Friday, January 25, 2013

Being Present through Tango

Being present.

That is what tango gives us more than anything else, perhaps. Being present in our bodies is the result of allowing ourselves to be in the Now through the embrace, tandem movement, and the music. These are the trinity of being in the Now with tango.

Embrace, movement, music: These, united, are the vehicle to arrive and linger at the Now.

What, then, stops us from arriving at the place under our feet?  What blocks us from arriving to this place that is closest to us, but too often seems so far away?

Perhaps the biggest obstacle is worry about what just happened or what is going to happen (past and future issues).  If I were a painter, this is what I would put on canvas to describe worry:   I see worry as a psychological shouting match between the past (the land behind you) and the future (the ocean before you).  The present is neither, but both.  The sand below your feet, dry and wet, cold and warm. Always a paradox.  Being in the present is not watching what is before our feet or what is behind us.  Being present is feeling what is under our feet -- the Now.  Tango helps us with this wonderful task of being present.

In psychological trauma therapy, it is important for people to be in the Now, even when reviewing the horrific past.  The Now is your body.  Be in your body.  Be aware of your limbic system -- often felt in your heart, neck, back and stomach.  Be fully aware of your breathing:  Make it deep, musical in its phrasing.  Tango becomes therapeutic (good for you) when this happens.  Sure, tango can be like an amusement park ride, but it can be much more than that if you are present.  "Enjoy the ride" is not the tango I am talking about, although it is a phrase I often hear tangueras say.

Nervousness happens to me only when I focus on how I imagine my partner wants me to dance.  The solution for me is that I dance the way I know I can.  For women, however, this may be different.  Maybe this would help: I notice women saying "sorry" or obviously upset with themselves and I don't even know why or if I do, it is not important.

Some say that the Now is small. The future and past seem to be infinite to the human mind.  But try looking at just a slice of how gigantic the present is:  Biagi brought you to a nice side step. You are on your right foot.  Under your foot is a hardwood floor and an entire planet, teeming with life. Above your foot is a graceful stance, and directly above your head is the Andromeda Galaxy tonight.  But that is only the first galaxy, there are many more above your head.

Being present is very big -- bigger than the universe.  Doesn't the Now encircle and permeate our being and the universe?  But we have to be present to see it.  Tango takes you there.

Photo Credit of wheels of thinking
Photo Credit of land and sea
Photo Credit of closest galaxy to ours

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Dancing for the Gods

Milongas can be a long dive for me here in Germany; so last summer sometimes I would go down the street to dance salsa instead.  One evening was particularly magical.
Traditions all over the world:  Dancing for the gods is normal

Inessa and her boyfriend, a young couple who live near me, would sometimes call me up and say they were going to a local hole-in-the-wall salsa place.

I am remembering one particular night:

The salsa floor clears after the music stops for a moment.  I stay on the floor with Inessa and a salsa starts.  No one comes out to dance for some unknown reason, and we end up dancing all alone for an entire song.  I try to block this fact out.  I know the piece.  My tango instincts take over:  Every step has something to with the music in tango, as I best understand it.

This night, I realize something:  It's not just tango, but each dance can be danced in such a way that the music dictates what will happen next.  My salsa is not street salsa or schooled salsa: it's salsa that hears the music.  If there is a turn, it is because the music says to turn.

We join the band on stage.  I imagine that we are the unpaid members of the band.  I know this feeling as a musician.  It was a rare moment that I loved as a musician when I felt as if a dancer gave me the feeling that I was controlling his every move, or was the dance controlling my every move?  Perhaps neither.  In the mambo, son montuno, guaguacó traditions, the dancers are possessed by the gods, and the dance just happens.  In this ancient tradition from Africa, improvisation is what the gods do with you through the music.

When the music stops, we catch the ending as if we had practiced a thousand times -- bit of luck, really.  The Cuban conguero asks: "Señor, ¿Qué quieres oir ahora?"  [What do you want to hear now?]  I have never heard the band ask for a request.  I asked in Spanish, "Play a chachachá."  Although I have never head this band ever play a chachachá, they do it for us.  Everyone, it seems, in Germany learns at least a little bit of dance, and chachachá is on that list of dances they learn.

The floor fills with dancers now -- more than any other moment all night.  This is what I wanted from the start -- not a show, but people inspired to dance together.  I want them to dance because the music and the gods demand that they dance.

A German woman who has been dancing all night stands at her tall table.  I drink a tall glass of water after the chachachá.  She asks, "Are you on tour here?"

"No," I tell her.  "I am just possessed by the muses when they play their harps."

Not understanding me, she says, "I mean, are you professional?"

I don't know how to make her understand,  "No, I just dance because the music tells me to."  She looks at me strangely.  Yes, I am possessed.

During that song when no one joined us for the entire song, I tried to dance as if no one were watching, but of course there are those who are watching.  I put that out of my mind because I watched my partner and her every expression to see if she was ready for the next surprise parada or able to go into a moment of slow motion.  She, too, was watching me and my mischievous mind.  And, of course, the gods are always watching.

I really am not a practiced or a very good Latin dancer, but the magic of dancing salsa now is only because what I have learned in tango to improvise and move to the music -- that makes it appear that things were choreographed.

For some sense of the power of the chachachá, here is the music and its dance (below).  Although this dance is choreographed, the music is chachachá and for me very inspiring.  (For musicians:  The clave is always 2/3 in chachachá.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dance: The conduit to creativity?

My 19-year old son told me I had to listen to this TED Talk.  "It's about dance, Dad," he said in order lure me into watching it with him.

This TED Talk, by Sir Ken Robinson, is as inspiring as many of the TED Talks--and funny, too.  The concluding remarks bring together his thoughts on education's propensity to kill creativity, and he used dance as the example of how lopsided our educational system is.  Another point is that creativity itself  is just as important as literacy.  His lecture, "Do schools kill creativity?" ends with an anecdote from a book he is writing, called Epiphany, which is a collection of conversations with successful creative souls who accidentally discovered their creative centers (very much in spite of teachers and schools).  What would an academic professor say about dance?  That it is important?  It is!

Tango, I feel, has helped me rediscover my creative center in many areas outside the arts, and many whom I know through tango will say the same. Sir Robinson is an educator and is not against schools or teachers but methods that kill creativity.

Click on the video clip below, or you can go directly to the concluding remarks about dance by clicking on the link I provide at the very bottom of this post.

This is the LINK or cut-and-paste this link into your browser:

Now you may think this is merely interesting, that dance might be important as an aside, quite separate from the "hard sciences."  Perhaps the bottom of education will be the foundation!  You must now take the time to see this next video clip, "Dance your Ph.D."   I watched this video a while back, and both videos together have a very powerful synergistic effect.  

Before you watch it, consider my life mission:  Tandem improvisational movement, as expressed in tango, may lead to the solution or amelioration of many somatic and psychological disorders.  I don't know.  You tell me:  Have you found a cool dance hobby, or has dance allowed you to discover yourself?  I believe that tango is not merely a nice hobby and is certainly not an "addiction."  It is a key to something very mysterious and marvelous in discovering yourself and those around you.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Plato is your Tango Teacher?

Plato is setting up a tango studio in your town.  Everyone is talking about Plato teaching tango.  His classes are full of students, eager to learn.

He is supposed to be the wisest and most knowledgeable teacher in your country.  You sit at his feet.  He has diagrams that show you where the students' feet should be.  He talks about classic tango music and how to dance musically.  You learn cool moves:  Volcadas, sacadas, colgadas, enrosques and pivots.  There is no end to the sequences of beautiful moves you can learn from Plato.

But you notice something.  He doesn't enjoy dancing with any woman.   When he dances you see him looking at the door, the clock.  His face is one of sadness or boredom when he dances.

Sorry, that is not Plato, but a counterfeit teacher.  Perhaps, he's really good at molding students to look just like him.  He creates others in his image and likeness
-- fantastic dancers who are unhappy to the core because no one is good enough to dance with them.  I say this not out of disdain.  They too can return to basics or go back to their day job.

Plato is truly a great teacher.  The real is eternal.  Each step on earth may be wonderful, but still is mutable and mortal -- only a shadow of the eternal idea.  Plato's goal for his students is to get closer to the human condition in relationship with true eternal substance.  His goal for you is to find the connection of soul, body and spirit.*  The volcadas, sacadas, colgadas, enrosques, and pivots are the shadows on the wall of the cave.

Distance yourself this counterfeit teacher!  Otherwise, his end (unhappiness) will become your destination as well.  With the teacher who dances without soul, you have no one to model the joy of lifelong dancing.

Tango is three simple things.  The warm and natural embrace, two people embodying the music, and tandem harmonic movement.  The overall goal is to find peace, closeness, to be present with your own inner world, and to respect the souls who have assented to walk with you on this wooden path to the immortal truth.

Go find Plato.

 Soul (psyche = the spectrum of knowing/feeling), body (embodiment), and spirit (pneuma = wind or breath:  phrasing of breath is musical phrasing, musica humana).

Plato's bust: photo credit (click here):

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

We Dance the Body Electric

Steel Engraving of Walt Whitman
by Samuel Hollyer (1854)
Walt Whitman (1819-1892) was not a tanguero.

He was an iconoclast poet.  In his poems, he spoke of the beauty of the male and female body in a way that shook conventions of his time -- and perhaps still today.  I think he knew something that tangueros and tangueras know about the distinct roles of tango.

In a time in which the practical use of electricity was rare, he wrote the poem "I Sing the Body Electric."   In this poem, he provided remarkable glimpses of men and women.  Tangueros and tangueras describe these differences in the rol masculino and the rol femenino.

An excerpt from this poem says this so well:

The female contains all qualities, and tempers them—she is in her place,
    and moves with perfect balance;
 She is all things duly veil’d—she is both passive and active...

...The male is not less the soul, nor more—he too is in his place;
 He too is all qualities—he is action and power;
The flush of the known universe is in him..."

If Walt Wittman had danced tango, perhaps he would have written something like this:

We Dance the Body Electric
  by Mark Word

We hear the music and it charges us fully.
We come to the milonga, seeking to recharge
Our body's need of touch, of human warmth.
The music magnetizes the room,
Filling each pour of our bodies.
Her charge and my charge are different
But together we are Yin and Yang --
Polar opposites creating a me that becomes we.
Without her energy, I am isolated, half of what was before.
I hear the music through her body and she, through mine.
We dance the Body Electric.