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