Monday, February 28, 2011

My Tango Vows

Tango Vows Cake

I shouldn't think about divorce before I even take my vows.   But maybe I cannot stick it out with tango.  You know I look around and a lot of people were in love with tango, and they did not make it.  They divorced tango. 

Why do people give up on love?  I am writing this to decrease the risk that I (and those who love tango) will not quit for poor reasons.  A good reason is that you have died.  You danced until you died.  The best reason to quit.  And I write this for myself as a self-reflection on keeping the focus on what is important in dance -- my soul remains a dancing soul.

I wish we had some social scientists helping us out with the positive models we have all around us.   Wouldn't it be great to know what keeps people dancing until they die, after years and years of dancing?  Look around and ask the "survivors" about how they have done it for over 7 years?  There are so many who stopped dancing, and you cannot easily find the vanished host of tango ghosts -- those who have disappeared through the years since you started.  Sure some have moved away and are dancing somewhere, but most just simply disappeared entirely from the tango world.

People who quit anything have "reasons" they tell themselves.  These reasons, I believe, are often external -- other people and situations. Ask those who continue, however!  The ones that make it, probably are not exclusionary or cliquish at all.  Those who keep dancing have found ways of renewing their joy.  The  locus of control is internal, not external.  At least this is my best guess from "interviewing" people who have been dancing tango over 7 years.  And for some it is not a problem or bad that they quit. They simply had a different goal than tango.  Perhaps tango was a check mark on their "Bucket List" (do-before-kicking-the-bucket list).

In a discussion with a favorite tanguera who has been dancing tango for eight years, I found out that she believes that if people make it past three years, they will stick with it.  But I doubt that this is true.  Another favorite tanguera believes in the "bucket list" theory.  "What if you meet the right soul-mate at tango, but tango is not that important?" she asked.  Good point.  But personally, I feel that drop-out rates happen because of adverse events and do slow after three years.  Even with the "soul-mates" -- one was jealous and did not want to continue.  Both quit.  This is an adverse event -- not learning about jealousy.  The same issue will come up later in a different community, and "having to quit for you" will be always over that couple.

I suggest you go to survey #5 "Why did you quit tango?" Click here for the survey.   Those who have quit more than any other factor say that people in tango were too exclusionary and cliquish.  This is not the best social research because responders (those who have quit) must go to a tango website and take the survey.  I would guess that most who quit don't look back or frequent tango web sites to take surveys!   But I think the responses are somewhat thought provoking.  Whatever the external reason is for quiting, however, there is a much more important internal reason.   My guess is that the internal reasons include:

  • Tango was one of many opportunities to grow as a social animal; it was just a hobby.  The hobby is over and another one took its place.
  • Tango was a place to meet a partner.  Checked the block.  Have a partner.  No longer dancing.
  • One or more adverse events:  One got one's heart broken, and going back was too hard.  The songs have too many sad memories attached to them.
  • The negative cognitive frame:  Tango was framed as an "addiction"; the medical business model won out.  You may have been obsessed with tango (like being obsessed with washing your hands or whatever), but this negative model of "addiction," predetermines that stopping therefore will be something positive, even healing.  
What is Your Risk of Quitting in a few years?
Mine is not zero percent.   I could quit tomorrow.  I know that tango is good for me on several levels, but I could very well retire my shoes and go do something else in spite of tango being good for me.  Let me explain a little about risk:

I remember asking alcoholics in my first group-therapist job of what the likelihood was that they would return to inpatient detoxification.  Those who said "zero percent likelihood" were actually the most at risk.  Those who face their own frailties are most likely able to make changes that will better their lot in life.

So I am looking at my frailties.  It used to be that poor floorcraft around me would ruin my night.  I am learning to mellow out a bit.  If not at the milonga, I would have to learn this somewhere else, right?  I have learned that I can allow people to be in their own little clique.  I have found that they need this for different reasons.  When I have found out, I have understood and accepted.  Even if they are just small hearted, why not let them stay in the group of the small hearted?  The tango community is going to have the same problems one finds in a church or synagogue; so leaving a tango community is just putting off with social skill development via avoidance of personal contact.  Certainly you will not get as many hugs at a church or synagogue.

When will you quit -- get a divorce from what you now love and show full devotion?  I want to dance through my life.  I haven't said my "tango vows" yet, but I am writing them.  There is a phrase I am considering:  "Until death do us part."  Of course, I am talking about by worn out tango shoes.  The soul never stops dancing.  Anyway, I can't imagine that heaven would really much fun without a milonga.  But the shoes?  We must indeed part sooner or later.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

We are the Arch (poem)

The "apilado" or shared embrace of tango argentino

We are the Arch

It takes two ... for an Arch.
We connect and our feet have room to play.
Others cannot see what we do in our dance.
Can they hear our hearts beating together,
Or our breath in synchronicity to the music?

The arch of shared weight is the greatest mystery,
To those who might watch us.
I am not a pillar on my axis, but part of an Archway.
Above us may be the weight of the world,
But together we are strong.
And below us, our feet have room to play.

We are the human arch, you and I,
When our hearts connect.

Photo credit of Apilado couple (tango embrace):

Photo credit of archway, and please visit some great views of arches:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dance Shoes and Roller Skates

Dance Shoes and Roller Skates

When I arrive at the dance tonight,
I hope that you are not there yet.
I hope for a slow tango to be playing.
I need to prepare, breathe, slow things down.

I have learned a lot since being a kid.
I would put on my skates.
I could not wait
To fly on wheels again.
Each time in my excitement
I was forced to roll into the restroom.
What a challenge that was!
I thought I'd never learn.

But I am getting better.

Now, I have a new pair of skates,
   my dance shoes.
My heart flutters.
I want to fly again!
I try to get there before you do.
I hope in vain for a tango I don't like.
Yet if you are there,
And especially a milonga is playing.
I fumble to put on my new skates.

Then we fly together.
Nothing has really changed,
Except rolling into the restroom.

Photo credit:  the Kentucky Historical Society

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

If Einstein had danced tango

Part 2  of "The Theory of Relativity and Tango."

If Einstein had only known about tango, perhaps he would value it as much as a particle accelerator to study the origins of the universe and his Theory of Relativity.  You see, he valued creativity, saying:

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.

He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead —his eyes are closed."

Although Einstein focused on physical reality, he venerated experiential reality as well.  When an hour of dancing leads you to feel as if time stopped or time sped up, please take note.  Why!  Why did this happen?  Which do you prefer? Can you alter outcomes?

Under the microscope of a meditative mind, time shows its plasticity both in quantum physics and metaphysics.  One would think that the plasticity of time should inspire some scientific exploration into slowing it down.*

If not scientists, then dancers must do it!

This has become my new goal in tango:  Find where time slows down even if the dance is a milonga or a fast tango.  Many dancers are experiencing time slowing, but the negative frame of "time goes fast when you are having fun" may hide the phenomenon from many tanguer@s.  Here are things to look for.
  • A sense of being so fully in the moment that time seems to stop or feel as if it is in slow motion.
  • The feeling as if the music led everything that happened and both responded in an equal way.
  • A blurring of anyone else in the room and only one's partner is there.
  • The intensity of information transfer, as if one knows about one's partners life, their day, their triumphs and struggles--  all through the walking embrace.
  • A sense that through movement/music/embrace the brain is organizing information clutter, allowing the information overflow to be managed in nice folders.  (When this happens at a deeper level with trauma or critical stress events, it will feel as if centuries have passed in a single tanda.)
Steps for Slowing Down Time
Other than going at the speed of light for a period of time which also slows time
  • Meditate in the walking embrace regularly. Imagine that you and others are sharing a walking-meditation Zen labyrinth.  Other couples are an active part of an amazing, moving, biological maze.  Dance simply, meditatively.
  • Practice mindfulness while in the walking embrace.  Mindfulness is being fully present with your partner and within yourself.  Watching the mirror, noticing who just came in the door, or who will be your next partner are distractions that too often take us out of mindfulness. Talking-while-dancing evaporates mindfulness.  Dancing in silence is a basic tenant of Argentine tango etiquette for a good reason.  Tango is a walking -- not a talking -- meditation for two while others are silent!  However, the most disruptive moment to mindfulness may be concerned with how we might look to others who might be watching.  This takes discipline and is not easy for most of us. 
  • Find freedom from an outside locus of control.  Performance anxiety intrudes in on one's sense of timelessness.  Chan Park, in his book Tango Zen  suggests simplicity in our dance, which he calls, a "walking meditation for two."  Great book. Simplicity needs to be an agreement of what you are doing.  Many dancers feel they need to take their partner on an exciting ride.  And although this is something that is fun, it is also a trap if we do it all the time. Conversely, some dancers wait "fun ride" by believing that a great dance all happened only "because you led it."  Both of these points of view are about the "locus of control" for one's experience being outside of oneself.  (Please read the article "The End of Leading is Near," for a fuller description of both partners being active in their very different roles.)  The balance of dance roles disassembles the misconception of locus of control resides in one dancer and not at all or less in the other.
I wish you many centuries on the dance floor during your next milonga.

