Category Archives: Thoughts

General thoughts about life and what it all might mean.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tango and Italy .. and another evening gone..

Another evening has just sunk from sight into the all consuming quicksand of Tango.

It all started as I was listening – for the hundredth time – to this absolutely beautiful late Di Sarli tango – Domani – sung by Mario Pomar. I just love this tango so much.

And then for some reason I thought  – why is it called Domani?

The  lyrics are Spanish of course. A bit of google translate shows that the protagonist – as usual crying in the bar – is called Don Giovanni. And once again – the orchestra  is Di Sarli.

And then I just started asking questions about the influence of Italians in the development of Tango. Fortunately I unearthed a wonderful paper by Llaria Serra :  ‘ “Italian Tango” Between Buenos Aires and Paolo Conte ‘ .  This is downloadable from here.

I just wanted to note some of the things from this paper that really interested me. There is much more of course..

  1. To quote Piazzolla himself “Sobre el tango flotan las melodías de los italianos”.
  2. The formative years of tango were 1890 – 1920 .. and Italians comprised 60% of the total immigration to Argentina before 1890.
  3. Italians were the organ grinders who first brought tango’s notes to the streets, and Italian men were among the first tango dancers.
  4. The tango had not yet reached downtown; it lingered in the suburbs, on the sidewalks, in front of the tenements where men danced accompanied by the hand-organs played by their owners, Neapolitan and Calabrese men with shiny black hair.
  5. One of the most beautiful definitions of tango in Argentina belongs to a famous composer and son of an Italian immigrant, Enrique Santos Discépolo: “Il tango è un pensiero triste che si balla” (“Tango is a sad thought that you can dance”).
  6. The harmonic structure of the first tango, according to Ucci, came from Italian opera and the Neapolitan canzonetta, with a preference for melodramatic themes of love and betrayal, and a lyrical style of violin and guitar playing.
  7. Just looking at he surnames Italian origin musicians that played tango throughout the golden age Matteucci lists 231 “bandoneónistas” (from Enrique Alessio to Marcelo Zoppolo); 138 piano players (from Juan Abbondanza to César Zagnoli); 179 violin players (from Juan Abatte to Orestes Zungri); 154 among viola, cello, double bass, guitar, flute and clarinet, and drum players; 57 poets and lyricists (from Santiago Adamini to César Vedani); and 55 singers.
  8. And going beyond their adopted names – who would have thought that Roberto Chanel’s real name was Alfredo Mazzucchi? or that Canaro – of course born in Uruguay – was actually called Canarozzo ? or that Firpo was born into a Italian family? And De Caro.. and Troilo ..

This wonderful paragraph completely intrigues me :

Today, tango in Italy has become a recreational dance. Lessons provide a meeting place for socialization but also a locus of difference in which to escape daily life. Tones of exoticism and positive otherness blend with “mysterious elements of virility, feminine beauty and sentimentality,”  and this “hybrid producer of otherness” has become an “example of a globalized postmodernity that can become an identity.”

I stopped myself – I had actually typed ‘locus of difference’ into a Google Search – but as my hand hovered over the enter key I felt the atypical urge to stay sane.

Another night, perhaps.

 

Dancing with Art

Meeting Jan Rae and being part of Draw to Perform was such a great experience.

Thank you.

Photo Credits – these are the work of Manja Williams

I learned so much – about Tango, Jan, myself and a small glimpse of what performance art is.

I also saw how really talented some people are in an art form that is not that familiar to me. Confident. Expressive. Creative. Natural. Emotional. Atmospheric. Challenging.

All the things that if we are not careful we can just miss from our own Tango. What a criminal waste that is – given the intensity of the dance and the opportunities for communication and sensuality that it and the music present to us.

Hello 2017 – we haven’t really met yet.

I just wanted to say ‘hi’.

And to let you know that this is my year, so thanks in advance for not being a bitch and arguing about it.

I am going to feel so much that is new for me about Tango – this is the year that I get to first base.

So just give it up OK?

Believe me you are facing a wall of concentrated, focussed energy.  I have friends on my side, I have great teachers. I have put in the effort. I really have. I love the music, I love the people, and more than anything Tango itself.

So just move on over and welcome me – because you are mine and we can do this the easy or the hard way, I have the energy for both.

This is the year I get celebrate in the studio and on the dance floor – so just accept it. Give me a chance to do what I want to do.

It is my turn. You had every year of my life to date. Fair enough.

This one is mine.

My changing understanding of Energy in Tango

As I reach 4 years of learning Tango some things at least are becoming clear – perhaps the most consistent lesson is that words are multi-layered – they neatly wrap things in shiny packages that at the time shelter us from our complete lack of understanding of what they really mean.

As we use them to label complex structures they quietly laugh at us.

Words reassure us that “this concept” at least we understand, when in fact Tango lies in wait for us and in another year will wake us up and show us that in fact we knew nothing. Yet again.

Like layers of an onion at any one time everything seems consistent – it makes internal sense – but we are unaware of the reality of just a few levels down. The foundation just beyond us that matters so much.

One such concept that is so close to my learning now is ‘Energy’.

I remember – albeit vaguely – that I have always wanted to dance ‘with energy’ in some way – even though at times to me it just meant ‘not being dull’.

Then I remember many discussions about energy being nothing to do with momentum. Which seemed wholly reasonable. Momentum – of course – has little place in Tango.

I watch some leaders very much dance with energy – and I feel sad. Surely not that.

Again and again now I am asked by teachers to keep the energy. Rotational energy. To not abandon her. She also wants much more from me – she makes this clear. “Pause now – but don’t lose the energy”.

I had been  puzzled with how we can cleanly define each movement – to not slur the steps – without creating a totally unsatisfactory stop/go environment for my partner. We want everything to flow for her – without blurring our precision in what we are asking for.

How can this work? How can I execute each movement clearly without running from one to the other but still enable her to flow freely from axis to axis?

But in this case I just need – I am beginning to understand – to rethink what is meant by ‘energy’ in Tango dancing.

In many cases this is not at all a physical energy. It is often entirely mental – and this is then expressed in our bodies through technique.

This is so important. To me now it means the mental level that we climb up to and we work so hard together to never leave for the duration of our contract.

In fact if it is appropriate we can physically freeze  in the moment. I can actually lead a complete stop that might last several beats. But what we actually freeze is only, only our bodies – our minds and all of our presence must remain totally engaged – totally in the emotion of the music.  We must have energy.

The focus between us should feel very physical in its intensity -it is technique and stillness that allows each of us to continue to dance and yet to be so aware of each other.

And once you have this then to fall – from this mental place – breaks absolutely everything. Your dreams. Her dreams. Everything you have worked so hard for.

Don’t do it. Don’t fall.

Keep the energy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When your Tango foundation collapses from under you

I so want to improve – I seek out and work hard with truly great teachers.

But sometimes the floor just drops away – everything you thought you knew is questioned and shown to be weak. Not just one thing – but absolutely everything.

I normally welcome the learning experiences so much – I know that I dance as I do and I so want to be better. I think we are all comfortable with incremental progress.

I absolutely do not want to dance now in the same limited way as I did last month.

But sometimes – like for me right now – it is so hard. I feel I am drowning – fighting for the support of a floor that is no longer there.

Exciting, full of potential – but demoralising and actually physically and mentally painful.

My head is so full I feel that I cannot move. Nothing will flow for a while as my head is shouting thoughts at me – and yet to dance we all need our bodies to be free and not blocked.

Everything I thought I knew is being questioned and I am being given a new instruction set to rebuild it so it will stand up to the hardest of examinations.

I always needed to move forwards – but sometimes when we ask for whole new levels in our dance technique, musical understanding and awareness of ours and our partners bodies – just sometimes it actually happens – and then that floor drops away so far into the deep that we feel we have lost everything – and we cannot breathe.

That is me right now.

Completely breathless.