Saturday, April 30, 2011

Psychiatry on the Dance Floor

Is your movement a goal or a process?

Diálogo Tanguero 
Psychiatry on the Dance Floor
Prologue:  Lately, I have had wonderful discussions with tangueros and tangueras all over the world and so I hope to bring their wisdom to Tango-Beat.  This is the first Diálogo Tanguero (Tango Dialog) of  what I hope will be many to come.  My conversation below is with a forensic psychiatrist in one of the most populated cities in the US.  Over a cup of coffee, she told me about incidences that influenced her from her childhood, and how these influenced her pursuit of happiness through tango.  An earlier post “Tango Start Line” was about dancing for only your partner and not competing or dancing for the onlookers.  This dialog grew out that article.


What brought you to tango?


I grew up in Colombia, and I listened to tangos all the time.  My siblings thought I was strange because they were listening to rock ‘n roll, but I was influenced by our father who constantly would listen to tangos and boleros.  I loved these classic tangos.  I knew all the words to them by heart.


You are a forensic psychiatrist, and you are summoned internationally in your work.  No one would ever guess that at night you come out as a tanguera!  And I am sure that few would ever guess you are a tanguera aficionada when you present papers to audiences, appear in court for victims or that you are treating patients.  My experience is that when we dance you are absolutely 100% connected to me and to the music.


At work I present myself as plain as I can, with little makeup and very conservatively dressed.  Tango lets me be as feminine as I want to be, and that has really been wonderful for me.  Also, as a child I always knew that one day I would be dancing tango.  The reason for this is that my father always listened to tangos, and I have been listening to them since the time I was inside of my mother’s womb.


You told me that you guide your tango teachers away from technique, choreography, and competition.  Instead, you are interested in the simple passion of the music and tango as a social dance.  Tell me why.


I think I learned how unimportant competition is early on.  I want to dance it for me and my partner, not what others think or see.  When I was 12 or 13, I participated in an all girl’s bicycle competition in my neighborhood’s club.  My cousins Gladys and Nubia, who were 6 and 8 years older than I was at the time, also participated.  In the middle of the competition, a girl ahead of me tripped over something and fell off the road into grass and mud.  Behind her I fell with others.  My cousin Gladys, came to help me to get back on my bike.  I still remember telling her, “You shouldn't stop for me!  You could win the competition.”  She answered, “It doesn't matter; the important thing is that we are all going to make it to the end. . . .Who cares about being the winner or not.”
On life's track: Against others or with others?

Since that day, Gladys became my favorite cousin, and what she taught me that day stayed forever with me.  Approximately two and a half years ago, when I started taking tango lessons, I remember telling my first tango instructor, “I just want to learn to do it correctly, but overall I want to enjoy it.  I don’t want to compete.”  I don’t plan to be a tango instructor, though if one day it I teach, it would be to help others less advanced than me to get better.  Being on a stage in order to have ovations from the public is not my goal.  All I care about is to dance this music with all my heart, because I love it.  


But you have through your passion learned good technique, I think.  I danced with you when you first started and you have really become very good in a short time.


Well, thanks.  But I think that I have learned quicker because I never forgot about dancing just for my partner.  With my teachers, I have had that very clear, that my wish is to be a good dancer, but technically good dancers often are sitting.  My hope has been that anytime that I attend a milonga, I’ll be asked to dance all the time, not because I am the best on the dance floor, but because men will be able to tell that I have passion for tango and I dance it with my soul.   So, my hope is always to be dancing to the end, like in my bike competition, where I did not win, but I was able to finish despite the bumps on the road.


Well, I feel this when I dance with you.  It doesn’t take a forensic psychiatrist to analyze this!  You have rediscovered your passion for tango that you knew as a girl.  Now, you are dancing to it, but it has been moving your heart for a long time.  What a great story, María!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tango Dreams

I have dreams from time to time in which I fly.  I love flying.  It is so wonderful it wakes me in my delight and concern that it will end too soon.  Before I wake, I feel as if I must remember how this works.  Why couldn't I fly before?  Can I do it again?  All these thoughts make me lose elevation and I must land.  Upon landing, I wake, sad that it was a dream.

Tonight, I know that I will not wake up from these dreams anymore.  I will fly and not fear that I will forget because starting today, I will remember the fact that I can fly.  In my dreams I can -- every night, even before I sleep.  With my passion to fly, I am not limited by worry about my technique of flying.  Before writing this, I never realized the antidote to this sad ending to my dream.  But now I know that I will be free to fly without worry of waking to be disappointed.

The reason I will no longer be awakened from flying is something I learned from working with combat vets.   I will not go into it right here, but one of the single most rewarding things of my work as a therapist with soldiers is that although they had nightmares every night for years, with a new nightmare mitigation technique, the horrific dreams suddenly start to disappear.  Eventually they stop having to use toxic medications to induce and maintain sleep.  It is all about embracing the producer and director of your dreams -- you.  The producer is the raw passion of the film making what we do in our head both asleep and awake and is the limbic part of our brain.  The director is the technique, the cerebral cortex that tames passion and at its very best, makes passion sublime.  This concept has been around for centuries as "sublimation" -- that what makes passion sublime.  Unfortunately, the word "sublimation" has changed in its meaning to become "stuffing your passion."

Perhaps you will ask, what use is this if you cannot really fly?  Mentally when I fly, you will see that I am more serine and happy.  Being more serine and happy has multiple uses, don't you think?

I now have the ending to dream, and it has a wonderful ending:  I fly without worrying about technique because my passion got me to take flight, and hard-earned technique will follow because I am enjoying myself and I am willing to work for the next level.  In other words, passion is what makes us work to have technique that allows us to keep flying higher and longer.

Finding the ending of my stress dream, comes out of my life experience as a tanguero.  This is yet another practical application of what I have learned as a tanguero.  The soaring that tangueros experience all the time is very much like this dream.

I am suggesting that you more assuredly can soar in your practice of the walking embrace, commonly called "tango."   Nightmares have an overly active producer, and tango dancers often have an overly active "director," stealing away the very basis for the creative work of art you are about to paint upon the floor.

Give up the worry about your technique (although that  is very important) and put it into context of art and love!  Tango is an art and much more than that.  It is the art of flying with another person.  The arts hit their highest of highs through technique, but what makes them have the energy to take flight and soar?  It is your passion for art and love.

Let's say that we are both authors.  We write a novel about tango.  We have passion about what we write.  It is important to have good spelling and grammar.  But without our passion we have nothing.

Tango is love -- the love of movement and connection with another.  Let's say that we are lovers.  If were are truly lovers we would love each other with all our hearts and minds, and I would hope that our technique makes it all the better. But without our passion, our technique is nothing.

My best moment in tango is when I hold a woman, no matter how old or young, comely or plain, as the only woman in the world.  There is no technique to open your heart to the transfer of energy between two souls, but technique will help to transform this moment to be sublime.  And when this happens technique seems so important, and I can for a moment believe that technique brought me to this heavenly place.  However after a moment's reflection I will return to my heart:  Passion was what made us take flight, to soar; technique allowed us to fly high and long.

Will you fly with me?  With us?  Try it in your dreams.  But practice it with the soul who has assented to hold you as you go down the wooden path together in this magical, walking embrace, you and I call tango.

For a perhaps more balanced view of technique and it's importance, see this post:

Photo credits:  flying dreamer dancing water.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Tango Start Line

Where are you in the line-up of dancers? How many are ahead of you or behind you?

It does not matter if you are an elite dancer. The great competition is within--and it is a grueling competitive event:  An obstacle course!  The quest is to be the best you can. For dancers I think it is the quest to be able to dance with yourself and with other souls freely -- not merely to be one of the best in the crowd.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How Close Embrace Feels to Penguins

I have heard that penguins like close embrace tango because it simply feels good to be close to another.  This is how it feels to me too.

I am not a zoologist, but a limited study shows that penguins enjoy close embrace tango even if there are height differences with their partner.  Here's some evidence for this assertion:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

High Risk Tango Stocks

Tango-Beat News Release:
High Risk Tango Stocks Crash

I would like you to be your own consumer advocate for what has become a hightly unregulated industry:  Tango.

People are buying High Risk Stocks in risky tango ventures -- thinking that social tango needs the whole floor to oneself as others enjoy watching you.  Commodity Funds in a bag full of steps and combinations.  Mutual Funds with fund managers (teachers) who have a large management fees but with a fund that usually has few dividends in making people feel good about themselves.  I recommend  Bonds:  Bond with the person in front of you and dance with their soul.  Make the tango walk the most important thing you do, and turns will start happening just so you don't bump into your friends, with whom you have also bonded.

First of all, we need to have a way to measure the risk of your investiment by knowing your Mutual Fund Manager, that is, your tango teacher.  We all want quality Mutual Fund Managers in our tango community, but unfortunately some have AUTISM, and you may not even know it!

Never heard of AUTISM?  It's the American Unqualified Tango Instructor's Society Membership.  No one is perfect but you don't want any teacher who has too many qualities for full membership.  My admittedly sarcastic litmus test for AUTISM teachers follows, but I promise at the end to present the solution.  It is remarkable, and NOT my idea.  Also, you will find NOT ONE item below that has anything to do with what you previously might have thought as being as "unqualified" -- such as "lack of experience."

How does your teacher score for AUTISM?   (5 is "very much so" and 0 is "not at all".)  There are eight items. Forty points means full membership and your Tango Mutual Fund is on it's way to being just paper receipts without any value (you give up dancing and your investment was poorly spent time and money).

The AUTISM litmus Test:
  • First and above all:  Make money.  Lots of it.  If someone wants to learn a volcada in a private lesson, don't suggest they need to learn to walk first.  Focus on what they want and it will cost them $560 at minimum to get that volcada, and then they might realize they cannot walk.  Now there is more money to be made!  [5= "very true of my teacher" and 0= "not at all true."]

  • Focus on technique and the science of tango not on the art of tango, after all tango, art and even holding a person's hand are all about technique and have nothing to do with heart-felt connection, right?

  • Focus on making wanna-be stage dancers.  When they finally look good they will feel good not so much about dancing but especially about how they are making money as teachers too!|

  • Criticize lack of talent and slow learners -- their own internal critic will make you feel just like the parent who couldn't be pleased.  Some will stay in your classes because they are used to criticism from their critical parents.  It feel like home to some students!

  • Make sure that everyone knows that your way is the right way/the only way.  Only through you can they know the Way, the Truth, the Light.

  • Use every opportunity to make tango your business (teaching on the dance floor) or doing an exhibition on the social dance floor among social dancers to demonstrate at every opportunity your awesomeness.

  • Make the assumption that being able to dance means being able to teach.  My motto is:  "Isn't that obvious that my greatness touches every aspect of anything I try?"

  • Give them a fish (not a fishing pole)!  Every legitimate tango move must come from some book or secret connection with a particular barrio in Buenos Aires.  No legitimate move could just spontaneously come from the music or the wonderful connection with a partner.  It comes from the Holy Book of Tango Steps, which is written in Hebrew.  You need a priest to translate it into English for you at the reasonable rate of $90 an hour.
There are so many wonderful teachers out there.  Look for one the way a great athlete does -- one that has results, and let those results be in making you feel good about yourself as a social dancer.

Where are these great teachers?  They are out there.  Some are professional and full-time teachers.  But others are just teaching for fun.  YOU are one of them.  Go to prácticas and help beginners, but start with some qualification like, "I am just one person, and each person has their own way."  Or, "This is just how understand what tango is."  Good teachers being omni-present in the tango community is not my idea.  Clay from Portland writes this (I give the link below the quote):

Teachers. The next tricky question [about community building] is who should teach? The answer, along with everyone of your friends, neighbors, and acquaintances that knows the least thing at all about tango! I know this is contrary to everything you've heard and thought about tango, but tango is a folk dance and should be shared and taught by everyone. That's the way it originated, and that's the way it will promulgate. This is not rocket surgery, my friend, and the idea is to have fun and enjoy. Remember, everyone of those people that your neighbor, relative, and clumsy former student starts teaching is one more body brought into the tango community—and probably a body that would never have been there otherwise. Furthermore, once they see you dance and hear what a superior teacher you are, they will all end up as your student anyway.

Please go to his link on community building:
He also has a general page with many resources:

Final Note:  My intent is NOT against good professional teachers.  It's all about BONDS -- connecting to others through tango as a social dance.  Sure, I love the visual effects of professional stage tango dancers, but I often just leave the room and rest at festivals during "show time."  It is truly all about BONDS and not HIGH RISK STOCKS.  Professional teachers are my among my coaches, guides and even my friends.  Find a great professional teacher!  But also learn from every soul who assents to dance with your soul.  That is where you will learn the most about tango.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lovers at First Sound (poem)

Lovers at First Sound

Two vistors at the milonga
Sit at the tables, just to watch.
Their eyes follow a dancing couple,
And whisper,
"Certainly they are lovers.
The way they look at each other
In silence and nod;
How without a word
She follows him out to dance."

He leads her by the hand in silence.
They share a knowing, silent stare.

They come closer and lean together,
Connecting, heart to heart as lovers do.

Watching each others' hands,
They connect as if it were their ritual.

A new phrase in the music suddenly becomes
The movement of two who have become one. 

"Certainly these two are lovers.
Surely, they have danced for years.
Look how their legs entwine,
Their passion!"
The two visitors whisper.

The couple dances a silent conversation, not a word,
They paint a masterpiece of love on the wooden floor,
A mural of their lives together, their passion.
How many times did they practice that --
The perfectly punctuated movements to the the music?

"Surely that must be their favorite song,
Danced a thousand times," she whispers.

And then suddenly -- or so it seems to the visitors –
The dancers stop. . .magically stop with the music.
He leads the third vistor, his dance partner, to her chair.
And the others overhear him say:
 "I so enjoyed dancing with you,
  I hope we can dance again tonight
  and anytime you might come to town!"

"But certainly they were lovers!"
Those watching silently wonder.

And yes,
They were lovers.
For that moment.
For that tango.
Lovers at first sound.

This is a revised poem that originally appeared in November 3, 2009 as my first tango poem on Tango-Beat, titled "The Three Guests."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

If the Cello could play the Violin

If the Cello could play the Violin
What music would he play?

If the Violin could play the Cello,
What song would she first play?
If she could hear his harmony,
What would she sing?

I hear a tango, inspiring mortals to dance.
I see the Cello, painting a canyenge background.
I feel her wet, soft tear
Fall upon the Cello's shoulder.

I hear the Violin recite a sonnet,
A story of love, joy and sorrow,
Told by her four vocal cords with his bow.
I feel his sonorous lows, rocking her,
Her soprano melody playing my heart.

You are that Violin.
I am your Cello.
Let’s play a heavenly tango.
Each other.
For our souls to dance.

Photo Credit:

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Tangueras choose their men like golf clubs

Tangueros I think you will understand this.

Advanced tangueras chose their partner just like any golfer would chose the right club for the task before them.  Is it a long drive?  Are they in the sand pit or on the green?

Similar to a golfer, a tanguera avanzada will choose a putter-milonguero for a transpie milonga.  The 5-iron, the guy in the nice tie and dapper shoes for the vals.  And Mr. Wood, is her driver for long shots.  Perfect for music by Pugliese (here's a link: Osvaldo Pugliese).

This being true, gentlemen, why would you ever get her to respond to a cabeceo* before the music starts?  That would be like using a driver on the wrong part of the course!  She may know that you are great with everything except music from Di Sarli (Carlos Di Sarli); so she is avoiding you only because she doesn't know which club she needs!  

I received an insightful comment from an advanced tanguera, which I have added to the Tango Etiquette Page (CLICK HERE -- it's always in the right margin on my blog).   This is some great advice for both men and women on the cabeceo:

Graduate-level Cabeceo:  Gentlemen, pay attention to this tanguera's advice (Señorita N.) if you feel you are ready for dancing with the more advanced ladies who have different tangueros for every flavor of tango:  "For the cabeceo, the guys should always wait to hear what the music is before looking for a partner.   There are men with whom I would dance a tango or a vals, but never a traspie milonga.  You can acknowledge me as you dance by and then I will know you will will soon look for me.  The porteños do it by raising their eyebrows as they lock eyes.  Men, if you are only dancing with the young and pretty in the sparkly dresses, then you are missing out on some of the best dancers in the room. There is a reason all the young women flock to the milongas with the 70-year old me
n in Buenos Aires.  And it is not because they are tall and good looking, or have a large repertoire of steps.  It is because we old ladies have taught them how to cherish a partner."  

Now you have it gentlemen:  Golf does not mean "Gentlemen Only; Women Forbidden. It means "Girls Only Love Fun."

Give them what they want only after the music starts.

*A cabeceo is a nod of the head to someone who allows eye contact (usually between "sets" [tandas], thus avoiding asking someone to dance who might not wish to.  To see the fuller discussion on this go to:, which has links at the bottom for even more info.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Musicality: the Pulse vs. the Music itself

Preface:  I originally wanted to write about musicality when I started Tango-Beat in 2009.  However, I was distracted by the richness of the psychological aspects of tango, then poetry took over too.  My first thoughts for a tango blog was to do what I had done in Germany and in Austin, TX with Salsa:  I taught percussion to dancers as a way to understand how to dance salsa. Tango has rich rhythms, and has far more diversity of what dancers can do with their bodies than salsa ever will -- as much as I love salsa.  So here it goes...

Just like in medicine:  Let's start with the pulse.  Is there one?

The Pulse is not the Music
Here is something that you may have never considered.  Dancers often dance on a pulse that the musicians are not playing.  Perhaps you have heard Spanish speaking dancers use the word "el compás" for this concept of a steady beat or tempo?

It is common to see people dancing to the music of a canyenge or tango rhythm with 6 notes per measure and the the dancers are taking four steps, only two of which are coinciding with what the musicians are playing.  The musicians are creating this pulse, but are not playing the pulse.  In fact, this is the main difference between dancers and musicians.  Dancers dance on the pulse (like tapping one's foot), but the musicians are only creating the pulse by playing with and around the pulse.

I found the perfect piece of music to convey this concept.  In the following video the bassist creates the sound of a heart beat -- perfect for "the pulse," ¿no?  The musicians come in and play around this pulse, using yet another rhythm that is the essence of tango/canyenge (1**4**7*| 1**4**7*).  We will return to this important rhythm as the essence of tango in a later post.  For now, get the sense of the pulse being mostly what all the musicians are NOT playing, but rather are playing around.  Also when you dance by yourself or with someone start to notice when you are dancing to the pulse versus doing some step that leaves the pulse and does what the musicians do.  I see advanced dancers who rarely leave the pulse.  More about this later, but please believe me that quick-quick-slow is just an extension of the pulse, unless the musicians actually played it.

Enjoy the pulse and notice the musicians playing around the pulse with this first video:

That was easy, right? You felt the pulse and the way the musicians played with and around it, right?

Some homework:  If you watch videos of performances of great tangueros/tangueras, watch when they often receive applause, or even better -- when they do something that moves you emotionally.  This moment is often when the couple has left the pulse and joined the musicians, even if it is briefly.  People talk about the couple's "musicality" mostly when they leave the pulse.

I am going to make this easy by giving you your first video to consider.  Please watch this next video and tap your foot or clap to the pulse of the music. Notice how wonderfully Daniela and Luis sometimes do things that "play around the pulse" and how this brings an artistic value to the beauty of their flowing movements using the pulse.  Also, notice how some sweeping movements follow the violins.  Luis gives Daniela time to play along with the musicians, using so-called ornamentos.  Often these are done on the pulse but she leaves the pulse and also often joins the musicians with her ornamentos.

I hope you could see with new eyes concepts of musicality.  Watching several times is even better.  You will see new things each time.

In the my next post on musicality, I plan to write more about the pulse that the music makes versus the music itself, but the above video should get you thinking inductively about this first.  The goal is to help take you a more expansive level of musicality in your dance improvisation.

Please give me feedback at or leave a comment!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Being great: In your dreams, Tanguero

Dualing Tangueros:  Who will win?

I had a dream last night.  I dreamed that I was dancing near an experienced tango teacher, and although I did not look up, I could tell that all eyes were on him.  He was swirling around, doing all sorts of cool moves.  My job was mostly just to creep behind him and make sure that he didn't hurt my tanguera with high-flying boleos, ganchos or simply slam into my tanguera as he went forward and backwards in the space that all we lesser tangueros were humbly providing him.

This was my realization:  Why should I be so meek, dancing just for one person, the woman in front of me?  In my dream I reasoned that if my partner were sitting at the tables, she too would be watching his awesomeness.  She would not notice me -- the guy who was taking subtle steps and moving to nuances in the music.  She would not see how I had connected directly to my tanguera's heart and entire being.  She would not see that I was dancing with my partner's soul, led to move only by the music rather than showing off what I just learned from a stage star.

I woke up and looked at the clock.  It was 5 a.m.  I remembered that even though it is Friday, I have the day off.  So I went back to sleep.  But I started dreaming again.   I felt myself loosening my connection, as I considered my partner sitting there watching this great show going on next to me.  I thought that this woman who had melted into my embrace with her eyes closed surely would be watching the great tanguero, just as every eye was on him now.  She too would be amazed at that whirlwind giro with 12 different sacadas ending in a nice barrida.  Surely, my partner would have swooned with how the tango star had led his partner to four salsa-like turns and ended with sentada.

My dream continued.  I took action.  Like dualing tangueros, I opened up and did things he couldn't. Using my knowledge as a percussionist, I was now dancing on the upbeat as she stayed in the downbeat, allowing her to make these great egg-beater turns and colgadas.  She continued dancing on the pulse and I now was doing these truly amazing turns while dancing in a syncopated canyange rhythm.  I was truly awesome.  Finally like him.  He backed off and now was protecting his partner from my moves.  I was winning the dual!  People were watching me, the former meek milonguero!

Then I woke up.  It was April 1st.  I was relieved.  It is better to be a fool on the social dance floor in one's dreams than in real life.

When art becomes at its center a competition we all lose

Happy April fools day everyone!

Photo credit:  Tango Fire advertisement at top.
For dualing pigs: