Saturday, June 30, 2012

Don't Let me Go!

She holds her father, wondering if it will be for the last time

Don't let me go!

The brother within me holds you at the airport.  

I may never see you again as I go off to war.
The father within me holds you at my last residence.  
I overheard you say I will soon be in a better place.
The child within me holds you in the street,
I fell down and your embrace takes away my pain.

Don't let me go...

The tanguero within me holds you at the milonga.
You are the only woman in the world.
I only have a moment in time with you;
So don't let me go; we are entwined to our core.
The tanguera-sister-mother-child within you,
Craves an embrace more you than may ever know.

Entwined to the core. 

A note about the father-daughter picture. I don't know how the above photo strikes you, but it really moves me. It is on a website about faith, and probably no one that has ever visited that website ever has danced tango. I know one thing, her father doesn't want the moment to stop anytime too soon. I did embrace my father. I wish I had done that more, at least one last time before I knew it would be the last. With my mother, I had that chance.

The Advantages of Salsa

Many people I know in the tango scene would not know how salsa boils inside of me. There is a reason for this: I know the salsa repertoire as a musician. I know all the percussion parts, the bass and piano. I can hear these musical elements -- they are not just a blur of sound as they once were. Much of the music has a history of friends and magical moments (just as tango has now).  And still today, I see salsa as having certain advantages for those loved salsa first or learn it after learning tango first.
The Mood Advantage over tango:
Salsa is mostly an upbeat, happy music, and in the right venue, people can be upbeat and friendly.  Tango can have deeply meaningful lyrics, but there is tendency of melancholy  even when the music gives no clue through the major key or happy melodic line underlying it. 

The one-song-one-dance Advantage: Tandas (dance sets usually fours songs) are great in tango, but in some respects I love having just one song at a time.
The one-song-one-dance rule makes it possible to escape a torture dance or just continue dancing if you both agree. Also, women who are not dancing for a whole tanda are sitting (often unwillingly) for 15 minutes. 

The fast feet training Advantage: Anyone who is a good salsero will also have an advantage when dancing the milonga (a faster more rhythmic type of tango, which one will hear for about 7-10% of all songs played at a traditional tango party -- 3 or 4 out of 40 songs). 

The cultural Advantage: What? Yes, salsa also has it's cultural advantages: Dressing well is the rule at a true salsa bar. In Europe and America (the only non-Latin scenes I personally know), tangueros are nearly always dressed two to three levels down from the women. Not true of a good salsa scene. Tangueros would never dress 3 levels down from the woman on a dinner date!  In the best salsa bars in the US and Latin America, men wearing jeans wouldn't be allowed to come in the front door. If they slipped in the back, I doubt that a woman would allow him to dance with her. 

The Ubiquitous Advantage of Salsa over Tango: Salsa is everywhere. On Fridays in my middle sized town in German, it is 10 minutes away rather I usually must drive far to dance tango. The same is true in the US.  Because of the distance and price of gas ($9 a gallon), driving far has forced me to get back my salsa feet.  Now, because of tango, my salsa has alternative steps that we do as a result of the music. Dancing with someone that knows tango allows us to improvise to the music very much like tango. 

The tango advantage:  
Tango has so much to offer salseros because of the concept of the woman waiting. My role is to be the musical note or impulse; her role is to be the just-as-important musical rest. Music cannot be music without the distinct roles of note and the rest. 

Tango is an amazing dance that has transformed my salsa because tango has taught me to follow the music and how to portray what I am next planning to do with my partner. Tango has made me a much better salsa dancer than before, just as salsa helped me with the more rhythmic with the milonga's upbeat tempo.

The combination of salsa and tango.    

You will find many who were once salseros/salseras who now dance exclusively tango. That is not true the other way around.  Tango, once learned well, offers everything salsa has much more. I taught a young woman in a small US military community in Germany how to dance salsa.  Innesa learned lightning fast.  Soon I introduced her to tango, and upon returning to salsa and bachata, she was making stops and slow-motion moves in salsa/bachata with me.  Someone asked me,  "Are you professional dancers?"  Dancing musically looks professional and choreographed, but it is just normal in tango.  Later, when she did a tango demonstration with me at a dance school in front of teachers, they asked us, "Who did the choreography for that!?"  Even trained dancers saw the professional look and exactitude of musical steps as professional."  If tango can do that with any dance, then it truly is the dance of all dances.   Sure, salsa may have its advantages, but nothing can replace the power of tango to transform salsa or any other dance to be more musical and fun.  

