26 nov 2007

Orange práctica at The Beat. Got there at my usual time, around 10:30. The place was already pretty empty by then, and folks were packing up as I arrived. Seems to be an affliction of fatigue going around in the tango community lately, everybody I talk to mentions how tired they've been. Even though I took a nap right before I came I still could only dance a few tandas before I had to sit. As such I didn't get much accomplished, though the dances I did manage were enjoyable.

With a clear floor for some of the advanced dancers there was some fancy steppin' going on so it was fun to just watch. Feeling a little burnt right now, although simultaneously eager to work on some of the ideas that Homer and I were working on last week. Plan to take Tuesday and Wednesday off from tango and hopefully get some gym time in, then come in fresh for Thursday practice with A.

Viva la down time...


25 nov 2007

Quick recap of the weekend: Friday night, private with Homer. He was generous with his time, patient in his manner, and judicious and diplomatic about the concepts we worked on. As I expected, I got a lot of fresh insights and will try to find a way to reconcile the ideas into my dance.

Saturday night, All-nighter at The Beat. Good energy for the night, lots of out of towners. Generally leader-heavy. Had some really nice dances but managed to bump and get bumped, par for the course between midnight and 3 AM. Made some terrible coffee due to the fact that someone lost the instruction manual for the urn and I had to guess the amount of coffee to use. Later found I used a full cup less than I should have. In the end it seemed as if everybody left at once, all around 4, which seemed a shade early.

Sunday afternoon, práctica at Allegro. Decent practice although a bit low energy due to the previous evening and residual turkey loginess. Tried to incorporate some of the ideas from the private but want to ease into it as not to overwhelm myself or partners.

Thus ends the long weekend. Think I'll take a nice hot bath.


21 nov 2007 - Cellspace

We had a dearth of volunteers at set up and it was just Homer, Cristina and me. Cristina said it was like the good old days back in the beginning of Cellspace, when it was just her and Homer doing everything. We reflected on how it was different then - different floor, different decor, different bathroom. How ratty and disgusting those old couches were. Interesting to notice how it has changed, which I don't usually reflect on since I am here so often and the process seemed pretty gradual (aside from a few weeks of closure when they were doing some serious remodeling). David and Mariana taught the intermediate/advanced class while Sergei and Stephanie taught the beginners. I was sitting at the door so only saw what the beginners were doing but it seemed like a fairly complex idea for the level, cross system walk on the closed side of the embrace. But I guess the teaching must have been pretty clear because they appeared to pick it up. I had never seen S & S teach before but thought they looked good together whenever I saw them social dancing, and on the occasion that I dance with Stephanie it's always a pleasure, she's absolutely rock solid and has a fun expressive style. I couldn't see the int./adv. lesson too well but think it might have had something to do with overrotated ochos and sacadas. When D & M did the demo at the end it was mixed with a lot of really interesting variations so I'm not sure what the focus was.

Much of my time was sitting at door duty with Cristina, and in conversation she gave me a lot of little gems from a follower point of view and also concerning the process of changing perspectives as one becomes more experienced in tango. Also regarding shoes, in particular women's shoes and the nuances that make for a good or bad shoe for dancing (C prefaced this part of the conversation by stating she was a "shoe slut" or something along those lines; the number of pairs she told me she owns is, by my count, fairly outrageous - we're talking Imelda Marcos territory ;P). I think the shape and build of a shoe is probably more of an issue for women's shoes than for men's, although naturally we guys have to take care of our feet and our posture and balance as well. Of the few pairs I own I have only three brands - Flabella, Darcos, and Tango Brujo. I find that the Flabellas are very sturdy but a little narrow at the tip for my foot shape, and their earlier shoes seem to have an issue where they dig uncomfortably into the heel (they apparently have resolved this in the newer models, say post 2004/2005). The Darcos pair has a comfortable width and have also proved surprisingly sturdy given the model I own is the kind with the crossed leather weave. The Tango Brujo pair are practice sneakers and I've been dancing almost exclusively with them since I got them in June since they are so comfortable but also are simple to put on or take off because they are slip-ons with velcro fasteners. On certain floors the sole is a little grabby because of the material, not sure what it is. Maybe suede.

Managed to get a couple dances in, both lovely but lacking in imagination on my part. Think I was really tired. As I was leaving I encountered M, who almost convinced me to stay since it was her birthday and wanted to dance. It was a tough call, but I had stuff to take care of at home and was already later than I had intended to be, plus if I left it would give her a good parking space in front. And, to restate, I was tired and felt my dance wasn't focused or inspired at the moment. I promised her a dance the next time we meet.

