26 jul 2008

I suppose it's partly because I've been with tango for as long as I have that I tend to be pretty lax about posting. I'm staying active, fitting it into an almost daily activity, and I am enjoying everything I am getting from it including the inevitable frustrations. As ever, I'm trying to work on a significant and fundamental change in the way I walk, the way I hold my carriage and the way I embrace, even though what has become comfortable seemed to have served me well enough. Progress is slow and when things manifest themselves in a positive way it is a tiny, incremental ascension, barely even noticeable except perhaps from those who are very familiar with my dance or those with well tuned sensitivities (much to my good fortune, often the qualities are shared). At any rate, nothing to get too excited about, and nothing I can honestly dress up in writing.

For the past few months I have been taking the advanced classes with the wonderful David and Mariana and am learning a lot and having a blast with the exploration and experimentation of the dynamic possibilities in some of the more recent developments in tango expression. But I have to admit, as much as I love to watch and to utilize such ("nuevo-"... "neo-"... "__"...) movements, it seems the more I study and practice them the more it heightens my awareness of how much I adore and ultimately prefer dancing with an approach that is more ("traditional"... "classic"... "__"...). I don't mean to argue sides or make claims regarding one approach or the other. I value all of the voices that stem from a place of true reverence and immersion in tango--and indeed, lately in practice I have been exploring the newer stuff probably more than anything else. I just personally prefer--at least, in social dancing--the feeling of a close and relatively consistent embrace coupled with movements that don't demand too much of me or my partner. Not saying that a more modern and dynamic approach doesn't have its place, but for me it tends to feel like I'm working the dance more (although it's a kind of work as play thing), and also I think it's more difficult to dance as a natural part of / contributor to the ronda as a whole in this manner. And I guess I just love the feeling of someone's heartbeat against mine, of being attuned to their breathing and trying to match it, and slowing down or pausing when I feel that either is getting too worked up (my tendency is to move kind of a lot and perhaps a bit on the quick side). I love the feeling where in the beginning there is a certain level of heightened attuning from the follower as she prepares to acclimate herself to my body, my embrace, and my lead, and during the course of the dance there is that feeling of gradual settling where she gets comfortable and her body relaxes and moves with mine without the need for so much mindful awareness. I love to feel a smile against my cheek, the suppleness and lack of tension in the temple indicating closed eyelids. These are details that are very subtle and I admit I can't always tell for sure if they are there, but it's a nice feeling even if I only think I feel it.

But anyway... since I haven't had much in the way of anything fresh to say or of reporting on any tango activity I thought I'd share something kind of goofy, something I came across which I may never have noticed if it wasn't for my involvement in tango.

Recently, on YouTube I looked up a Bugs Bunny cartoon--the classic "Rabbit's Kin"--that I had loved as a kid and hadn't seen for a long time. This is the one where he encounters a frantic little bunny running for his life from the hungry clutches of Pete Puma:

I probably saw this short dozens of times as a kid but it wasn't until now that I noticed the nice little touch where Pete, dressed as Mrs. Rabbit, struggles with standing in heels. It's a total throwaway detail, not really necessary to get the humor of the situation across, but I so appreciate that they put it in there. And if I wasn't acutely aware of the difficulty that certain shoes can inflict on untested feet I may have never caught it (although I'm sure it's patently obvious to women and girls everywhere). Tip of the hat to the directors and animators; fifty years on most of the stuff can't touch what you guys were doing with regularity back then. Also, I have to add that I wouldn't be surprised if much of my musicality was subconsciously developed from all the old cartoons I watched as a kid. Again, it's something I never paid attention to back then, but the way they used music and matched it with the onscreen action (and vice versa) is a really masterful choreography that adds so much enjoyment, and in such an unobtrusive manner.


15 jul 2008

I'm sure it's been said before, but I'll say it again--YouTube is a blessing and a curse for tango.

