Sunday, April 26, 2015

Tango Washington DC

I was speaking to a tanguera about tango in Washington, DC, when she blurted out what a horrible time she had there. I tried to stick up for the Capitol City but it was no use; she was unwavering. As I think back on my last seven trips there I have to say that I can see how the tango scene there may have given her nightmares.
It is not easy finding good tango in the nation’s capital. A little bit of research can go a long way towards ensuring a successful dance experience; a cavalier attitude can be devastating. As insurance, I’m adding my two cents in the hopes that it comes up when you google tango Washington DC.
The next time you come to the town that Jefferson built, don’t take any chances. There is only one milonga in this burg that is always reliable. That is the Chevy Chase Ballroom milonga. It is a little unbalanced gender-wise, with too many leaders, but that may be because there are so many talented tangueras here and so much awful tango elsewhere.
People have been coming here for nearly twenty years. There must be a reason for that. These kind of events don’t happen just by coincidence. Somebody is doing something right. Maybe it’s the DJ because the music is always inspiring; maybe it’s the hostess who is friendly and accommodating of beginner leaders like I was the first time I came here four years ago. Who knows what the reason is that this place has such good tango but now you know where to go when you come.
My worst tango experience ever was in Rockville, MD, just outside the Beltway. It was really bad. It was so bad that I had to stay just to see how bad it could get. After thirty minutes of loud salsa music I couldn’t take it anymore and had to leave. It was an expensive lesson; it cost me $35 to find out how painfully bad a milonga could be. It was not really a milonga but the tango community’s webpage, listed it as such.
There were two performances and a short play, all of which were very poorly executed. Before and after the show there was dancing but the after-show dancing was all salsa. The hostess tried in vain to get the DJ to play some tango as people began fleeing after a half hour of unrelentingly Latin melodies. When he was asked to stop, he barricaded himself in his booth and turned the music up louder shouting, “the rhythm is gonna get you!”
A very macabre scene indeed.
The next time you’re considering some tango in Washington, DC, make sure you plan ahead and remember: Chevy Chase Ballroom, the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month is a guaranteed good time. Also, don’t forget the consequences of poor research or you may find yourself having an unforgettable experience that, unfortunately, won’t be so good and may even traumatize you forever like my friend.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Anger, Intimacy and Tango

A woman asked me about my book Fear of Intimacy and the Tango Cure and if I had truly overcome my fear of intimacy. In my response I found myself explaining that the definition of intimacy is different for men and women. Reaching for a better explanation I thought about a time when I tried to be intimate in a relationship. I tried and tried but nothing worked until I finally I got mad and lashed out at her….voila!
This woman had a desire for me to be intimate. I don’t think she knew what that meant but, what I said in anger immediately satisfied her need for intimacy.
People are so complex. 
I have to wonder if this volatile formula isn’t a part of tango’s success.
Men are argumentative by nature. We deplore being alone. That may seem odd unless you consider that Nature is often a man’s only companion and he is usually busy battling against it, sailing the seas, trying to defy gravity. In doing so, he learns that he must move in harmony with Her or risk destruction.
Imagine for a moment that women and Nature are one and the same. A man sticks with tango because he refuses to let it get the best of him. He will not quit. The man in your embrace is trying to outlast you, the music and Nature. He will either fail or succeed. It is this dynamic that women find addicting.
I suspect that women are Nature because they listen to reason. Overhearing a conversation between two ladies, I am surprised at the lack of animosity between them. This does not happen when men talk. From what I hear, I am certain an argument must ensue but none does. One of the women comes to understand the logic of her companion and that is the end of the discussion.
I am not saying women are perfect; they are far from it. So are men. I am not saying that men should act on their anger, only that it is a natural reaction. What I am trying to do is explain the confusing and maddening subtleties of intimacy and how tango brings this out in the dance in such a way that we feel compelled to continue our quest for perfection.
The way I see it is that men and women are like tops spinning. If left alone, we will wobble and fall down. Together, however, with the music playing and both of us trying to attain synchronicity with the other and the music, we achieve a change of state, like ice melting or water boiling, like photosynthesis or a nuclear chain reaction; together we realize our natural abilities.
The two wobbling tops come together and their rotation increases instead of slowing. All of the man’s anger is there but it is neutralized by the woman in his arms. He is at peace and she is satisfied that she is getting what she needs. Something grows, the music ends and the couple parts. This is tango.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Tango Women