So I guess given the holiday I'm staying in tonight. Just as well, I think my body needs the rest. Some people seem to dance 24/7 and I wonder if they aren't actually doing harm to their progress. Just as with any athletic activity I'm sure dance carries the risk of overtraining, which pretty much every athlete will say is worse than under training. But also there necessarily has to be a time apart from the actual physical practice of the dance where the mind uses the break to assimilate the concepts and in effect rewire the networks accordingly. A passage in maestro Charles Rosen's book "Piano Notes" (I've been reading a lot of piano related books lately) reads:

A proof of how purely physical the process of learning music can be is the fact that if one practices a passage steadily for a quarter of an hour, an immediate improvement does not always appear. The next day, however, it has suddenly and magically improved as if the labor was validated only by a night's sleep. It is simply that technique works at its best when the involuntary part of the mind takes over more completely. Then consciousness, no longer burdened with the difficulty of hitting the right notes, can assess all the other aspects of performance.

Just a thought for some of the gung ho tangueros and tangueras who never seem to sleep. Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving all (or, as Bobby Hill from King of the Hill called it, "Thankstaking Day"). And again, Happy B-day M! Un gran beso para vos!


21 nov 2007

Last night was Ney's group lesson at La Pista. Wasn't planning to go but got a note that it was to be his last class of the year in SF. Had to rush home after work to pick up my shoes.

Whenever I go to anybody's group class it's always amazing to me how it seems to reset me to beginner mode. I think it has something to do with the class atmosphere that makes me unable to relax. Everything becomes noticeably stiff, especially my legs, which I tend to lock out. The lesson itself covered some relatively simple subject matter but it's the nuances that I find tricky. Ney has a style which is fairly sensuous, with the upper body in particular creating a kind of cradle effect. It's very nice to watch and I think would be a sweet way to accompany your partner, but as of yet I can't do it in a manner that feels natural and unaffected to me. Afterwards went straight home, opting not to go to El V since I had stuff to attend to, and also wanted to head to the gym which is something that has been sorely neglected as of late.

Tonight, will head to Cellspace for a spell. Probably will come home a little early, though.


20 nov 2007

Short vignettes for the past couple days: Sunday afternoon, práctica at the Allegro Ballroom with A. Always good to dance with her, brings me back to a state of equilibrium. Decided that the shoe factor wasn't the major issue that's been troubling me of late, but did note something that has been affecting my walk, particularly when stepping outside of my partner, which is a direct influence of the lessons I took with Los Rivarolas a few weeks ago. Something I still need to calibrate.

Sunday night, La Taza in Oakland. Sat at the bar and had some stimulating tango chats, accompanied by cheesecake and café au lait. A couple of dances, all very nice, along the narrow floor, avoiding the heating grate at the end which clanged alarmingly with an errant step. Not a big crowd but a warm, intimate evening that flew by.

Monday night, práctica at The Beat. As at the ODC on Friday, spent most of the time working exercises in front of the mirror. Not one dance all night. The only dancers I wanted to practice with were always accompanying others, or else deeply engaged in conversation which I didn't want to disturb.

Regarding last night, I feel as if I was fomenting a kind of rebellion in the sense that I wanted to bring the "practice" back to the "práctica." In my mind, the local practice nights tend to become more of a well lit milonga and as such are difficult places to really work. But perhaps I shouldn't fight the local tide.

I think I must be approaching the social dance all wrong, at least here in the Bay Area. So often I'll see a dancer who I'd like to dance with preoccupied with something so I don't want to bother them, but inevitably some guy who has no qualms about interrupting will come up and get them out on the dance floor. Or else, when she finishes dancing with one guy (after FIVE TANDAS or so) I figure she'd like a break so I let her alone, but before she can even sit down some other guy has rushed up and led her back out. And the one or the other happens ALL NIGHT. Or else when I see them alone and unoccupied they often have a very detached, aloof, and perhaps exhausted look about them, and again I don't want to impose. It's something I have yet to get used to. Nothing bothers me more than to see a woman who clearly doesn't want to dance get goaded / whined / insisted into accompanying someone. That's something I just don't get. How can a guy enjoy a dance with someone who clearly doesn't want to? Does her opinion even matter at all? Or are they so full of themselves that they are convinced a dance with them is always a pleasure? Well, I just can't bring myself to be that guy.

That's not to say I'm completely a victim. I turn down invitations all the time (hopefully as amicably as I can), and also consciously ignore obvious vibes sent in my direction. It goes back to the insecurity thing. If I can't say with any certainty whether I'll have an enjoyable dance I'll opt out. Whether that's because of the dancer or the music or the energy on the floor or my own headspace at the moment. I guess there are more excuses for me not to dance than to dance.

So where does that leave me? Basically, it's once in a blue moon where the desired follower is available and apparently willing, where the music is right, where la ronda flows well, where I have energy and inspiration. It's like the alignment of planets. And as such I'm pretty sure it's probably not the most beneficial way to go about it. But then again, I can say that I enjoy nearly all the dances I get since there is so much that needs to go right before I even consent. Most other people seem to opt for the volume approach, where given the amount of dancing they do they are bound to have some good ones in there somewhere, and they don't mind working through many difficult dances to get the few gems. I guess I just don't have the stamina for that approach. So I shouldn't complain, not that I am. When I weigh the options, of reflecting upon a night full of difficult dances versus a night without any dances at all, I would say I lean towards the latter. I guess I just want all of my dance experiences to be good. Unrealistic, absolutely. Call me a romantic.


18 nov 2007

Metronome last night. A nice time with some good music and seeing some good friends but somehow felt very removed from it all. Even after all the time I've been involved in tango I still sometimes feel like the outsider looking in. That's always been a part of my nature and it doesn't kick in with the severity that it used to, but I still get it sometimes. Didn't dance much, which is the usual story with me. The energy on the floor looked pretty chaotic and I didn't want to subject myself or any partner to it, plus live music is difficult to dance to. I mentioned this to a friend who replied that live music is good to practice improvisation, but that is certainly not one of my strong points. I feel like I've been dancing with pretty much the same movements for a long time now, although my approach to those movements seems to constantly change. There is a part of me that hungers for some variety, but it gets outvoted by this nagging conscientiousness to keep things simple and unobtrusive for my partner and for the dancers around me. Even though I have studied more things than I can remember and have a greater lexicon than I use, I just can't get myself to feel that much of it is appropriate in a social setting. Not to mention that I dance so infrequently with anybody that I don't feel as if I have "permission" to introduce anything risky with them, especially since at this stage of neglect most of these other possibilities are probably not well tuned. But thinking this over brought to mind a comment I read by the pianist Sviatoslav Richter, who upon hearing a recording by another pianist remarked, "He's knowledgeable and plays well, but he never throws himself headlong into the sea. Perhaps he'll never do so." When I think about it I'm absolutely certain that I, too, am playing it way too safe, that I'm approaching things too cautiously. But on the other hand, I am well aware that a milonga is not the place to work out these issues. I think, in general, that in a milonga it is better to err on the safe side.

Regarding the dances I had, even though they were all enjoyable I felt off for all of them, which made me reconsider my thoughts about my connection with the dancer from the other day. Perhaps it's not anything on her end at all. I have a thought which may be dubious but which many hold some weight, that it may be my shoes. Thing is, for a while now I've been dancing almost exclusively in my practice calzados but for the last couple of days I switched back to my formal zapatos which have a significantly different feel to them. The zapatos have a higher and harder heel, harder soles and more of a point at the tip. This makes them more of a hazard for others, which is something to be cautious of in itself, but also makes them noisier, which is something I am also conscientious about. So I'm wondering if this can account for the increased tentativeness in my steps and my lead. I will take them to the practica in Emeryville this afternoon and see if I can work this out.

Later tonight I will go to the La Taza milonga in Oakland. Being a new venue it's still finding its audience but will hopefully start to pick up as it's a nice place to gather.


17 nov 2007

Relatively little to write for the last couple days. Thursday night was practice night with A, got some small details resolved concerning posture adjustment when opening the embrace, other than that it was mostly dancing with occasional stops to rest and/or to fine tune things. Homer, who was conducting a private in the same room, said something about us being pretty hardcore since we dance pretty consistently for three hours, but hearing his schedule I think our workload is relatively pretty mild.

Friday night was at the ODC practica, spent most of the time doing exercises in the mirror. I did manage to get in some practice with actual partners. The first one, sad as I am to say it, was not comfortable, and it is especially regrettable to me because it was with someone who I like as a dancer and a friend but who I am increasingly having difficulty dancing with. She's beautiful, talented, and ambitious, but I just feel our energies are very different. Every time I get into an embrace with her she feels so delicate that I'm afraid the energy I usually like to project will overwhelm her. So I end up trying to hold back but that goes too far and I don't transmit my intentions clearly. Lately I'm finding that after we dance I get this nagging feeling that both of us feel frustrated, perhaps due to a mutual admiration and respect that is coupled with the bewilderment that our approaches don't work with one another. The connection just doesn't feel right from the get go. So now, lamentably, I'm almost resigned to the idea that it would probably be better if we didn't dance together. I'll have to discuss this with her the next time I see her. At least I know that she has plenty other willing partners with whom she seemingly connects with in a more compatible manner.

I fared better with the other partner, a dancer from out of town who teaches in her community but made a trip here to study a bit (actually, I had met her the day before as she accompanied her partner to the private with Homer). We started with milonga, progressed through tango, and ended with a vals. She was solid and receptive and I felt pretty free to dance naturally, although of course it's prudent not to unleash everything with someone who is unfamiliar. Throughout it all we gave each other minor feedback and exchanged ideas, which is the kind of back and forth I like to have in a practica.

Tonight to Metronome to see Trio Garufa and Michelle and Murat. Might stop at aMuse earlier, as I understand some people will hit both milongas in that order, but right now I'm feeling that the one will be enough.


14 nov 2007

Cellspace tonight, shared DJ duties with T. Not sure about the flow, I feel like it was kind of uneven. I like and respect T but I have to admit we have very different ideas of how to build tandas and how to regulate the energy of the music. So I think for anybody paying attention it was very obvious when one or the other of us were playing. The people responded well, so that's all that matters. I played one tanda in my first round which I knew going in was going to be very iffy and it turned out to be even worse than I feared. Modern milonga set by Quinteto Ventarrón, who play tangos that are really intended to be listened to rather than danced to. More in a jazzy vein. Watching the people struggle to that was painful. Right before the tanda came on I was chomping at the bit to change it, but I had already told T that he would be coming in with his music after that tanda and he had arranged his selections accordingly, so I didn’t want to mess up his direction (I’ve had that done to me before and it is a BITCH to have to reshuffle your music at the last second). So I grudgingly let it go.

As the night progressed I found myself reconsidering my originally intended tandas a bit more than expected, as did T. Finding the right energy was proving elusive. There were always dancers on the floor (Cellspace is very forgiving that way) but I was having trouble really getting everybody into it the way I wanted. And I knew before I could get them into the groove I had to bring them to a place where they were comfortable. T was spinning a lot of alternative stuff so I 86’d some of my experimental/alt selections and kept things familiar. On my second round I threw down some high energy heavy hitters – Fresedo instrumentals from the 30’s, Biagi with Falgas, D’Arienzo milongas. I felt the crowd was starting to get into a groove but right then we had to interrupt to have a performance from Murat and Michelle. They decided on their music one tanda before they were up. Murat asked me to play the vals “Tres Esquinas” by D’Agostino and then Canaro’s “Poema.” Right when I started their music I knew something was screwed up somehow. But you would have never known it from their amazing performance. After the two songs, Ney Melo started chanting from his seat, “Otra! Otra!” and the rest of the crowd joined in. Murat rushed to me and asked me if I had “Sacale Punta” by Donato. I promptly fired it up and they did one more for the happy audience. Later, Murat came to me and we both acknowledged that we had mistaken the first song. “Tres Esquinas” is a tango, not a vals. What we meant to play was, of course, “Esquinas Porteñas.” Damn. Too many esquinas with Los Angeles. I think under normal circumstances I might have caught that but lately my head seems to be in a fog.

After the performance it was T’s turn again. I find the way that he arranges his music kind of amorphous and elusive. He has clear ideas about how he wants to direct the energy and he constructs his playlists very deliberately, but, for example, he is fine with changing artists/orchestras inside his tandas, which as a dancer makes me feel insecure (I tend to need a lot of reassurance to feel safe on the floor, in various ways). When I was up again I had a little less than a half hour to close the night so I kept it classic and easy for the most part. In my first tanda (Di Sarli, 40’s) I was even able to get some of the ones that Homer called the “rock star” dancers on the floor – Murat, Michelle, Ney, Jennifer, et al. I kept them on with the following tanda of Caló/Berón. I almost changed my last tanda to traditional because I wanted to keep them dancing but after consulting with Homer I stayed with my original choice. 2 songs, tango electrónico, downtempo. They stayed on the floor until the end, thank god.

