Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What to say to a non-dancing partner

Remembering who you once were is the task of growing up

I think that if I could write a book on how to motivate a non-dancing partner to dance, and the book actually brought people to accompany their dancing partner to regular dancing, that I could rest and prepare for death.  I would have accomplished more than most winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. 

Men and women reunited in an embrace on the dance floor because of something I had written.  Wow!  What a great life accomplishment that would be.

Surely there are many who divorce over this issue too, but many people I know learn to dance together with their spouse, and then one just drops out.  Meanwhile the dancing spouse goes on to love it and love the dance community.  But this is tragic.  Dancing is joy shared and at its base what men and women as couples do best.  It is playful, elegant, and perfect communication without words.

So I will address one aspect for your non-dancing partner.  I hope this helps:  Kindly suggest that dancing is the true youThe one you forgot about or lost as a child.  Speak for yourself, not for them.
Did you know that moving to music is one thing we humans are driven to do, but other mammals are not moved to get up and dance as we are?  Human beings are unique among mammals for this. We know that music affects animals, but please speak up and tell me if you have ever seen another mammal dancing in the way you have seen people spontaneously dance! My children went "motorically wild" with music. Have you seen baby animals moving to Motown music lately? Animals can be taught to walk to music or "dance" but it is only the product of behavior modification.

On the other hand, through negative behavior modification people can also lose their desire to dance or move. Teen boys, for example, in America might think it is not cool or out of fear of public ridicule/rejection avoid moving to the music (unless drunk perhaps). Being worried about what others thought was my teen-years experience, and now it is my sons' experiences in growing up in Europe. So, ladies, tango may be the first music that some men are allowing to revive their core as a human being! Be patient with them.

 Fear or actual rejection for moving to music is a very strong emotional current for many men, including myself. If you knew me, that may be hard to believe. Even after dancing many Latin dances and now tango, it still smarts to hear the criticism behind my back about my dancing. (I am only told this because the "informants" love the way I dance, and they think that I must "know" that this rejection is groundless or simply male jealousy.)

So moving to music -- eventually even in public -- is both a wonderful thing to re-awaken the core of being a human being, but also it is a way to assert your grown up self that wants to recover what was lost along the way:  Your essential self as a dancing soul, reborn to what you once knew as a child but have forgotten.

"Ye must become as children in order to inherit the kingdom of heaven."

Photo credit:

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Tango Music: It grows on you

Tango music should not grow on you ... but it does for most dancers.  Why?  I just recently figured this out.

Imagine that you were just walking along on a vacation in Holland, and you stood there at an outdoor concert and you see this orchestra and hear this music for the first time:

Chances are that you would say, "What in the heck is that? I love it. It's amazing." What you probably would NOT says is "that music might grow on me and I might like it after I understand it better and learn to dance it."  Do me a favor and listen to the last moments of the video again.  Listen for the crowd experiencing what you probably never did:  Absolute awe of a type of music they had never heard before.

Let me introduce to you the same sextet but by themselves.  Had you heard Sexteto Canyengue live or on a good sound system you would have had your socks knocked off.  (Note that the video clip includes different moments of their concert and is not just one song.)

I bought the above live recording while I lived in Germany. I was amazed. I love the musicianship of this orchestra. Go to YouTube directly and you will see that many people do not like it (as of today 13 "likes" and 7 "dislikes.")  Many love the old orchestras, evidently. I do too.  But not all of this recorded music is faithful to what the musicians were playing.  DJs need to be picky about fidelity of the music.  Playing poorly recorded music makes it hard to hear, dance and appreciate. Many DJs never bought a recording of tango in their lives. How do modern musicians make a living if we do not appreciate them with our purchases of new/old music?

In talking with a tanguera about this phenomenon, she pointed out that once you learn a dance that belongs to the music, the dance changes the way you appreciate the music. This is less true for me. I was a musician and was introduced to nearly all music as a listerner/musician. I learned salsa after buying a book on Afro-Cuban bass. I told myself that I had to learn how to dance this music. But she is right -- I learned to play jazz, but after I learned how to dance swing, I became a better jazz musician. Dance does a lot to enhance how we hear music.  I am sure that learning to dance tango has been the most important reason I have learned to love it "through the back door."  Only recently did I realize why tango did not hit me like hearing reggae for the first time, which just floored.  Scratchy records with absolutely no bass for reggae would not have had me amazed or wanting to hear more.

No music slowly has become a strong favorite for me, and I love most everything which is done well from the start.  Only tango has exponentially grown to be now not only a favorite but clearly my favorite music.  As a musician I was almost always the unusual member of the band because I had the widest collection of music -- listening to Mozart, Brahms, Bach, and Miles Davis on the way to a gig in my van with fellow rock band members.  They thought it was weird, but it was my van so they had to listen.  That was music appreciation 101 for a captive audience!  It started to grow on them, especially Bach turned all the way up.

I have heard people say that at first tango sounded old fashioned.  This too is only a perception that starts from scratchy old-sounding recordings, I believe. Young people who listen to a well-mastered tango might think it is something brand new!  I have shared it with young soldiers, and the love it.  My children love tango, but I would never give them some old scratchy classic.   Fidelity is everything in two areas of life:  Music and marriage -- being faithful to the original. That makes playing poor recordings tantamount to adultery, don't you think?   :-)

DJs often have a collection of music that was given to them, and maybe in a MP3 format, taking yet again a level of fidelity from it. Tango played by excellent present day musicians, recorded in a digital studio and played on excellent speakers blow ANYONE away. It is incredible. So the below list of orchestras is great, but do not be shy about finding new recordings and helping present day musicians who are faithful to the old classics.

I am suggesting that we support new recordings of great classics. Also, below as a part of appreciating and understanding the music of tango, I am including a list of some of the best know orchestras. Each has it's own flavor and interpretation. Each should cause the the dancers to alter the way they dance, just as each orchestra might alter the way you feel, make love, sit in your car or whatever while listening to music.

If you heard rock 'n roll for the first time, and thought it was cool, wouldn't you be happy to have someone tell you about a band called Led Zepplin or the Beatles?

Here is a good list of the best known orchestras but don't forget the new recordings of the old stuff and totally new tangos being written!

Angel D’Agostino

Alfredo De Angelis

Juan D’Arienzo

Rodolfo Biagi

Miguel Calo

Francisco Canaro

Julio De Caro

Alberto Castillo

Lucio Demare

Edgardo Donato

Roberto Firpo

Osvaldo Fresedo

Pedro Laurenz

Francisco Lomuto

Orquesta Tipica Victor

Ciriaco Ortiz

Astor Piazzolla

Osvaldo Pugliese

Enrique Rodriguez

Carlos Di Sarli

Ricardo Tanturi

Anibal Troilo

Friday, March 18, 2011

TOGA Party Suggestions

TOGA Party Suggestions

True tangueros are not male elephants.  Well, most are not.

I am not talking about size or smell or the amount they eat at the snack table.

Male elephants are loners.  The bulls go about life just finding the next "dance" and fighting other bulls.  True tangueros, I believe, are not bulls.  Female elephants like bulls; tangueras do not -- at least the tangueras I know.  So let's cut the bull.

Recently, a tanguera friend told me of a problem in a small community I've never visited had a "bull" fighting over territory.  I will give him an alias name to protect the innocent:  Bull E. (the older, experienced dancer) was hassling a the less experienced dancer.  Evidently Bull E. felt the younger tanguero was using too much space on the dance floor and told him so.  Ironically, Bull E. is notoriously all over the floor, zooming between lanes and then ends up in the middle doing super-cool-look-at-me stage moves.  Now if the younger dancer joined the bull at his own level, what would we have?  Two "bulls" having a fight to the death.  You know the center of the floor is really not used very much; so why not have it out there?  Make it quick, of course, during a cortina.  Or maybe not -- on second thought.

Here is my suggestion for "cutting the bull out of your community," if fighting to the death is contrary to local laws and codes of ethics:  Especially small communities need a TOGA party (TOGA = Tangueros Only Group & Association).

I imagine a TOGA party could be a sub-party at every milonga, but I think that an informal men's group could be very helpful.  Women have been great at defining their role in modern society, but I feel that we men are way behind on defining what it means to be a man in the modern world (now that we fully acknowledge that women have brains).  The tango community is a great place to learn what it is to be a man with a brain in a world with women who also have brains. I am not being sarcastic here, really.  In some ways, tango simplifies male energy and female energy much better than in modern life.  Female energy -- if you have read any of my earlier blogs -- is not subservient or submissive but essential for male energy to co-create and truly dance.  Male energy is ... well, what is it? That is what TOGA party would be for.  I mostly know what male energy is by what it is not:   Male energy is NOT fully to blame (as some teachers say) if things are not working.  Male energy is not just talking to a submissive energy that is doing all the listening.  It is not JUST pushing, pulling/pulling/indicating (marcando), dragging (arrastrando).  My best guess is that the male energy is part of a magical mix of yin/yang, male/female, thesis/synthesis or the musical note/musical pause that creates something far too complex and magical to name in human language.  We men could be far better about figuring out what it truly means to be a man in the modern world and that includes in the modern world of tango, which is full of very talented tangueras.

Mark's TOGA Party Online
In a sense this blog is my TOGA Party with many other men.  Today, a tanguero wrote me from across the world to say that he discovered my blog a few months ago, and he has read nearly every entry since 2009 on my blog.  He and I are not elephants, loners fighting over territory and tangueras, but finding connection as two men trying to figure out the magic of tango and how it affects our lives.  He sent me an email to cheer me on.  Welcome to the Online TOGA Party, Tanguero!

What do you say, Tangueros?  Shouldn't our Tangueros Only Group & Association should have a vision statement and tenets?   Here's a rough draft (I'd like your ideas too):

TOGA Vision Statement:  Group members help define their role in the community to make it supportive of new members and a sanctuary for those who have long taken part in the community.  Tangueros play an active role with tangueras to help the community to grow in it cohesiveness.

Tenets for Social Animal Citizenship as a TOGA member:
  • Introduce yourself not just to tangueras but also tangueros.  Get to know them.
  • Recognize how other men influence your dance and actively appreciate them rather than competing with them.  (The tango floor may look like a race track but the competitive mind is usually the loser on the social dance floor.)
  • TOGA members are protective of the vulnerable partner (bare legs, open shoes, sometimes with her eyes closed) and are working with other Tangueros to keep the entire flow of the milonga safe and fun.  [Tanguero=the role not one's gender.]
  • Cutting the Bull:  TOGA members do not participate in BS, which includes aggressive posturing, territorialism, dangerous moves, racing through a tight dance floor, or trumpeting (excessive talking-while-dancing).
  • Let's talk about the biggest pile of BS:  TOGA members will pull a bull aside and gently ask him to join the human race.  Here is the worst kind of bull and his M.O. --   1.  A novice tanguera arrives in the community.  2.  He uses his intermediate to advanced tango skills to become her lover,  and then lastly, number 3.  When their affair comes to an end (as it has over and over), she is then forever gone from the community and probably tango, eschewing the beauty of tango as a dangerous addiction.  Her disappearance is a huge loss for her and the entire community.  TOGA members do not tolerate this BS, nor should tangueras.  But, Tangueros, why should the women have the job of confronting this bull!?  If a tanguero and tanguera fall in love with each other from the community, that is a different thing altogether.  People somewhat established in the tango community are "consenting adults." But seducing novices over-and-over is not okay at all.  Every larger community has at least one of these bulls.  TOGA members are watching you!
A note to the ladies:  
TOGA is for men but it is truly all about those whom we adore -- you!  Tangueros are not exclusively men either, but those who dance in this role.  Many readers of this blog are women.  I am not excluding you.  Women lead the way in most tango communities with their own Tangueras Only Groups (TOGs).  These groups bind together the tango community, enhancing the cohesiveness of the community by developing solidarity at several levels.  Ladies believe me, you don't need a bull in the milonga china shop, and the TOGA Party may be the best way to cut out the bull entirely.  I am not BS'ing you.  :-)

Photo Credit:  Joanne Tullis 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Imagine a Milonga with only ONE Leader!

A milonga with one leader would be the best milonga you have ever gone to.  This is visionary.  It won't happen in my lifetime.

I am imagining in this visionary milonga that music is the only true leader.  Sure, men have their masculine role but would not be telling woman how to move -- movement dictators.  And woman would have their role, allowing multiple possibilities and new ideas "between" each impulse the man provides.  I said "visionary," okay, but this is what I try to do with every tanda.

March, I have promised myself, will be musicality month.   This article will presents the same piece of music (given above) which I will focus on later, and in that article I will explain what I call the "Di Sarili clave."  If you are curious what "la clave" is in Latin American music, including tango, please stay tuned.  The idea is to know better what the music is saying in order to allow it to lead you.

But for now, let's go back to the foundation of all musicality:

Men don't lead.  Music does.  Music gives the impulse for humans to move through rhythm, harmony and melody, the holy trinity of music.  Men do not give this impulse, unless the woman is deaf and feels the music only through the music he hears, which is a beautiful possibility.  But until now I have never danced with a woman who is truly deaf.  I have danced with many women who have been unwittingly trained to be deaf to the music.  The training comes from poor teaching and the experience of men who are mechanically constructing what teachers have taught them and hoping it will fit into the music somehow.  Shame on teachers who teach steps.  Music teaches steps.

Women can have this mantra of freedom:  "There are two types of men in the world:  Those who dance to the music and those who do not.  As I dance with a man I will discern which type of man he is.  If he does not dance to the music, then I will let him lead."  So it is true that some men must lead what they do because the music is superfluous.  Let him lead.

Men can have this mantra for freedom:  "There are two types of women in the world.  Those who allow the music to lead them and those who rely on the man to lead.   I will "listen" to her movement, and if she hears the music we will dance to the music's lead.  If she relies just on me, then I must be patient with the delay in her steps, caused by following me and not the music."  If a woman does not feel the Di Sarli clave, for example, then I cannot easily dance to the music.  She does not have to know what this is, but she must feel it.

A discussion of this can change things, but ONLY at a práctica.  I used to keep dancing with these women, but it becomes such a chore to have my main job not as a dancer but as her Musik-Übersetzer.  I will eventually avoid her eyes at a milonga.  She hurts my right ankle when she does not dance to the music.

Ladies:  I think there is a cultural belief that men often do not hear the music.  Do you know how hard it is to have the responsibility to translate the pulse of the music, be aware of my own feet and yours too, especially since most have been taught that the music is not the leader?  This is a good research question about gender differences and hearing the music.  With training women can be the less skillfull of the two sexes if she has been trained NOT to listen to the music.  And this is the problem:  The majority of tango teachers teach women to rely on the man to lead.  Please do NOT give yourself over to his lead.  Give yourself over to the music first.  Dance for the music first; your partner second.  Have you ever noticed that people start dancing after the music starts?  This is a good indication that we dance because of the music not because of our partner's lead.  Obvious, ¿no?

I can understand why teachers tell men to lead and women to follow.  But sorry.  They are sadly mistaken.  They have abbreviated an important step.  In Argentina, perhaps, one can assume that the women not only have heard tango all their lives but that they are truly listening.  Not even in Argentina is this 100% true.

IF WOMEN are listening to the music men can now do other things.  They make an intention.  The great tanguera then moves in such a way that allows him to create things within the music.  This is the male/female biological model as well, isn't it?

Paradigm Shift
What happens when there is a philosophical change -- that the MUSIC leads?  This is my experience:  I dance with a woman at a práctica.  I mention that I want her to own the music and allow it to lead her.  I then see a huge change in the way she dances.  It is important, then, that dancers understand philosophically that allowing the music to be the lead makes my job easier.  I can have that philosophy and that will help, but only when I have a tanguera who allows the music to be the lead, then  and only then can I truly dance.  And only then is she free to truly dance.

Ladies, please read "The End of the Lead is Near."  Click here for the link.  I am not suggesting that you leave the feminine engergy of your role.  A man gives the inpulse (the note) and you give the pause (the rest).  This is the musical analogy.

No step should be taken in tango unless it is led -- by the music.  

Thursday, March 3, 2011

My Old Guitar (poem)

My Old Guitar

I played my guitar to soothe my soul,
Playing a song I wrote for her.
For tangos we once had danced.
For the love we once had shared.

The seasons of my life are songs
I have played on my old guitar --
For those who have died,
For those I have loved,
For those who left me or I them
Along my vagabond pilgrimage on earth.
My guitar soothes my aching soul.
It is the Balm of Gilead for my heart.

I built a fire for the mood of this rite,
To sing a goodbye song for her,
And burn a letter to her with my hope
That the smoke might carry away
My burning message to her.

The fire cracks and I hear a voice:
"Take this in your hands,"
     the form coming up from the fire says.
The guitar that he gives me glistens.
Its form hypnotizes me and others.
As I play crowds of people surround me.
The music throbs out a primal chant.
Each time I play something fast, they cheer.
Somehow I perform this music I cannot feel --
Like a dance in shoes that are not mine and mere steps;
Like a tango composed with my feet but without my signature.

No matter.
The crowd is yet larger than before.
Cheering. Hands in the air lilt right and left.
Candles waving in their hands.
The host watching roars its delight
Of the soulless music my fingers produce.
As I stop they cheer all the more.

The firey figure grows larger and recites this incantation:
"Give over your old guitar and I will give you a name!
 Give me your instrument of solace for a life of fame!
 The co-creator of songs, for this one which glistens.
 Its mystic strings will perform and all will listen!

Without delay I gave him back The-One-that-Glistens.
"I would rather perform for the tanguera I love,"
I tell him, "And write songs of love from my heart
Or songs of hurt for my heart than to perform for millions."

The fire cracks and the form fades with his guitar.
And my old guitar and I return to our mourning
For the tangos she and I once danced,
For the tangos we composed,
Written with our feet and hearts,
On the parchment of hardwood,
And signed together at the bottom.

Photo Credits:   

Dick Lowthian  Old Guitar.

Burning love letter