Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Logotango: Tango with personal meaning

Dr Frankl suggested that a "Statue of Responsibility" be placed
on the West Coast to compliment the "Statue of Liberty."
This sketch in part of the the current plan.

The story of Viktor Frankl's life is the story of Logotherapy.  He was the founder of the so-called "Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy," following Sigmund Freud (the will to pleasure) and Alfred Adler (the will to power).  However, Dr. Frankl felt that humanity's will to have meaning was more important than pleasure and power.  ["Logo" comes from the Greek word "Logos," signifying meaning, reason among other things.]

From Viktor Frankl's lead, I am suggesting the term Logotango: Tango with personal meaning and purpose.

For those interested in the background of this remarkable man and how his work and philosophy fits into tango, I have a permanent resource page that gives a larger background of Dr. Frankl and Logotango.  The shorter version of this post continues below.    

Logotango describes the positive and powerful influence has in many people's lives.  If you are going to dance tango for more than just a fad season of you life, it will have to "survive" many things.  If it has a purpose, then it will survive.  I will even go so far as to say that you must dance Logotango if you wish to dance through your life.  Otherwise, my guess is that someday you will be "cured" from your tango addiction (a Freudian, negative philosophy).  Logotango lives on and continues to bring you and others joy.  But purpose and meaning must continue to be redefined and rediscovered.

The four elements of how many people understand the meaning of life are: purpose, values, efficacy, self-worth. Baumeister and Vohs (2002) have synthesised these four factors from their interviews with many people. If you do not build these things into your tango, who will?

I will share my explanations of Logotango using the four above categories:

Purpose:  I am aware of basic needs being met in tango.  I need air/food/water/shelter.  I get all of those at a milonga.  I need human touch.  I get this more than anywhere else in the world as a single man at a milonga.  I need to move.  All human beings would soon die if they were not allowed to move.  A person would soon go mad.  I could run or bike or walk, but dance is the best of all.  Now, my purpose beyond some basic needs as described by Freud:  My purpose in tango is to share the joy of the music with another person.  They way I share this with her and she with me will be a unique experience.  My purpose too is to be a part of the larger community of tango.

Values:  I love the sense of culutre that counters a world without values, kindness, gentleness.  The tango world has only the values I bring to it.  Sure, I am influenced by what others have defined as "Tango Culutre."  But ultimately, I must express my values as a gentleman and live my values of kindness.  What a great community to practice these and receive these!

Efficacy:  After a tanda, there is a sense that "we made it there together."  What a great moment to share, over and over.  I maintain efficacy by taking classes and always learning/practicing efficiency, the twin sister of efficacy.

Self-Esteem:  Skill development only starts after about 700 hours of work on most skills.  In tango there are skills upon skills upon skills.  And they all keep returning to the basics.  I have put in my 700+ hours, and this builds my sense of self-mastery.  In my case, my years of musical study and practice adds another level of joy and mastery, and tango allow me to return to a part of my life that I had somewhat abandoned as a former professional musician.

Logotango is tango with meaning.  The meaning must be yours.  Share it with me!  Perhaps it will bring meaning and purpose to my world.

PS:  Also see the article: The Meaning of Life (in Under 300 Words), which attempts to succinctly describe the meaning of life in just a few hundred words:
  1. Purpose - this could be living happily ever after, going to heaven or even (whisper it) found at work. Whatever it is, meaning in life comes from reaching goals and feeling fulfilled. Even though fulfilment is hard to achieve because the state fades, people need purpose.

  2. Values - people need a moral structure to work out what is right and what is wrong. There are plenty to choose from: some come from religion, others from philosophy and still others from your friends and family.

  3. Efficacy - people want to make a difference and have some control over their environment. Without that, the meaning of life is reduced.

  4. Self-worth - we all want to feel we're good and worthwhile people. We can do this individually or by hitching ourselves to a worthy cause. Either way we need to be able to view ourselves in a positive light.

Photo credit:
Go see more about the plans for Frankl's vision of a "Statue of Responsibility" to balance off the "Staute of Liberty":  http://www.sorfoundation.org/

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Tango: your "safe place"?

Laguna Arenál, my mental "safe place" in Costa Rica.
In tango, people are finding their "Safe Place" nearly every time they dance.

A Safe Place is a place you can go in your mind that will calm you if your are stressed or afraid.  A Safe Place is a good place to go before sleeping.  Anyone who has been in harms way, such as my combat veteran clients, need to make this place very vivid in their mind because the "common cold" of combat experience is not being able to sleep well again -- sometimes, never again, especially those who do not believe that therapy works.

I have two places I go in my mental Safe Place:  A mountain near my home as I was a teenager, and a place in Costa Rica (pictured above).

From training in trauma therapy, I have become more aware of the importance of a "Safe Place" for any who become resilient in this world.  The main therapeutic intervention that I use with combat veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing therapy (EMDR) has taught me the importance of a  establishing a "Safe Place."  EMDR training has helped me understand the therapeutic aspect of tango better.  As a therapist, EMDR has been the single most inspiring therapeutic approach I have ever learned because of the rapid results of change.

