Saturday, December 29, 2012

If not for me, then for them

I just watch at the milonga -- hardly dance anymore.
My cigarettes slowly bring me to my end.
Her absence is a cold replay of a closing door.
Oh, how I wish I could reach out and send
One last message from earth to her above.
How I would give anything to hold her and dance --
Anything to have grown old with my Love.
Too late? Love can have another chance.

If not for me, then for them.

A tanguero's notes on the film:

When I discovered this film, I thought it was fairly new, but it appeared in 2010.  I was so moved, that I immediately wrote the poem, "If not for me, then for them."  I later received a message from Marco Calvise regarding my comment on "Milonga" from his YouTube Channel, saying that he was pleased that I had noticed little details, including that the woman was pregnant.

These are some of symbols which were I immediately saw:

The cast:
o The non-dancer Observer:  He is smoking himself into oblivion, a slow sort of suicide.  He is cheap with his first tip, but is extravagant -- 50 euros ($70) to help to give the couple a chance to reunite. 

o The married woman:  She is not only married, she is pregnant.  Twice her husband holds her stomach in a non-sexual way.

o The older man and woman:  It is not clear if they are a couple or not, but I think they symbolized to the Observer the growing-old-in-love that he did not have.

o The Tango Tomcat (flirt):  Great dancer, with whom the married woman first dances, attempts to kiss a woman and she resists.  The Observer sees this, and pays to get him out of the picture.  Also, notice the too close for comfort looks he gives the married woman.  I rarely see this at a milonga and find it creepy when I see it.

The props:
o The cigarettes are not only a way to slowly kill yourself, but here the one that he allows to burn without being smoked represents a life that suddenly seems over.  It burns the Observer's fingers because of his lack of attention.  Pain wakes him up to the pain of the moment:  The realization that life is running out (abgelaufen) without his own psychological insight and observation.

o The pocket watch:  Notice the loud ticking?  Mortality:  his own.  The woman pictured inside the watch is dead.  Ashes fall on mortality?  --  that's death.

o The Dead Lover:  The woman in the watch resembles the married woman.  Now, that makes us realize that the Observer was not looking her up and down sexually in the way we first thought.  She reminds him of his own losses and he wants to give the couple a chance (thus the name of my poem:  "If not for me, then for them").

o Clearly fluent Italian.  A friend told me that some critics of the film said it was not realistic for Buenos Aires.  Both the language and the gestures are fluent Italian.  Why would anyone think that this milonga is supposed to be in Buenos Aires?  Milongas happen every night of the week in Italy.  Chiaro?

o The sounds of dancing on the floor:  The sounds of grace come out more during the married couple's dance.

o Pauses are times to think and are not realistic for a milonga.  For those who like realism, go to a real milonga.  This is a film with a message to make in 13-minutes.  What appears to be a second tanda is only a pause -- the longest pause.  A cortina would have distracted the Observer's need to think.  The last dancers on whom the Observer fixes his gaze is the old couple -- a melancholic moment and a hope -- his loss and his hope for the couple's gain.

If I had three hands, I would give three thumbs on this short film.

P.S.  3 January, 2013  
As a reassurance that I wasn't reading too much into his film, Marco Calvise (pronounced kahl VEE zay) shared my poem and analysis on his own Facebook page.  Also he said "the best description of my work" on my Facebook link to this post, so I hope that means that I mostly picked up his intentions in the film.  Indeed, I may have read too much into things, but I think it more probable that I have missed a lot.  Comments are welcome if you see even more.

Photo credit:  One of many backstage photos the director sent to me at my request.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Milonga at the Ponderosa Ranch?

Milonga at the Ponderosa Ranch in Nevada?
Here is a picture of an elegant milonga in Mannheim, Germany -- well, the ladies are elegant and the setting is on the banks of the Rhein.

The former cowboy from Nevada is the only one pictured wearing slacks.  I have obviously lost my cowboy heritage and wild, wild west culture.  I grew up in Nevada, you see.  I miss my horse -- I truly did own and ride a horse.  His name was Dusty.  Goldie, my dog, and I would go out on long rides, even under the moonlight and stars.  I wore mostly jeans as a kid.  I even wore a cowboy hat in middle school.  I am not kidding.  I joined the Sparks Rodeo club in High School for the sole purpose of chasing a cowgirl.

How is it that a person forgets his culture?  Maybe I have.  Maybe that is the question for Argentina and tango in general, too.

Anyway, I am tired of being such a freak, coming to milongas in slacks, a coat and a tie.  I give up!  What a weirdo!  Even Latino men have succumbed to US Casual Dress Imperialism... uh ... I mean cool-dude dress code.  And I am tired of women who say, "How nice that you dress up. You show respect for the women who dress nicely."  Respect?  Ladies, we all have to join the new century!  Get with it!

So my New Year's resolution is to join the crowd.  I even have a few ideas to help out the new world of tango:

Here's my Concept: In the tango world we include three distinct tandas at every milonga:  Vals criollo, tango, and the milonga.  But why stop there?  Since many men both in the US and Europe wear cowboy gear (jeans), I suggest other events!  I think one tanda of calf roping, followed by a vals would be perfect.  A friend in Australia suggests sheep wrangling -- local flair would be nice.  Spain should include the running of the bulls.  I have seen milongas with the running of the bulls in the US -- dangerous, but fun for the bulls (tangueros with horns).

