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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.


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.

Great – I hate my Tango

‘Hate’ is a strong word.

Tango means so many different things to us all. It can be a social thing,  just one ‘interest’ amongst many others, a hobby, a way to meet people – or of course it might be an all consuming passion.

For many – almost all – the passion eventually dies. For them it now becomes  ‘just a phase’ – the game is over and they feel cynical and frustrated. They might leave completely. They might hang on to a peripheral world – watching through opaque glass and feeling lost.

Sometimes – as with anything else that is so difficult – we simply lack guidance, friendship and inspiration when we needed it so much and can just feel so lost.

Nothing is constant and all of these things can change at any time – a friend or a mentor might be an important companion for such a long time. So you trust them. You need them.

Then they leave for something more important to their own lives. Or they just can’t cope with you and all your over emphasised and completely irrational focus on what is at the end of the day just one of many, many systems of movement to music.

For me there is only one constant.

Always, always there – in a frustrating emotional landscape. The fact is that I am always completely unsatisfied with my own abilities to move in any adequate way with an experienced partner to Tango music.

So – yes – hate is a strong word. But for me this emotion has been such a constant presence and without such a consuming passion to try and try again to be better I would be forever lost exactly where I am right now – in this moment listening to De Angelis – buried so deep in the endless mire of my own mediocrity.

So I welcome that feeling – the fact that I am so unhappy with the way I dance. I embrace it. I follow it.

And then I lead it – I lead it towards a place where I can be with amazing teachers, practise partners and social dancers and just get better. I lead myself and all of my emotional baggage to this largely – but not completely – imaginary oasis.

Not to talk about it. Not to understand it. Just to work hard and to dance better.


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.

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.









Real Life and Tango

Tango is supportive, open ended and inspiring. It causes us to experience the joy of finding ourselves and simultaneously connecting with others in a safe structure – supported by a complex and wonderful musical world.

That has so much to commend it. It amazes me. Always.

But when people you love in the ‘real world’ treat you like shit and abandon you, in those rare moments when everything in your life just collapses in on itself – we should recognise tango for what  it is – a charade.

It is at all levels just an act.  A series of calls and responses that ripple back through history and reach into your life and heart with so much meaning precisely because of their foundation in a focussed,  intense intersection of music, place and time.

But you were not there.

You were not in those knife fights on the pampa. You were not in those music halls. You were not a lost immigrant calling back to his origins. So for you it is forever separated from your real life. It is a set of gestures – ultimately an incredibly well crafted, open ended artifact.

You are in the here and now – and those people in your life outside of your tango universe are actually alive.

So when real people fuck your life up don’t expect Tango to fix it.

Tango is an act. Real people have blood. They might be clumsy – but they are so alive in a way that tango dancers always divorce themselves from – precisely because we need a safe environment to explore so many things about ourselves, our emotions, the music  and our dance partners.

Don’t get lost in this brilliantly crafted fiction. It is all too easy. The real word is what counts.


The 16:42? that’s just the name of the train ..

Having once again failed to provide any trains for a long period from Brighton this evening Southern Rail have issued the following statement.

‘We are committed to providing a service even though we have failed to provide anything of the sort for a very long time. We recently took the extraordinarily brilliant measure of cancelling 350 trains a day to allow passengers to have more confidence that an incompetent organisation like us might be able to manage the relatively simple task of getting a metal object to roll along a fixed track between any two places at least once a day whereas a few times was clearly a big ask.’

‘However we have noticed on social media – even though we never do anything so crass as to actually respond to you – that some individuals are still not happy

‘This is very strange but we think we have found the underlying cause.’

‘We want to take this opportunity to remind people who would perhaps be passengers – in the unlikely event of there being anything to step onto – that the number-colon-number pattern that we identify trains by is

just the name of the train.’

‘We have noticed a considerable confusion amongst the largely stationary public – who for perhaps historic or cultural reasons still seem to associate for example the 16:42 with something to do with the time the train might be expected to leave or depart. We do want to reiterate that this is not the case – it is just the name of the train.’

‘We would have hoped that by now the aspirationally travelling public would have realised this, but we take this opportunity to help everyone understand that this is simply a misunderstanding’.

‘We hope that by taking the extraordinary thoughtful and caring measure of clarifying this folks will be a bit more relaxed as they miss their classes, their theatre, their dinner dates, can’t spend time with their loved ones or get to work or home again even though they pay us a fortune in the hope that they might be able to get somewhere’.

‘And just to make sure that everyone understands we will continue to broadcast the fact that we are very sorry for the inconvenience this misunderstanding about the names of our trains may have caused over every loudspeaker we can find, in every single station that you are trapped on, very loudly, every 23 seconds and remind you until you just want to DIE that you can got WWW.whatever all will be OK even though you have a brain and you realise that you don’t need the WWW bit’.  

‘We just want to make sure that you loose all the will to live and just curl up on the platform and don’t ever complain that we are allowed to get away with this complete CRAP and continue to charge you a fortune for us to be  a patronising, clueless, useless bunch of shits and put you through complete and utter misery’.

Lead me but keep the follower’s embrace

So much is said about followers and leaders – but surely what matters is communication so that we can together share the dance and the music to take it in whatever direction we each feel.

A wonderful exercise – that thanks to the inspiration of Joao Alves – I have been including in my tango schedule for a couple of years now – is ‘dancing with no arms’. In his lessons the general approach is normally  consistent – solo exercises with him and the mirror, then dancing with no arms, then drawing the embrace – and then the lesson.

After thinking about this for a while I am starting to extend this now to a structure where we as a couple will dance with no arms, but my partner can communicate to me – with her body – that she is now the leader. And then we can communicate the change back. It is going to be hard work – but so fascinating.

Our goal is that this can be completely natural and seamless – so that at any time in the dance she can take the role that we refer to as leading – and then hand it back.

All with no change of role expressed through an embrace change. That is something else entirely. With no con tricks – just a passing of the setting of the structure of the dance from one to the other, through communication between our bodies, whenever this adds richness to our experience.

We work on this ‘with no arms’ precisely because this way of moving together has already lost the symbolic confirmation of the asymmetrical embrace – and so it is much easier to break down our preconceptions.


My next goal – for many months into the future – is that from the natural follower’s  embrace  she should be able to take over, express herself, and then – if she feels it is appropriate to the music –  to lead me simple things like an intent for either one of us to boleo or planeo.

So she takes the lead over not just so that she can express her emotion through what we think of as embellishments – to demand her emotional space – but so that she can also request a specific response from me. And I will be a good enough listener to answer her.

And then jointly agree to change it back.

Our task is in no way for her to learn the detailed role of the figures and complexity of being a leader – but instead to be able to take over the setting of the intent. And to use this to request emotion back from me in more than just those figures that we naturally associate with the role that has to work within – and not disturb – the structure of our dance.

It’s so very, very exciting – I hope so much that it works.