Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

When ‘Correct’ is not good enough

For so long as students we all strive to be correct.

We learn figures, we watch performers and teachers. We work hard – trying to be ‘right’.  Trying not to make mistakes.

To learn to be more correct seems to be why we go to classes.

Recently I have began to feel that correct is boring. That the woman is in danger of disappearing – of loosing her individuality to the correct and familiar execution of what is asked of her.

As a leader I have been studying the footage of milongueros – building up video resources and notes – and the one thing I do not see is any sense of uniformity. They share fantastic musicality and creative skills, which they express in such extremely individual ways.

And who among us would have the temerity to describe them as wrong?

Just one example – I have been learning from clips of Pibe Avellande – particularly that wonderfully creative dance with Luna Palacios at salon Canning to Rodriguez.

Is there anything at all that is “correct” about the posture of El Pibe?

I can just hear the teachers now – ‘stand up straight’ ..  ‘don’t hunch’  .. ‘be more gentle’ .. ‘don’t stretch the woman’s arm like that’  .. ‘walk properly not like a crab’ – in short – stop being amazing and just dance Tango like everyone else in the class.

Of course I don’t have the 40 years – or the talent – to be so creative and so connected to the music as this.

But I am already so enjoying it when people that I am lucky enough to dance with express their own individual interpretation, when the energy flows back and forwards between us. When neither of us are following or leading – and when right and wrong don’t exist between us in the same way that they used to.

It is so exciting when you feel on the edge – when you take risks, enjoy the moments of surprise – and stay with the emotional landscape of the music however the dice fall.

Giros – A summary of the mans footwork

Four variations of the footwork in Giros.


Mark/Secada strong beats
Never mark the side after back this is double time
Simple changes of direction man stays collected
Default for going to right is my right on her forward step
Default for going to left is my left on her forward step

On the side we can enter more in the middle of the step and receive a wrap

Detailed Sequences of the man

Number one

1st: woman cross, Right forward, left side, right back, left side and final pívot.

Man right sacada, left sacada, wait, right mark and pívot with right foot

2nd: woman cross, Right forward, left side, right back, left side, right F, left S, right B, left S, right F and final pívot.

Man right sacada, left sacada, wait, right mark, left sacada, right sacada, wait with traspié, right mark and pívot with right foot.

Both sequences with a final traspié of man marking the pívot with his right foot

Number two

Almost the same thing as the first one, but the second giro starts with man left sacada, right sacada, wait, left mark, right sacada, a left sacada, and a right mark immediatly before final woman pivot with right foot

Number three

Man left sacada to the woman trailing leg (the right one), right sacada, wait and left mark, right sacada, left sacada, wait and mark with the right foot and final pívot marked with left foot

Number four

Same thing as the 3rd video but after the pivot we change giro direction with women right F, left S, back amago and coming with right F.

Man sacada with right, traspié during women back amago, collect and spectacular final and amazing pose to a perfect end!!



Tango and the East – and something to learn?

There are so many things about Tango that seem to me to align so strongly with asian martial arts and philosophies.

If it was possible to categorise and analyse them – of course in itself  a western approach – I would think about :

The emphasis on technique

Both martial arts and tango strongly emphasise technique, the purest way to perform the simplest of moves. Technique underpins everything.

The repetition of the basic gestures

In both fields students endlessly repeat the most basic elements as good technique is a fundamental requirement for any level of proficiency. A punch – a pivot.  A kick, a step. Weight, balance, rotation and energy.


The learning of figures and patterns – even though we should not use them

Katas, figures, moves – the early ones give us a vocabulary as a beginner, the more advanced ones stretch us as intermediates and then for when it matters – a conflict or a dance that we care about – we must abandon them.  Figures allow us to practise combinations of elements, and then we turn to true improvisation when we are using our skills for the moments that we have been putting all those hours.

The role of the guru

Something so complex needs teachers, and as we progress – a guru.

I like this definition from urban dictionary .. of a guru .. –

a teacher and especially intellectual guide in matters of fundamental concern

.. an intellectual guide – so yes – we have at the beginning teachers who can help us with physical matters and technique but as we become more accomplished we need intellectual – and even spiritual – guidance in these disciplines – the mind is what is important.

The philosophical acceptance that this is a complex subject

In both disciplines students have the sense that this is an endless subject – something that they can never truly master. This is part of the appeal – that it will always ask and offer more.

