Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Sharing Her Aura

Sharing Her Aura 
by Mark Word

We agree to meet -- a reenactment of love at first sight,
As a thousand times before when we dance.
No dance is just another dance; it is our first or perhaps our last.
As I arrive, I see her and sense that she has not yet danced.
I can see it in her face, her lack of light.

Others too, sit like ghosts, black and white, blurred, waiting to dance.
Those dancing have color -- the spectrum playfully dancing through their body.
Their auras mingle in a depth of color, sometimes shooting rays.

I catch her eye; she nods assent with her eyes that I may approach her.
As she waits, I savor our soul-through-eye-connection, until I stand before her.
The black and white hues of our hands meet and we watch the color
Fill in our grayish, charcoal-sketched outlines, starting at our fingers,
Color fills our hands, arms, and in moments our entire being comes to life in color.
Her amber hue fills faster than mine, as if her soul is thirsty from anticipation.
She admires, with a smile, how her amber goes so well with my purplish hue.
We walk to the wooden path, joining the orchestra with our body-instruments.

At the command of the di Sarli that plays, we embrace and listen to the pulse.
As we embrace, the spectrum of music dances in us like a flame from an ancient bonfire.
Like an ancient prayer that has been prayed countless times,
How often has this musical flame danced in this fashion
Between two connected hearts of embodied souls, I wonder.
Does the Music rejoice, happy that yet another two sojourners would join
These immortal tones, etched into the Universe's cerebral cortex?

My essence stays mostly purple, hers mostly amber as the music stops.
But as we return at tanda's end, I see my paths of purple go through her,
And her electric, golden strands move over me with amber rays darting from my shoulders.

This is why we come, time and time again.
To share an aura or to find ours again.

Photo Credits:
Eye spectrum
Aura angel

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Music: Not a Spectator Sport

Waiting for a dance in Juarez

Sitting and listening to music is stressful.

Okay, it can be kind of nice.

If you are absolutely exhausted.

Having a broken leg is also a good excuse to sit and watch music.

It's rumored that one of the worst torture techniques used during the Bush administration was tying people down and playing tangos until they lost their minds.

As I was a musician, I didn't understand that I was a dancer inside.  I hardly could stand watching people playing music.  I felt I had to do something.  But I thought it was that I merely wished I was playing instead of watching.   But now I know what it was.  The "Do something!" that I felt inside was to dance.  I thought for years that I was impelled to play music, but what I really needed to do is get up and dance.  At the time I just did not know what was going on inside of me.

In 2007 I was playing Latin percussion along with a salsa DJ.  I was in heaven.  Playing music.  Nirvana.

Then a salsa came on and I put down my timbale sticks.  Sure, I  could have played the tune, but I just had to dance.  That's the day I realized something I really did not know:  Dancing is a higher level of Nirvana than being a musician -- at least, it is for me.

If it is true that music is not a spectator sport . . . then tango teachers really need to do a better job at changing the way they teach!  We are torturing all those tangueras by having them sit way too much.  Most don't have broken legs, I have noticed.

The gender imbalance is a complicated issue, but there are solutions.  Part of the solution would be to stop the blame-game-tango-teaching against men that goes on presently.  Here are a few solutions:
  • No-Fault Dancer Solution:  Men are only 50% responsible for every dance.  50% if it goes well or not so well.  If it goes well, the woman did not make any obstacles for me and I did not create obstacles for her.
  • The Music as Entertainer Solution:   Men are not responsible for giving the woman an entertaining ride.  This is the biggest mistake that teachers make -- giving a sense that you need to learn this $100 move to keep her satisfied -- or worse, that one should entertain the people sitting (who are already distressed because they are sitting and not dancing).  The music entertains us and motivates us when both are taking 50% responsibility for the dance and staying within their respective roles.
  • The True Leader Solution:  The music leads, not the man.  Are both listening to the music?  If not this could be Tai Chi for two, or acrobatics, but it isn't dance. 
  • The Body Language Solution:  Men have to listen to the woman's body and understand her level as much as a woman has to do the same.  If only the woman has to listen to what men are "leading," then the men are from the start at a disadvantage.
  • The New Analogy Solution:  If it is not "lead/follow," then what is it?  Men have to learn how to follow the music as much as women.  However, their embodiment role is quite different:  Men are the musical note; women are the musical rest (or pause) -- neither of them are leaders. 
  • Keep It Simple Solution:   How about men not having to be an encyclopedia of steps?  Do we really have to learn steps?  When I have danced well, the music has inspired some move.  I remember a tanguera saying something about me having an encyclopedia of moves.  I know that it may have felt as if I have a bunch of steps, but really I had stayed pretty basic but very much to the music. "I can't get no satisfaction," are pretty banal lyrics. Put to music and sung with energy, those lyrics suddenly seemed magical.  We don't need steps!  Both men and women have to learn how to move their torsos, shoulders, legs, feet -- bodies in such a way that it communicates to one's partner where we are in our feeling.  And then when the music says something, we can respond immediately to that.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is the way women teach me steps all the time.  The music inspired her, and I listened.
No-blame dance instruction would revolutionize tango.  Too many women are sitting for a very good reason.  Let's fix it instead of blaming this problem on men.  

It may feel to women that the man led so perfectly, that she "merely" followed.  Not true.  It may feel to the man as if he really had really led the dance when it goes well.  Not true.  Think about it:  Surely, there are times when a man has done his very best, and the dance was not magic.  Perhaps the music the DJ put on really didn't lead the partner well because the DJ plays for himself and not for the dancers.  Perhaps the woman was not present -- looking at the mirror or at who was watching.  Perhaps the man was nervous, thinking that he is finally dancing with a woman who never had looked his way, and he is trying to show her everything he knows.  He "dances" well, but it doesn't go with the music.  Perhaps, he is angry and distracted by a tanguero who has put his partner in danger a few times, and he's contemplating how he should end the evil tanguero's life in a tango fight, just like the old days. :-)  At the end, the man led.  She followed.  But they had a torturous dance.  The music must lead.  WE must follow.  The music entertains us, not each other or the audience.  The music itself is a mix of notes and rests; so are we -- a mix of yin and yang, a mix of notes and rests, a mix of male and female.

Music is central.  Without it there is no dance.  Music is not a spectator sport:  It is la voz de los dioses.  When the music plays it leads us to get up and dance.  Just don't stop there.

Let music's divine voice continue to lead.

Photo credit:  Ladies waiting for dance.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Do us a favor. Don't teach!

ave you ever found an old letter that you wrote?  

It is amazing to go back to that moment.  There's a good chance that the relationship with that person is now totally different.  But what if that letter was to yourself? Chances are that the relationship with yourself has changed.

Today, I was looking for something else, and I came across a letter-to-myself, telling myself that it would be ill-advised ever to become a tango teacher.

So the good news is that I have taken my own advice not be a tango teacher.  Well, kind of.  If I fail at being a Master Beginner, then I will default into being "one-up," and start teaching.  I do not want to say bad things about teachers!  It's just that I don't want to be one.  
I have had amazing teacher/mentors in all departments of my life.  They all had a special quality and expertise.  I appreciate all who endeavor to bring others forward this designation has many more poor examples of helping others than good examples.

So, the goal is not to be a teacher but a "Master Beginner."  This alternate term, Master Beginner, which I used in my last post, surprisingly does not appear in any Internet search engines.  The Zen term shoshin is a highly developed concept that speaks to the same concept of the Master Beginner.  However, as I understand shoshin (beginner's mind), I wish not to be the expert who uses a beginner's mind but to truly become the beginner and help other's to avoid becoming "experts" away from their center.   Many experts find themselves having to return to Square One.  My guess is that we should never leave our starting point.  And to remind myself I am not a teacher, I won't charge at the little studio who has invited me.

Back to my letter to myself.  I wrote this in Washington DC, back in Noverber 2010:


Here is a letter to myself for the day that I get the (probably ill-informed) idea that I might be ready to teach tango:

Dear Mark:

Please remember these seven things, if you think you are now ready to teach, especially #7 --

1. Diversity is Good:  Respect the spectrum of tango (milonguero, salón, nuevo).  You don't have to do what theologians have done and start wars and kill each over our differences.

2. Help the Gene pool:  Have your students go to different milongas from different teachers.

3. Take care of your own soul:  Dance 100% with the person you are dancing outside of a lesson.  You have danced with teachers who examined you but were not truly present -- like someone listening to a Bach Cantata at a concert next to you, but not there with you.  Hold that woman. Make her feel as if she is the only woman in the world.

4. Practice the Art of Dancing for Yourself:  Dance with people outside your "stable."  It is amazing how limited teachers become and are unable to read anything they do not intellectually/experientially know. You can dance all night with all levels of dancers, and then a teacher cannot follow the same thing you have done with everyone else -- a true sign that they have been dancing within in their own studio too much.

5. Performance Anxiety Medicine:  Talented teachers help dancers from seeking blame when things go wrong.  The music is the leader ideally and both partners create together when the leader is fully acknowledged.

6. How to Protect a Woman:  Floorcraft is the science of many couples dancing together.  Ultimately it is protecting one woman and then protecting all the woman around you.  Their legs are exposed.  Floorcraft is the main subject in every class on social tango, right?

7.  The Real Subject is NOT Tango:  This could have been #1, but I saved it for last as it is the most important.  The real subject is not tango. What you are teaching mostly is how a person can enjoy themselves, love themselves,  reach out to others and feel the tender touch of another person.  An ocho cortado is only a way to get to this real goal.  The greatest teachers in history have inspired the student to thirst knowledge not to HAVE knowledge.  If your students feel depressed and you make them feel as if they know so little after your class, please consider just going back to dancing and not teaching.  Two towns that I know of that have an inordinate amount of judgmental tangueras, and in both cases this phenomenon is the teacher's misunderstanding of the Real Subject.

In a few words:  Teaching is a calling.  Mark, tango communities need teachers who are advocates for the love of primarily dancing not watching tango and the succor of a vibrant, local tango community.  Be a good teacher with the goal of making great tangueros/tangueras.

You will be a good teacher.
You will be a good teacher.
You will be a good teacher.
You will be a good teacher.

Note on this 2010 now on 18 August 2012:  My letter to myself was pretty good advice, but some things will be amended.  More on that later!   

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Body as Music Contest

How's this for a great contest?  The Body as Music contest.  Imagine trying to "hear" the music by just watching dancers.  Wouldn't that be a great contest?  This is what I think distinguishes this couple pictured above, Noelia Hurtado and Carlitos Espinoza.  La Música is in charge of what they do, allowing her to dance fully and for him to dance without hindrances of a woman who is waiting for the man to lead.  She is incredible with her keen ear to musical nuances, and he is the king of the tango walk in my estimation.

But back to my contest -- well, it's only an imaginary contest for now:
  • The contestants listen to ten favorite tangos as the first step. 
  • Each tango has about the same tempo but distinct characteristics.
  • The contestants have ten guesses before the end of the song!
These rules for a Body as Music contest would be nearly impossible for contestants to distinguish music danced to waltz, salsa, foxtrot, or chachachá.  But tango's improvisational nature and connection makes this contest possible.   At least that is my theory.

Who should we choose to show the visual examples?  There are many to chose from, but this idea came to me after watching Noelia Hurtado and Carlitos Espinoza in the below video.  Notice the connection!  What a rare thing to see in performance videos.  Most performance dancers open up the embrace and lose the nuances that full connection allows.

I wish I had known about this couple earlier.  They were in Meze, France not too far from me recently.  Want to see more?  Here they are earlier this year in my back yard:

Photo Credit at top.