            This may be one of the most daring blogposts I’ve ever written......or the stupidest. I want to say who I think these women are that dance tango and I know in my heart that it is a mistake to do so. I fear I will piss off so many women that I will lock myself out of the pastime that has gotten me through such a rough patch in my life.
            I am not afraid. 
            I am very afraid. 
            These are words I say to myself often. The first statement is a lie, the second is the truth and it must be spoken. Such is the curse of a writer.
            Tango women are barren professionals looking for meaning in their lives. That is so not true but I needed to say it.
            There are many tangueras I’ve met who have no children and yes, they are professionals: doctors, lawyers, nurses, etc. Of the ones I’ve gotten to know well, they all answered a question I had in my mind but did not have to ask, “How do you feel about not having children?”
            Their responses to the question varied greatly but regret was a consistent theme in their replies. How they dealt with that pang of conscience was unique to each of them. I have to deduce from their musings that they felt some sort of societal pressure to answer that question to their own satisfaction.
            Here is the complete truth: most of the women who dance tango are mothers. They are moms, grandmothers and even great-grandmothers. Many of these ladies are not even professionals; they are cashiers, electricians, welders, waitresses and dog-groomers. In fact, there is no stereotypical woman who dances tango.
            Tangueras cannot all be lumped into one category but I will take a risk and say this: they are all artists. They have something inside they feel compelled to express through movement and tango accommodates that desire.
            It seems to me that dancing tango brings them joy but also a frustration that what they have said through their dance was not quite right. Tango becomes a quest for a satisfaction that eludes them. Their lives become a constant search for the right dance partner, the perfect music, the appropriate setting or who knows what. I certainly don’t, nor do I think that they know either.


Friday, April 17, 2015

Tango Styles

               Hi there, it’s me again, the Kayak Hombre, sending my unsolicited insights into the sophisticated world of Argentine Tango into cyberspace. This week’s topic: tango styles. There are many ways to dance tango and I’d like to point out the ones I’ve seen employed most often.
               By far the most common method practiced is the Wrong Way. It’s very popular and it is the style first acquired by nearly everybody. There is not much to this particular technique but the practitioner must be certain that this dance can be easily mastered in a few months. I was an ardent disciple of the Wrong Way for quite a few years. In fact, I still revert to this mode when I get lazy. I can tell you from experience that it is a lot of fun as long as your partner is drawing from the same pool of knowledge as you, which is a shallow one.
               I probably would have been content dancing tango the Wrong Way if it didn’t conflict so heavily with what I was learning at the many tango workshops I attended. After two years of lessons and near-constant rejection from devotees to other styles, I decided to move on to the New York style.
               This approach takes a lot of effort and it leads to many new and interesting encounters in the world of tango dancing. New York style focuses heavily on performance-type maneuvers such as gancho/wrap sequences or flying leg lifts. Each month there is a new move en vogue and it is difficult to keep abreast of the changes. It takes at least ten days to master the fundamental movements behind the particular flavor of the week. By the time you think you've got it down, a new one comes along and you're back to the balance bar.
               I think tango instructors from Argentina hate the New York style more than anything on the planet. Something about it brings out their sadistic side. When the Argentines are in such a foul mood it can only be satiated with lessons on the back sacada. It is always the women who suffer for the sins of the many.
               The nice thing about New York style is that it made me aware of the necessity of the tango fundamentals: front/back/side-step, pivot, in-place and pause.  Leaving the Big Apple exposed me to the style of tango that I like the most: Tango Salon. It simply means social tango and it is a combination of the tango fundamentals and a strict adherence to the codigos del tango, or the rules of tango for all you  folks out there in the Five-Seven-Oh.
               I spent the next two years trying to find my balance as I danced my way around the country in search of a paycheck to feed my hungry children who were attending college. Tango Salon can be danced in open-embrace or close-embrace. Ideally the dancers move from open-embrace to close-embrace depending upon their maneuvers. This style of tango requires that each partner pays strict attention to the freedom of the other; almost anything is allowed as long as the dancers’ respective stability is maintained.
               There are many codigos del tango and they are extremely important to this particular style if not all styles of tango dancing. It is a vast subject. If you’d like to know more you can Google the term as this is a topic too lengthy to go into here. My last blogpost, The Politics of Tango, dealt entirely with the rules of the dance as viewed by a man at a milonga.
               Five years into my tango education I encountered the BDSM of tango techniques: Milonguero style. BDSM stands for bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism. I use the term in jest but it is a nearly adequate term for how I feel about this particular discipline.
               Milonguero style is 100% close embrace. That is the bondage aspect. My first encounters with women trained in this technique often felt like I was a participant in a Scottish pole-tossing contest; I would carry the lady around the room with her hanging on my neck until the end of the tanda where I would try and toss her into a chair.
               Milonguero style dancers tend to dominate a certain geographic area. I don’t know if this is by chance or design but there should be warning signs on maps indicating that you’ve entered a Milonguero style-only zone and that it, and only it, is truly authentic tango.
               The sadists are the people who keep bringing back the same instructors year after year and the masochists are the students who keep paying them. I guess these people are into pain: taking it and giving it. If New York style is too acrobatic, then Milonguero style is too rigid.  
               The final style I’d like to talk about is the Argentine Tango style.  This is the best one of them all. It encompasses both open and closed-embrace, the codigos del tango and the fundamentals of tango. It is danced to all kinds of music and enjoyed by widest demographic. This style is open to new techniques, movements and ideas and it is constantly changing the way people dance all around the world.


