19 December 2010

Holds, hugs, and embraces

In my path of tango learning, one of the things that I've had to evolve (over the years) was my embrace. In my opinion, it's the initial point of establishing connection with my partner. It is also the point of maintaining flow and energy throughout the tanda. Failure of maintaining a good embrace would (IMHO) tend to jeopardize a whole evening of tango...

A "Hold"
Having started partner dancing in ballroom, I was taught the most basic method of connection—The hold. There was the open hold, where you just held the hands of your partner (e.g. used in a swing). I was also taught the closed hold, where there are three points of contact. The left hand, the right arm, and the eyes (reverse for the woman). Depending on the dance, there was contact at the hips (e.g. Viennese Waltz), no big deal.

The hold was perfect for the ballroom world. Large square frame, big bold moves, precise, technical, and mechanical.

A "Hug"
Having left the ballroom world to transition to Argentine tango, I discovered that the ballroom hold didn't quite work for tango. Studying tango in open embrace (at the time) I had assumed that a ballroom frame and hold would be apropos. Seeing myself in a video caused me much consternation! What I had thought was right, actually looked quite goofy.

I needed to adapt and change my embrace to be more appropriate for the fluidity of tango. Relaxing my shoulders, dropping my elbows, and relaxing my spine, and lowering my chin caused my tango to look like... a tango.

I thought that I was in a good place with my tango. I knew my steps, patterns and could lead my partner with my arms. Holding my partner closer than being in a ballroom hold, I was leery of the closeness. I came up with a compromise. My hold was close enough to lead tango moves, and open enough to avoid the intimacy that tango supposedly created. I had shifted from a hold to a hug.

An "Embrace"
One day, I discovered the holy grail of tango—Close embrace (i.g. Milonguero) . It was the style that created that "Tango magic." It was tango at it's purest essence. It was elegant, simple to look at, yet so beautiful in it's lack of flash.

I did not realize how complicated this "Simplicity" could be. I had two things to deal with in dancing in close embrace.

  • Technical
    • The mechanics of learning how to execute tango in close embrace when you and your partner are totally connected and creating a common axis, while still being able to move fluidly in very confined spaces.
  • Sociological
    • This was a personal problem as I discovered that I had to dance with complete strangers. It was to close within my comfort zone. Dancing in close embrace was exactly that. Really, really close. I yelled within my mind... "These are not my wife's boobs!" 

I got over the technical issues via a combination of learning, practice, feedback, and determination. I got over my sociological issues with dancing chest-to-chest with my partner when I realized that being in this predicament only became malicious if I made it so. I developed a deep respect for my partner, knowing that the dance really was done this way. The more I danced, the more comfortable and natural things became.

Overcoming these two issues played a lot into the my latest evolution of contact with my partner. I was now embracing her. It was no longer a cold mechanical hold. Nor was it a friendly hug. It is a comfortable, trusting, loving and caring embrace.

I hold not too tight, and not to light. I protect her and keep her safe. I lead her within my embrace. As we dance in an embrace, each tanda becomes a fun, kind, playful, passionate, beautiful, and magical tango experience.


25 November 2010

A superb start, the middle muddle, a finish with flair

My tango does not proceed on one monotonous pattern of rhythm throughout the song. Rather, like a dialogue with my partner, my tango has a distinct opening phrase, a body of content, and a distinct ending...

A superb start
This is the part where I make initial connection with my partner. I try my best to settle within her comfort zone. I establish her trust. I "Dial in" my dancing to compliment hers. I begin listen to the music, it's rhythm, it's beat, and it's phrasing.

I meld the music to my partner. I don't rush. I wait. I time my opening to the music, and give my partner clear non-verbal signals to get ready. When the time is right, I begin to lead.

I don't initiate the start of the tango with some fancy pattern. Rather, I consider something as simple as a side step, delivered clear and simple as a superb start. I am asking my partner, "Shall we dance?"

The middle muddle
This is the main, longest, and most intricate part of the conversation with my partner. It follows the ups, downs, and rhythmic changes of the music. To this, my tango shifts, adapts, changes and morphs. I lead my tango in a balance of movement to the music, and a "give and take" between my partner and I.

Sometimes the interaction works, sometimes it doesn't. I compensate, compromise, adapt and modify my lead in order to make the conversation work. My objective is to give her a beautiful tango experience.

A finish with a flair
As in life, every tango conversation has to end—sometime. I've tried to make a good start. I've been doing my best to lead and sustain a smooth, coherent, and pleasurable body of content, that is, the middle conversation.

Now the time has come to end this (conversation) in a way that compliments the events preceding. Just moving without regard to the ending makes for a "blah" experience (I think).

There is the one last note in (most) every tango song. I like to think that hitting the last note is a very good ending to a tango. By blending everything together to hit that one last note IS...  an ending with a flair.

As I write this, I link to several of my older posts for reference. I find that the more I know, the more lessons I draw from older lessons learned. Composing my tango in phases works for me. I hope that by doing so, it also works for my tango partner.


13 November 2010

We interrupt this broadcast...

A good friend of mine from Seattle (Halbert) has started his own tango blog. Please stop by and have a read: A Few Tandas

09 November 2010

Giving and taking her space

This is a follow up from my post of "Landing her first." Of the two most important things I've learned to do in order for a tango to work is (see previous link) timing your lead to coincide with landing your partner first. The second is the active practice of giving and taking space from my partner.

Allow me to explain...

Taking her space
My first tango teacher once told me, "Occupy the space your partner just left." Not knowing anything about tango [at the time], I had no idea what he was talking about. I was simply muddling through my steps.

A year or so later, the light bulb lit inside my head. I finally learned how to lead with my chest by communicating my intentions with my upper body, moving my partner. When I move my partner from her current position to the next, my body occupies the place where she had been. When her upper body moves, my upper body takes it's place, moving her legs. When here leg moves away, my leg takes it's place. All this while leading  the pace, distance, and tempo from move to move.

Giving her space
The other side of the coin from taking her space, is GIVING her space. Where taking her space works well for tango walks, giving her space works even better for moves requiring directional changes (e.g. turns, sacadas, paradas, etc).

I found the reasoning behind the milonguero posture that (done right) makes my partner and I look like the letter "A." Back straight, chests projected forward, allows the legs space to move.

The significance of this is that, should I decide to lead ochos, giros, walk backwards, walk on three tracks, etc, it gives my partner a place of her to place her leg to land, thus allowing her space and time to shift and complete her weight change, move without knocking knees.

My lesson learned from this epiphany is that this principle follows common sense and is a fundamental skill, requiring the right posture, leading technique and timing.

Done right, the appropriate giving and taking of her space facilitates that magical tango feeling of having "One body, four legs."

22 October 2010


Giros, enrosques, molinetes, cadenas, calecitas and a myriad of other terms I don't even remember, refer to actions that initiate and/or execute variations of a (seemingly) simple act, so essential to tango— the ability to do turns...

Why bother with turns?
There is a great emphasis on the tango walk. This is true. It all starts with the walk.

When I first started tango, I was heavily reliant on just walking—Front, back and sideways. However, when I find myself (finally) going to milongas, I realized quite quickly that walking in line of dance does have it's limitations.

The limitations of walking happens when the line of dance momentarily slows down or stops. I couldn't move via walking and found that I couldn't just stand there. Rock-steps would suffice, but not for the whole tanda.

My conundrum was how to keep my tango interesting, while I slow down in walking, without stopping in movement, maintaining graceful dance motion, while still moving very slowly forward (or in place) in the line of dance. I had to learn to turn in place, turn around, turn left, turn right, turn in rotation, turning, turning, turning...

Turns... from different teachers
Learning anything in tango for me is a difficult process. Each teacher I went to, almost always taught me several ways to turn. I only retained one turn per teacher—most of the time. With some teachers, I learned nothing at all. With enough perseverance, I retained enough turns to build a foundation.

Combining and improvising
I previously said "Foundation." That is because I never have retained the turns as they were taught to me. I remember "Why" a turn is done they way it is and "How" it's supposed to look. That's about it. I don't remember the blow by blow "How-to."

What I've done is to remember the concepts of a particular turn, adopt it to my personal tango, and attempt to make it flow as one by combining them and improvising as I go.

Turn mechanics
I've found that being able to turn my partner was not a function of steps and feet. Rather, I've found that if I lead resolutely with my chest, know where my partner's weight is and figure out where our mutual pivot points are, then I simply lead her chest around that pivot point. Her feet simply follow.

Realities of a milonga
The realities of the milonga necessitate putting all of the aforementioned together. The milonga is sometimes packed. Some leads are great, some back up in traffic, some cut in front, most are respectful of the line of dance. Sometimes the floor is fast, sometimes the floor is excruciatingly slow.

Regardless where I find myself, my walks, combined with turns interact together to create my own unique tango floor craft. That way, I keep my partner safe, constantly moving, and in synch with the music.


12 October 2010

Drapes and Rods

There is an old ballroom cliché that says, "You are the frame, the woman is the picture. Whatever you do is to make her look good." 

Now that I dance Tango exclusively, I still keep that to heart, with my own tango appropriate modification. Frames and pictures, connotes something beautiful, yet static. Something to ogle at as it stands stoically for all to see.

I would much rather think of the tango relationship as Drapes and Rods...

The Rod
I am the rod, complete with finials and sconces. Alone, I am just a fancy piece of wrought iron metal hanging over the grand entrance. Without my partner, I'm just there with no visible purpose.

The Drapes
The lady is the drape. She is the beautiful fabric of which those who see will marvel at her stunning beauty. Without the curtain rod, the fabric lays flat and unappreciated

The Dance
My point is that, separately, we are simply props laying around. There is no chemistry, no movement, no mastery. Apart, we are nothing.

Together, awash in the music of the bandoneon, dancing a la milonguero... magic happens.

I am the rod that holds up the drape. She is the magnificent cascading delicate fabric. It is my job to move her. My motion creates the movement that catches and moves her upon the breeze. It is her job to float and flow with me upon the breeze. Together, we become the music.

It is my job to make her flow. It is my job to make her move. It is my job to make her beautiful. It is our job to compliment each other—Like Drapes and Rods.


20 September 2010

"Landing" her first

One of the most significant learning experiences I've ever had (in tango) was knowing when my partner has landed her weight BEFORE I lead something else. It makes for a better, smoother dance...

A leader in learning
I remember the time when I was first learning to lead in tango. Woe to my partners at the time as I was very consistent—In knocking them off their axis. I would go from move to move and it seemed that they could never keep up with me, nor keep their balance.

Much to my chagrin, their awkward debacles were my fault! Later in my (tango) learning process, I realized that I kept knocking them off their axis because of two things. First, I was impatient. Second, I was impatient because I didn't know if my partners had finished shifting their weight or not.

I had made the mistaken assumption that my partners knew what to do. What I should have done was to learn how to lead properly.

A major epiphany–Shifting weights
My epiphany lay in the fact that in order (for me) to go from lead to lead, I had to get the timing right—I needed a signal.

I figured out that the signal I needed was to know when she "landed" her weight. That's when my partner has completed her movement. This, I needed to know before I lead my next thing.

Our chests are connected to our feet
This is one technique I use to know where my partner's weight is. Since I dance exclusively in close embrace, I used our chest-to-chest connection as a telegraph by concentrating deeply and feeling her movements.

I find it difficult to explain all the nuances, but here is my rule of thumb. There are three movements after I initiate a lead. First—she answers my lead by responding to it. Second—She follows my center, then returns to align with it. Third—(My epiphany) I feel her feet touch down, then, she settles and her whole weight "lands" on her leg.

That moment is the moment I know that she's ready. It's the signal I was looking for! It's the (only) time for me to lead something else without knocking her over!

In tango, many simple things make so big a difference. This is just one of those examples. That single learning experience of knowing when my partner lands her weight made all the difference from attempting a judo takedown to a smooth giro.


14 September 2010

Every time I dance, I take a chance

Every time I go up to a lady to ask for a dance, either directly or via cabeceo, a little voice in the back of my head raises alarm bells... I am taking a chance!

The (main) chances I take

There is always a chance of being turned down. I am not a rock star that women would fall over each other to dance with (it would be nice). I am just another ex-Tango Zombie, who really likes to dance. My point is, I'm not guaranteed a dance every time

  • A chance of nervousness
I am not always as confident as I think I am. When I realize that I'm not as ready as I thought I was, I get so nervous and my tango blows up. It goes from a promise of a blissful tanda, to a long arduous ordeal for my partner

  • The chance of having a "brain fart"
I've been doing tango for a while now. Every now and then, I find myself just not remembering, not knowing, not doing whatever it was I was trying to lead. Alzheimer's perhaps? Too many knock on my head in my youth? It's a "Brain fart!"

  • The chance of asking an inept follow
When dancing with strangers, every now and then, I chance upon a inept follow. It is seldom, but when it happens, I will finish the tanda and be the best lead I can and give her the best dance I can give her. It would not be a good tanda for me, but I hope it will be good for her.

  • The chance of being a bad lead
The inverse of the preceding. I try to be as best a lead as I can be. However, on occasion, I'm "out of it," I'm "not into it," or, worse I can be having a "brain fart" night. If I'm a bad lead it's inexcusable as I would give my partner a bad dance

  • A bunch of other hang-ups
The preceding are the major stuff that worries me when I take a lady to the dance floor. There are is a myriad of other stuff that sometimes befuddle me. Things seemingly so trivial as " 'Is my cologne too much?' 'Do my clothes match?' 'Are my boots shined?' 'Is there too much stuff in my pockets? Etc, etc, etc.

All of these all play in my head when I ask a lady to dance. So much can go so wrong so fast that it is in fact, taking a chance.

Why I STILL take the chance to dance 
Getting over hang-ups (in tango) is like taking a leap of faith. I find that the magic that happens when one dances tango is an overwhelming reason to brave the minefield of misgiving in one's own mind. As much as I like to dance, it is important that I face the risks of asking (and getting) to dance a tanda of tango. Otherwise, I'd be sitting out the night, moping in a corner.

While it is true that every time I dance, I take a chance... It is even much truer that in order to dance I MUST take the chance.

22 August 2010

Someone asked me to teach tango

A non-tango colleague of mine, quite insistently, asked me to teach her tango. Maybe even start a tango club at work. I graciously said no and gave my reasons. My colleague seemed baffled at my answer. I just ended up saying that I couldn't teach.

I guess, trying to address my true reasons were something only tango people would truly understand—I think...

Don't want to teach steps
I can (probably) teach different levels of steps, mechanical techniques, come up with patterns, and develop really deep tango concepts. However, I'm not inclined to go down this road because I have not the time nor the patience for such an endeavor. As a friend of mine once said, "As far as tango goes, I'm a consumer, not a producer."

The real reason I don't want to teach
The real reason I truly do not want to teach is this—I cannot teach anyone to express themselves with their own souls. I can teach my expression from MY soul. Having someone trying to adopt my interpretation  will end up with someone trying to emulate myself. What I would want to happen is for everyone is to create a distinctive "you." I do not know enough to inspire someone to activate and express their own brand of tango from deep within.

When the time comes when I figure out how to inspire people to develop their own tango expression, maybe I'll consider teaching tango, but, not until then.

19 August 2010

My little bunny brain blow ups

One of my major tango pitfalls are attending Tango workshops and tango lessons. I... am... a... slow... learner.

My latest  foray into the tango workshop world was with a beautiful and dear friend. Secretly, I was a little hesitant going to the workshop. It has been so long since I've taken a workshop. Soon, I would remember why I don't do workshops anymore.

The workshop started off well enough. I breezed through the first materials. As the workshop progressed and more (and complicated) material was given, the more disconcerted I got. My dancing got progressively worse. My loving embraced turned into something in between a bear-hug and a submission hold. My giros resembled something like Judo takedowns done to tango music. It was bad.

With remorse, I apologized to my partner for my man-handling. She smiled and said, "Your little bunny brain blew up." I so very mush agreed.

Short circuiting synapses
The reason my brain fries (regularly) during lessons and workshops is because of volume vs. time. The teacher will throw so much stuff at me, and so fast. My mind and body are overwhelmed and incapable of absorbing everything in one session.

It takes time for my muscle memory to learn and adapt. It takes time for my brain to absorb the patterns and steps. My motor skills and body mechanics have not processed fast enough to deliver proper technique.

Then, in fits of desperation, frustration, and aggravation, my philosophical brain takes over and tries to analyze (and/or justify) the applicability of the lesson in a real milonga... While I'm still trying to do all of the aforementioned!

Managing my short-comings
I cannot hope to come up to the level of my expert teachers. I do however, am capable of being a passable social dancer. That being said, I have developed my "Ampster's strategy to tango learning from lessons:"

  • I know my boundaries and capabilities
  • I pick and choose from the lessons they gave me, and try to modify and adapt them to a social milonga floor
  • I take the lessons and figure out the body mechanics to make it work 
  • I visualize (like a movie in my mind) how its supposed to work. I think of the appropriate technique, body mechanics, timing, leading that I need to do
  • I only do "The move" if I can lead it comfortably with a follower. If I can't, I won't have her suffer through my incompetence

In addressing all of my little bunny brain blow-ups, I resign myself to the fact that I am not infallible. I take my time to learn. I cannot do everything that was taught to me, but I [eventually] can do enough to add a little tidbit to my repertoire. Eventually, those little tidbits add up to make for an interesting tanda.

P.S. To my wonderful and beautiful tango workshop buddy... Thank you for putting up with me :)

04 August 2010

The movie star in my arms

Every woman I tango with is a movie star.

She is the reason I dance tango

She is the reason I improve my dance

I adore her

I care for her

I venerate her

I revel in the warmth of her embrace

I must make her comfortable in my embrace

It is my job to make her look good

It is my job to make her feel good

It is my job to lead her well

If she dances well, I dance well

If we dance well, the music is within us

If the music is within us, we are one

If we are one, then we are in tango

I truly care for the woman I tango with, for she is the movie star in my arms

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.

    11 June 2010

    The dreaded... MILONGA!

    Milonga (place): A term for a place or an event where tango is danced.

    Milonga (dance genre): Also refer to a musical genre. The song was set to a lively 2/4 tempo, and often included musical improvisation.. Despite 2/4 formula, rhythm is irregular. It is syncopated, consisting of 8 beats with accents on the 1st, (sometimes also 2nd) 4th, 5th, and 7th beats.

    Regular 2/4 rhythm:  [1]  2  3  4  [5]  6  7  8  
    Milonga rhythm:  [1]  2  3  [4]  [5]  6  [7]  8, sometimes also [1]  [2]  3  [4]  [5]  6  [7]  8   or   3  3  2  [1]  2  3  [4]  5  6  [7]  8

    If you watch the milonga floors (in Seattle), you'll notice that once a milonga tanda starts playing, the floor opens up. Why? A lot of people do not dance milonga. The single most common reason? "I'm not too good at milonga."

    The milonga was MY nemesis for the longest time. It was the dance that made me feel uncoordinated, clunky, and clumsy. Attempting to dance a milonga made me feel so inadequate. In an attempt to cope, I researched the milonga from a historical and technical standpoint. None of my research helped.

    Realizing this inadequacy, I decided to do something about it.

    My milonga pitfalls
    I decided to do some introspection and figure out what it was that made my milonga dancing "Blow up." I postulated that, knowing my faults, I would know how to address them.
    • Trouble with milonga music
      • The primary hurdle. I did not get milonga music. It was obvious that it was fast. What baffled me most was the patternThere wasn't a consistent one. I couldn't tell the downbeat because the orchestra did not use a bass. Furthermore, like in tango, the rhythm would change several times during the song. Only now, it was much faster!
    • Troubles with leading
      • Learning to be a competent leader dancing a tango was a challenge that took at least a couple of years (for me). Learning to be a competent leader dancing a milonga was worse. It took me at least another couple of years. Because, not only did I need to navigate, lead steps, apply musicality, be in tune, etc, etc, etc... but now, dancing milonga seemed more frantic, chaotic, and frustratingly fast, fast, FAST! My milonga leading would normally disintegrate into an unrecognizable blob of shame.   
      • Leading speed and tempo badly
        • My musical challenge with leading a milonga lay in the fact that it was fast, and the tempo, irregular. I was used to dancing with a steady downbeat, and consistent rhythm. To my chagrin, this was not the case with the milonga
      • (Really) Rough leading
        • As I was not to sure of what I was doing, I would try to fake it. This lead to several embarrassing results, for which I am fully to blame. None of this made for a pleasant experience for any of my hapless partners (at the time). These occurrences happened before I started paying attention to my partners. Back then, it was all about me. 

    Milonga epiphany
    As in any endeavor that you spend time, effort, and money in, when it works, it becomes an enlightening and magical experience. It is therapy for a frustrated milonga heart.
    • Understanding the dance
      • I tried, and tried, and tried. I took classes, took advise, experimented. Nothing seemed to work. I did not get this milonga thing. One day, I attended a class that seemed to tie all the milonga concepts together.
        • Muma's lesson 
          • She showed up in Seattle once and I took a class. She was neither fancy, nor flashy. She only taught one thing—Milonguero style tango. The significance of her class to me was this: She used the same steps for Tango, Vals, and Milonga. The difference was HOW you delivered it. Tango had drama. Vals flowed, and Milonga was in staccato. Keeping this simple principle in mind, I realized that I could do it too
    • Recognizing the music
      • Now that I understood the dance, I now had to understand the music. Instead of listening for a downbeat, I listened to the top of the music—The rhythm and danced to it. It was there that I found the pauses, the stops, goes, and flows of the music. Knowing this, I learned WHEN to place my motion
    • Delivery size
      • It was always a problem for me to keep up with milonga music. That was, until I remembered a lesson from my ballroom days. 
        • If the music is slow, feel free to step large. If the music is fast, step small. That meant, if milonga was twice as fast, I lead steps were twice as small. That way, I could keep up with the speed without having to expend excessive energy

    In the end... 
    I can consider myself as a passable milonga dancer. Not bad, not painful, but passable. It took so much time. It took so much effort. But in the end, my reward is the extra space that I and my partner can dance in when the milonga floor opens up when a milonga tanda starts.

    01 June 2010

    A journey through my incompetence

    In practicing the way of tango, one of my most poignant "lessons learned" was that I was not as good as I thought I was.

    In order to (continually) improve, I first had to admit it to myself that I was flawed. Secondly, I had to discover and learn what my shortcomings were before I could learn how to deal with them.

    Ampster's Incompetencies
    • Problem: I didn't know where my follower's weight was
    I can't lead someone, if I can't tell where she had her weight. I didn't know how to tell if she was planted, or if she had landed firmly on one leg. This malady caused me to Not know know if my partner had completed the step I was leading. I frequently knocked her off her axis, and always rushed her into steps before she could complete the previous one I just (tried) to lead
        • Resolution: Patience and perception. I learned how to wait for my partner to settle, and feel her. I stopped myself from bulldozing through figures, and concentrate on reading her movements. I waited and made a conscious effort to feel her shift until she settled on one leg.There will be a very slight moment where I could feel all of her weight settle... Then stop—Which gave me the signal to start the next movement.

      • Problem: My previous dance experience applies to tango
      Coming fresh from the ballroom world, I had (mistakenly) assumed that my previous dance experience can be transposed into tango. I tried, and it didn't work. The results were quite embarrassing.

        • Resolution: A little humility. I had to cast aside my previous assumptions. I had to swallow my ego and learn tango from scratch. That way, when I did learn tango, it was not "tainted" by the other dances. I stopped saying, "When I danced (blah, blah, blah) we did it this way..."

      • Problem: Figure oriented
      I thought that if I memorized a few steps, it would carry me along. It was like this in the ballroom world. Why would it not work in tango? Painfully as it was, most especially for my follows. This did not work. It made for a boring and mechanical dance.

        • Resolution: I had to learn how to lead dynamically. That meant putting together all the lessons learned and apply them holistically. Then, deliver and improvise based on the rules of tango (e.g. Line of dance, musicality, rhythm, improvisation, etc). The figures I did learn (e.g. Ochos, giros, etc.), were simply building blocks that I needed to string together as seamlessly as possible.

      • Problem: I expected the follower to "Know" what was being led
      I thought that when my tango teacher taught a move, everyone was supposed to "Get it." So, I expected the follow to "Get it" too. This only succeeded in frustrating me, and my follows to not want to dance with me.

        • Resolution: Learn to lead. This is what makes tango... "Tango." It is a conversation without words in the form of dance. In order for the follower to move, I (the leader) needed to lead clearly first.

      • Problem: I expected the follower to keep up
      I lead, she follows... At my pace! Now, what was I thinking??? Tango is an expression of emotion. It's neither a race, nor a competition.

        • Resolution: Wait for her. I have said in this blog (many times), that tango is all about her. This being no exception. I need to wait for my partner to finish, settle, then continue on. I don't need to rush her, as she needs to enjoy the dance.

      • Problem: I did not understand Tango music
      When I first started tango, I preferred nuevo music. It was contemporary, had a heavy beat that I could hear. I could relate to it.

      I didn't like traditional tango music because it was old and scratchy—and there was NO BASS! I couldn't follow the music, because I couldn't find the repetitive patterns.

        • Resolution: Understand tango music structures. I wrapped my head around the fact that traditional tango music changed rhythm several times in one song—A revelation! Tango music doesn't have a distinctive bass because it doesn't need it. It's in the rhythm—Another "Aha" moment! knowing that, and listening to tango music profusely, I understood the dynamic range of the music. This made perfect sense as you had to lead the dance dynamically anyway. Understanding the musical structure of tango was the lynch pin!

      When I danced ballroom, we were taught that tango was a "Dancer's dance." In ballroom, that was simply a standard line they feed you. Transcending into the real tango world, I now truly understand why that is.

        10 May 2010

        When the cabeceo REALLY came in handy...

        At one milonga past...

        I was on a break and making my to the snack table. Strolling past, I see a friend sitting. What struck me was that she was being "talked to." This guy looked like he was talking "at" her. 

        Her body language looked polite, yet, uncomfortable. It seemed to be a one way conversation as it didn't looked like she was interested at all. He leaned into her, as she was trying to (slightly) lean away.

        As I walk past, she looks my way, and makes eye contact. I see what's happening, and (instinctively) give a cabeceo. She nods, begs her leave, stands up, and we dance.

        As we dance, she tells me, "Thank you for saving me." I smile and reply, "My pleasure," and we finish the tanda...

        05 May 2010

        A little bit of this, a little bit of that...

        Here's a brief outline of how, and what I've learned from various tango teachers...

        I'm no virtuoso, nor am I a protégé
        I, and my tango are not products of any one teacher. Neither have I adopted the style of any single instructor. 

        It took me at least two years to become decently passable as a leader. The first year was spent with my first teacher learning moves. His teachings laid the basic foundations of what was to be, "My own tango."

        The next few years were spent adjusting, refining, building, and still learning. These "tweaks" came from different instructors. Each with their own areas of expertise. Each with something to contribute. Each one providing important pieces of the puzzle.

        I had trouble with each of them, and it was up to me to figure out the value, internalize and mesh all of their lessons into a cohesive whole.

        I am a "hybrid" tango student
        Throughout the years, I have had a hodge-podge of instructors, lessons and workshops. That's A LOT to take in. Going down this road I have come away with a few lessons learned:
        • I can't absorb all of what they teach
        During lessons and workshops, people will ask me, "Did you get all of that?" I would give them a look of consternation and say, "No." I don't. I REALLY don't get everything I'm taught. I'm a slow learner. I just persevere through it all.

        I can confidently say that I only remember 10% of each session. Afterwards, it probably takes me a month or so to make it work on the milonga floor.
        • Not everything taught to me is applicable
        Some of my teachers are REALLY good. I am in no way, shape, or form capable doing what they do. I can only use the lessons that I am capable of doing on my own without frustrating, aggravating, nor injuring my partner.
        • Retain just the important lessons
        I remember and implement only the lessons that are useful and executable, in relation to my abilities.
        • Adopt their methodology, adapt it to yourself
        My first teacher said, "You need to make your dance yours." A lesson that has stuck with me from the beginning. I learned from all of them, but in the end, I have to adapt their lessons into tango. It may not be perfect, nor may it be beautiful, but it gives me a sense of pride and accomplishment, as it has become part of who I am.

        To all of my teachers, I am grateful. Thank you for your diligence and your patience. Without you, I would not have "My own tango."

        And so my learning continues...

        • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

        My teachers and the enduring lessons I retain to this day (In chronological order):
        • Sonny Newman: "Make your dance your own," Philosophies of dance, Basic techniques: caminadas, sacadas, calecitas, giros, enrosques, barridas, lapizes, Ochos, ocho cortados, dissociation, sanguchitos, walking in parallel and crossed... etc, etc, etc
        • Lucianna Valle: Explanations of how tango music is phrased, musicality in tango
        • Miriam Larici: How to lead with the center, confidence in leading
        • Muma: Walking and turning (milonguero style), proper milonguero posture 
        • Alicia Pons: Proper and effective weight distribution, management of center of gravity
        • Eva Lucero and Patricio Touceda: Where to hold your balance, advanced refinements on leader's technique, refinements on walking, posture corrections

          • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

          27 April 2010

          Un-making a tango zombie

          I was at Seattle's newest milonga one day (La Milonga) and it was great. Sitting out one tanda for a break, I watched the packed floor and a thought just hit me. My attitudes towards tango had changed (very distinctly) throughout the years.

          Here's how I'd characterize it... Some people describe it as an addiction. I think mine went a bit further...

          Becoming a Tango Zombie
          This was my state of being, in my first couple of years of tango. it was (IMHO) and affliction, a slow, all consuming malady that overwhelmed me. My life revolved around it. Life decisions were made with tango as an ubiquitous consideration. The following were the major symptoms

          • Tango Workshop addiction
          There was a time when I can remember that my desire to learn tango, drove me to attend every workshop I could (possibly) go to. I went to nuevo workshops, milonguero workshops, salon workshops, show tango workshops, workshops by this expert from here, experts from there, experts from everywhere.
          • Every single milonga pilgrim
          I can remember a time when I was obsessed with attending every milonga and practica, schedule permitting. I had a permanent bookmark on my browser to allseattletango.com. That way, I knew where and when the next milonga and practica would be. My off-work times were spent there. My vacation days were expended there. My social life revolved around them.
          • Obsession with technical over-analysis
          Along with the workshops and milongas came the mindset of steps and technique. Thinking of steps and technique. Talking about steps, technique, steps, technique. Knit-picking here, criticizing there. Conversations with friends revolved around steps, technique, new steps, different technique, angle, blocking, contact points, bluh-blah, bluh-blah, bluh-blah. Did I say I over-analyzed steps and technique?
          • Obsessive and/or compulsive tango hero worship
          Seattle is blessed with an abundance of really great visiting tango instructors. I think that a good number of the cast of Forever Tango have taught in Seattle. And, I adored them! One in particular (I thought) danced like an angel. I have pictures, videos, posters, autographs... I was star struck! I had turned into a (pseudo) middle-aged tang-groupie!

          Recovery and De-tango zombiefication
          That tango zombie business lasted a good couple of years. My de-tango zombiefication did not happen instantly. Rather, recovery happened as my tango maturity grew. The following are the things that have taken me from tango zombieland and into back into the realm of the (almost) "Normal."
          • Mastery of the basics
          Mastering the basics (in tango) became the key to getting-over the tango workshop addiction. Everything in tango is based on the basics (i.e. walking). Then, progressively builds from there. A lot of the lessons I've learned (thus far) suddenly made sense. No longer was there a desire to attend all workshops. 

          Knowing what I know now, I've become very selective and only go to those teachers whom I know will add value to my personal method of tango.
          • Tango celebrity admiration, NOT adoration
          Tango instructors are only human, except, they posses a skill that is unique and beautiful. Some aspire to look like them, or be like them. Boil down their technique and you see the simplicity of it all. I admire them for their dedication and expertise. I admire them for their willingness to impart their knowledge. I admire them for their sacrifice, as their profession is not an easy one.

          I admire them, but I no longer see them as tango-deities. They are just like me. Someone, who has a particular unique skill, who is willing to share.
          • Self-awareness and balance
          This I had trouble with. I (with much effort) learned to find my center of balance. Once I knew where and how to hold myself, it greatly aided in supporting and leading my partner, while keeping her on her center of balance.
          • Caring for my partner
          I dance for my partner's benefit first and foremost.
          • Improvisation
          This is my method of stringing together everything that I've learned (thus far) to adapt to any music and partner. It changes every time, even if I use the same steps. This makes the experience fresh and new each time.
          • Becoming "Me"
          I gave up on being like my tango heroes. I realized that I shouldn't mimic anyone, as my tango had to be mine. Good, bad, or otherwise, it is something unique and something I had to be confident enough about. I tried, and I still keep trying.

            A new dawn
            I'm no longer a Tango zombie and enjoy tango much better now. I am no longer obsessed, nor does my life revolve around tango... Anymore.

            It does occupy a rich and special place in my heart. I am in balance... As it should be.

            08 April 2010

            Lead, the best you can... for HER!

            I've been on discussion boards and forums about tango. In the past few months, I've read thread upon thread about technique, terminology, semantics, definitions, the should/should not be's in tango, cultural discussions, sex appeal, CE/OE, blah, blah, blah...

            One thing I noticed is that most of those threads are written in the context of one's self and very little consideration given to "her"—The follow.

            My take on the whole thing is this: As a lead, everything one learns, does, and executes should be done with respect to, and in consideration for the follow. Why? Without a follow, we are just fools dancing on our own.

            If the tango becomes a good tango experience for her, then it inspires the lead to improve. The growth and transitions become easier and more natural.

            However, if the lead just dances for himself, then he tries to keep learning without progressing positively. The journey becomes arduous and frustrating.

            We try to lead well. Because, in the end... It's all about her.

            27 March 2010

            The day I listened to my partner

            One of the biggest turning points in my tango was the day I learned to listen to my partner. It made all the difference from just dancing to turning each tanda into an beautiful experience.

            Concentrating on technical stuff
            In the first year of my tango journey, I was obsessed with technical perfection. How to stand, where to put my arm, when to step, how far the stride should be, toe lead, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera...

            Despite my pursuit of mechanical proficiency, my tandas with my partners felt cold, uneventful, and devoid of emotion. This, despite the fact I knew my execution was correct. It was just not happening. When I try to lead something, my partner doesn't pick up on it. When I try to move, her reactions were delayed, or off.

            "What was I doing wrong?" I asked myself. I sat down and postulated that if in fact what I was doing was (technically) correct, it was the transmission of what I wanted her to do was lacking.

            Observation and teachers
            On my quest to find out the "Why's and How's" of my conundrum, I did two things. I took classes from good teachers and I watched those on the floor whom I considered "Good."

            One common thing emerged from both of them. Patience. Nothing was rushed nor forced. I asked myself, what did any of that matter?

            Listening, really listening
            Many milongas passed and my experimentation continued. I had problems with the patience thing. I didn't get it. Undaunted, I kept trying. I had to. The coldness of the dance still prevailed.

            One particularly lovely tanda, it came to me. I GOT IT!!!

            The patience thing DID matter. It offered me an opportunity to listen to my partner. I could read her, I could gauge her actions and reactions. By listening to her, I KNEW her. Knowing this, I knew how I could communicate to her.

            Giving, receiving, giving... It's working
            By giving her my patience, she gave me the answers I needed. This then allowed me to give to her in ways she could follow. My tango was now a two way street.

            It was no longer "I'm leading and you follow." It was more like, I led a proposition, she told me her acceptance and to what degree, and it flowed from there.

             For the first time, I could see that my partner had fun dancing with me. For the first time, I felt warmth. For the first time. I felt "That Tango Connection."

            That was the day I learned to listen. It was that day when tango became a beautiful experience.

            21 March 2010

            We made our tango ours

            So here I am, rendered temporarily miserable and tango incapacitated by arthritis (temporarily broken again).  Sitting here, wanting to dance... but can't, has caused me to play movies in my head about tango lessons learned from the passed. I am driven you expound on one particular lesson—Making your tango "Yours."

            "...but you dance nothing like him!"
            One of the (more experienced) tango people in Seattle danced with Mrs. Ampster a while back. In between songs and tandas, he asked from whom she learned to tango. Her answer "Sonny Newman." He then asked, where did I learn to dance tango. She said, "Sonny Newman."

            Surprised, he commented that "You (Mrs. Ampster) dance nothing like him (Ampster)." And, "Neither of you look nothing like Sonny!" Mrs. Ampster told me that exchanged, and we both chuckled.

            We thought that to be a compliment. Soon a fter we first started learning tango, he said that "You need to make your dance your own." Back then, it was mysterious and cryptic and the comment flew completely over our heads.

            Knowing what we know now...
            Back then, we simply lacked the experience (at the time) to understand what the lesson meant. Knowing what we know now, Mrs. Ampster and I pick up subtle nuances as we watch the floor. We can see clearly the differences between those with a "Unique tango identity," and the "Tango embodiments."
            •  Tango embodiments
              • They dance beautifully. Their tango becomes the embodiment of their teachers and tango heroes.
            • Unique Tango Identity
              • These are the people who have evolved their tango into something all their own. Not necessarily showy, nor flashy. 
            Bizarre evolutionary paths...
            I don't quite know how we got to where we did. Mrs. Ampster and I attended only a hand full of teachers over the years. Of all the lessons we took, we only remembered a few things. Despite the advanced things we learned and our attempts to emulate our teachers—who all had something good to share, we always reverted to basic techniques. It was fun, frustrating, confusing, aggravating and strange.

            Somewhere during that evolutionary process, we developed a tango identity unique to each one of us. In the end, it worked for us. It (also) seems to work well with those who dance with... at least most of the time. That was the rewarding part of this journey.

            03 March 2010

            R E J E C T I O N ! ! !

            Rejection: re-jec-tion [ri-jek-sh uh n]
            1. the act or process of rejecting
            2. the state of being rejected
            3. something that is rejected
            Synonyms: brush-off, cold shoulder, dismissal, nix, no dice, no go, nothing doing, no way, pass, rebuff, renunciation, repudiation, slap in the face, thumbs down, turn-down, veto

            Context-Milonga: He was rejected by the lady when he asked her to dance a tanda. 

            = = = = = = = = 

            This was such a devastatingly brutal word when directed my way (Tango-wise): REJECTION! 

            That word pounds in my brain. It gnaws at my consciousness. It hits my ego like a hammer blow. It is a foot stomping to my soul. It makes me hang my head in shame. It makes me feel like a loser. It makes me want to hide... Well, at least, this was what I though in milonga times past. I've (think) grown up since then. It hurts.

            Many have talked about how to say "No" to someone asking for a dance either directly or via cabeceo. A myriad of ways exist to turn down a request to dance a tanda. This is my take on how it felt like to be on the receiving end—Before, and Now

            • When I was still a newbie...
            The fear of rejection was self defeating to my tango development. As a beginner, I was so scared to get turned down that (for the longest time), I was scared to ask other women to dance. If I couldn't dance with several partners, I wasn't able to learn how to lead. Let alone learn to lead different partners who dance differently.

            Every time I did get turned down, I would take it personally. I would stew, and dwell over the rejection. I would wonder what I did to merit a rejection. Sometimes, it made me embittered. Sometimes, it made me want to quit tango altogether.

            In hindsight, none of what I thought (at the time) ever helped improve my tango. These emotional childish knee-jerk reactions caused mental blocks to learning. Of course it hurt, but then again, it made me think. I needed to find out more and get to the roots (causes) of rejections.

              • Interviews with lady friends (the followers' side)
            During a lively discussion, I asked a few favorite partners WHY they turn down requests for a tanda. They had common reasons of why they would say "No, thank you..."
                • Legitimate things that lead to rejection
                  • How attractive was the leader's dancing? Bad dancing/leading shows. Women don't want to be a victim
                  • How smooth was the leader's dancing? A rough dancer/leader is obvious. Women do not want to be a rag doll being thrown around 
                  • Does the leader stink (Breath, BO, Un-fresh clothes)? News like that spreads fast! Women do not want to suffer through any form of B.O.
                  • How's the leader's demeanor? Leaders who act and look bizarre, strange, scary, rude, arrogant, creepy will scare women away—Anywhere!
                  • They're tired, in pain, and/or taking a break. Much as they would like to keep dancing, women do get tired. Dancing in heels hurts after a while too.
                  • No chemistry. It's a fact some personalities just don't mix. There's no attraction. It would not be an enjoyable dance. Nothing personal
                  • Chatters, Talkers, Singers. Women are there to dance tango—Nothing else.
                  • Wanna-be Teachers. Very obvious as you can see them teach on the milonga floor. Women want to dance, not to be lectured.
                  • Aggressive, stroking, sneaky stalkers. Some people are very aggressive and/or uncouth in their approaches that it sometimes  startles and scares the intended recipient. 
                  • Dangerous dancers. Some people lead complex and dangerous moves on the floor. Women notice this and some have told me that they would rather be safe and simple than be put in awkward, sometimes dangerous situations.
            My friends shared their experiences. They ranged from the funny, absurd, strange, painful, weird, creepy. What was consistent were the aforementioned reasons. They are, legitimate.

            • Now that I'm a little bit smarter...
            Now that I'm a little bit smarter (so I hope), I remember (vividly) the conversation I had with my friends. I take those lessons from their experiences and temper my reactions to their rejections. Yes, I DO get rejected several times.

            The difference now is that, I don't take it personally. Their rejections I take as legitimate, and move on. Nothing personal, and no big deal. It happens all the time. I make it a point not to make the mistakes that were outlined. I valued them as priceless "Lessons learned."

            16 February 2010

            A cacohpony of twitches. A symphony of impulses

            I was once a very "Noisy" dancer. I didn't hum, nor sing, nor talk while dancing. By noisy, I meant that my leading had a lot of frivolous motion that just succeeded in confusing my partner. It made for an unpleasant experience for both of us... And, it didn't look good.

            A cacophony of twitches
            In my first couple of years of tango, just learning how to lead was such a complicated thing. There was so much going on that I was so wrapped up in the whole experience. I kept at it, thinking that I was making progress.

            One day, Mr. Ampster was honest enough to point out my affliction—Noisy dancing. We took a video of ourselves, and of each other dancing with other partners as a means of diagnosis.

            Much to my chagrin, I saw what she meant. My shoulders bounced and rolled with the beat. My left arm tried to steer my partner's right arm like a boat rudder. My right arm hooked my partner by the arm pit, trying to lift her into turns. I bounced on my knees in a "Foxtrot" kind of way .

            What I (then) believed to be "Expressing myself to the music" amounted to (what looked like) nervous twitches. Knowing this, I realized that it could have a lot to do with my partners' not getting what I was trying to lead. It was not my partners—it was me. I was sending out too much "Noise." So much noise that what I was (really) trying to lead was getting lost in the cacophony.

            Adjustment in technique
            Dancing "Noisy" in open embrace is bad. Dancing "Noisy" in close embrace is worse as the close proximity magnifies the dissonance. I had to make adjustments.

            • Isolation and Dissociation
              • The upper body has a different function from the lower body
                • I had to work on the ability to keep my upper body upright, with my lower half moving independently. Its like dancing the "The Twist." I had to include limbering and stretching exercises
              • Lower half is for the floor, Upper half is for your partner
                • My upper half (Center) needs to stick to my partner. It has to be calm and quiet, yet resolute. It is the part of me that my partner needs to feel in order to get the lead
                • My lower half needs to be grounded to the floor. It's my anchor on each step that needs to be planted before my upper body moves
            • I am a tango dancer, not an orchestra conductor
                • An orchestra conductor waves and pumps his arms to the rhythm and beat of the music. I (on the other hand) am a tango dancer. I stopped using arms and shoulders from expressing rhythm and beat. The combination upper and lower body is my expression
            • Control 
              • An exercise in tension and relaxation. I had to improve my muscle tone from my arms to my legs. It was very difficult to walk smoothly, legs planted (grounded) to the floor on every step, with my upper body leading. It took me a year (or so) to get to a point where I was confident.

            A symphony of impulses
            It is one thing to correct my mistakes. It is another thing to apply what I've learned into functional leading.

            • The resolute center
              • I cannot emphasize enough of what my teachers have taught me. The lead comes from the center—That area in and around my solar plexus. Its the spot that directs your partner to go forward, backward, side, go, stop, slow, fast. Without using the center, my dance feels cold and hollow

            • Driving legs
              • The legs plant, while moving the upper body forward in the direction you want to go

            • Micro leads
              • Many, many people have said that you can dance a tango without using arms. You just use your chest. Much like life, this rule (IMHO) has it's exceptions. I for one can't do it. As in life I had to make compromises. I call them "Micro leads." 
              • I use muscular impulses (i.e. Relaxing, tensing, gentle pulses) to help signal my intensions. I tense up my upper body to say... "We're slowing." I suddenly loosen up to say... "We're moving forward." I become  stiffer, then relax on the right as I swing my upper body to say... "Ocho."
              • Balance of execution
                • The hard part of my micro leading is to be smooth and subtle. I need balance. Too much (impulses) will become distracting for my partner. Too little and I may not be able to convey my desires. It becomes an exercise in execution that can only be done via trial and error.

            It seems that the more I grow in tango, the more I find things to work on. The only constant I find is mastering the basics. All of the stuff that I just talked about is part of refining the basics to make the dance my own.

            15 February 2010

            One last dance goodbye

            I have a friend whom I miss dearly. Such a long time has passed. Too many things going on.

            This evening, I see her in the milonga. Radiant. I dance a tanda with her and it was marvelous. The evening continues and many tandas pass—Neither of us are able to catch up.

            The evening draws to a close, and we have said our goodbyes. Dancing shoes turn into street shoes. Coats are donned, as we are all dressed to go our separate ways into the cold, wet Seattle night.

            The last song of the tanda comes. One parting look at my friend as the music blares. We dance in the small space in between chairs, tables, and amidst people ready to leave—fully clothed in cold weather street attire.

            One beautiful song, one last beautiful tango, one beautiful friend, one last dance goodbye.

            22 January 2010

            Dancing the silences and pauses

            This is a follow-up to my post, "Navigation... Where it all comes together." In one of the comments, tangocherie had mentioned, "You are totally correct. But don't forget the pauses...dancing the silences. You don't have to keep up perpetual motion. Women love to pause." 

            This caused me to remember one of the things my teacher taught me...

            Mistaken impressions of "Perpetual motion"
            When I was in my early tango days, I was under the (mistaken) impression that when you dance, you dance ALL THE TIME. Meaning, you were constantly stepping, stepping, stepping.

            In retrospect, I looked like a hamster (the rodent) in a wheel. I kept going, and going, and going and buzzed around the floor. It must have been a "not so pleasant" tango experience for my partner. I apologize. I had no idea that, not only was it not good for my partner, but, it also did NOT look good. My first tango teacher called my attention...

            "Stops are steps"
            According to my first tango teacher, one should not barrel through the dance. I just did not get this concept. I REALLY thought that dancing meant constantly moving... like Disco.

            I "Got it" when he said two things:

            • "You need to listen to the music. You move when it does, you stop when it does. Accelerate, and slow down to the flow and nuances of the music."
            • "Stops are steps." Pauses, hesitations, just not moving if appropriate count as steps
            Realizing the significance, I went "Aha!" I've been doing that ever since. Of course, I've refined the technique over time.

            Building tension for hesitations, stops, and pauses
            First and foremost, I've learned to really listen to tango music. There are distinct silences and pauses interspersed in lots of tango music. 

            Second, I've learned to build muscular tension smoothly to be in tune with the music. When the music starts to slow, I stiffen myself enough to smoothly interrupt what I was leading a split-second earlier. I do this for hesitations, stops or pauses. This gives my partner clear signals that tell her that we are changing pace. All she has to do is wait, then she knows what to follow. When we do come to a full stop, my tension releases—Like taking your foot off the car's break pedal. Which in turn is the signal for your partner that your about to move again.

            Its a very, very subtle thing. Most especially when you dance in close embrace in a packed milonga. However, according to my partners, when I (occasionally) get it right, the lead for these hesitations, stops, and pauses are so clear. I've been told they like it.

            An added bonus
            Taking a second (or two) to hesitate, stop, and pause allows your partner the perfect opportunity to do adornos (a.k.a. embellishments) without disrupting the rhythm of the dance!

            Moving is nice. Dancing the silences and the pauses are just as nice.

            - – — – -

            For illustrative purposes, I've included a clip of Jennifer Bratt and Ney Mello dancing to "Poema." Listen to the music, as there are very distinctive pauses and silences in this piece. Observe Ney as he hestates, slows, and stops to the changing rhythm of the music. Observe where and WHEN Jennifer does most of her adornos—During Ney's...

            Note that this is a performance. His pauses will be readily apparent. Had this been in milonga, it would be very "Intensely silent."