Saturday, December 24, 2011

When a Tanguero Falls in Love

The Harbor

When I discovered the harbor ofyour heart,
It was after a long voyage fromacross the ocean,
I did not know I was even gettingclose to discovering you
Until I first spotted gulls thatguided me
To the continent of yourcharacter.

I saw your smile, a waterfall onyour coastline,
And the sound of its soothingpower
Was the first time I heard yourvoice.
On I sailed and I saw the curvesof your mountains,
The flowing rivers of your longhair.

Suddenly a breath-robbing viewovertook me –
Your harbor, your heart.
I felt immediately safe there.
I could see your harbor had nohidden shoals,
No murky waters and unknowndangers.

Your harbor is clear.
I can see to the bottom.
I am hypnotized by theplayfulness
Of the dolphins that play inthe waters of your soul.
I see that they are youryouthful spontaneity.

Your harbor lulls me with waves of hope.
Your harbor is my place of refuge,
A weary vagabond sailor on aship,
Once a captain, but now alone, afloat,
With tattered sails and no crew.

When I discovered the harbor ofyou heart,
I watched in wonder, and thenimpulsively,
I dove into the waters of yoursoul,
And played with the dolphins.
I was not a Cortez who came toconquer a continent.

Your continent, waterfalls,terrain, rivers, clear waters –
And especially your harbor –conquered me.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Returning from War in my Tango Uniform

The following story is fiction with a high percentage of truth.  Find what seems to be true to you. This is a story about finding liberation from jealousy and possessiveness.  (I originally wrote this in 2009 while living near Ft. Hood, Texas).

It wasn't the prettiest tree,
but we guarded it well
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. I had heard stories of guys who 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 home leave, and they had their stories too. Infidelity was our obsession.

Although it was against regulations, Specialist Gaffney in the S-2 shop went and took real-time photos of everyone's home near Fort Hood.  He was in our platoon, and decided to do us all a favor.  One evening he handed out "pictures of home" to everyone in the platoon.  I told him that he could be busted to private for that.  "The intelligence satellites are to keep us alive from deadly threats, not to see who is sitting on your porch at home, Specialist!"  But then, I couldn't help but look at the photo.  Teresa's car was there.  No pickup truck in sight.  I didn't bust Gaffney to private, but he had extra duty and a counseling statement.  If the captain had known about it, he would have had an Article 15 and lost rank for sure.  I was easy on him because he just was being stupid and wanted to help everyone in his own 19-year old way.  

The winter sun on Teresa's car near Fort Hood made
 it look like a pickup truck at first glance. 

Since learning tango with Teresa, my fiancé, I noticed the word "tango" being said all the time in Iraq.  In the military if you are spelling something out on the radio or even in person, you don't say "t" but "tango."  Also, everyday I would hear someone saying “Tango Uniform” for this or that, meaning "broken."  For example, 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” means "T.U." for “tits up” (that is, flat on your back).  Radios, vehicles, even relationships were "Tango Uniform" -- ruined by infidelity or some other thing.  The first sergeant even said at chow, “My marriage is Tango Uniform."   I would have thought that the young marriages would be the most fragile, but officers and senior enlisted soldiers had the highest statistics for relationship casualties.  The rear detachment commander had checked the First Sergeant's fears of fidelity.  At chow Top lowered his head and told me, "Yeah, she's cheating on me.  My kids even know the guy, and he’s sleeping in my bed.” He told me that 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.  I felt sorry for Top because he would never confide in the chaplain or -- God forbid -- go to the behavioral health tent.  He'd just suffer on his own, and maybe he'd join the other soldiers on the growing list of soldiers at Fort Hood who had consummated their deep pain with a murder/suicide.  I didn't let my mind wonder about this.  I couldn't report the top NCO for pondering murdering his wife, but if it happened, I knew that I would never be able to get that out of my mind.

Instead, I preferred to think about good reunions.  I preferred to imagine having Teresa in my arms again.  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.  We were getting pretty good at it before I left.  To keep me up on my 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 happily “Tango Uniform” with him in bed and that our engagement also might be sadly "Tango Uniform."

Next to my cot, I always had a stack of her letters that always started, “Dearest Tanguero Adorable…”  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 to me and whisper, “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, “Sweetheart, 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 Baghdad, and they had salsa dancing there. I found myself feeling so much better after that dance, and even more committed to Teresa.  The magic of music, dance and human touch fulfilled me.  I didn't have to go beyond that.

This is where the driver should
maneuver with "back ochos."
Close to the end of 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.  It seems like shit happens all the time at the very last minute of a deployment.  We were supposed to come home on the 10th of January, and we didn’t have much time left in country. As I had suspected, the commander had bad news.  “The XO's team just missed running over an an IED, and he’s being MEDEVAC’d to the hospital in Baghdad.  He’s doing okay -- nothing really serious, but that means that you’re going back early as the rear-Detachment commander instead of the XO,” he told me. That meant that I’d lead the forward party to help prepare for the return of soldiers back home at Fort Hood. 

My emotions were properly dampened as the commander told me.  First of all, the XO and I were close friends.  We were in the officers' basic course together; so this was terrible news, but at the same time I knew that I would be home for Christmas.  It is probably impossible for most people to understand that this actually 99% bad news that I would be home for Christmas.  I 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 and see Teresa. I was totally conflicted in my feelings.  But if I had been given the chance I would have stayed.  Like it or not, I was going back in time for Christmas.  I also decided that I would not tell my family or even Teresa.  I felt sort of ashamed that I was coming back. I was also dreading my return to my fear of what I might find remaining of my hope of marrying Teresa.

What would I find? Intellectually, I knew that everything would be okay, but I had these great fears in my gut too -- fears that seemed deeper in my gut than the the dangers of going "outside the wire" on a mission.

When I arrived I had to go through lots of briefings and medical screens like everyone else would have to do in January. But on Christmas Eve, 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 University of Texas in Austin.  The UT Ball Room was down I-35, sixty-something miles from Fort Hood, where the milonga was being held. I put on an 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 on her like Specialist Gaffney's eagle-eye from through the stratosphere.  I knew it was wrong for spying, and I deserved extra duty like I had given Gaffney.  Also, I felt this mad jealousy well up in me 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 was sure that my red hot face would surely alert everyone that I was there.  Certainly someone would ask, "What's burning!"  The striped sides of my dress blue uniform pants surely would give me away if I tried to escape now as the tanda ended.

As people were leaving the dance floor, I spotted Teresa 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 were in some sort of tango Nirvana, 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.  She wasn't in heaven because of that old man but because of the power of the embrace, the music and joy of movement, just as she had said before.

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!” 

Teresa's tanguera friend 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 dance 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. 

Now when there is a military event, Teresa does no longer calls my uniform my "Dress Blues"; she calls them my "Tango Uniform" because of our reunion dance in Austin.   

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.

Photo credits:
Link to IED explosion is here.
Older gentleman photo:  Visit
The photo of Salado, TX was from Google Earth.
All photos with the "tango uniform":  Izabella Tabarovsky, Washington DC

Photo models:
Dina Dalipagic and some unknown tanguero in uniform.

Note:  The "Tango Therapist" now resides in Germany.  He is father of two sons who live in Germany.  Besides being a lover of Argenitine tango and a tango blog writer, he is a therapist for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and family problems (now in Germany) and is a lieutenant colonel in the US Army Reserves, Medical Service Corps.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tango: Balm or Addiction?

I am Addicted to Air,Water and Tango

I am addicted to air.
I try not to breathe but I just cannot seem to stop.
I am addicted to tango.
She and I synchronize our breathing.
We find a breath that defines the music as us.
This breathing addiction consumes me.

I am addicted to water.
I can go for about a day, but I give up.
I am addicted to tango.
The fluidity of movement washes over my soul.
I feel like I am truly alive and this fluidity purifies me.
My addiction to fluidity of motion consumes me.

I am addicted to food.
I can go without food during a fast, but I become weak.
I am addicted to tango.
The community of tangueros and tangueras nourishes me.
I realize how much I am hungry for connection.
My tango-fast cannot last.  I am am addicted.

I am addicted to shelter.
I try to be out in the open and rely just on myself,
But I become cold and wet or too hot, and give up my quest.
I am addicted to tango.
The world pelts me with cold rain or I wilt under its stress.
I try to be just myself, but I find myself once again seeking shelter
In her embrace.  I admit it -- pure addiction.

The embrace is my air -- call it an obsession if you wish.
The musical fluidity of movement is my water, truly my weakness.
The community of dancers my nourishment -- my addiction, I guess.
Tango's gestalt is my fortress, in the great hall we dance.
I am addicted, you might say...

But I say I am surviving life -- if joy be "survival."
Join me in my "addiction."
Come get your fix.

Photo credit:

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Healing Embrace

Tango can be just a dance.  It can be much more.

West End Library Practica
When I am present, I feel a transfer of information.  More than just a transfer, I feel an understanding, an empathy.  But it's only when I am present. Listening.

I have experienced this myself, but it has been validated in movement therapy (tango therapy).  When I was working with a combat veteran and his wife, using the therapy protocol I am developing.  We worked on two psychological traumas.  One was with his father's abuse and the other nearly dying in combat.  In the first case, she felt the hatred leave his body.  "His body vibrated, and I knew that he had forgiven him," she said.  Immediately he felt sorry for his father who never got to know three grandchildren and his amazing wife.  In the combat trauma resolution, he felt that his wife fully understood his experience.  That is what many vets NEVER feel -- they do not feel anyone could understand them, especially their partners.

I feel this transfer of information only when I am listening for it.  It makes sense, right?  If someone is talking to you, and you are not listening, what do you hear?  Even if you half-way hear what they are saying, there will be misunderstandings.  So try listening.  I find it easy to forget to listen.  So I practice!  Non-auditory communication is an art, whether it is in "listening" for visual body communication or "listening" through the embrace.

Let me give you an important personal example:  A while ago when I got a new job, I organized a farewell luncheon at a salsa lounge, which provided a fajita buffet for us.  A semi-professional dance friend of mine came and taught my colleagues how to salsa, and we demonstrated a tango, a vals and a milonga.  After eating, I danced with many colleagues, but when nearly everyone was gone, I got a chance to dance with a person at work whom I did not trust -- a chance to dance with the enemy.  My work colleague was once a dance instructor.  We had endured a long difficult relationship, but after everyone had left and I was about to get in my car to leave on a 3-day drive to my new job, she suggested we dance a salsa.  I suggested a tango.  We danced well, although she had never danced tango.

The dance was very healing for me -- I think for both of us.  Dancing with her had a lasting effect on me because much was forgiven through our embrace.  It was as if I knew how she felt.  Immediately I felt an enemy had been destroyed through mutual compassion.

I cannot speak for her, but for me a lot of animosity melted at that moment.

Some say that tango is only a dance.  It can be much more.

Photo credit:  Eddie Arrossi, photographer and tanguero, Washington, DC

For friends in DC, here is Eddie's link to that event -- the anniversary practica celebration:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In favor of bad technique

Ladies, you will need technique classes to wear these.
But why would you?

How important is technique?  As Dieter, a tango teacher in Germany once said, "In Tango, Technik ist alles. Alles!"  We would never say technique is everything for art or for making love, and so such a statement does not work in tango either.  The technique-is-everything notion is doubly erroneous for tango.  Isn't tango a combination of art and making love?

Maybe the question about technique's importance should not be how but rather why:
So why is technique important?  Technique as expressed in ballet and stage tango is for the wrong reasons and is a dead end.  Technique, I believe, is a way to enjoy our art throughout our lives.  Sure, without technique, a dancer or any artist becomes limited in their own expression, but if given a choice, I am in favor of bad technique over a lack of artistic expression or passion for the divine spark within one's partner.

Before the technique nuts hunt me down, torture me with high-flying boleos and gancho me to death, hear my story:

As a musician I was a technique nut.  My teacher was a technique nut.  Ron Falter was a clinician for Ludwig Drum company, and he would go all over the country giving drum clinics on technique.  So I was his disciple -- probably his most devoted disciple.  We were like Gnostic musicians, he and I.  The only portal into the Truth of Music was through technique.

The end of Gnostic-Musicianship
As a young teen, I was always hanging out on the university campus where I took music lessons.  One day, I walked into the University band room, and a cohort musician, Brian, was there playing very well with the varsity University Jazz Band.  I realized something at that moment.  His teacher was a learn-by-doing teacher.  Technique was secondary to playing a lot.  This was the moment of my musical enlightenment, my epiphany.  I was no longer a technique Gnostic.   I slowly broke away from my teacher.  I played with a lot of musicians.  That is where I really learned to be a musician and not a technician.

I moved to San Francisco, and joined the Eddie Money Band.  Everyone in Eddie's band took lessons.  It was the assumption.  At the time, I thought I had graduated from music lessons; so this was an important moment in the art school of life -- always have a coach.  Eddie's outgoing drummer recommended Chuck Brown, who was the most renowned teacher in the Bay Area.  But Chuck Brown seemed to be more of a technique freak than my first music guru.  However, since Chuck was sought out by famous drummers, I was resigned to believe technique-Gnosticism was a fact of life. 

However, unlike all the other students I knew, Chuck Brown did not have me focusing on technique so long.  I am not sure why.  His technique was remarkably different than Ron Falter's.  I was not eclectic.  I fully learned to devote myself to play with Chuck's powerful method.  But soon we went on to other things in fusion and jazz music.  Along the way, however I learned something about technique that I had never realized:  It is not to play faster or be more awesome; technique is to help with endurance and avoid injury.   I remembered that the drummer who had recommended Chuck Brown to me had told me said that he would have had to give up playing had he not learned Chuck's technique.  This was the essential lesson on technique!

Technique was indeed essential, but why!?  What I learned about music from him transformed the way I played.  I believe that Chuck Brown's influence may have made me the close embrace tanguero that I am.  Before Chuck Brown, I had double basses, flipped my sticks high into the air.  I had seven tom-toms and 6 cymbals.  I was a show drummer from a show-drummer gambling casino town.  After my lessons with him, I most often was playing on a small drum set -- both in size and the number of drums.  Through technique, I had a large sound but on small drums.  My transformation was towards music and less towards show, and I no longer had back pain.  I played powerfully, without pain and with endurance.

I still have the show-drummer in me.  And I sometimes feel like a racehorse inside of the milonguero outward covering.  But being "tasty" and going small takes discipline and a reverence for the music.  From Chuck, I learned that no note (or step) should be taken without it being essential.  Count Basie would say, "It is not what you play, man; it's what you don't play."

To a ballerina who has become a great tango dancer, she would define technique and "bad" technique differently than someone with no ballet background.  She gets her accolades from the moves most unlike tango and most like ballet and gymnastics.  But remember that as gymnast or a ballerina she must retire early because she will be broken by her technique for show.  The toe shoes must come off.  To me, tango is about life-long artistry and social connection, not about being awesome while you are young and able.

I learned that technique life long artistry until we die from Chuck Brown.  But even if technique helps us to preserve ourselves, that is not everything either!  Art and passion and making love always come first to the milonguero.

Sure, I have the highest value for technique.  But I am fully aware that "Technik ist nicht alles.  Nicht Alles!"

Photo credit for ballet tango stilletos -- yes ladies these shoes are for sale.  Buy them here but wear them only at home or over at his place. NEVER walk in them, okay?  ;-)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Wanted: Tango Percussionists

One example of using one's feet for percussion.

The word tangolike he word milonga, can mean several things.   Tango once meant a drum or a place where blacks would meet and dance to the drum beat.  Tango is still that.  But where are the percussionists now?  Every instrument in tango is used as a percussion instrument.  Name one that is not!

Okay, give up?  Every instrument is used at times in a tango orchestra to slap out a rhythm.  The string section tends to use the handle or back of their bow to do it.  Everyone else uses their hands except the pianist to tap on their instruments.  The piano itself is, of course, a percussion instrument because the strings are struck with hammers.  That accounts for all the percussionists, right?  No!

There are some percussionists who are often not recognized in the orchestra:

You are that percussionist in the tango orchestra!  A dancer is a percussionist, and the floor and partner is his or her instrument.  I do not mean this in a poetic way.  This is literally true.  Anyone striking any object to create or play along with music is a percussionist.

I invite you to stop dancing and join the tango orchestra as a musician!

A good place to start is to stop taking classes on musicality -- well, not quite.  How about at least thinking about these classes as musicianship classes?   Musicality classes are for people who are trying to understand music as outsiders.  How about being a musician?  Be an insider -- a musician, not a dancer hoping to understand music from the outside!

Musicianship is not for advanced dancers.  It is for everyone, because in reality you and I are not "just" dancers if we are tangueros/-as.  I think it is too easy to be a sloppy musician if we do not really join the band.  Don't leave it up to the pianist or bandoneónista to be musical!  It's your job too!  That is, it's your job to be musical if you have dedicated yourself to join the orchestra as a tango percussionist.  Maybe it is not a conscious thing, but I think the best social dancers are percussionists.

As a jazz drummer, I played many different objects with both feet and hands (see the photo above).  As a tanguero, I use only my feet and legs.  I sweep (barridas), make grace notes (toe taps), and establish clear rhythms in synchronization to the music.  Besides the floor, there is my tanguera.  She bushes me, taps the side of my foot, scadas me, ganchos me.  We are the cello and violin playing each other.  As instruments of music, I am hers and she in mine as living, breathing instruments.

When I embrace another tango percussionist on the dance floor (a tanguera), I hope our goal will be to join the orchestra as musicians and not as dancers.  Anyone can get up and move, but can we embody the music as musicians?  I imagine that she and I have joined the orchestra as percussionists in the orquesta que no es típica.  The floor is our percussion instrument.  We do not dance to the music, we play in the orchestra.  

Won't you join the orchestra?  When we all join the orchestra, we become the community tango orchestra.  All the milonga spirits -- African diaspora slave musicians, European immigrant tango musicians and composers -- will be smiling.  If you have joined the orchestra, then you have come home to what tango started as.  Tango is a drum.  Be a tango percussionist and join the orchestra.

Photo credit:

Next blog:  As tango percussionists, we will explore why "percussion" technique has nothing to do with how good you look or how awesome you play.

Also planned:  Legato percussion -- tango percussion plays with and stretches time one moment and establishes the beat at another. This is what I call "time keeping" vs "lyrical percussion." It is important to know when to make these transitions within a song. And it is easy. It is not just the woman's job to be lyrical or the man's job to be the time keeper.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A-Theist Tanda

What is more powerful than an embrace?

“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child -- our own two eyes. All is a miracle.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh

The vals played.  I always wonder what makes the vals feel so divine.  She snuggled up.  A familiar embrace.  I felt a difference.  We danced.  The first song ended.  I usually do not talk much between songs, but I asked, "Something is on your mind," I can feel it in your body.

"My good friend died in a car wreck."

"Oh no!  I am so sorry to hear that."

"And we were in an argument before she died. . . . I feel terrible . . . .  and I wish I could have told her that I loved her before she died.  I keep having nightmares about her."  She paused and then began to cry.

"Did you know her family?" I asked. 

"Yes, very well.  We lived near each other.  They are like second parents to me."

We danced again.  I held her now in a different way.  I danced in the simplest way I knew possible and embodied the music.  She cried in my arms.

vals stopped.

"How well do you know her character?"

"She was like a sister."

"Then you know what her character would say to you now, is that right?"

"She would say that she loves me, and to go on with my life."

"Can you do that?"

"I don't know."

We danced again.  I held her again, leaving room for her friend's character to speak with her.  Her balance was sometimes a bit off, although that never happens with her.  I knew she was having a conversation.  The music stopped.

"Can you do what you know she is asking you to do -- to love her and go on with your life?"


"I suggest you pray for her parents.  It's harder for them than for you, I think."

"I know it is hard for them.  But you know I am an atheist."

"Of course I know that.  But that is the best prayer.  If you ask that God to be with her parents, God will hear your pray perhaps more than anyone who is a believer."

"How's that?"

"Because I have an idea that God tires of having so many friends who want his riches and eternal life.  God might feel like the rich kid on the block.  Everyone loves him because they want something from him.   If you don't want these things, I think your prayer goes on top of the pile to be answered.  Your friend would like this too."

"Yes, she would."

We danced.

This time I held her and a certain energy went between us.  I cannot explain it.  But I have an idea that her prayer had a lot of power that night.  No adoration. No riches.  No request for eternal life as a special favor for believing in God's holy Awesomeness.  Just "be with her parents, God, will you?"

And I said the atheist prayer too:  "No special bargains, God.  Be with these bereaved parents!  Be with my friend!  And if you won't be, I will be with them in my heart . . . b
ecause this is the way you made me and put room in my heart."


Afterword:  Events and details are changed to protect the identity of this person and her grief.  I cannot tell you if the parents felt God's presence, but the nightmares stopped.