One of the first procedures after explaining what EMDR is to a client is to establish a "Safe Place" while using eye movement -- left, right, left, right -- for about 10 times.  The client and I are about to get a list of the worst things that ever happened to him or her, and most people need to return to a their "Safe Place" and get their heart rate down after recounting these events.  Sometimes it will take a long while before we are even ready to get this list of horrors if they have too many problems going on in their lives.  Some of these present stressors must be resolved before we can even start.  The therapist who starts EMDR too soon could cause extreme distress, blackouts, disassociation (not knowing where or who they are), even bring on feelings of suicide and/or homicide.  In other words, don't do this at home!  If you or someone you love needs help, get a qualified therapist.  This link -- Find an EMDR therapist  -- allows you to find someone for yourself or someone you know who needs trauma therapy.  Tango alone, although therapeutic, is not enough!

Human experience adds more and more experience to your world that will confirm that life is full of tragedy.  Finding a safe place -- from any source -- is an important step for anyone who will be resilient in this world.

The Safe Place in tango has three distinct elements that allows this warm, safe feeling.
  • The first is the music.  Personally speaking, when I am embarrassed to be a human being from watching something on television (people mistreating others, or even American circus-like court cases, for example), music brings me to my Safe Place very quickly.   Tango has an important advantage because it provides a "clean slate" for most of us who grew up outside of Latin America.  North Americans have no human history associated with tango; so this music has a clean slate.  That is, tango does not trigger any sad human experience.  I have had many vets who like my tango mix CD that I sometime give them.  They listened to a lot of music when in Iraq, and now the same music they once loved can trigger flash-backs.  Tango is a clean slate for them, as it is with us.

  • The second element is touch.  The lack of human touch causes old people and infants to suffer from what is called in the medical world, "Failure to Thrive."  A child getting all its basic needs but not enough touch will not gain weight, be developmentally delayed and in the worst instances, will die.  We all need touch.  An heartwarming hug brings me to a Safe Place.  I get more hugs in a milonga than anywhere else in the world.  This element is the most important element of how a woman brings me to a Safe Place.  Mari has a resource page off to the right on the concept of "Entrega."   I suggest going there to understanding feminine power, although this is not just for any one gender.  This is Yin.

  • The third element is brain balancing.  The left and right of our feet on the ground (it could be swimming/running/biking) apparently forces the brain to think on both sides of the brain.  People who constantly feel unsafe have too much activity on the right side of their brain.  If this assertion is true that we can force our brains to think in more hemisphere-balanced way (and it is), then simplicity will be important for the most soothing, Safe-Place dance... Tangueros, are you listening?   This is not just theory but praxis.  I have been dancing enough to have had scores of friends who have been distressed with something at the milonga or in their life, and a very warm, accepting embrace, combined with a musical and simple tango walk "miraculously" takes them to a Safe Place.  Sometimes the stress falls entirely away, or they get an idea of how to resolve something.  I just gave you an important "secret."  Try it, and tell me what happens.

When we combine all three elements, the Safe Place that everyone needs and hopes to have and maintain quickly appears and sticks with us for days, maybe forever.

At the last Milonga de Los Santos near Washington DC,  a friend of mine, who reads my blog, came up, and said, "I have a story for you that you will like!"  Evidently she had gone to the doctor late and her blood pressure reading was soaring 50 points too high!  She told them to give her a few minutes.  She tried meditating about a nice place, but only when she thought of dancing tango did she feel calm.  When they came back, her reading was normal! 

The next day I saw her again.  She came late to the West End Practica because of terrible traffic.  "We need to find out Safe Place," I told her.  She looked pretty upset that she had come more than hour late. We just walked very simply to the music, using a varity of very slow to normal variations of the beauty of "simplicity."   I could feel her heart pounding at around 80 beats per minute* against mine as we started, but eventually her heart calmed.   I was experiencing what I have seen over and over with combat vets:  One's heart rate goes down substantially when one finds a Safe Place.

Here is my card.  I am the "Tango Therapist," one in the long line of countless men and women who over many years have known the power of the embrace, the music, and walking on the path of grace.  Join us.  There is no certification needed.  The only "credential" needed is that you regularly help others find their Safe Place.  The world needs more tango therapists!

PS:  I did not address how a woman brings me to a Safe Place very well.  Maybe a future post?

Photo Credit:
Laguna Arenál, the safe place in my mind:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/59436014@N00/with/2879349289/

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Healing touch and music

nice thing about tango over blues is that one of my PTSD clients cannot easily listen to music because it makes him want to drink really bad.  His "homework" this weekend was to go out and buy Mozart and/or Bach.  We played some tango because that is all that I have on my computer and he loved it.  So I will give him a CD the next time I see him.  All the music he will hear now will be to off-set his feeling now that all of humanity is corrupt and worthless.  One cannot talk a depressed person out of this perception because they have more data than any positive person could ever come up to counterbalance their belief.  So I told him about Mozart.  When I listen to tango or Mozart or Bach or Bethoven and others, I FEEL as if the world is as beautiful as a pristine waterfall into blue warm waters near Laguna Arenál.

Tango is not special in some ways I think it is better than blues.  Blues dancers find the touch, the movement, the music very "healing."  Please listen to the NPR radio broadcast about the blues being healing.  I got this link from fellow tango blogger and dear friend, Mari.  However, tango for North Americans is a type of music that just has fallen out of the sky.  You have a clean slate.  Also, the music blues can sing your life's song too much!   Even though I speak Spanish, rarely do I pick up much from the vocals while dancing.  I have to stop and wade through what someone has transliterated or translated from the lyrics.  Sometimes I wish I didn't know the lyrics after I read about some terrible tragedy that is lamented with a rich, tenor voice.

