds, as an entity itself. All the pieces are important, but even with state of the art facilities, a milonga that feels cold or unwelcoming will struggle to survive.
In this town, the most loved tango space is almost certainly Esquina Tango. It feels welcoming and warm not because of its physical attributes (though it has a great floor and free parking etc.) - but because the owners, organizers and dancers love the space.

The space in which we dance is part of the relationship, part of the dance, with an embrace of its own . . .  My first revelation, of hopefully many to come, as an organizer in the studio I'm renting came after I finished my weekly cleaning. I stood in the middle of the floor and thought . . .

I love this space . . .

Guest Post: Happy in the Flow by Jane Prusakova

Guest post from Jane Prusakova

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” – Buddha  (Epigraph borrowed from Zen Habits - Guide to Achieving Flow and Happiness in Your Work )

Flow is a state of being when a person is fully focused on a task at hand, feels happy and in control, is creative and productive.  The time and space (environment) outside of the task cease to exist, past and future drop off the horizon.  There is only a happy, glorious, challenging NOW.  

Tango is ultimate flow-producing activity – the music and interaction within the couple (and with the rest of the floor) require complete concentration, the challenge and creativity are infinite, and dancers are fully in control.  All of which leads to a fairly easy conclusion that tango equals happiness.  

Except it does not.  There is a whole lot of frustration out on the pista.  Leads upset that the follow is not doing what they are leading when they are leading it.  Followers are nervous that they are not doing enough decorations at the appropriate spots in the music.  Both partners worried how they look to the spectators, whether they are about to run into another couple, and how much damage is about to be done to their reputation, hairstyle and their partner’s ego if they don’t start on “one”.  How do we get from here to the Flow? 

I do not have a simple answer.  “How to experience tango Flow” isn’t a class many instructors offer (although some come close).   Yet, as more people join the community, it is important to both learn and teach what it is that makes us happy, creative and productive – or at least feel that way.

Practica de la Leona - June 30th, 2013

Add to your Google calendar:

When: Sunday, June 30th,

SPECIAL FREE CLASS 12:00-12:30pm:
Foot Technique and Care for a more graceful, grounded, and comfortable lifetime of dancing! (for men and women!)

Practica de la Leona: from 12:30pm-3:00pm

Where: 8650 Spicewood Springs Rd #104 Austin, TX 78759 (Austin Bellydance Studio)

Cost: by donation
DJ: Juan Marcos

(On the opposite end of the shopping center from Big Lots - near Cupprimo and Liberty Pharmacy.)

A map can be found on Bahaia's "Instruction" page.

Description: The next Practica de la Leona will be Sunday, June 30th from 12:30 pm - 3:00 pm at Austin Bellydance Studio. Come practice what our wonderful visiting instructors have been teaching us with wonderful friends on a great floor!

There will be a FREE CLASS from 12:00-12:30pm: Foot Technique and Care for a more graceful, grounded, and comfortable lifetime of dancing! (For men and women!)

Then later, let's see everyone at Tapestry Practica - 2302 Western Trails, Austin, TX 78745!

Bottled water will be provided along with snacks. Feel free to bring treats to enjoy or share, but please understand that the owner of the studio would prefer that we keep food, and non-water beverages away from the dance floor and enjoy them instead in the back room area.

There is plenty of free parking in the shopping center, plus places to eat etc.

Please send any suggestions, feedback etc., any time - and thank you all for your support and ideas. Also, Betsi would be happy to rent out her studio space for any classes, workshops, private lessons etc., and for the summer, the schedule is very open. One time bookings are $30 an hour for the space. Weekly bookings are $25/hr. Please contact Betsi Robins (Bahaia) at bahaiatx(at) for more information.

abrazos y besos!

PS - I will have my items for sale again this time for my Tanguera Clothing and Accessories Sale. See more information and pictures here (note some items have sold, please let me know if you have questions.):  Tanguera Practica Sale to raise money to go to Labor Day Tango Festival! 

Javier Rochwarger's Workshops in Austin, Texas

Second class of Javier Rochwarger's Workshops at Esquina Tango, Austin
(Background: I've had classes/lessons with Javier Rochwarger for the last 3 years. He makes his annual visit to Esquina Tango here in Austin every Spring. You can read about two of my previous experiences here: Spring, 2011 and here: Summer, 2012. )

Group Classes
One of the reasons Javier is so popular is that everything he teaches in group classes is taught in the context of the social dance. The movements and the technique are intended for dancing on a populated floor, and respecting the line of dance. He talks about listening to the structure of the music and understanding movement in terms of the music's grammar. His classes have always been filled with beautiful and immediately applicable skills on the milonga floor. Javier's focus is on the quality of the embrace and of the dancer's movement - not so much on sequences, though he does use them. When he uses a sequence, it's most often to demonstrate the point of technique he is trying to make.  (Connecting turns, making use of crosses in certain places in the music, disassociation etc.)  
He is funny, and as his website says "warmly intense", but he is not timid with correction. He does not take himself too seriously, but he does take the material he teachers very seriously. He knows he has very little time so he is direct with his instructions and with his feedback.