Okay DJs, take some notes: 
  • Two tandas of tango, one tanda of calf roping.  (Tangueras dressed in jeans can rope goats, as they do in rodeos instead of calves.)
  • After the vals tanda, I suggest again two tandas of tango, and then a bull ride on a mechanical bull!  (Tangueras wearing jeans can do barrel racing at the same time in the outside lane of dance.) The last event, of course, would be a milonga tanda.  Then the fun starts all over.
     Comme Il Faut on a bull!
  • To save time and for the enjoyment of the people sitting down, the mechanical bull can be going in rhythm to the music in the middle of dance floor.  We'll just call this Ultra Tango Nuevo.  No bull/no fun.  Biagi tandas are for advanced Rodeo Tangueros only.  Sorry, no bull riding during the milonga tanda, the insurance company refuses to cover the liability. 

  • Note:  Sarcasm aside, there is a perhaps a solution to getting closer to the beauty of Golden Age tango and slowing the Advent of a Tango Apocalypse:  Ladies, praise a man when he finally wears slacks to a milonga or praise a man who is dressed appropriately.  Tango is more than a dance; it's a culture. 

    How is it that people sometimes forget their culture?  You tell me. I seem to have abandoned my own for some foreign culture from South America.

    • Las Morochas Milonga, Mannheim, Germany:  Andy Ungureanu (an excellent DJ and photographer).  

    Wednesday, December 26, 2012

    Moderate Christian Tango and Vampires

    What?     Moderate Christian tango and vampires?  

    I am not positive about this but I think both Vampire Milongas and Moderate Christian Milongas -- both have the same thing in common:

    Too many crosses would spoil the party.

    Imagine one tanda of tango as it were a walk through a beautiful house.
    Perhaps at the door there would be a cross.  In the hall a few more.  The living room is full of crosses.  There's one in the bedroom, the bathroom  and even in the basement.  Crosses are everywhere!  But not if you avoid too much of a good thing as much as I do.

    Perhaps teachers who start with teaching the cross as an element of tango's "basic step" have created this over-indulgence in crosses.  The cross is basic?  No!  It is hard to do well and it not "basic" (as in essential) either.   (See video below demonstrating a basic step with a cross on the fifth step of an eight-count figure.)

    Try dancing one tanda in which not a single cross is made.  I realize that I need to leave room for more crosses in the way I dance, but I have developed my own style of clearly indicating no crosses (unless the music really calls for it and the positioning is right).  Even so, I end up dancing with Christian girls who insist on a cross on every wall and one hanging on the mirror in the bathroom.  Too bad because they block something else that I had intended that really went with the music.  The most pious Christian tangueras place crosses in the hall and living room, and bathroom.  Surely you have seen a few tangueras wildly crossing at every opportunity. This is not bad, of course, but it's something like watching a Mexican baseball team during a crucial end-game play -- lots of crossing going on! On the tenth "suprise" cross, I have this overwhelming feeling of wanting to become a tango Pagan -- esepcially because of all the tango goddesses to adore.

    Here is an example of moderate Christian tango with Detlef and Melina demonstrating social dancing that is tuned into the true leader -- the music.  Help me count their crosses:  I see one, and it seems one cross can be enough when the music and mood indicate it!

    Here is a sad-to-say "perfectly typical" demonstration of a basic step demo as is accepted by many tango teachers.  Watch it first, and see if you notice on your own why it is such a questionable example of a basic step:

    So this is my take of why it is truly, in my admittedly not-so-humble opinion, NOT at all a basic tango step:

    1. The true tango basic step is a graceful tandem walk in a comfortable embrace.  The eight-count "basic" is not a walk, but a dance step. 

    2. The demo has no music!  The best idea of teaching eight steps was to show phrasing.  That misguided but best point is lost here.  Figures are ideas about dancing and not dancing.  (Let me explain "misguided":  Teachers who use the eight-count basic often demonstrate without music or start in the wrong place in the music for the concept to be understood.)

    3.  This video clip "basically" does not demonstrate tango culture:  The demo has a woman dressed nicely and a man who isn't, which is another model of the misconceived way to dance tango.

    4.  What is basic about this step they are teaching?  It is very hard to do well.  I don't know if I can do it very well.  I don't have much practice, you see.

    5.  The most basic thing a man should learn is NOT to walk backwards -- especially as his first step.  Teaching this is poor judgement at best.

    I am not planning on going to any Vampire Milongas, but I am clearly a moderate Christian Tanguero with a great deal of respect (adoration?) for Pagan Tangueras.  :-)

    Vampire's Tango logo:

    Tuesday, December 25, 2012

    Don't Dance with Sue

    Reaching new heights in tango. (Or was this martial arts night?)

    Perhaps every tango community has a Sue.  Some people don't know her last name, but somehow many figure it out without being told:  Ms. Nami.

    Sue Nami leaves destruction everywhere she goes.  Her boyfriend is Jörg Quake.  He has his faults too. They can unsettle the buena onda* of any sea of dancers, or blast any beach-milonga in a moment.

    For example, I might take a small step and Sue Nami takes a meter-long leap.  Her boleos are known to snag dresses and even clear the glasses off tables!

    My Tango Boat after dancing with Sue Nami
    I know you will ask, right? So how did we get up on the table anyway?  It was her far reaching tango walk that she had learned just that night!  After all, the teachers told us to make use of any space available while dancing.  Sue saw people making room (running), so she figured that it was show time.  What was I to do?

