27 dic 2007 - Tango Dysmorphic Disorder and other delusions.

A common thing I encounter with people in the tango community is a kind of perpetual self criticism that oftentimes doesn't reflect the reality of the situation—people who find themselves dismayed at their perceived inability to dance well, or to dance the way they would like to dance, even though their dancing is perfectly fine. While this is a kind of neurosis I find among many tango dancers, it especially seems to trouble those who have been dancing only a short time. Additionally, there seems to be a contradictory correspondence in that the ones who suffer most from this neurosis are often the ones who are progressing most quickly and who have greater potential than many. It strikes me as the same mental process as the most beautiful girl in the room who can't stop fretting about her appearance. Perhaps it is partly this insecurity that drives them to work harder, thus accelerating their progress. Or it is the heightened self awareness that comes from self criticism that makes them more aware of the intricacies of their body movements. Regrettably, because so much energy is devoted to self-analysis any joy they manage to find in the dance is hard won and fleeting, and only grudgingly accepted as something that will suffice "for now."

Then there is the opposite, where people who are particularly poor dancers apparently feel as though they rule the floor. They are the ones who never go to classes or take lessons because "they already know it." Or else they attend classes and workshops far beyond their abilities because they consider themselves "advanced." They are the ones who wrench every volcada, lift, boleo, and everything else they have ever seen out of their (and their partners') bodies and fit it in to their interpretation of every single song, imagining themselves to be dynamic and expressive but in actuality appearing more like wrestlers than dancers. Sometimes these people even go so far as to promote themselves as instructors, or at least will not hesitate to point out to others (unasked) how they should be dancing. One incident in particular stands out in my mind, when I was at a milonga in BsAs and one member of my tour group, who was a truly limited dancer, stopped in the middle of a song and explained to a porteña (with whom he somehow lucked upon a dance) what she was supposed to do when he did a particular lead. The look of sheer incredulity on her face apparently escaped his notice. Could it be that the confidence these people have in turn impedes their progress due to the lack of introspection and lucid self analysis? And yet, oftentimes these are people who seemingly enjoy the dance most consistently.

This is a question I asked myself some time ago: which would you rather be, a dancer who dances badly but enjoys himself or a dancer who dances well but feels dissatisfied? Almost invariably, I lean towards the latter, but I think it's not a question that's as black and white as it seems. I really think it depends on what it is you enjoy about the dance, and for me that can change at anytime according to my mood. For example, last night I felt I wasn't dancing particularly well at all, but I didn't really care. In the moment it meant more to me just to be in the milonga environment with some good friends. Another time it might have weighed on me more heavily, leaving me frustrated and insecure. I think as you get more and more experienced in the dance you just fret a lot less at the times when you're game is off or when you feel burnt out because you've been through it all so many times before and so you know it'll pass, and you know that when it does there is often a renewed freshness of perspective. It's understandable that less experienced dancers would stress these situations more because they can take a toll on one's ego and confidence. But these blows to one's self esteem are healthy, otherwise there would be no progress at all. We only get better because we want to get better. And as we keep at it we do improve, in ways we can or even can't be conscious of, almost as if we have no choice about it. The one choice you have to make is to continue or not, and everything else falls into place after that one decision. As a very good dancer once said to me, when it comes to progress there is simply no substitute for time. You can only force progress so much with the work you do, but ultimately the mind and the body can assimilate only so much and will proceed at their own rate. You just have to be patient and rest assured that the dance is indeed honing itself within you, even when it feels like a plateau. (Of course, this isn't to say that dedicated practice has no part in it, but that is a subject for another post.)


12 dic 2007 - Cellspace, DJ duties.

Cellspace was a meat locker last night. The cold, still air inside that metal warehouse was insidious, seeping inside my jeans and hoodie jacket like it was trying to suffocate me. It was a little tricky to arrange my music on the Macbook with my fingers trembling. Trackpad nuances can be pretty precarious when you are playing for a crowd, just an fyi. Many folks I know use a USB mouse but for those like me who like to stick with the stock computer, it may be prudent to turn off the trackpad tap/click function. I had to learn this lesson the hard way once, zapping a song mid stride from an errant touch (I stand by my assertion that my computer was being overly sensitive that night).

I wasn't altogether prepared for the evening as DJ issues seemed to constantly pop up. I was originally slated to share duties with Gordo but he had to be in L.A., so he swapped with Sabrina. A few hours before showtime I got an email from Ben telling me that Sabrina was sick and that he would fill in, but he had to leave early to pick someone up from the airport. I was counting on either Gordo or Sabrina to fill in a lot of the alternative music because that's really not my speciality, but since I now had to cover more of the evening myself I had to construct a couple of tandas pretty quickly. Homer offered to take up some of the slack later in the evening if I didn't feel comfortable but I felt I could get by, and besides it would be good exercise as I don't often play a whole night myself (although in a way that's actually easier than switching off).

Once the momentum for the milonga had found its groove Sean stopped by the DJ table and gave us praise for getting and keeping everybody out on the floor. I had to reply that we couldn't take all the credit because essentially the options were to dance, or freeze. But in all seriousness I was happy the way the music played out and was glad to see everybody enjoying themselves. Ben's additions kept the flow going smoothly and added much needed variety at the right places. Now I just have two weeks to put together my next playlists for the post-Christmas milonga at Cellspace, where I will be sharing music duties with Homer. Should be a good time.

My playlists were as follows:

FIRST ROUND - De Caro, tango set: Mala Junta, La Rayuela, El Espiante. Alternative milonga set: El Llorón (electrocutango), Junto a las Piedras (Otros Aires), Miles de Pasajeros - Omar Remix (Bajofondo). Donato, tango set: Mi Serenata, Amando En Silencio, Muchacho de Cafetin. Biagi, tango set: Pura Clase, La Marca De Fuego, El Estribo. De Angelis, vals set: Olga, Pampa y Cielo, Ilusión Azul.

SECOND ROUND - Alternative set: Shy Kind of Guy (Gogol Bordello), Easy (Tracey Thorn), Arrabal (Gotan Project). Pugliese, tango set: Malandraca, La Tupungatina, Pata Ancha. Lomuto, milonga set: Serenata, Parque Patricios, No Hay Tierra Como La Mía. Fresedo, tango set: Sueño Azul, Tigre Viejo, Dulce Amargura. D'Arienzo, vals set: Pabellón de las Rosas, Amor y Celos, A una Mujer. Alternative set: Grateful Days (Dragon Ash), Pa' Bailar (Bajofondo).


11 dic 2007 - El Día Del Tango

Not much to write today, but thought I should post in acknowledgment of El Día Del Tango. For those not in the know, today is officially the day of tango because it is the birthday of both Carlos Gardel and Julio De Caro. So do a little dance and raise a little drink to give thanks.

Viva la 2 x 4...


1 dic 2007

Not much tango the last few days. Thursday night practice with A, she was having some issues with injury and I was tired and unfocused. Nevertheless, we managed to find some good insight into specific issues we were having together which made for a productive evening, which was surprising given our conditions. Just goes to show that gems can be found in the unlikeliest of circumstances. Also got some clarification from Homer over certain ideas that I still--and probably always will--have struggles with. Basically issues with leading giros. Homer's concept of continuous and consistent resistance makes sense, and given that his dance tends to have a lot of circularity to it his opinion carries a lot of weight. Although even he will stress that it's what works for him and I can evaluate its worth and compatibility with my own approach.

I'm in the headspace right now where the kind of study that many of us devote to refining our approach to tango seems a little dubious and, in my lesser moments, even strikes me as silly in a way. Well, maybe I can't speak for anybody else, but certainly in my own case. I go through this phase from time to time so it's nothing new. But when I think about how a lot of my favorite dancers came to develop their approach, they didn't do it by going to workshops or studying in classes. They did it by dancing a lot and adoring the music so much that their bodies became a conduit, uniquely filtered and flavored by everything they have experienced in life. I think sometimes that nowadays the dance is getting to be a bit too uniform and the reason for this is the manner in which it is being taught, and more importantly, the manner in which it is conceptualized by those who are trying to learn. Many times I have been in the presence of a student asking a teacher how to perform a specific movement, ie. how to do a volcada. It makes me think that for so many people it's just a matter of "connecting the elements". And for me, from an observer's perspective it often comes across as very mechanical in action, even from some who perform the movements well. Even when it comes to tiny embellishments, which I think should be unique from person to person, I see something pre-defined, and often thrown in haphazardly without accenting anything particular in the music. Perhaps it's that people want to make the dance richer, but I don't think that richness and complexity are necessarily interdependent. And personally, I never get on the dance floor with the intention of challenging my partner but rather to make for a comfortable experience. This makes my idiom simple, some might say to the point of being simplistic, which is another issue I face and constantly examine. I'm sure that for some followers out there a dance with me just wouldn't get them excited. (On nerve.com they have a poll every week called "Marry, Fuck, or Kill" in which three candidates are named and pollsters vote on which one would fall under which category; I'm pretty sure in terms of approaches to social dance I wouldn't be voted under the "Fuck" category, instead falling under one of the other two.) The way I try to reconcile this is by being as attuned to the music as I can and expressing, in easy movements (or non-movements), as many different facets as possible in terms of rhythm, phrasing, mood, energy, specific instrumentation, etc. Which is yet another reason why I tend to be so picky about which tanda I consent to dance to. Because if I dance to a tanda which I don't feel inspired by in the moment, the dance will be very by-the-numbers, and I don't enjoy subjecting myself or anyone else to that if I can avoid it.

I won't say that I have no interest in studying some of the complex mechanics of advanced elements, but I hope that in the end I can express the moment in terms that don't break down simply into "volcada, cunita, sacada..." In fact, I sometimes get wary of named movements because that seems to imply something already defined, and I think there should always be at least an attempt to approach each dance fresh and without preconception. In a way I'm sure this isn't completely possible considering the communication aspect between leader and follower and floor dynamics. But unless we allow ourselves to explore, to express the most unexpected ideas, to dance with uncertainty and blind faith, we are essentially engaging merely in recreation and not creation. And that, to me, seems like an exercise in nostalgia. Nothing against that, but I just hope that tango is still something alive, vital, relevant, and contemporary. (I had a discussion with someone the other day who was of the opinion that tango actually died a long time ago and that nostalgia, though valuable, was really the main relevance that it has. While I can see his point and have a high degree of respect for his perspective, I have to say I'm of a different opinion).