Comment or "like" Tango Therapist's Facebook page at this link

Photo Credit:
The photo comes from the Huffington's Post on Einstein's view of spirituality.  I recommend this short and profound article.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Preparing for my 25th year of tango

I just bought the napkins for my 25th year of dancing tango:  A big 25 in silver.

It's going to be a big deal.  So I have to start buying things for it now, and preparing.  I have 21 years to prepare.

A 25th anniversary is "silver."  By that time there won't be anymore silver coins; so I am saving a bunch of 25-cent pieces for each guest (we used to call them "quarters").  That will be a blast from the past to have a silver coin in your hand again.

The flower for a 25th anniversary is the iris.  In Spanish arco iris is "rainbow"; so I will have an arch (arco) of irises of different colors when you come in the door and greet me with a tango hug and besitos for the ladies.   I will hire taxi dancers for all the girls who come back to tango on that day.  But my favorite tangueras will be the ones who stuck it out with me through the years.

I expect and will hope for many women returning to tango on that day.  It will be a long process to get women to come back, and I have to start now.  Statistically speaking women don't make it past four years in tango.  So dancing with beginners is important.  As I get to know them will, I will start giving each one of them my invitation for my 25th Tango Anniversary Party.  Some twenty years later they will have gotten over some of the rude comments, elitism, and frustration of the lack of dance partners.  This party will be full of taxi dancers and agreement among all to dance with one another.

Of course you are invited.  I'll put you in my database.

This genre of writing is called the ironic essay in the future tense.  My real purpose is for me to think about what it will take to nurture my tango so that I will be physically and mentally fit enough to be present at my own party.  Will I just burn out?  How likely is it that you will make it to 25?  If tango is an "addiction" you will be "cured" by the fourth to seventh year.  But if you see tango as way of being connected to others and joy of movement, you might start wanting to save up quarters too.  One thing about this essay -- your being invited was not ironic!

The description of how to get to my party is below.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Theory of Relativity and Tango

The Theory of Relativity and Tango

If Einstein had danced tango, his theories of relativity would have been substantially changed.

According to the Theory of Relativity, IF a train could go the speed of light, time would be altered by the time it stopped at its next station.  But who goes the speed of light?

Tangueros do.  Or at least time is altered during a wonderful tanda or milonga.

If you are reading this blog, I am certain that you have experienced time going SLOW when you are having fun.  Maybe it even stopped?  My theory is that a milonga is the only place on earth where this happens socially.  Meditation brings people to this space individually or in a perhaps in a monastery collectively, but not via social interaction.

I did an Internet search on "time goes slow when you are having fun" and the entries all agreed that time goes FAST when we are having fun.  Not with tango.  Centuries pass during a tanda.  I sense an exchange of information, soul-to-soul that allows me to go places I have never been.  I have visited countries I have never seen, walked on paths new to me, climbed mountains, newly discovered.  Centuries later, the music stops, and I am holding the only woman I have ever known.  She hooks her arm around mine and time resumes at it's normal pace.  I escort her to the tables, where Albert Einstein is sitting, smiling as he sips his Merlot.  He is taking a few notes.

Dear Readers, leave a comment.  Help me validate that tango is actually doing the opposite of the norm (time going fast when you are having fun)  -- at least at times and under certain conditions.

Part two of this article will give some ideas of when and why time can slow or stop during tango.  But I would like to hear your ideas!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Musicality: More on Vals Cruzado

I will have a Vals Cruzado with butter, the way Detlef and Melina make it, please!

This post is on musicality and may be a little too cerebral.  I have notation at the end of what is happening musically (after the video).  If it does not interest some readers, then please just enjoy the nice visual of this tasty video clip that Detlef just published today.  Many dancers are doing interesting rhythms, but this couple maintain an embrace and do everything without losing the most beautiful element of what tango is -- the walking embrace.

NOTES on musicality

Key to notation:
1 (or any number) is a step
* is a rest.
/ denotes a segment (bar) of music, assuming that phrases are in 12 beats (four bars).

When I lived in Germany, I met Melina Sedó and Detlef Engle.  At the time I was new to tango, and I just had no idea how fortunate I was to learn from them. 

In this video clip, Detlef and Melina dance mostly on the down beat (1**/4**/7**/10**), but when the music calls for it often they dance on every beat.  Watch for (123/4**/789/10**) especially at the start, and then later throughout.   Before I hear the critics making comments, of course musicians do not count the vals cruzado or any waltz in 12.  But that is the way we feel it.

Speaking of 12-beat phrases, note how often our dancers catch the last of the phrase with (1**/4**/789/10**).  Starting at minute 2:22 they start a nice series of these examples, starting with (...789/10**) and then going into (123/4**/789/10**). 

Detlef will also do these faster steps as she is marking the slower down beat (1/4/7/10).  Dancing together but on different steps is what most distinguishes a "normal" waltz and val cruzada. Perhaps this is where I have the most fun in a val -- the freedom to have two different steps going on at the same time.  

Also, note the very nice series of sacadas as she is in a circle promenade.  The audience applauds.  I am sure you will applaud too -- for the whole performance. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Desde el Alma (From the Soul)

A vals cruzado played in my head.
As if the the DJ had read my thoughts,
Desde el Alma.* started to play.
I turned to see whose eyes were upon me,
I could feel her gaze
Knocking to enter my soul.
She sat there in control of the room,
A radiant cabeco merely with
  her look,
  red dress,
  radiant smile
  on Valentine's Day.

"Matters not if you believe in Cupid's arrow,
This dart from her eyes will vanquish you."

These were the words last night
That woke me from my sleep.
A red haze fills my head
As those words have echoed
Off the walls of everyday life,
The walls of my waking dreams.
Will I tempt my fate?
Or should I avoid the milonga
On St. Valentine's Day
Because I truly do not believe
In Cupid's arrow?
But even if I did believe,
I would be a fool to try to hide
From her darting eyes.

*Desde el Alma by Rosita Melo means "From the Soul," a vals cruzada (tango waltz).  If you have only a little time, read at least the last stanza in English.
Words by Homero Manzi (followed by English):
Alma, si tanto te han herido
¿Por qué te niegas al olvido?
¿Por qué prefieres
llorar lo que has perdido
buscar lo que has querido
llamar lo que murió?

Vives inútilmente triste
y sé que nunca mereciste
pagar con penas
la culpa de ser buena,
tan buena como fuiste, por amor.

Fue lo que empezó una vez
lo que después dejó de ser.
Lo que al final, por culpa de un error
fue noche amarga del corazón.

¡Deja esas cartas!
Vuelve a tu antigua ilusión.
Junto al dolor
que abre una herida
llega la vida, trayendo amor.

Vives inútilmente triste
y sé que nunca mereciste
pagar con penas
la culpa de ser buena
tan buena como fuiste, por amor.

En inglés:

Soul, if they have hurt you so much
Why do you refuse to forget?
Why do you prefer
to cry for what you've lost
to look for what you've wanted
to call for what has died?

You live needlessly sad
and I know that you never deserved
to redeem with sorrow
the blame of being good,
as good as you were, for love.

It was what once began
what later ceased to be.
What at the end, for the fault of a mistake
was a bitter night for the heart.

Forget those letters!
Come back to your old dream.
Together with the pain
that opens a wound
life arrives, bringing love.

You live needlessly sad
and I know that you never deserved
to pay* with sorrow
the blame of being good,
as good as you were, for love

See by Alberto Paz
*I changed this from "redeem" given at the above link.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Dancing on a Dime with Tinker Bell

Every once in a while, when I have self-doubts about my path as a milonguero-style dancer,  I have to go back to a favorite video clip of Ney Melo and Jennifer Bratt, "Dancing Tango in a Small Space."

I admit it.  I have cool tango moves envy of the guys who can do all sorts of cool and showy moves that take up three acres of floor space to do.  Last night as I was dancing at a crowed, huge house party in Washington DC, there were a few guys who were doing all the coolest moves in the world near or next to me.  I see them in other milongas, and many have something in common:  They cause havoc on the social dance floor around them.  It is not fun to be near them, but they get a lot of attention from those who are watching.

I then have a bout of "cool tango moves envy."  I tell myself:  "I wish I could dance like that."  But anytime I open up the embrace, I am reminded that dancing for show may have a feeling of mastery but not the feeling of the connection to my partner as close embrace has.  A walking embrace allows for little nuances of the music to be felt between partners, and that disappears when I open up.

I knew very few people at that house party, and it was as crowed as ever.  So I stayed nearly the entire evening with the one partner. I know she could dance on a dime.  She doesn't pull me in directions I don't want to go when space is limited.  She closes her eyes, which in that sort of environment could be dangerous.  But because she is so intuitive and trusts my "protection" we scoot around without her getting hurt or stabbed by boleos from homicidal tangueras.  Although she is short we have a remarkable connection that allows us to dance in the tiniest places.  Also, because she is short I have no blind spots.  I usually prefer the tall ladies, but dancing with "Tinker Bell" has its advantages.

The super-cool tangueros were obviously frustrated last night that they didn't have lots of room at the height of the evening, when we had 20 square centimeters each to dance on.  Dancing in a little bitty place is not their forte, and everything that was cool was no longer possible.  But Tinker Bell and I, with the help of her tiny wings, whirred around like angles on a head of a pin.  I wonder now if the super-cool tangueros have "dancing-on-a-dime" envy.  But I doubt it.

Super-Cool Tourists in Buenos Aires, I have heard, are gently "reprimanded"  by the locals with something like:  "You two dance like your are on stage!"  This is a nice way of saying, "You are dancing irresponsibly."  But these same tourists think of that as a compliment because they wish they were just like their stage tango instructors, who are making a good living in America.

Just Kuhl, a great salón-style dancer from Germany, has been going to Buenos Aires for decades.  During my last trip to Germany, he told me that he never plans to go back.  "It's no longer the Buenos Aires I once knew.  It is full of tango touristas," he said. Just Kuhl is an incredible teacher and dancer to watch, but he dances to fit the space and always maintains a connection.  He doesn't bring his ability to perform to a tight social dance floor.  But now he must share the dance floor in Buenos Aires with those who only know how to dance as if the spot light were on them.  Of course there are those tourists who respect the norms of a social dance floor, but more and more hot-shots from around the world come to Buenos Aires to prove to themselves what they already know rather prove to themselves how much they could learn.
Just Kuhl and some friends in Kaiserslautern, Germany

Tango has a wide spectrum of expression, and stage tango is an important part of that.  It brings new life to tango from people who would not have ever started dancing without being enamored by the magic of how it all looks.  And so it was with me!  But then I started to listen to people who knew a few things about what tango is at its best.

One day, I was chatting with a psychiatrist from Buenos Aires who worked at the hospital I was at.  I showed her a video of a super-cool tanguero couple, doing all sorts of wonderful moves.  I had only been dancing for a few months, and she told me:  "No es tango argentino verdadero."     I did not understand for years what she meant that was not the "real" tango from Argentina.  Of course it is real.  But it is not the expression that she knew, which was a walking embrace, totally cued into what the music was suggesting.

Over and over conversations, like this one with my colleague from Argentina, shock my tango reality -- my sense of what tango is.   These moments keep bringing me back to the idea that tango argentino is at center an embrace and a dance between two people, a dance with nuances that others cannot see, a dance that may look even boring to those watching, but is full of magic for the two who are experiencing the beauty of the music.  Just Kuhl was one of my first teachers who felt that the essence of tango was the embrace, but at that time I felt he was wrong.  Actually, he was right on the money.

Slowly but surely I discovered what others were talking about.  Sure, I still sometimes have super-cool-tango-moves envy, but I get over it when I go back to the embrace.  Dancing on a dime with Tinker Bell last night was an example of the reaffirmation that I am on the right path -- the tango of nuance and feeling rather than visual appeal.

I grabbed Tinker Bell's hand and asked her to go upstairs to dance some salsa at the house party, and as we were leaving the dance floor, a French woman stopped us and asked us how long we had been dancing together.  "You two must have been dancing for years together," she said.  She said that she sat mesmerized by tiny precision we shared.  The reality was that we have danced perhaps five or six times together.  Perhaps the way of dancing just for one's partner has some visual appeal too!  But that is why I take my glasses off.  I don't want to see what people are looking at.   I don't want to be worrying about what people think.

I try to "dance as if no one were watching," so that I don't lose the magic of what we are feeling -- just the two of us --  Tinker Bell and I, dancing on a dime.

Another great "small spaces" video clip:

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Nighthawks: Tangueros who pass on the Right

This is NOT a collision but close embrace airborne tango

Tangueros collide.  Cars collide.  Airplanes collide.  Birds don't.  Or do they?

Well, we all know that birds do collide into windows, right?  Because they cannot see windows.  And I collide into people who pass on the right on the outside lane of dance, especially when my partner is a tall woman because I cannot see.  Men who pass on the right are "Night Hawk Tangueros."   In some respect tango dancers are very much like birds.  Not enough, but there are some similarities.  We are doing pretty well, and maybe even better than birds, given the task at hand.

Milonga movement together by outsiders looks harmonious -- like birds flying in a swarm.  As non-bird beings, we have no idea how birds are pissing each other off by getting too close or brushing up to each other.  We, as outsiders, have no idea about the peloton of birds.  Who knows?  Birds may be like a "flock" of le Tour de France cyclists.  Very dangerous, aggressive and not at all like most tangueros.  Or so we would hope.

The other thing is that birds of a feather flock together.  Ever see of swarm of sparrows changing direction with a few pelicans?  Tangueros have all types of birds flying in one swarm.  We are not birds of a feather. We are even more amazing than birds, I think!

Tango Birds (the abbreviated list):
Pelicans:  Tango Nuevo dancers need more room and flap around a lot more.
Eagles: Salon close embrace make a V-shape in order to do some cool maneuvers.
Song birds:  Milongueros tweeting around in a little space, loving the "feeling" of being a bird.
Mocking birds:  Sitting down at the tables and talking about all the other birds who are flying.
Night Hawks:  Tangueros passing on the right on the outside line of dance (also called, "bats-out-of-hell").
Wise Owls:  The man stalled out on the milonga floor explaining his wisdom to a new tanguera.  (Birds staying in any one spot for too long leave droppings, so watch your step.)
Chickens:  Tango lovers on sofas, watching "Dancing with the Stars."  Birds that do not fly, but are birds.

Wouldn't it be great if were all the same kind of bird?  It's never going to happen, so do your very best.  Collisions do happen, but lets hope that it is rare.

 If you do ever shoot a Night Hawk, be sure to do a slow barbecue.  They are really tough.

Photo:  See for great professional photos.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

When tango is NOT therapeutic

Walking from the brain's perspective.  It's more than exercise

When is tango not therapeutic?

Tango cannot be everything or used to help you through everything.

Tango may need some help!  If you are suffering from depression, insomnia, obsessions, anxiety, then tango actually can be a problem if you rely on it as your only method of therapy.

You may need medication, counseling and a combination of other activities rather than large doses of the thing that seems to help the most -- tango.   Any ONE therapeutic intervention by itself may be counter-productive.  For example, taking medication alone for insomnia may mask the problem and bring no longterm solution.  All studies show that psychotropic medications work best when in taken in conjunction with counseling.  I would add to counseling, "getting out and living life, including dancing"!  So it is with tango.  What other resources need to be taken with your dose of tango?

As a therapist, working at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, I have been suggesting "self-care" to soldiers using bi-lateral stimulation to the brain through walking, more specifically -- a "tango walk," a graceful, contra-body walk.  Many of my patients have PTSD.

Walking has a long history of helping people cope.  People who walk over five miles a day are far healthier than those who do less.  Most of the research misses why they are healthier and happier.  Is it just exercise?  Maybe the brain is a lot happier with the stimulation that left/right repetition-through-walking provides.  A happy brain helps the whole body to thrive.  Walking makes us happier, more serene, more focused.  Just ask a meditating, walking Buddhist monk!  Or the many prophets who met or pondered their calling on a walk.  Tango is essentially a walk -- especially millonguero style tango.

 Maybe you decided whom to marry or what career course to take while on a walk.  This walk creates through the feet bi-lateral stimulation.  Now that you know HOW to walk from dancing tango, try the "walking-solution," but now using the graceful, contra-body walk you have learned via tango.  And watch out!  Fireworks!

A graceful walk decreases depression, helps with balance, helps the mind sort out stresses and obsessions.  Who hasn't experienced that?  Great brain research is proving what we already know.  The brain that has gone out for a walk looks different afterwards.  The negative ions of fresh air (which the brain loves) and dopamine release are all part of exercise, but also this comes, and maybe even mainly comes, from the the bi-lateral stimulation of the brain (the left/right repetition of the feet hitting the ground) while the brain is doing it main work -- adaptation to its environment.  Runners are not the only ones with a "high" provided by this bi-lateral simulation to the brain.  If "exercise" were the most important element in getting high through bi-lateral stimulation through movement, runners would be happier than tango dancers.  The "tanguero's high" beats runner's high hands down.  I speak with authority here: I have run 14 marathons.

So my soldier clients report that they can now "walk out" anger, frustration and even anxiety by walking.  They seemed to be more grounded too, meaning that flashbacks are more in control.  Many wounded soldiers need more exercise; so going for walks is a great "side effect."  Aren't you glad that they are doing this rather than going for a ride in their big trucks to work out anger?  Also, most soldiers suffering from PTSD-like symptoms need to get up and out, instead of the common avoidance of everything and everyone outside their apartment.  A graceful walk alone or with someone they love is a great resource.  Now imagine walking and holding that person!  Did I say "fireworks" for just walking?  A walking embrace is exactly what people are talking about when they talk about the "addictive" quality of tango. 

A future post will address what happens when the power of touch and music are added to the walk.

Again, tango is not automatically therapeutic, but often is.  In some cases, I suppose it could be just an escape, or even feel somewhat like an "addiction."  Tango can be counter-productive, but it cannot be an addiction.*   Mostly, tango is a very positive, therapeutic element in my life.  I suppose that if you are reading this, tango probably has been therapeutic in yours as well.

*Tango is never "addictive" (which is a terrible misuse of words).  However tango can be an avoidance behavior.  Here are some thoughts on this subject:  "Tango is not an addiction, Part I / Part II" (links below).

Note: The above photo is from a "how to" website on Yoga walking, which underscores the message here, although misses the point about the role of bi-later stimulation to the brain.  Please visit this link.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The very last tanda (poem)

A gift from a freind:         "Tangeros"  by Charlie Homberg

The Very Last Tanda

I promised her La Cumparsita.

I searched for her frantically
  with my eyes when I heard
  the call for "last tanda!"

I surprised myself with my panic.
I had to dance with her.
I knew it would be our last time ever.
Then she would be gone.
And who knows if she'd ever return?

When I found her, my face was relieved,
Like when a father finds a missing child.
We both shared looks of relief
That silently embarrassed us both.
I held her, melting into her embrace.
I smelled her hair one last time,
And wanted to break the silence
To ask what fragrance it was,
But I knew it was just her scent,
Not something from a dainty bottle
That I could buy to capture her essence,
And hide it in a drawer in her absence.

I could feel her heart pound,
And I wondered if she were okay.
I wasn't.  I would be over too soon.

The music pulled us even closer,
And we moved as one.
The last ever dance drew out
Each second, each step
As precious as life itself.

"This probably will be the last time,"
I told myself.
Until tomorrow, that is --
When we would dance again
As if it were our last.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Men: Don't let another man lead her

One man, one woman...and tango.  ¡Basta!

Last night Maxi Gluzman taught before the milonga at Eastern Market in DC.  As much as I loved his class and used a few of his concepts at the milonga, I never let him lead my tanguera for the rest of the night.  He taught a very tasty milonguero step that added to what I have been enjoying lately:  Namely, walking two steps to her one (when the music calls for it), but he added the idea of having the man's two steps to be syncopated to her one step.*  Later, after the class, Maxi was no longer leading my partner.  Maxi was off dancing with another woman.

Why let another man into the private space between you and your partner?  If I were to dance just a step in spite of the music, then I would have been allowing Maxi to lead my partner.  When the music leads a step, then another man is no longer leading.  Make sense?

Dancing just steps, however, happens all too much at milongas.  Men learn a bunch of things in a class, and then they lead what another man led (or taught) in a class without the music dictating that it makes sense.  Now we have a threesome.  Women do automatic things too -- so we now have way too many invitations of other people into our private space.**

The solution to this is to stop leading.  And of course stop allowing another man (or woman) to jump into the mix.  The music leads.  Period.  Women who listen to the music, go on a wonderful journey with me.  I am not forced to lead them.  Musically and metaphorically speaking, I am in my role (giving the "tone" of movement), and if she stays in her role (being the "rest" of movement), the music can now lead.  If I didn't know better (that music leads both men and women), I would say to my lady after a magical tanda:  "Wow, you are really a great leader."  Just because I did things I had never done before and our movement was so unique and wonderful, that does not make her a leader.  This is just as true for men.  The music leads.  IF we let it.  If a woman tells me I led well, I try to say: "We heard the music, and it led us so wonderfully. ¿No?"  But this often goes over their heads, because the usual analogy for tango is officer/soldier (leader/follower).  Sad.  But true.  They look at me as if I said something in Norwegian with a Chinese accent. 

You do not have to be a musicologist or know which orchestra is playing.  Your body will know that something different is happening if you allow it to happen.  Please tell me I am not the only one.  Haven't you too noticed that sometimes it seems that tangueros/as are dancing IN SPITE of the music.  And at the moment I am writing about tango not salsa, which is notoriously a patchwork of cool moves, having nothing to do with the music.  [Aside: I dance salsa and love it.  It doesn't have to be that way, but it too often is just a patchwork of moves.]  Tango is indeed generally danced improvisational in harmony with the music, but sometimes I fear that this will be lost eventually.  Please don't say, "That will never happen."  Churches are full of liturgies because the improvisational art in many traditions was lost centuries ago.  Baroque music was basically improvisational -- an improvisational art form that is all but lost.  Even the art of Jazz is often just read from sheet music without a moment of improvisation.  Ouch!

