Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Most Common Mistakes in Tango

                As I was dancing tango with a young woman at a milonga, I encountered a familiar bump in the road that many of us trip over on our journey to proficiency. The couple in front of us abruptly moved backwards and I had to make an immediate course correction in order to avoid a collision. 
               I led a molinete to my left.
               It was here that we stumbled upon the most common mistakes in tango.
               Instead of stepping sideways in a manner that would take her around me, or even directly to her right, she moved away from me on a tangent that was neither a back-step nor a side-step.
               She was so alluring that I hid my frustration when she departed my orbit. What can I say? I found her infatuating.
               During the dance, the follower is almost always doing some part of molinete, that merry-go-round pattern which encompasses all the fundamental movements of tango: back-step, side-step, front-step and pivot.  
               It can begin from any one of the aforementioned steps. The progression of a molinete is always the same. If she starts on the back-step she proceeds to the side-step, then the front-step and then another side-step. The molinete must always be performed in reference to the leader who is in the middle of the circle she is navigating. All her steps must carry her around him as he pivots in the center.
               If her first movement into the molinete takes her away from the leader, he will have to change course by moving towards her and find another way to continue dancing without barging into the couple in front of them.
               As my intoxicating companion moved away from me, I closed the gap and led her into a series of rock steps that kept us out of traffic. It was at this point that I noticed there was chemistry between us. If I was not careful, I could easily become infatuated by her.
               Men and women can never be just friends. Almost every woman with which a man dances becomes a sexual puzzle that his libido tries to solve. Therefore, some degree of infatuation is possible with almost every partner he embraces.
               The problem with infatuation is that it causes a man’s brain to idle. It puts him into a hypnotic state that stifles his ability to indicate movement, rhythm and direction.
               So there I was, dancing with this beautiful young lady. I saw the obstacle and merely stepped over it because I am not the naïve puppy I was when I began my tango quest. I am in control….most of the time, but not always. I am, after all, just a man and sometimes I find it invigorating to let the little boy in me be free.
               It would be unfortunate if she never learns that the side-step initiating her molinete is taken at an inappropriate angle. It’s not my responsibility to point this out. That is a job for her instructor.
               So it is for the man who never learns to harness his passion. It cannot be allowed to run wild or else he will not be able to dance. Yet he must not be a stone because rocks are not very appealing. This is the paradox that every leader must confront.
               In tango there are three types of people: the observers, the travelers and those who are stuck on the round-about waiting for chance or inspiration to get them back on the road again and moving forward.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Tango Is the Cure

               I believe it is a biological fact that bodily contact between humans has positive and far-reaching therapeutic value. When I dance tango with a woman, especially with a middle-aged lady, I can feel a powerful energy seeping out of her. I think that energy is created by stress and I savor it like a potent elixir.
               It feels good to take someone’s stress as well as to have someone take it from you. This is one of the many reasons why I believe dancing tango is so addictive. When we engage in the tango embrace, our opiate receptors line up along our points of contact, anxiously awaiting a tiny sip of the stress cocktail.
               Humans are communal creatures and the release of stress for one member of the tribe is beneficial to the entire community. People who are relaxed are better prepared to handle the seemingly irrational occurrences caused by their social interactions.
               I think stress is a necessary evil. There is a reason for it but we cannot let it accumulate. We must find an outlet for it or symptoms will erupt that doctors, if allowed, will try to treat with the most expensive healthcare on the planet.
               US citizens have to be very careful when we seek the advice of medical ‘experts’, especially if we have a great healthcare plan.
               American culture, with its emphasis on driving and social media, has lost many of its outlets to relieve stress. Consequently, bodily contact with another person is priced at a premium.
               A masseuse massages our muscles to heal them but the real benefit of the session is derived simply from their hands touching us in a consensual manner.
               Massages are for sissies. Real men go to the strip club for lap dances.
               This is not unusual. Herodotus tells us in his Histories of a Lydian culture where young girls prostitute themselves to build their own dowries. In my country, young unwed mothers prostitute themselves as a form of welfare to provide for their children.
               If you’re too timid to go for either of these remedies, the pharmaceutical companies are ready to assist you with a chemical release as long as you can afford a prescription. If you can’t then your local drug dealer will help you out as long as you’re willing to risk a prison sentence.
               I thank God and the Universe for introducing me to tango. I find all the aforementioned remedies to stress unappealing. I find tango dancing to be an organic outlet for stress. It is a homeopathic remedy for what really ails us.
               I was dancing with a woman last weekend.  She was nervous but I did not let that deter me from enjoying our union. The very fact that I could sense her anxiety made me feel good.
               With each song I could feel her working on putting it all together: sensing my lead, maintaining our connection and embellishing when she could. It was easy to discern the pressure she was putting on herself to perform her role in this dance to her satisfaction.
               She must have high standards because she was an incredibly delightful partner.
               By the end of the night we had shared three tandas together. When we parted for the last time, she said, sounding amazed, “That was fun!”
               There was something about the way she spoke those words, as an honest expression of her emotional state that gave me a good feeling lasting until the middle of the week. I went home, bought an Xbox One and gave up drinking forever. Tango is the only cocktail for me from now on.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Anti-Social Tango Dancer

I was just reading Joe Yang's blogpost on people who prefer traditional tango to those who rebel against it. He is a tango instructor in the Madison, Wisconsin area and an excellent DJ. For some strange reason his post reminded me that I am anti-social.
A lot of tango dancers are introverts. This may seem odd but it is true. The reason it is odd is because dancing tango seems like such an extroverted activity.
The definition of an introvert is a shy, reticent, and typically self-centered person. I had to look up the definition of reticent which means not revealing one's thoughts or feelings readily.
This is me. I don't come to tango to socialize in the traditional manner. I find socializing difficult. I can do it but I find myself regretting things that I've said. That's because I am a writer. It takes me hours, sometimes days, to say what I mean.
This is not to say that I'm not good at socializing in the traditional manner. I am. That's because I'm half Irish and half Italian. I'm a gifted storyteller and I can talk with my hands. I can be interesting if the situation requires it.
     Dancing tango is my kind of socializing. I like the size of the audience within the tango embrace: one.
To me, my partner is everything. Tango is a conversation. With me, it is an intense conversation and not the kind of discourse I'd like to conduct with a group.
I train to converse in whatever form my partner finds pleasing, be it authentic tango or nuevo. My preparation is a continuing process.
When I go to a milonga I am looking to have one good conversation. There are things that I need another person to hear: I love women; work is hard; I am a passionate man.
Tango is not a one way street. I love that it goes both ways and I am prepared to listen but I want to hear something real. Are you scared? Can you overcome your anxiety and move to the music?
Say whatever you want but please, say it to the beat. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

On Getting Repeat Invitations

               At practica, a tanguera asked me why a man, if asked to choose between two ladies of equal abilities and appeal, decides on one repeatedly and not the other.
               I answered, too quickly, that the woman who succeeds in convincing him that they enjoyed their engagement the most was the obvious winner. On the long ride home, I realized that my statement needed further clarification.  
               Here in Wisconsin there are two women who enjoy dancing with me. They are the same age and skill level but I seek out one and not the other. When we dance, I feel they are both delighted to the same degree with my offerings.
               What then is the difference between the two?
               The only thing I can discern is that one always seeks to catch my eye and the other does not. The former makes me feel trapped.  Just as the follower needs to feel free within the embrace, so too does the leader need to feel in making the invitation.

               How women let men know they are available without imparting the sensation of confinement is a mystery to me but I must tell you that I like it…a lot!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Milwaukee Tango

               For the past seven months I have been putting off a tango excursion to Milwaukee. I’m not sure why, I think I was just burnt out on long drives in search of tango and afraid that my investment in windshield time and gas would result in an unpleasant memory.
               Boy, was I ever wrong!
               This milonga is held at Casa di Danza dance studio. It is a very spacious ballroom with an excellent wood floor. Chairs and cocktail tables are situated at one end of the room for cozy socializing and watching other dancers.
               I was nervous when I entered the room and sat down on a chair in the back corner. A woman came and sat next to me as I laced up my shoes. Hoping she would make my first dance invite an easy one, I hurried with the laces but I was not fast enough. Just as I got the second knot tied, she got up and walked away.
               Crestfallen but not shaken, I was delighted when another tanguera took her place almost immediately. From her demeanor it was easy to discern that she was ready to dance and we did.
               I could have left after the first tanda, it was so fulfilling: arriving in a strange place and sharing three wonderful songs with a woman I had never met was more than I was expecting.
               She was but one of six tangueras I danced with that night and all were equally delightful encounters.
               There were about forty people present and the men outnumbered the women by three.
               When I had a chance to sit down, after about four tandas, I had an opportunity to observe the floor craft of the leaders and was not surprised to find that they were just as well versed in the ways of tango as the women were.

               I’d like to tell the world that the Milwaukee Tango Community is a group of milongueros who take their dancing seriously.  If you are in the neighborhood, you should definitely check out one of their monthly milongas at You will not be sorry.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Girls and Dragons....and Tango

     My ex-wife is a very good-looking woman. As the father of two girls, I always knew my daughters would grow up to be beautiful as well. Because I loved them, I did not want them to fall into the trap that I knew awaited.
     I worked as a whitewater river guide in my youth and I saw many women come to the mountains to be guides. They didn't want to be pretty river guides, they wanted to be good river guides. They wanted to be respected for their abilities to conduct their patrons safely down hazardous rapids.
     I came to realize that this in itself was a difficult course for women to navigate: the path that flows past attraction and self-worth.
     As I raised my daughters, I repeated a sentence over and over.
     "It is okay to be pretty," I would say to them as we drove to their grandparents' house or were hiking or were canoeing down the river, "but you've got to show the world that you're smart."
     When I dance tango, I meet many successful women. At forty or fifty or sixty years of age, they have proved to world, and to themselves, that they are smart. They are successful lawyers and doctors and nurses and many other things.
     I suspect that there is one last dragon in their lives that they must slay and tango provides them the opportunity to draw the monster out into the open. It is a fierce creature and I don't think these ladies always win their battles with it.
     I believe the thing they are fighting is the concept of attraction. Their encounters with this beast are not lone episodes, they are all part of a war that has been raging in their lives since puberty.
     Last night I danced with a woman who was being swallowed whole by her dragon. Months of lessons were finally paying off and she was able to move gracefully on her own balance within my embrace.
     She had a new haircut, a sexy dress and an elegant pair of high-heels. We danced several tandas with many enjoyable episodes that had her gushing.
     I think she made peace with her dragon last night. I spotted the two of them sitting and chatting with other women. They were enjoying the music and the ambiance of the setting. She wasn't worried about the next dance, she had gotten what she came for and she was no longer at war with the creature inside her.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Desire and Infatuation: Tango's Vital Ingredients

                I was talking to a tanguera last night and I asked her to evaluate the leaders she had been dancing with lately. We had both attended the same workshop recently and were talking about our efforts to make progress on the concepts taught during the lessons. 
                At one point she complained that the only leader she could work with on these concepts was unskilled even though he had been dancing tango for many years.
                I know this guy. He is infatuated with her. I’ll not name him other than to call him her 'fan'.
                Her complaint was that the skilled leaders with whom she had danced were too critical of her efforts and that she could not concentrate on her objective. It was only with her ‘fan’ that she could make any sort of progress.
                This morning I awoke with the realization that her problem with the more advanced leaders was a quandary often encountered by many tango dancers, both followers and leaders.
                There is more to tango than the mastery of the basic steps: molinete, ochos, etc. A person can dance true tango on his/her very first introduction to it but we fool ourselves into thinking that physical balance is our top priority. 
                When two people come together to attempt a spontaneous choreography to tango music, the only thing that counts is the connection they share. If the ‘secret’ ingredients are present in their union then the technical aspects of dancing are irrelevant.
                The secret ingredients I mention are desire and infatuation. These are volatile catalysts in the chemistry created when two people join together in a dance. Without them, movement to the music is fluid but that fluid is only water. Add just one of these key ingredients and that liquid becomes gasoline!
                Desire must be controlled and infatuation cannot be helped. These are the factors which make tango a dance for the experienced and not for the naïve. 
                If you are a slave to your passions then tango is not a dance for you.
                I know the ‘fan’. He always treats my friend with the utmost respect. When they dance, they are dancing tango. He is in heaven and hell simultaneously: ecstatic­­­­­ to be with the woman he desires and tortured by the code that prevents him from acting on his passion.
This is what tango is all about. It is not a dance for children or the immature. The participants are playing with fire and getting burned is just part of the allure.