Here is what I played:

FIRST ROUND - Orquesta Típica Víctor: El Portenito, Quiero Papita, Recuerdo / Francisco Lomuto: La Revoltosa, Catamarca, Madreselva / Enrique Rodriguez (valses): Llora Corazón, Mariquita No Mires Al Puerto, Isabelita / Quinteto Ventarrón (milongas): De Vuelta y Media, La Trampera, Milonga De Mis Amores

SECOND ROUND - Osvaldo Fresedo: El Irresistible, Derecho Viejo, Firulete / Rodolfo Biagi: La Chacarera, Queja Indiana, El Estribo / Juan D’Arienzo (milongas): Silueta Portena, Milonga Del Corazón, Milonga Del Recuerdo

LAST ROUND - Carlos Di Sarli: El Incendio, La Cachila, Shusheta / Miguel Caló: Qué Te Importa Que Te Llore, Tarareando, Al Compas Del Corazón / Jaime Wilensky: Sentimientos, Electrocutango: Mi Viejo Dolor.

Incidentally, I didn't dance at all, which is fine. Being a dj is a pretty big responsibility.


11 nov. 2007

Another night off. Took advantage of it to finally get back in the gym for some leg exercises. Since I've gotten more serious about my dance my workout has changed to try and accommodate it. Here is what I do:

-Dumbbell lunges (up to 90 lbs. or 2 x 45) - to work forward propulsion, absorption, and rebound.

-Dumbbell reverse lunges (up to 50 lbs. or 2 x 25) - to work backward propulsion, absorption, and rebound (you have to be really careful with these because it would probably be really easy to injure your ACL. Best to go very light and only after warmed up).

-Dumbbell side steps (up to 70 lbs. or 2 x 35) - for lateral propulsion, absorption, and rebound.

-Single leg extensions (up to 90 lbs.)

-Single leg curls (up to 45 lbs.)

Then I do some abs, and in the end go to the aerobics room and quickly practice front and back boleos, ganchos, and do single leg balance exercises. I've been doing this for a few months and so far it does seem to help. Of course, if I find any different I'll post about it.


10 nov. 2007

I was actually planning to stay in and watch some flicks I had backlogged but got a nudge to venture out, so I headed out to aMuse. There was a new art installation on the walls which I made the mistake of scrutinizing. Some anti-war/anti-propaganda polemic which was comprised of a series of graphic photos from the conflicts of the 20th century. Nothing to inspire a milonga like looking at a bunch of horribly obliterated corpses, huh? Not that I disagree with the sentiment, but to post such a thing in a Mission District art gallery is essentially like friendly fire - you're disturbing the ones who are already on your side.

The milonga itself was definitely affected by the Tango de los Muertos festival but still managed to draw a decent crowd, plus there was a little more room for navigation. I wasn't familiar with the dj but I know he's been an SF staple for a long time now and his music selections were very good. I pretty much sat and watched / listened the whole night, which isn't unusual for me. One of my teachers and a good friend stole me for the last tanda, which unfortunately was a Pugliese set. Don't get me wrong, Pugliese is one of the orchestras I have loved for my entire tango existence but I just cannot interpret him to my satisfaction. It's the inherent tension, the rubato, the elasticity, the theatrics, etc. Being at heart an introvert, I just don't think it's in my nature. But seeing as how the inviter is such a good dancer and a good friend I couldn't really say no. From my end I definitely felt off. It was my only dance of the night so I wasn't warmed up, plus the moisture in the room seeped into the wooden floors which made them a bit grabby. But I still had fun.

Afterward, I went home and watched Spider-Man 3. Yeah, kind of a let down, but oh well. It had its dumb fun moments. Tonight maybe I'll check out Amarcord, Infernal Affairs, or Last Night.


8 nov. 2007

I suppose I should come up with some more original titles for my posts, but I just don't seem to have the time. I know, I'm lazy.

I'm still new to this blogging thing but the ones I read seem to chronicle the day to day events of people who are discovering things about tango and sharing their experiences online. I don't know if anything I'll have to say about my daily routine would be of interest to anybody, nor necessarily shed any light on any subject, and also I just feel weird about broadcasting my interactions with people who may or may not be all that enthusiastic about anybody writing about them. So then I'm left with the question of what to write about, or even if it's worth it to keep a blog at all.