The connection to the floor and to the heavens

So often we here of the importance of the floor in Tango, and that we should in some way be down from the hips and lift up above them. We push from  the floor and we reach for the sky – the same teachings of Tai Chi could quite literally be applied to Tango – this extract is actually describing Tai Chi but what student of Tango would not agree :

Be heavy and rooted on the bottom, light and supple on top. Don’t move the arms separately form the body, move as one unit, flowing and uninterrupted….No hollows or protrusions, weight down form the coccyx and up from the top of the head.

The concept of  journey for the student

Tango is indeed a journey – so many times the answer to a question is – “it depends where you are on your journey”

Here – again – is a description of Tai Chi

—Tai Chi is process, the point of it is the evolution of the practitioner, not the acquisition of the art.

Softness and technicque generates power and strength

One of the greatest parallels for me – where I am as a student in my Tango journey – is that it is so easy for the student to use far more force than necessary. With correct technique, a lack of tension, good grounding and practised balance so much can be achieved with so little external force.


Something to Learn?

Actually there is a difference in the way we study. In the majority of martial arts – not all – the group will indeed practise the fundamentals of for example one punch, or one kick – as individuals within the group. Later in the class patterns, or katas – will be worked on.

But in the average tango class the first part of the class does not have students repeating the basic moves such as steps and pivots – with a teacher to copy. I have only experienced this with Joao Alves in Seville – where every single class, whatever level, starts with this approach – walking as a group up and down in front of the mirror – with him – perfecting balance and single movements such as a pivot in isolation.

An alternative approach that also works very well is that used by a wonderful teacher whose classes I attend every week in London – in his advanced classes he will indeed start with a figure and extend it – but he repeatedly stresses that the figure is irrelevant as it is choreography only – what matters is what we learn by analysing it and breaking it down.

Instead most normal tango classes immediately work on a figure, or set of figures – that form the choreography of the day. There are many, many classes I have attended where success is measured by the students ‘getting the figure’ with no emphasis or explanation on the purity of the movements and the techniques within it.

This is understandable – teachers need students to feel they are making progress and the accumulation of patterns assists with this learning process – but with this kind of teaching and preoccupation with figures in my view the student’s ability to dance Tango in a pure way, centred and relaxed within themselves and the music is impaired.

This to me is quite a fundamental difference is the way that students learn these two subjects. Imagine the chaos if in martial arts classes beginners were asked to spend most of the class fighting each other. Yet that is exactly what we ask beginners at Tango to do – dance with others when it is obvious that neither know how to do so.

What really happens when Tango inspires you?

When Tango works it’s magic it produces a very special sensation.

Not for the first time I am trying to work out why it is actually so special – and exactly what that sensation is. I am very aware that people with a whole lot more experience than me have already written extensively about this. But I am still thoughtful about what is happening to me, and why. I will probably look back on this blog in another two years and realise I just had absolutely no understanding at all – but that learning and step changes of understanding is one of the things that makes everything so exciting.

So what actually happens?

To me something takes place, if it is going to happen at all – in the very first seconds of embracing someone. I think we always enter the embrace – if we don’t know someone of course – with the hope that this might be special. Within those first few moments that hope is either completely denied or carried forwards as a possibility.

When the first embrace feels positive – that we hold each other in an appreciative, meaningful and respectful way – I think the most important thing is that as a leader I wait for a few moments. I am unclear exactly what happens – but I get the sense that quietness invites both of us to concentrate on complex feelings – on the emotions between us and the possibility that we can express the musical landscape in our dance. That this dance together need not be another mindless rush through a meaningless series of patterns.

I also think that with that initial delay the embrace adjusts yet again – to something that a teacher of mine recently described as a high resolution embrace. There is a tangible awareness that something is possible – that we both have enough structure in our Tango. Now there is a presence of a physical tension and of excitement.

But for anything to build from this that initial expectation it still needs a validation – which for me happens in the first few steps – simple and timely movements that follow the most basic and familiar structures of Tango. As a leader I must be so aware that the follower is still anxious – that she perhaps feels the promise – but is worried that I am going to blow it with poor musicality, or arrogance, or that we just won’t get on, that I will hold her too tightly or not give her enough time – or any other basic fault that cause her to lapse back into that mindset of worrying what comes next – or even worse what comes now – rather than losing herself to the structure of an embrace and expressing her femininity within a code that she can fully trust.

But why is this happening to me recently?

The answer I have is that because after over two years of trying so hard to learn – I can at last dance Tango as a dance. Of course only at a very basic level – but I am convinced I am now dancing – starting to be creative – listening to the music, understanding more – and above all listening to the follower and being responsive to her.

Tango is a huge journey – and one of the milestones we pass at some stage is that we can actually dance – and not have to plan, panic and analyse, we  can instead offer ourselves to a complete stranger confident in the structure of Tango itself, the music and what we have learned. We can dance together.

Before that moment in our journey nothing truly special is likely to happen – what we feel instead is a great and justifiable sense of achievement at having got through 10 minutes without making a complete idiot of ourselves. This in itself is a huge ask – Tango for the first couple of years is a scary place – in my opinion especially for leaders who tend to be less natural dancers – and it is not surprising that we focus so hard on assembling enough steps and confidence to get us through.

So the embrace feels positive. The first few steps work. What then builds on this opportunity to make the kind of Tanda where you don’t even want to break the embrace between songs? Where at the end you each acknowledge that was something special. I can of course only speak as a leader still at the very beginning of my own journey.

One thing is pauses – I really care that within the first song the follower realises that I am going to give her time to express herself. Because it is a wonderful feeling to give her time, and also because I want to know how she will use it.

I often feel the follower – within the first song – change her embrace. This I think is an expression of her trust – that I have earned her respect – that she feels safe and now wants give herself to our dance and to the music more than she was prepared to do a few moments ago. I find that change of embrace incredibly exciting – it is a direct physical sensation of someone ultimately taking a risk and giving herself to me – for us to dance as one person she more than me has to take risks — in essence to depend on me –  what a privilege when she looks for this and expresses it so directly. She changes her weight distribution that creates a single axis which needs both of us to work – and that decision is a risk for her. When she makes that change she needs me to dance with her.

So this is the the way it seems to happen…

  • First of all our initial embrace told us both that a connection exists.
  • An initial stillness focusses ourselves on each other and the possibilities of our Tango
  • Then the first steps reassure us of our mutual structures, learning and experience. There are going to be no tricks.
  • Our musicality is validated – we are comfortable in the movements we make and the way they fit to the music.
  • Pauses – she can relax knowing that she is going to be given time to express herself.
  • The follower feels that she can truly relax into this Tanda and changes her embrace to commit to us as a couple

The result of all of this is that for me the partner disappears as an individual. This is perhaps a strange thing to say, but after all in close embrace Tango we are practically invisible to each other in terms of sight.

I think this is so important, and yet another area where I have been so slow on the uptake. It seems to me that this is nothing about us as individuals instead for both of us the other exists as an archetype – an idealisation of the perfect woman or man, or emotion, or perhaps more simply they become the perfect shared experience for this moment, and this music. We have committed to each other and really do move as if we were one living thing, one shared emotional experience within which we can be completely lost as individuals.

It is precisely when this special feeling is not present – when we just socially dance together, and talk between songs about where we are from or how long we have been dancing or anything else to fill a silence – that we do still exist as individuals, we have failed to become whatever it is that two people dancing close embrace Tango beautifully together do become.

So now I want to improve – I want to get this Tango feeling more often. What should I focus on?

The Team Player

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be taken to listen to David Peace in conversation with Mark Lawson. The occasion was triggered by the visit to the UK of David Peace, and by the success of the recently published ‘Red or Dead’ – a work that explores the life of Bill Shankly.

And listening to the readings last night central to that man was certainly the concept of the team – that Liverpool was a team above all else and that no individual was as important as the team – a concept we hear so much of in our business life.

watching the gesture


But that wasn’t actually the only reason why I was thinking about teamwork – my post is more a result of watching the performance of Mark Lawson, as he flawlessly performed the role of the perfect foil for David Peace.

This role of the support man really in my view takes a lot of talent, an ability to be quietly confident, full of opinions but not opinionated.



We see this role in much of life – certainly in sports – perhaps the best example is the tireless support given to the lead riders in the Tour de France by the ‘domestiques’. And in business – the incredible talent that work behind the scenes and in the boardrooms of some the most creative CEOs – allowing them to perform as they do.

But what fascinates me now is that I see this too in certain people and the way they live their personal lives. Normally past the nervous stages of youth they are increasingly comfortable in themselves, they quietly smile, are full of experience but still loving the process of learning what is truly important to them.

They take a joy in helping others through nervous times, they enjoy being a friend.

They have found a way to use their personal experience and talent away from the direct light of the spotlight. What a great way to be.