Stay Outside the Tango Game

There is a game inside Tango. It is powerful and patient.

It waits for us all. You drift  in and out of it – don’t you. Most times when you step inside it – it hurts you. But sometimes you think you win – that you came out well.

You didn’t.

If you play the Tango game you are already lost. You betray everything you love about this way of life.

It lurks in milongas. It hides so invisibly in our vanity. It lies in wait in our dreams. It laughs at us.

Don’t pull that handle. Don’t play. Stay on the outside.

Tango offers so much and the game is just what happens when something so powerful interacts with all of our fears and with our fragility.

Tango itself is already full of individual aspirations and disappointments. It doesn’t care about you or your fears. It has no concept of your aesthetics or of your successes and failures.

When the game calls look the opposite way – look to your partner and to the music that calls you. Keep learning. Never quit.

Stay true to yourself. Stay with the floor. It will always be there for you.

Hearing not Listening in Tango

I was at Leroy’s class today and he said something that really struck a chord. He said that he hears – whereas others just listen.

I thought this was really an interesting concept. Don’t just listen to your partner -that doesn’t change anything – instead – make sure you hear them. Work harder.

Once we become a reasonable standard of course we want to listen. It is all about our shared dance – the music – and how we interpret it and communicate with each other. So we listen – of not with our ears – but with our bodies,

She – or he – may not have much to say. Or they do – but they speak very quietly. Or perhaps you aren’t the kind of person they normally show themselves to on a first date.

Or they have a lot to say – and they are saying it to you – but you really can’t hear them. How frustrating is that – I am actually trying very hard to talk to you and you can’t hear me. You are on the wrong frequency.

Or – if you can hear me you don’t take any notice. You just blunder through it all.

You listened but you didn’t hear.

Leroy was I think saying that he hears everyone. The quiet ones, the distracted ones, the loud ones, the people he doesn’t normally feel a fit for. The incoherent ones,

He listens so well that he hears them all.

And then he acts.

I am sure we can imagine a farcical situation where both tango dancers are listening so much that no-one is in fact saying anything at all. But to me this is not normal – I think reasonable Tango dancers are both trying to hear and to communicate.

But they might be listening instead.

Tune yourself to hear …  Listening is for Wimps.

Dancing in the Eye of the Biagi Storm

Students like me often respond to Biagi in mysterious ways. Ways that frankly – given our experience levels – are borderline suicidal.

I am talking here about rhythmic Biagi of course – we all know them – amazing, exciting sides like Humiliación, Indiferencia, Pura Clase and perhaps the most challenging of all – Bélgica.

As leaders the default is that we up our energy levels – we try to catch the cuts. We run and run to keep up with him.

But he is always an annoying half beat and a wry smile ahead of us – unless we have 10+ years of experience.

In our practise sessions recently we have been working on dancescapes for individual composers – especially to D’Arienzo and Biagi. And with Biagi I have been concentrating for months now on lowering the energy and finding the humour and playfulness that he offers us.

Last week we recorded this session – and I was so interested to watch it.

It seems to me that I have learned – at least a bit – to change my approach – to be patient and playful – and not to chase the cuts. Of course I can see a million errors – practise videos show all as it is – that is their value – they have no concerns with our self perceptions.

But it is calmer. So much quieter than I used to be. Simple movements – often just syncopated walking – always repeating, allowing the follower to relax more and more.

And the result of this lower energy – this calmer approach to Biagi – is that my partner Jo is able to follow this naturally, and to smile, relax and join in the game. She has time to be neat and beautiful with her feet – to laugh with me, and with Biagi, at the endless fun of improvised Tango.

And that  – surely – is what we as student leaders are striving for?  To help her to enjoy the dance.

Tango, Poetry and Spanish

Recently I have been trying to understand what makes Spanish tango lyrics so beautiful – when their English translations are normally less than inspiring.

I suppose there are some obvious linguistic differences –

  • Spanish has softer consonants and longer vowels, and this helps the words to flow easily.
  • Spanish requires verb conjugations, so it’s easier to create rhymes in Spanish, which makes it an ideal language for poetry and music. And for that reason when we are translating back to English we often  find it impossible to generate a rhyme in quite the same way – if at all.
  • As a descendent of Latin, Spanish also builds upon a long heritage of music, poetry, art and culture that contribute to its overall romantic essence.

To me the Spanish of Tango often seems to me to be in some way clipped – like modern Latin American fiction it often uses the rhythms of small words that leave big spaces for your mind. Spaces into which we fall, and are invited to fill with our thoughts. An english translation often feels more cluttered – and less inviting to our imagination.

And then there is the Lunfardo issue – the local prison slang of Buenos Aires full of sexual innuendos, references to drug dens and speakeasies, and melancholic verses expressing pain and destitution.

Lunfardo is a barrier to us both in the complete lack of understanding of a word – but perhaps more dangerously that we don’t understand at all what a ‘Mariposa’ [butterfly] really meant in Lunfardo – so we don’t know what we are missing. But we know we don’t get it – because it just doesn’t make sense.

Or we sort of get it  – ‘Mina’ – yes its a mine but it of course in Tango is a beautiful woman as precious as a jewel – but still as Europeans in 2018 we are not so likely to  understand the historical context and  pejorative implications.

And they can imply all of this in just one short word.

So for all these reasons – it’s not my native language, it rhymes better, it sounds easier and it is packed full of Lunfardo and historical context – I am just not going to get it and no translation that could be sung to the same music is ever going to work as a lyric for that melody.

But to me there is something else – something I feel quite strongly but I can’t easily explain.

It is to do with an emotional emphasis – that in some way the Spanish word in Tango sometimes seems to call up an emotion that explains something – whereas the English word just stops with the thing itself.

The example I often think of is the iconic Pugliese album – ‘Ausencia’ – and that amazing image of the rose on the piano because once again Pugliese was held by the authorities and so the Orchestra was playing without him.

Layers upon layers of meaning. But my point here is more basic – I can’t really find any other way to translate ‘Ausencia’ than with the English word ‘Absence’.

I cannot imagine even the most talented of British bands singing a song called ‘absence’ – I am sure someone has – but to me ‘absence’ is what gets you a bad mark at school.

I think this is a good example that brings many of these things together. Ausencia is indeed full of longer vowels and softer consonants. There are layers of meaning. Not in this case Lunfardo – just a context that it is hard to recapture.

So you are absent, in English we are inclined to write down a bad mark and move on to something more interesting – in Spanish we ask.. and desperately want to know .. why?

Going back to Nuevo

For the first time in many years I find my interests turning back to Nuevo.

The focus will not be the music – but the open embrace and the creativity. And because of that – even the music will for sure need revisiting – because we need boundaries – we need to understand where we are. We need a focus.

Tango will aways surprise us – of course. But this does indeed feel strange. I have invested so much time in the music.. night after night, week after week, month after month. For so long.

And now I seem to crave the creative possibilities above all else. This has been happening for a while now in all my tango – questioning each moment – trying to find new expressions.

Is this in fact a retreat? Am I finding it all too difficult? I recently had a lesson where all of my confidence was damaged – I felt useless. Am I just seeking a way out?

It would be a strange way out – if that is what it is – because I have always felt that to dance Nuevo really well is a huge challenge. Dancing it badly doesn’t interest me. But the music is so simple and inviting isn’t it – expressive, emotional, and simple structures..

I don’t know where this is going – but I seek creativity and playfulness in Tango. And maybe Nuevo can become a welcome inspiration if I can use it well.

It might be that what this interest is telling me is that I need to totally up my game in the open embrace.

Let’s find out.

Friends and Tango and a Very Warm Welcome

Creativity is amazing. Talent is inspiring.

The skill to make people welcome is a rare and special gift. A barman in Seville opens his doors to talent – he smiles and he talks to us with his eyes – and we enter his welcoming world.

Life – just sometimes – is amazing. Everything we believe in is shown in a brief light to be so very worthwhile.

Our friends amaze us. People fascinate us.

And for that spontaneous, unplanned moment we are so very human. We celebrate each other. We are alive.

Away from everything that is so fake we share a moment that is based on nothing but warmth, friendship and talent.

A barman opens his doors and they come. They play, sing, dance and listen. They appreciate – they share a small and intimate space – they create together something so ephemeral and so very special.

Thank you. All of you – you make me feel so very, very alive.

A contract to dance a Tanda

A phrase that perhaps we are very familiar with. This idea of the agreement. Invitation, acceptance – contract.

But a contract to do what exactly?

It is certainly not a contract to spend 10 minutes together. We can so that at a bus stop. Nor is it a contract to do what you always do – with everyone – yet again.

Surely it is an agreement to create an individual dance together.

Whatever the limitations we find in each other – we are jointly contracted to create something unique and we should share with equal commitment to that venture. Perhaps we cannot yet create what we aspire to. But with patience, focus, and listening skills we can indeed create something.

This takes so much work – it is so far from easy – just look at this image of Joâo Alves dancing this weekend at La Baldosita Milonga.

He is working so hard. Not on showing his skills to the outside world – but instead on her, the music, and what they can create together. He did this all evening – dancing noticeably differently with each follower – adjusting so many things.

In my view followers listen more than most men – if they did not they would have no idea where to move. Leaders take a while to learn to listen to the woman’s body – they have a lot of other concerns of course – navigation, safety and what to lead next to name just a few. But perhaps this is an excuse.

What I am enjoying trying to learn now is how to focus on the art. On the work that we are creating. To listen to her and then to adjust totally what I lead and how I lead it – because this is her – and this is now – and that was her response.

Creation is not a science. In the context of social tango it is an artistic miracle. Great art always asks questions and people respond in their own individual way..

What I am finding is that within this context limitations actually become inspiring. In my view Picasso created some of his most powerful and engaging work with a charcoal stick and an ink pen.

Constraints help us to focus on the art itself and not on the froth of the possible. If we do not have an ultramarine blue to share then we must instead use what we have – and with care and respect create this kind of image and not that one.

Of course if we are accomplished – and I am certainly not – we would value the experience of dancing with someone equally experienced and talented. But for the rest of us we can derive great pleasure from creating the best art that we can in this moment – in this contract – with this person and to this music.

So perhaps look for someone to dance with who wants to create something individual, something transient and unrepeatable. Someone who listens to you – and above all then changes how they dance because of what they hear.

When you find them – sign that contract.

And smile.

Who would a UK follower be…?

After a few hours this evening musing over my memories, a well known book about black swans and some old and dusty statistical books I retrieved from the bottom of a cupboard I have a discouraging discovery to share.

… there is a 94% probability that there are actually no amateur male social tango dancers in the UK who can dance tango to an impressive enough level to really inspire the rest of us intermediate learners. Not even one …

I have basically established – through years of observation – that they just don’t exist. Tango is full of myths – and the really talented, advanced, UK male social tango dancer is apparently just another one.

I admit there is quite a wide margin of uncertainty here because I cannot precisely remember how many classes and milongas I have been to in the last almost 5 years without seeing one, and even worse I cannot find an estimate of the total male social tango population in England so I just made it up ( I guessed at 10,000 ).

I also struggled with the fact that looking at is plainly not the same as dancing with – so I might have not noticed him – but I countered this by positing that it might be equally possible to look inspiring but for this to be not reflected in the experience. So in the interest of making progress I ignored both of them.

I do accept some likely geographical impact on the data as it is totally skewed to the South of England and I am unsure of the bias implications of this. Optimistically we might dream that there is a small bevy of male dancers who can in fact actually dance tango at an advanced level hidden deep in the midlands or the north? Perhaps!

On a much more positive note leaders in the UK will therefore be immensely relieved to know that I am therefore putting my plans to spend much more time on learning to follow firmly back in the same mythical dusty cupboard as my old statistics books came from – as there doesn’t seem to be much point.

Unless ….

When our teachers dance in the heat of a milonga

We watch and we project ourselves into them. We imagine what it must be like. And we smile.

They had never met – yet they can create this together. The structures, techniques and codes of tango make these amazing moments possible.

We can’t really experience it, because we dont have the technique or the years to draw on. But we feel the heat just a bit.

And we should thank them so much.

For all their effort, their coaching. For coming to our milongas. For being amazing. For being human and yet so talented. For giving themselves to us week after week, year after year.

For always being there for us.

They inspire us in a way that other professionals just cannot. They have our hearts because we have all invested so much.

Because we have stayed with each other. Because we trust them. And in some small way perhaps they trust us also.

They trust us not just to be great students – but to be inspired to follow them, even when it get’s tough.

So let’s not let them down.

Matter over Mind – Unfortunately

I have had a few Damascus moments on my own road to learning Tango. The most notable was a few years ago when I realised the importance – and complexity – of the music.

In that one moment paths opened to me that enabled me to completely change everything in my dancing. Of course to do so needed more years of study –  a change of priority and a new awareness. But in that transformational moment I completely understood  the importance of the music – I realised that I was indeed wrong before – and so much closer to my goals in that at least I now understood what I needed to do.

I have consistently sought after and recognised great teachers. That isn’t a moment so much as a value. Who you learn from is so critically important, of course – but more like choosing the right road, once you have enough knowledge to even tell the difference.

But the latest moment is indeed another game changer – and it has come at a time to save me.  Or at least to give me a chance.

On the advice of one of my teachers about 2 weeks ago I sought advice from a dance trained physio. And yes – it turns out that my body is indeed beaten up.

So it doesn’t in fact default to a perfect tango posture – and asking it to do so just by thinking about it is just not going to work for more than a few seconds at a time. If at all.

But these things are so improvable. Just dont ask your mind to do it- because it can’t –

….in exactly the same way as it cannot in fact bend a spoon anywhere outside of hollywood.

Instead you in fact need a physical reset on your body. Pairs of opposing muscles can be treated when one side is too tense and the other too weak. Exercise programs can be set – and with your passion for Tango actually followed.

Deep tissue massage can break down blocks in the way that a million neurons cannot. Tense muscles can in fact be lengthened by someone who knows what they are doing – and what you are trying to achieve. Your pelvis can be put closer to where it should be.

And if – like me – you have been trying so hard with solo tango exercises and just getting frustrated – what a joy when it all comes together – when  your mind can play it’s role and your body takes it’s part because – finally – it can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My new creative life