Monday, December 27, 2010

Walking to Find Ourselves

Not some times.   Every time.

Every time I go out on a walk I discover something new about the tango walk and about myself.  And each time I say, "Why didn't I see that before?"  I would not expect you to believe that I keep discovering things about simply walking, because that is unbelievable.

I am sure each time that I have discovered something that it must be the last thing possible.  I never expect to learn something new.  But it just keeps happening.  I learn how to dance tango more efficiently and simply.  Some things are complex, such as leading her with my back and torso movement to take just one step as I take three or two steps.  Some things I discover are simple, such as a lilt to my gate.

 It sometimes takes as many as six months to bring an idea found by walking by myself onto the dance floor.  Sometimes I discover the idea on the dance floor, but perfect it or understand it better when I walk later by myself.  That happened last night in a waltz with a favorite tanguera: I stepped two against her one in 3/4 time -- a surprising feeling.

What occurred to me after I watched the video (below) of long-time teachers walking in a tango walk for an entire song was that we learn a lot about the connection to the music when we merely walk.  Complicated "prefabricated" steps (choreographies) keep us from finding the music and our partner.  But something new dawned on me: I realized even finding ourselves is helped by a meditative tango walk, and I reveal my inner world, my soul to my partner if I walk "simply" with her.  Watch what I mean:

Of course it is not simple to dance in connection to one's partner.  Everyone that attempts any partner dance knows that.  But with tango's improvisational nature, the musical connection is also crucial.  I know people who use the same chronography in salsa or ballroom to any music that happens to be playing.  In tango that would truly be seen more clearly as a counterfeit than other forms of partner dance.  Time out:  I should add right now that I do indeed dance salsa and as a percussionist, understand the intricacies of the music.  But now that I dance tango, I dance salsa much differently now, with "paradas" (stops), hesitations and far fewer underarm turns.  My salsa feels more like tango (without looking like it) -- it's Afro-Cuban with an Argentine accent.

Tango teaches me that I must be in connection to myself.  Learning so many "cool steps" is a way of not getting to know oneself.  Although there is value in learning a "vocabulary" of tango steps, many school-taught steps are superfluous.  So many steps are parroting the ideas of others.  That doesn't do much to help self-discovery.  In my first year of dancing tango, I remember doing lots of steps out of anxiety that I might bore my partner.  Slowly I found that if the connection is good, and the music is truly leading, that no woman on earth is going to be bored.  Well, that was an overstatement.  Let me try again:  All the women in the world interested in allowing her soul to dance with mine will not be bored.   The tango walk allows us to discover ourselves as one and to reveal more of what is on our heart and minds through body language.

In the tango walk, I am reminded that music is the true leader, the woman, my companion, and the next step, a fresh discovery the three of us are finding together as if it were for the very first time.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Practica at walking alone

My life is always changed by the tango walk,
A dance with only me on a country road. 
I walk in harmony with music heard within.
Great mysteries are revealed as I walk outside. 
My mind thinks in the language of haiku. 
The lightning-struck tree points to the sky 
With seared center finger, it’s last gesture. 
The upset swallow twitters with no Internet.
A group of deer like voyeurs stares at me. 
I smell the water of a lake far away. 
The walk answers life's mysteries well. . . 
. . . until I walk again.

Photo credit

Tango Uniform (a Christmas Story)

Tango Uniform
Teresa and Uriel’s Christmas

The hardest thing for me to be deployed was not getting shot at. Having near-miss IED explosions that dazed me were horrifying too, but the hardest thing was to be away from my fiancé. I wanted to believe that she was being faithful, but there were so many stories of women cheating on their men. “Teresa was different,” I would tell myself. “She has true class and culture. She wouldn’t do that.” But over and over we would hear about affairs that were being firmly denied, and the facts came in that were undeniable. Although it was against regulations, we even had access at S-2 to use satellites to go look at our homes. We could see the pickup trucks parked out in front of our homes, and later the denials over the phone. Soldiers went home for two weeks of R&R leave, and they had their stories too. Infidelity was our obsession.

“Tango Uniform” (meaning simply in radio language “T.U.”) had a meaning in the military for something that was knocked down and not able to get back up. Over the radio, we would hear that a vehicle had broken down and was irreparable. “Call out the wrecker, it’s Tango Uniform.” In reality “Tango Uniform” meant in the rough rider language of the military “tits up” (that is, flat on your back). But we started talking about our relationships being irreparable too because of infidelity. The first sergeant even said at chow, “My marriage is Tango Uniform. The rear detachment commander checked it out for me. My kids even know the guy, and he’s sleeping in my bed.” He didn’t want to go back because he was afraid he’d kill them both, leaving his children without parents – one dead and one in prison.

Before I left for Iraq, Teresa and I had taken some dance classes and we loved it. First we loved salsa the most. But then we discovered Argentine tango. Teresa has been sending me videos of “tangueros” dancing, and I even practiced by myself whenever I had a moment by myself. I loved to watch, but again, the atmosphere of distrust made it very hard for me not to feel jealous and wonder if some sultry tanguero was slipping off with her after a dance. I wondered if she were “Tango Uniform” with him in bed and that our engagement also might be Tango Uniform. 

Next to my cot, I always had a stack of her letters that always started, “Dearest Uriel, mi tanguero…”  She often wrote about being true to me.  She affirmed her maturity, her own self-worth and of course, our love. I hated that I still had my doubts. But I did.  The negative thoughts would come, “A lot of women were saying this, and they were off doing the wild thing.”  But one thing she said really made me believe her. She told me over a crackling long distance conversation, “Uriel, you know, if a lot of these women had a way of getting their need for touch met, then they might find it easier to be faithful. Tango allows people to get an important need met—the need to be touched. And if they had any sense of culture and self-discipline they would feel no need to go beyond that.” That sounded genuine. I also was able to dance a few times and feel what Teresa was talking about. There was dancing at a large FOB not far from our sector in Bagdad, and they had salsa dancing there. I found myself feeling so much better after that dance, and even more committed to Teresa.

Late in our deployment after I came back from a mission with my platoon, the commander was standing there, and I thought there was bad news. We all fear last minute tragedies in theater or back at home at the last minute before returning. We were supposed to come home on the 10th of January, and we didn’t have much time left in country. But the commander had bad news/good news.  “The XO hit an IED, and he’s being MEDEVAC’d.  He’s okay, but that means that you’re going back early as the rear-D commander,” he told me. That means that I’d lead the forward party to help prepare for the return of soldiers. The XO would be okay, we learned, but his first stop would be Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

My emotions were properly dampened as the commander told me.  First the XO and I were in basic together; so this was terrible news, but at the same time I knew that I would be home for Christmas. I also felt like a traitor to my platoon, getting to go back early. I felt humiliated telling the soldiers under me, and all the while I was so happy to be leaving that hell hole. I was totally conflicted in my feelings, but like it, love it or hate it, I was going back in time for Christmas.  I decided I would keep it a secret that I was coming back.

I had paradoxical feelings especially about seeing Teresa. What would I find? Intellectually, I knew that everything would be okay, but I had these great fears in my gut too. When I arrived I had to go through lots of briefings and medical screens like everyone else. But on Christmas Eve, thank God, I would be free. I knew where Teresa would be from our conversations -- at a Christmas Eve tango party. So I put on my dress blue uniform – the only thing I had at my locker at work. I drove down to the UT, Austin’s ball room, 60 miles from Fort Hood, where it was being held. I put on a big overcoat so as not to cause a scene when people saw me in uniform at the dance. 

It took a while for me to spot Teresa. She was dancing with a handsome man, and I felt my face turning red. I stood in the back, and no one seemed to even notice me. I realized that I was spying. I felt so jealous because they were chest to chest, and he danced so well. She looked so satisfied in his arms. I had a feeling of great sadness at first: Like a little boy who was watching his best friend run off with someone else. Then I fought back the rage and jealousy. I tried to stay in the shadows of a far corner but I felt my red hot face would surely alert everyone that I was there.  The striped sides of my dress blue uniform pants surely must have given me away too.  When that song ended, people were leaving the dance floor and she was coming my way. My stomach twisted and my hands were sweaty. An older gentleman stopped her with a nod of his head. Another song started and they danced. She had not recognized me. The man was old enough to be her father. Wow, he was good. He made the younger man look like a klutz. Although they danced simply, people stopped to watch them.  Teresa and he looked as if the music controlled them, forcing them to dance so wonderfully. Teresa looked like she was in heaven, and I realized that it was the music, the touch, the moment that was filling her soul. I felt this … this … huge well-spring of emotion, of love, of trust. 

As if I did not even choose to, I felt my overcoat fall to the floor around my feet. People were leaving the dance floor, and someone said, “Teresa! My God, he’s back!” 

She was pointing with one hand and the other was over her mouth, realizing how loud she had said it. The room went dead silent. Everyone started clapping, and Teresa came running to me, with a crowd behind her. She melted into my arms. She was crying. Others stood by and gave me hugs like I was their long lost friend. “Thank God you’re back. Teresa has told us so much about you; it’s as if we have known you forever,” an older woman told me, holding onto my hand like my mother would.

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

The music started again, and she led me out onto the floor.

 I felt so self-conscious at first. It was like a wedding dance and we were the only ones on the floor.

I just tried to do what I had seen the older man doing, listening to the music and letting the music move my feet. I danced simply, but it felt like I was on a level that I had never had experienced. It was the embrace, Teresa melting into my soul.

My engagement and my love for her were all saved from my worries of catastrophe and hurt at that moment. How funny that people call us T&U now!  Tango Uniform? That is now what Teresa still calls my dress blues.  I am reluctant to tell her what "Tango Uniform" really means.

Post Script:
This story is of course fiction, but so true about soldiers, love, trust and what tango has to offer the world.

Izabella Tabarovsky

Photo model:
Dina Dalipagic
Note: "Tango Therapist" besides writing this blog and doing other things in life, is a lieutenant colonel in the US Army Reserves, Medical Service Corps.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

In search of the perfect tanda

I am no longer searching for the perfect woman.

I have found so many perfect women that this is no longer my quest.  Now, I look to have the perfect tanda with them.

This is what it takes (and it is not impossible):
I have to know myself.  

I know that I have limitations and some talents too.  My limitations that would get in the way of a perfect tanda with the perfect woman includes (1) being a performer from being a musician for many years, which would ruin just dancing for her; (2) being nervous and trying to impress her with some new move.  My talent is to hear the music and hold her as if she were the only woman in the world.  I often have this sense of information transfer, but it may be delusions that her soul is talking to mine.  If it is a delusion, why does it happen so often that a few words confirm what I felt?