On the one hand, it's great to have instant access to clips from Gustavo and Giselle, Chicho and Juana, Javier and Andrea, Miguel Angel and Milena, Pepito and Suzuki, etc. I'm sure this is one of the major contributors to the huge acceleration in progress time for recent dancers. On the other hand, the allure of watching live performance has definitely plummeted. I remember how it was a big deal to come across a video of the CITA performances, how on special occasions a teacher would schedule a broadcast ahead of a milonga, setting up a big screen TV and some rows of chairs and everyone would gather and be awed by what they saw. Or when a show like Forever Tango came to town we would snatch up the tickets and be swept away by the production.

Now, at least for myself, it's really hard to feel excited about seeing anyone perform, with the notable exception of friends who I admire and want to cheer. The novelty of movement is pretty much gone for me. Choreography, in particular, leaves me cold. I concede that watching a performance live is a different experience from watching something prerecorded, but even so I'm generally kind of meh about it.

Maybe that's not completely accurate, though. Maybe it's not *all* performance that I'm tired of, but just the look at me! stuff. All the fancy kicks and acrobatics, the exaggerated melodrama. When I think about it, I'm often more compelled by very quiet, slow movements. I suppose it's a matter of dramatic tension. It kind of reminds me of something that my favorite pianist said; to paraphrase, it's not the fortissimos that make the biggest impression on an audience, but the silences.

Also, it's important that a performance feels honest to me. By that I mean there isn't the feeling of something that's been planned out, or of movement for movement's sake, or of manufactured emotion or connection between the partners beyond the mechanical. I suppose this is why I can be mesmerized by some performers' social dance while feeling more disinterested in their actual performance tango.

Anyway, what got me onto this subject was the Friday night milonga for Nora's Tango Week, the "Graduation Night" milonga where all the instructors put on a show midway through. They were great, as to be expected, although I felt that they were saving their "A" material for the next evening which was the final Celebration Milonga to cap the festival. And not to disrespect any of the other maestros, but to be honest the only reason I went was to see Gustavo and Giselle Ann. I have nothing but the utmost admiration and respect for this couple, but I have to admit that seeing them perform live didn't inspire me as I thought it would. Again, perhaps it was because they were saving their better performances for the following evening, or that they were tired from performances from the previous evening. But I do believe that some of the effect was diluted by the accessibility of their performances online, which I watch with some regularity.

Fortunately, they later did a bit of social dancing and it was fascinating to see how they executed in the compromised space of such an unruly dance floor. They managed to maintain a fairly high level of dynamic energy but there were also plenty of instances where they had to tone things down considerably, and in these moments there was often the sense of a lot of tiny accentuations where they were playing with complex rhythms in the music. Also, their bearing is really compelling, in part because it seems to be a combination of some directly opposing projections. On the one hand they are *super* authoritative on every movement they make--everything is done with great strength, clarity and intensity. Yet at the same time their is a casualness about the movements, almost an absentmindedness about it, as if the complex things they do are the most natural, obvious, inevitable things in the world. To go back to a piano analogy (for some reason I can't resist today), it's like how someone described meeting Horowitz and mentioning a particularly tricky passage from a Chopin concerto, to which Horowitz sat down at the piano and played the passage "as if it just tumbled from his sleeve."

Anyway, if I had a choice to go back to the days before YouTube or to have things as they are now, I'd pick the latter, even though I do feel something has been lost. I guess it's a similar feeling to when you discover something great that few others know about, but then everybody finds out about it and the thing gets hugely popular, there's that feeling that the thing that was so special for you isn't quite as special anymore. Or maybe it's just the curse of too much knowledge, where nothing is really mysterious or magic anymore. Ah well...


9 jul 2008

More Sebastián and Roxana:

Yeah, that would be nice...

After class yesterday, David was kind (?) enough to take a video clip of me and A dancing some simple walking steps. Watching it over later, it's difficult not to obsess over the things I don't like. I honestly think that A looks great, but there are some things that I do that I'd like to modify. Some of the main points are:

-I seem to linger in the open position between my steps, and this is especially prevalent and problematic in my back step.

-I tend to excessively extend my steps in the direction of movement rather than letting them fall underneath me following a strong propulsion from my core and base leg.

-I think it would help if I got used to pushing back with my lumbar more.

-There is an overall excess of rigidity in my posture.

-I'd like to utilize more "dancing" expressiveness in my legs and feet. Hell, with the whole body, really.

Perhaps most troubling, I look out of sync with the music. This is something I have difficulty understanding because internally it feels like I am attuned to the cadence and rhythm, and I definitely know the music, but seeing it from the outside it just looks off. I'm wondering if there is something mistaken with the way I conceptualize marking time from a visual perspective.

At any rate, it's always good to see yourself dancing just to compare how you see yourself as opposed to how you actually are. I wonder if they will ever become one and the same; my sense is they will not. Which is actually kind of reassuring to me because I love the work that comes with aspiration.

Anyway, Happy Argentine Independence Day :)


5 jul 2008

Planned to use the day off of work to catch up on some rest but no such luck. Was awoken by a long distance call from a friend who needed to vent and afterward couldn't get back to sleep. Spent much of the rest of the day at the computer, where I'm re-encoding my tango files at a slightly higher bit rate. Don't know how much of a difference it would make but I'd like to think that there are some nuances that will be enhanced. During the course of it I found that iTunes was doing some glitchy things in organizing the files and that took a while to clean up. By the time I was done it was already close to time to go out.

If I had my druthers I would have stayed in, but last night at the milonga I met up with a friend who asked me to come to her milonga tonight. When I got there I noticed it was unusually taxing for my legs when I ascended the stairway to the ballroom. I sat for a while and watched, and after a time my friend sat next to me and we chatted for a bit. When a vals set came on she proposed a dance, and something very unfamiliar to me happened. I arose from my chair and my legs buckled a bit. I recovered quickly and we danced some nice sets together, but throughout I felt very unsteady. When we were done I took a seat to rest for a while and watch the dancing, but soon I found myself fighting to keep my eyes open. I ended up dancing one last tanda with someone I didn't know which was nice but fairly rudimentary, then headed home. Now I'm going to have a quick late snack before I hit the hay.

Bonus: here are a couple of clips from the last night of SFTX where Dan and Pier arranged a hilarious impromptu rendition of the key scenes in Sally Potter's The Tango Lesson, with Nick Jones playing Gustavo, Evan Griffiths playing Fabian, Carlos Moreno playing Sally, and Tova Moreno playing Pablo. Disfruta!


4 julio 2008

"If I miss one day of practice, I notice it. If I miss two days, the critics notice it. If I miss three days, the audience notices it." --Ignacy Jan Paderewski

Since SFTX it's been a fairly constant stream of tango. Watching all the wonderful dancers reawakened something in me and got me to thinking that I could be--and should be--a lot better than I am. And so I'm making the effort, and so far it seems to be paying off. I still don't dance as much as some people, perhaps even most people. But the regularity of it appears to have had several positive effects on my dancing. It takes me less time to get warmed up, I feel a bit more comfortable navigating in a social environment, I'm adjusting easier to different partners, and I bounce back quickly after a dance that is less than ideal (and happily, even those dances haven't been that bad at all).

There is so much tango activity in the Bay Area this summer it's ridonculous. After SFTX, among other things, I took a fantastic class on boleos taught by visiting instructor Dani Tuero, checked out Trio Garufa live at Ashkenaz, assisted at the All-nighter in Berkeley, cheered on my friends at the Union Square milonga, did my weekly study at David and Mariana's advanced class, dj'd at CELLspace, and tonight I'm just getting back in from the kick-off milonga for Nora's Tango Week. Aside from the world class instructors at Nora's, other recent and upcoming guest teachers are Omar Vega, Jorge Torres, Donato Juarez, Tete and Silvia, Oscar Mandagaran and Georgina Vargas, Gato and Andrea... and of course, this is on top of all the great local teachers.

It's really an embarrassment of riches lately and I'm trying to take in as much as I can. Needless to say, I'm pretty exhausted already. But I'm finding that the barrage of tango is keeping my instrument in tune to a degree that is kind of new to me. I guess the question is how long I can keep this up.