One thing that makes some of the tango blogs I read interesting is that they are coming from the perspective of people who are relatively new to tango, and when they are excited about a revelation their excitement carries over to their writing. Because I have already been involved for a bit longer I don't know if I can convey that same kind of feeling, the "a-ha!" kind of thing. Not that I've learned everything there is to know, far far from it. But it seems that nowadays whenever I get a new insight it's about a tiny thing, or perhaps something which I now understand in the long run will amount to just a miniscule step forward. And it's usually something technical and I don't know how much I can dress that up. Actually, a lot of the work that I do with the dance would probably bore people. Walks up and down, posture exercises, balance exercises, pivot exercises, etc. For hours. I can understand if people wouldn't want to approach their development of the dance in that manner. There is something very far removed from actually dancing in it, especially in terms of partner dancing. I look at it as doing scales or finger exercises in practicing an instrument. I realize that one of the great joys of performing the dance and one of the things most beautiful to watch is the sense of spontaneity, the appearance that something is being created very naturally in the moment. But despite all the emotion and humanity in dance, any dance, it still is fundamentally a physical, athletic activity, and the better shape you are in the better you will be able to express your art. Although I guess not everybody really needs to work on it that way. For example, probably my favorite pianist is Sviatoslav Richter, and he strongly disagreed with the use of scales for practice, opting instead to just play music over and over until it was where he wanted it to be. Glenn Gould was the same way, only he purported to practice very infrequently. So I suppose sheer talent can carry you a long way. But I think a lot of people severely overestimate their abilities. You can see this in any "intermediate" or "advanced" group class you go to, anywhere in the world. Some people don't seem to understand that tango progress doesn't happen on a stopwatch. I know plenty of people who have been dancing for years and remain terrible dancers. In fact, they seem to get worse because they add more to their vocabulary and with each element they accumulate more and more bad habits. But because they have been in tango for x amount of time they feel that gives them some sort of authority. Personally, I try to be diplomatic about it. Of course, I have my opinions on what I like or don't, and what I think is good or not, but in the end I hate to put a solid definition on what tango is. I remember one time at Confiteria Ideal I saw an older man with a face like a pug dancing incredibly harshly. He would swing his partner to one side, then the other, kind of like he was trying to kill a fly with a baseball bat. But when I looked at the woman's face over his shoulder, she had her eyes closed and a big grin on her face. And she never excused herself for the whole tanda. So who am I to say that's not tango?


7 nov. 2007

Relatively little tango the last few days. Like everybody else, have been tired tired tired. So stayed in Tuesday. Wednesday on duty at Cellspace, had a hell of a time setting up the lights. The guy who runs the venue - can't remember his name - did most of the work, but in the end we only had three working lamps. Mostly I stood underneath while he changed bulbs around. I figured I'd at least be able to yell if one of them fell off the support rod from three stories up.

Attendance was relatively light, no doubt affected in part by Tango de los Muertos in Boston this week. Still a decent crowd, which speaks of the popularity of the milonga. Dan and Ben were spinning, they kept up a good energy and mixed genres pretty deftly. Dan used a cortina with a song which I just happened to also make a cortina out of, dammit. Guess I won't be using that one anytime soon.

Had just one dance but it was fun. Alternative vals set, two of the songs were from Amélie. Valses make my dance a lot more circular than usual. That's to be expected, of course. My partner was a little taller than me, which tends to create difficulties but she was really technically solid so it was a breeze. I don't dance with her often even though the dances I have had with her have been a pleasure. A lot of it is the height thing. I know a few tall followers who are excellent dancers and I regret not being just a couple inches taller myself so I could accommodate them better. But then again, there are so many fantastic followers who are shorter and to be too tall relative to them would cause another set of difficulties. A lot of tall leaders I know develop a bad habit of hunching to accommodate their partners. Height incompatibilities seem to be one of those things that are really difficult to reconcile, and I think even for instructors it's a hard subject (most of the advanced dancers I know tend to be well under six feet tall - I'm sure the lower center of gravity is a strong advantage).

Left around 10:30, just as some more friends were pulling up. Getting home to the East Bay is a drag since all the Bryant Street on-ramps are usually closed, but the city streets were pretty clear so it wasn't so bad this night.


5 nov. 2007: Monday night práctica at The Beat.

