Monday, December 20, 2010


"This is the tango community: A bunch of people who touch each other as if this were what human beings do best."

"He wants the woman to feel secure and relaxed. I realised that in the beginning he deliberately played his dance cards close to he chest because he was taking care of me. He sensed me. He found me. He knew what I could handle. He didn’t want to embarrass me in the Milonga, he kept me safe and always made me feel that I was amazing. That was his gift to me." 

--SallyCat: "More Tango Lessons

"By the final tango in the tanda, every hint of his physical tremor is completely gone. I am dancing with the spirit of a young man and with a soul that has danced for over fifty years. I become certain that we are dancing in the 1930s, that we have chosen each other in a packed tango hall where a live orchestra is playing, that I am the only woman in his world and that he is the only man in mine."

--SallyCat: "The Essence of Tango?"  

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Warm dancing on cold evenings

I've been on a badly needed vacation, and it was my second night of dancing in an entirely new city. My first night there was at a small milonga at a lovely studio downtown--mainly older dancers, not students. It was a nice introduction to their community; I had several nice dances and started meeting people, and they were very friendly and welcoming.

But the second night. Wow.

The milonga was held in a chilly church basement on a university campus. Not the most prepossessing venue, but I think we all know by now not to judge tango solely on appearances, no? The turnout still wasn't huge, but it was a bit larger than the previous night. This group tended toward a younger crowd, being sponsored by the university tango club, but a number of the dancers from the previous night were there again--and again extended a warm welcome to me.

Wow. That was a good group of leaders. Once things got warmed up for me, I danced almost solid until the end of the milonga, and, though not all were entirely great, there was not a bad dance in the bunch. Most were very, very good; the leaders made me feel well cared-for and graceful. A few surprised me, because I wouldn't have thought, from watching them with other women, that we would dance well together--but they turned out to be some of my best dances that evening. So nice when it works out that way. It was by far the best milonga, overall, that I've been to in a long time.

Sometimes, when I'm having a good evening like that--when I'm connecting well with my partners and with the music, when all that practice means that I can move with grace and ease ... when it's all coming together--I become, for a while, the person I want to be all the time. Elegant and powerful. Un-self-conscious. I smile with the pleasure of working through challenges, and I laugh at mistakes and brush them aside. I'm not competing with anyone. There is only my partner and me and the music, only the enjoyment of this moment, and I can live in it completely.

And that leaves the smile lingering on my face as I wrap up well and step out into the very cold night.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Getting It

With my red dress and red lips, my hair pulled back on the sides, and my black t-strap shoes, I felt a little bit retro, in the best possible way--channeling a glamor queen of the 1940s. I'd had a great day and was feeling good when I walked--maybe sashayed, a little bit--into the milonga.

My first dance lived up to my hopes. The moment I sat down one favorite partner asked for the next tanda--a wonderful way to start. It had been several weeks since I'd danced--weather and work had disrupted my usual schedule--but we danced well together, as we have been doing more and more in the last year or so.

My next dance was a vals with a nice newer leader I know from classes. It was not our best dance together, but I enjoyed the embrace and focused more on enjoying the music than on the problems we were having, so I was happy.

Then I was asked by another favorite partner: a quiet guy with a wonderful, tender embrace and a strong, sensitive, and musical lead. Dancing with him feels like a form of meditation; it's that relaxing. We glided together across the floor, almost floating. The navigation was hazardous, but nothing seemed to disturb us. Following his smooth, calm lead, my steps felt graceful and elegant. I felt a serene smile growing on my lips. The pressures I've been feeling on and off the dance floor faded away until there was only us and the music. It seemed as if, together, in those moments, there was nothing we couldn't do.

We laughed with sheer delight at the end of the tanda, and hugged our thanks. I sat down with my glass of water, and was happily surprised when he came back after the first song of the next tanda. I took the hand he offered me, and we did it all again.

I danced twice more before leaving at around midnight; it had been a busy day, and I couldn't stop yawning. Six dances in a couple of hours is a very good record for me at that milonga. The later dances were less than wonderful, but I was still so happy from my two earlier tandas that they couldn't bring down my mood.

It's been a while since I've had a night that good, in so many respects. And it always surprises me--although I suppose it shouldn't, by now--how good tango like that can refresh my spirit. I can't always make it happen--but I think I'm starting to see how to more effectively invite it.

Maybe this seeking tango-bliss is, itself, a bit like a good dance. I lead myself by inviting my own happiness, not by bearing down and trying to force it. (May all the saints of tango preserve followers from such a lead!) I may think there is some flaw on a partner's side or in the behavior of people I do not dance with--but in the end, I can only be (and must be) responsible for doing my best on my end. The circumstances may not be ideal--maybe all my favorite partners are not there, maybe we're not connecting well on a given night, maybe I'm in a difficult place inside myself--but you try to dance your best with the partners who are there. You start with the best attitude you can bring, and it seems as though, almost always, good things flow from there.

And, of course, like almost everything about tango, it's not only about tango, is it?

Monday, November 29, 2010

On Tango Black

From the time I was a tiny tot, on up through high school, even college, my grandmother always used to take me shopping for new Christmas and Easter outfits. It was very generous of her. She is an amazingly lovely and classy woman, who always knows how to make herself and her home beautiful and welcoming for family gatherings. Taking me shopping was a way for her to help me look and feel extra-special for our family occasions, and spend some extra time together.

I don't know whether it's that early learning from my grandmother, the idea that one should have something new and special for celebrations, even if they aren't Major Life Events, or simply that by the end of a year, one may be a little bored of one's clothes--they require a bit of spicing up, and worn-out things need to be replaced--but I've kept up, for the most part, this little tradition of getting myself something new and nice to wear for Christmas and for Easter.* I spent some time this weekend shopping for my Christmas outfit for this year, starting with a new winter dress.

One of the principles of clothes-shopping that I've developed since starting tango is that I'd prefer for dresses and evening outfits to be functional for dancing too.

(Its corollary has become, "No clothes that I can only justify as being good for tango"--but I get a little loose on that. After all, if something is good for tango, it would probably be knock-his-socks-off on a nice evening date. Voila, built-in second use! And I do go out often enough to make this a desirable goal, though not often evening dates that require much formality, just now. So I must get better about making sure my purchases fit at least one other other purpose.)

The danger is always that basic black is so very easy. It's simple; it's prevalent; it connotes elegance; we're told "it goes with everything" and works for everyone, and that it's slimming. It seems so safe; what's supposed to be one of the workhorses of the well-dressed woman's wardrobe? The Little Black Dress.

My problem arose a few years ago, when I looked into my closet, flipped on the light, and had to look up to check whether the bulb was out. My closet was starting to look like the wardrobe of the Batcave. I know goth kids who probably owned less black.

In addition to being dark and, let's face it, boring in those quantities, black isn't really my best color. I don't look bad in it, but I look great in jewel tones. And the idea that black is always slimming is not really true; if it's not well cut, black clothing can actually make one look larger than not. It does not automatically make our figure flaws invisible--but if we're trying to hide behind it, it can make us invisible.

So now, when I look for dresses for tango or more general use, as for my Christmas outfit just now, I actively seek to avoid falling into the trap of the Little Black Dress. (Besides, black for Christmas is really not very festive.) Not long ago, I had to regretfully give up on an outfit from a small tango clothier when I learned that the top I had wanted was now available only in black. The pretty details that I liked about the shirt, I thought, would be lost in black-on-black; and the last thing I needed, I told myself, was more unrelieved Tango Black.

(I may still go back for that skirt sometime, if they've still got it. My favorite A-line skirt cannot, unfortunately, last forever.)

What I ended up finding was a gray dress with a pretty pattern of black flowers. I bought it online, so until I can try it on, I just have to hope that the cut will be as flattering on me as it looked on the screen.

Okay, so that's maybe not a whole lot better than solid black, and it's not exactly those jewel tones I had mentioned. But it still isn't plain black, and I think the flowers do a lot to make it cheerful and different. I plan to spice it up with a red beaded necklace and red shoes; I love the way red glows against a nice, cozy gray. I'm hoping it will also look nice with a blue-shaded scarf that I already own, and with a particular strand of purple beads. (Gray, black, and purple is another combination that I love, and that appears to have come around again in the stores this winter.)

For more encouragement to be brave and look beyond black, I cannot sufficiently recommend this reflection by the lovely Ms. Twistie, on the Manolo for the Big Girl blog: "Death to the Little Black Dress."

*I feel I should mention that I'm not generally a frivolous shopper; I will wear clothes that I like until they are beyond decent repair, and when they finally wear out, if I liked them that much, I usually try to get the same thing again, as nearly as possible. But even so, one sometimes just wants a little something new.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

More people I want to dance like when I grow up

Pocho and Nely are my first tango grandparents. (They don't know it, of course.) But I think Osvaldo and Coca might be the other pair. Look what they can do!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Well said

Things I have been meaning to note, so I can remember...

From a post by TangoCherie a little while ago, on the close embrace:

People from "English" cultures are not used to being that close to someone who is not their sweetheart or beloved relative;  sometimes their emotions get all confused after a tanda of moving together as one, hugged so dearly by a stranger.

--"Don't Fear It, Embrace It!"

(I had thought I was fairly immune to this, but it turns out, not really, as I've mentioned. Doing better again more recently, though.)


A cousin of mine recently stayed with me, over the weekend of another cousin's wedding. (I have a lot of cousins.) One evening while she was here, we were amusing ourselves on YouTube, exchanging our favorite dance videos. I showed her one of Silvina Vals and Oliver Kolker dancing milonga, from a festival a few years ago.

"I never know quite what to make of it," I mused to her. "Over time, I've come to admire it more and more--which surprises me. Usually when teachers give demos like this, I worry that--although they are amazing to watch--everyone will want to dance like that on the social floor afterward. That's a really impossible situation. And then, I don't really know how to classify their dancing..."

I went on for a bit about stage vs. social and how this doesn't seem completely either to me.

In the end, my cousin simply remarked, "So they're dancing their tango."



Sunday, October 10, 2010

El maestro viejo

He demonstrates something of the evolution of the embrace and way of dancing vals over the centuries since it was introduced to Buenos Aires, beginning with a very open, formal embrace and winding up with the close embrace that we are all familiar with. He remarks that his parents had met while dancing this way, before the war--that this was how he came to be--and warns, with a twinkle in his eyes, that you have to be careful when you dance.

He recalls how he began dancing as a child, leading his mother and his aunt at home, before he ever made his milonga debut at age fourteen. Now he is silver-haired, going on seventy-six years old but seems to have the vigor of a man a third of his age--although I notice how he rations his energy at the milonga, dancing only occasionally, and generally only one or two songs with any partner, so that he can dance with as many of the women as possible.

(We're lucky to have him again in my little town. I'm especially glad, as I was not able to attend his workshops in Nearby City, and thought, with disappointment, that I was going to miss him entirely. Happily, not so!)

Dancing with him is like solving a complex puzzle. His leading is highly musical and intricate--formed, I think, from so many years of creative improvising in the tiny space available in crowded Buenos Aires milongas; one of my favorite aspects of dancing with the milongueros there. Above all, he is clear, unhurried, easy to follow, and he can feel the way his partners' bodies move and adjust seamlessly if we have followed somehow imperfectly. Years and years of practice--there is nothing like it.

And yet I do not like to think too much about how old these men and women are getting. It makes me sad.

What can any of us do but dance as much as we can, while we can?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

I shaved my legs for this?

I recognize that my limitations in tango are mainly self-imposed.

Because milonguero style is by far not the preferred style in My Hometown, but I love it and am generally just not very interested in dancing open-embrace/nuevo style, or dancing tango to non-tango music.

Because I'm picky about who I will dance with and when. If we have had Bad Dances before, and I do not observe improvement in your dancing with others, no, I will probably not dance with you. Even partners that I like to dance, say, tango with, I may not care to dance milonga or vals with, if I've had unsuccessful dances with them to this music before. New partners, I would prefer to start with a tango until I see whether they can handle more. All because, having been fortunate enough to have seen what really wonderful tango can be, I am not often willing to suffer through a Bad Dance if I can help it.

Maybe this attitude is uncharitable of me, and maybe it's the opposite of the lessons I should  be taking from the wonderful tango experiences I've had with, generally, apparently very generous-spirited partners. Maybe it shows an area where I should work on trying to grow. But it is the fact of where I am right now.

But Hometown is not Buenos Aires--it is not even Big Nearby City or Other, Less-Big Nearby City. These attitudes sometimes limit me considerably.

And so, with a scarcity of good close-embrace partners tonight, even more than usual, and the music not working in my favor, I sat out a lot. When the last tanda proved to be some non-tango junk, I knew that I was unlikely to get another dance, but still I waited til the opening chords of "La Cumparsita" before taking my shoes off and heading home; everyone who was left to dance with had stuck with their partners from the previous tanda.

In all, I had danced five times in three and a half hours. Three of those dances weren't even whole tandas. (Thank you so much, DJ, for turning a traditional milonga tanda into an alternative set halfway through.)

I mean, most of them were perfectly nice dances. One, especially, was even very nice. But five dances? Was that worth the hurt and frustration of feeling so invisible? I can manage that, with less effort, more physical comfort, and less emotional pain, at home in my pajamas with a movie and a pint of Ben and Jerry's. Or I could have spent the evening with friends.

My restrictions, as I said, are primarily self-imposed, and I realize this, but I reserve the right to feel frustrated anyway. In spite of my internal rules, it does not always work out so badly. The measures I take to try to ensure an enjoyable evening for myself often work exactly as intended, instead of backfiring. It is not always like this.

Maybe I should have turned right around before paying admission, when I saw that only one of my regular partners was there. But I'd had hopes of the visitors from out of town, and you never know--maybe other good partners might have shown up.

I began to wonder whether I was an optimist or a masochist, for staying so long. It gets very difficult to tell the difference, sometimes.

But I thought of my one very nice dance and knew that I'd risk it again next time.

And, yes, I would probably shave my legs.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Let's do the Time Warp again!

The last time I went to the Tango Bar, I danced a lot, by comparison to other nights there recently. There were no sublime dances, but there were several fun ones. Although at times the wild dancing on a crowded floor prevented me from fully enjoying my dances, I laughed a lot that night.

At the last proper milonga in town, I happily danced even more--although only later in the evening. There were some glimpses of the sublime. A long tanda and "La Cumparsita" with one of my favorite local leaders--that was especially nice.

My friend's brand-new tango shoes are fantastic, and she reports that her feet don't hurt at all at the end of the night when she dances in them. "Who knew?" she asked. I smiled: "A lot of wiser tangueras than me."

At a friend's wedding this weekend, I fairly itched for a tango partner, but it was not possible. However, thanks to a combination of good friends, good music, and a leettle bit of champagne (eheh), I did dance a lot more than I usually do, to non-tango music.

Now, you must understand, that is really saying something; normally I might sit nearly the entire evening at a wedding reception, much too self-conscious to join in the dancing. I've always thought I was born with a congenital defect: I believed I was entirely without a groove thing. This girl's hips, they do not shake--or so I always thought. (Maybe I would get up for the Chicken Dance or the YMCA or something.) In fact, it is no secret that I think that part of my success at tango stems from the fact that I don't have to figure out to do with my hips or my arms--those troublesome but crucial elements of the way the kids dance these days.

Oh, but you may say, "Aha, she admits that the wine was flowing! Everyone thinks they can dance at such a time!" But I tell you, there were mirrors around the hall. And I had only the smallest bit of wine with dinner--I was, in fact, the designated driver for a friend that night. So I do not think that my self-perception was drastically altered. If anything, I am usually more apt to underestimate my abilities than to overestimate them--doubly so if there are mirrors around. And I tell you, my hips, they could move! With some rhythm, even! And my feet, they did as I asked them!

And most of all, I had a really good time with my friends! If I was giddy, it was because of them; I laughed with them until my sides hurt. And I decided afresh that I'd like to broaden my repertoire with salsa and swing, so that next time I'm wherever there might be music, I can dance even more.

(Another friend once taught me how to fake salsa--"falsa," I called it. It seems so accessible when you only have to fake it!)

So, I've managed to convince myself that I really could probably learn them; now to find lessons that fit my schedule. Don't worry, tango, you will always be my first love!

PS--VERY BEST MOMENT of another recent wedding: The groom's 90-year-old grandfather dancing to "Single Ladies," with moves from the video! I nearly died!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

And then, sometimes...

Fucking tango.

I wish I could find where I originally read this, but I think the blog is gone. But this has really stuck with me. Here is how I remember it:

The woman was American, living in Buenos Aires long-term. One evening, one of the older milonguero/as, observing that she always left the milonga alone, told her, "Find someone to take care of you. The milonga is not enough."

I'm in a place like that, right now. Sometimes the milonga just makes things worse. This was one of those nights, in spite of and also because of my several very nice dances. What do you do with a dance where you embrace each different partner like a lover--and leave by yourself? It is so difficult for me to separate the two right now--the emotions of the dance and my emotions off the dance floor.

"The milonga is not enough."


Found that passage again, by accident. It was in a post by Deby, writer of the blog TangoSpam/La Vida con Deby.

Finally she says to me "Find someone to take care of you.  Someone to love you.  Don't be alone.  The tango is not enough."

~La Vida con Deby: "The Milonga Chronicles: The Tango Is Not Enough."

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Tango shoes on a non-tango blog

It appears that the superfantastic Plumcake, one of the writers of the Manolo for the Big Girl blog, enjoyed at least a brief flirtation with tango--or, anyway, with tango shoes, and apparently at some point with a tango instructor--some time ago.

"Holy Grail Found in Buenos Aires!"

"Two Thursdays ago found me on my knees with my head in the oven," she begins. (A tango-spirited opener if ever I've seen one!)

I wonder whether she ever pursued that interest.

I really don't find my tango shoes all that comfortable for much regular walking around--you know, firmly on my whole foot and forward-moving--but I strongly suspect that Ms. Plumcake is made of sterner stuff than I, where everyday footwear is concerned. She posts recommendations of many shoes that, although they are lovely and (I'm sure) fine for women who are practiced in the art of wearing high heels, I (a novice) quail at the thought of wearing for any length of time. (I'm looking--longingly--at you, Tiffany-blue fourth ones down! The Kate Spades are gorgeous and not much higher than my CIFs... but still a scary idea to me. Those little Mary Janes, now... But all of this is academic at the moment, as the budget is a little tight.)

I also wonder how many women are drawn to tango by the shoes. Conversely, I have been drawn to shoes by tango.

In related news, a friend who I helped introduce to tango a while ago just bought her first pairs of made-for-tango shoes! In red and black, and leopard print! She called from the festival in Nearby City to tell me, immediately after the purchase, and we rejoiced together.

*Sniffle* I'm so proud! I can't wait to see her dance in them; she says they feel great!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Follow-up: The anti-grouch

I ended up going dancing last night. It wasn't a completely flawless evening (if there is any such thing in tango--and maybe that is an important thing for me to learn), but it had some excellent moments, and that was enough.

Maybe more than the dancing itself, it was good for me to get out of the house and see some tango-pals. It is impossible not to cheer up when you walk into the place and the first thing anyone says to you is, "Wow, you look great!"

Spent the evening mainly in cheerful girl-talk with friendly tango-ladies, when not dancing. And before I left, the DJ kissed my cheek and called me "sweetie," sending me out with a smile on my face.

Much better.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

On the bright side...

...I did finally arrange a waltzing lesson with my fellow student, a few weeks ago. (In exchange for cookies--Vienna fingers, of course!) Now I can waltz! And it turns out it's pretty easy and fun! Why was I so scared of it before?

Other times, it's ... still the little things.

I need to stop being so susceptible to the charms of handsome young men who dance well. My tango-crushes lead to nothing but heartache. Granted, the disappointment is usually very minor--I might be unhappy for a day or so at most, once I realize that there is nothing there that's going to carry off the dance floor; I know that--but I'd really rather not go through it at all, if I could manage to avoid it.

Le sigh...

Because I am a grouch today, I shall gripe about a minor incident at the last milonga I went to, here in town. I was dancing with a guy--not my best, but not my worst either; he danced open embrace--when suddenly he let go of me entirely and spun away from me across the floor, utterly disregarding the line of dance. I just stood there, dumbfounded. I've (occasionally, when there was enough space) been spun by partners before and been able to follow, but I've never had one just leave me behind like that.

He quickly realized that whatever he was doing, I had not followed, and returned to where I was trying not to obstruct the line of dance.

"Sorry," he said, offering the embrace again, "I was trying a little salsa."

"I only dance tango," I replied, trying to speak politely.

"I guess it was a gamble," he shrugged.

And I did not say, At a tango dance evening, during a tango song? I'm not sure that was a gamble I would have made. (But what else is new around here?)

It's been kind of a rough few weeks, in my non-tango life. Today, I'm having a hard time deciding whether I'm too grouchy to try to go dancing tonight and face the likely madness of the Tango Bar, or too grouchy not to try to go dancing.

Of course, it all may change by the time I'd have to get ready to go; I guess I'll have to see what I think then.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sometimes it's the little things

So I was dancing "La Cumparsita" at the Tango Bar, for the first time in ages...

(Incidentally, it felt nice to be able to dance it; I like the arrangement the DJ there plays, so I like to stay and listen, but I always feel a little sad if I can't dance to it.)

...with a partner that I've been dancing really well with lately, which was an extra pleasure. Of the many lovely moments in my dances that night, this one especially stands out:

He led a boleo, which I executed low but quick and sharp, and something about the music and the momentum led me to carry my leg around to a quick cuatro--a fast scissory movement around my standing leg.

And it's not a very big deal, maybe, objectively--but I'd never done that before, and it was so nicely with the music, and it just felt so good...

For me, that was the best possible finale.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Stranger in a strange land

Even though I have danced in Nearby City before, with considerable success (at least, to my own standards), Saturday night I knew almost no one at the milonga. Two leaders and one woman; that was it. Several of the men that I know, who might otherwise have been there, and at least one other lady were in Buenos Aires for the festival there, I knew.

I bided my time and finagled dances as best I could. When the table in front of my seat was vacated, I snapped up the chance to move up to the front. Had a little giggle with the lady next to me when a noisy cell phone interrupted the guest musician's solo; he handled it with great charm.

As the floor thinned out, the die-hard leaders who were left began to approach me on their own--faute de mieux on their part, perhaps, but I prefer to think that they were better able to observe my dancing by then and know that I can handle myself all right. ;)

Then I had very good dances with several new partners--as well as those I'd had with the two leaders I already knew--and the long wait became worthwhile.

So, boy, I tell you what, it took me a while to get going, but by 1 AM you just couldn't keep me off the floor!

...I am still not sure exactly to what degree I am saying that sarcastically. I truly did have a number of really lovely dances before the evening was out; I was just sorry it took til nearly 3 to get them all--I was absolutely beat.

Anyway, so now I know even more people there, and maybe next time it won't take until 3 to get to dance with them. :)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A good night

I love being surprised by new good partners.

In other news, I am the queen, but not many people know it. :)

Which is to say, my dances were not as many last night as I might have liked, but they were very good. On to the rest of the weekend!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Gift from a partner, 2008

After dinner (my first empanadas!) I tell him about how I'm starting to plan a vacation to Buenos Aires, where he studied for a year and learned to dance, and he becomes almost as enthusiastic as I feel. "Wait a minute," he says after a bit, and hurries out of the room.

He comes back with something in his hand. "Here," he says, holding it out to me. "You can have this."

It's a pocket-sized map of the city, the size of a playing card (though thicker) when it's all folded. The scuffed cover tells me that he must have used it during his own time there.

"Thank you," I say, surprised, and I unfold it and begin studying the layout of the city. There is information about bank hours and other useful things in small print on the back.

"If you ever go down there long-term, you'll want to get an apartment here or here." He points to two districts marked on the map.

"I thought you said there were transvestite prostitutes in Palermo," I tease.

He shrugs. "It's Buenos Aires; there are prostitutes everywhere. But it's still a decent neighborhood to live in."

We continue talking about the city, and my plans, and the tango. Before I leave, I fold up the map and slip it into the pocket of my sweatshirt.

I am tired when I get home--I think the wine was strong; he was sleepy too when I left--and I forget all about the map until the next morning, when I dress for work, pulling on the same sweatshirt. One pocket feels slightly heavy. I reach inside, and my fingers encounter the glossy cardstock of the map's cover.

I leave the map in my pocket as I go out the door. I am smiling.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Well, dog my cats! (In which I am surprised and humbled.)

It is early in the evening, and I'm dancing with a fellow I sometimes have trouble with. For one, I don't always feel like I can follow his steps smoothly, but as though I'm almost falling, or coming down too hard on forward and side steps with him. And let's not get into my opinion of his wild dancefloor experimentation with other partners.

(I must say this for him: he's always been polite and apparently friendly toward me, even when I'm feeling less than warm and fuzzy toward him.)

And it has been a few weeks since I've danced; things are slow around town for the summer. And this is my first dance of the evening... All in all, I'm just not sure I'm going to be dancing my best right now.

When I stumble, I explain, with a laugh, "It's been a while since I've danced... I'm not sure I can still do it!" He assures me I'm dancing as light as a feather, and soon I fall into the familiar movements with more ease; evidently I haven't entirely lost it.

At the end of the tanda, he tells me, "You know, you have such a wonderful embrace. I always enjoy our dances together."

I'm so surprised, you could knock me right over with one finger. I never really thought this guy especially enjoyed dancing with me. He asks me only sporadically, never regularly (although more often lately than in earlier years), and I don't dance the way his other partners do. I don't break the embrace, I keep my movements small most of the time, and I'm not comfortable trying more freestyle things on the tango floor--all of these things are hallmarks of his dance, with other partners. And like I said, I don't feel like I dance my best with him. I ... just ... would never have guessed he enjoyed it that much.

It's the nicest surprise I've had in quite a while. And it makes me think about how I think about him.

ETA: I also had a partner say with a happy sigh, between songs in a lovely vals tanda,"It's so nice to have a dance with a social partner..." Hm!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

They say you never forget...

Last July, after many adventures, I finally found myself sitting at Los Consagrados, my very first milonga in Buenos Aires. It was early in the evening, I think, and not very crowded. I was there with my teachers, sharing their table. Sr. had a plan, to dance with me early on to show that I could handle myself on the floor, but just then he was dancing with Sra. I had not yet set foot onto the floor.

I was watching the dancers and trying to control the butterflies in my stomach--not sure whether I was more scared or excited to be there. A man across the way was whistling along with the music. He was older but didn't look ancient; maybe in his sixties. Grizzled hair and beard, strong-looking build. He looked taller than a lot of the other men.

I wasn't sure what I thought of his whistling. It tends to annoy me in American milongas, but I don't think it was carrying across the room there, and as I thought about it more, I realized it did mean he knew the music.

He caught my eye and raised his eyebrows. Was ... was he cabeceoing me?

What might annoy me in an American partner, his whistling, encouraged me to accept his cabeceo. I held his gaze and gave a slight nod and a smile, and in a moment, he was at my table, holding out a hand to escort me onto the floor.

My gamble on his whistling paid off; it was a beautiful dance. His lead was strong and clear but gentle and subtle--and above all, beautifully musical. Everything that I could have hoped for and more. When the song ended, he stepped back and smiled and remarked "Brava, mujer." I am sure I blushed.

Between songs, I stretched my feeble Spanish to make small talk. He told me that he was a taxi driver, that (in answer to my question) yes, he was a porteño. I tried to tell him about where I was from, and I think he told me that when he was younger, a boxer, he had once traveled in America to the big city nearest where I live.

I could not have asked for a lovelier first dance in Buenos Aires. I'm sure I had that tango glow as he escorted me back to my seat, nearly light-headed with pleasure. He gallantly bowed and pressed my hand. I introduced him to my teachers, who were beaming.

At every milonga I went to after that, I watched for him--and he seemed to remember me; he would smile when he spotted me, and before too long, we'd have a tanda together. He was unfailingly polite, and several more times I blushed with pleasure when he told me "Brava, mujer!" I hope he knew how grateful I was. Indeed, I still am.

They say (usually about other things) that you never forget your first time--and I will never forget him. And now I've made doubly sure of that.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Apologizing, admiring, aspiring

I've been trying to break myself of the habit of apologizing as I dance. (And I'm not the only one...) No one wants a tango overriden by an ostenato of "Whoops! Oops! Sorry..." I reckon it becomes more disruptive than polite, eventually--maybe immediately.

(Besides, I need to save that refrain for my non-tango waltzes, at the local country dances. That reminds me, I need to ask a fellow student whether she can teach me how to waltz; I still want to do that.)

Even if a mistake is well and truly solely my own fault, I figure it's better not to call my partner's attention to it, if he might not have noticed, and better still just to stay in the moment rather than dwelling on something that, by the time I can even say "Sorry," is already past. Just move on, trying to do better for the rest of the dance. Such is the Zen of tango.

So! Anyway! This is something I've been working on for a long time, and I'm much better about it than I used to be. But sometimes, especially if I'm nervous, it's easy to slip back into that old habit of perpetual apology.

This spring, a guest teacher whom I like very much visited a couple of nearby cities. Although I couldn't attend his classes the first time around, I went over for their milonga that Saturday night. It was great to see so many wonderful partners that I don't get to dance with nearly often enough--and to meet some new wonderful partners, from even further afield! But certainly the highlight was getting to dance with the teacher again. He is so good that just walking in the embrace with him literally makes me dizzy.

But I always feel nervous with him as well, as with almost any guest teacher I might dance with, precisely because he is so good. Oh, God, please don't let me trip up with him of all people!

And so, in our second tanda, almost at closing time, when we were both getting tired, I misstepped a bit and anxiously apologized.

With no perceptible effort, he adjusted to my unexpected foot position and danced on as though this was exactly what he'd intended all the time. He squeezed my shoulders and remarked, with a smile in his voice, "Nice improvisation!"

And this is part of what I love in the best leaders I've danced with, in the States or in Argentina: Their attentiveness, sensitivity, and adaptability in the face of challenging and changing floor conditions--even the ones I help create! Their kindness and humor just as much as their skillful dancing.

They make for some pretty great role models, this way, in my life both on and off the dance floor.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The maestro and Marilyn

Through his interpreter, he tells our class that the secret to good leading is to embrace the follower as though she is the most beautiful woman in the world--someone like Marilyn Monroe, perhaps.

Now he holds out his hand to his wife, and she steps forward to take the embrace. As he holds her, he sighs theatrically and says in his own, heavily accented English, "Ah, Marilyn! At last I have found you!"

We all laugh, and he kisses her cheek as the music starts.

Classical and baroque

What I'm about to write is probably heresy to some and tremendously obvious to others,* but still...

(The British Museum; image from the University of Texas at Austin, Department of English)

(Image from French baroque architecture)

I don't really like Geraldine Rojas's dancing--and not entirely on the grounds of "That's not something you should do at a milonga," because let's face it, everybody showboats to some degree in an exhibition dance. That's part of what exhibitions are for: demonstrating skill beyond what you might be able to do within the constraints of the milonga floor.

At best, I guess you could say I have conflicting feelings about her dancing: I think she's extraordinarily graceful and skilled. It's all the kicks and firuletes that make up so much of her distinctive style that I don't care for--not because she doesn't execute them beautifully, but simply because they're often so superfluous. Too often, they have nothing to do with the music. They don't seem to reflect it, or add to it... They just seem to be this thing she does maybe almost automatically.

And it's the more troubling to me because her fundamental technique can be so lovely, and Javier's leading, at their best as a couple, could be beautifully musical. All her adornments obscure that, when they aren't connected to the music, like the overly decorated facade of an otherwise elegant building.** She can hardly seem to take a step without kicking all around it. I wish she'd let the underlying lyricism shine through more on its own.

These videos sort of break my heart because of this--because I actually like so much what is going on underneath all those embellishments:

I would just about kill to be able to simply take a step as gracefully as she can. But she can't seem to just let that be enough. (Especially later in each video, when she really starts to slice 'n' dice.) I guess she performs this style of tango better than many, but the style itself still seems marred by too much ornament.

So here is what I take from this for my own dancing:

Not to try to be [what can only be] a pale imitation of Geraldine or anyone else, but always to try to be the best possible version of myself.

Always to stay connected to the music. Not to make adornments out of habit, as I have sometimes found myself doing, but only to use them to help me reflect and interpret the music.

To strive for classical grace in my dancing and let that speak for itself, rather than falling prey to the temptations of the baroque--and [a serious struggle lately] to stop trying to show off. It might be a question of what I really want in a dance: do I have exhibition goals in mind on the social floor? But excellent technique and musicality will speak loudly enough to the people whose opinion matters most to me; they've always done so in the past.

* I had a very dysfunctional computer for a long time, so I'm pretty sure this is old news to the rest of the world. I hear Geraldine hasn't even danced with Javier in years, so, I mean, there you go. But I'm only now getting to watch more of their videos and form my opinions about what I see.

** Not to say that baroque art forms can't be quite lovely in their way. Here is where my analogy breaks down, I guess, because I like a lot of what I've seen and read of various baroque art forms--but it can get to be too much. I guess the most I can say is that I don't care for a baroque tango style.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A memory to cheer me up

In Argentina one evening, I was nearly on my way out of Los Consagrados with a friend, B, when a group just coming in stopped to say hi to B. She introduced me to the oldest man in the group, who promptly asked me to finish the tanda with him.

(This seems to be a point of etiquette at many milongas I've been to, both in BA and closer to home; if someone introduces you to a dancer of the opposite gender, you're supposed to dance with that person. This theory could be wrong, but it's based on observation... And I'm happy to benefit from it when it means I get to dance with wonderful leaders I might not otherwise be able to aspire to! But most of all I think it speaks to the consummate courtesy of the traditional milonga culture.)

I wasn't expecting to enjoy the dance, mainly because I had mistaken the man for someone else. As a matter of fact, he was wonderful--and so cheerful and friendly! He told me his nickname among his friends--a boyish diminutive, in teasing contrast to his seventy-some years--and when he learned my name, merrily put it into its diminutive form to match. He was a delight, all around.

This spring, when the organizers began sending information to advertise the festival in Nearby City, my heart leaped when I saw this man's photograph among the teachers; even though I had realized immediately upon dancing with him the previous summer that he was not who I thought he was, I had not realized who he actually was.

Reading about his accomplishments--and even more, having already gotten to dance with him--I was excited about getting to learn from him. My dances with him were among the best of my many wonderful memories from Buenos Aires, but I wondered whether he would remember me. Surely not, I told myself. Why would he? For him, it was just one dance with some American tourist--not even a whole tanda.

 My teachers, here in my hometown, were working to arrange for him and his wife to teach a couple of classes in our city while he was in the area, and while they were talking to him, they introduced me again. I told him how I had enjoyed his classes, and to my surprise, he told me, through my teachers, translating, that he remembered me from Argentina.

Later I would get to dance with him again, and it would be every bit as wonderful as I remembered. Before we said goodbye the final time, back in my hometown, I tried, in my poor Spanish, to tell him and his wife what a pleasure it had been. Ever the gentleman, he pressed my hand and looked intently into my face as he complimented my dancing. (But after all, the best leaders make it so easy!)

But you can see his beautiful leading for yourself:

(With thanks to the authors of Movement Invites Movement, where I first ran across this particular, beautiful video the other day.)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Roses and thorns: clothing

Things I love right now:

(Image, and proof that I really cannot wear junior sizes any more, courtesy of Kohl's.)

Wide-leg gaucho pants in a nice, flowy fabric

Had I caught on to the beauty of these a couple of years ago, when they were more popular, I would have/should have stocked my wardrobe with them. They are. So. Comfortable. But because I am generally at least a year late on most trends, I am now unable to find a good pair, in my size, in black or a nice grey. But the brown ones I recently found, I love them so; I plan to wear them to death and then weep over their grave.

(I may have found a possibility in black from a tango clothier, but I'll need to check my measurements. I'm also thinking about asking my seamstress to convert a skirt that I haven't been wearing the way I should.)

(Also courtesy of Kohl's.)

Maxi dresses

I wouldn't wear them for tango, of course--too long, I'd step all over the hem, and besides, you couldn't see my feet, which, we all know, is the most interesting part to watch, in social tango! But I'd wear them pretty much the rest of my life outside of tango, if I could. The only key seems to be making sure the cut of the waist and the pattern don't say "maternity wear" instead of "Bohemian chic." But otherwise--breezy, effortlessly pretty... Next best thing to wearing pajamas, and you don't even have to shave your legs!

Maxi Gluzman

(But let's not get started on all the lovely tangueros I adore...)

Things I hate, now and always:

(From Sak's Fifth Avenue)

Dropped-crotch harem pants

Maybe these have their place in a belly dance routine, or an ethnic costume; I wouldn't dream of knocking that. But for the rest of us, no matter how hot a girl may be,* these are never going to do anything but make her look like she's wearing a saggy diaper.

Why is anyone still offering these, yet beautiful gauchos for the fuller-figured lady are almost nowhere to be found? Oh, ye fickle and unfeeling gods of fashion!

Jangly anklets

Actually, I'm a bit of a fan of these in my non-tango life. So gypsy-flavored! Rings on her fingers, and bells on her toes! But at the milonga or practica, they immediately become unbearably obnoxious. I am busy trying to hear the rhythm and concentrate on my partner; I do not need to hear every movement of another woman's feet when she is wearing this kind of jewelry.

And special mention, bellydancer hip scarves with coins on the hem! So far I've only encountered this at a Halloween milonga; dressing in full bellydancer regalia is a bit much, even for the tanguera with a more pronounced exhibitionist streak than most (which is saying something; I think we all have a little attention-seeking side, or we wouldn't have started tango in the first place). But I tell you, in that context, it was the most irritating costume I have ever encountered. Imagine my disgust when it won "best female costume" that night.

* And I have only seen these affected by (Caucasian) beanpole fashionistas. I suspect that bigger girls are used to having to be more careful about what they put on their bodies, whereas a lot of fashions these days (bubble-hem dresses with big pockets at the hips? really? because your average bubble-hem dress isn't sufficiently godawful on most grown people?) seem to be about how you're supposed to be so cute you can wear any unflattering thing and still look good.**

** I think I read something like this phrase recently, in re. empire-waist dresses for plus-sized ladies, but I can't remember where. I'd credit if I could!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Notes on a learning experience

Annoyingly, have been sick for the last, approximately, ever. (Okay, week; it just feels like forever. My whole body hurts from coughing, and I am fast using up those hard-earned sick days.) So no tango for a while.

Since I can't dance at the moment, I thought I'd write a little bit about what I've been trying to work on in my dancing for the last little while. The general theme is dancing outside my comfort zone.

I appear to have finally learned how to take a slow step, either side or back and forth. Generally, so far, my tendency has been to step where I'm being led quickly. Get there and get it done; isn't the point not the step (how you get there) but what you'll do from there? And tango is always more difficult when it's done slowly (you can't rush past a mistake). It's also connected to my longstanding trouble keeping my free leg relaxed at the hip--which remains a struggle.

Lately I'm finally starting to get the hang of savoring the step itself, a bit, when the music calls for it and the lead permits it. Let the process of simply taking a step be a thing of beauty; no need to rush. And it has led to some lovely little moments in my recent dancing.

Also, working on some showier moves. At a recent practica, I approached a trusted partner (the one with whom I successfully danced to non-tango music a little while ago) and actually asked him to work with me on volcadas, which, til now, I've had a big block about. I tend to step forward when I feel the leader's chest recede from me. I think it's been partly a misunderstanding of the movement, on my part, even though I was familiar with the concept of volcadas, and partly perhaps a bit of lack of trust of the leaders--not fully believing that they were going to/could support my weight when they took me off-balance. Or more fundamental, more visceral: not liking to let myself be off-balance.

But finally, I seem to have learned to reliably, if not always gracefully, follow a volcada. Another victory.

Then I simply asked this same partner to dance with me however he liked, pushing my boundaries. In our dances together, he usually respects my preference for miloguero style, but he does all kinds of nuevo things with other partners. I was pleased with how much I could follow when we danced this way. Not everything, at least not the first try, but a lot.

All of this stems from some frustration I've had lately, feeling a bit limited in my dancing. I don't necessarily want to be led this way all the time--indeed, many of the most wonderful dances I've ever experienced, in the US and certainly in Argentina, have not used any big "stagey" moves at all. I love best the intricacy of navigating in tight space on a crowded floor--it's like a puzzle: how will we work from this position, with only these options available? And when it's done with real attention to the follower's comfort and safety, and sensitivity to and knowledge of the music... There is really nothing like it.

But I'm tired of feeling like there are just some things I "can't" follow if a partner leads them, or very nice nuevo-leaning partners that I "can never" dance with. My pickiness in this regard has really limited my options at the local milongas. (I reserve the right to continue to be picky about the quality of the lead, the music, my mood for this, etc.)

Plus, I must admit, sometimes a girl just wants to show off a bit. Not on a crowded milonga floor, of course--but sometimes. One is only human.

And somehow, no matter how many times partners, observers, and teachers whose opinions I value tell me positive things about my dancing (my embrace, my musicality, my footwork...), I feel like I'm not as good a dancer as I could be if I don't even know what to do with myself when these things are led.

So, it will probably never be my preference, just as I will probably never prefer dancing to non-tango music (because to me, non-tango music and the movements of tango do not compliment each other), but I'm trying to increase my possibilities for enjoyment.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The old pro (and the tango princess)

He is dapper in a trim black suit, with the effortlessly gentlemanly manners of many of the older Argentine men that I've met. Though I stumble a little a couple of times in our first song together, our second is better, and he makes a joke of it, saying that maybe by three AM he'll be able to lead me perfectly.

I laugh and tell him that I'll let him say that, even though I know my mistakes weren't his fault--that maybe in fifty years, I'll be able to follow perfectly. He waves this away and asks whether I'd like to dance the next song.

"If you insist," I answer, with a grin.

Now, listening to the opening bars of the third song of the tanda, he smiles and tells me that when he was touring with  the tango show, this was one of his solo songs.

I smile to hide the fact that I can't think of anything he could have said that would frighten me more. But I needn't have worried; he leads me through it as surely and sensitively as he has led all our other songs so far.

When it's over, we hold for a moment the lingering embrace that SallyCat has identified as a special sign of the exchange of the Tango Gift. He walks me back to my seat and presses my hand, smiling. I thank him and squeeze his hand in return. I don't mind that there's still another song in the tanda; he's told me (confirming my earlier observation) that he likes to dance at least a song or two with every woman at a milonga like this, and I've had three songs with him, so I feel quite lucky.

I sit for a while, smiling to myself, just savoring that special feeling of a really good dance. I only dance once more, with a favorite partner from out of town, a whole tanda later, before I go home, still with that glow in my heart and that smile on my lips, from a really good milonga all around.

Nights like these, when everything seems to go so right--or any mistakes are no big deal--and I feel so good about myself and my dancing, I feel like a tango princess. I can't claim tango-queen or (heavens to Besty!) tango-goddess status, but I feel like perhaps a junior member of their ranks--or at least as though I could be in the same room with them. And that's good enough for me.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

OMG, shoes!

Oh, drat. While I was fondly browsing the Dress-Up Lady's shoe site last night, I ran across a gorgeous pair of CiFs that are sorely tempting me. My size; my heel height; black with white polka dots, and red patent leather--of course, since they're CiFs, all arranged in a very striking design. WANT.

I just have to keep repeating to myself that I already have a lovely pair of wonderful red and black shoes (one of my handmade pairs, which I call my Ferraris), and anyway, I do not need to be splurging on tango shoes of any description, at the moment.

Not even these, by Tara Tango, which I kind of want just for everyday, even:

Yes, Tara! They are the shoes I want for summer fun! Just looking at these shoes conjures up visions of the entire life I would like to lead--if I were independently wealthy and had nothing better to do every day than dine in the finest restaurants, wearing floaty cotton dresses and very wide-brimmed hats, before going out for another round of shopping. (Ha!) Somehow, I very much want to believe, these shoes, yes, they will make all of that happen! And that is really their greatest attraction for me. Behold, the power of shoes...

(One of the biggest problems with these is simply deciding what colors I'd want where! I lo-ove that stripe, but I don't think I'd want it all over... It's almost more fun just to imagine the different possibilities.)

I will cry whenever I check back and find that the CiFs have been sold, though. I mean it; I will probably literally shed a few disappointed tears--at least, I will pout a little, like a spoiled child--even though it is probably the best thing for me, right now.

(I have shoes on the brain so badly right now that this morning in church, instead of "he shall place your foes under your feet," I read it as "he shall place your shoes under your feet." What a good thing I wasn't a lector!)

L'histoire de mes Comme il Fauts

Comme il Faut shoes, sometimes called the Manolo Blahniks of tango...


About one year into my tango career, I went to a festival in a nearby city where some shoe and clothing vendors were set up. One of them was highly recommended by my friend and frequent traveling companion, L. She'd had an excellent experience buying from them online--and she just adored the pair of Comme il Fauts that she had bought from them.

(It was not Julia Bella, whose video showcase of shoes I've linked above, although I've no doubt she also provides fine service.)

So when we went to Nearby City, L and I were both very excited to get to browse this vendor's selection of CiFs in person. I was dubious of my ability to walk on their famously slender stiletto heels, but, hey, it's free to look, right?

I decided to play dress-up: "Could I please try on your very sexiest pair of size eight Comme Il Fauts?" I asked the vendor, feeling a bit overwhelmed by the array of styles, brands, and sizes.

She laughed. "Bad-girl shoes, size eight, hm? Let me see..."

She disappeared among the stacks and returned with, as I recall, a pair of purple and black creations with four-inch heels and a double ankle strap. Bad-girl shoes indeed!

I could barely stand up in them. But as I wobbled to the mirror to examine the effect, I had to admit, they certainly made my legs and feet look good. And by "good," I mean "sexy as hell." They were hot.

I didn't buy anything that night, but when it was time to buy a pair of "real tango shoes," I remembered how cheerfully the vendor had let me play with her stock, and I made sure to purchase from her (a different brand, with a much lower, more solid--less intimidating--heel).

Although I'd had fun, I had taken away the impression that I could not handle the famous CiF heel. I would think of them with regret over the next few years. Too bad I can't wear those sexy shoes...


When L and I went to Buenos Aires last summer--the ultimate tango-traveling adventure, which I was very happy to be able to share with her--one of our few fixed destinations was the Comme il Faut showroom. L needed to make the pilgrimage to pay homage to the makers of her favorite shoes--and to stock up.

I was less enthusiastic on my own behalf, since I had this mental block about their shoes, though I was excited for L. Mostly I was interested in the experience of it. And, oh, it is an experience indeed...

Saturday, June 5, 2010

"Te espero..."

I'm listening to my tango station on Pandora at work, when a song comes on that yanks my memory back to Buenos Aires.

It's "Te espero en Rodríguez Peña" (if I've got the title right). While I was there, this was the song I first danced with my friend's sweetheart to. One of the first, anyway. He's Argentine, and such a lovely leader. (And I loved seeing how he made her smile!)

It was the end of the evening at El Beso, and I think I had not danced much up to then--I usually had a hard time getting dances at El Beso, being a tourist, seated all the way at the back of the women's side. But quite late, as things were clearing out, he arrived, and my friend introduced us. We nearly had the floor to ourselves, by then...

As we danced, he hummed along with the song, chiming in only on that one line, with a richly rolled R on the street name--"Rrrrodríguez Peña!" Between his limited English and my toddler-level Spanish, he managed to tell me basically what the song was about, when it ended. 

It has been a while since I remember hearing that song, but when I heard it yesterday... oh, how it took me back to that first lovely dance! I could almost hear his voice in my ear, savoring that R: "Te espero en Rrrrodríguez Peña..."

His relationship with my friend was a little up and down, the last I knew, and I haven't heard from her lately. I'm usually a little hesitant to ask her about him when I write to her, never quite sure whether the question will be welcome or not. But I hope he's still making her smile... Still waiting for her on Rrrrodríguez Peña.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


That was the first time I think I've ever danced with any degree of success to alternative music. Dancing to things other than classic dance tangos just usually doesn't feel right to me, somehow--like that music, and the movements of tango, don't complement each other.

Plus, with the unpredictability of a lot of alternative music, and the fact that I have a really hard time executing a lot of the big, showy moves that people like to do to this music (volcadas, my bane! I think I've only ever done a volcada right once or twice so far in my tango life), and especially in slow motion, the way it often seems to go, it takes a really good, sensitive leader for me to be able to dance even [something akin to] comfortably to it.

So I normally avoid it very carefully. But this time, when one of my favorite partners bounded over to me immediately when he arrived, and asked me to dance, I didn't even seem to realize it was a non-traditional tanda. I didn't think at all. I just laughed and said "Of course!" And off we went!

And somehow it worked. Probably we've both improved since the last time I danced to non-traditional music, with him or with anyone. And I've been dancing more with him lately than I had in a while, so maybe he has a better feel for what I can and can't do.

(But hope does indeed spring eternal--he tried a few volcadas, in spite of all my past incompetence at them. I think I may have managed one of them a little less horribly than usual, though. Maybe this is like a measuring tool for him--he'll know he can lead volcadas really well when he can finally lead me successfully in one.)

All in all, it was surprisingly good. I was pleased with his leading and my following, and our combined musicality. And since it seemed like making progress at overcoming what has been a serious block for me, it was satisfying even beyond the level of an ordinary good dance. I still don't think I'll be doing a lot of this, or with just any partner, but maybe I won't avoid it so assiduously in the future.

There is definitely a lesson here for me, with other recent pleasant surprises... Amazing what can happen when you give it a chance to, no?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Shapes and sizes

With thanks to Mari, author of My Tango Diaries, whose posts and links lately have helped catalyze a lot of what I'm going to write about now. And to the others who look for the beauty in all those around them, even when we cannot see it ourselves.

It starts here:

Marcela Duran and Carlos Gavito; photograph by Alex Waterhouse Hayward.

I have to admit that I don't know a lot about Marcela Duran, other than what I can see about her in photographs and videos--which is to say, I know she was a beautiful dancer, that she performed with the famed dancer, choreographer, and teacher Carlos Gavito in Forever Tango on Broadway and around the world. I hear that she gave up professional dancing to raise a family.

But look at her in that picture. Specifically, look at the shape of her body. While she does not look as though she has an ounce of extra fat on her--as you might expect from a professional dancer--she also does not look what you might call wispy. She looks solidly built and very powerful. (You'd have to be strong, to hold yourself in that pose.) Although it can be difficult to gauge actual sizes from photos and videos with no objective means of comparison (and granting that Argentines tend to be petite people), she looks tall.

I think she looks like a goddess. And she dances like one too.

(I like this video better than some others of Duran and Gavito I've seen, because it looks more like improvised milonguero-style tango, even if it might be a choreographed performance.)

I sometimes get very intimidated at one milonga or another--around town, especially the open-embrace ones, because the other women there tend to be a distinctly willowy bunch. They look like what I first believed tango dancers should look like--in a few words, tall, leggy, and narrow. And I could weigh considerably less than I currently do, and still not look like that.

I know because I used to, and I didn't. I wore a smaller dress size, but I still had relatively broad shoulders and wide hips. I still stood about 5'6"--no matter how much I wished I might be shorter (and "cuter") or taller (and "more elegant"). Underneath fat and muscle, the bones don't change.*

The possibility of my getting intimidated (really, my intimidating myself, because certainly no one has ever said anything to me about this) is not limited to just the open-embrace milongas in my town; it could happen anywhere. But because of the frequency with which I see this group, it occurs most with them. And I think that if I had fallen in with that group first, I probably would not have stuck with tango. I probably would not have felt "pretty" enough to stay with it, even if I had been able to learn the dance well enough.

But luckily I happened to sign up for a class in estilo milonguero first. And with its emphasis on social dance, rather than performance, and its respect for others sharing the floor, it makes tango accessible to ordinary people, of all shapes and sizes and ages and levels of athletic ability. You don't have to be a model or a gymnast or a professional dancer to be good at it, and to get to enjoy the beauty, grace, and joy of a really good dance.

(I am aware that I am conflating a few things here, but it does appear that in my town, at least, neuvo-influenced style = bigger, more athletic/dramatic moves = younger crowd =  intimidating levels of attractiveness among followers. At least, that's one way to look at it. Others may be possible, and the theory is not a law.)

It's an important thing for me to remember, as I try to fight my critical inner voices. You don't have to look like her


...Although you can. You can also look like her

(Also by way of Mari, because I am so far behind on the tango videos I'd like to watch--but now the computer issues are fixed, and I can start exploring videos for myself again! But mostly because Melina and Detlef are wonderful, and I love so much of what they do in this video, and if you were wondering how tango can be funny, just look at about 1:40.)

...or her

(How much do I love Pocho and Nelly? SO MUCH! They are so adorable, like your favorite grandparents! And look what they can still do on the dance floor! This remains one of my favorite videos of them.)

...or me, or you.**

*P.S.: I still wasn't happy with my body, even at my thinnest. Which tells me that losing weight, alone, is not enough to make you love yourself--so you might as well start loving yourself as you are. What is the point of waiting?

Well, easy enough to say. Although, actually, most days I am pretty happy with my body right now. I try to eat nutritiously, get a decent amount of exercise, and otherwise generally be healthy. And my body seems to have settled into where it wants to be, for now. When I look in the mirror, usually I'm pretty content. But it's a continuing struggle--not every day is a good day. Still, it's something to aspire to.

**Obviously, this has been written from a female perspective, but the same is true for men. I've had wonderful dances with men of all shapes and sizes--skinny beanpoles that I feel like I might break if I leaned on them too hard, great big bears who actually make me feel petite and dainty, men who stood a full head shorter than me, men with six-pack abs and chests like a brick wall, heavy guys who I could barely reach my arms around, very old men, and quite young fellows, men with full heads of hair, men whose entire faces were engulfed in full beards, men who were completely bald ... It's really not about looks for men, either.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Addendum: Stairway Wit, Part the First

The French, as so often happens, have a wonderfully apt term, l'esprit de l'escalier, "stairway wit." It's what happens when you think of that devastatingly clever thing you should have said, only when you've left the party and are on your way down the stairs (metaphorically speaking). Herewith, the brief, sad tale of this weekend's flirting fail.

I was dancing with a partner I like--we'll call him Mr. X--when all of a sudden, I felt his hips go loose and start wiggling all around. I think he was doing some adornments with his feet, but I couldn't (of course) see what he was up to. All I know is, he seemed to get some kind of serious Cuban motion going on!

I [laughing]: X, you've turned into a snake! [He is tall and slim, too.]

He: The better to bite you with!

What I should have said--nay, purred, in best femme fatale style: Why, X, how did you know?

What I actually said, in manner of flustered librarian: Good heavens!

[A few seconds pass, during which time aforementioned perfect response occurs to me.]

I [muttered]: Damn.

He: [Probably thinks I have stepped on my own foot again.]

So, yeah, femme fatale? I've got some way to go!* Oh well; I plan to shamelessly practice my wiles on the cute young guy I've been wanting to dance with for a while, at first opportunity. We'll see how that goes.

*However, I did get the chance to say (jokingly), in manner of Scarlett O'Hara, when I turned up for dinner with friends dressed rather smashingly--if I do say so--for tango later, "What, this old thing? Why, I only wear it when I don't care what I look like!" I have always wanted to say that!


Well, that was unexpectedly satisfying! A gamble paid off: I can add a new partner to the list of people I can dance with at the open-embrace group's events! I hope he'll be at their next milonga, because I'm looking forward to dancing with him again. He led a few things I'm not very good at (a volcada, for instance), but overall was clear, smooth, unhurried, and easy to follow. I felt like I danced best with him, out of everyone else that weekend. A very pleasant surprise.

Nice dances with other partners too. Not my best dancing ever, but mostly satisfactory in my judgment--and apparently in my partners' too.

There was one new guy (and when I say "new" in this case, I mean that I think he is new to tango) who asked me, who I did not dance well with. When I stepped up close, he got this wide-eyed, "What is she doing, she's all up in my space!" expression on his face, so we defaulted to open embrace and stumbled our way through a dance.

I think it's pretty funny when people who haven't been exposed to close embrace (I'm just guessing) panic like that, at the invasion of their space. Yes, the close embrace is unusual and often uncomfortable at first, I think especially for Americans; it took some getting used to for me too. We are not used to close contact with strangers, in this culture; we generally have a much wider personal bubble than many other societies do, and going up and hugging a perfect stranger? No way! Luckily I had teachers early on (both my regular teachers and some wonderful out-of-town guests) who understand that and guide beginners through their initial freakouts very carefully, with a lot of patience and humor.

But I am not always so patient and careful. I wanted to grab this guy by the shoulders and shake him and, staring into his eyes like a madwoman, shout, "Yes, I'm in your personal space; it's tango! It's all about being in each others' space--wonderfully, gloriously in each others' space!--for just a few minutes of our lives!"

Just a few minutes of connection with another human being--maybe a stranger, maybe a loved one, or anything in between--whether you're glad or sorry, in the end, that it's only a few minutes.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Asking, receiving

Last night, for reasons of misc. old personal crap,* I decided that the thing I needed most (aside from hugs from loved ones, which are always on offer) was a few good dances. Tango: the greatest mood-enhancing drug of all!

The only option in my town midweek is usually the Tango Bar, which I have not had great luck with lately. But I figured at least one favorite partner would be there, since he is the DJ there, and even if I just danced with him, that might be enough.

As we know, I don't usually like to ask my partners verbally, even when no one is using the cabeceo; it's a hangup of mine. I'm always scared that I'll be disrupting what they want for themselves for the evening, or maybe I won't dance well, or whatever. I feel like, by asking them, I'll be imposing on them, the same way I sometimes feel forced by a verbal invitation, depending on the situation.

But last night, I decided to ignore those fears--because I was not willing to go there just to sit out. There were other things I could have been doing instead, and sitting out, building up even more of a pity party, would be worse for me than ever. And the atmosphere at the Tango Bar is very informal; hardly anyone cabeceos there, really. So how would the men know what I wanted, if I did not tell them?

(This, in fact, is my philosophy about relationships in general. People are not mind readers, after all...)

I kept my requests open-ended, making it clear that although I would love to dance with them, I did not need to do so This Instant. Even though I wanted to take initiative and take responsibility for my enjoyment, I didn't want to force them. (I always do that anyway, when I do ask verbally. I usually try to make it something along the lines of "I hope you'll save me a tanda.")

And I didn't say why I especially wanted to dance with them, because--well, they didn't need to know all that. Ultimately, it wasn't relevant, and I didn't want pity-dances (or to repel them with my neediness and inner ick). So I kept my request as simple as possible.

It succeeded beautifully. I got the dances I desired with the partners I enjoy.

In all likelihood, I think I would probably have danced with them even if I had not asked them; these are my regular partners at the Tango Bar. But this way I did not leave it up to chance so much. (Will they see me? Will they approach me?)

And it may be a fallacy to think that at least one of my dances (with the DJ) seemed extra-nice because I had requested it. After all, he's always a good partner, always considerate; that's part of why I like dancing with him.

It feels different, though, because last night, I put pride aside, somewhat. I revealed, to some degree, my need. I actively showed my appreciation for their dancing. I asked, and they provided--generously, abundantly.

It was just what I needed. I happily stayed to the end, just to hear "La Cumparsita" and, before that, some other songs that I like (alt. songs, for the nuevo kids, but I like to listen to them and sometimes wish I felt more comfortable dancing to them), even though I didn't really want to dance more. (Why try to top a good thing?) I sang all the way home.

I guess the moral might be, you never know when your partner might be hurting. You never know what a dance might mean to them--just as you never know how much a kind gesture might mean to anyone you meet in a day.

I should--must--learn to be so generous in my dancing.

*I will probably label a box that, the next time I move. Even though it would probably be better just to get rid of the contents. (OH LOOK, A METAPHOR.)

Monday, May 3, 2010

As long as I am making ugly confessions...

...Let me talk about how I am critical of the menfolk too.

(Oh my burning biscuits, way to make your blog appealing for potential readers, Accidental Tangoiste! Look, it's leading up to a positive message, I promise!)

Trying it out

So I gave it a try this weekend. There were two milongas, hosted by different groups, which is rare in my little town. At the one hosted by the more nuevo-leaning group, I made a conscious effort to not mentally badmouth either myself or other women out of a spirit of competitiveness and insecurity, like I mentioned in my last post.

It's vastly easier at the events hosted by my teachers, where the milonguero style is much more common. Much harder at the other group's milongas, in part because I experience a (partly self-imposed) lack of partners there. I sit out a lot, because there aren't many men there who understand the close embrace, and I don't really want to dance open embrace. It's just not my preference. So I'm likely to already be feeling put out and insecure, generally, at the nuevo milongas. (Also, grouchy about things like poor navigation; see below.)

But I tried. And I think it helped. So next time I'll try again. And I'm determined to keep trying, until it doesn't require so much effort. And one day maybe it will be automatic.

But am I still allowed to think that things like linear boleos are a spectacularly bad idea on a floor with any significant degree of crowding? Because I'm going to have an even harder time getting over that--and I don't particularly want to. No offense to Homer and Cristina, whose video on linear boleos I've linked for illustrative purposes--I do respect their creativity and athleticism--but I really don't want to have to worry about being kicked in exciting new ways, when at any given time at the nuevo milongas I'm already in danger, thanks to basic poor navigation and ill-advised large moves, of being kicked anywhere below the knees, stepped on, or bumped.

I do not find these events exactly relaxing, is what I am saying. Even if you aren't hurt by a kick or a stomp with a pointy heel, just being bumped can unpleasantly disrupt a dance, jerking you out of that vulnerable state of blissful ease. And now the women have started kicking their stilettos way the heck up behind their backs, no matter how many people are around them. Ai! Helmets should not have to become the newest fashion at the milonga, for fear of concussion!

My sister tangueras: I admire the fact that that you can do these acrobatic things. Truly, congratulations; it makes for a very impressive display. But does the fact that you can mean that you necessarily always should? My too-often bruised feet beg you to consider.

(If a tanguera, no matter her preferred style, cannot relate to the desire to protect her most essential dancing equipment, her feet, then surely all is lost.)