Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tango as Therapy for Rejection

I once believed that the social environment of a milonga was similar to going back to middle school.  I no longer believe this.  The difference now is that I believe that we can work out some of the things that we didn't when we were in our early development years.

Feeling rejection is in some ways very good.  The inner child is there, speaking up and saying, "What about me?"  A masculine man may not even listen to this inner child, but at the same time his feeling of rejection can lead to aggressive behavior.  So being aware of this "inner child" is very important.

Rejection is a huge psychological subject.  Some rejection will never go away.  Some rejection can be easily fixed, which I will call "logistical rejection."  The logistical solution is easier than the psychological one.  So let's address the easier topic first: 

Some people won't ever dance with you, and it has nothing to do with you.  If you are a beginner there will be a day that you have too many friends to dance with and you will be forced to reject someone new.  So the beginner or new person in a community must go back to the "logistical basics" in order to get a dance:  Be pleasant.  Dress well.  Learn to dance well.  Meet people at your level in classes. Dance a lot.  Be patient!

Logistical questions aside, now we have the psychological and spiritual questions which are much harder.  You would think that we already worked out issues of rejection, but really it is a life-long spiritual path we are on.  Growing up takes a lifetime. 

I made a huge jump out of my middle school mentality recently, but I think it was because of many stair steps of trying to grow up psychologically with the help of a very wonderful tango community in Austin, Texas, full of caring human beings.  I will tell you about incidences of rejection in each of the several SOLUTIONS that follow. 

SOLUTION ONE:  The "One-Day-She'll-be-Sorry" method:  I can say, "One day I will be better and she will wish that she could dance with me!"  That is a pretty good defense mechanism to deal with the rejection, but really have I grown up when using solution one?  Am I still in middle school?  What if I don't get better or even more likely, we both get better?  I do not want to be unforgiving as a person; so this option is not very spiritually evolved.  Lori in Germany danced with me once after I had been dancing for less than 4 months.  I just came to see my boys in Germany, and I thought I was pretty darn good at tango -- at least as a beginner.  I was fairly ignorant about not only dancing but the conventions ("codicos") of tango.  Well, after our one dance, she never looked at me again.  Others were gracious.  Eventually -- two years later -- she looked at me with the clear desire to dance.  My SOLUTION ONE was to pretend that I didn't see her gaze, so she would feel sorry that she rejected me.  But I just had grown up a bit.  I was delighted that a woman at her level was nodding at me without me even trying.
SOLUTION TWO:  The Ask Her Method:  I could ask a lady why she never even looks at me for a cabeceo, but the truth could be hurtful or put her in a bad place to lie for my own good.  If I am struggling with a case of my own middle school mentality this "solution" could be dangerous because the truth could devastate me.  On the other hand, if I accept that adults have the right to pick their friends and it is all about THEM and not about ME, then asking is not dangerous.  Although I do not suggest it, I have effectively used the SOLUTION TWO/Ask Her Method.  I asked an advanced tanguera in Austin in an email "why" once. I regretted hitting the send button.  However, I was surprised of how Sheila responded with, "please call me and we'll talk." This could have gone bad. But she explained in a long telephone conversation that she had a limited list of people with whom she dances.  After all she has been dancing for a long time. Many were not good dancers but friends. So it had nothing to do with me or my level of ability. She also commented on how she had danced with me and it was at that time not so comfortable.

A few weeks later, SHE asked ME at a practica.  Our dance was very healing for me. I do not have to ask her again, although I have once. It was enough that she gave me a chance. What I learned from Sheila:  Both men and women have a list and being a good dancer is not a prerequisite to be on this list. I dance with friends first, then guests. The "why" may have nothing to do with the woman's level or her femininity. Tangueros and tangueras all have friends they dance with first or even more than one tanda. The night is not long enough to keep adding new people to your list.

SOLUTION THREE:  The Military Method (don't ask/don't tell/don't think so much):  This method requires numbing our feelings (required in combat); so it's name is very appropriate.  This tactical approach does work but also has problems to it.  The Military Method is the easiest and best solution that allows life to heal your moments of rejection.  If a middle-school moment happens and we experience rejection, go find a new friend or just be patient while you find friends.  Life heals.

Many people effectively use the Military Method.  The self-talk goes like this:  Get over it!  You are not in middle school!  Graduate!  Grow up! Forgive and forget!  Don't be so damned sensitive!  Or to your "inner child":  Stop being a cry-baby!  The Military Solution will work to help you get out there and just dance.  But can you really ORDER yourself to take away the hurtful twinge of rejection, which leaves you perhaps even more sensitive or even aggressive later?  You have been pretty hard on the "inner child" or the hurt pre-teen inside your heart.

SOLUTION FOUR is tango itself (movement).  Tango will be the most effective solution when practiced and understood as a solution. 

Next article:
SOLUTION FOUR for Rejection:
Soul-Work through Tango Therapy

Solution four is really a SOULution.  If you are hurt, demotivated and rejected at a milonga, you now have the chance to graduate from middle school!  I am suggesting that tango itself (by yourself) can help you deal with the unresolved "stuff" from your teen years -- rejection, self-esteem, body concept issues, bullying, etc.  One can do this with another caring person in tango, but this soul-work is best done alone and without prescribed dance steps -- boleos here, volcadas there.  The solution is in a graceful, meditative walk while pondering the hurtful event.  It is NOT just going out on a walk and kind of thinking about this.  There is an important protocol to follow which has proven effective results as used to help rape victims and others who have faced physical trauma and tragic events. 

This is powerful stuff.  You should not believe me.  Instead, I will give you a task that will prove how powerful this is....

To be continued in April.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"Dance like no one is watching"

The advice to dance as if no one were watching works for shy people and extroverted showoffs as well.

If you are shy, worrying about what people think, will take away from your focus on your partner and the joy that you could be having by dancing only to the music.  Sure, you may enjoy the moment of communal joy with others on the dance floor, but my ideal is to dance among other as if no one were watching.  Two hearts are moving in harmony and remaining centered on each other.

If you love putting on a show, I believe these words of advice are especially for you.  I am not pointing any fingers. I am both shy and have elements of loving to be on stage (the youngest of 7).  I have played in front of thousands as a musician. 

BUT TANGO has changed me.  When I first started out, I almost immediately was enjoying praise at dance parties with Alicia, my tango coach in El Paso.  (This does not mean I was any good.)  But then one day, I realized that the only person who mattered was my partner.  Worrying about others (or hoping they are watching) takes away from what is important.  I learned this in Austin with Stephen and Mardi Shortancy more than anyone else.

I started dancing like no one was watching.  And I wanted it to be my standard.

Shortly thereafter, a woman who had seen me dance told me after our first dance of the tanda, "I  wished I had known you dance like this... one can never tell if the person who looks good, feels good."  So true.  Many are drawn to tango for the way it looks, but only those who fall in love with the feel of tango stay with it.  Even teachers who focus on "looks" will burn out.  If you can teach someone to feel tango, then it is soul work, not feeding an insatiable ego interested on added on more impressive steps.  People like Austin's Alicia and Juan Carlos (from Buenos Aires) are like this.  They are so in love with each other and have worked for so many years teaching because of the feel of tango.

So my challenge is that you look at the people who have been doing tango for decades.  I think they know better than anyone how to dance like no one is watching.  In this video (
Pocho and Nellie at El Beso), pay attention how Pocho often places Nellie's foot and has her lead through the music.  I think they are totally lost in the music and each other.  Others are watching but I don't think they are even aware in their moments together.

Sing as if no one is listening and dance as if no one is watching.  It's good for the soul.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Red Card at the Milonga

I have three ideas that will certainly stop the mayhem on the milonga dance floor.  By "mayhem," I mean that people are routinely hurt from poor floorcraft at milongas.  Important hint:  floorcraft has nothing to do with witchcraft.  The last idea (solution three) is a time-tested method which is used in Buenos Aires.  See this link for a woman's view of mayhem:

Solution one:  The "Red Card Milonga."  In soccer if the referee gives you "the red card" you are out of the game.  I do NOT propose throwing people out of a milonga, but I fancy having merely a single "Red Card Milonga" a month.  Certain men would be sent special invitations.

Solution two:   The "Red Card Tanda."  How about a pre-milonga tanda that has different partners with every song? Men move forward two women between tangos. When there are bumps or bruises one stops and holds up a hand.  Red card.  Referees circulate quickly giving out yellow cards when both men hold up a hand and point at each other.  To keep the tanda full, no one is made to sit down. The song ends; each man moves forward two ladies. No tally is made but it become clear who is a champion tango-card collector.

The Green Card

Every man is green at tango for the first year.  So he should never be given a red or yellow card.  With one exception:  Red if he the injury he causes draws blood, yellow if a person injured screams/moans in pain from the pain the Green Man causes.

The Pink Card
It is fairly rare, but woman can be either accomplices or fully at fault for unnecessary pain on the dance floor.  The Pink Card, for example, can be "earned" by doing high boleos when a slight boleo was led.  

The White Polk-Dotted Card
This card is white with polka dots because of Bonnie and Clyde's white sedan with bullet holes.  (The polka dotts signify the homicidal feelings that are repressed about the pain caused.)  This is the only shared card.  Sharing is usually a thing God wants.  Not in this case.  I had a foot barely miss my FACE in Denver.  Whoa, Nelly.  Women are not puppets they don't even have to do that dangerous boleo or what-the-hell-is-that karate kick.  In some countries stilettos need a concealed weapon license.  (Not really, but that sounds good, doesn't it?)  Those stilettos can cause scars.  Did he really force your hand (or foot) on a tight dance floor?  The lady may unwittingly or wittingly become an accessory to the crime.  Thereafter a woman has the right to avoid a dancer who attempts to use her as his weapon of mass destruction.  Which brings us to the card that the person receives for causing the most mayhem of the night ...

The George W. Bush Card (also known as the WMD Card)
The Dancing WMD (weapon of mass destruction) deserves the infamous George Bush Card.  However unlike George W. Bush's hunt for WMD, these weapons are found at some milongas regularly.  Unlike Saddam Hussein, the tanguero who earns this card may actually be a nice guy.  Maybe he's the guy who has two kids.  Works hard.  Funny guy.  We all really like him.  We would not want to shame him publicly.  So we would never give out this shameful card, but at the end of the night he truly has earned the WMD Card -- often without even knowing it.  Look at what has happened:  He constantly bumped into others. 
  • Mary Ann has the stigmata of stilettos making the mouth of sad face on her right calf. 
  • Gerri left early because she felt bad about hurting Mary Ann. 
  • A few guys have decided that this milonga is too tight and dangerous; so they will stop coming to that particular milonga. 
  • The 6-month old tangero is giving up because he feels he failed to protect the lady.
The winner of the WMD Card is also one of the most talented dancers.  Yet, he has demotivated not only women but other men.  The new tanguero -- heck any tanguero -- may feel that he cannot protect his lady.  New tangueros may feel inadequate by the "great dancing" of the guy who hurt his lady.   Others know and like the showboat tanguero and put up with him.  Even on a no-injury night, he has disturbed others' magical moments of musical freedom and embrace.

The third solution: Let's call this solution, the ...

No-Fault Card Solution
The rule in Buenos Aires (although not always practiced well) is old-world civility at its best. The gentlemanly milongueros apologize even if they did not cause the accident.  They pull out the No-Fault Card.  This does two things.  First it stops the action and acknowledges a foul.  In a game that no fouls are called, the fouls increase.  Secondly, stopping to apologize tells the ladies that they are dancing with gentlemen.  It teaches the Green Man or WMD Man (or whoever) that what just happen is not cool.  It's a foul.
So in case anyone thinks that a Red Card Milonga might appear soon in Austin, Texas, let me say clearly:  Solution number three resolves the issue.  In a dance that is lead and follow -- the true gentlemen tangueros will lead and others will follow.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Tango Wake

Instruction for a tanguero's death:

When I die, give me a tango wake.

Play tanda-sets like this: 2 milongas, a tango, 2 milongas, a vals and then repeat until all sorrow leaves you. Play Biaggi,
Di Sarli and some Gotan Project. No Piazzola.

Who to Invite
First of all invite all those who have greeted me with an embrace me, both men and women who are part of tango communities in the US, Germany and France.

At the top of the list are those fine tangueras who would meet with me and practice with me in our love of tango. My condolences to these tangueras if they felt that I loved tango more than them.  Sorry.  It is just that women have come and gone in my life, but la música y el tango se queda a mi lado.  (I hope they'll forgive me.)

Then I want to extend a special invitation to my enemies because they (a) have been my best mentors, helping me to become a better person; (b) they will be so happy that I am dead that it certainly will liven the party to have them there celebrating! Perhaps they can experience a community that is more loving and open than the church they go to. The tango community isn't perfect, but I do not know hate or disdain like I have seen in churchs my enemies attend.

Finally on the "who-to-invite-list": I will leave some money for professional mourners (all women) in red stilettos, hysterically feigning their great loss; so that my friends can dance uninhibited because at least SOMEONE is crying.

This will be harder, but please try:
Please everyone try to dance in close embrace. It will signify that you recognize that the people you dance with may be no longer with you tomorrow; so embrace them closely while you can.

Do not cry for me Argentina
I will be in heaven dancing with the angels.