Monday, February 25, 2013

The Lady Weeps Too

A woman reads snippets out of the life of Ástor Piazzolla.
Then Violin sings the songs that only a tanguero gypsy can.
Piano has the voices of ten fingers, dancing as African immigrants.
Cello pours out the words, my soul had sought but could not find.
My eyes fill with tears for no damn reason (like the lady next to me).
And life seems right in that moment, when beauty brings me to tears.
I know I am alive and I am not alone.  The lady weeps too.

Photo credit: Cello Chick

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Warning Label on Wearing the Pants

Since this post seems mostly misunderstood please read a definition of Lady Lead first. Also, be aware that the term "leader" as used in ballroom and by many tango teachers who speak English is often challenged.  Understanding these two things is important to understand the context of the following  post.
A favorite partner just asked me what my take was on Leading Lady Classes.  Ms J reported than men in the class hurt her back and tend to want to dance with smaller women.  If I were a woman, I probably learn both roles, but I would hope before my first class on "leading," I would hope that someone would present me with a warning label on the product about to be purchased:

"Warning:  By taking this class, you may never be able to really be present with your partner ever again.  You may force steps, especially with beginner men instead of allowing them to learn to be true tangueros; you may force their submission, harming them and your own dance.  Please sign here that you assume all responsibility and liability for what this class may do to your present love of dancing tango."  

A warning label does not mean that something will happen, but once a person knows the risk of a product, they can take special steps to protect themselves for the effects that are possible or even likely.  Let me introduce to Ms J.  She has collaborated in a huge number of movements which have become the basis of how I dance.  She was dancing for three months when I first danced with her.  From the start I did new things in her presence.  Another musician friend says the same about her.  Because of her I learned that the music is the true and only leader and that the woman can create opportunities for me to dance in new ways, just as I can do the same for her, although we stay in our own roles.  In Spanish the phrase that describes this is: "El hombre propone; la mujer dispone" -- the man proposes and the woman makes it happen.  Ms J has systematically denied her powerful role of making things happen.  She tells me that I am the one who created the dance.  (Thanks, but I know this is not true; we collaborated.)  Because of her, I started naming new movements after the woman who inspired that new movement.  Now, Ms J wants to learn how to "lead" (meaning, learn the rol masculino).  Okay, but she should read the warning label on role cross-over classes. 

The most important thing to me personally is that if a woman is on the dance floor in my role, that is absolutely okay as long as does not cause risk to me or my tanguera.  May I be just truthful here? I hope not to upset the lady leaders who dance responsibly and mostly dance in the man's role.

My answer to Ms J's letter:

Dear Ms J:

My take on leading ladies is that they tend to be a danger on the dance floor.  The female with her left hand out can even appear talented in this role, but too often she fails at taking care of the woman with whom she is dancing.  The "better" lady-leads race around the dance floor, weaving in and out.  They fail at the first rule of being a man:  Protect your dance partner from harm and cause no harm to her or others because of the woman often going backwards.  That is the first thing to start with in his role.  If you can do that, then you are already ahead of many men, who have not learned this "first step" in the classes they have taken. 

Secondly, do not dance with anyone bigger than you.  Men should dance with men not women if they want to learn to follow.  The main reason for this it to avoid hurting yourself.  I learned a lot from Stephen [in Austin, Texas] as a follower.  Why would I have a woman lead me, especially if she is a beginner and/or smaller?  No comprendo.
The third issue:  From my experience with women and men who learn their partner's part are often not present because they are taking mental notes.  I feel as if lady leads are paying attention on being able to do what I do, rather than dancing with me.  Even a very advanced follower and great leader fought me in vals as I danced the "cruzado."* I had to silently insist that she allow me to wear the pants -- on being a man.  The music indicated a wonderful cruzado explicitly, so I was silently telling her " Just come with me, please!"  At first she was insisting on the typical val pulse step.   I danced with her several times that night and eventually she returned to being present, but some ladies never return to being present.  This is the the great sacrifice of being a teacher:   The "teacher problem" is to risk being in your head too much, never truly dancing again but thinking about what your partner is doing.  When this happens, dancing has ended, and movement analysis has taken over.  Dancing, in my opinion, may never return for that person.  So there should be a "warning label" on learning the partner's part.  It should read:

Ms J, what will you gain?  Surely there is value to learning something (like becoming a teacher?), but what are the losses?  Did you actually create an even larger gender imbalance in your community when new men come and see that women don't need them?  Did you just increase the risk that beginner men will give up? 