Photo credit:

Monday, June 25, 2012

When the music stops

During the music, it felt ask if she would never let me go.

When the Music Stops

When the music plays, she holds me near,
Our bodies freeze in a moment of embrace
As the music comes to an end.
But the dance is not over.
The moment I crave:
She breathes out.
We find a moment to pause,
And then, as if rehearsed, a unison release.
Then I look inside the windows to her soul.
I notice her mouth, the sweat on her brow.

But tonight she pushes me away, a surprise
So unlike how she held me, so close.
I felt her heart pounding, but now she escapes!
She smiles nervously as we wait for the next.
I listen for what she might say, as if it were:
"Why did I ever let you hold me?";
"Why did I let you come so close?"

The music starts again;
She melts into my arms again.
I am confused at first.
But now I know not to blame myself.
I intuit far too much -- communicated by touch.
Being present and listening, takes me too far inside.
I tell myself that my intuition is wrong,

Trying not to intrude into her interior design.
I let her abrupt push-away be okay.
For one woman it is the abuse she endured.
For another woman,
She feels the searing, watchful eyes of others.

The one in my arms tonight is a woman, fully a woman,

But only in my arms, and only when the music plays.
When the music starts again,
When musical permission allows,
When musical hypnotism give assent,
And then she melts into my arms.

Querida Tanguera,
When the music stays within you.
You will stay a little longer in my embrace.
Let out a sigh and breathe out.
You were brave to allow me close.
Now, add the period to this phrase:

An embrace of another human being
May be the most important thing you do all day


            Look into my eyes.

Photo Credit:  Alexander Zabara - 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

After Years Away She Returns to Tango

The counterclockwise churn of the milonga's revolving door


After years away...

Tonight she again enters at tango's door,
A waterfall of sounds, a tango pours
Out millions of moments before her eyes.
Tango may be latent, but would never die.
It burns still inside her. As she sits to hear
As D'Arienzo brings her back to the years...

When dance was a way of being
And being a way of dance.
When eyes closed, a way of seeing,
And seeing, a way of trance.

¡Volver!  It echoed in her soul.  ¡Volver!
¡Volver!  It echoes in my soul.  ¡Volver!

Her years of tango-silence are broken
With her nod to my request unspoken
To dance again what once so moved her.
Strange that I, too, fought off tango's lure.
I had better things to do, I said. "Don't return
To that wooden path's counterclockwise churn!I'm tired of having nothing but dance to live for!"
Yet, soon I, too, am again at a milonga's door,
And I, too, hear the waterfall of sounds
Lifting me up from life's ups and downs.
It burns still inside me as I sit to hear
A familiar Biagi brings back the years...

For dance is a way of being,
And being a way of dance.
For dance is a way of seeing,
And seeing a way of trance.

A millennium of tango-silence is broken
With her nod to my request unspoken.
We give in to the dance -- its way of being.
We yield to touch and music for seeing.
We resign to the embraces we lacked.
I softly assure her, "Welcome back."

One of my favorite, cozy milongas in Germany: " Volver"
I'll see you at the door.

Photo Credit for the revolving door:  Karl Freund.   

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Last Tango in Frankfurt

We only try to help the ones who come back from war.

The below poem was written for a group of mental health providers who knew Maria, a talented tanguera and caring psychiatrist, who upon bringing up patient safety concerns at the military treatment facility was badgered by the hospital leadership to leave.  She finally returned to San Antonio to be with a military hospital which had long valued her talents.

The group of people who knew her in Germany knew that the soldiers lost more than we did.  Her talent as a psychiatrist was amazing, and soldiers really needed her to help them to be weened from the over-medication they often receive from less experienced psychiatrists.  We are not desperate; some soldiers really are desperate for her care, experience and love soldiers.  She knows their stories --r these men and woman who have given far more than they ever thought they'd be required.  So desperate many have become that we our nation's Army is losing a soldier every day to a suicide -- that is not counting those who have already left the service.

Maria, and those she left in Germany only try to help the soldiers who come back from war.  That is all we can do.  Too bad that mission is not always held by those who lead -- or so it seems.

Last Tango in Frankfurt

I held Maria, knowing she would soon leave.
But the personal sadness I felt
Or the tears she sheds,
Or the melancholic cry of the bandonión,
Or the sad lyrics of tango cannot compare
To the silent screams out of soldier's hearts,
Weeping from the ravages of war --

The soldiers she could have helped.

