30 June 2009

Things I like to lead in tango and why

During a recent post-milonga late night dinner with some friends, the lively topics went from comparisons of our world travels, adventures, and the best places to eat in Asia at 2 AM when you're drunk.

Inevitably, the conversation went to tango. The ladies discussed what they enjoyed as followers and why. That conversation inspired this post.

I like walking. Tango is after all, based on the walk. I have spent many an hour, in and out of milongas trying to get this right. My folly when I first began was to go with the mistaken notion that the road to good tango was paved with fancy steps. I was wrong.

My tango has gone through some major overhauls with slight modifications of the walk.

Phrasing my dance to the "Haaawoomp!"
One of my biggest challenges when I started dancing tango was interpreting tango music. As fortune would have it, Luciana Valle's was doing workshops in Seattle. Mrs. Ampster and I attended.

One of the biggest things I learned from her was the "Haaawoomp!" What she said was, listen to the tango music. Regardless of who was playing, if it was danceable music, the band will phrase it so that every 8 counts (or so), they would give a bang—a Haaawoomp! 1--2--3--4--5--6--7--8--Haaawoomp! In between the counts, one could embellish, double, triple step, all depending on the mood. For as long as your able to hit the Haaawoomp, you'll be OK.

It wasn't a perfect rule. It was more like a guideline. It did however, help me a lot in understanding how to interpret tango music. Which in turn, allowed me to learn enough for me to dance "In tune."

Thinking into the follower's feet
I feel that I have transcended from thinking about "What I'm doing," to thinking "What I want to happen." I see in my minds eye what needs to happen with the music. I lead it, then for some mystical machination of tango voodoo, her feet do what needed to happen... Magic!

Ochos for her and for me
Everyone does back ochos. I like doing forward ones. It gives her an opportunity to go forward for a change, and I can do my serpentine walks. (see below)

Leading backwards
I use giros and forward ochos to set up something I really like doing—Leading backwards. That is, I walk backwards and she walks forwards in syncopated rhythm. I think its cool.

Before I do this, I normally spot the space ahead of me several times to see if its clear. If there is anyone dancing erratically, or, if there are some non-line of dance cognizant people waiting to just cut into the line, I'll pass for a better opportunity later.

Giros and Ocho cortados
I like these because their a nice way of occupying time elegantly if space to move forward is curtailed.

Variations in timing and delivery
I try to keep my repertoire as simple as possible, and as small as possible. I don't rely on big flashy steps, patterns or figures. I vary the way I deliver my repertoire, based on the music. I lead an ocho fast, slow, in stages, in hesitations, in chops, to the dictates of the music... Its just an ocho, but it develops its own character based on the variation of delivery

17 June 2009

Hobby for the old and broken

1999 marked the end of an old century. It also marked a major turning point in my life. Due to several debilitating injuries, I could no longer serve in my beloved military. I was broken. No longer could I do feats of special stuff. No longer would I be able to handle specialized equipment that only a privileged few would ever know. No longer could I go on exotic adventures to far away places while keeping the homeland safe.

I became old before my time, and broken.

A new beginning...
All of my colorful past (and career) came to an abrupt end. I was at a loss. Loss of profession, loss of a life that I was so proud to be a part of. Loss of an identity. I literally had to remake myself from scratch.

Almost a year later, I had started a new career. There were lots of potential. With a lot of work, perseverance, and a clear view of what I wanted to achieve, I had once again found my niche.

All work and no play does indeed make one dull—and grim. After finding my professional self, I found that I didn't have a life. It was all work, work, and work. I was too serious, much to the chagrin of Mrs. Ampster.

I had developed hobbies to balance off my job. I was a martial artist once. Tried it, and didn't last very long as this thing called pain reminded me of my condition. I was a scale model builder, but didn't have the space, nor the place to display my finished works. I got back into playing video games. My butt got bigger as couch potato-ism insidiously crept in. I was once an armorer and took that up as a hobby. Fun, but prohibitively expensive at times. Can't sustain that all the time. I rode my motorcycle a lot. THAT was fun!

Just for me, me, and me...
In all of the hobbies I partook in and tried, one fact became obvious to myself. It was all, just for me, and all about me. My hobbies were just mine. In my search for me, I had left Mrs. Ampster out of the picture. This wasn't right. I wanted to do something with her. Something she would enjoy as much as I did. I did not want her to get into a hobby just to accommodate me. It would have been noble of her, but I want something for us.

Behold, ballroom...
I discovered this thing called a dvd rental store. Being a huge broadway fan, my wife and I enjoyed watching videos of musical theater. One day, I rented "Shall We Dance?" Great! I had to see the original Japanese version, "Shall we dansu? This was followed by "Strictly Ballroom." I was on to something. I watched more dance shows, read a lot about dance. I woke up one day, and I asked Mrs. Ampster, "Honey, want to take ballroom lessons with me?" Guess what her answer was...

We did our ballroom thing and one dance stood out—The tango. We were specialists. Then we saw Forever Tango. As it turns out, Ballroom tango is very, very, very different from Argentine tango. What we were proficient at, was not the dance we wanted. We had wasted so much time. Besides, the competitive ballroom world is a crazy world which neither of us wanted to be in. We had to move on.

We took up Argentine tango in Seattle. We got started. Took lessons, went to milongas, and figured it out. We got proficient. We had the same teachers and developed different flavors of tango. Bizarre, but, works great together. It's as if we learned from different teachers... But I digress.

On a more personal note, I've found something I can be good at. An art form that I have a distinctive signature in. Its a vernacular that I feel special knowing. Its something that I can make people happy with, one partner at a time. Its a hobby that doesn't involve danger, combat, serious physical injury, pain, trauma, nor booming things.

I've found something to do that totally makes up for being old and broken. Most of all, its a hobby I can share with my beloved Mrs. Ampster.

12 June 2009

Getting off my tango motorcycle

Seattle, WA is a beautiful, small, yet sophisticated city with the best of most everything.

Its tango community emulates that model and has been blessed with dedicated tango people who have established several new milongas this last year. You can literally go to a practica, or a milonga every day of the week.

I had lots of choices, and I availed of the opportunity whenever I could. Eventually, even a good thing can be too much. My beloved Mrs. Ampster got a little burned out and took a tango sabbatical. That's a good thing as everyone needs to hit the reset button every once in a while. Myself on the other hand, had a different effect...

Splitting the population
Seattle is a hotbed of fanatical, dedicated, and beautiful tango dancers, both milonguero and nuevo alike. However, it has an Achilles heel—The population is not particularly big. Considering that it really takes time to develop good tango dancers, quality growth of the community can be slow.

With this scenario, the laws of supply and demand take over. You have the Seattle tango people diversifying the milongas they go to, thus splitting the population. On one hand, it gives impetus for the community to build and mentor new tango dancers to keep everything going. On the other, without any community growth, some milongas will have to fold. Only time will tell.

Getting off the motorcycle
The effect on myself by this conundrum is that I suddenly find my regular partners missing. In the past, I literally would dance almost every tanda for the duration of the milonga—There are so many friends to dance with. With the splitting of the population, regular partner numbers are diminished. However, it is not particularly a bad thing as I also see new faces. I explore new partners regardless of skill level. It's a great exercise in diversification.

I tried to diversify with my newly found tango friends at my usual pace. It was like riding a motorcycle at speed through mountain passes. There was so much going on all at once, while trying to be smooth and not crash. It's intense. It's furious. It went on for the duration of the tanda—For a few months.

I got tired eventually, and decided to get off my tango motorcycle for a while. I didn't dance as much as I did. The experience was like getting off my motorcycle and enjoy walking through the mountain meadow to enjoy the breeze and the flowers. Things were no longer passing by at a high speed blur.

Appreciating the tango of others
I sit and watch the dancers that pass in front of me. I scrutinize their embrace. I watch as she closes her eyes, feeling the warmth of the embrace and sensing the lead. They move fluidly. They move beautifully. I see some leads do things that are so simple, yet magnificent. I see women extend their legs in long elegant lines as they walk back. I see some women's hand raise as a gesture of feeling the music and the dance.

I watch leaders move in syncopated rhythm. I watch them cast the tango spell on their willing partners. I see different placements for the leaders left arm. Some high, some head level, some low. One even did the scorpion looking high looped arm thing—bizarre. All worked for their purpose and style.

In one tanda, I even saw my own tango development... All at once. There were dancers that represented my own tango evolution.

There were awkward beginners trying out their newly memorized steps–I was once one of them. There was the guy who who tries to teach a hapless newbie and block traffic in the fast lane–I was once this loathsome creature. There was the flashy nuevo guy who tried to do all his fancy stuff–Me at one time. There was the salonisti who danced in a "V" embrace and the milonguero who danced squarely in full contact with their partner–I too have gone these routes. Fascinating!

Its nice getting off my tango motorcycle and savoring the sights of the milonga for a change. Someday, I'll ride at full speed again—maybe.

P.S. That's really me on my motorcycle