It takes more than two to make a milonga (30 sep 2008)

This past weekend had a peculiar slow energy in the Bay Area tango community, at least as far as the milongas were concerned, and I'm not entirely certain why, although I surmise that Luciana Valle's workshops may have had something to do with it. Her all-day workshops are very popular (rightly so) and also demanding, so I'm sure some folks have been conserving their energies to focus on them and/or are exhausted after attending. The All-Nighter at the Beat had a relatively light attendance despite having the wonderful Ney Melo as a guest teacher for the pre-milonga class and also being the closing event of the Tango Insomnia triptych. But I have been hearing from a lot of people lately that they have been feeling unusually fatigued and my sense is that there is something happening climate-wise that is affecting all of our energy somehow. Either that or the world is just getting more stressful in a way that we don't quite register on a conscious level.

Toward the end of the milonga when there were only about three or four couples dancing on the floor I was preparing to put up the dividing wall that splits the room in half but was admonished by a colleague and we got into a discussion about it. My position was that when you have too big of a space for the number of dancers it diffuses the energy of the milonga. Her argument was that the bigger the space the better as it gave the dancers more freedom. I have to say, her stance didn't convince me as even with half the room there was more than enough space for the number of couples to move with great freedom. This isn't to say that I think that milongas need to be crowded to feel cozy or anything like that, in fact, I don't much care for dance spaces where I have to significantly throttle my energy and expression. But it goes back to my perspective that when you dance at a milonga you are dancing with everybody at the milonga. And the way I interpreted her perspective is that she was really only dancing for herself and her partner. I feel if that's your motivation it would be better for you to dance only as a part of a show, or get a studio space of your own.

Even though it's not a big deal, just a difference of opinion, I was and am inordinately adamant and resentful about her position and I'm not completely sure why I feel as strongly as I do. Certainly, there is a petty ego thing about it where I feel she just doesn't "get it," that she's not really a milonguera because she doesn't understand these things. It's the same when I discuss music with people who say traditional/golden age is "boring" and want a lot of "alternative" stuff. But with the former at least, I think part of it is that I get really tired of selfish dancers on the floor, and also that one of the things I miss about the (good) milongas in BsAs is the beauty of watching or being a part of an entire room moving as one harmonious unit.

If anyone would care to share their thoughts on space vs. community on the dance floor, I'd like to hear other perspectives.


cicatrices (25 sep 2008)

Since I don't have any original thoughts of my own I am once again inspired to write on a topic introduced by a buddy, who is presently encumbered by a dance related injury. So far, I've been pretty lucky as I haven't suffered anything terribly debilitating. The worst I get are the occasional corns from ill fitting shoes, which are easy enough to remedy although it generally takes at least a couple weeks of treatment. The only other ailment I've had which has impacted my ability to dance was a back strain incurred outside of dance which had me sidelined for a number of weeks. Also, I sometimes get shoulder problems from embrace issues, although through modification it has eased greatly.

Most other dancers I know who have been doing it a while have had their share of injury and are more than happy to impart their experience and the hard gained wisdom afterward. We tend to want to steer others away from our mistakes. Yes, injuries are bummers, but pain is a damn good teacher. Also, I like to think of it this way: if I wasn't a dancer, I wouldn't have these injuries, so the fact that I do means I am a dancer. And defining myself as a dancer feels good.

I think it's sometimes easy to take that for granted, but I can remember back before I started when I would regard dancers with awe and respect, and beyond that I would regard them as somehow separate from me, almost like a different class of person. Better, in a way, insofar that they had the wherewithal to pursue this manner of expression which was utterly foreign to me for much of my life. Not that I hadn't had exposure to dance, but growing up, social dancing was always a peripheral thing for me. Something to be admired from afar, even initiated, nurtured and sustained (as a hip hop/freestyle dj in high school). But never to be an actual participant, due primarily to the influence of one particular "friend" who in retrospect was something of a bully with a penchant for cutting down and poking fun whenever I made an effort to learn the popular social dances of the day (which was in a way ironic, since I was one of the more admired b-boys in the area when I was even younger). It was a pretty long road to go from those childhood insecurities to the point where I was confident enough to venture, alone, into the world of social dance, and the one I chose was tango. (Or, I suppose, tango chose me ;P. Sorry.)

So, at least in my case, while tango may be the source of certain kinds of injuries--injuries which, by the way, I carry with pride, like battle scars--it has also proven to be the actualization of a longtime healing process. This is not to say, of course, that tango can't bring about other kinds of difficulties. It is, after all, a dance (and culture) that encompasses all range of experience and emotion and tends to magnify them. But if one is to get ill, better it be from overindulgence in a feast rather than from starvation, that's what I think.


19 sep 2008

A quick post to remember the wonderful dancer Omar Vega...

I only met him a few times, the first in BsAs at the milonga 444 Maipú. My good friends Negracha and Diego were performing that night and he was one of the few attendees that weekday evening. He seemed very quiet and reserved and sat by himself, but N & D told me that he was a different character once you get to know him. We watched him on the floor and marvelled at his ability to play with the rhythms, all the tiny syncopations he could insert between the follower's even steps without disturbing her in the least. It was like skipping stones over water without making ripples. They introduced me to him but I couldn't say much because of my severely limited castellano. So I sat silently, trying to be present but unobtrusive as they bantered and gossiped back and forth. After the milonga we went to a café where they continued to joke and talk smack about other characters they knew at different milongas. At this point Omar was pretty animated, making rude comments and talking in duck voice as they munched on sweet medialunas and coffee. I was feeling kind of like a wet rag so I wished them a good night and headed home. I was glad to have met him but didn't think I'd made much of an impression.

Some weeks later, I saw him again at La Viruta. I doubted he'd remember me at all so I didn't want to trouble him, but when he saw me he approached me and shook my hand. That was one of the really special moments I remember from that trip. Along with the rest of the tango community I will miss his presence and his influence on all of us who are followers of the dance and the culture, but am so grateful to have made his acquaintance, to have seen him dance, and to have had the opportunity to study with him.


17 sep 2008

Prompted by a recent post by a buddy who was lamenting the necessity of getting some "ugly ass" practice shoes, I started thinking about apparel and its relation to dance.

I've gone on the record as being unswayed by the manner of ones appearance insofar as fashion is concerned. This, undoubtedly, is due to a large part because I am male. Not that I can't appreciate someone who has obviously gone to pains to make themselves well presentable. But as far as tango is concerned, there are certain possible repercussions from putting dress first.

I recall one instance where in the middle of a dance my lovely partner whispered a request that I press her close and limit my movement. Was she feeling particularly affectionate and wishing to be a bit more intimate? Nice to think so, but no--in fact, she was having a bit of a wardrobe issue as her strapless dress was beginning to succumb to gravity.

I see instances with some frequency--almost always with women--where the clothes become a liability. Heels getting caught in flowing pant legs or dresses, excessively tight skirts restraining the extension of steps, spaghetti straps which constantly fall off the shoulder. Other factors, such as hair, can cause problems as well. I have danced with women who put their hair up in such a way that it impaired my range of vision.

Then there are the shoes. Oh, how women lurve their tango shoes! But I sometimes wonder if that can turn out to be a hindrance to their progress, especially if they make the investment in some high quality, high fashion (re: expensive) tango shoes very early in their stage of learning. I'm just thinking, if it were me and the only dance shoes I had cost me a couple hundred bucks, I don't know how willing I'd be to put them through the brutal paces that working on the dance demands. I'd love to hear people's thoughts on this, but I wonder, for example, if dancing in beautiful new shoes makes you less willing to pass through a tight collect position for fear of scuffing them, or reticent to propel yourself strongly for fear of wearing out the heel or loosening the support. In a nutshell, I wonder whether the concern for the welfare of the shoes outweighs the concern of the mechanism of the dance, at least initially (when the shoes are sparkling new).

Another thing I wonder about is how one weighs priorities when choosing shoes. Of course, comfort, balance and utility are priorities when making one's considerations, but how much is one willing to compromise for shoes that dazzle them on a sheer aesthetic level? Or by sheer status level? By that I admit, I am thinking specifically of Comme Il Fauts, which are considered the epitome of tango fashion. Not to knock them, I think they well deserve their reputation. But it seems that plenty of newbies will not consider anything but the CIFs, partly because of their name. Granted, it's understandable that given the fact that quality tango shoes aren't cheap one would want to spend their money wisely, and if you're going to have only one or two pairs might as well get "the best." But from what I understand, CIFs aren't really ideal for all approaches to the dance. Indeed, my (very limited) perspective is that they are great for elegant salon styles that emphasize walking movements, but seem as if they'd be something of a hindrance to more dynamic approaches given the trademark height of the heels. And seeing that plenty of dancers--particularly young dancers--like using a lot of energetic movements, it would appear that CIFs wouldn't be the most versatile choice of footwear in a milonga.

(Of course I could be completely wrong on this--and of course, good dancers can dance in anything).

I may have mentioned this before, but since I seem to have a habit of repeating ideas in posts I'll say it again... I've found that many, if not most, of the really advanced followers I know tend to prefer a shorter heel. It's exactly the opposite of what I remember hearing when I was still new to tango, that in BsAs the locals could tell the tourists at a milonga by the size of their heels; that is to say, real porteñas--real experienced tango dancers--wore their heels sky high. I wonder if women new to the dance sometimes want to assert their "belonging" to the dance by wearing the highest heels they can find, as if to prove they really are tangueras. Whereas women who have more experience with the dance and are well established in "the scene" no longer feel the need to prove themselves to anybody and are more concerned with shoes that afford them the most freedom of motion and will accommodate the greatest range of dancing styles.

Looking over what I've written so far, I realize that I am being very gender specific in my ruminations. Perhaps that's unfair. Certainly, I have seen men who have made curious selections regarding wardrobe, but it's a lot less common. Guys, being guys, typically go for comfort. We tend to be a lazy lot, and as long as we are clean and unoffensive to the olfaction we trust, and appreciate, you beautiful women to tolerate us. At any rate, I'd lurve to hear other thoughts on this...


14 sep 2008

Haven't had much to write about lately. Think I'm riding a downswing in tango enthusiasm. For the most part, right now I feel that what keeps me active and in the loop is that I enjoy the community and just hanging out with all the people who now comprise my most familiar circle of friends. Practice is good, social dancing is good. One thing that's been missing is the drive toward progression. I just don't care all that much to get better or to learn new things or explore possibilities. This lethargy will most likely pass, as it always has, but I'm not really all that concerned whether it does or not. Maybe part of that is because I know I'm a pretty good dancer as I am--good enough, at least. And good enough is good enough for me (for now).

From time to time I wonder exactly what it is that drives me to get better or to learn more. The most simple answer to that is sheer curiosity. And maybe that's the only answer. Since I don't necessarily have the ambition to perform or teach, what other reason can there be? I think my present issue is that a good amount of what is possible is no longer a big mystery to me. Which is not to say I know how to do everything or that I know how everything works. But for much of the movements that are popularly performed I can generally parse the mechanisms at work, and so the magic--so to speak--is lost. Kind of like how knowing too much about special effects production takes the fun out of a movie.

This is also problematic when it comes to watching performances. I don't get very excited about watching performances anymore, and speaking with some colleagues I find there is a common consensus about the cooling of interest (YouTube definitely has had an effect regarding this). While my disinterest is certainly not true in all cases, I can say that stage tango or fantasia pretty much leaves me cold, perhaps because it seems to try too hard to wow me. So what do I like to see? I thought about it a bit and I think there are two main things that capture my attention, and if a performance has at least one of these qualities I can be enthralled. The first is quality of movement/attention to detail. I much prefer watching a couple who dances simply and pristinely over a couple who dances with great complexity but with rough edges. I think it's because real elegance and refinement is more of a rarity these days than arsenals of acrobatics. (Of course, some dancers are gifted with both).

The second is harder to define, but let me put it this way: if it seems that a couple's main priority is to project something externally, I lose interest. But if it seems that a couple's main priority is something meant primarily for each other and that the external projection comes about as a consequence of that, then it draws me in. I suppose as a viewer, I enjoy being a voyeur over being an spectator.

Anyway, these are some of the thoughts I've been mulling over.


another one...

Palin: Nothing gets done in the senate.

McCain = Arizona Senator.

"Apilado style sucks. Gavito is the greatest."

quick thought....

Giuliani: Change is not a destination.

Palin: If you want change, vote McCain.

Republicans would probably be lousy tango djs.


1 sep 2008

So. Very. Tired. Without going into detail, work has been crazy busy the past few weeks. Every day I wake up physically exhausted, and today I voluntarily went in despite the holiday to which I was entitled, just to try to catch up (which I didn't). So that pretty much saps the energy to do much of anything, blogging included. Although that doesn't entirely account for the month I've been away from posting. Of course, a few weeks back the Olympics were on, and sorry, but everything else takes a back seat for me when the Olympics are on. Now, I'm really not much of a sports fan--three out of four years I couldn't care less about most of the events--but during the Olympics I'm riveted by everything. And with the miracle of modern technology you can keep up with just about all of it. It's an investment and takes some discipline, but great if you're into that kind of thing. At the end of it I felt similar to how I did after my first trip to BsAs--two weeks with little sleep. I think the games are just about the perfect length because I don't think I'd be able to keep up my enthusiasm for any longer.

Despite all the extraneous activities (which of course refers to anything not tango related) I still managed to adequately keep up with my dancing and practicing, although certainly more with the latter. And in the past couple weeks I filled in as head organizer for the all-nighter at The Beat and shared dj duties at Cellspace along with Dan Peters. The all-nighter in particular was taxing. In the experiences I've had where I was put in charge of things I find that I just can't get in the mind set to enjoy myself. I'm always trying to make sure everything is running okay and that those who are assisting me aren't doing more or less than their due share of work, although ultimately I'm not one who is especially adept at delegating authority and am more prone to want to do things myself. I suppose it's a good thing to be aware of for any future event where I'm in that kind of position. Just write it off as a night I'm not there to partake of the activities but to make sure everybody else gets the best experience. Like being the designated driver.

Similarly, it's very difficult for me to join in when I'm responsible for the music. I always want to make sure the sound quality is okay and that the people are responding well. Dj duty at Cellspace is even trickier given that you are trading off with another dj and have to play off of what they are playing to keep a logical flow to the proceedings. Adding to the difficulty is this month's "experiment" where the music switches from traditional to alternative every other tanda, and adding on to that was the extra experiment given to Dan and me to switch off between one another after every two tandas. These stipulations made it near impossible for me to get any time to dance and so I didn't bother for the most part (I gave in for one song to allow my friend, who is recently trying to practice the leader's part, the opportunity to weave me around the floor--sadly, I don't think I was the most responsive follower she's had :P) In the end, I think we pulled it off well, and several people approached me and commented that they *love* the traditional-alt format. My own opinion... well, I think I should discuss it with the organizers.

Anyway, once my workload eases up I'm looking forward to going out more socially once again. In the meantime, I'm dealing with a gnarly corn on my little toe that makes it painful just to put my shoes on. Of course it affects my ability to dance or practice and also weighs in on my decision whether I want to go out dancing or not. Hopefully, it'll be under control by the time Luciana's workshops start at the end of the month.