I got there around 10:30. There was a decent crowd there but relatively light for this venue. It must be something about the climate that’s keeping people at home, or perhaps it’s just a busy time of year at work since we’re fast approaching the holiday season. The class earlier in the evening was taught by Dan & Pier and the subject was colgadas. This is an element of which I only have a rudimentary working knowledge. Not that I wouldn’t want to study shared axis movements in more depth, but it’s not really where my focus is right now. Especially since one of my primary objectives in the dance is to always make my partner feel safe and comfortable, and these kinds of lead / follow dynamics which rely on counterbalance seem inherently jarring in a way. Of course, that’s part of the appeal, the risk-taking factor. I equate it with the trust game where you fall backwards into another person’s arms. There are some dancers who can do them particularly well, in a way that seems like a natural expression of the moment. Being more traditionally oriented, I generally don’t utilize them socially, although I am interested in the mechanics and the possibilities that open up when you understand them well.

I danced with three partners tonight, which may not sound like much but for me is actually more than usual. I tend to be a very hesitant dancer (and I seem to have developed something of a reputation concerning this). You could call me shy and while there is truth to that it’s not really the whole picture. Feeling comfortable at a given time – whether that be with the partner, with the music, with the energy of the room, etc. – is a big concern. If there’s anything that I’m not feeling the vibe from it works against my desire to get on the floor. And I hate dancing uninspired. I don’t think it’s fair to myself or my partner to just go through the motions, even if it’s technically competent and musically attuned. It’s like something very simple Carlos Rivarola once said to me years ago which I have always tried to keep in mind: “It’s not just steps. You have to feel the dance.”

Partner #1 was someone who I had seen at tango events for years and who I always regarded as a very good dancer, but it wasn’t until recently that we were formally introduced. I remember having one dance with her a long time ago and it was terribly awkward, mostly my fault. But in my defense it was with a Beck song (yeah, Cellspace, back when it was still new). She excused herself citing knee issues, which may have been real or not but I never blamed her for ending it. Dancing with her now feels very solid. Her connection is unusually strong and present. There is a lot of upper body contact, even down to the abdominal area which is a little unusual for me although I’ve noticed several advanced followers / teachers connect that way in close embrace. The lessons I took with Mariana Dragone got me accustomed to having more of an open space below the sternum for a little more freedom of movement. That’s not to say any one style is superior. But with the increased body connection it makes me have to be that much more certain about my accuracy in terms of the energy I project and the way I follow her through her movements in order to accommodate a mark that I have led. In this sense I feel it was good practice and a very appropriate way to start off. Not to mention a pleasure. I often see her sitting at these prácticas and I don’t really know why that is, except that maybe she’s a little intimidating. On her own she can appear highly autonomous and perhaps even somewhat aloof although in my experience her nature has been very generous.

Partner #2 has been a tango buddy for a while now. I used to practice with her when she was pretty new to tango, having come from salsa. Now she’s a prominent organizer of milongas and events in the Bay Area. It’s always fun to dance with her, she projects a strong energy and likes to embellish a lot. I tried to accommodate her with some of the things she said she wanted to work on, but unfortunately they weren’t great strengths of mine. Ganchos and volcadas. Again, elements of which I have only a rudimentary working knowledge. You could call them rusty tools since I’ve studied them in various forms but just never use them and so they get sloppy with neglect or forgotten altogether. It’s good for me to attempt them again, though, because currently my vocabulary is very limited. Just enough for me to get by, really.

Partner #3 is Ms. Ambitious. Only dancing for a bit over a year or so but making crazy progress, and incredibly demanding both of herself and others. I have mentioned to her that I’m never really comfortable dancing with her because I know she’s striving for absolute perfection. It reminds me of the days when I would dance with one of my instructors but always tense up because I felt like I was constantly being evaluated. Part of it is in me as well, though. I, too, tend to be obsessive about detail and so when I get together with her that aspect of my personality gets amplified. The good thing about that is that my focus gets heightened and I pay more attention to things like posture, embrace, weight distribution and the like. The negative is the aforementioned tension, as well as a kind of self inflicted censorship since I’m focusing so much on ironing out very base elements, and also out of concern of not offending her with crude, undeveloped movements. One thing she said to me tonight which was very astute was that she sometimes felt like we weren’t really dancing with each other but almost as if we were dancing with someone over the other’s shoulder. Personally, I know I have developed a bad habit of dancing in the mirror sometimes, especially in a practice setting, and that is clearly a connection killer. Part of that habit comes from the days when I would assist in beginner classes and needed to see what the follower was doing so I could correct her. But I think most of it is narcissistic in a way, where I’m checking my own form and neglecting my partner in the process. Bad. I think I need to get better acquainted with the dance from the inside instead of the outside, at least as far as my partner is concerned. I can usually diagnose when I’m doing something that throws me off but with my partner I’m not as sensitive, either with something they aren’t doing optimally or with something I am doing improperly to them. Still, it was a good practice session and I always enjoy working with her. Although we did dance to music that I’m not a strong interpreter of. First with 60’s Pugliese (I have difficulty with the musical tension, the drama and rubato) and then with alternative stuff. Always good to work on problem areas, though.

