Sunday, July 19, 2015

Music and movement

It's something I've heard several times over the years: "I love tango, but I don't like tango music."

Call it a failure of imagination on my part, if you like, but I just don't understand it.

I'd be lying if I said that I took to classic tango music immediately. It's an older style all around, the instruments may be unfamiliar, the recordings are old, and sometimes it is strange to the modern ear, accustomed as we may be to highly polished digital production values. At the first class I ever took, I did not expect the music I heard--and throughout the course, I kept anticipating that the teachers might play something else at some point, something more like I'd heard in movies and in choreographed dance routines. But it did not take long to start feeling how music and movement went together--credit to my teachers for introducing musicality concepts so early--and now they seem inseparable, two sides of the same coin.

Dancing tango (or "tango") to other music doesn't feel right to me, in a way that I don't have the vocabulary to describe. And when I'm listening to tango music, I can imagine the dance that one could build to the song. Sometimes I can almost feel it in my body: dainty little pizzicato steps here, the swoop of a turn there, the anticipation of suspension in this drawn-out note, and now the release. How would I embellish this part with subtle footplay, if given the chance by a sensitive partner? And always, the music evokes the warm memory of the embrace.

They evolved together, the music and the dance; can they really be separated?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Closeness and distance

We have been dancing together regularly since I first began tango, which, I've realized, is now beginning to approach ten years. But the last milonga, while making small talk between dances, was the first time I shared some of the history that has been most basic to my adult life. Not where I work or what I study; something more personal that I don't always share with people I'm not sure of, but which has been foundational to the person I've become, some of the choices I've made for myself.

And then I ask him the simplest of questions to get to know a person, but one which I'd never asked before, among all our chats. And along with his answer, he reveals a piece of himself that I had not previously known.

For the rest of the evening I am pensive, thinking about how we can encounter people socially, for prolonged periods, and still not really know them. I think that I've missed out--deprived myself of potential friendships in this group, and shared, really, very little of myself, despite the feeling of intimacy in the dance.

And, let me note, I think that's perfectly okay, if that is what a person wants. Not everyone goes to an event like a milonga to make close friends. Moreover, my understanding is that there are older milonguero/as in Buenos Aires who might never have shared so much as their last names with others at the milonga, because tango was, to them, a separate world from their daylight hours, from work and family and friends. And maybe because attending the milongas regularly was, for some time, maybe a little bit shameful (more than a little bit? this is an area where I find the history and mythology of tango, as I've received them, to be particularly muddled), and at times, so I understand, even a risk to one's safety.

But it wasn't what I wanted or intended. I allowed it to happen mainly because I've been afraid. I've been wrapped up in competition with and criticism of other women--which is really, of course, mainly a matter of my own insecurity.

(The things my teachers and parents tried to tell me in grade school were right, and it's a little galling, not to realize that, but to realize how old we sometimes have to be to understand it.)

With men and women alike, I've largely held myself back, because I was afraid of getting hurt. Afraid of being rejected. Afraid of being found not good enough. Afraid that I might not have anything worthwhile to share. And so I've missed out on some potential for actual connection, for a pretty long time, and that's something I am beginning to regret.

It's not just tango but other areas of my life as well. I mean, of course it is; you can't have a problem that deep and expect its effects to be isolated to only one facet of your life.

It's even part of why I keep this blog anonymous.

So what am I going to do about it? Well, I'm not sure. I'd like to change this, maybe try to start getting to know some people better--but I'm still afraid. It's not an unreasonable fear; I've been rebuffed in attempts to make friends before. I'm sure everyone has, at some point. It's not as easy as in preschool, when another kid playing with a toy that you liked constituted enough of a shared interest to be the basis of instant best-friendship. 

But I believe this--or I try to, even when it's difficult: The potential for genuine connection is worth the risk of being hurt.


Friday, August 8, 2014

Dancing to life

A while ago, there was a benefit for a rape crisis center in my town--an art exhibition, with tango.

The gallery occupies two floors. Downstairs, I am sitting alone, reading the accounts of rape survivors, while upstairs, they are dancing, a violin wailing.

At first I think the music is too loud; the dancing overhead while these women's stories wait silently below, too macabre. A bit "Masque of the Red Death." Then I begin to think that there may be something else going on. 

I start to think of the dancing not as careless of the women's stories but as celebratory of their survival. Perhaps we dance because they are living, despite what was done to them. 

The violin sings defiance to the night.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

But wouldn't it give you an awful headache? A neckache, at least.

TIL (Today I Learned): It appears to be possible to lead tango using primarily your forehead.

Well, it isn't truly news; I've seen it done at least once before:

I Love Lucy: "The Adagio."

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


They are one of the most popular itinerant teaching couples in my area; they come through frequently and draw increasingly large crowds to their classes and milongas. And with their personal friendliness, energy, and humor, in addition to their graceful dancing--which is also warm, energetic, and humorous--it is little wonder why.