That is the tragedy of her leaving,
And her desire to stay.
This was bigger than our own hearts:
The vast desperation of young soldiers
Trying to find help and finding too little.
Isn't this the center of sadness of our hearts?
...We who know who how to help.
...But too often cannot
...Because of those who tie our hands.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Four Cords and a Broken Heart

Maybe you will learn good technique only after you have a good reason

I have a friend who wanted to play the guitar well enough to sit and play at a campfire.  He started taking lessons at the music store where he had bought his $70-guitar.  His teacher did not understand his willingness to be a just-good-enough-for-the-campfire guitarist.  Eventually, my friend quit the guitar lessons.  Three years later after his girlfriend left him for another man, he picked up his guitar once again and started to sing.  That guitar nursed him through his depression.  He wrote a lot of really terrible blues tunes that would make any drunk man cry.  My friend only needed four cords and a broken heart to play his guitar, but as a result, he eventually became pretty good.  He still plays and sings with friends and for himself.

Tango needs the same thing as a start -- a broken heart and four cords.  It doesn't need technique like some obsessive compulsive tango enthusiasts would suggest.  There's no reason to argue with them about this because they are correct -- one needs technique sooner or later to truly enjoy tango and most importantly to help your partner enjoy dancing with you.  But in order to get to that place, you only need to pour your soul into this dance and allow the technique to come through the back door.

I think I am qualified to say not to worry about technique because I have had a life of the pursuit of technical excellence in many different areas.  I do not suggest my path:  In my early 20's, I traveled far, even hitchhiking on a freight train to take lessons from a drum teacher who had his students work hard on technique for years before revealing the "really cool stuff."

You may not be that dedicated to technical excellence.  Good for you.  What I have sometimes done has been really over-board and even dangerous in the case of hitchhiking on a train.  Come to technique in your own way.  It may be that four cords and a broken heart is the most reasonable path.

Photo credit link.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Dancing with the Enemy

Tango can be just a dance.

But it can be much more.

When I am "expectant" and present, I feel a transfer of information.  More than just a transfer, I feel an understanding, an empathy.

The following experience is one of the most powerful:

I was leaving a very tense job because I felt under attack by my boss.  When I got a new job, I arranged a going-away lunch buffet and got a salsa partner to come teach my colleagues how to dance a little salsa and merengue.  She and I demonstrated a bit of tango and salsa as a warm-up.  Connie, my salsa friend, taught  salsa and zumba, and soon many were out dancing and having fun.

Most going-away parties with this group were absolutely boring, but my "dance-away party" was probably the best party I have ever hosted.  At the very end the the party, my boss, asked if we should dance a going-away salsa.   That was the last thing I expected to come out of her mouth -- an invitation to dance.

It was a chance to dance with the enemy.

I suggested a tango rather than her suggestion to dance a salsa.  Given the chance to dance for peace, I knew that the tango embrace would be the better choice.  During the party, my boss had not danced once in at the party although she once was a ballroom dance teacher.  The DJ, Connie and the boss's secretary were the only people present.  I had the DJ play a tango from Biagi. This was tango.  Close embrace.  Rhythmic.

By this time in my life, I knew about the healing aspects of tango -- the embrace to music -- but I did not expect the ensuing powerful effects from "dancing with the enemy." Dancing with her had a powerful and lasting effect on me because much was forgiven through our embrace at that moment.  I cannot easily tell you why, but it was as if I knew how she felt -- that she was a human with her own struggles too.  Maybe I saw myself too from her eyes.  From our dance, I felt an enemy had been destroyed through mutual compassion.  It took courage for her to ask, and it took courage to follow my intuition to suggest a tango.  Aren't enemies created from a lack of empathy in the first place?

A few days ago, a colleague asked about working for my former boss because she had been interviewed by my former boss.  I found myself being objective.  I suggested that she had learned some wisdom since her first years as a supervisor.  Also, I trusted my colleague's own wisdom to do well under my former boss.  After all, everyone has to walk on the hard path to wisdom.  Dancing cannot take away hard facts, but it has washed away any need to express unresolved bitterness.

I got into a my car after that dance with my boss to drive to a new city and a new job.  I wondered if the feeling would last.  More than just last, this empathy has grown, although I know how much she hurt me and others, it doesn't haunt me anymore.

Tango is only a dance.

But can be much more.


Photo Credit

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Buenos Aires is NOT the Mecca of Tango

Follow the line of dance with reverence for tradition.

There is no Mecca of tango. . .

Language sometimes hides the truth.  We should be careful about describing tango as having a "Mecca."  Buenos Aires is not a Mecca.  Not even close.  Thinking this way allows us to forget how fragile tango is.  Sure, at the moment it is doing fairly well, but statistically, tango is a precious but yet insignificant phenomenon.  In some ways it is only by chance that it has survived.  Maybe we should learn something here.

Tango's culture consists of a fringe of musicians and dancers whose numbers are insignificant in any major city in the world compared to the general population of the city.  Tango never had a Mecca -- except in our minds perhaps.  We may cherish the notion that we could go somewhere like Buenos Aires, and there we might find that everyone dances tango and listens to the music in the streets.  That's the great Buenos-Aires-as-Mecca myth.  Remember too that New York City still has streets of gold, right?

I suggest you go to Mecca!  (Well, how about imagining a trip to Mecca?)  That holy city is a concourse of many languages and peoples, but pretty much everyone there is to accomplish the same thing.  Tango doesn't have such a place.

But while you are at Mecca in your imaginations, notice a few things that tangueros could learn:  The floorcraft in Mecca is amazing -- imagine the harmony of so many people circling the walls of the Ka'bah.  

There are indeed medical emergencies at Mecca all the time, but not a single case of misplaced ganchos or getting spiked from a frivolous boleo.  Perhaps the danger of bad floorcraft is getting stoned (with rocks), and that might be a hindrance?  [Milonga organizers:  I am not suggesting anything here for your local milonga.]

Tango is fragile.  There are only a few believers.  Embrace each other.   Greet a stranger with kindness at your next pilgrimage to a milonga.  Give alms to the poor (beginners) who need a mentor.

If your milonga feels like Mecca, perhaps you have achieved at least a moment of heaven on earth.  But sorry, it isn't Mecca.  It's a milonga.  Compared to the overwhelming personal dedication and the power in numbers at Mecca, your milonga is small with many semi-dedicated "pilgrams":  Fragile.  Insignificant.  Even in Buenos Aires.

Take care of this small oasis of your life.  Tango's "pilgrams" amount to a micro-ecosystem like an oasis, not at all like a flood of Islamic pilgrims on their way to Mecca.  Your oasis can dry up and disappear.  Care for it.  It is so precious.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Dance as if you were 90 years old

Choose Option "D"  (visit photo artist)
The wisdom often quoted is that we should "Dance as if no one were watching."

That is not wise at all without some qualification to that statement.  Dancing as if no one were watching could be problematic and unwise.  Who dances like that, anyway?

Let's look at the possibilities of people who dance as if no one were watching:

a.  Children:  great improvisation, freedom, absolute joy, no guilt or shame afterwards, floorcraft with damage to things but not other people, parallel playfulness.*

b.  Drunk people:  great improvisation, freedom, absolute (drug-induced) joy, bad floorcraft, a hangover and shame to review the dance from the subway video camera replay while in jail with your lawyer, floorcraft that included damage to things and people before the police arrived, liquid-induced solitary playfulness.  [Yes, a few poor souls also dance at milongas as if they were drunk but are not.]

c.  Crazy people:  great improvisation, freedom, absolute joy, erratic floorcraft before the ambulance came, not enough sense to even consider shame as an option, solitary playfulness.

d.  90-year old tangueros:  great improvisation, freedom, absolute joy, great floorcraft, aware that other are watching but worried about stranger's opinions, excellent partner-playfulness.

Of the above four possibilities (there are more of course), I try to choose "d" when given the chance to dance one more time before I die (every dance as if it were my last).

When we are 90 years old we won't wonder why we hadn't been more circumspect.  You probably won't tell yourself, "I really should have worried more about what total strangers thought of me!"   If we are still active and able at 90, we will be glad we danced in the street among strangers without a care of others' opinions.

But why wait to be wise?

Why do people wait until their 90's to regret that they didn't dance in the street more?  The answer is easy:  Perhaps because they did not want to be seen as (a) childish, (b) drunk, or (c) crazy.

I learned something important as I learned to ride a unicycle with my children at age forty-nine.  I really looked awkward -- actually hilariously stupid -- learning to ride the unicycle.  But I vowed that I would pretend that people could not see me.  Now my children and I still enjoy going out and playing street hockey on our unicycles because I refused to worry about what others might think.

Below is a video of Maria and I in the streets of Strasbourg, France after one of the greatest milongas we have ever gone to the night before in Kehl, Germany (a boarder town to France).  We were acting like 90-year old tangueros who were trying to catch up with all the dancing-in-the-street that we could!  Notice please, how stupid I look in my extremely bouncy walking shoes!  Look at how Maria cannot keep her clogs on her feet and is laughing:  Great improvisation to excellent musicians playing a tango for us; total freedom of spirit; absolute joy and tenderness, great floorcraft with no collisions with dogs, children, goal-driven tourists; no shame afterwards (¡sin vergüenza!); excellent partner-playfulness.


But why am I telling the world?  What a paradox!  Am I truly dancing as if no one were watching and then posting a video?  Really, I am not telling the world but a few readers, and I am writing notes and posting a video in case I have a bad memory when I am 90 years old.  :-)   No, seriously, this is not a performance or something to be proud of.  I just am happy to be dancing as if I were 90 years old and hope you will join the rest of us who no longer worry about who is watching (or even hope that someone is watching) -- that's immaturity is for youngsters under 90.  Join the "Over-Ninty Dance Cub."  You can join early if you choose "D."

Did I say 90?  That is just the start.  Please enjoy the 100th birthday dance for Carmencita Calderón!

*Parallel play is a term for developmentalists who chart when children go from parallel play (play next to each other but not with each other) to the next phase of partnership play.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The End of Tango

One day "tango" may be just be a car or
a sushi bar not a dance or muisc

The End of Tango

An old English proverb says that all good things must come to an end. Tango is good. Will it come to an end?

The proverb is depressingly negative and at least in part incorrect. Many good things have been around just as long as anything. Like love. Like kindness. What about movement to music? They have been around for a long time. They seem to live on and on.

However, even in your lifetime many very good things have come to an end, right? Will tango be one of them? Perhaps if tango doesn’t last very long in your life or in history itself, my guess is that tango’s demise would be caused be two major things:

(1) Tango would become so complex that people new to it would be awed by it but not become tango dancers, and
(2) that dancers with bad manners (“snotty dancers”) would become so common place that beginners would almost immediately give up and even veteran dancers would tire of the tango scene.

This scenario of a dying tango community is already here in certain communities. Just one night of bad manners for the most avid dancers makes us wonder if it is worth it. Surely you know of some community which started and has already died. We could really learn from history of how to delay a good thing from coming to an end!

Although most tango teachers fancy themselves as promoting tango, I would wager that the majority of teachers are actually promoting the demise of tango – unwittingly of course! Again, it is because too many teachers promote the two things that will destroy tango: Rarely mentioning the “manners” of tango and making it far too complex.

It doesn’t make sense that teachers would destroy their own livelihood, but that is exactly what they too often do. First, there is a tendency to sell the idea that there is much more to learn. Then they want you to have fun! So let’s not mentions etiquette or rules. Rules and manners take away instant gratification (fun) in all things. My son says that the computer game, “Grand Thief Auto” is fun because one can break all the rules. So it is with tango. If you start dancing with rules, you may destroy your own perusal of instant gratification. It takes space to accomplish that new, high-speed thing you learned in the 8-week course you took on volcadas/colgadas with an enrosque-cherry-on-top. Teachers want to bring fun to tango and engage people to return. Talking about rules and manners, then, is the low on the list for many teachers.

In my last version of tango etiquette, I realized something that had never occurred to me before: Manners are for everyone else. Our instant gratification is subdued for the gratification of others and thereby our own delayed-but-enhanced gratification. This is a great philosophical and theological truism made true by the simple practice of traditional tango: Whether it is tango, driving a car or sexual ethics, rules and laws get in the way of what we might like for immediate gratification. But in the long run, ethics and rules allow a greater good and the more wonderful pleasure in all things.

All good things DO Not come to an end. Good things may transform, yes, but they do not come to an end. The good of tango is that human beings love to move to music and the beautiful synchronicity of tango’s music and dance may be replaced by some other music but the close embrace and the nuance of movement to music will always remain. Let the open embrace and showmanship of tango, the snobbishness of a tango click ruin it in your community, but tango will live on in some form and perhaps with a different name.

All good things live forever. Like love. Like kindness. Like movement to music. Tango will live forever, just with a different name. If you want to live with the name tango longer, then be nice, be kind, dance close as close to your partner as you can and as close to the music as you can. Tango may never die if you do that.

Photo Credit:  Tango sushi.