I have to know her.
What are her limitations and talents?  I may not have ever danced with her so I am discovering these things, taking it slowly, like reading a beautiful poem or walking on a path in the Cloud Forest in Costa Rica.  If I sense that she is burdened by something in her life, will I especially dance as if we are carrying her load together?  If she is celebrating, can we dance as if she and I were children, just happy to get out and play?  She was just taking off her shoes, but put them back on for me.  Do I dance, careful of her hurting feet?

I have to know the music.
We wouldn't be dancing if the music did not lead us to the dance floor, or inspire us to our first step.  The music has a beginning a middle and an end, like all journeys.  We are sharing this journey.  I am NOT driving, although I do have an important role.  I am NOT leading, although she has been taught to think that I am; her part truly is to hear the leader (the music) and we both have our roles in allowing a unique expression of two souls dancing together, maybe for the first or the last time.  It is a sacred journey, teaching something about life.

I have to know the community of dancers.
The couple in front of me inspire me because I feel their embrace without even looking at them.  They never put my tanguera in danger.  Luckily this is the same behind me.  Both are my dear friends, never tailgating or doing crazy moves on the social dance floor.  Even the crazy guy off to the side, "Loco Larry," doesn't really bother me.  I protect my partner from some of his wild lateral moves and his partner, "Loca Liliana," the woman who loves to whip up her heels when so inclined.  I have learned some new stutter steps just because of him.  Really.  Some great moves are discovered in avoiding danger.  Every village has a nut and every milonga too.  Might as well get used to the world being the way it is.

I am searching.  I am finding.  These moments are marvelous.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Marvelous Moments (part 2)

A foundation for Magical Moments:
in tango and maybe life

National Geographic "Unique Moments"

From an earlier post "Marvelous Moments" and discussions with mostly women, I became interested in why many women have had their marvelous moments in the past but now it is all down hill.  I think I know why this is.  Marvelous moments are when a man takes them on a great ride.  As they become more and more sophisticated, that happens less and less. 
I asked these two questions of many tangueras whom I know:

  Is this true of you?  (comments for Marvelous Moments Part 1):
"Thank you for sharing this experience, and for putting it into words so beautifully. I can empathize with your 'beginner' partner as my most intense, out of this world moments in tango came when I was a relative beginner (I'm speaking as a follower)."

Second:  What do you think a person can do to maintain the magic?  
I would like to list your answers later on a blog I will name "Recipe for Magic Moments."  Perhaps we can all learn from each other.

Marvelous Moments also caused my friend and fellow "blogista," Mari and I to talk a lot about this subject, and she published three great posts on this subject of how to make the marvelous moments continue.

I also talked with many others.  Is it really true that the good times are limited and sometimes over after the first years of euphoric moments?

Isn It is an existential and spiritual question? So this post may uncover more than just tango.  It is a spiritual discovery about any subject, and tango is just one example.  The question is about blessings.  I used "euphoric" or "marvelous" moments, but a more ancient idea it would have been "blessings."  Do our blessings decrease as we get older or more experienced with anything and everything we do?  That is the true challenge, and tango can be the medium to discover spiritual, philosophical or even developmental truths about our lives.

I will have more comments at the end, but here are some of the thoughtful comments I got from tangueras whom I have asked about their euphoric moments and how they might maintain these marvelous moments:

From a young a fairly new dancer who really shines now:
"I've never really realized that, but I'd have to say it is true.  I recall having many more moments of OMG OMG OMG during about months 6-12 of tango.  The first 6 months I mainly felt like a bumbling idiot.  But after I gained my footing and had some confidence, the magic started flowing.  I'll never forget:
-the first time I did a gancho without even thinking about it.
-the first time I felt a connection with someone
-the first time I recognized a song and landed the ending perfectly as a result
-the first time a certain leader asked me to dance
-the first time I felt the beauty of a perfectly led volcada
It's all like the first few months of any love affair (and that's what tango is right?) :)  Your first kiss, your first dance, your first "I love you".  You can't recapture that magic.  But, like any relationship, in order to keep things working, you:
-be open
-role play (lol)
-take care of yourself
-try new things
-keep learning
I hear that as a result of these things and time, something even more beautiful emerges- something even better than that beginning magic.  I'm not there yet, in my relationship or in tango.  But I'm gonna stay tuned."

So that revealed an inkling of how tango is just one manifestation of finding our magic moments in life.

From a Tanguera in Australia:
"I have had magical moments but I am looking for new ones. I think a women maintains the moments with how she wants to dance in the moment with who she is with. . . . I remain positive as I know that when I am ready the magic and dance partner will happen for me. In the meantime I dance with my teachers who always present a magic moment for me as they allow me to dance (it is just like floating around the floor with them ) I am in heaven so to speak."

From an Austin Tanguera:
She described amazing moments in Buenos Aires with great leaders and great the ambiance of the city.  I think she then described very well the substance of what these eurphoric moments are made from:
"Sometimes we connect, head to toe, soul to soul.. an energy blend that truly feels like One.  We rarely talk about it or acknowledge it... but I think it has to do with something mystical and mysterious... chemistry maybe...and I think it has to do with being present, and slowing down,... a kind of reverie or reverence for the beauty of the other, and the beauty of the music and dance."

From a Tanguera in NJ -- some great advice:
"Hola Mark!

First: Yes, magic moments still happen after 4 years. It depends on the leader. Some dances are a wonderful dreams and others are nightmares. For me, a lot of the magic is in the embrace. I prefer a very secure, very close embrace so we move as one. Even just walking in parallel system can be heavenly if the connection is right. It's the intermittent reinforcement that makes me continue to dance. Each time I dance I hope it will be a magical one."

Here's her recipe for magical moments: 

"Here is my list:
  • Feel like one with your partner.
  • Communicate very carefully and clearly to your partner. 
  • Develop a fantastic embrace.
  • Develop very good basic technical skills.
  • Listen to and express the music. Don't  just do a series of steps.
  • Have good personal hygiene - including flossing.
But, accept that the magic will not happen with everyone.

I remember dancing with a visiting teacher with whom I felt way beyond wonderful. A friend of mine also danced with him and said, 'So what's the big deal?'  Ah, those euphoric moments... it's what keeps us coming back for more."

From a young woman in Texas:
"First: to me the magic moments started after I became more advanced. That is, after I've gotten much better in connections, musicality, and improvisation. I've also discovered that my magic moments tend to occur with partners in the nuevo tango style (both open and close embraces) and with nueveo/alternative music.

Second: to maintain the magic, it takes complete relaxation of the body and 100% of giving yourself to your partner and music. Complete trust and focus on becoming part of the music and each other."

A real firecraker tangera in DC:
Magic moment for her were "... when someone half my age tells me I'm "perfect" ~~ that's the dance talking! ...or you dance a perfect tango with a complete stranger from half way around the world and tango is the only 
"language" you have in common. . . or sometimes it's as simple as a knowing glance or an impish smile."

And her recipe for having more of these moments (and she has a lot of them):  
"I think it's like cooking (or how Italians and Cajuns cook).  There may be a basic recipe, but you go with your intuition ... and new secret ingredient comes along."

Here is my take on the recipe:
Men may have it easier.  I think that we find ourselves willing to dance with women at all levels and so we find ourselves being guides to magic and it makes it magical for us.  Many women still put up their nose to me because I am not at their level (at least in their mind) -- or they want to be taken on some Nuevo trip that I am not willing or capable of doing.  For the most part they are sad souls who look so pathetic when they are not dancing and they are often just sitting there waiting for the man to come take them on a wonderful ride.  They are also the incarnation of this problem of not having enough magical moments, not enough blessings.  I don't mean to put them down.  I truly feel sorry for them.

The role should change from being passively waiting for a Nirvana-ride to the active role in dance and also of being a mentor, the one who brings magic.  Women can do this.  But it will need new paradigms that are not "lead and follow" or "entrege" (submitting to the the man).  [Please see the November 2010 post "The end is of leading is near."]  One teacher told me: "I am driving and they are going out for a ride."  But I counter:  Submissive women will have fewer magical moments later on.  

The DC "firecracker" (mentioned above) told me about the magic moment that a woman can have through mentorship:  

"...When someone told me they felt like they were dancing for the first time (with me) and not doing steps --  that was really a big moment for me...."   

Also, when a fairly young tanguero recently died suddenly, she remembered that he had just told a friend that she had been a mentor, one of the few women who would dance with him.  She had never realized the importance of her active role, and luckily she learned of it right before he died.  THAT is a magic "moment" that expands to influence us for life.  Surely, this is true for the many mentors I have had. My first tango coach is replete with magical moments (from El Paso).  She mentors and enjoys learning.  The tangueras in Austin danced with me and saw me grow, and now they have a true milonguero.  The magic moment was built over time and through patience.  Wasn't this why tango partners weep in each others arms?  Well, that is how it has been for me when I have left a tango community for reasons of finding work.  We had built a house of magical moments, and like a child leaving the house, it was bitter-sweet goodbye but powerful reminder of the paradox of life that we must embrace the moment, we cannot stop or hold it.

"...I hold you and wish
I could hold the moment as well"

[from the tango poem, Embrace the Moment]

I am not sure if I know any recipe.  But there is something we all can learn about counting our blessings, or dancing with souls not just partners, or mentoring newer tangueros/tangueras by having an active role that isn't "lead and follow" but distinct and powerful for both men and women.  

In talking with so many about this and in my own reflection on "Magical Moments," I discovered or rediscovered that euphoric moments that are seen as separate events will always have a tradgic finiteness about them.  What if we link our blessings and make them into a structure?  Then the euphoric moments of a relationship are not thrown out just because the relationship ended.  All things end on earth; so cherishing the euphoria of that relationship and acknowleging its end is a far more resilient way to embrace life.

I humbly submit, that perhaps the recipe of to continued Magical Moments (blessings) is to count those you already have as if they were bricks.  They are all linked in the building of your life.  Anything that is not a blessing is the weather.  Keep all your bricks, no matter who gave them to you.  The bricks stay; the weather dissipates.   