I don't want to give up hope. Lack of musicality may be a beginner problem.  Well, it is.  Some beginners have been dancing for well over 10 years. Recently I saw a video of world championships for tango in Buenos Aires.  Oh the horror!  My mouth dropped open and I went into a moment of depression:  I beheld experienced dancers who swept across the floor before the judges, mostly doing "wonderful" flowing movements no matter what was being played in a series of thee songs.  I was horrified.  The music was suggesting much different moves and stops, but few were listening.  I guess that what distinguished the winners in that competition.  They were being led by the music.  

Let me share a transformational moment in my tango development that I nearly had forgotten until this moment.  In the summer of 2009, I was away from home, and I decided I would go to local milonga near the airport.  Because of not knowing anyone, a first song of a tanda had me dancing very simply.  At the time I thought it was especially funny how I danced incredibly straight forward, but musically.  At the song's end the tanguera pulled back and said, "That was incredible. No one dances like that here!"  This really was a transformational moment in my tango development that a woman would be so astounded at my dancing when it was not only super simple but absolutely "dialed in" musically.  The MUSIC is really incredible.  

Are we allowing the most wonderful leader, the music, to lead?   One man, one woman...and tango.  That's enough!

*The two to one rhythm is usually her on the bass and the man on a marching bandoneón or pizzicato violins playing straight eights.  He taught that she would stay on the bass but the man is on 1e// + 2e// + 3e// (assuming 4/4 time), and the last she cross in unison to the man.  Very nice, Maxi! 

**The theme of this article is only metaphorical of allowing another person into your relationship.  Before my comment box, email and Facebook comments get slammed full of objections, let me suggest that , of course, speaking metaphorically is problematic.  Influence of other people is normal and accompany us everywhere, including our most intimate spaces.  I was just trying to get your attention. :-)

Photo credit:

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

If I die at the Milonga: DNSM Instructions

If you work for a hospital, as I do, you may have heard about DNR instructions (do not resuscitate).  Some people have a written contract to be able to die in peace without so-called "heroic means" being used to continue their lives.

I do not have DNR instructions; however, I do have DNSM 
instructions.  "Do NOT Stop the Milonga" instructions.  

This is what I mean
A milonga DJ regretted continuing a milonga after a dear member of the community fell down and nearly died of a stroke at a milonga.  He regretted that he had "the show go on."  I felt that my friend had done more good than he might know.  I recommended that he not regret for a moment that he continued with the milonga.

I have seen two deaths in two different tango communities and tears come to my eyes when I consider how in both cases the tango community came to the aid and comfort of those most bereaved.  But in both cases, the widower and the widow kept dancing, being held, and weeping on each others' cheeks to the music.

I think those who continued to dance right after a tragic event enables them to process their grief and continue life in a walking embrace. The last funeral I went to was for an 19 year-old boy of a colleague at work.  I had nothing to say to his mother.  I just hugged her and wept.

If I die on the floor of a milonga, this is my desire:  Someone please announce:   

"Mark, has made it clear that he wanted to die dancing.  He has got his wish.  His second wish is that we all continue dancing in celebration of his and our own lives."  

Then a few friends will already know to look in my coat pocket for these words, written on a folded, worn piece of paper:  

"For those who are upset by my sudden, dancing-into-heaven death, you may need to walk this out.  I hope you will hug someone you love and dance with them as if you may never get the chance again.  This is tango and this is life.  Maybe we can all learn about how each tanda is sacred and each soul we dance with, a gift.  And perhaps we can all ponder what it truly means to be in the moment with not only our partner but everyone in our community."

These are my DNSM (Do-Not-Stop-the-Milonga) instructions. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tango you can Inject $25

Secret ingredients from Buenos Aires                                        Photo M.Word 

Okay, so I was stupid.  I couldn't go to the milonga last night, so I bought this product:

Tango Solution
100% guarantee:

  • Increases a feeling of elation as if you were around friends.
  • Increases awareness of fine music.
  • Connects you to your primal being, the only mammal that moves to music.
  • Provides a feeling as if you had been hugged by lots of friends.
  • Feelings of mastery of life may result after only three injections.
  • Decreases and often eliminates depression.
The package said that the ingredients came from an actual Milonga snack and water table in Buenos Aires. Also the the makers claimed that real milongueros stood around and blessed the water with lots of laughter and social interaction at a milonga.  The solution was mixed by placing it right next to the speakers that played a wide variety of authentic tango music.

I am too embarrassed to ask for my money back.  What was I thinking?  In my own defense, it was only an experiment to see if I could inject tango.

Nope.  Only tango at a milonga works.