    *Buena onda = Good vibes (literally: "good wave").

    Photo of Table Tango by Prayitno
    Photo credit for boat photo 

    Sunday, December 16, 2012

    Tango Lessons for Dad (a Christmas Story)

    === Fiction by Mark Word ===
    Once long ago, but in a time very much like our own...

    My therapist told me I should write down my feelings.

    I couldn't do that for two years. I know I should have done it earlier.  When I first met him, I was crying out my eyes at night and I didn't want to cry during the day too. Also, it took a lot of time before I trusted my therapist. My parents forced me to go to him, and now -- not because of his therapy alone but by things he has done for my family -- he will always be a very important person in my life.

    Time has NOT gone quickly as everyone around me says. It was a century ago since my parents decided to divorce. I was almost fourteen. I am now a very old and creaky sixteen-year old now that a century has passed. I'm ancient at a young age.

    Everyone said I was depressed. The school counselor tells my mother. She believes the counselor. Mom talks to Dad. He agrees. I fill out a questionnaire and now the therapist is sure I am "a depressed young lady." May I roll my eyes?

    Bull! I wasn't depressed. I was just pissed off. I was sad. I was disappointed. And the worst problem any diagnosis a depressed person could have -- I am smart. If I wasn't smart, I would be happy. Pissed off/sad/disappointed/smart is not depressed. That is why I cannot stand therapists. What’s wrong with being sad for a good reason?

    As I was in my first session with my “therapist,” I thought I was lucky that at least he seemed kind of cool. We just talk about things I like at first. He’s curious about how I download music on my phone, and I show him. But then I wonder how much my parents are paying him to learn how to download stuff on his phone. That’s really my problem: Being smart and figuring things out in a world of dense adults.

    “I want you to be painfully honest here in my office,” he says. “What do you think about being here?”

    “Honest?” I say. “It sucks being here. I hate being told I am depressed and treated like a sick person. My parents are divorcing. My career mom already has a boyfriend I can’t stand. My Dad is moping around his new apartment, and my world has been ripped apart. I am not depressed. I am smart enough to know that my world is all screwed up!”

    “Sad, disappointed too?” he says.

    “Yeah. So is there a pill for making sure that I don’t feel this way? Is there a pill to be happy that my parents are splitting my world in half?”

    He really shouldn't have asked me to be honest. I was on my way to a raging rant.

    “Pills don’t take away these things, but often help people get on with their lives in the things that matter,” he says. He folds his therapist hands. “Your grades are suffering and you said you don’t like doing the things you used to.”

    “Yeah, that’s true. But I don’t want to take pills that make me happy but turn my teeth green ten years later.”

    “Okay, so let’s try something else. I have a colleague who has a dance and music therapy class with teen girls who learn a lot of different kinds of dance. She says the teens do remarkably well to overcome depression -- I mean, "sadness" -- with or without medication. Would you be willing to try that?”

    “I have two left feet,” I say, immediately throwing out that idea. “If you want to really make me depressed, put me in a group of girls who are going to see how I cannot dance at all.” I was sure that he would hear me – Mr. Therapist was supposed to listen right? But he said something that hit me:

    “Do you remember ever dancing as a little girl?”

    “Yeah,” I half-heartedly said, remembering that time.

    “Did dancing ever fill you up with joy?”

    “Yeah, sure. . . I mean, I remember and I have seen videos of me as a little girl dancing like I was crazy.” Funny. At that moment, I could feel my body buzzing with that joy I remembered.

    “Why did you stop?”

    "I dunno."

    "Many stop doing lots of fun things because of what others say or do,"  he suggested.

    “I guess I remember others laughing at me.  Like in third grade.  My mom prepared me for a show and tell dance.  Everyone told me I was great, but in front of the class I felt so stupid and some laughed.  So I guess, yeah, later I really froze when I heard others laughing at others at school dances.”

    “Well, maybe this dance class will take you back to introduce that little girl to you again – someone full of joy. Wouldn't that be better than taking a pill that you don’t want? Getting back to who you are?”

    So I agreed. And he was right. My right foot reappeared. Oh my God. I loved it. I was still mad at my parents, but each dance class brought me farther out of the slippery, slimy, mud pit I was in. I started doing better at school. I actually felt that I could talk about my disappointment with my parents. I no longer felt I needed to screw up at school so they would be reminded to be parents and reunite to save their daughter. I was doing better. Talking about it was good too.

    Other girls in the dance class said the same. They were doing better. We all had the chance to drop out of the class for the second round of eight classes, but no one did. The last class of the second session was Argentine tango. We fooled around before class pretending to do tango. Marion and Sybil danced their version of the tango. Marion had a fake rose in her mouth. I nearly peed my pants laughing. Talk about good therapy! Laughing like that was great. When the teachers came, they caught us fooling around and we all kind of came to attention, like naughty little girls in a boarding school. The guest teachers were cool, and they laughed too.

    “But now, I want you to see what tango really is all about,” the tango teacher said. He asked someone to choose any music that was romantic and they would improvise to that music. Marion, the girl I liked the most in the class, chose, without knowing it, my favorite song from when I was fourteen years old (a mere century ago). That song had held me together as my parents were divorcing. I loved the words:

    “I will never forsake or leave you
    Your love is stuck in my heart …
    Wherever you go or whatever you do,
    You are my end, you are my start.”

    He embraced his partner and they danced in a way I have never seen. It seemed that the music controlled them. They were not dancing to the music – the music was dancing them. It was like no amount of practice would have prepared them to dance that way. She closed her eyes. Their feet did all sorts of twisty things, leg hooks and taps here and there. How could the music so take over their bodies? It was so cool.

    After their little demo, we were all really excited about trying it. They taught us how to walk to the music. We also learned both roles. Since we were all girls, I liked how they described the roles as not being the man or the woman. We were either “the one who proposes” or “the one who accepts.” The tango lady suggested that the music leads, so we all had to listen very carefully and then stay in one role or the other.

    All the other dances we had learned in the class never had us touching anyone. The girls I danced with revealed more about who they are and how they felt about the world through their touch than words would have ever told me. I felt as if I knew the other girls in the class at a different level. At the end of the class, we begged the teachers to come back. I asked them for a business card.

    Later that week, I told my Dad I was going to move in with him if that was okay. He was delighted. I couldn't stand being around my Mom and her new boyfriend, but Dad was a terrible case too. His depression medication was beer and he was moping around. Who is being the adult here, anyway?

    Back then I needed some money for an idea I had that might help Dad. I called up grandpa and grandma. I got them to help me with a Christmas present for Dad: Tango lessons. He need dance more than me. I found the business card that the tango couple had given me, and we bought a package of group and private lessons.

    Dad had a bunch of little presents from me that year, but I asked him to open the envelope last. I don’t know why I thought he would be excited. He could see how dance was helping me. Wouldn’t he want the same? Instead he lost his smile and the happy face he had all morning. “I can’t do this,” he said. “I have two left feet.”

    Why do I have to play therapist? It is soooooo disgusting that I found myself using the same words the therapist used. “Dad, you don’t have two left feet. Did you ever have a time that you loved to dance?" ... and so on, parroting my therapist. The words worked so well on me. But not Dad. He’s a guy and has a whole life of being in his own little world, living in his den reading books and taking his work home to do. But I had special power the therapist does have. I had to use the princess daughter guilt-and-shame technique on my father too. “Dad this was good for me, and this is my Christmas present! How could you not accept it?” He had no choice. Poor man.

    At one time I really had a terrible relationship with my mother. I could see that Dad was really a pain. It wasn’t just the depression he was in after the divorce that I couldn’t stand. He was a bit cold, living in his own world. This coldness hadn’t occurred to me until we separately were taking tango lessons. I was used to Dad being Dad. By the time I was fifteen, I was in a youth group and he was in his own group with adults. At home or at the studio we would sometimes share what we were learning. These were magic moments. We laughed a lot. I saw Dad hugging other tango students. Something was changing.

    It started very slowly, but Dad and I were hugging each other when he came home. Hugging had stopped by second grade. I starting seeing how his coldness dried up the love that Mom had for him. She needed more, and I saw Ken, her boyfriend, in a different light. He is affectionate and warm to her. Tango was changing Dad so much, that I hardly could recognize the father I used to know as a little kid. It took a while, but he was becoming warm and present.

    A century ago, I was fourteen. This Christmas, Dad and I are taking a few lessons together now that I am sixteen. We are taking a train to a Father-Daughter Christmas Milonga in New York City – the joys of the big city.

    Isn’t it weird that I was sent off to a dance class for my depression? Dance helped me, but tango transformed my dad.

    This’ll be the coolest Christmas ever. Tango for Christmas.

    Christmas and Tango -- another theme:  A soldier returns home and learns more about trust.

    Photos credit tango Christmas ornament:
    Photo for girls dancing comes from the article that inspired this story from Psychiatric News.

    Saturday, December 15, 2012

    A Tanda of Listening In

    Listening In

    Therapists listen to diagnose.
    Parents listen to guide.
    Friends listen to be present.
    Lovers listen to be close.
    But a soul listens in.

    No matter what role -- friend, lover --
    A soul listens in.

    Tonight I hold her.
    The music plays.
    I listen in.

    Her heart has so much to say.
    It tells me why she's here tonight,
    And where she'd like to go.
    She tells me -- if I wait and listen in
    Through a collage of mind-pictures.

    Her life in wordless heart-dialogue
    Paints itself on my listening-in-canvas.
    The voices of her soul's language
    Are like a singing whale I long to understand.

    Still listening in and wanting to know.
    The music leads us in a second song.
    Then I see-in, feel-in, listen-into her heart.
    Her soul speaks clearly now --
    Not of where she has been
    Or what she has seen and done
    But where she is going from here:

    We arrive at the eternal present.

    Photo credit: Twin Flame

    Monday, December 3, 2012

    Depressed Tangueras: Get therapy!

    Not (just) tango therapy!

    Get therapy from different sources.  Tango can look like an addiction if a person is depressed and relies too much on dance to help his or her mood.

    Can you spot the dysphoric tangueras at the milonga?  It's not hard to assess the distant stares the sad faces.  I do not mean picky tangueras, who want to dance only if it means the partner is musical and listening to her as well.  Women have every right to be picky.  I mean the rare (but nearly always present) tanguera who sits waiting for her one-tanda prince to come dance with her.  The common depressed tanguera, in my experience, is admired by other women for her dancing, but has this burning need to show off the classes, the shoes and the $1000 volcada she purchased.  The depressed dancer is often very picky about dancing and sullenly waits for only the best "ride."  Please get some therapy, and not just tango therapy!  It's not working!  You are depressed!  Clinically depressed.