I have a combat vet right now who no longer listens to any music.  I found this out after I had suggested that he needed to listen to Mozart or Bach.  Lukily he once had two dogs named Mozart and Bach, so it will be like getting his dogs back!  Establishing his "safe place" has been difficult.  He arrives there but then it clouds over. 

Arriving at the end of the tanda with two women

 With great talent or "two left feet" the solution is the same:
Listen to La Música
My purpose at the start of every tanda, is to arrive with two women present, or at least one. 

Let me explain.

The surest way to stumble around and displease a tanguera is to continually focus on the series of steps one has learned in tango school.  If your art was oil painting, "steps" could be translated as "painting by the numbers."  Painting by the numbers is a type of art but not truly artistic.

Oil painters have their visual inspiration.  For us, music is our inspiration.  I constantly tell myself to listen to this inspiring Lady -- la Música.  I tell myself:  "She should center you, inspire you."

Remember the song, "Words get in the Way?"  There's an old tango called "Steps get in the Way," isn't there? Maybe it was a vivid dream I had.  The words were going around in my head as I woke up last night:  

Los pasos no markan el compás
Porque me enseñaron tantas cosas,
Que ya no puedo sentir lo demás.

My steps don't go to the beat
Because they taught me so much
That the steps confused my feet.
[Translated with "poetic license."]

Gentlemen:  Whenever I have ever felt intimidated from a woman who says something insensitive, such as "how long have you been dancing" and generally wants to know my pedigree, or seems to wonder before our first step if I am appropriate for her most esteemed level, I go back to la Música -- not steps I have learned.  "She" believes in me and gives me grace when I listen to her.  "She" is not to be impressed but impresses anyone who listens and follows her lead.   ¡La Música!  What a kind and impressive woman.  She makes me want to embrace even the insensitive mortal in front of me and go on a special trip, called tango.  Maybe there is still hope for the insensitive one.  Maybe "by grace she will be saved."*  Even if this mortal tanguera doesn't join me, as long I have been faithful to La Música, I have done my part and at least I arrive at the end of tanda with one woman.

Stated in other terms:  If the steps get in the way, if I try to impress the woman who cannot be impressed, I arrive at the end of the tanda all by myself.  

No mortal woman can make you dance to the music.  Only the immortal, goddess, La Música, can make even two left work perfectly well.

Bon voyage!

*Sorry, Saint Paul of Tarsus.  I don't think you meant it this way.  But what the heck.  It works for me, and God loves it when people find grace somehow!

Photo Credit of 2 left feet:  http://four4fourtwo.wordpress.com/2011/04/23/two-left-feet/

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Los Boleos de los Gauchos

As a musician with the MGM Orchestra, I had friends from Argentina called "The Gauchos." They had a great show. They used the boledoras (pictured to the right) to play rhythms on the floor along with counter-rhythms with their feet. It was outrageously complicated and wonderful. They played drums, threw knives, used whips and danced. I could swear that they called their boledoras "boleos" as a shortened form. However, I cannot find this in the literature. Anyway, the boledoras were used to whip around an animals leg (instead of the lasso that North American cowboys use. I always thought that the word "boleo" came from los gauchos and not simply the word to throw (bolear). http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boleadoras

I asked my friend, Lou Allard, who was a backstage worker at the MGM about what he remembered from the the Gauchos' show.  He remembered the term they used as "bolas." So a throw is a "boleo" and the feminine noun of what the gaucho throws is a "bola," probably short for a "boleadora."

The ONLY reason that I think that the boleo comes from what gauchos did is because of injury on the dance floor in my experience is most often from boleos.  That must be the gaucho link!

Often the gaucho would cause injury from his "boleo de la boleadora."  In hunting smaller game, injury was certain.  I have seen this too often on the dance floor to know that functionally it seems like a typical cowboy move on the social dance floor.  Looking to catch cows or hunt small game?  "¡Qué boleo, Gaucho!"  [What a throw, cowboy!]  One tanguera told me that her NYC tanguero told her that he was going to clear a path -- and he did with her boleos!  

Before anyone takes me too seriously, Gauchos dancing tango is a Hollywood invention, I have learned.  Oh darn!  I spent a lot of money on my gaucho spurs in order to look authentic at the milonga.  :-)

Now in all seriousness:  My biggest regret, now that I have become interested in tango and Argentine culture, is WHY did I not learn more about the rhythms these amazing gauchos played!

Note: at the 4-minute mark, the Gauchos demonstrate their talents with their boleadoras.

Photo Credit:  Lou Allard's copy of a signed picture of the Gauchos.
Boeadora photo --  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bolas

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Musicality Workshop: Triplets

These triplets belong together
just like triplets in music.
In this "workshop" on triplets, I have two video-clip examples of couples who dance the triplets in the music, Buscandote played by Osvaldo Fresedo's orchestra, composed by Lalo Scalise.  This tango has a nice little example of triplets at three points in the song that changes the way the dancers dance. Most dancers at a milonga continue dancing on the pulse, which is entirely okay, but since triplets are fairly rare, I am suggesting that it is nice when a couple pays attention to them if they know the song well.  You will see how these very musical couples dance triplets with the musicians during our moment together.

This blog is a workshop.  I do not expect it to be an easy theme.  I am assuming that you just love the music and hear the pulse.  That is all you need, along with a little patience to understand this concept.  If you did not read my blog, "The Pulse vs. the Music Itself,"  I suggest you read that first.  Today's blog is explicitly about dancing to what the musicians are playing in the form of quarter-note triplets.

You may enjoy the many wonderful things each couple does, but let's focus simply on the triplets -- just one little, dainty and delicious aspect of the song, okay?  There will be no guess work of where these triplets are.  I will show you.  I give you exactly where they are musically and the approximation where they appear as far as time goes in the video clip.  Of course if you wish to watch the whole video of each, that is even better.

Here is the road map:
Assumptions:  First let's agree on how to count the phrases:  When counting 1-2 (not 1-2-3-4), each phrase is normally 8 measures of these two-count measures in Buscandote.

Intro:  The intro is 8 measures.  The last measure of the phrase has the first set of triplets (at around the 14-second mark of the song).  I suggest you watch all the couples and see how each responds to the triplets. [Watch at least a few of the videos below and you can hear the triplets at the very end of the intro; then return here.]

Now you know what I mean by triplets.  After the intro, there are three more phrases without triplets (listen carefully for the start of each phrase rather than just counting because some phrases have an odd count).

The Bridge:  This is a middle part and the triplets are about at the one-minute mark.  Most of the dancers do their most explicit interpretation of the triplets here because the triplets go one for longer (7 beats together (trip-a-let / trip-a-let / one), rather than 4 beats together (trip-a-let / one).

One more phrase of 8 measures sets up the vocals.

The Vocals:  The first phrase of 8 measures ends with triplets at about the 1:37 mark from the start of the song.

The last four phrases of the song have no triplets.   For the few of you who get into counting the phrases, you will notice some unusual phrases of 7 measures.  These have no large significance for a dancer who is simply listening and improvising to the music.  Choreographers know exactly how long each phrase is, but for most of us, this is not important.

A side note for musicality:
You might notice the power of the strings, because Fresedo had a large string section.  He also uses a percussionist, playing the vibraphone and other percussion.  But the one instrument I want you to listen for is the harp.  How many tangos have a harp? What do some of the dancers do with the beautiful sweep of the harp especially after the second set of triplets?  If you watch YouTube videos of Buscandote, only a few of the couples play with this magical moment.

Couple Number One
Let's start out with one of my favorite couples is Sebastián and Mariana.  Soon there will videos of them from the Tango Element Baltimore Tango Festival, which you must see.  They were mind-expanding inspiring.   Of the three videos here, they are the only couple who together nails each of of the sets of quarter-note triplets as steps together.  The intro triplets are at the 4-second mark. The second set is at the 55-second mark.  During the last set of triplets at the 1:26 mark and right after the first verse of vocals, they walk through the triplets together.

Looking at only the triplets from these wonderful dancers, clearly Fabian and Lorena (below) both interpret the intro triplets in the most sophisticated way.   I have saved the best for last!

The Intro
In the intro both "recognize" the triplets with adornos, dropping the first and doing the last three beats.  I think they have the best start of all the couples I could find on YouTube. [Play the entire intro and return here. The triplets are at the 14-second mark.]

The Bridge
At the bridge, Fabian walks backwards and she forwards on the triplets.  I will avoid being too technical about this; so just watch what they do first, and see what you can see! This is the longer set of triplets, counted "trip-a-let, trip-a-let, one."  The steps are like this: 1 2 3/ 1 2 3/ 1**.  What they do is dance 1 * 3/ 1 2 3/ 1.  Also note what he does with the harp at the end of this middle group of triplets.  This is in my opinion the best use of the harp of all the couples presented here. [Play the video about at the 50-second mark and return here.]

Triplets at the Vocals
At the vocals they both do the most amazing displays of triplets with teamwork:  She is walking the triplets in a very strong female role during his extended planeo.  They get applause -- but too soon -- which masks the triplets somewhat.  The most amazing part is how Lorena steps through the triplets and he responds with some nice triplet toe touches, using the same rhythm they did in the intro.  They end this last set of triplets very exactly and with a sacada too!  Wonderful.

Extra Credit:
ONLY those interested in how triplets are shown musically.  Line one is the "pulse."

An Obscure Footnote (don't read this if you already feel over-loaded):
In reality tango has an undercurrent of quarter-note triplets nearly all the time.  Some people do not feel this and even deny that it is there.   This tango feel is also in kizomba, some Middle Eastern music and even much of hip hop.  Musicians know it ias the 3+3+2 feel of tango.  Many tangos are very subtle and some deny the 3/3/2 feel. For me that is like denying the existence of God.  I really don't want to argue what people cannot sense (with tango or God), but in my opinion tango is not tango without this sometimes explicit, sometimes subtle undercurrent of quarter-note triplets.  It is certainly always is explicit in milonga and candombe.  In di Sarli, Fresedo and Pugliese -- just to mention a few, this undercurrent is on the "2" of each of the 3/3/2 feel; so it looks like this:  *2*/*2*/*2.  Also, in the Vals Cruzado (tango waltz) there is an undercurrent of three's present.  If you think in six or twelve beat phrases (rather than just little chunks of 3 beats) you will hear this undercurrent in the tango waltz.  If you feel the vals in 6-beat phrases you will notice an undercurrent (the "cruzado") that is three-against-six.  Many dancers dance this undercurrent at times and feel this but have no idea what this undercurrent is.  And that is good to mention:   It is not important that anyone intellectually understand anything I have mentioned here.  If you feel it; that is enough.  The problem is that many people do no feel these things, and once they are pointed out, they may be on their way to enjoying tango a bit more.  Consider this "exposure."  This article may be too intellectual, but one day it might all dawn on you, as it did me.  I did not hear these things at first but now they are the driving force of how I dance and enjoy this wonderful music.  With my music background, I started after the fact of feeling the music trying to understand what was happening.