This year I took more group classes than last year - I managed 3 out of 5 group classes and 2 shared private lessons with different partners.  Javier's group classes are about the only group classes I seek out anymore, mostly because he  really tries to give followers "equal time" when it comes to technique instruction. (In most group classes, I feel like a prop or worse, a crash test dummy, present only to give the leaders someone to practice their new moves on. I understand the importance of that, truly - but I paid for the class too. ) Javier really makes an effort to work with everyone at some point in the class and that's no easy task, especially in a large class.

At the beginning of every workshop (and private lesson), he asks the dancers to dance at least once, usually a couple of times, to get a feel for where, collectively, the students are in their dance. If necessary, he adjusts what he had planned to teach to better help the students as a group. So I can tell you he focused on embrace, collecting (and when not to collect), pauses, disassociation and turns in the classes I was in - but that may not be what he focuses on in other classes.

Private (shared) Lessons
I've written before that many dancers, myself included, rarely get truly surprising feedback in private lessons at this point. I usually have an idea of what is going wrong, I just don't know how to fix it. Every once in a while I get a, 'When did I start doing that???' moment, but thankfully not too often.

The homework list this year is, sadly (see previous post), much like last year's list.
(In no particular order.)

1. Straighten my back and stop sagging/tilting at the middle. I have less "middle" now, but I shouldn't be resting it on my partner if he's not inviting that in the embrace.

2. While we're on the subject of waiting to be invited  - wait to be invited into the leader's embrace rather than putting myself where I want to be. There is always some negotiation of the embrace but latching onto the leader, where I have not been invited to be, can feel presumptuous and limiting to the dance.

3. Continue to work on balance issues. That part was relatively new given my current  muscle issues, but I got a very clear demonstration of how it is limiting the options of my partners.
4. Get control of my weight changes and axis.This is one of those things that, because I only recently understood how to begin to affect that change, it is taking a very long time for me to work on. It's a case of different metaphors/explanations work for different people and it took a long time to find an explanation that worked for me.
5.Disassociation needs to be more clear and controlled. This one really is about my own bad habits. Here in Austin, for several reasons, most leaders open the embrace to do ochos and turns so I don't really have to disassociate as much as I do when I dance in other cities. Some of that is because it is so often taught (in open embrace) that way in Austin - but I didn't realize until I was in the group classes this weekend how few dancers (followers and leaders) can manage turns and ochos smoothly and comfortably in close embrace when directed to do so.

: It's not that I object to doing turns and ochos in open embrace - I don't mind at all as a style issue. I do mind a bit when I'm being pushed and pulled through turns because my partner has not been taught to rotate his torso separately from his (or her) hips.
6. Stop the auto-collecting and wait for the leader to actually lead me to collect. Collecting too soon, or without being led to, limits certain options for the leader. It was particularly noticeable (as an obstacle) when dancing vals.
7. While we're at it - stop auto anything. Some things you do as a default when you're first learning tango - but after awhile, damned few things in tango should be considered "automatic".
8. Continue work on hip laxity which slows down my ability to truly land my side steps. I land my foot, but my hip is still in motion or pulled slightly over the foot. This is an ongoing PT and training issue that my teacher was able to refine in terms of the dance.
9. Slow down. We disagreed at first on this topic as he believed I was anticipating the lead, but after actually testing my balance, he admitted what I had initially told him was true - I'm falling into the next step, not getting ahead. This is the most deeply frustrating part of my tango training right now. 
A couple of months ago, my balance was more solid than it had been in my entire adult life. Starting High Intensity Interval Training in the manner I did has developed my muscle tone (which is great - my body fat percentage dropped from over 32 to 28% in less than 2 months) but in very unbalanced ways (which is less great.)  I didn't combine my HIIT training with the complementary strength training that would have prevented this problem and now I'm having to retrain and do more corrective exercises to address that. (More on that in a different post.)  It gets better every week, but I'm just not where I want to be yet.
10. Get better control of my hips/balance/abdominal muscles to reduce unintentional movements in the dance, like breaking at the waist, dropping my hip, rocking to the side etc. 


More notes from my second private lesson.

1. In terms of posture and embrace, when I thought I was disassociating, I wasn't really using contrabody motion (at least not consistently), but simply breaking at the waist and dropping my hip and/or shoulder. I had to feel the "correct" way several times (by leading Javier) to feel what I needed to do with my own body. Through turns in particular, even in the ocho cortado which is very minimal pivot, I was falling slightly away from my partner.

2. Again, as above, don't be so quick to complete the "move" - slow down.

3. Match the energy my partner gives me.

4. Keep working on the balance issues - especially using the disassociation exercises. I made more progress on my balance this weekend than I have in the past two weeks simply using the suggestions Javier gave me.  I wish I could explain them here - but even when Javier explained them to me verbally, I struggled to understand. Once he showed me, as a leader and as a follower, within the embrace - I got it.

My only regret was that, once again, I forgot to record either the lesson, or a wrap up dance to review later.  :-/  My brain was too full.

For more about Javier Rochwarger, visit his webpage here:
Videos of his teaching/dancing can be found here:

Reality Check . . . again. . .

(I am not using the name of the teacher in this post, even though my follow-up posts will identify him, because it doesn't really matter who the teacher is for this subject - and I don't want to get distracted in defending or attacking his style of dancing/teaching etc.)

The continuing adventures of a slow learner . . .
It is deeply disheartening to have my yearly private lesson with a teacher I've studied with the last 3 years, and be corrected for the same mistakes I've been making for the same . three . years.

The first year, he was very understanding. I was still pretty new - only dancing a year. The next year he pushed a little harder and I made excuses. I said I would practice - I would work on it. This year was intensely frustrating. These were things I should have resolved by now - fundamental issues with my embrace, control of my axis, how I change weight. The foundation of tango.

Instead of becoming defensive in the lesson (and wasting my partner's time as well as our teacher's), I detached a little bit. I looked at my dance from his perspective. I tried to imagine how frustrating it must be for him. He comes every year, tells his students, usually many of the same students, the same advice year after year after year. Very little seems to change. Our embraces, generally speaking, are weak. Our control of our axes, even weaker. Our walks are rocky, uneven, falling from one step into the next. That's not true for everyone of course - but for far too many to be ignored.

In my (shared) lesson, I tried, probably out of habit, to make an excuse again - this isn't the way I usually dance. I'm not used to it. I usually dance "buttons-to-buttons", milonguero, full on close embrace. This teacher dances in close embrace but using slightly more of the "v" than I am used to. Even as I made my familiar excuse - I knew it was feeble. It's my job as a follower to adapt - to give what I get in the embrace if I agree to dance. Being able to do that is what makes certain followers so very popular - their ability to adapt easily, seamlessly to any partner they choose to dance with.

After the words came out of my mouth, I immediately regretted saying them. I let the excuse just fall to the floor. He didn't answer it, he just moved on. In fact the feedback/correction he gave me through out most of the lesson was wordless. We both knew instantly when I was slipping up, so there was no need to point out much of anything verbally. He would make corrections to my posture with his embrace and we just kept working. I knew what I needed to do - I just needed to replace the old habits with the new ones. When I needed explanation, he gave it and he gave it very clearly.

Still, my monkey brain was wild at work over-thinking and coming up with more and more excuses. Yes, I've had surgery. Yes, I've had health challenges to my muscles, my posture and my balance - but fundamentally, I just didn't give those issues in my dance attention. They aren't things that are focused on by teachers, or even many of the leaders here in Austin, so I got lazy. With few exceptions (and there are exceptions if you look for them) this is a figures-centric town. I worked on the things that were easier. Now it's clear that I cannot progress my dance until these issues are addressed. Other visiting teachers, and teachers I have sought out in other cities, have had consistently the same criticisms for me.

I've had this mentality of, well I do this, this and this pretty well, I shouldn't have to worry too much about these other things - especially if no one else is giving me negative feedback about it. The problem really is that if I know something is broken and needs work, I shouldn't need someone else to remind me that I need to fix it. It's not going away on it's own. Worse, it is impacting my ability to progress my dance. My lack of technique is impairing my ability to express the music and connect to my partners.

A visiting teacher can't fix your bad habits or mine - there isn't time and that's really not his job. It is his or her job to point out what needs work and get you going in the right direction to overcoming the obstacles. Ultimately it's my job to seek out local teachers, partners and any resources I can find to address the what needs work on my own.  I usually have every intention of doing that. But then the weeks go by and I get busy doing other things, as we all do, and I don't make it a priority. Is it any surprise then that a year later, standing in front of my teacher, I am getting the same feedback I did the year before?

Now it's finally sinking in. Having my own group practica, as well as booking my solo time in the studio, has removed any excuses I might have had left. No one is going to do this work for me and it's long overdue.

For my next post, more for my own recollection than anything else, this year's work list. Maybe by next year I can at least garner some new and interesting criticism.

Rebel, Rebel

Move along, nothing to see here . . . .
I had a 'talking to' no less than 3 times weekend before last - all by dancers I deeply respect and admire. They were each very helpful, well-reasoned arguments against what I had "taken to doing lately with a particular leader."

When it happened, I knew I'd hear about it.  Mouths turned down at the corners, eyebrows knitted and furrowed, a couple of quiet comments were made. On the milonga floor, my leader was breaking the rules, and I was not only letting him, but worse, I was also grinning madly in response.

It was a threefold milonga scandal:

1. My leader and I changed the embrace from a traditional abrazo, to what would look like an odd practice embrace - his arms over my shoulders and my arms around his ribcage (he's quite a bit taller than I am). It looked like I'd given him a big hug and we just started moving. I'll get to the reason for this in a moment - for now, just know that in my communities, as in most tango communities, it's considered inappropriate to be using a practice embrace at a milonga. Practice is for classes and practicas, not social dancing venues. Which leads me to the second point.

2. We were technically practicing. We were problem-solving - not just dancing socially. For that I do take complete responsibility. The reason was, quite simply, I was leaning on my partner and likely making him uncomfortable. Rather than stop the dance and sit me down, he changed the embrace so that we could both be comfortable and I could regain a sense of my axis. (One of the odd side effects of my training has been a sort of uneven redistribution of muscle mass. This has compromised my balance while proprioceptors figure out where all of my bits are again and retrain the weaker muscles. This particular leader has been helping me regain my coordination.)

3. We also changed roles (very briefly - I doubt it was longer than a single phrase of the music.) The strange and beautiful thing about the embrace we were using was that 'lead' and 'follow' became very blurry, fluid things. Within that embrace I had almost as much input as my leader did on the musical expression in our dance. I commented on it between songs and because I didn't mind what we were doing, we continued in that embrace through next song.

The crowd that night was very, very light and there was loads of room. To my knowledge, I can't imagine how we could have interfered with anyone else - except by the way that we looked. While I danced with this particular leader, I had a whole new understanding of communication in the embrace that I hadn't experienced before. We have danced since then, and periodically take that embrace again.

I will confess, I am a fairly crappy leader. I can manage walking, but only just - and it's not pretty. But for the first time I was able to actually try leading for a few steps in a relaxed, fairly contained, way. As I said - I loved it.
Normally all that would have caused was some raised eyebrows and a couple of comments. But the next thing that happened demonstrated exactly why dancers should resist the temptation to "practice" and/or "teach" on the dance floor. I'm told that another leader imitated what we were doing. We set the example and so it became, for at least that other couple, acceptable for them too. That was the sticking point in the conversations I had later. And I admit, especially given what happened, it's a valid point. Practicing has no place in the milonga for exactly that reason. Now that I've been appropriately chastised, this leader and I practice in that manner only in practica. 
My question is, where do you draw the line? When a couple must make modifications to the embrace for mutual comfort - at what point does it become the business of other couples?

More changes for My Tango Diaries and Leona Training

As you may or may not have noticed, the URL for this blog, and for Leona Training for Dancers, has changed to and respectively. It was long overdue, I was just nervous that the transfer would not go well. Mostly it went fine but there have been a couple of hiccups. (And if you happened to be reading this blog while I was going through my experimentation phase of "Let's try this . . . and this . . . and maybe this other thing," with the layout and template - thanks for your patience.)

The biggest hiccup is that my extensive, and up-to-date, Tango Blog List got completely blown away. It's not even in the backup, which I don't understand, but there we are.  I need help from you dear readers to try to build it again. If you can, please send me your own tango blog links, and the blogs that you like so that I can compile the blog roll again.  Meanwhile, above there is a tab for my Tango Blogs page, but the page is not as current as my other list was. It also isn't arranged according to most recent update. I promise to get the list built as quickly as possible.

The best my phone camera could do, more pictures coming soon.

In other news, I am back to renting space at what used to be McPhail Dance Studio and is now home to Austin Belly Dance. Dancer/teacher Bahaia has done beautiful things with the space. I hope to use it for holding stability, posture and training sessions, maybe some small classes and foot care for dancers clinics, as well as one-on-one consultations as soon as my schedule frees up again. I'm getting input from some friends and dancers on the space to see if it might be appropriate for future (tango) practicas as well. The lighting and sound system have all been updated and are fabulous, so I'm excited to see if this works out.

I'd also like to say thank you to everyone who's been giving me such great advice and feedback. Thank you, thank you, thank you for the recommendations, contacts and suggestions!

Where you found me

“Five minutes are enough to dream a whole life, that is how relative time is.” ― Mario Benedetti.

Where did you find me?

I laugh a little, my glasses are where you found me.
The lights are still low as poor-sighted dancers
search for their spectacles.
Right now I cannot see a thing.

When you found me, what was I doing?
What was I thinking, so long ago,
5 minutes ago,
1 year ago,
5 years ago,
when you found me?
I can't remember anymore.
I am remembering everything wrong,
everything colored by the music and soft sighs.

Your arm is gone,
your voice is gone,
hazy-visioned and disoriented,
I try to return to the place I was.

When I think I am there,
I realize, blinking slowly,
hands reaching toward empty space,
it is no longer there.
It has moved on without me.
That place where you found me.
And with it,
the woman you found there.

The moon has coated me with dust . . .

This isn't a tango post, but it is a music post - and I think somewhat applicable.

It is an almost miraculous thing when a piece of music can speak to us in different ways, in different times in our lives. Sometimes it's a matter of maturity and understanding the depth of a piece over time - but sometimes it's more. The story in the music is so big and yet so personal all at the same. So wherever you are, the song is there, singing to your story. Showing you pieces of your own world you may not have put together yet.

Pheobe Snow's "Isn't it a Shame," off of her Second Childhood album, is that kind of song for me, and for my mom. I've written before how my mom and I found much common ground through her music.   When we couldn't find the words to tell each other, Pheobe let us both tell our stories to each other, without having to explain.

Everyone reads "Isn't a Shame" differently. To some it is very sad, almost pessimistic. Like the Tower card in a tarot deck - to some it means failure or ruin. To others, and to me, it symbolizes the castles of cards we make with our ego. The illusions we indulge. Our weaknesses we've tried to disguise as strengths.

Who is she talking to?  Who knows? When I hear it tell my story, it is always someone different. Sometimes "Can you help me" really means, "can you forgive me?"  Other times it has meant that I cannot find the strength to dig out on my own.

Do you have songs that have spoken to you at different points in your life?

Isn't it a shame
Not to have something to believe in
To have to cry in public places
Frightened by children making faces

Travel folders call you
So do your memories
But the statistics seem to stall you
And they whisper it's a tease . . .

The moon has coated me with dust
I must look a sight
I left my mind out in the rain
So please don't be polite

Can you help me
Can you help me...later on tonight
Can you help me
Can you help me
At least until it's light...

Tonight I won't be drinking
I'll love you anyway (ay ay ay)
I will be very busy thinking
But I can still come out and play

It's more than medication
It is all that's on the shelf
The simple fact that I'm alive and well
And I'm laughing at myself

My casual friends were casualties
My foes were just faux pas
but I still have that second chance
And I'm listening for applause

Look at us poor souls down here
Tryin' to turn an honest trick
Every second season seems we think
We're tired or sick

Can you help us, can you help us
Something's got to click
Can you help me, can you help me
To sing another lick....

Unfortunately I could not find this one online anywhere. You can hear a sample of it here, and of course buy the mp3.

Picture above, courtesy of Wikipedia. Phoebe Snow (1950-2011)

Tango Feet - Shoe Selection and Injury Prevention

Those shoes aren't made for walkin' . . . While they have ankle straps for support, the platform bottom reduces the ability to flex the feet. The wearer isn't stable (either because the heel is too high or the shoe is poorly balanced) because her toes are "gripping" the shoe. She has no room to spread her toes increasing her instability.

I've been overwhelmed with emails so I've gotten behind on responding to this topic. A lot of the questions have the same answers, so I'm going to share them here as well as answer in pm or email, because there seem to be so many common threads.

1. If, when wearing your tango shoes, you cannot put all 5 of your metatarsals (the joints of the ball of your foot) evenly on the ground when you walk, you won't be dancing at your best. This is basic biomechanics - the ball of your foot needs to be completely on the floor to achieve stability.  The same goes with being able to move, and spread, your toes. I'm currently working with a dancer who has been dancing in shoes that allow for only the 1st and 5th metatarsal to land - 2,3 and 4 are pushed up in a cramped arch. Her balance, strength and posture have all been negatively impacted by this. (I received her permission to share that information.)

2. If you cannot flex (roll through your entire foot with your step) your foot, and you're landing your foot in a near-solid block, you can't dance at your best. Your foot needs to be able to flex to do its job. It can't if you've essentially wrapped it in a cast.

3. If, when you are standing with your legs straight (without bending your knees), you cannot raise your heel 1/2 an inch off the floor - the heel is too high for the current flexibility of your foot. You can change that, but it will usually take training your foot, not just wearing the same shoe around hoping it gets better.

We all know that the high heels are not good for our feet, legs and back and we also know that we're going to keep wearing them anyway. Such is tango life. What is essential at this point is treating and training our feet well when we're not in the silly shoes to help alleviate some of the negative consequences. It is also imperative to wear shoes that truly fit your feet well. When I try on tango shoes I don't even look at the color or patterns anymore. I don't care. I care if the shoe fits. I'll wear the damned things with solid black if I have to. As Daniela Arcuri told her Women's Technique class, your shoes need to work for you, not the other way around. If there's a pair that really fit well and feel great - I don't care what color they are. Likewise, a pair of shoes that are a work of art don't do me a bit of good if they negatively impact my dancing.

These things don't just impact your ability to dance well now, but to be able to dance well, and pain free, for a lifetime.

I'll get off the soap box now.
For long enough to get some coffee anyway.

The Poetry of the Foot - Adventures of a Would-be Barefoot Tanguera

Dancing is the poetry of the foot.  - John Dryden

My feet are stronger than they have ever been in my life. I can not only maintain demi-pointe (balancing over the balls of my feet) on one or both feet for several minutes at a time, but now I can do it almost completely perpendicular to the floor (half pointe). I couldn't raise my heel more than about 3 inches a year ago.  I worked and worked and worked my feet to build strength and flexibility for one purpose - to wear ever higher stilettos and be stable.  Now that I can articulate my foot and maintain my balance in ridiculous-height shoes (5"+), I find I don't want to.

Training my feet to tolerate, and dance well in, high heels actually required me to dance, train, and exercise barefoot. A lot. This was a surprise to me but all of the dance-field trainers told me that was really the best way to train. Shoes of almost any kind restrict the movement of your feet. To really develop the intrinsic muscles (the muscles inside the feet as opposed to those muscles that have a connection above the foot), I had to free them from the shoes. They explained that, generally, you don't want the shoe to have to support your feet. You want to have the strength in your feet (and calves, hamstrings, etc) to carry your own weight well, articulate through all of those 66 amazing joints and hold yourself stable.  The more I did it, the more I loved it. It's addictive to really feel what your feet can do - how they can move you, propel you over different surfaces - how they respond to the demands of the environment, and all of the information those nerve endings send you. Changing your feet will forever change how you move through space - and that, mi amigos, changes everything.

In tango practice I started wearing my black jazz "flats" that are more like slippers with about 1/2" positive heel. I loved it. At first I was anxious because there is a very real risk of damaging your feet if they're not strong enough or flexible enough to support you - especially if you dance on the balls of your feet whether you're in your shoes or not. But when my feet were forced to go through the movements, albeit very carefully and slowly, without the heel to rest on, they adjusted and strengthened. It took time and patience, and really paying attention to the signals my feet were sending. I had to slow down and really listen to my feet.

Soon, I was wearing Capezio Freeforms, a modern dance "shoe" that's more like a sturdy sock, with no heel at all. I could feel the texture of the floor under my feet. I could spread my toes. I could feel the vibration of the music in the floor. The only thing keeping me from dancing completely barefoot during practice was the friction issue - my feet don't slide the way I need them to.

Fast forward to now.

I've been working my feet for months, actually about a year, to be able to wear a higher and higher heel, only to find I don't want to wear the high heel much anymore. I wear a much lower heel whenever I can so that I can have more dynamic contact with the floor. I wear the lowest, thinnest, most flexible shoes I can find - but I don't go completely flat. (Though sometimes I wish I could.)  As good as it feels to dance truly against the floor, I can't deny the fact that my legs look better in heels. The image of the tanguera, I fear, will forever require at least something of heel. I can find no pictures - even from the 20's, of flat, or minimal, heeled shoes. So I wear them, even though I am now keenly aware of the damage they're doing. While I don't have the pain in my feet from wearing high heels that I used to have, I can still feel the effects the next day. My ankles are sore, my lower back is stiff, particularly if I danced a lot. My alignment feels "off" for awhile until I stretch and exercise the feeling out. I go walk barefoot in the grass to remind my feet I still love them, despite what I put them through the night before. For now they always seem to forgive me.

I know the arguments for the high-heeled shoes made for tango. They're made well compared to high-heeled street shoes, generally. They're stronger, more stable. We walk backwards the majority of the time in tango, and a high heel makes that a little easier.  We don't have to flex through the foot completely because the high heel "meets us" before we need to make heel contact with the floor. Then there is the aesthetic - the look of the long leg, despite its cost to our back, Achilles tendons, hamstrings, and feet. I've heard the arguments, and I've shared those arguments with others.

I've heard men (and women) judge a tanguera quite harshly if she wasn't wearing "tango" shoes. One told me directly, looking at my ballroom shoes when I first started dancing, that a dancer wasn't really serious about tango until she bought "proper" tango shoes. So I have my tango stilettos.  My body adjusts to them until they feel "normal". But I remind myself, that normal is really habitual - not natural. Sometimes, at the end of the milonga, I'll slip my Freeforms on. My partners don't seem to mind that I'm about 3 inches shorter. It takes a moment to adjust, to find my new place against their torso - but then we're off. I can get away with here. In a milonga where I'm not known, I'd be sitting on my butt in those slippers.

Still, I would love the opportunity to be connected to my partner - and have that same feeling of unrestricted contact and connection with the floor. If, as the poet John Dryden says, dance is the poetry of the foot - how can we create a work of beauty with the limited vocabulary our shoes allow us?

Part II: Antidote

The Antidote - it's what keeps us coming back . . .

I'd had too many rough experiences in one night. Actually, I'd had too many a night, for months. I was at the end of what I could take and thought, maybe it's a sign.

Maybe I need a break for awhile.

I'm becoming the person I didn't want to be. Tired. Frustrated. Cynical.  I've talked other people out of this place and back into tango - but I couldn't get the pep-talk to work on myself.

What do I want so badly?

My eyes wandered from my shoe bag to the door and as I turned my head, you caught my eyes. I smiled before I knew what I was doing. One more tanda. I'll dance one more tanda, I thought, then go home.

You were patient, waiting for me to relax and finally, half way through the first song, I did. I settled against your chest and breathed deeply for probably the first time that night. I listened to the music and our breathing and let everything else slip away. As we danced, I clung to the singer's voice more than usual. I forgot what I was so angry about. I almost forgot where I was.

When the music stopped, I was warm and happy. I looked into your smiling eyes and said, thank you for that. You just don't know how much I needed it. You squeezed my hand one more time and just smiled broadly.

You were the antidote. Thank you.

Part I: Poison


We all have milonga pet peeves and, from the comments I hear at the milongas and read in blogs, tango dancers have a lot of the same pet peeves. (Which makes me wonder why they happen with such regularity?) They range from small annoyances to behavior that can be physically harmful. Left unchecked it can make dancers decide to avoid certain people at the milonga of course, but also to avoid the milongas/venues where inappropriate or uncomfortable behavior is tolerated - or worse, where it is encouraged. 

I know the U.S. isn't Buenos Aires and I truly don't have that expectation. However, I would think many of these things would be common sense in most social situations - not just dancing. For some reason, they are not. 

(In no particular order - as always, your mileage may vary.)

1. Intrusive behavior. One example is when someone (particularly a stranger to that dancer) without any kind of welcome acknowledgment, approaches another dancer abruptly, gets in their face, and verbally asks him or her to dance. To get within inches of someone's face, or worse put your hand on them, and say something like 'we should dance this' is simply bad manners. It's presumptuous and often makes the recipient feel awkward and obligated to dance.  As I said, if you don't know that person - it's particularly rude.
2. Negative generalizations about followers or leaders, to include things like, "there weren't enough followers in class today - just goes to show that followers don't take tango as seriously as leaders - oh I was just kidding" #jokingbutnotreally. (The reverse statement referring to leaders is equally irritating.) Honestly, this is a big enough topic to warrant its own post. All I can say here is that generalizations are rarely helpful and neither is trying to guess another person's motivation. Keep conjecture to yourself.
3. Running commentary and talking over the music through the entire tanda - especially negative comments like the above. Socializing is part of the milonga but if you're talking the whole time - how are you hearing the music? And if you're not listening to the music, how are you dancing? Or connecting with your partner?
4. Correction/feedback/peddling of services while dancing at the milonga. Unacceptable, period. I'm not keen on it at the milonga at all, but it's particularly offensive when you're dancing with someone.
5. Another item to file under intrusive behavior, interrupting a couple while they are dancing, especially for any of the reasons listed in #4. It interrupts the connection of that couple to each other and to the music. It also stops the line of dance while you chit-chat. What is so important that it cannot wait until the cortina? (Warning, if you interrupt my partner and me while we're dancing to Cascabelito, and it's not because someone has been bumped or kicked, the building had better be on fire.)
6. Dancers who are talking loudly enough that they can be heard from every corner of the milonga - especially when they're doing any of the items listed in #4. Speaking loudly during the tandas prevents the other dancers from enjoying the music. I've been guilty of this and called to task on it in the past. It can happen to anyone. But when it's non-stop through the entire milonga, the dancers notice. It's distracting and can sour the mood and flow of the milonga.
7. Flash photography. I've written about this before, and so have many others - repeatedly. Photography without flash is one thing - I'm not happy about it if it's intrusive and interfering with dancers, but if it's not interfering with the flow of dance and dancers, I don't usually have any problem. Bright, especially flickering strobe-type flashes interfere with the dancers and with the flow of the milonga. (Do people not realize that those flashes actually hurt some peoples' eyes? Especially when it's done within a couple of feet of their face!) 
8. Stepping on, colliding, or kicking another person without any acknowledgement or apology. This is common sense - not even a dance issue. If you hurt someone, apologize. Why does this even have to be on the list?

A couple of those items happening in one night is annoying, but pretty common. Most of the time I can manage to have a very nice time at the milonga despite them.

When three to five of those things happen in one night, I start to question if I should leave early - or if I should have come at all.

If more than 6, or worse all of them, happen in one milonga, it pretty much poisons the milonga. I leave early, usually as early as I can, and debate whether I should return to that particular milonga at all.

In the very worst case, when all eight happen, and are most notably exhibited by teachers/organizers, I question whether I should continue to invest my energy and emotion so deeply in a dance/music/culture that I love so much - but is starting to take its toll on me. 

I find myself looking in the mirror and asking myself - should I even continue dancing tango in this city? What makes me want to do this so badly? 

Mi amigos, that is a very heart-breaking place to end up. 

From Social Dancer to Dance Trainer

A little light reading.

"The present letter is a very long one, simply because I had no leisure to make it shorter."  
Blaise Pascal

Several of you have noticed I'm taking longer to answer emails and I've been posting far less lately. My apologies, I dove into new projects thinking I would have time to keep everything updated and then clearly didn't have time.

Bits and pieces as fast as I can . . .

In short, I was inspired by several teachers - some I've met and studied with in person, others I've only corresponded with online, to pursue education in dance as physical therapy and dance medicine. This is a fairly well established field in other countries - but not so much here in the US. At least not widely. The field is huge and deciding where to focus has been difficult. So, informed by own experiences regaining strength and health through dance, I decided to focus on injury prevention and rehabilitation for dancers.

I am back in school - as a UT student taking Spanish (after all, eventually I will head back to Buenos Aires), and have also just finished my Posture Specialist Certification through National Posture Institute. The NPI certification required brushing up (read: retaking anatomy class online) on my anatomy and physiology. I've been away from the Sports Medicine field for almost 3 years now and it shows. To aid in that, I used UC Berkeley's very helpful Anatomy and Physiology class online (free). The entire certification took just about 2 months to complete.

Now that the NPI certification is done, it's on to the Personal Training Certification with a focus on Exercise Therapy. Initially I will be going through National Association of Sports Medicine - mostly because it's widely transferable and recognized, but also because I managed to get the study materials for a tenth the price they sell it online. Yay! Specializations will likely come from other organizations such as American Council on Exercise (ACE). I hope to have the NASM certification done by this Summer.  After that the more specialized studying starts.

I'm a little tired just writing all of that . .   yeesshh..

What started all of this, you might ask?

A conversation.

Isn't it always a conversation?

A little history . . .

I was sharing my experience with another dancer (a beginner) who said that tango didn't seem to require much exertion. She was wondering if she was going to derive any physical benefits from a dance that seemed so tame compared to salsa and swing. So I told her my story - the shortened version follows.

In the 3 years prior to me starting tango, I had lost half an inch of my height. My doctor explained that between scar tissue forming in my abdomen from endometriosis and pain in my muscles generally, I was starting to stoop slightly. I could no longer hold myself completely upright without pain. She also told me that due to my increasing instability, I might need to consider using a cane. She had no answers for me - only observations of my body that was starting to become alien to me.

On the advice of my grandmother, I changed doctors to an Osteopath and started taking tango lessons.

Fast forward - just under a year later, I got my half inch back. I never needed to get the cane. According to my doctor's physical therapy assessments, my posture had changed significantly. I was having flare-ups every couple of weeks instead of every day. And when I do have a flare-up, they don't last as long.

As all of this happened, I started talking to other people locally about their experiences - and then reached out through Facebook, Twitter and my blog to get other peoples' stories. They poured in. I was far from the only one. I sought out doctors and teachers to learn more. I went to Buenos Aires and learned even more. When I got back from Argentina, I looked for dance physiotherapists for guidance on more formalized training - and that has brought me to this point.

Half of the new therapy/training room my husband and I set up in our house.

Personal Training and Rehabilitation for Dancers

In the United States education in this field is not as universally organized - some universities have solid programs in dance medicine, but most do not. The people that I know in the field, in the US and in other countries, have forged their own path and sought education from a variety of sources - which is now what I find myself doing. I'm working with my tango teacher, Daniela Arcuri, to get a picture of what is really needed in my own community, and with other teachers and mentors around the world to get an idea of what education is available and appropriate to the program I am trying to create.

Dance physiotherapists, personal trainers and teachers share three fundamental principles in building better dancers and preventing injuries - balance training, posture training and a focus on the quality of movement - not simply how many times a dancer is able to repeat the movement. And that is how I am building my own program and organizing my own education. Right now, thanks to my NPI education, I am able to perform posture, balance and alignment assessments and prescribe therapeutic exercise to address many postural issues. Currently, I am working to adapt those assessments and exercises to dancers' needs in particular.

Another challenge, trying to find time for my own training - almost to full demi-pointe on the wobble board.)

I hope to have more updates soon, but for now - back to studying.

Thank you to so many of you have encouraged me in this path - this is going to be a quite a journey.

Space in tango: friend or foe?

Guest post by Jane Prusakova
Jane's blog, "Software and Other Things" can be found HERE.

Always Tango Elegant Milonga in Austin, Texas

Buenos Aires Oct/Nov 2011 diary (NiƱo Bien)

There is a subtle difference between pictures from tango events in US and in B.A.  Ok, maybe not so subtle.  The distance within and in-between couples, the use of space, the amount of real estate in and between the lines of dance varies from none to a few feet in many Buenos Aires milongas, and at the US dance events – and creates a very different environments.

Tango (like most folk partner dances) originally evolved as a flirty, sexy game between men and women, with the goal of getting close – as close as it could possibly be appropriate in the deeply religious Latin America. The space was, if not exactly the enemy, then the challenger.  The proof is in the original tango pose – with the man holding the woman’s shoulder and hand, and trying to reach her foot while she arches her body back – is all about trying to get closer and trying to escape at the same time.  

Tango pose via -

The situation is very different in modern US tango scene.   Leads try to maintain a few steps’ distance between couples in the line of dance.  Both leads and followers find it hard to get close to their partners.  And instructors teach a lot of moves and combinations that require several feet of dance floor to execute.  Space is a requirement and a resource for the dance, where better dancers are expected to use more space, not less, in their social dancing, as they execute more complicated patterns and make larger steps.

What happens to Argentine Tango next is up to the entire tango community.  The dance still can go back to its sexy beginnings, where dancing was an excuse to hug and play with a beautiful stranger in an elegant and safe environment.  American milongueros can learn to dance closer, enjoy the energy of a tight space, and let go of [some of] their inhibitions.   Being aware of and able to control one’s expectation of a personal space can be helpful in many situations, on and off the pista.

It is also possible that American dancers with their deep pockets and strong preference for wide open space will prevail, and change the tango into something it hasn’t been before – a dance that is less personal, more pattern-based, and looks more sophisticated in pictures and videos, than it used to.  The dance communities will maintain larger dance floors, dancers will keep inventing and learning more and bigger combinations, and good technique will continue to evolve towards larger steps and wider arm movements.  It will become popular to separate and step away from one’s partner as a figure of the dance, and execute steps independently.  There will be more lead and follow by sight and eye contact, rather than by touch.  All in all, it will be a very different, possibly, beautiful dance, that is not the Argentine Tango we try so hard to experience today.