Added note for men:
The warning label is also for men learning the rol feminino.  Speaking for myself, I know that I have lost a bit of patience with women since learning their part.  I at times feel as if am not being present with her, asking myself why is she taking huge steps as the one default for every step.  I start wondering why she is not listening to the music and too much too me.  I wonder why she stands so straight, even though she loves close embrace and has been dancing for 12 years.  I have to fight knowing her part and how these little things are so easy if she would only be present with me, and stop listening to teachers who tell women to follow the man, rather than the true leader, the music.  Why isn't she listening? I have to hear and empathize with her movement and mood, her little steps when the music leads her to take them, or give her the time to make her "little drawings" (dibujcitos) on the floor.  Now, I have to fight being present with her because perhaps now I know too much about her role.

Regrading the cruzado:
*Cruzado:   The cruzado rhythm is from Peru and most likely Africa before that.  Please read my earlier blog/workshop called, "Thinking in six." Vals cuzado or Vals Criollo is not a Vienese Waltz or a Boston Walz, althought these have influenced the "tango waltz" too.   Note for musicians only on the crurzado:  Think in six (not three): The cruzado is on *2*4*6 (an upbeat hemiola) and mirrors the very dance-friendly clave of both the Epoca de Oro and Regge).  The cruzado can also be danced on 1*3*6 as it by advanced dancers almost always at certain parts of the vals.  It seems that most advanced dancers seem to be unaware how often they dance the cruzado.  Watch carefully any YouTube video of any vals, and you will see this phenomenon. Tango/milonga/vals cruzado all have the basic roots of the African clave rhthm.  All clave rhythms were once in six according to expert musicologists in the area of music in the Americas.  Here is a playful vals cruzado that plays around with the cruzado that is so strong in the music.  Watch the danced hemiolas on the downbeat (1*3*5*) and upbeat hemioloa (*2*4*6), which is the true cruzado rhythm, and the essential tango clave rhythm for most Golden Era tangos and classic reggae songs.

Other indications (not proof) of the power of staying in one's role:
In one of my first therapy sessions with a man with post traumatic stress disorder, I theoretically felt that his wife should be in the rol masculino, but at the last minute I changed to have him close his eyes and be in his own role.  I guided the couple when needed.  The resolution of early childhood trauma dissolved faster in that session tan anything I have experienced as a therapist.  Later, combat trauma also resolved itself.  The couple went on to join a tango community.  I am convinced, now, that we don't have to experience Yang if we are Yin, or Yin if we are Yang.

Photo credit and blog remarks on women in rol masculino

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Lady Lead

Lady Lead  

She gives herself fully to best tangueros.
I watch in awe of her animated femininity.
Her grace deserves a partner better than I.
But tonight she catches my adoring eyes.
With an upward whip of her gaze, an inviting nod,
I know that I must escort her to the dance floor.
I have no choice but to obey her lead.
Feigning my confidence, I approach with open hand.
My body and hands vibrate the frequency
  of not being sure of myself.

She embraces me and says in a whisper:
"Listen only to the music. I have watched you do this.
Hold me. Wait until you can feel my heart beat with that rhythm.
Then we will walk as one -- the music leads us both to move."
Her words will haunt me, I know, for all my dancing life.

She melts into me, and I can feel my heart slowing to hers.
And the music takes away the need to impress her
Because we both now stand in awe of the music together.
Our breathing becomes one,
Our walk follows as if from one heart.

Between songs, we shift deeper into the embrace
Tonight she has become my Lady Lead.
She brought me to the floor.
She calmed me with her embrace.
She showed me how to let the music lead us.

She led me to the life-long path --
The way to make tango with a woman.

The above poem, now significantly edited here, first appeared as one of my first tango poems in May of 2010.  The original was called, "The Older Woman."

Photo Credit: