29 July 2010

Doing self critiques

Throughout the years I've been dancing tango, I've had a few opportunities to see myself dancing. It happened again recently, and seeing myself one more time, gave the opportunity to ponder and learn a few things.

Every now and then,  the tango zombie paths of old needed to be contemplated, examined, and corrected...

Ballroom Lessons
When I was an aspiring ballroom dancer many years ago, my teacher ( Sam Smith ) taught me two things:
  • Some people do not look as good as they think
  • People need to be honest with ego. If not, they get stuck and never progress

What he was talking about was that many, many people think they are so good, and thus, look good too. Unfortunately, when others see you, that is not the case... and, it happens a lot.

I was this (infallible) person once. I thought I was the best at what I did and no one could match me—Until I saw myself dance. It was during a performance. Oh my goodness! I looked horrible. That was a wake-up call.

I had to improve. In order to do this, I had to accept the fact that I was not as good as I thought I was. That was what my teacher talked about being honest with my ego

My tango critique evolutions
Seeing myself dance in tango was more challenging than I had anticipated. The complexity and finesse tango needs required me to contemplate and plan in order to move forward. My self critiques reflected my growth in tango.

  • My early tango years
My perspective of myself emphasized on the "Mechanical." I believed that in order to be good, I had to expand my tango vocabulary. I went down the path of trying to learn everything as fast as I could.

  • Sometime in between now and then
I saw myself dance again. Despite the much expanded vocabulary, all I saw of myself was a step collector. My emphasis in learning, then shifted to techniques and the refinement thereof. So much so that I became "anal retentive." I became obsessed with perfection. I believed that having the repertoire of steps and precise delivery was they key to being good in tango.

Much to my chagrin, I realized that this, and my other preceding belief were quests of folly. Tango didn't work that way. I realized that tango is a balance of discipline, patience, technique, mechanical knowledge, all combined with caring for my partner.

  • Seeing myself now
It's funny. After all the money and work expended on workshops, memorization, techniques, shoes, clothes, blah, blah, blah... I came to the realization that I am now faced with one of the most difficult things to do in tango (IMHO)—Keeping things simple, and still look decent.
    = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = 

    Many, many people have said that "In tango, you dance for yourself, and your partner. Not for anyone else." True, so very, very true. 

    However, when I see myself and there are things that obviously need correcting, I need to "man up" and do something about it.

    22 July 2010


    There is something in tango that is absolutely unique and beautiful. They are heartbeats...

    Only in tango have I experienced the deepest connections with my dance partner. This, none more so manifested by heartbeats. In between dances during the tanda, there is that few seconds before each dance begins.

    When the first bars of the music fills the air, it permeates my senses. I feel the music. I feel my partner. I breathe slowly and deeply while listening to the music. I listen to her. Then... There it is!

    I feel my heart thumping, as if to the beat. In between heartbeats, I feel another set... Her own heart beating.

    In this one fleeting moment (spanning a mere second or two) is the real beginning of "The tango experience." It is when I feel hearts and the music in harmonious synchronization is when our dance begins.

    It is a connection of souls. It is one conversation without words. It is warm, comforting, real, and simply human. It is a beautiful thing.

    01 July 2010

    Dialing in—to different heights

    I once wrote about "Dialing in." I talked about adapting my dancing to match the dance capabilities of my particular partner (at the moment), in order to make the tango magic happen.

    One of the challenges I've come across over and over again is dancing with partners of different heights. I like to dance a lot, and to limit myself with picking only partners who were of the same height, limited my tango time.

    Furthermore, I see women sitting out most of the night regardless of them being beautiful dancers. I asked my veteran colleagues why this was. Their common answer:  "Because, they are (either) too tall, (or) too short.

    I used to dance in open embrace. Height was not much of a problem. Since becoming a close embrace dancer, I was intrigued as the dynamics were vastly different. I experimented on the milonga floor for the next couple of years leading to some very "interesting" discoveries and results...

    I. The challenge of varying heights

    • My ideal height range
    Dancing close embrace, I found that a height difference of +/- 4 inches equaled my ideal height range. At this level, our bodies are hinged very similarly, allowing for dynamic movement. I could easily dance close embrace—apilado style. That is, with a deep lean, sharing a common axis with my partner. This is where the both of us would form a dance posture resembling the letter "A." Walks, turns, or any movement in tango is relatively easy.

    • My reality of  dancing with a partner who is too short
    Dancing apilado style with a partner who was significantly (a head) shorter than I would cause my weight to lay on them. This would cause her to be most uncomfortable. Leading anything would be difficult as the pressure would be downward as opposed to forward.

    I tried couching lower, but that just made my knees ache. I tried bending forward at the waist, but that made my bust stick out. In any case, a "Thank you" from any of my partners would be quite apropos at any point—I know this from first hand experience.

    • My reality of  dancing with a partner who is too tall
    Trying to dance with a partner with a lean is like a defensive line-man executing a tackle. My center of gravity would be lower, and my shoulders chest, and head would drive into her upper chest, pushing her off her axis. This was tango. Not tackle football. 

    Trying to lead would be awkward, as she is trying to stay upright and not get knocked over. I even tried to dance on my tip-toes. But, that just caused my leading to become vague and ambiguous as I was no longer grounded. 

    Besides, NONE of this looked any good. The word "Goofy" came to mind. 

    II. Lessons that work

    • Too short, try a torso lead
    Something I learned from Patricio and Eva Touceda: If your partner is too short, stand up straight, always maintain your axis, and offer her your torso for leading!

    That is, if her head only goes up to my chest, I extend my leading to my torso. That way, when I move my chest, I move my torso along with it. This is where my shorter follower would get her leads.

    I tried it, and it works! It also has the side benefit of helping develop my core—which I am in dire need of...

    • Too tall, stand up straight and develop your giros
    I stand up straight and ground myself, chest out, and lead with purpose. I maintain my own axis. By doing this, I find that leading becomes easier, as I do not have to compensate where the body hinges. I concentrate on where my (taller) partner's weight and axis are, and use that to time where and what I lead.

    Leading a taller partner has an added challenge... My forward vision is majorly impaired.

    With a taller partner, her chin would touch my temple. I can only see forward with my left eye. My right eye would be blocked by her neck, making me totally blind-sided on the right. To address this, I learned to develop my giros (i.e. stationary turns) to the left and to the right. That way, I turn either left or right before I move forward. It allows me to see, and helps make my dancing flow better.

    I did this because I love dancing tango. By learning how to dance with either short or tall partners, I'm able to diversify, both to my, and my partners' benefit.

    P.S. To my past partners, both short and tall, whom I've inflicted my past ineptitude... I sincerely apologize.