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.)