The miracle is the embrace, the music, and the walk that embodies the music.  If these do not lead to peace and the miracle of life, I am not dancing tango.  Thich Naht Hanh said it so well.  Tangueros and tangueras know of the miracle and joy of life better than many.

This story appears today on Veterans' Day for a special reason.  The person who died was a young veteran.  The risk of death and serious injury of veterans is 10 times the risk than in a combat zone during the first six months after they return.  The price of war is far greater than what the general public knows.  And if we did know, I believe we would all be fierce Warriors for Peace.

Happy Veterans' Day.

Photo credit link.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Do not walk away! (poem)

Do not walk away from her.
Turn back! Ask her to dance!

You promised her you'd find her.
Yes, it took so long -- a whole life.

But if you hold her, she won't need her cane,
And you will drop yours.

The bandoneón will play
And restore the lost years.

Do not walk away.
Turn back! Ask her to dance!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Music Workshop: Thinking in Six

J.S. Bach:  Handing over a minuet to Anibal Troilo
to add the cruzado.  See the smirk on his face?

Today's workshop is on the vals.  [Translated into German here.]

Our goal in this workshop is to improve our ability to improvise away from the pulse in three, and understand the African cross rhythm (cruzado) that makes the tango waltz (vals cruzado) so unique and fun for dancers.

A waltz or "vals" in Spanish has 3 beats per phrase, right?

Well, that is the smallest view of what the vals is.

Six better describes the vals.

If we were to compare vals to a language, then a word is 3 beats, a phrase is 6 and a sentence is 12 beats.  Just like in language, when you first went to school and learned about words, phrases, sentences and paragraphs, you were already practicing these things without knowing what they were.  Similarly, you may be doing very complex steps in your vals, but perhaps it will be helpful now that you are more advanced to understand more about what you are doing.  The more long-range goal is for tango dancers to construct poems and short stories that delight their partners via knowing musical phrasing.

So let's get started.

I am going to start with an example out of  Europe to help demonstrate thinking in six, but the objective is not praise the huge and known influence of Europe but to uncover the African "cruzado" rhythm (via Peru).  On our way to Argentina, we are going to start in Europe, go to Africa and then use the trade-winds to ultimately land in Buenos Aires.

The vals cruzado is a waltz within a waltz from Africa (3 beats against six), but Europe had a similar phenomena that did not make it to Argentina: The Baroque dance and music (below) is also in six-beat phrases. In the following example, if one thinks in 6, notice what happens on 2 and 6!  This is a common form of Baroque dancing in which dancers bob down on the beats 2 and 6 of each phrase--clear six beat phrases!

As I mentioned earlier, if you count in six, they are bobbing slightly down on 2 and 6.  That is the typical cross rhythm of their dance.  The "cruzado" (meaning cross) is a sub-rhythm of the Argentine vals that at times is found also in Baroque, but Baroque was not the "cruzado" (cross rhythm) influence -- Africa brought that influence.  In Latin percussion we call this counter rhythm the "trecillo" -- a part of the Afro-clave rhythm of nearly all of the forms of music in Latin America, including tango.  The cruzado started in 6/8 sacred rhythms in Africa.  I will write more about that later in a blog in which I will demonstrate the African influence with instruments and the Afro-clave in other forms of Latin American music as it relates to tango.

Many people, including musicians, are not aware intellectually of this sub-rhythm; so let me explain:  The vals cruzado has a waltz within a waltz.  Sometimes it is very explicit, sometimes subtle, the cruzado (cross rhythm) is always there, and is the distinctive element of what makes the vals the "tango waltz" --  also called the vals criollo from its African roots.   To be sure, many musicians do not seem to know this, but it is nonetheless the fact.  They often feel it, but are not aware of its origins.

Percussionists (tango dancers) need to know about these rhythms.  You are percussively expressing yourself, striking your instrument (the floor) as a part of the tango orchestra.  So my fellow percussionists, if you think in 3, a waltz has its emphasis on the first beat of each group of three (1**/1** etc.).  If you think in 6 beat phrases (as the above dancers above have to), the same emphasis is 1**4**/1**4**).  You will feel he musical phrasing more easily if you feel this in six.  Practice counting at times when you are listening to the vals.

Now let's add the African influence, also called the trecillo, by dancing on 1*3*5*/1*3*5*/1*3*5*/etc.*   You must feel this first before being able to eventually feel the upbeat of this (which is the true cruzado).

For those used to watching young, flashy dancers, the following clip with very few views on YouTube will not be immediate appealing.  However, this older couple are truly dancing 3 against six many times.  I found this video clip because I was looking for someone dancing to Anibal Troilo's "Un Placer."  I discovered Héctor and María Eugenia, dancing in this clear example of a very explicit cruzado rhythm in the vals.  Check this out!

Now, go back and start a little before the 1 minute 30 mark.  Here you will see how Hector does not only the cruzado against what she is doing but he has a very nice poetic pause in the middle of it all. Wonderful!  Then keep going until the end of the song which ends with the cruzado being slammed out by the orchestra throughout the whole last phrase.

Okay, one more?

Here is a wonderful example of this within a vals with "percussionists" Julio Balmaceda and Corina playing the dance floor.  Please focus again, just for this workshop, on counting in six.  If you pay attention you will observe many times when they both dance this cruzado, the cross-rhythm, together or when one does and the other stays with the bass (1**4**/1**/4**).

I recommend that you go back and look at watch him at the 56-second mark stay in the cross rhythm (1*3*5*/1*3*5*/1*3*5*/etc.) for a long while as she stays in the normal vals rhythm (1**4**/1*34**/1**4**/etc.).

This weekend, if you are out dancing, pay attention to the Saints watching over the dance floor -- all the dead musicians that have made your world of dance and music so enjoyable.  Among the many friendly spirits will see many great Argentine musicians.  Behind them you will see a guy wearing a really cheesy wig.  That's Bach.  And if you really pay attention, when he watches vals cruzado he is smiling a lot more than usual.  Among the friendly spirits, please pay attention to the African drummers who are playing the cruzado rhythm -- the three African beats playing against the six European beats of the vals cruzado!

*Musicians only:  The cruzado rhythm perhaps came to Argentina via Peru, but probably from Africa to Peru first.  This rhythm really is NOT understood by calling it a "hemiola," a European concept.  The Peruvian cruzado is an upbeat crossing rhythm 3 against 6 beats.  So the down beat cross rhythm is (1*3*5*/1*3*5*/1*3*5*/etc.) and the upbeat cross rhythm is (*2*4*6/*2*4*6).  The reason this is so danceable is that the pulse is on 1 and 4: (1**4**/1**/4**).  Extremely wonderful dance music have these elements: Reggie (exactly the same upbeat curzado).  Others are close:

  • Traditional jazz:  (1**4*6/1*4**6/1**4**/etc.).   The down beat (1) is played, but the 2nd beat is clearly in the feeling of jazz.  The above rhythm is the cymbal rhythm of the drummer. (You must count fast to get the sense of this rhythm, but start slow.)
  • Hip-hop and Kizomba are the down-beat cruzado rhythm (changed to the 4-beat feel, called the "trecillo" in Spanish.  Tango dancers know this as the 3/3/2 rhythm.

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Photo credit:

Friday, November 4, 2011

Wanted: Tango Teacher in Heaven

Photo by  Laura Peligrino

Earth and Heaven
When a tanguera is taken from our arms
We know she will be at home in heaven.
Tango friends know more than most
What heaven on earth feels like
  in our blood,
  in our sinew,
  in our feet.
The music declares order and meaning in the universe.
The embrace speaks heart to heart for those who listen.
The movement creates the musica humana.

When her family assembles to mourn her,
They will embrace each other more that day.
They will do what we do all the time.
Those who loved and honored her most
Will feel the power of the embrace to say
What a million words cannot.
They will know what we know each day.

We can only guess at the depth of their loss
But over many miles we reach out with our thoughts.
And if we could, we would embrace them and share their grief.

In heaven the angels needed a Tango Instructor
They did not ask if it were okay with us.
But we know that she will teach them well
To experience Earth-in-Heaven
As she helped so many experience
Heaven on Earth.

Mark Word
in Memory of Anne-Sophie 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

FDA Warnings on Tango

Warning:  Your stage tango may be
hazardous to my health.
Late last night to my amazement, I saw an advertisement for Argentine tango was on television.  It was wonderfully done.

The couple was all alone on the dance floor as others watched them. The camera panned across the adoring faces of those watching. Then I saw close-ups of the dancers' feet, a shot of their hands together and moments of passion expressed on their faces.  The dancers dramatically displayed well rehearsed moves that needed no lead-and-follow because they had learned patterns they had practiced over and over.

At the end of the advertisement, the tango scenes continued with wonderful moments of ecstasy and grace, but at the very end, like a new medicine advertisement, a hurried voice mentioned all the side effects that the Federal Drug Administration had required the tango industry to include:

"Side effects include loss of friends, loss of money and harm to others," the rapid-fire machinegun voice said. Without a breath he went on to say, "Many tango students report that they eventually only horrified good dancers on the social dance floor.  50% of those who buy this product report that they experienced the side effect of endangering others on the dance floor.  The other 50% were simply unaware of how much they were endangering others. Not recommended for children under 30."

Of course this was only a dream.

But I invite you to watch the faces of those new to tango, watching social tango dancers. After two seconds they are bored. But those who have bought into the the above tango-drug really can can catch everyone's eyes. The beginners are watching and hoping that they one day can do the cool moves too. But that's not all! Our stars-in-their-own mind see others too!  Tango dancers trained in emergency medicine are watching in case they are needed to help those who might become injured.  But that's not all! As seen on cable TV tango is also drawing those who . . . yes, watch cable TV, who are no entranced, watching the best B movie every made -- tango without laugh-tracks to cue the audience when something is in reality truly absurd.

Before the FDA gets involved, don't you think it is time to require a product claim for tango?  For those teachers who are selling showmanship tango for social dancers, shouldn't a side-effects warning be required? Stage Tango on the social dance floor, like all ego-enhancing drugs, should have a warning.

One must weigh the benefits against the side effects.

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Photo Credit: On the Air and In the Air Tango

Friday, October 28, 2011


[Note:  A cheesy poem for a cheesy subject.]

I left my smart-phone gladly at home.
Without a phone, I am free to roam.

It was the smart-thing gladly to do.
But now tangueras tonight are few.

The cortina plays, her face is alight
With a new text from a friend tonight:

"I wish I were dancing like you!"
Absent now are techos two.

As both are in their smart-phone dance.
I just stand here with no chance.