Photo credit:
Baby triplets http://geniuspregnancy.com/news/eighteen-year-old-birth-triplets.html
Music graphic of triplets http://www.drumsmylife.com/viewtopic.php?f=17&t=10177

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Your Surrogate Tango Parent

"I am taking my tango money and going to a new
 teacher who teaches  candy moves and Barbie Doll ornementos!"
What would it be like if parents earned their money from their children?  "Mom, I think you are being too stern.  I am taking my money and I am going to live with Dad.  I like the elementary school near his apartment better anyway." 

Tango students are sometimes like children with money. And who are their poor "parents"?

Tango instructors:  their surrogate tango parents.

Even in the real world of true parenting, children very effectively modify the behavior of their parents. Often we think it is the other way around.  Sure, parents mold their children in many ways, but from the first cry for food and for the rest of their lives, children transform and teach and mold parents.

Tango students are like children in this way.  We students mold them more than they us in many ways.  Sadly, I would say that too much tango teaching has been molded by "naughty children" who have had too much power.  And of course, "power" here means "money."  If teachers don't do what their naughty children demand, they will go off to live with their stepfather or stepmother -- some other surrogate tango parent.  They'll take their business elsewhere.

However, the best real parents do not let the children take over or compromise the best path for their children.  The path of a good tango teacher is very much the same:  Insisting on teaching well takes a lot of guts and a sense of what tango really means to them.  Of course, if tango means "show time on the social dance floor," that opens a whole new topic, because now we have naughty tango parents teaching naughty children.  For the moment let's just say that  your teacher wants you to enjoy tango for its social, psychological, musical and yes, even spiritual dimensions.  That tango "parent" is worth of the 5th Tango Commandment:  "Honor thy tango parent that thy days may be long."

At some point we students must grow up, and change the all-too prevalent of naughty-tango-children syndrome.  This is also known as adult learning.  Our relationship will be dual -- teachers teaching us, and we will teach our teachers, but hopefully it will be a functional dynamic, as with any human relationship.  It looks like this:

The Larger Classroom
Teachers are influenced by not just one individual.  Their first individual or group class begins the process.  They learn the most from students who do not understand what the teacher thought would be easy.  If no one  in the class understands the teacher, then the teacher can be exasperated, but also the teacher will learn a lot from this humbling moment.  When I taught fourth-graders in Mexico, I threw out any test that no one did well on.  My test was failure, not the children.  It can be very humbling to be a teacher, and so it is with tango teaching.

As adult learners, let's reverse the way we look at teachers -- just for the moment if nothing else.  I have used and suggest these reversals:

1.  Have a lesson plan for the teacher:  For a private lesson, the practical thing for a student to do is to prepare for the lesson well.  How will you teach your teacher today?  Know what you want them to teach you.  Most students allow their teacher to tell them what they are going to learn and are not active, adult learners.  At best you have practiced what they have given you or bring some new idea.  At worst you insist on some direction that you are not developmentally ready for.  Here's an example:  The student says, "I want to learn how to do a wild-ass volcada."  The teacher says, "You need to learn to walk to the music!"  The teacher is now teaching you and you are no longer in charge because you didn't prepare or did not really understand your level.   Adult students should know that one learns to walk before one runs.  If your teacher has been taught to obey naughty surrogate children with too much money, they just might teach you that volcada and it will take many lessons because you were not ready for it in the first place.  How much did that cool volcada cost you?  $500?  And you still cannot walk that well.

Another reversal from believing you are now intermediate or advanced:

2.  Expect to stay a beginner:  The "beginner's mind" is an attitude of learning.  Once you think you are "advanced," no teacher can help you.  A wise teacher cannot fill "the cup that is already filled."

Here's the reversal of learning new steps:

3.  Add to your teacher's knowledge of steps:  Once you have really learned the basics, show your teacher some step that she has never seen before.  This is definitely a reversal of common wisdom -- showing your teacher some new cool step!  However, there are a million cool steps out on DVDs and YouTube.  Figure out some step that appeals to you.  A good teacher will fix it or tell you that you are not ready for it.  The BEST teachers might say.  "When will you actually dance that?  Are you planning on dancing on television or is this just to injure or kill people you don't like at a social milonga?"  If you are truly ready to drive the car responsibly, your surrogate tango parents will give you the keys.

4.   Go back to the basics over and over.  I suggest filming yourself.  Ask yourself:  "Why am I still bouncing around on the dance floor like  prom night at a special middle school for children with ADHD?"  Your teacher will help you with this (without medication, I hope).  Here are some more questions you might pose to a good teacher:   "I notice that my dancing has nothing to do with the music."   Dancing musically will be the work of a lifetime; so your tango coach/teacher has a lot of work to do.
Teachers need your help.  They need to stay on track.  So be a good student and prepare for your class on teaching them.  Remind them about how you need to learn to walk; how your evening is ruined by not knowing more about floorcraft; how you have a new step for them to clean up for you; that a video of yourself shows you are doing many things that look awkward."

The joke about the three stages of many tango students are:
  • Beginner

  • Intermediate

  • Tango Teacher.

If you start realizing the pain you have put your surrogate tango parent through, you won't want to start having children of your own at an "early [tango] age." 

The next time you see your surrogate tango parent, say:  "Thanks Mom!"  or "Thanks, Dad."  You might be surprised that they understand what you mean.  They may love you, even if you have been at times a naughty child. 

Photocredit:  Child with money  http://kidsandbills.com/kids/10-ways-to-teach-your-child-about-money/

Monday, August 15, 2011

Soul Dancing

I hold her and listen.
The pictures flash through my mind,
And I know about her life more 
Than she would tell if asked.
I sense that her history is a labyrinth
That she herself has not mastered.

She is so young but has lived so much.
I feel the joy of dance counterpoised with great mourning and loss.
The music encrypts the moment with its own mysterious message.
And I am in awe once again that tango is not just
  the skill of movement,
  the music,
  the embrace.
Tango is about the embrace of one human being, one soul,
Who transforms me if I will let it happen.
But so often I forget this Most Simple Thing.

Post Script:
I have learned to listen and believe that through embrace we are able to sense more than we might allow ourselves to believe possible.  This poem is dedicated to a young Eastern European woman, with whom I danced in a small town.  She was a beginner and did not dance very well.  I tried to hold her as if she were very special and feel her presence.  I felt if I did not do this, I would be just tortured with an unsatisfying dance.  In doing so, I discovered something that I already deeply knew inside of me:  That one can dance with another soul and this is supremely satisfying.   In talking with her later, I found out what I had sensed from holding her -- that her life was very complex:  A life with no contact with family and no way to return.  I did not ask her why.  She "escaped" through Russia, a bizarre path to freedom that my mind's paradigms cannot understand easily.  I think we all are capable of more soul dances.  Many of you have experienced this.  If you haven't, try it.  See what happens.

Research on this theme:  http://www.spring.org.uk/2011/04/10-psychological-effects-of-nonsexual-touch.php

Sculptor:  "Dancers" by Jonathon Borofsky; unknown photographer in Denver, Colorado.  If you know who who took this, please share that with me.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Don't Ask; Don't Tell TANGO

Don't Ask; Don't Tell* tango helps avoid feelings of rejection.  Sure, among friends and when the answer will undoubtedly be "yes," asking for a dance might be okay.  Otherwise, the rule of "don't ask, don't tell [a lie]" still reigns in tango.

A report from a friend in upstate New York tells me that a local teacher tells students that the cabeceo** is an old fashion idea.  But when I think about it, many tango aficionados in my city are unwilling to practice the age-old wisdom of non-verbally requesting to dance with a nod of the head.  Wisdom.  That is right.  It is wise to avoid verbally asking for a dance from a stranger or a person with whom you do not generally dance. Use the cabeceo!  Why?  In other dances, it is customary to dance only one dance at a time.  In tango a man or a woman asks with their eyes because it is a commitment or 3 or 4 dances -- a tanda.  And tango can be more intimate than other dances -- but not necessarily.  Tango is a hug, but some dances are more connected from the waist down.  So the intimacy "excuse" is not nearly as important as the time you are investing being with someone.

In the scenario above, the first verbal request spawns a verbal rejection because he asks.  Sure, she may be irked that he is hoovering.  He could have engaged in a conversation and that would have told him if the next step could have been to see how she is reciprocating.   A nice song comes on and he smiles and does a nod towards the music.  Instead, Tanguero #1 just asks out of nowhere and is surprised by the answer.  The second tanguero asks over the head of tanguero #1.  This, in turn, then puts her in the position of not wanting to grind salt in tanguero #1's wound, but she really wants to dance with the object of her interest.  So she impulsively says "yes."  Now, the milonga has created all sorts of bad feelings--all because of an "old fashioned rule" has been broken. 

In a matter of moments, three instances of tango etiquette were thrown out.  Two verbal dance requests, and a woman who is unaware that if she says "no, not now" that she is obliged to sit out the tanda.  It is the equivocation "not now" that puts her in time-out.  Miss Manners says so.  Some will disagree, but "no, I am resting" is often a white lie, which is easily tested with the next request.  Tanguero #1 is devastated, and tanguero #2 has gotten into the middle of something he didn't know about.  Miss Tanguera now has bad karma and will have bunions early in life or some other curse shall come upon her.

Tango etiquette is not "old-fashioned":  Manners matter. 

PS:  I realize that the cabeceo may be something that slowly becomes accepted in areas who are unaware of tango culture.  For survival in these "cabeceo-free zones," I have a new resource page on the right margin of this blog, and there is a link to the this page (written by a woman who lives in both London and Buenos Aires) after a larger discussion on the pros of using the cabeceo and at the end of Chapter 2 of Tango Etiquette

*One half of Tango-Beat's readers are outside of the US; so for my international readers, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is a reference to a long standing rule in the US military for gays.  The don't-ask-don't-tell rule was recently repealed by a concerted effort by the Commander and Chief of our military (President Obama).  In the past if a member of the US Armed Forces publicly proclaimed that they were gay, the Armed Forces member would be thrown out of the military.  Also the question could not be asked by the chain of command.  Of course, here I am just playing with words, making up a new meaning for tango:  Don't ask [for a dance]; don't tell [a lie, like, "I am resting"].  Just say "no thanks."  No lie?  No time-out!

**Cabeceo:  From the word "cabeza" (head), a nod of the head, indicating a desire to dance.  For more on this and tango etiquette, please visit this link:  http://tango-beat.blogspot.com/p/los-codigos-tango-etiquette-made-easy.html

Photo credits:
Find some great cartoons about dance at
 http://www.gocomics.com/9chickweedlane/2011/06/07 .

Monday, August 8, 2011

Tango Jocks vs Tango Teachers

An interesting supposition: Every great performer on the football field is going to make a great teacher/coach.


Equally unlikely:  Every great performer on the dance floor is going to be a great tango coach.

There are people who have a wide spectrum of talent -- more than one great talent.  Here's an example.

By "both," I meant to say, "both football and dance talent."  Coaching talent and performing talent often do not go hand in hand.  Would you make the assumption that he is also an excellent coach?  It is truly difficult to find is who is a world-class performer and teacher. It's just the way it is. Including in tango.

Last month, I mentioned my friend, Alex, an artist friend (see The Unbalanced Tango Faculty).  My conversations with Alex have taught me some things about the art world, which have some great parallels to the art of tango.  He told me that the students at the prestigious art school he attended noticed a trend:  The best teachers tended not be the best "performers."  The students called this the "dumb jock syndrome" -- a phenomenon they all had experienced in their high school and undergraduate years:   Some great athlete would be able to play very well, but the same athlete perhaps was not the best spokesperson for the sport, nor not necessarily the best candidate to coach others.

In the tango world somehow this phenomenon is not recognized.  How is it that in the tango world we are blind to the same phenomenon in all areas of great talent?  Great performers in every art discipline are not necessarily the best teachers.   Is tango the exception?  A great performer and teacher, Gavito, once complained that people turn to tango performers for great philosophical wisdom.   But why?  Few people in this world have a huge spectrum of talent.  Albert Schweitzer was a physician, an accomplished musician, a J.S. Bach musicologist, a philosopher in ethics, a theologian AND he practiced all of these things while being a missionary helping people in rural Africa as a physician.  I cannot think of a single person who had such a wide spectrum of talent.  I do not mean to disparage talented athletes or performance artists.  Having one extremely developed talent is already way above normal.

So maybe your ONE talent is to be a teacher.  Maybe you are the great teacher in your community.  Don't even pretend to be the best dancer.  Just motivate your students to dance and never stop this wonderful practice of human-movement-as-art.  Teach connection and musicality as the most elementary aspects to tango.  Market these two pillars; so they are not drawn to dancing for others when dancing for one's partner is so powerfully fulfilling.  You would be a genius coach and motivator if you can do this because it is so easy to be pulled into the world of performance and forget your true talent.

May I suggest a syllabus?  Your students will excel because they will:

1.  Learn to walk to music in such a way that their bodies exude joy just from walking.

2. Learn to walk from the start with their partner in close embrace.  (Use a pillow between your students to help simulate connection and leave room for their feet as they focuses on the music.

3. Learn turns -- ONLY because of traffic. Turns can be fun.  But walking, fully tuned to the music's nuances is primal.

4. Learn the life-long practice the above, with the the greatest value for connection and the joy of movement through music.

That's it / Nada mas
Graduation, and off to practice for the rest of one's life.  Go back to number one, and focus now on "walk to music."  That will take a very joyful and interesting long time.  Tango, you see, is the simplest of dances but tango takes a lifetime to learn.  Interesting paradox?

If this sounds easy, then the point of musicality was perhaps lost.  In the four steps above, music, was the only element that was repeated four times.  Your students have just taken up a musical instrument -- their bodies, and it will take a lifetime to become great musicians of this fine instrument.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Tangosutra for her eyes only!

Is your tangosutra for "her eyes only" or for the crowds?

In earlier posts I have mentioned teachers who perhaps were not spectacular on the dance floor but great teachers.  The teaching couple in Austin who had by far the biggest single impact on my dancing are Stephen and Marty.  They and a few of their students would find each other at the snack table during performances at festivals or at a milonga.  It was a great time for us to hydrate and nibble on some strawberries or chase the last of the grapes around the plate while the rest of the tangueros/tangueras put on their sweaters and adoringly watched the awesome tango performers.

Stephen and Marty were not alone in this aversion of performance tango at a crowded-floor festival or milonga.  I also experienced the same thing in Washington, DC at the Tangosutra Festival back in October when I first arrived in "D'C-ity of Thieves." At Tangosutra the instructors* didn't steal a moment of dance time from us.  They purposely decided NOT to perform at the festival for philosophical reasons.  They explained to us that they were there to teach and model appropriate behavior for social tango and not show off or do the very thing that should not be done on the social dance floor.