I wish you, more than anything else, not merely more blessings but a protective house built of blessings surrounding you.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Waves (poem)

I sit at the milonga, not dancing.
I'm not my usual self.
The cold November breeze
Has taken me off to a warm beach.
The waves crash behind me,
As I turn, 
looking back to land,
Where you stand waving.
The beach is the warm, sunny place
Where I have you in my mind.
You take off your sun glasses,
You bite one end of the frame,
And your eyes are laughing.
Your mouth’s wry smile says
You are happy to see me, and more.
And then the waves of reality hit me,
Reminding me that you are gone.
I stand and leave for home.
I'll dance in my kitchen tonight.
What other thing can I do
To treat this pain in my heart?

November Breeze

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What my teenage son taught me about tango

My son, Ben, told me about my face when I dance.  He also commented about my partners' faces too.  He honed in on what women would say after a tanda or in between songs to me.  I was sometimes amazed at how well he heard from across the room. What I learned from him was that women are best advertising for male dancers -- or the worst.

Ladies can be beacons sending out beams of blissful looks, or their faces can be blinking red lights of "Warning! Danger! Torture!"  Or maybe their faces are less dramatic with, "I am am bored out of my mind."

Men are getting scared all the time on the dance floor.  So distressed looks might be part of our job.  At least, I know that I get distressed that the lady in front of me with naked legs might get hurt by the couple near us if I do not watch out for her.

Men also may have the overly pensive look from listening to the music, reading her level of ability or how tired she is.  We can have all sorts of faces, and I think that no one really cares much.

Women are different.  What they advertise says it all to other women.  And are the men looking at my face or her face?  If she looks like she is in a blissful trance then men will want to dance with her, rather than a woman who looks as if she is wasting her time with someone below her level.  This is what I call the female prerogative in money and in tango skill.  In both areas, statistically women pair with men who earn more money or dance with men who have more skill than she does.  Even is okay too.

My sons, Ben and Toby came to a milonga with me, as I said earlier.  They are both musicians and I wanted them to hear the orchestra.  I danced with a tanguera mexicana, who is one of my favorite tangueras.  Ben asked me if I thought that she liked dancing with me.  I said, "I know she does.  We talk about it, and she comes and seeks me out.  We have practiced together." Ben said, "She looked bored.   She looked bored with not just you, Dad," he assured me.  I knew that she often looked bored as she was dancing, but I imagined that she was smiling with me.  This is called delusions of grandeur.  Not quite, however.  I really did know that she was having fun.  I started watching her and she always looked bored.  Then, being the perfectly frank teen that he is, Ben told me that I looked like I was in pain.  "Well, that is the blues musician look that I developed long ago," I said.  "Also, if you understood the lyrics you might understand my look of despair."  But what great insights!  I thanked my teen son for his honesty.  I really did not want to convey pain in my face because I am having so much joy in my dance.  It turned out that my tanguera mexicana had heard from ladies about looking bored, and she said she really had to work on changing that!

Some have said that in tango it is okay to "fake it."  Hmmmmmmm.   I don't think ladies need to fake it.  I think that they might need to watch videos of themselves and then ask themselves if they really are being fair to the feelings they have.  There is way too many overly serious looks on the floor.  What happened to the adage:  "As in life, so in tango"?   Do we want to look so serious when we are in bliss with our friends and family?

Here is a picture of me dancing with a delightful person and fun tanguera before my son told about my look of pain.  I look like deeply saddened man during a moment that I still remember in Denver last summer.  It hurts to share it, but here it is below.  I am in the background with the face of pain.  The women on the side of the dance floor probably are wondering what she is doing to cause such pain and doom in my face.  Pretty funny, really, because I look pitiful but I am in bliss!

Okay, having said that I look in pain, let me assure you that I was not.  The below picture reveals the wonderful tanguera both in personality and ability with whom I am dancing.  Thank God she wasn't "advertising" what I was!

I am now trying to inform my face about my joy and happiness.  As a musician people said they liked to watch my facial expression, but this is tango.  Those music performance days are over.  I have no desire to play publicly anymore because tango so fills my need to express myself musically.   This is a new era for me.  It was once being on stage and performing for many.  Now it is a duet with the soul in front of me.  And IF someone is watching, I wish not to advertising the wrong thing for what I am feeling.  I also have an obligation to tell everyone what a wonderful dancer I have in my arms, no matter what her level.  Ethically, it is downright mean to have a tortured face behind her back (close embrace) or to her face if she is doing her best in open embrace.

When I can do that, I can only hope that the ladies I dance with will do it for me too.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Can You Know? (poem)

Can you know if you will hold me again,
Or will it stay a mystery?
Do you know if you will hold me again,
Or if it will be in our history?
Life gives us what we most need
And then takes it back again.
That is not cruel but just how life leads.

I know I have promised you,
That I will hold you again,
But can I know if you will hold me too?
Will your heart escort your arms?
These things I cannot know.
That is not cruel but just how life leads.

For now we have two songs to go.
This tanda may be our last on earth,

So hold me as if I were the only man left,
I will hold you as if you were my last love.
That's the wisdom and wonder of our dance--
We embrace life by embracing each other.

That's is just life and how our script reads.
That is not cruel, but just how life leads.

M Thomas Word

Note:  This is in fact a tango poem.  The music I wrote to this is paradoxically a bossa nova.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The End of Leading is Near

No, not "the end of the world is near" but for tango -- "the end of leading and following is near." 

I predict (and pray for) the end of leading and following in tango!  This model is so unfortunate -- a misguided analogy.  It worked for centuries.  A new paradigm is needed to describe gender roles in tango.

Tango teaches us some great lessons about the nature of roles, and we are mostly missing its wisdom.  "Lead/follow" was how a culture and an era of machismo described what tango was.  Machismo is not evil.  But it is a limited way of expressing role differences.  I do believe that tango has so very beautiful expressions of machismo -- its more enlightened side, but that is a different topic (what it means to be a gentle-man).  

Count Basie and Tango
It occurred to me to use an anti-lead/follow analogy with a woman who was so far behind the beat that it was unnerving.  She was "rusty," she said.  She hadn't been dancing for a year, but I sensed that her delay was that she wanted me to interpret the music for her and not hear it for herself.  Something that Count Basie said came to mind.  His principle for good music was that it is not what you play, it is what you don't play that makes the music good.  So, assuming that Count Basie was right, I suggested that the woman is the "rest" or pause (that which is NOT played) between the man's "note" or impulse.  I also suggested that the music was the true leader.  The most magical thing happened.  She danced about five levels higher after that.  Since sharing this with other women, I have noticed a huge change in our creativity level.  Free at last for both have a say in the creativity of dance.  

The True Leader is Amazing
If there is no leader we have a problem.  I agree fully.  What in the world are we doing out on that floor?  Why are we moving?  Who starts the dance?  The leader!  The reason people start moving is because the leader is speaking to them to do so.  And, of course, Music is that leader!  The true leader.  It leads us not into temptation, but delivers us from the evils of tortured dancing.  Translated literally from Spanish (la música), we should say, "She leads us."  Movement is up to the couple, but She has attempted to lead us.  One person plays the "note," the other allows the pause between the notes (not pulling into the next movement but allows it).

With these two philosophical agreements with a partner (that the music is the true leader, and that the woman is the creative pause between notes), I find that dancing feels "enlightened." I see women making a huge paradigm shift in the way they dance.  I no longer have have to translate la Música's lead, but we co-create what She has led.  Women who are even beginners "lead" me to new discoveries.

Other Analogies for Role Behavior in Tango
The biological model of man and woman indicate that the man gives impulse and in the woman's womb something new is created.  Lead/follow and talk/listen and me-Tarzan-you-Jane models do not describe the biological model of creation between a man and a woman -- nor the beauty of tango.  Other analogies may also help get us closer (but they are only analogies): Yin and Yang / magnetic poles / note and rest / director and producer.  These analogies maintain role separations as being absolutely necessary while not diminishing one or the other.

Sociology of Roles
I just met a woman sociologist and she teaches her students to break away from role limitations.  Are roles automatically limiting and bad?  Tango, she said, dampens her spirit, but paradoxically she likes it.  I agree with her struggle with how her teachers mostly have presented tango as "man-do-talking/woman-do-listening." Tango has a lesson for her (and all of us): That making the sexes all the same and having equal roles is going to the other extreme by eliminating roles altogether.  Role switching is perfect for somethings.  For example, good conversations are trade-offs on lead/follow and talk/listen.  So roles can switch, but conversation as an analogy for tango is problematic.  Lesbian/gay couples are ahead of the rest of us for switching roles, but for the rest of us, extreme listen/talk roles or role switching is not the result we are seeking.  So the question is why in the heck are we using this analogy at all to describe tango?

The Great Feeling of a Woman "Leading"
With a woman who attends to her very active role of creating the next moment after an inpulse, I want to say to her, "Because of you I was taken to the next level."  Such women bring me ("lead me") to a level of joy that is nothing short of magical.  Often after I have said this (and it happens all the time), my partner self-deprecates herself by saying: "I just followed what you led."  No, sorry.  I was the note and you, mi tanguera maravillosa, were the rest, the creative pause.  Without you "we" would not have happened.  The music-of-movement was "us" not what a mere mortal led.  

Counting on the Count*
Mr Basie was right.  The most wonderful music is created by the rests not by the notes alone.  Ladies -- you inspire me.  It feels like you have led me somewhere I have never gone!  You must feel the same thing because you often tell me, "you led that so well."  I am sure now.  I experience this at every milonga:  La Música leads us both.  We listen to Her.  I give an impulse, I am the note, and you allow a wonderful pause.  I move into the next impulse because you create that moment.  I do something I had never done before.  It may feel as if you led it or you may feel I led it, but really, I was the note and you were the pause; I was what was played and you were what was not played.  Honey, we make beautiful música together.

*Regarding Count Basie.  I suggest a book by Dizzie Gillespie:  To Be or Not . . . to Bop.  A whole new brand of Jazz musicians came out of what Count Basie was doing -- playing less and pausing more.

Next post:
What women "leaders" teach men about being a man.  This will be provocative.  More on the sociology of roles and what it means to be a man, and why "leader" women have difficulty protecting their partner.  Yes, provocative.  Sharpen your pitchforks!  The End of Leading is Near (part II).

Embrace the Moment (poem)

My heart pours over with desire
For the moment I see your walk,
Your form at a distance.
"Vibraciones del Alma" 
Plays in my heart.

I see us now embracing.
The smell of your skin
Knocks at my memory
Of a thousand moments before,
But I hold them back to have
This one moment
As if it were the first.
I hold back my tears of joy.

