21 May 2009

Dialing in...

"Dialing in" An old military term used to denote changing one's settings to adapt to unique and shifting environments enabling one to hit the target. 

One of THE most difficult things I have ever had to learn to do in tango is to "Dial in" my partner. It was an excruciating exercise in patience and adaptation. I pushed through that because of my target... A good tanda, and my tango partner's joy.

Nothing but steps...
When I began learning tango, I was under the impression that it was all about steps and figures. A common beginner's mistake. I had to be able to do a gancho, a sacada, a giro, a molinete, etc, etc, etc. I also expected that my partners would also know a gancho, a sacada, a giro, a molinete, etc, etc, etc.

I studied long and hard, and eventually I could perform my steps and figures well. I thought I had it. I honestly thought (at the time) that if I collected enough good step patterns, I would be fine. I took to the milonga floor and imposed... No, INFLICTED this on unsuspecting partners. In my zeal to perfect my steps, I sometimes ended up teaching them to my partner... my sincerest apologies. I did not realize (then), that this was rude in tango.

Starting to lead...
There was an event that made me realize my step collecting folly. My first teacher and I were watching someone someone on the dance floor. He could barely dance, and he was trying to teach a hapless beginner steps. It looked bad, very bad. My teacher told me,

"Look at J... It just upsets me when someone tries to teach something he can't even do himself." 

My head blew up after hearing this, thinking—I was just like that! Ewe! I need to figure things out. My epiphany was this: I told myself that steps are fine, ONLY if I could lead them well. If I can't, I won't.

I learned to lead. I learned to dance with simplicity. I was on my way down a new path. Much to my amazement, making the decision was the easy part.

Leading is not easy. Women dance differently...
Learning to lead was not the defining moment in my tango. It was the beginning of many, many, many headaches to come. 

The source of my consternation... Women dance differently—Each and everyone of them! Gaaaah! I discovered that having learned how to lead, I only knew how to lead ONE way. My style of leading only worked for one type of follow. That made one out of ten dances good. The rest, I would not even call good. I had to figure something out if I wanted to have decent dances.

Lessons from the past: Dialing in...
Being an old and broken veteran, it was once my job to hit distant targets under varying environmental and atmospheric conditions. In order to compensate for variances, I was trained in the very mental exercise of "Dialing in." 

You become aware of your environment and the elements around you and your objective. You know your strengths, capabilities, and limitations. You make your assessments and compensate by (literally) "Dialing in" to adjust your settings. Done right, your target is easily achieved. Done improperly (or ineptly), you waste a good opportunity.

Becoming aware, tweaking the dials...
When the dance starts, we go into an embrace—the abrazo. I feel my partner's breathing rhythm. I feel her level of tension, or relaxation. Where does she hold her weight?

I immerse myself in the music. I feel it. I feel her. I move off, one foot... then the next. I feel her move with me. The dialing in begins.

Does she go long, or go short? Do her steps feel choppy or smooth? Does she feel heavy or light? Does she follow what's led, or does she misread the lead?

Whatever she does, I adapt, and dial in my settings for my lead to match her level of follow. That way, regardless of what and how she follows, by dialing in, I can try to make everything flow into that magic called tango.

17 May 2009

Seattle's (finest) tango bloggers

On the evening of May 16, 2009, we had a small party. On hand were dear friends, good food, good wine, and a little dancing.

The air was permeated by a bond of friendship and love that was created by this beautiful this thing called, "Tango."

08 May 2009

With my sincerest apologies...

Knowing what I know now in tango, I would like to address a few things to a few ladies. I hope that after this, someone will still want to tango with me...

To the lady whom I stepped on, kicked, and knocked knees with,
I apologize. When I was starting out, I didn't and couldn't lead with the right posture, nor with the right walk. I've since corrected those errors and I hope to dance with you again sometime.

To the lady whom I nearly squeezed to death,
I apologize. At the time, I didn't know the difference between a tango embrace—The abrazo, and a Jiujitsu submission hold. I know better now, and when we dance again, I promise to envelop you in a warm loving embrace, and not a bear hug.

To the lady whom I left breathless in less than a tanda,
I apologize. As a beginner, I was impatient, and thought everyone was slow. I was wrong. The next time we dance, I'll dance to the speed of the crowd in harmonious syncopation with you. I promise to not bulldoze right through you.

To the lady whom I led with my flailing arms,
I apologize. I didn't know how to lead yet, so I used your right arm like a boat rudder. I know how to lead now, so when we dance again, I'll present my hand for you to rest yours on. I promise not to wrench it out from its socket.

To the lady whom I bounced around the floor with,
I apologize. It was a remnant of my ballroom days. Rise and fall was the norm. I'm learning to be smooth and walk like I'm on rollers. Next time we dance, I'll try to make it as smooth as possible, and not make you sea-sick from all that bobbing up and down.

To the lady whom I led with a very tentative lead,
I apologize. Starting out, I really didn't know what to do. I assumed that if I give a signal, you'd do a boleo, or a gancho, or a giro, or a molinete... I didn't know that I was supposed to move you—lead you. I think I've it figured out now, so next time, you don't need to guess what I'm trying to do, because you'll be able to feel my lead.

To the lady I tried to teach on the dance floor,
I apologize. I was new. I tried to hide my incompetence by looking smart and teaching you a step that I myself could not lead. It must have been embarrassing or humiliating. In any case, it's not good. I know better now, and when we meet again on the dance floor, things will just happen.

To the lady I heaved around like a sack of potatoes,
I apologize. I confused finesse with brute force. I've since learned to transmit my motion through you very subtly and clearly. As we meet again, we will flow like water.

To the lady I danced with out of tune,
I apologize. At the time interpreting music was not my forté... Ok, I had no clue. I thought that as long as I could do the steps, I'd be fine. I have since learned to read the music, syncopate, dance on time and with rhythm. When we meet, I may not be fancy, but I'll be in tune.

To any one else I have forgotten... I'm sure I have perpetrated a lot more tango malfeasance than what I even remember and/or know... I say to you, "I apologize."

To make amends, I shall do my all to make our next tango experience, a beautiful one.

P.S. I don't stink. So, I won't be apologizing for that. ;-)