29 April 2009

Beautiful at any level

One of my most inspirational tango moments happened to me a few years ago. It was for me, a defining moment...

The elderly lady...
At the time, I did not consider myself good a dancer. But, then again, I wasn't a raw beginner either. I was at my usual milonga and It was still early so attendance was light. I danced as best I could while trying to figure out how to improve my leading skills. Dancing with different partners was my strategy before the good dancers came. It was fun and I think I was starting to really understand this "leading" thing.

The night wore on and the milonga was now full of wonderful dancers. Sitting across the room was a very dignified looking elderly lady intently watching the floor with a look of awe. I wondered who she was, as I had never seen her before... I kept dancing.

A few tandas had passed, and decided to take a break and sit out the current tanda (it was a milonga and I was horrible). I noticed the very dignified elderly lady once again. She seemed happy with a wispy smile on her face as she watched. The cortina came. Deciding to take the chance and ask her to dance, I stood up. I stared her way as I was trying to make a cabecéo. No luck. Doing it the old fashioned way, I walked up to her and asked. She smiled and accepted.

The tanda...
I stood up straight, waiting for her. She approached and I offered my left hand. She took it with grace. I opened my right arm, inviting her for an embrace. She accepted, and settled in. My right arm rested across her back. She nestled her cheek on mine and we settled into a comfortable close embrace, safe and warm.

I listened to the music as the strains of the bandoneon permeated the air. I relaxed, took a breath, then moved. She moved with me, albeit a tad awkwardly. I could tell that she had a dance background (perhaps ballroom) but not Argentine tango (at least, not yet).

I tried to lead a back ocho, and she does a rearward fan. I tried to lead a front ocho, then suddenly four perfect latin/rhythm forward fans in succession... Yup! Ballroom. I went with it, letting her finish, then led something as best I could to make it look and feel seamless. Her posture was a bit off with a tendency to lean backwards a bit with squared shoulders (definitely ballroom). I compensated by keeping it simple enough that flow and syncopation could be maintained even if the following was not stellar. The tanda continued, and it worked. What was important to me was that the connection was great, and it was.

*An old military technique (sic): To change your settings to compensate for the current situation*

I had to "dial her in." She had the spirit, the heart, the connection, but not necessarily the technique... at least, not tango technique. It was an exercise in reaction and adaptation. I led and she answered—not quite the answer I was looking for, but no matter. I reacted to make it flow and adapted so that it all blends into one motion after motion. So what if some of what she was doing wasn't a tango? Tango is about how it feels and I tried to make it feel good.

The end of the tanda...
I thanked my lady friend, and escorted her to her bench. I apologized for the flubs I did. She turned to me and smiled. She said "Thank you," and took her leave.

I really did make a few mistakes, and I tried to correct them as smoothly as I could. I let it go, and chalked it up as a learning experience. I made my way to the water fountain. I thirst.

The water fountain was by the exit door. I took a couple of cups and filled them with water. It was a warm night and I stepped outside for some fresh air.

I sipped my water, savoring its coolness. It was a pleasant contrast to the warm night air. I stared blankly at the road and watched the passing cars to the tango tunes of the milonga.

Feeling a gentle tap on my shoulder, I turned and discovered my elderly lady friend smiling at me. She said,

"Thank you. You were my best dance of the evening and I can go home now."

I smiled and nodded in gratitude. She turned and started walking away. After a few steps, she turned to me and said...

"You made me feel beautiful this evening."

She smiled. Then, turned away, went down the stairs to her car and drove off. Rounding the corner, I watched her disappear.

To my dear elderly lady friend, whom I had never seen before, nor since...
You made me feel a heartfelt warmth that evening. My soul soared at the thought that I made someone happy. Because of you, my sweet lady, I have promised myself that from then on, I will make every effort for any and all my tango partners (regardless of skill level) to feel beautiful.

Thank you.


Mari said...

I'm glad I read your post first this morning. You've set the tone for my whole day.

What a beatiful post - and a treasured experience. The leader that makes us feel (for beginners especially) beautiful and graceful is a gift from the heavens. Taking the time and effort to adapt to your followers' weaknesses and strengths (even in small ways) makes your follower feel safe; welcomed into your arms, and into your dance.

Anna said...

I really want to dance with you again!!! Tell me when and where and I'll be there!!!!

My experience of dancing with you was very similar :) You are AMAZING!!! Thank you!!!!

Anonymous said...

Lovely. Good on you mate.

Anonymous said...

I think full disclosure is in order: you are my Tango Crush.

This is a most marvelous and magical post, Ampster. I wish there was a way to bottle this attitude and sprinkle it liberally on the Tango masses.

As usual, you have inspired me to post as well:


Anonymous said...

This was a really lovely post. The best leaders, in my opinion, are those who dance to the level of their follower, regardless of the style. I will never forget the man when dancing my first salsa, and he was an excellent dancer. He just kept it so simple that I was able to do everything and enjoy the experience. As I developed, he added new elements. He did that with every woman and was very popular. The same when I had my first Tango Feeling. Pure joy as I was able to move to the music for the first time without thinking too much as my leader kept things really simple.
You sound like a gem. Wish there were more out there like you.

AmpsterTango said...

Ampster's replies:

londontango, Mari, Anonymous,
Thank you very much :)

You're making me blush :*

Fri-Sur, Sat-Underground, Sun-Shusheta (allseattletango.com)

In all of this, I really believe that one should dance for the woman. Because, if one makes it good for her, then its good for the lead too.

Anonymous said...

You made me cry...


Mtnhighmama said...


Planet Tango said...

Well, my friend, how little do you know about the way to really care for somebody other than yourself.

The fact that you didn't have the courtesy of introducing yourself and asking for her name leaves a lot be desired about your manners and maturity.

Tango can use more civility and true human contact. She wasn't there to feed your ego, and she was awfully polite showing you her good manners by making you feel relevant as she left into anonymity.