    For years I have been saying that tango is therapeutic in spite of the many who act as if it is an addictive drug.   It is not a drug.  Although tango has helped me and countless people to celebrate life and take on the world, tango possibly could cause even more problems for the vulnerable, depressed person.  For a moment now, let's imagine together a woman struggling from depression:  Her marriage and job have not been going well.  Her teen daughter is adding to her stress and depression.  The school suggests that the daughter needs therapy.  So the woman takes her teen daughter to a psychiatrist.  The doctor puts the teen in a study on depression among young females.  Soon after, the daughter has a long-lasting intervention that keeps her out of depression.  That "intervention" in a recent study was dance.  (See this study in Psychiatric News.)  Now imagine that the depressed mother decides that she will finally do something for her own depression and she starts dancing tango because of her daughter's good results.

    There is a problem here!
     Tango and dance in a controlled setting can be excellent for many people.  It is NOT a first-line therapy for depression in a non-controlled environment.  The challenges a depressed person faces in tango include:  Gender imbalances (too much sitting and wishing), time away from a husband who doesn't want to dance, less time with her children, lots of time and money to go from  being a beginner to an experienced tanguera or to go off to festivals.  As a result, tango may be a really terrible choice for her to overcome her depression.  In this particular hypothetical example, the chances are high, according to the research, that the mother's depression also was a major cause for her teen's depression.  Choosing one or more first-line therapies is very important for her relationship with daughter, her marriage and job.  Tango is way down the list on appropriate therapies for clinical depression.

    Tango by itself would be wonderful.  But is it a place to start?  There are so many great therapy possibilities for her:  Her marriage is at a low and she's anorgasmic.  Marriage therapy and a physical?  Her work really is terrible and she hasn't the energy to think about other career options.  Individual therapy!  An antidepressant?  Choose one that will help with the smoking habit and not hurt your sex life even more.  How about yoga!  Exercise!  Fresh air!  A marriage retreat!  NOT tango, or at least not just tango.  Isn't this clear?  Please don't blame tango as an addiction if you refuse to get specific help.  However, if you get help . . . wow!  Watch how it changes your tango!

    The article in Psychiatric News above was a Swedish study.  The dance intervention was for 8 months, comparing another group of girls who did not go to the dance classes.  The report says, "The dance group reported better health than the [non-dancing] control group did. A significant difference between the groups remained a year after the intervention had ended."  Strangely enough the article's conclusion attributes the "significant difference" mostly to exercise.  I know the great effects of exercise (from running around 14 marathons), but the "runner's high" can also be attained by the very slow movements of tai chi or a slow tango (even by oneself).  It's as if the researchers just don't get it.  But you do, right?  Dance is therapeutic.

    Hopefully tango is not the only pill in your medicine cabinet.

    Photo credit: The photo is from the article cited above.
    Blog idea:  Thanks to my own personal triple-M psychiatrist, "Mi Milonguera Maria."   She sent me the above article from Psychiatric News.   Also, thanks Mikko (from Finland) for your challenges to my assertion that tango is therapeutic.  

    Saturday, December 1, 2012

    Chasm Embrace

    I can close my eyes.
    Tangueras in Buenos Aires.
    Close, warm, melting
    Into my embrace.
    But when my eyes close,
    Where are you?
    Our mind-embrace opens a chasm
    My imagination cannot bridge.
    I can fly in my mind or with a ticket.
    Buenos Aires is not so far away.

    But our embrace has Security Gates,
    Stopping your left arm from holding me,
    Your right hand, forearm pressing to mine,
    Your forehead, your smell from entering
    My being.

    The security guards block your embrace,
    Block your smile, your warmth.
    I struggle to empty the sharp objects
    In the pockets of my mind:
    The reasons we cannot be together.
    But the alarms go off,
    And I miss my mind-flight.
    The door closes. My flight leaves.
    The sun comes up and blinds my view
    Of the shining wings slowly turning away.

    Terminal Eins, Frankfurt am Main.
    I stand and watch. The embrace opens
    The ocean between us,
    filled with heart-tears.

    Tonight in my kitchen
    I will dance to di Sarli and wine.
    The embrace will close tonight
    As I hold you --
    Close, warm, melting us together.
    We dance in Argentina tonight.
    Our milonguero mind-embrace
    Holds you at least for a moment.

    Mark Word, December 1, 2012

    Photo:  Johann Stadlbauer, via milonga organizer Oskar Pankratz.  Location:  Sankt Valentin, Austria.
    Pictured: Michaela Honeymoon y yo.

    Tuesday, November 20, 2012

    The Tango Pseudo-Connoisseur

    Have you ever known a person who becomes a "connoisseur" of wine?  Often that person seems unhappy with most of the wine he or she drinks. The connoisseur has too often learned to be mostly unhappy.  Isn't that ironic?

    The majority of the red fluid in this picture is not wine:
    It's the fluid you and your friends' hearts pump.
    The path to becoming "one who knows" (from Old French: connoisseur) starts with drinking just any ol' wine. Then slowly taste discrimination comes along. Later, the risk grows that fewer and fewer wines will be as satisfying as they once were.