To touch briefly on a topic that probably warrants further examination, the way prácticas tend to serve as informal milongas for a lot of people instead of a space for serious study kind of befuddles me. I happen to be one of those who actually likes the work part of developing my dance. So I’m not averse to doing drills or going over a movement over and over. This is something I picked up very early, when my first regular teacher would start each class with walks back and forth and then ochos back and forth. Then when I went to BsAs for the first time this discipline was further enhanced when I took some classes specifically on technique – 3 hours strictly on exercises. Later, when I visited a friend in Paris I saw how her ballet class was structured. It was pretty intense, the dancers going over a prescribed sequence over and over, stopping only to iron out very technical details. In fact, the classes for all the dances that I saw there were similarly technique oriented, and it struck me that to approach tango in a more casual way was to disrespect the dance, which is every bit as valid as an art form as any of these other classic dances. Then again, part of the greatness of tango is that it’s flexible enough to exist as both an informal recreational dance for casual aficionados and as a complex art that can stretch the limits of human possibility for those who choose to pursue the higher echelons of its expression.


Jumping on the loaded bandwagon

4 nov. 2007: No tango tonight, the first free night in a while. Went to check out La Taza but they closed early due to low attendance. I caught them just before they all went home. We were trying to figure out what happened. Word of mouth has been good and people who have attended seemed to have been enthusiastic about the venue. It’s just as well, I guess my body could use the break. Like so many I know in the tango community, I haven’t been getting the kind of rest I should. Yesterday evening I was interviewed by a friend of mine who was working on a paper about tango, and he asked if I considered myself “obsessed.” My reply was that I didn’t really see it that way, even though I go to a milonga or práctica every night. Tango is just something I enjoy doing and being around. But it seems that I hear that a lot, about people who consider themselves “obsessed” or “addicted” or something along those lines. I wonder sometimes if it’s all just some sort of glorified self identification, as if calling oneself a “tango junkie” allows some of them to feel defined somehow as a part of some exclusive club, or that it supposedly speaks of their skill and/or potential. I wonder how long it will last for some of these people, how long before they burn out and to what degree they will recover. I’ve found that for me it goes in cycles. I have been through periods where I dropped it completely for months at a time. But of course I, like most people, always come back. And as long as I’ve been in tango I feel that now I am the most invested, the most driven I have ever been, by far. A big part of that is because at the moment I have the means to afford going out regularly. This is a definite luxury that I haven’t had for most of my time with the dance. Having been on that side of the fence I am well aware of how much of a privilege it is to be able to dance more than once a week. I guess it’s no surprise that many if not most of the people I usually see are well educated, well trained, and well employed. Sometimes I feel as if I’m mingling above my class (a Billy Joel in a room full of Christie Brinkleys). So many techies, doctors, architects, engineers, etc. Then there’s me, working class slacker without a title. No matter. I’ve never been in a situation where anyone has made an issue about it. And anyway tango doesn’t give a shit what your alma mater is or resume says.
So what else did I do today? Besides hauling a couple tons of concrete around (not tango related), I spent a lot of time constructing cortinas. Now here’s something it’s probably correct to say I get obsessed with. Once I start I want to turn just about everything in my iTunes library into a cortina. I was pretty diplomatic about it. Personally, I prefer long cortinas but for some functions people expect shorter ones, so I made both. Nothing less than 24 seconds, though. I’m just one of those folks who for whatever reason thinks the cortina should actually have a function more than just being a tiny interlude between tandas. I like it when they completely clear the floor. Call me old fashioned. Going back to the concrete, even though it wasn’t a tango thing, leave it to me to make it relate somehow. At the dump, as I was unloading the back of the truck I concentrated on using my core to generate a nice dissociation as I chucked the pieces into a big pile. I was winding up pretty good there, got some nice distance. Hopefully, that’ll help translate to some solid energy leading the ladies into the giros / molinetes (gently, of course).