As I watch them perform at the milonga, a contrast occurs to me, and I can't seem to get the idea out of my mind. It is based on a phrase I read recently in the comments on a tango blog, which I have since been unable to relocate. Someone remarked, as I recall, that a particular couple was really trying to push the limits of what tango could be. (I really, really wish I could find it again, to rewatch the video they were referring to and check exactly what was said! Alas, I cannot spend the entire night searching tonight, so I'll have to try again later.)

The couple I was now watching, I thought, was not trying to push the limits of what tango could be. What they seemed to me to be doing was taking what tango already is and perform it as beautifully, with as much expression of their feeling for the music and for each other, as possible. Which is, perhaps, itself a kind of revolution.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Subject to change

Lately I find that I'm less and less interested in labels for tango. They may have their place--if, for instance, they can help beginners start to get oriented to the world that they are entering, and help us all navigate what we can expect and what is appropriate at any given event. But, although I'm not particularly advocating a kind of "One Tango" philosophy, I do think the emphasis on labels that we sometimes see can become more divisive than useful.

In my area, the emphasis on divisive labeling has led to the near death (malingering is what it currently looks like) of one group due to its stringency, while another thrives seemingly beyond all ability to ensure good quality. But there's no great reason--in theory, at least; in reality there are deep personal grudges--why both groups couldn't thrive and cross over and learn some things from each other, if the attitudes of those involved were more open.

Maybe that's why I'm now so bored and annoyed with the discussion as I have often witnessed it playing out.

When I watch tango videos, as when I dance, I find lately that I'm just looking for musicality, connection, and grace. If you have that, no matter what style, I'll watch with pleasure. If you don't--again, no matter what style you call your tango--I'm just not interested. And when I dance, I find that enjoyment in a number of places, not all of them adhering to the labels I used to think were so important.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Language of the Fan: Tango Edition
Fan that reputedly belonged to Marie Antoinette, purchased by Queen Victoria; from Britain's Royal Collection.

In the French royal court, in the seventeenth to eighteenth centuries, so I am told, there developed an elaborate system of communication, coded in the ways in which a lady moved or positioned her fan. For example:

Carrying in the left hand, open: Come and talk to me

Carrying in the right hand, in front of the face: Follow me

Carrying in the left hand, in front of the face: Desirous for acquaintance

Clasping the hands under the open fan: Forgive me, I pray you

Cover the left ear with the open fan: Do not betray our secret
(Source: Fabulously French: The Secret Language of Antique Hand Fans)
The message here is, perhaps, rather less subtle. (From Sofia Coppola's 2006 Marie Antoinette.)

Having carried a folding fan to tango for several years, I've noticed that I've begun to develop my own coded language of the fan. It goes something like this...

Quick, delicate fanning, movement in the wrist: Goodness, tango can be quite warm exercise, can't it?

Big, sweeping fanning, movement from the elbow: Just finished a tanda of milonga, and I'm sweating like a sinner in church! (As they say.) For your own comfort, you may want to wait to ask me to dance.

Fully open fan raised to cover lower half of face may be an attempt to disguise any of the following reactions with an aura of mystery and allure:

-- Frown
-- Inappropriate smile
-- Yawn
-- Gasp
-- Indigestion (Shouldn't have eaten that spicy curry for dinner! *Urp*)

Tapping closed fan against free hand in rhythm to tango music, especially while tapping foot in rhythm with bass: Somebody please ask me to dance, already!

Folding and unfolding fan, in rhythm with non-tango music: Boy, this electronica song just goes on for miles, doesn't it?

Quickly tapping fan between finger and thumb, out of rhythm with music: I really need to work at learning not to fidget so much.

Putting fan back in purse before midnight: There is nothing for me here; I'm cutting my losses and going home to spend some quality time with my good friends Ben and Jerry.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Two to tango

My sweetie has finally come to an intro tango lesson with me! In the practice embrace, with his hands on my shoulders, he is awkward, but when we take a real embrace--heart to heart and cheek to cheek--it is as though something clicks for him. Suddenly we are dancing--I mean really dancing, even though we are still just walking--and I have never felt anything like it on the pista: holding the person I love in the tango embrace and feeling the way that he holds me.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

That awkward moment...

...when you mistake a random look for a cabeceo and end up making faces across the room to no one.  :(

(Fortunately not a permanent state of affairs!)

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Those daring young men

At the most recent milonga, held in a local fitness center, I found myself intrigued by these sort of x-shaped metal brackets mounted to the walls above the dance mirrors. Not being one to frequent such places, I had to ask a staff member to confirm their purpose--as I suspected, they were for looping elastic cords through for isometric toning exercises (or something like that).

I thought they might work just as well for hooking up aerial harnesses for my partners, whom I seemed to be determined to trip up.

(One time, my heel caught on a hidden rough spot on the floor, but the rest of the time I had no such excuse. Simply not my very best night.)