But now I can only wait.
I count the moments that remain.
Before I hold you and wish
I could hold the moment as well.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pre-Embarassed Phase of Blissful Ignorance*

Men, try to get to the place where you know that you suck at tango.

I wish I could say that (a) I didn't have black and white shoes that I occasionally wear, and (b) I have gotten beyond the pre-embarrassed phase.

But in spite of conversations like the above video clip, I somehow have manage to maintain my bliss.  Some people never evolve into kindness, and so the best defense mechanism is to be blissfully ignorant.   For this reason, I have taken up residence in "the pre-embarrassed stage of blissful ignorance."   

I like it here.  It's warm and cozy, kind of like snuggling with a kind and tender-hearted tanguera.

*The real title of this blog is not about "blissful ignorance" but kindness and evolving.  It takes work for me and -- I would venture -- most people.  Some seem to have been born with the talent of kindness.  They dance all night and if they have balance and boundaries to their kindness, then they are dancing with other kind people (or at least good dancers?).

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A woman and her Shoes: Bad News. Really.

Men are dolts.  I keep hearing lately how stupid we are via tango blog chatter.  The newest thing I hear -- in jest -- is that men see only if shoes are dark or light.  Shall I tell ladies the truth?  That we are not dolts?  That we DO see shoes in more than two shades?  That we can wear nice clothes.  That we do take a shower?  That we like dancing with women who are first kind and second good dancers, first kind and then beautiful?  Now the secret is out.

Not that all women think men are dolts.  The ones who beam and love life -- the women and men around them; the women who don't rely on anyone for their emotional wellness, they are dancing and having fun.  They are not bitter about men.  Those women, I believe, are who are bitter are those who have been misguided by thinking that they must follow, men must lead; misguided that men talk and women must listen; misguided that women should be seen (be beautiful) but not be heard (participate actively in the dance); misguided that women must sit and wait and the man must choose (OMG is that naive, or what?)  They are bitter beings, and have few good things to say about men.

All of this is caused by the misguided world-view of way too many tango teachers who have chosen the machismo of Argentina to explain the phenomenon of the beauty of tango.  Oh, I am sorry, machismo is not an issue in Argentina or Latin America?  Not everything from any culture is all good, and even machismo is not all bad, but the question here is does the macho-world view of Argentina describe the interaction between a man and a woman who are dancing tango.  Short answer:  "No!"

But this post is not about my usual rant about Me-Tarzan-You-Jane tango philosophy.  It is about men being belittled -- even in a joking way.  And it is about the truth about men not being dolts.
Humor reveals interesting hidden feelings, like the video clip:  "Men don't even notice your shoes.  They see that she has on either light or dark shoes and that is all."  Funny -- but women will add, "...but oh so true."  

If women who buy too many shoes only knew how important their shoes are, then they would only buy more shoes.  That is why any man who is a gentleman will not say anything about how important her shoes are.  I don't advocate buying a bunch of shoes, but let me say, shoes make a big difference.

Okay, guys -- especially with shoe-craving wives, please forgive me for revealing the truth about us men not being so stupid.  I really should say nothing.  Cosmopolitan Magazine will get a hold of it, and women's obsession for pretty shoes will only go up.  The overloaded increase in demand for shoes may cause violence in shoe stores as the lines get longer and longer and the buyers more desperate.

But the truth must come out.  Men DO notice shoes.  I can even tell without looking if a woman is using salsa shoes or tango shoes.  I avoid looking into anyone's eyes watching on the dance floor periphery as I dance.  I look slightly down.  I see a pair a shoes.  I say, "I want to dance with the woman in those shoes."  And later I look at her eyes and nod (actually look down at her shoes) and then we dance.  Some people call this nod a "cabezeo."  It is actually the wobble of a man's head as it goes from eyes to shoes.

Then when I see that she is taller than last time from her stilettos, I restrain from saying in a low, soft, sexy voice in her ear, "Querida, size does matter."  At the end of the night, I insist on helping her get out of her shoes.  Her husband's eyebrows go up, but she lets me. He wants to kill me, but not because of my hands on her feet but because NOW she knows, and their budget for buying a house has been trashed.

I told you; this is not going to make things better.  I am taking down my sign outside my door that says "Cabellero."  I just realized something.  I am a dolt after all.  This was all bad news.  Really.

If you want good news.  Here is something for you:  
Please note how the good news continues in the comments to this blog -- how nearly every woman agrees with the good news that men are truly less then the better half of the world.  Shoe sales will stay stable.  That is the good news.

Friday, November 12, 2010

"There is no such thing as a Tango Waltz"

Tango Waltz = vals cruzado or vals criollo.  This is the Spanish term for the most beautiful expression of 3/4 time in the world in my not humble and limited opinion.   [Note that I italicize foreign terms in my blog.]

I was duly corrected by a "person who knows all things tango."  And he was right.  I learned something.  The proper name is vals criollo or vals cruzado – in Spanish, that is. Having a blog and being corrected by brash anonymous writers is a great way to learn new terms and the depths of my ignorance.

But I also have a lot of feelings behind people who mean well but confuse others while using jargon.  Vals Criollo or Vals Cruzado, is a perfect example.    My ignorance was only of a Spanish term.  But “Tango Waltz” is a perfectly good translation.