    "The one who knows" perhaps may not know the most important thing about wine: It isn't the red stuff in the glass; it's the quality of people with whom you share wine that is important. It's their lives, their flesh and blood in your life that matters most. Along the way, wine, or tango, or music sometimes no longer satisfies the "one who knows" who has become impersonal in their "knowing." Unfortunately this pseudo-connoisseur has learned so much it has them standing alone with the thing they know.

    Perhaps the Spanish version of the Old French word, connoisseur, conocer, can give us some insight about the difference between the pseudo-connoisseur and the true connoisseur:   Conocer is personal knowing.  Saber is impersonal knowing.  So the question, "Do you know [sabe] who that person is?" is answered with saber if you know who the person is.  However if you know her personally, you use conocer:  "Sí, la conozco."  [Yes, I know her personally.]  If someone asks you, ¿Conoces Buenos Aires?  The answer is "no" if you have never walked her streets or met her people.

    People, Presentation, Sustainability
    Knowing personally is the antidote against poisoning your wine, your tango or your music appreciation. I try to focus on the larger picture.  A true connoisseur knows the larger meaning of sharing wine. It may be a profoundly religious moment. It may be a celebration of a new love or very old friendship. Isn't it the same way with tango and other beautiful things in life?  A step in the right direction is to be a true connoisseur of taste in three things around the thing you love:  People, presentation and sustainability.   In wine, it would be a good-tasting wine, shared with quality people, and the excellent presentation of the wine at your gathering.  Finally, can this be sustained?  Can you afford to do this again?  In tango, it is tango-talent (as the thing "to know"), plus people with culture and depth whom you know.  A milonga with great music, lighting and a decent floor is the presentation.  Finally, can this be sustained?  Did you ruin your feet or your pocketbook?

    If you are out dancing just to be a walking encyclopedia of steps and to dance with only the best, you are probably on the the path to be unhappy with nearly every partner at a milonga.  It is all too impersonal.

    I am not suggesting, ladies, that you drink cheap wine! I understand that you have the right to be picky.  Save your feet.  Avoid the guy who doesn't bathe.  Turn away your gaze from the tango tomcat.  I understand why this must be done:  Dancing with men who jerk you around, step on your feet, and make you and your clothes reek is not sustainable!

    If I hold a beginner or any person with reverence and I am open to being present, I "hear" the story of a human being in front of me and that somehow harmonizes with the music in a very special way.  I believe that is what truly brings you back to tango over and over.  Keep doing this.  You will be blessed with many great tandas.

    I have learned this wisdom from tango more than anything else in my life.  I want to be a true connoisseur.  I want to be present with the person with whom I can share my wine, my tango, my music, my time.  I truly want to be the "one who knows."

    Embracing the moment is tango.  It's life.

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

    Photo credit is on this blog page about the growing market of women wine connoisseurs.

    Monday, November 19, 2012

    Why do we stop dancing?

    Our human minds were wired to dance and sing.  That is what makes us human.

    Try this recipe:
    (a) Round up some children.
    (b) Play some music.
    (c) Shake and bake.

    In 10 minutes, notice the little homo sapiens go wild.

    If adults are around -- or older children -- we laugh.

    Later, the same little homo sapiens grow up and say, "I have two left feet."  They have forgotten who they were.  They have forgotten what it is like to be essentially human -- the only baby animals who naturally dance without being taught or coaxed.

    I wrote a draft post about growing up and forgetting.  But felt I should write about the same concept in poetry instead.  The first poem was "When we were both three" -- a poem about a rare moment when my thirteen-year-old son danced.  This is the kid that loved to dance as a small child.

    What happens to our dancing self?  Laughter made our little-kid self go and hide, I'm afraid.  The feeling that children get is that the people laughing are laughing in a way to hurt or to say that our dancing is a big joke.  It is mostly not intended to hurt, but my guess is being laughed at is the epicenter of why people stop dancing.

    Today I present the second poem (below), which is actually lyrics to a song about my being a kid and having a plastic guitar.  My family said I called this plastic instrument my "Hound Dog."  The guitar was named after the one song I loved to sing from Elvis Presley:  "You Ain't Nothing but a Hound Dog."  Writing the first poem about my youngest son being three brought up this forgotten event in my own life.  Some of my first dancing (like Elvis) was with my plastic guitar as a prop.

    I sang the lyrics of my new song ("Ain't Nothing like my Hound Dog") to my old 19-year-old son.  I felt good that he liked it.

    "Yeah, I wrote it during a very boring meeting at work," I told him.

    I again felt very happy when he followed up with sending me a YouTube video that he felt went along with the theme of enjoying dance but being laughed at.

    Before my presentation of my song "Ain't Nothing like my Hound Dog," let's first watch the video my son sent me:  The child is talented young dancer.  Pay attention to the laughter in the background.  When will this budding dancer realize that people should enjoy and not laugh?

    I am sure that no harm is meant.  People laugh.  And maybe it will never be interpreted as being wrong.  The chances are high, however, that he eventually have someone say something mean or hurtful, no matter how good he is at song or dance as he grows up.

    Many of us who dance tango had to rediscover the dancer in us!  Where was it hiding?

    My song below is dedicated to Gail Schumacher, the neighbor who smashed my plastic guitar.  Yes, I did hit her over the head with the remaining bits of guitar.  Yes, she did cry.  Sorry Gail, but luckily when you went to tell on me, my mother had witnessed your violent reaction to my song and dance.  Gail, I'm back dancing.  It it took a while, but I am back.

    Dedicated to all the dancers who have not yet found the dancer they once were...

    Ain’t Noth’n Like my Hound Dog

    Hound Dog’s strings I strum all day.
    Hound Dog’s the only song I play.
    Hound-Dog-like moving Elvis hips.
    Hound Dog’s the howling of my lips.

    I’m a three-year old, one-man band
    Sing’n all the passion I can.
    I’m a three-year old, in-the-street band
    Dancing all the passion I can.

    [Wild howling guitar solo]

    That girl’s a break’n Hound Dog with her fist
    She says she’s tired of sing’n and hips.
    Three-year old rage: Hound Dog’s on her head.
    Hound Dog’s last song’s a hit! -- on her head!

    I’m a three-year old, one-man band
    Sing’n all the passion I can.
    I’m a three-year old, in-the-street band
    Dancing all the passion I can.

    Sing, dance like no one’s around.
    Love your dancing and sing’n sound.
    Others may listen and stop you by hurt.
    Give them your veggies, eat the dessert!
    Sing, dance like no one’s around.
    Love your dancing and sing’n sound.

    Hound Dog’s strings I strum all day.
    Hound Dog’s the only song I play.
    Hound-Dog-like moving Elvis-hips.
    Hound Dog’s the howling of my lips.

    I’m a three-year old, one-man band
    Sing’n all the passion I can.
    I’m a three-year old, in-the-street band
    Dancing all the passion I can.

    By Mark Word
     a.k.a., the Tango Therapist

    Photo Credit of plastic guitar.

    Friday, November 16, 2012

    DJ Self-Assessment Card

    Tango Jockeys put the dancer, not themselves, in the limelight.

    How a DJ becomes a TJ

    Over the years, I have learned what makes a disc jockey good from many examples of ruined milongas.  Mostly DJs who ruin a milonga are not evil, they just are inexperienced and do not know the depth of the task they have taken on.  The worst DJ possible is one that wants to reinvent the milonga in their own 
    image and likeness, throwing out tradition, form and predictability.  

    Originally, I wanted to help DJ's, but I think this is the role of an entire community to support the DJ's.  We can all be advocates of having the best music to dance to.  The entire community needs to be educated and advocate for the best dance music at their own milongas without being too passive nor aggressive.  I have helped some DJs that were open to help.  One woman was an outsider in the city.  I took her aside, and told her about tandas and cortinas.  I wanted her to be successful because she was trying her best, and she just did not know.  She took my advice.  Others in town had never taken the time to tell her, and just did not come to her milongas after one try.

    I hope that this Self-Assessment will help you if you are a DJ to become a TJ (a tango jockey*).  I am inspired to write this post from the knowledge and ideas that Christian Tobler and Monika Díaz bring to the German-speaking world of tango.  They are self-taught tango musicologists in Switzerland. They have made it clear to me why TJs are rare.  Someone who knows how to make a
    milonga more than just a tango dance party; the TJ creates a wonderful dance event.  Updates to the post now include four appendices with more TJ's who truly have great milongas.  The appendices support what is in the self-assessment, and give more depth to things briefly mentioned on the "report card" matrices:
    • The TJ's responsibility to buy or influence organizers to have high quality equipment.
    • Resources for buying quality music.
    • How a TJ deals with listeners' wildly different views of volume.
    • How a TJ deals with tempi during a milonga.
    • A video documentary by musicians/recording engineers condensed recordings (MP3's).
    One day your or I may be forced into the position of being a DJ out of the need in the community.  So now is the time to start being educated and know what makes a DJ become a TJ.  I do not want this to be a tango-arrogance enhancing tool.  It is to help our little, fragile tango world; so use it it in this spirit.  Send improvement suggestions to:

    DJ/TJ Report card values (1-5):
    1 = Describes the “still learning” inexperienced DJ (bless their hearts).
    5= Describes an experienced TJ very well.  
    Color Code
    Signifies “essential” TJ element

    Tanda Architecture & Music
    Plays excellent dance tango with a conscious success formula (below)

    Understands traditions of tanda structure with cortinas. (see below)

    Features a single orchestra in most tandas.

    Tandas with longer tunes are still limited to 12-15 minutes.

    Plays tango hits, but also knows many lesser-known, high-fidelity, danceable tangos.

    Plays milonga tandas that have a warm up phase (slower).  Late-night milonga tandas are also slower.

    Plays non-danceable cortinas that clear the floor.

    Plays cortinas long enough to clear the floor.

    If there's a nuevo tanda, it does not replace the milonga tanda.

    Christian Tobler prefers a formula like this:
    1928-37 ~15-25%
    1938-47 ~65-75% (Epicenter of the Epoca de Oro)
    1948-57 ~5-15%

    Common structure of a complete set of tandas, recommended by Tobler:
    4 tangos = tango tanda (or 3 instrumental tangos)
    3 milongas = milonga tanda (a BsAs standard)
    3 Valses = vals tanda (I often hear and enjoy 4, but 3 is the standard in BsAs.)
    Start-up of evening tanda structure:  Tango/Vals/Tango/Tango/Milonga
    The rest of the evening is: T-T-V-T-T-M = about 1 hr. 
    Here is a good resource for tango structure too:  Tango DJ (Blog)
    And in German:  Christian/Monika
    Technical knowledge
    Uses the best recordings, reproductions, avoiding MP3s (see below)

    Is attentive to changes in volume between recordings, and changes in room noise.   Never blasts or plays too quietly.

    Understands how to operate excellent equipment and actively influences organizers to provide excellent equipment. (Appendix 1)

    Understands how to equalize the sound system to the room or has equipment that does this (this can be an add-on to permanent equipment).

    Knows how to adjust a microphone so it never squeals (not rocket science).

    Insists on speaker placement that is not harmful to hearing on one side of the room (placed below or above two meters) if possible.

    Extras for the TJ who is dancer-centric
    Projects or displays the composer/orchestra/name of song/name of vocalist.

    Knows and chooses the best versions of tangos for dancing (not just something that they "discovered").**

    Announces the last tanda before the penultimate tanda and plays the Cumparcita so that couples who came together can dance the last dance.

    If the DJ is also a passionate dancer, he/she has remote equipment.

    Understands some traditions about what tangos are not played at milonga.  (If you do not know, ask someone from BsAs.)

    Listens to the organizer, who knows the expectations of those at the milonga. The crowd expects mostly Época de Oro tandas?

    Is a DJ, avoids being a hobby "musicologist" playing all the music we have never heard but should.

    Provides short silence pauses between songs.

    Appendix One for curious DJ's:
    Regarding owning equipment:  A TJ does not necessarily have to own their own equipment and move it around to each milonga.  Ultimately it is up to the DJ's influence organizers on equipment that allows them to serve the dancers better. If I am a pianist playing at a piano bar on an out of tune upright piano, maybe I need to have a talk with the owner/organizer and suggest getting an 88-key Steinway or a 97-key Bösendorfer.  A "DJ" with  keeps coming back to the same milonga with poor equipment; a "TJ" refuses to come back to a place which makes him/her create a disservice to the dancers.  Ditto for musicians that rely on a place that provides a piano.

    Appendix Two:
    Resources for high quality music:, Japanese CDs imported by Bernhard Gehberger (, and Buenos Aires Tango Club at  (Thanks, Teresa Faus, Munich, Germany.)

    Appendix Three for curious DJ's:
    All about volume
    from Andy Ungureanu, Wiesbaden, Germany:
    Musicians and DJ's have the same problem with dancers who widely disagree if the volume correct: Andy's tips:  "Loudness is a very difficult topic. If I get complains, it is about loudness, but in all directions; one guy complains it is not loud enough and 10 seconds later, before changing anything, another one complains it is too loud. My solution is to have a good loudness compensation in the software to keep all songs equally loud and the other one to keep the overall level at 85-88 dB (A). For this you need a measuring device, or a calibrated app. In a recent paper several apps were tested and the result is that you can forget them all, except one for iphones.  The sensitivity of the public is also very different. Argentines and Italians want it extremely loud, Germans a little bit less loud. It depends also on the quality of the recordings. Almost all are mastered in such way that the range 1 - 6 KHz is pushed up. It is the range where the voice clarity is (2,5 to 3 KHz) and the overtones of the bando (3-8 KHz) but also where the distortions become very annoying. When you hear it at home you think this is a good recording, because it is brighter. But if such a record is played too loud and you are unfortunately near or below the speaker, the violins go straight through your brain. The solution is a band compressor and limiter. But this is a very dangerous tool if don't know what you do. Since most DJs have problems with a simple equalizer, it is better if they don't use such thing."

    Appendix Four for curious DJ's:
    The issue of tempo from Harry Wohlfart:
    "There is another issue: changing speed within a tanda. Many of the available tanda sets (especially those from well known Argentinian DJs) don't change speed (measured in Steps per minute or Spm for me) at all. Or they go, say 60/62/64/60 Spm, thus, ending with the same sped they started. Many even get slower. Do so, if you want to finish the usual weekly milonga earlier. If you want it lively, get people excited, speed them up. Not every tanda, of course, but the idea is, don't make people sleepy. Be aware of the speed of what you play, measure it. Simply count! I never encountered a software that does this in acceptable quality, so I had/have to do it manually.
    Who said DJing is just going ahead and play? There is work to be done before you really start. Some forget this.   To make a long story short: Know your music!"

    Appendix Five for curious DJ's:  Learn from musician's frustrations with compressed sound (MP3's).

    * For Europeans only:  “Jockey” is not a gender-specific term.  Europeans like to say “Disc Jane,” for women.  The term “disc jockey” started in the US.  The term “jockey” is not gender specific in English.   There are no Disc Jacks, therefore there are no Disc Janes.

    "Yo no sé que me han hecho tus ojos" by Alberto Moran, rather than Miguel Calo's version.   Thank you for playing another version, but I prefer hearing a great band rather an honorable mention version or even worse a garage band play the same song.

    Photo Credit:  I cannot find the source of the "great" DJ photo.  If you know, please inform me.

    Print-out DJ Self-Assessment matrices from above, are at this link.  Or for the version in the MS Word format:  Go to this link.   I will be updating this from time to time.  You can edit for yourself and your community norms.  For now, I suggest just giving this page link to DJ's if they need or really want help.   Note:  This information is for the good of milongas worldwide.  Of course permission is granted for copying.