Tango etiquette may change over time, but as it now stands, not only in Buenos Aires but also in all the world, it is considered poor manners to be on a phone or texting at a milonga.  I suggest leaving the room if you have to text your children on directions to make macaroni and cheese, and other extremely important communications like this.  Men... please leave your phone in your car.  If you are on-call, as I have been, put the pager or a slim phone on vibrate and in your back pocket.  Just warn the woman if it is in your jacket or (not recommended) front pocket!

Photo credit:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Why she is smiling in his arms?

I have rarely felt envy in dancing.  I love watching people who can dance better than I.  But the other night I felt envious of a guy dancing with a tanguera I know pretty well. I saw the person I practice with dancing with a new guy in town and she was smiling with him in a way that she rarely does with our dancing. We were not connecting at all that night. It was really terrible in fact. Partly, the floor was too slippery for the leather shoes I had on. But it only got worse.

Finally, I made a comment that we were not connecting well that night. She said that it was because I was too interested in my own steps rather than hers. The most hurtful critiques are the ones we fear are true. Really, am I that bad? Maybe, but it is also a slap in the face to have to take the full blame for the disconnect.

I felt that she had broken a sacred agreement and an important element of tango etiquette not to critique your partner on the dance floor. I had, of course, opened the door by commenting on OUR dancing that night.

I was ready to walk out the door. I was fuming and mad at myself for being envious of him doing such a great job of making her smile so wonderfully.  It seemed that she had been frowning the whole time with my dancing that night.

I did not leave because I had so many friends I wanted to dance with. My dances with them were wonderful. I was smiling a lot. Finally, I danced with a short Chilean woman who hardy was getting to dance at all that night.  The dance with her was absolutely wonderful. I hope my practice partner wasn't watching. I was smiling just too much!  But when I did start dancing with my practice partner, we were once again tuned and we were both smiling.

What happened that night?

The next day, I read an article, called "Misunderstanding the affective consequences of everyday social interactions: The hidden benefits of putting one's best face forward" by Dunn, Elizabeth W., et al. in the American Psychology Association's PsychNet online resource.

The authors would have done better research if they had been tango dancers.  Tango shows us that we humans do better with our close relationship when we interact with strangers. Perhaps this psychological phenomenon is similar to biological in-breeding.  Once we become "familiar" (from the word family), dancing can become stale without outside influences. On a social level, people learn a lot about themselves and their own creativity by having interactions with strangers. However, when people are asked to rate the enjoyment of an interaction with a close person versus "that stranger over there" the participants in a psychological study found that they over-rated the enjoyment they would have with someone they know, and under-rated the enjoyment they thought they would have with a total stranger.

I think that people who really love tango and are couples or practice partners should take note. It is good for your dancing, your relationship and your dance progress to dance with others.  The thing we learn the most is that what works with strangers, works with those closer to us.  If we treat friends and family with as much attentiveness and simple respect, great things happen.  When the researchers instructed people to put as much effort into their close partner as they did with the stranger, the interactions with the partner was much better.

Since that time, we talked about the disconnect, and I found out that a milonga she feels I try out too many things.  I told her that I was afraid I was boring her.  She just wanted to get in a groove and enjoy things that are know to work, and then apply the millions of variations of these simple elements to the particular orchestra being played in that tanda.

Then last night something very remarkable happened.  The music was playing all by itself at the practica when I came in and no one was there.  I danced by myself.  It was euphoric.  She arrived and we danced.  We had classes we wanted to review, but we just danced and danced and danced.  I cannot tell you which cloud we danced on, but it was past cloud nine.  Others came and all tandas I had were this way last night -- absolutely heaven on earth.

No -- even better than heaven on earth.  The angels were envious as they watched that night.

I turned and told one of the angles.  "There is no reason to be envious.  You might want to try what I did.  Dance with a stranger."

Note: Dunn was co-other with Biesanz, Jeremy C.; Human, Lauren J.; Finn, Stephanie.
Source of reference with link to the original work from the American Psychology Association's:

Photo Credit: Woman smiling

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Chronicles of the Tango Therapist

The Keyhole into the Universe
[Tango fiction]
Thekeyhole into the Universe

Once long ago but in a time very much like ours there was a milonga in Bucharest...

Romania had a small butlively tango community.  No one recognized the stranger when he came through the door.  He wore black and he had a air about him that made him seem like an experienced tanguero.  The regulars whispered toeach other about him as he sat down and observed the dancers.  A few tangueros approached and welcomed him,but nearly everyone figured that he was just watching and did not dance at all. 
After about five tandas,he approached Margareta.  He asked her what her name was as they stoodwaiting for the music to start with an accent that was clearly not Romanian. She told him that her traditional Romanian name, Margareta, meant"pearl."
"That seems to fit your soulvery well," he replied, looking into her eyes.  "I knew a girl whose name was Pearl. She had a very deep and precious soul.  Although she had beenseverely abused as a child in an orphanage, she grew up to be the kindestperson I have ever met.  Pearl had the ability to do what most of uscannot:  She saw the universe through a keyhole.  She found littlepieces of evidence of kindness and goodness in the world through the littlekeyhole to the universe, and it these bits of goodness shaped who she was. Many of us focus on a few negative things in the world and we then cannotsee the beauty all around us.  She found the beauty just throughsmall glimpses of the divine."

Pearl's eye view
"That seems to fit your soul very well," he replied.  "I knew a girl whose name was Pearl.  She had a very deep and precious soul.  Although she had been severely abused as a child in an orphanage, she grew up to be the kindest person I have ever met.  Pearl had the ability to do what most of us cannot:  She saw the universe through a keyhole.  She found little pieces of evidence of kindness and goodness in the world through the little keyhole to the universe, and it these bits of goodness shaped who she was.  Many of us focus on a few negative things in the world and we then cannot see the beauty all around us.  She found the beauty just through small glimpses of the divine."

The music continued.  As she began to dance with the stranger, every pause and every impulse was as if they embodied the music.  The left-right pulse of his tango walk seemed to pull her into a world in which she could see her life going before her.

She returned to the orphanage where she had lived until she turned seven years old.  She saw the terrible things that had happened there but for the first time she remembered these events as if she were an outside observer.  She watched in deep compassion for the orphaned child as if she was totally removed from the experience, except for her compassion for the child.  The music stopped.

Before the second song of the tanda began, the stranger went on with the story:  "One day Pearl looked through the keyhole to the universe and saw all the moments of kindness she had ever experienced, most of which she had forgotten.  It filled her soul with the resolve to be the kindness she saw.  At that moment she joined Plato in his understanding that the world is but a shadow of the real and eternal.  She chose at that moment to find real and eternal beauty and goodness and bring these to fruition into this world."  The music started again.

The next tango was the one that meant the most to her.  She had fallen in love with the person with whom she first danced it some two years earlier.  Poema represented  both beauty and loss to her.  But the stranger’s steady tango walk again brought her back to the "keyhole" the he had just mentioned, and she imagined herself now looking through it.

This time she saw herself as an adult looking back at the child in the keyhole.  She felt a deep empathy for the child.  Strangely, she then switched to being the child, looking through the keyhole at the adult Margareta as a kind and compassionate person.  Just as her adult self seemed to be coming to the door to open it, the music stopped.  The man continued yet another part of the story.

"Pearl grew up to become an incredible woman.  Her compassion to others had no boundaries of nations or races or religions.  She was kind.  She carried an aura of kindness.  It was simple and powerful at the same time."  The music started yet again, the third song of the tanda.

This time his pause before taking his first step felt as if energy was building.  It was more than just standing there:  It was as if their first step was going to explode with energy.  She made dainty circles with her left foot, and they became larger as the energy built.  Their musical tension, she knew, prepared them for the end of the next musical phrase.

As they took their first steps together, she felt like a little girl running out to a set of swings on the playground with a little boy by her side, free to romp and play.  They ran in slow motion as if to not allow the beauty of this moment of freedom escape the moment too quickly. As they moved, she returned to the door, and before she could even bend down to look through the keyhole, she heard footsteps.  The door opened.  Her adult self did not seem to recognize her.  She wanted to say, "Don't you see that I am the child you once were?" The music seemed to end too soon, she had been so deep in thought.

The stranger just looked at Margareta, as if to peer into her soul.  "Isn't it a wonderful thing to start with a little piece of sand and then have a pearl of great beauty come from it?  Such is one of the wonders of the Universe."

The last tango of the set started.  He opened his arms and this time she his chest.   "This!" she told herself, "this is entrega, surrender.  This is what others have talked about, not yielding to a man's lead but surrendering my soul while dancing!  Margareta returned to the door.  She was the little girl beholding the older woman who did not seem to know her.  

The little Margareta then realized that the older Margareta acted only out of unconditional love and kindness.  Her older self knelt before the younger Margareta.  The older Margareta was being kind to the little girl not just because it was herself but out of unconditional compassion.  The little Margareta said, ”You are what I have become and what I want to become.  Please stay with me.  I need your love more than anyone's.”

The older Margareta promised the little girl that she would never neglect or leave her.  As Margareta danced, she whispered out loud to herself,  "I cannot stop or save you from the hardships of life, but I want to be with you, and I hope you will be with me in my hardships, okay?  We need each other."  The two agreed to meet often.  She hoped the man hadn't overhead her promise to herself.

The tanda ended.  The cortina played.

"You have danced beautifully, Margareta.  I truly have found a pearl here in Bucharest.  It was such a pleasure for me.  You seem to have brought me to the same Keyhole into the Universe that little girl named Pearl saw as I danced with you.  Isn't that the best of what tango has to offer us, a way to sense the beauty of another person through their embrace?"

Margareta felt as if he had spoken the words that she should have said.  Yet they seemed as genuine for him as for her.  "But what is your name?" she asked him as he escorted her on his arm to the edge of the dance floor.

"In Buenos Aires they call me Angel del Gotan, but I am just a tanguero, a man who is led by the music.  He left immediately, snatching his umbrella from the table near the door as he left. She toyed with her necklace, and just then remembered that she had worn a single pearl that night.  "That's so weird," she told herself.  "That's just too weird!"  She stared at the door for nearly a minute until a friend came over to her to ask if she was okay.

"Sure, I am fine.  Great, really."

"Then why are you crying?

"I just had a look through the Keyhole to the Universe.  And I met someone there that I will never forget -- myself."
Photo credit:
Universe -- See the artist's great work at 
Keyhole --

Note that for those who have read The Book of Jonah:
Fiction:  The attempt to get closer to the truth.
Non-fiction:  The attempt to present the truth and thereby distance ourselves from it.