Let me explain:  I was living in Mexico and the church I was going to was bilingual.  They had a bilingual service although everyone there could speak Spanish.  The little church refused to have a service in just Spanish because the founder and philosopher behind the religion spoke English.  I argued the case as the ONLY native speaker of English in the church that it was nonsense to have a bilingual service when the church was filled with mostly monolingual Spanish speakers, who just sat there listening to WORDS THAT CONVEYED NO MEANING.  Monolingual members of the church came to me secretly and said, "Only you could have argued the case. Thanks."

Then I lived in Boston and started a Spanish speaking church service.  I gave out Spanish Bibles.  Now I was being criticized by my church that the prisoners should learn English, and that the writings of the Founder of the religion's writings really only could be understood in English.  Those behind bars were often young "burros" taking cocaine into the country, thinking they were carrying a load of things for Aunt Anita in Boston, MA.  They were young, naive, monolingual and in jail.  Learn English?  Are you on coke?

This church was very critical of the Roman Catholic Church because of many things, but one was how the Church made Latin a holy language, although the original texts were in Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic.  Now my church was doing the same thing with English.  Agape was really hard with these nut cases. J

2010 November.  I am sitting in a briefing for newcomers at Walter Reed Army Hospital, and I am stopping a briefer who is throwing out acronyms left and right.  "I don't know what MDT means," I say.  I stop him over and over, mostly because I DO understand but know that the newcomers mostly do not know what a 2487 is or that ASAP is not what they think but “Army Substance Abuse Program.”   In several cases he didn't know either what an acronym meant.  Poor guy.  Well, why was he using terms that he didn't even know?  And with new people?  He had what I call, the command of words without meaning.  Sound like some tango classes?

Today I got an email from a tanguera (woman dancer) living in Australia.  She was told to learn Spanish.  Yes, I would agree that if you really love tango and want to go to Mecca (Buenos Aires) that you should learn Spanish for practical reasons.  Knowing terms in Spanish is good because there is a certain tango jargon world-wide.  However, she could go her whole life without knowing the term "vals criollo" without being the lesser for it because a damn good English term is:  Tango Waltz (borrowed from Spanish and German, “Waltzer”).

But isn't it fair for us to pay attention to names?  “Tango criollo” is not a name of a person or deity but a musical term.  Do you know what the English translation of “mambo” is?  Sure you do.  The English translation was made up in New York City.  The word is “salsa.”   Salsa is not Spanish, which means “sauce” or “dressing” and tomatoes may not be even inside it.  It means “hot, chunky tomato ketchup” to most Americans.  Or “that music that is tastey, hot and Latin.”   And what about tomato “ketchup”?  From whom did we steal this word?  China.  Ketchup is also not a foreign word any longer.  Don’t hold your breath on “vals criollo” going the way of salsa and ketchup, okay?  It just isn’t going to happen.  Tango waltz means something to us like salsa and ketchup do.  These terms convey meaning. 

So following the above logic, denying a term like "tango waltz" even exists or is "wrong" feels to me like the holy language stuff I have already rejected in Mexico and Boston.  Will we need, like the Priesthood of Tango like the Catholic Church had -- a group of people who can use and understand the original language of tango?  And will those who have a command of words without meaning, just as the Church have special people with pointed hats and distinctive collars?  And how long will we play that game until someone allows a translation that the normal person can understand?  Or are we like the Armed Forces, talking jargon to each other and the newcomer's perspective is not even taken in consideration?  It feels that way to me, but as I have already confessed:  I have unresolved baggage.  I am still fighting a fight with the church.  And the US Army nearly daily annoys me with WORDS without MEANING.  “This tango waltz stuff,” I tell myself...  “Cálmate Marcos, los tangueros son amigos. Remember all the friends you love in this wonderful community of people who hug.  Mellow out, hombre.

So let me suggest something of a solution.  English is actually good at certain things and bad at others.  "Tango Waltz" is a delightfully better term even on the streets of Madrid.  Vals cruzado or "criollo" will even in Barcelona or Cali or Lima or Guadalajara have no or little meaning compared to "vals de tango."   In English we have the term "jazz waltz."  Isn't that a great term -- jazz with the feel of a waltz? 

We also have the wonderful term in English:  "Tango waltz" -- tango with the feel of a waltz.  Too bad Spanish doesn't have such a great term for what tangueros do at their dance parties (milongas).  Vals cruzado” sounds like what a dancing priest might do as he waltzes away from the alter while crossing himself.  And “vals criollo”?  Sounds like something I could order on a Cajun menu.

"Tango Waltz" conveys meaning even to people who know very little about what happens at a tango dance party.

Are there any Spanish words that are clearly better than English?  Sure.  I like "cabeceo,” from the word “cabeza,” meaning “head.”  English needs twelve words:  “A nod that one shows someone with whom you wish to dance.”  I vote for Spanish on that one.  What about “milonga.”  Now that is a problem.  It is a dance and it is a party and in certain parts of Mexico a “milonga” is a mixed drink. So the question remains:  When does the original name obscure meaning in a new culture or even a culture outside the boarders of Argentina? 
So you may never understand the depths the intricacies of the proper Spanish terms of tango.  But if you dance with all your heart and soul, then you have arrived at the archetypal tango party.  There you will find people who think it is natural to hug each other and walk around to tango music while hugging.