28 July 2011

The music dictates...

A few years ago, I always wondered, that after years of learning technique I found my tango still wanting. My dances ended with a feeling of "Coldness." I looked and searched for the reason. I found it in the most ubiquitous and permeating elements of tango... The Music

A boring dancer was I
I had a vast repertoire of steps and patterns. I knew how to lead. I knew where to place my weight, I knew where her weight was. I was not lacking of things to do. Despite all of this, I could not get over the feeling that when the tanda was over, I was not fulfilled. Because, I did not see my partners totally happy. It looked as though they had just finished a very long tedious activity. It dawned on me—Despite of what I thought of good technique, I was monotonously boring!

Being a former ballroom dancer, we went through drills and exercises to the point that we could do dance moves without the music. The thinking was that we could dance to anything. To a non-ballroom dancer, this would seem a bit absurd. But, In ballroom dancing's defense, a lot of it has to do with technical perfection. This was a training technique to be ultimately competitive.

A total change in perspective
In order to make my dancing more "enjoyable," I did a data-dump of my previous learning techniques. I changed my perspective to focus on tango,  and just tango.

I embraced the techniques native to tango, it's dynamics, it's nuances. I listened to the music. I got over the Tango technique part quite well with lots of patience and perseverance. The music however, was a different problem to handle. I couldn't get over the "Old" feel of the music, no percussion, sometimes, the singing voice I found distracting. I kept at it as I accepted the fact that if I need to be proficient in tango, I need to appreciate tango music to dance to it.

My tango music epiphany
This was a major turning point for me.

Despite my self-confidence in leading and passable tango technique, I still felt like I wasn't dancing. Rather, I was simply "shuffling" across the milonga floor. One day, I found the answer. I internalized the music! It made a world of difference. Allow me to explain...

The music dictates
The answer was simple. As I danced, I listened to the music and channeled the mood of the music through my dance. So, if the music was slow, I dance slow. If I the music was fast, I danced fast. If the music changed pace, so did I. It if were an intense piece, say, a Pugliese, my tango was intense and passionate. If the music was sweet, like Canaro's Poema, my dancing reflected the loving embrace for my partner—I matched my mood and movement to the music.

-  -  -

I've found my tango now to be much improved. After this small improvement, I no longer leave my partners with a glazed look. They leave me with a smile, and my heart sings.


26 July 2011

Volcano Tango

Mrs. Ampster and I went on a 10 mile hike up to Coldwater Peak. A mountain within the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, and directly in the blast zone of Mount St. Helens.

To celebrate our summit, we danced a Tango on uneven volcanic ash in-between two trees that were instantly scorched and knocked down when Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980.

P.S. If anyone is wondering what I'm wearing, I hike (and dance) in a Seattle Utilikilt (it's a Seattle thing).


03 July 2011

Mountain Tango

June 2, 2011 was a particularly beautiful day. Mrs. Ampster and I decided to do a day-hike to the summit of Tiger Mountain (WA).

We found ourselves atop the summit. The sky was clear with visibility unlimited. We could see cities in the distance surrounded by the evergreen forests of Western Washington surrounded by the magnificent Cascades Mountain range.

The day was warm and the breeze cool. The sun was beginning to set and the subdued hues from horizon to horizon created a beautiful burst of inspiration—A Mountain Tango!

21 June 2011

A writting sabatical

My dear friends,

My apologies for not writing lately. Sometimes, this thing called "Life" gets in the way of fun things like tango. Rest assured, I am still here, and will be back soon.

Till then...


20 April 2011

Dancing 'Grounded'

Dancing Grounded
After dancing tango all of these years, I (every now and then) hear the word "Grounded" applied to dancing tango. I've always have wondered what term "Grounded" meant. Depended on whom you ask, or what you read, the definition varies. Their definitions varied from the deeply philosophical, enlightened spiritual, and the completely benign. Very few meant anything that I could coherently understand.

That being said, I now write about what dancing "Grounded" means to me...

My definition
Landing each movement with your weight resolutely and confidently until your weight settles and stops, before initiating the next movement. This gives my partner the feeling of completion and closure for every phrase of movement... a period ending every sentence. It gives me the opportunity to wait for my partner to respond to my lead before I continue to lead on.

My technical discussion
I achieve this weight settling feeling via the following:

  • Upper Body—Maintaining an Intensely Silent Embrace:  I keep my upper body contact consistently in contact with my partner. The embrace is loving, firm, yet comfortable. I try to avoid any extraneous upper body movement. That way, my partner can take cues by whole body leading, rather than from just impulses, pushes, pulls, from the arms, etc.
  • Lower Body—Controlled whole leg movements: Imagine taking one step... The ball of the foot, first contacts the floor. The controlled landing begins. My calf tenses with my quadriceps to move and center my upper body's weight over my leg. My upper and lower leg muscles then take my whole body weight, centered over my foot, then lowers the heel to gently, but resolutely contact the floor. The downward movement continues until my whole weight settles--and stops. End movement, continue next...

Grounding the rhythm
The technical part, challenging as it may seem, was only one part of the equation. The other part was incorporating it into the rhythm. I needed to learn how to move with the music. It was a practice + trial-and-error exercise. Incorporating rhythm with the movement and settling weight was very complicated for me at first. After many tries, I was able to vary the technique to make it work with slow, fast, staccato rhythms. After that, I learned to smooth the amalgamation of movement to make it flow. That is, the moving, landing, turning, landing, etc, etc, etc.

What works for me is a combination of interpreting the music appropriately, with controlled whole body muscular movement. It made a big difference in my tango. It also had the side benefit of developing good leg muscle tone.


16 March 2011

I'm coming in for a landing...!

A few months ago, I wrote,  "Landing her first." It was one of the most important things I've learned in leading tango. It was about my needing to wait until my partner's weight settled before moving on and leading my next maneuver. That was one part of the equation.

I now write about the other part of my "Tango movement formula"—I have to (first) let her know what I'm doing to make it easier for my tango partner to follow...

Inadequacies (in the beginning)
When I first started dancing tango, I had my moves memorized well and tried to lead them. Most of the time, my partner wasn't able to follow. I had attributed it to the myriad inadequacies of my partner (e.g. Lack of experience, didn't know the moves, etc.)

A couple of my partners did tell me, "I didn't get that." I wondered... If I executed my moved well, why weren't they getting it? Studying the matter, I realized the errors of my ways. It wasn't my partners' lack of following experience. It was my lack of leading skill that was the inadequacy.

Epiphany (letting her know my intentions)
My great epiphany was that, "In order for my partner to follow me, I need to let her know what I'm doing!"  If my partner knows what I'm doing, it'll be easier for her to follow. Simple enough to articulate, not so easy to do.

Mechanics (How do I do it)
I learned to shift my weight with my lower body, and to send signals with my upper body—Smoothly!

  • Shifting weight: I stopped rushing my movements, and took my time. When I started something, I made sure to settle all my weight on a leg–stop–then move on
  • Control: I became aware of all of the things my body was doing. I made sure that I was precise and deliberate. Improved muscle tone helped a lot
  • Isolation: I learned to isolate my upper and lower body. This allowed me to have a steady upper body, which facilitated consistent connection, while my lower body moved and put my upper body into the direction I was leading towards
  • Integration: The combination of weight shifting, control, isolation, all had to come together. I just went out and endeavored to do them—all at once. It took lots of practice and patience. It took lots of trial and error. I also had to give profuse amounts of apologies to my partners. It was a difficult transition. But the goal was worth pursuing

By transmitting my intentions to my partner with the appropriate commitment, it made it easier for my partner to follow. In turn, made it easier and more natural for me to lead. 

When the combination works, the tango becomes one beautiful thing.

14 February 2011

My perfect tango partner

It was in a Valentine's day party, 23 years ago that I met this cute girl. It was 1988.

Her ensemble was a huge lace ribbon on her heavily curled long hair. She wore winged way-farer gold Ray-Ban's, low socks with fuzzy pom-poms. She spoke in happy tones. She was vibrant, smart, sometimes cynical, sometimes funny. She was complicated, yet easily understood. Her perfume filled the air with a sweet scent. I was smitten. I was in love.

23 years passed and it has had its complications, challenges, and irritations. The struggle of life took hold as every young couple embarks on the great tango adventure called life. There were highs and lows. But, amidst it all, there were was a happines that made life all so worth living.

Like a great tango, Mrs. Ampster has been my perfect tango partner. Through good and bad tandas and milongas alike. I thank her, and grateful to God to have blessed me with my perfect tango partner. After all, without a tango partner, I'm just a crazy guy going through the motions of life (and dancing)

I love you Mrs. Ampster, and here's to many, many more decades of going through the great milonga of life, called the Tango.