Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Organic Tango: Inspired by women

Organic tango* is a term I use to describe what happens when the music and and the chemistry between two people create something that is unique.  Organic tango is happening all the time, but sometimes we just don't realize it. 

In therapy sessions with individuals and couples there is often at least one moment that is "momentous."  Maybe it's a woman who realizes down to her bone that she is not even remotely to blame for her rape when she was a girl.  The years of self-blame melt in one session.  Or the couple that realizes that they truly do adore each other, and they commit to work of being a couple.  Today, a combat vet in my office cried for the first time about his friend burning to death in a Bradly Fighting Vehicle in Iraq, and a weight fell from his soldiers.  His heart beat went from 102 to 70 beats per minute in just a few minutes.  His migraine headache vanished.  I call this "a holy moment" because in religion the expectation is normalized that if one recognizes holy moments, more blessings will come.  "Then a window from heaven will open up with a bounty more than you can receive."  I have holy moments all the time.  In therapy sessions with combat veterans.  Moments with my children.  On the dance floor.  When these holy moments happen on the dance floor, Organic Tango is happening.

If you don't recognize these moments for the holy moments they are, then I believe they will disapate as efemeral warm-fuzzy moments.  It is kind of like Moses hearing the 10 Commandments but forgetting about them after the long trek down Mt. Siani.  "Hey Moses, your hair turn white, man.  What happened to you?"  Moses says, "Man, it was really cool. Lightning and stuff.  You shudda been there, man."Take note of the holy ground that you are trodding upon.   It is my job in therapy sessions to recognize these moments from what people are saying, and point out the moment.  Otherwise it too often disappears as just a "warm fuzzy" for the moment.  Holy ground becomes the dance floor when a woman says, "You know that thing we did over in that corner. [She's pointing.] What was that?  It was cool."  Scheeez.  I don't know anymore.  Focus, Mark.  Try to reconstruct.  She helps with a vague description.  It was a special moment in the music and how she responded.  Yes, now I remember. Something just grew out of the moment, the music, the connection that both of us had never experienced from classes or with other dancers.  This is organic tango.  No preservatives or pesticides or artificial fertilizers.  It nourishes your soul.

Here is some practical advice of how to remember these moments, a way to "count your blessings" to be ready for more:  Name the new move after the woman who inspired it (and take note of the music).  The ladies have led me so often to new places on a discovery walk.   In the last reflection, I said "women do lead."  This means "lead to organic tango."

So gentlemen, buy a spiral notebook.  I have been naming inspirations after my tangueras for about four months now. It has been wonderful, and more organic tango is blooming in my tango garden all the time as a result!

As for the ladies:  Having a turn, sacada or gancho named after you is much better than in the medical science community. How would you like to be Jessica Alzheimer or Susan Heimlich? Embarrassing at cocktail parties.

So I am dedicating myself to remembering those women who inspire a particular move and/or the music that led us there. The one woman who has inspired me the most was Alicia.  She is responsible for countless steps we have co-discovered. One paso I call, "Ocho Caminando de Alicia" keeps her in the cross system (ochos atrás) while alternating my forward traspies both on the open and closed sides.  Because of Mary Ann (Austin), I was inspired to do the Ocho Caminando on the closed side in milonguero embrace for the first time some months ago. 

The second person responsible for many moves started inspiring me on her 3rd month as a tanguera. Janet somehow is responsible for so many new ideas that I cannot even remember which ones belong to her (sorry Janet).

Most of my best inspirations often come from a partner who fully accepts me. It is hard not to sense the critical thoughts of any woman who is judging me as if I were in some sort of audition, and thereafter I usually cannot grow organic tango in her presence.  I can dance well because I dance in honor of the music, composer and musicians, but she must be put out of my thoughts.  Physcially we are dancing but their is no psychological connection.

Female teachers used to intimidate me, but now Mardi Brown (Austin) is great for organic tango, or better said, offers me a great musical pathway that is wonderful.  Her organic tango can last for a whole song or tanda.  Austin's new world class teacher and dancer, Daniela Acuri, from Buenos Aires inspired a new clockwise turn recently as we were dancing. Later, I perfected it in cross system with a veteran dancer, Kathy D. So it has her name as el círculo de Katrina.

Just recently el círculo became an INCREDIBLE move because of all the other women who taught me how to make it work with most anyone.  An interesting alternative response to my lead came from Johanna in LA. Other women were doing what she did but she was the first to do it very cleanly. Before Johanna I was misunderstanding what some women were doing until I saw (felt) Johanna do it. So now I recognize that women interpret el Círculo de Katarina in two basic ways.

The great tangueras in Santa Mónica, California recently, made me realize that each woman makes me speak my tango with their dialect and accent. With Sara (Santa Barbara), I was able to do little nuances that I would have never tried before. However she kept catching little things and I kept getting more subtle. Her organic tango moment is called el decrecendo de Sara (small steps that melt into only body movements) -- so luscious.

Wanda, from San Diego, allowed me to pause and improvise off of the sub-rhythms of tango (musically stated 1/4/7 of eightnotes or quarternotes or even half-notes).  Again leading me to places I had never been before, but that was also true of Caroline, Sara W. and Wanda in California. I now see this ability to not pull me into the next step as the epitome of a great tanguera.  (Note to guys:  Going slower in these sub-rhythms can also be led with talented beginners; so don't blame women if they don't "get it."  Also, guys this rhythm is the essence of tango/milonga/canyenge; so if you don't know what this means, send me an email.  Women cannot very easily inspire you to dance to this; it must be by listening to the music.  I discovered it by dancing by myself a lot.)

There are other pasos like el Péndulo de Mari (Austin) that is outrageously fun in a milonga.  It had never worked in close embrace and it was taught by a famous tango great (Salas) as an open embrace caminada.  But one evening Mari and I discovered something new in the milonguero embrace.  This was truly organic tango because she is somewhat shorter than I, and even now the pendulum is somewhat easier with tall women usually.  Not for her though.  The move belongs to her.

Dayna is responsible for a counter rhythm with a barrida during a molinete (two against three). I don't know what the heck I should call that. ¿Perhaps la cosa de Dayna? I am not going to describe this because I don't have command of English enough to do it justice. 

Just this Sunday, Sara M. (Austin/Seattle) along with the music inspired an extended segment in which she was dancing on the downbeat and I on the upbeat. It was an out-of-body experience. ¿Poli-ritmos de Sara?  That was definitely organic because it was in close embrace.  She owns it, and the music really called for it.  It won't work just any time -- a hallmark of truly organic tango.

How often does organic tango happen?  At the start, I said "all the time."  But are we recognizing these moments?  Just last weekend on Friday, Bentley created the "Pivot de Bentley," which I didn't even recognize as being that special until she pointed it out as being so fun, and yes, another organic tango moment. This led Kathy D. to comment (at a práctica) last Sunday that she felt the Pivot de Bentley wasn't soft enough. So Kathy inspired the softer version and by accident we created a leg-push sacada (her left leg) with a thigh sacada (her right leg) all with my left leg. This is repeated about 4 times for a 360 degree fairly tight circle. We are in the cross system. It is awesome. Thank you ladies! The result (according to my notebook): A combination (in cross) of Pivot de Bentley and círculo a la izquierda con sacadas alternadas de Katarina. Incredible.

From writing this article, I know that I am already in trouble for not naming all the other great inspirations from countless tangueras. I am humbled by their generous contributions to my treasure chest.

An important note:
These moments I am describing here are in some ways not true organic tango, which can go on all night.  But I do not have the words to describe this phenomenon.  Tango is not a compilation of steps like other dances tend to be.  And Organic Tango is not just steps or moments.  The best organic tango is an entire tanda with an organic embrace, which I call the "docking station embrace."  I feel as if I am floating in space but at the same time I feel I am home and safe in my partner's arms.  This happens all the time, but I am at a loss to describe it.  A few examples of the hights of these moments are empirical examples that something special was happening, abstractions of the larger painting.

So from my spiral notebook, which I only have started, I have these moments (listed below).  My hope is that a few tangueras will remind me of some holy moment / organic moment / nirvana nanosecond / heaven-on-earth tanda with me (or talk with any man who understands organic-Sprache or will simply listen to you.) 

Organic tango is good for you and the environment. And like the other types: It takes two. 

My Organic Tango ListHelp me with my list, ladies!
  • Ochos atrás y caminando de Alicia (México)
  • Cuñita ganchos de Alicia
  • La sentada de Alicia
  • 3 contra 6  Vals de Alicia
  • Lápiz con enganche de Janet (Austin) and many more
  • Círculo del Reloj de Daniela Acuri (Buenos Aires)
  • Círculo cruzado hacia la derecha de Katrina D. (Austin)…
  • …y traducción de Johanna (Los Ángels)
  • Decrcendo [term from music/Latin] de Sara W. (Santa Bárbara)
  • Pausa de Wanda/Johanna/Sara W. (tangueras de California)
  • La Milonga-Péndelo de Mari (Austin)
  • Multi-ritmos molinete de Dayna (Austin)
  • Pivot de Bentlye (Austin) [Just this Friday at Uptown]
  • Docking Station Embrace: Christina (Alemania); Tatyana and Irina (Rusia); Alicia (México); Kay and Pat (Austin)
  • Docking Station Embrace teachers: Daniela Acuri (BsAs) / Phyllis Williams (Dallas)
  • Hand melting in mine:  Teresa M. (Cuba); Mari (Austin)
  • Dynamic breathing: Alessandra (Austin)

    From Sunday night’s práctica in Austin:
  • Sacada doble y vuelta suave de Katarina D. y…
  • Milonga contra-ritmos de Sara M. (Austin)

*Organic Tango:  After finishing this article, I did an Internet search on "organic tango."  Others have defined "organic tango" and we are on the same wave length.  Both of us agree on taking away the Tarzan mentality from tango -- "Me lead, you follow.")  Go to for a great definition.


  1. Lovely post - I'm flattered to be mentioned. But you still haven't shared what the Docking Station Embrace is! Inquiring minds want to know!

  2. Mari, I think he means those moments when you're absolutely comfortable in the embrace and very present, but also completely and utterly free within it.

  3. smw - thanks I think I've got the gist of it, plus I re-read it and I had missed the sentence that he describes it - the embrace unbroken, feeling at home and safe. sounds perfect. :)

  4. Mari/SMW: Okay, I think this is a guy thing -- the docking station. It wasn't very poetic because docking stations are done in extreme cold, and are done by large mechanical objects. Maybe the docking should have been done on a spring day in the BsAs port, or a tango cruise that docks next to beautiful beach but we don't get off immediately because our hearts are docking in the middle of the top deck tanda -- and that is more wonderful than a sand beach, a rum and coke in a coconut with a little umbrella in it. That is what I meant. Only better.


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