An Embarrassing Moment
At the Thursday opening milonga in DC, I went over to a man whom I never had seen before, and I was praising him for his floorcraft.  I felt so comfortable next to him, I told him.  I heard his accent and realized he was from Buenos Aires.  We continued in Spanish, and I finally realized that he might be an INSTRUCTOR.  Oh my God, who would have ever guessed that someone next to me who is practicing the best of floorcraft would be a tango instructor!?  It was a tango-miracle. :-)

This unknown (to me) caballero, Maximilano Gluzman, ended up being a great instructor, a great tango philosopher and a consummate gentleman.  Later that night and into the festival I noticed others with excellent floorcraft that night -- Sabá and Krebs -- who were also instructors.  Much of the training we had at that festival was about musicality and floorcraft.  One interesting class that Maxi had was on what the community of dancers could do to protect themselves with "rogue dancers," endangering others on the social dance floor.

I do not mean to say these instructors at Tangosutra were not great dancers.  But tango is all about dancing just for your partner; so don't ask me, ask their partners what it was like to dance with them.  They dance in public, sure, but "for her eyes only."

*The Honorable Faculty at Tangosutra Festival last October:

PS:  I wish not to disparage tango performers who have a range of talent and can dance the full spectrum of tango.  Tango Fantasía has it place.  Visual tango draws new dancers to the tango community, and I love to watch videos of truly great performers.  Great performers like Murat Erdemsel and Daniela Arcuri balance themselves off by being great teachers of a spectrum of tango not just performance tango.  My next post will address the fuller-spectrum teacher, and I will suggest Albert Schweitzer as one of the best examples of a multi-talented teacher.  Tentative title:  Tango Jocks vs Tango Teachers.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Competition-Free Zone

I had a dream about going to a village in which cooperation and teamwork are the only value.  The chief of the village showed me a race track in which the participants had many obstacles to overcome.  Each needed teamwork to overcome, and at the end the finish line was wide enough to have the whole team go over the line at the same time.  All things I experienced, including eating, were about ending together.  No one would get up after eating and clean up as the others ate.  They finished eating together by watching the pace of others.  They even drank the same way.

Then at night I was invited to see a village dance.  When I went into their dance arena I was amazed to see a group of musicians come out and one had a bandonión.  Could it be?  My jaw dropped down as they played a di Sarli tango.  My paralyzed shock made my body freeze as I heard the chief of the villiage explain tango.

"This is a dance that has a race track, but there is no beginning or end," he explained.  "It appears that everyone is dancing in couples, but in reality this is a dance of the whole community.  No one is trying to be better than another person.  Sure, there are talented dancers, but we all try to value the dance first between two people.  That means, that the man holds her as if she was the only woman in the world.  If she is old and sick, he holds and steadies her as if she were his beloved grandmother.  However he sees her at that moment, she is the only woman in the world."

I wanted to respond but I was still paralysed.

He knew that I was from the outside world of competition; so he explained more:  "The women learn also to be the same way.  She embraces the man as if he were the only man on earth.  Once they have done this, the dancer can also appreciate the others around them.  The dancers dance with the whole community with  playfulness on the dance floor that makes it a dance of the community.  If it were not this way, people could just stay home or dance alone in their kitchen."

Finally, I could speak, and said, "I see that they dance tango in a way I have not seen before.  Where did they learn those steps?"

"They didn't learn steps," says the chief.  "We found that once a teacher taught steps that competition took over.  We found that people horded steps and some were rich and other poor.  Other teachers competed to have more visually appealing steps, and soon the most visually appealing steps caused even more competition on the dance floor.  So now our teachers focus on how to embrace each other and how to follow exactly what the music is telling them.  We emphasize dancing together and dancing for your partner.  Since then, we have noticed a new level of original dancing and a new appreciation of how the music informs us where to put our feet.  It may not look as pretty as in the world of competition, but are people happy there?"

I shook my head to indicate a sad "no."  Then I woke up.  My newspaper was at my front door.  The Wall Street Journal, I read with my coffee, has an article about a legal case in Buenos Aires.  I am not surprised that the journalist would not understand the essence of tango.  He must be thinking "ballroom" or "Dancing with the Stars."  He reports on how xenophobic the Argentines are about wanting to have their own national championship.  This is tantamount to complaining that the English have a national marathon competition and they are being sued by Kenyans for not allowing them to run.  The article makes me wonder who will "win."  I am sure someone will.  Then will people be happy?  No!  So I hope to return to the village and have a talk with the Chief about this. Will you join me?

I said it was a dream.  But it is not a dream in the night.  It is my dream for tango.  The village is your community!  You are the chief.  Tango is your dance to help understand the rules and values of a world without competition -- if you will allow it to do that.  Be aware that once you establish this village and it grows with others that soon the world will find out about this great place.  The visitors will go home and maybe create competition-free zones or another little village.  Some reporter then, might visit each of these competition-free areas and write a traveler's guide.  Of course, everyone will want to go to the place that earned five stars on being the "best competition-free zone."  The world will certainly find out, and now the competition-free zones will need to compete for first place to keep the tourists coming.

There may not be a way preserve this state of mind of non-competitiveness.  Maybe we are doomed to make everything into a competition!  So I am comitted to living with the paradox of tango being antithetical to competitiveness but strangely well suited to competition.

Tango, like life, is a paradox.  But I hope that you and I will embrace this paradox.  One day we will meet and dance together.  If you are a man, I will dance near you/with you on this race track with no finishing line.  If you are a woman, please hold me as if I were the only man for that moment, and I will hold you as if you were the only woman.

Maybe this is not a really a dream; perhaps it is a delusion.  I like my delusions.  Will you join me, Chief?

Photo credit for village chief: