Category Archives: Tango

Starting a new journey – Studying Individual Songs in Great Depth

I have always been thrilled to watch the great performers being able to improvise and leverage the individual track they are dancing to.

It’s like they know every note.

In one of those moments we all get in Tango I now realise that this is because they actually do. They really do know every note. They aren’t pretending they do. They really do.

And this took a heck of a lot of focussed listening. It isn’t some freaky genetic gift or super hero talent – they put the work in.

They can improvise with such great speed, inspired creativity and heightened enjoyment precisely because they really do know exactly what is coming – their focus is free to emotionally respond to it – and how to express that with their partner.

So I am starting this journey. I guess that I will need to listen to each track 500 times to be anywhere near where I need to be. And to avoid going crazy I decided to work on this with 3 different songs.

Based on the songs I have chosen that is already going to take 8:34 * 500 which is 70 hours of listening.  If I can be disciplined I can do this 6 days a week – we all have off days – and on those days I listen to them all 3 times. That is mathematically fairly neat – it is going to take 6 months of effort.

So – now to the songs.

Criteria for selection :

  • They get played in Milongas. We all want the chance to show off a bit after so much effort – don’t we?
  • They are emotionally complex.
  • They vary in rhythmic and melodic sections.
  • They vary in emphasis between piano, strings, bandoneon and – where there is one – the singer’s voice.
  • I actually wanted a majority of instrumentals as I thought after a few hundred listens the words might irritate me.
  • There are frequent pauses and still areas.
  • They aren’t Pugliese tracks – I couldn’t survive listening to the same Pugliese track 500 times in a row, 6 days a week for 6 months. No one is that strong.
  • They are tracks I just love to dance to.

So here they are – with – just for interest – the number of times I have listened to each one at home to date ..

El Último Café – Juan D’Arienzo & Jorge Valdez (97)
Pura Clase – Biagi ( 275 )
Felicia – De Angelis ( 223 )

I am going to fall asleep to these songs. I am going to wake up to them. Eat and drink with them. Walk with them. I plan to waft around the room to them pretending to be Carlitos.

Wish me luck!

How do you actually communicate that you enjoy something in Tango?

We do this for pleasure. Don’t we?

We go through the mill, play the game, go through so many years of learning, we negotiate embraces, steps, the complexities of the dance floor – and  we try to avoid defaults.

We try always to listen and to respond – to not just do what we always do.

We move in a way that is how this music – and this person – makes us feel. To enjoy it.

But when your partner really gets it right – how do you actually communicate that – so they understand and change their dancing to use that knowledge of how you feel?

How – in Tango – do we simply say – “That was great”.

More of that please.

In the moment. So we can build on it – so it makes a difference.

By the end of 9 minutes we should be ready for fireworks – we both understand what the other person enjoys. And of course by exclusion what is average for them.

Sometimes I think we can just smile. If the connection is special for sure a smile will be felt. When there is little noise everything is communicated.

Perhaps a slight embrace change?

What a shame if we don’t work this out. What a blunt experience if neither of us learn what the other enjoys fast enough to offer more – to build on that foundation of understanding of what we enjoy.

We have to show them – in the moment – how – actually – do we do that?

Why didn’t I understand that last year?

I frequently find myself a bit fed up because I finally get something in Tango and then realise that great teachers have been telling me that for years.

Why didn’t I hear them?

The problem – I now realise – is that there is no “finally” in Tango.

Especially with the big concepts – like connection, the embrace, energy, focus and musicality.

I did hear them.

And I am sure I tried to improve.  But I was only at the skill level I had, so exactly the same word and even similar sentences of patient explanation – could only be interpreted by my mind according to the experienced and remembered feelings of my body.

It just isn’t possible to understand the depth of these huge concepts using words alone – exactly the same word – “connection” – just has a completely different meaning to a professional than it does for someone like me with not yet 6 years of study.

We think we understand – it is an explainable word – but we don’t. We have to crawl there day by day – and when we make a noticeable improvement we tend to think we have “got it”.

We haven’t.

 

Down the Rabbit Hole – Again ..

Increasingly I want to travel into the Tango world.

To explore my connections with outstanding people and teachers. To free up my mind.

To be inspired.

This is such a special gift that Tango gives us.  An opportunity to expand into an infinite landscape of ideas. To experience something truly special.

Behind that final bell  – lies a wealth of talent.

It’s a red pill blue pill thing – isn’t it.

Do you really want to wake up to how much you never knew – how much you took for granted? It certainly isn’t comfortable – it isn’t for everyone.

If you would rather not know the reality  -it’s easy – just don’t go.

Stay having fun. Dance.

Don’t shake yourself up. Stay doing what you did last week.

 

You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Me – I’m going Red.

So Red.

To the very, very best of my ability.

 

Crappy Ping Pong conversations in Tango

As an intermediate Tango student with 5 years of study it seems like I have already been hearing the concept of Tango conversations for forever.

I guess that for about 2 years now I have been improving my listening skills. Of course – it is critical to learning and I have great teachers. I have also been working a lot recently on focus.

But at my current skill levels it seems all I can create is not a conversation in any meaningful sense – but more like a series of alternate monologues.

I suggest that the follower pauses, they do, I give them time, they do  something. I lead them out of that and then I suggest something else – or perhaps they do.

So I do something and then it just endlessly repeats like some demented game of ping pong – until the 12 minutes are up and the TJ calls time out.

I accept that this sounds like a conversation. I speak, you speak, I speak.

But it frustrates me. Real conversations – or at least good ones – evolve as they go. Things said ripple over time and impact the next statements. The conversation reaches a conclusion based on what we actually said. The mood changes. We play and interact.

We react to each other not just because it is “my turn” but based on what the other person just communicated to me. We listen and say something different based on that input.

And that is what I find is so lacking in my intermediate Tango. We all just do what we do when given a welcome chance to create something rather than just shoved about.

I kind of guess at 2 more years. Maybe by then I will find the skill to have an actual conversation that leads somewhere that is new for both of us.

That would be wonderful, playful and creative.

 

My Golden Ratio : Learn, Create and Move

As I get back into writing I have been thinking how to divide my time and attention across my company, writing, Tango, languages, photography, cooking –  and my deep personal relationships and my friends.

The classic problem that faces all generalists with too many interests.

Today I happened to come across a blog that interested me at a very high level – on how to balance your time.

It was written by Mark Sisson. The original is here.

“Learn For an Hour, Create For an Hour, Move For an Hour

So how would I apply this 1:1:1 learn, create move idea in my life?

I think that although I am very fortunate with my working life – it is indeed in itself both creative and inspiring – this kind of planning should be applied to my spare time – like most folks this is evenings, weekends and time away. This is after all where we have a lot of control and can make meaningful choices.

Learn, create, move.

  • Learning Tango from great teachers – and practising hard – is all of them.
  • Writing and photography are creative, so is cooking.
  • Learning Spanish is firmly in the learning camp.

But of course what we all need is motivation – and sustainability. Our path has to be something that we can walk onto, enjoy, sustain and then build on. Not just another task.

And this is where it gets really interesting for me. More and more I look to travel – study Tango in Spain and learn the language. And of course when we travel we find both images and culinary inspiration.

Of course ‘Move’ in the original context of this post means exercise – not ‘get on a plane’ – but for me going international is increasingly what I need to do.

Having lived in 5 countries the modern world of remote working calls me back.

Tango in the UK is so frustrating for me personally.

Perhaps after all it is not so silly to chose to interpret ‘move’ as exactly that.

For me it just might restore a lot of balance.

Killing Space Invaders with a Tango Goddess

I am a tango student and I travel to a distant world. And back. Every week.

It is at the opposite end of my universe from my world and is known as Walthamstow.

I go there again and again because there is a force there. Someone who is becoming a mentor to me and who has such a deep understanding of Tango that I will cross the universe every week on my crippled southern rail star fighter just to try again, and fail again – because that is what I need to do and that is where she is.

She  – more than any mortal – just tells you the truth. If you have the strength to take it – believe me it is what you need to hear.

Recently she has been killing my space invaders.

  • I invade her space when I simply stand – my left hip is too high so I tilt to my right to compensate – of course into her space because that is where she is.
  • I move around her – and over anticipating I tilt to my right – into her space.
  • My shoulders come forward – into her space.
  • She walks perfectly into my embrace and at the last moment I glance at her – unfortunately invading her space. Zap!
  • My connection is too high by about half an inch – she can never get to a perfect axis on her forward step – because – I am invading her space. Zap!

She is a goddess – she hates space invaders. They take away her ability to be her, to create. I come with an army of parasitic space invaders and they upset her. So she is helping me to destroy them – one at a time.

Lightsabers don’t actually go ‘Zap’ – they do something else. But I can’t spell it.

What she actually does for an hour and a half is to patiently take me apart, explain it, manipulate me – show me in both roles –  and help me to put it back together again in the way it should have been in the first place.

It is a painful process – and agonisingly slow. Because I am mortal.

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.” — Yoda

So after 5 and a half years of studying Tango I am back concentrating on side steps, back steps and suspensions – and getting everything wrong.

But for 90 minutes at least a goddess is holding me and giving me the smallest glimpse of what might be – if only I can find the force within me.  And with her leading the way – perhaps I can.

Her name is Bianca Vrcan.

 

Tango – You, Her, the Music and both of your Alter egos

You have been so aware of her. There is a moment, a chance, a stillness. You ask. Your heart races. She accepts. You are scared.

She waits and then slowly walks towards you, in control of every part of her body.

She walls in your space with her eyes, stretches herself to meet you and in that singular moment offers herself to you – and you know you are both reaching for this quietly opening door that leads to a world that can  shut you out of everything mundane. Are you going to blow everything?

He is searching you with his eyes. You have been so aware of him, You sense it. You raise your eyes. He asks, and you accept. You are scared. You walk towards him, and he calmly and confidently offers himself. He lets you in and embraces you. He is so incredibly still. You feel what might be. Are you going to blow everything?

You are entering that world again. That password protected place, that all so fragile other world built on such a solid foundation of years and years of learning and hard practise.

Your partner is the key that you need to enter this other world. And that magic is a code that is written into the first long seconds of a completely silent embrace “Yes – I do understand. I am listening and I can hear you. And I am going to explore you, your dreams, myself, my dreams – and this music.”

When you try to be one with them all, with the music and  both of your dreams then everything else is silent.

Four dancers. Four songs.

Two of the dancers you can feel. Of the others one you know, one is waiting for you. Of this one you as yet have no understanding of and need to find in the silences. To liberate them all.

Your own alter ego always offers you a promise to redefine yourself. To change fundamentally what you are capable of. It wants to wake you up. This is a moment where you can see it and understand it so clearly.

You want to be there, to be suspended from time – to become the person you might have been, perhaps might yet be.

The other you is standing on a quiet shore with the person who held your eyes for a second – only to look away and offer a code to you, who embraced you and who – like you – has been working for so many years to be able to stand here with both of you on this silent beach.

They have brought their alter ego – and so have you.

No noise. Just whatever your movement and stillness create.

All four of you have earned  the right to be here. All of you have always been working for this moment. Each of you offering – negotiating – suggesting, retreating, learning, calling.

Trying.

Dreaming.

Now all of you have one hand on this door handle – and all four of you breathe in and together start to turn it.  You slowly open the door and walk together into the unknown. Into a room where perhaps all four of you can finally breathe.

In the real world this doesn’t happen.

In Tango – sometimes it does.

The Focus and Energy Balance in Tango

I often wonder.

So I thought I would ask.

If you dance Tango socially – how do you personally feel – on average – about the relative amounts of concentration, focus and energy you both put into each other, the music and the whole experience of what you are trying to create?

I do understand that remembering ‘an average’ is a tough one – but that is indeed what I am trying to understand – not the great or the terrible – but what happens normally for you.

When you dance Tango Socially - on average - do you feel you provide more concentration, energy, presence and focus than your partner?

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Many  thanks for your help!

 

 

 

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.