Friday, April 10, 2015

The Politics of Tango

             I’d been watching her for an hour and still no one had asked her to dance. I had to wonder if she was one of those tangueras who was born dancing tango and that everybody knew she only danced with the best or that she was the unfortunate victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time when all the other leaders were preoccupied.  
Everything about her said she wanted to dance: her shoes, her demeanor, the fact that she was sitting up straight and casually scanning the room in case a potential suitor might make eye contact, something the people from Buenos Aires call cabeceo, the clandestine art of asking a woman to dance. There was another woman sitting next to her but the two rarely talked.
I decided to take a chance and fulfill my obligation as a local tanguero to make certain that all the women were getting their fair share of dances.
Getting up from my chair I made my way around the room as if I might be going to the snack table, a common feature at a milonga, the place where tango, and only tango, is danced. I was three tables away from her when our eyes met. My heart leaped as she briefly looked away and back again. She held my gaze to let me know that she had accepted my invitation.
Quickly walking over to where she sat I offered her my hand and guided her to the edge of the dance floor to wait for an opening in the traffic. She started towards the dancers but I blocked her by straightening my arm: we would wait until we got the nod. Several couples passed us by before one leader looked at me and nodded towards the space in front of him.
We moved into the stream of dancers and I quickly integrated her body into mine. To my extreme pleasure she chose to come in for the full close embrace, opting not to block me with her left hand on my bicep.
We were so near to each other that I could hear her shallow breaths in my ear. I was glad that I had just showered and felt confident that my breath was fresh; personal hygiene is of the utmost importance in this sport for there can be no distractions; connection is everything and the slightest faux pas could ruin the entire encounter.
             I waited briefly for the beginning of the phrase in the music and commenced to dancing. Several steps later I led something that she didn’t follow. I quickly changed weight to accommodate the lack of clarity in my lead and led the same maneuver again, making sure I was not knocking her off-balance. She followed it perfectly this time around and we both smiled with delight.
The first song ended much too soon and we both stood there as the next melody began. I introduced myself and commented on the fine selection of songs the DJ was playing. We talked quietly for ten or fifteen seconds before entering into the embrace once more. We took our time making contact and I waited for the proper moment to initiate movement.
A minute into the song we collided with another couple. I could tell that the leader was new as I offered my apology and assumed responsibility for the collision. That he didn’t do the same was a dead giveaway that he was unaware of the politics of tango. It is up to the leaders to conduct this exchange properly. Either both men apologize and take blame for the mistake or one of them offers an excuse and the other accepts. This is how civility is maintained and the integrity of the women is assured.
Continuing on I took extra care to anticipate the awkward movement of the new tangeuro. It was apparent that he was not aware of his place in the crowd; he needed to wait for a space to open up before moving into it and to stay in his own lane of traffic. Several times I had to dodge him and his lady as they moved against the line of dance and even changed lanes.
The second song ended and we made small talk once again. I flattered her appropriately without suggesting that I wanted something more than the dance. This is my job as the leader: to be charming without resorting to cliches, to acknowledge her assets in such a way as to increase her confidence and find comfort in my company.
The third and final song of the tanda, the group of songs that constitutes the length of a tango engagement, began. We danced better than we had done before and I pushed our boundaries just a little bit to let her know that I was willing to be daring for her but not so far that she would lose faith in me.
The song ended and I waited for the cortina, that odd piece of music that is not tango that separates one tanda from another, to play. I thanked her three times, with sincerity and with vigor. I made sure she knew that the pleasure was all mine, that I felt fortunate for having spent the past ten minutes in her company.

As the other couples dispersed, I escorted her back to her table. I did not intrude on her space for fear that she might think I was imposing. I merely followed behind her for the sake of appearance so that others would see that she was being respected and not returning to her seat alone.

Art, Tango and Charles Cushing

               I recently attended a milonga/art exhibit at a small studio on Buttonwood Street in Philadelphia. It was held in a nice space that is host to a monthly milonga called Milonga La Matine’ on the first Saturday of every month. It is more casually known as Lesley and Kelly’s milonga. It was a small gathering of art enthusiasts and tango dancers that I found relaxing and educational.
               The artist’s name is Charles Cushing and he travelled to Buenos Aires last year to dance tango and to paint. Upon his return he completed his paintings and brought them to the studio for show. I was in eastern PA visiting family when I heard about this unusual pairing of art and tango from two friends and we decided to ride down to Philadelphia together. When we arrived the artist was talking about where he painted and the techniques he used.
               I am not an art aficionado but I found meaning in his words that I could apply to writing and to dancing tango. 
               At one point Charles tried to clarify his feelings about painting on-site and painting from a photograph. The difference, he explained, was that light behaves differently on location than it does in a reproduction. A photo records the colors of all objects present but it does not capture the hues we see as a result of the interaction of the light on the retinas of our eyes.
               He said there were halo effects from the light that cannot be captured by a photo and that this was something he strived to convey in his art.
               When I write about something, I try to give the reader a sense of the place and not just a description of all the objects present and how they were arranged. I aim to convey the emotions I experience that make a scene memorable, that I was not simply there, I was living it.
               In tango we don’t merely interpret the music into footsteps; we are affected by the person within our embrace. My partner’s impression upon me drastically alters my performance as compared to what I did with another tanguera to the same song. Her mood, scent, touch, appearance and movement are all factors in our shared experience that makes our engagement unique and special……and so very real.
               Because I am dancing tango and not some other form of dancing, what happens is spontaneous; what we do together is not dependent upon learned patterns. We move in the present; together we are the light and not the photograph.
               After the lecture there was dancing. It had been a long time since I danced in Philadelphia and I had forgotten what a diverse city it is and the exceptional encounters it provides. The DJ’s offerings were superb and I found myself enjoying every tanda in the embrace of a delightful tanguera for the next two and a half hours.
               There were not more than twenty people dancing but everybody danced with everybody. The two women with whom I carpooled were extremely jubilant as they talked about the event on the long ride home. It is a testament to the power of tango that such a small gathering could provide so much enjoyment when much larger crowds can sometimes make a person feel so alone and depressed.
               I had a great time. It was nice to look at Charles’ paintings and to hear what he had to say about them. My partners varied from Swiss and French immigrants to old friends I had not seen in years. This is why I tango. It is something I do to relieve stress and challenge my body and my brain in a way that is entertaining and not arduous.
               Thanks, Charles. Your art helped me make another happy memory of dancing tango in Philadelphia. You’re making the world a better place one brush stroke and one tanda at a time; keep up the good work!

p.s. Check out Charles and his work on Facebook. Prints are available for sale! Click here.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Adam Hoopengardner and Paul Carter Tango Mini-Marathon in Cleveland

               I just got back from Cleveland and I feel so refreshed! I needed a heavy dose of tango to chase away the winter blues and this event hit the spot. Winter came back for an encore performance as the temps dipped into the teens and there was snow on the highway as I drove to Cleveland after work on Friday but it was not a match for the energy and enthusiasm of the dancers in attendance.
               I had a great time! My head is still reeling and I can't quite put my finger on one particular source of my good mood; maybe it was the three gorgeous Pittsburgh tangueras with whom I dined and danced with for the next 36 hours or the many tangueras from Cleveland and Detroit who danced with me for the small price of a simple cabeceo or maybe, even, it was the great music of the three DJs spinning records for eighteen hours of tango dancing. I guess it was due to all of those things and quite a few more like a clean hotel room at a reasonable price or how about a great meal and a super-friendly waitress.
               The three DJs were Adam, Travis Widrick and Alberto Ramos Cordero. Superb job! Fantastic music all weekend, perfectly constructed tandas and interesting cortinas that did not leave me confused as to whether it was a cortina or another tango. A crowded dance floor is the best sign of a good DJ and I can testify that there was not one tanda played while I was there where people weren’t dancing.

               The Detroit and Pittsburgh tango communities showed up in force, especially on Saturday night. Kudos to the organizers for getting so many tango instructors from Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Detroit to participate. This is something that all good tango festival organizers have in common: connections and favors from other communities. Look for more from these two guys in the future. If their name is on the label, you know it’s going to be good.

               I have to say that I am impressed with Paul Carter. He was dancing when I arrived at 9:30 Friday night and he was dancing when I left at 1:30 a.m. Sunday morning. He was just as alert and attentive to his partner when I first saw him as he was when I left with my aching feet and sore back. If there was a woman there he didn't dance with then she must have been hiding in the ladies' room. Way to keep those girls happy, Paul!

FYI, here is the link that advertised the event. The hotel I stayed at was the La Quinta in Independence, Ohio and the best restaurant to go to is L.A. Pete's on Breckville Rd. a few blocks from the hotel.

peace, love, tango
the kayak hombre