Monday, January 29, 2007

Technique. Haha! Ha. Ha.

Last week I had a follower's technique private lesson. I felt it would be a good investment, since it's hard to get a lot of technique attention in a group class. Group classes are for trying not to get stepped on. Privates are for that "hold your foot fifteen degrees to the right" level of critique.

The day of the lesson I got excited and put on my nice 4" stilettos and decided that I would pay attention and totally internalize everything I was told. Instead, I spent an hour trying not to fall over.

At least I internalized my teacher's look of dismay. Close enough!

I'm happy to have had the lesson, though - my focus on technique should be increasing now that I'm a little more comfortable in social dance. (I used to get cold sweats wondering, 'Can I?' Now it's more, 'Can I keep my weight on my instep?' with brief periods of WHAT IS HE DOING SACADA GAAAAH.)

The one thing I did right, apparently, is to wear the heels. Good investment there! Go me!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Tangocoaster.

Since my resolution to dance more while not contracting Chronic Horrified Followeritis, I actually have been dancing more, so there's a lot I could write. Unfortunately, by the time I muster the energy to write in the first person (invisible-voice freelance strikes again!) it's already been eight or nine mental blogposts later and I end up wandering in a haze, wearing only four inch stilettos and a flannel nightshirt, looking desperately for any notes I might have scratched on my own arm reminding me what I wanted to write about.

Today, though, I am going to talk about something I DO remember, because it's pretty much the ONLY thing I remember from the last week. (Including where I live. Whose computer is this?)

I have come to the conclusion that I will never have two good dancing nights in a row. I am naturally uptight and one bad tanda will infuriate me up to a week later, so this is probably not the most unexpected conclusion I've drawn in my life.

Welcome to the Tangocoaster, where you can giro your way to the heights of ecstasy only to come crashing down like another woman's stiletto on your foot. (Then the open-toe shoe of your ego fills with the blood of determination, or something. I didn't really work on this metaphor beforehand.)

More than a week ago I danced at two milongas in two days. The first was at a milonga where I have never had good luck. It has something to do with the vibe of the room, which has always felt 'off' to me. Showy, maybe. All the guys lead their trickiest moves, and the women boleo as soon as they get an inch. I can never relax, which of course makes my embrace look like a Frankenstein impression, and then the guys start leading ganchos and weird spinny things and in an attempt to figure out what's going on I try to outguess my leader and it's all over. It was not good.

Tangocoaster: 1
Me: 0

The next day I went to a more informal milonga, where I was asked to dance by a man whose leading I've always liked, but who hasn't asked me before. I had pegged another six months or so before I was ready. But he asked me, and after the second tanda he said approvingly, "It feels as smooth as I had been hoping it would when I got up the nerve to ask you."

Ego trip! Clearly best tango dancer ever! Hooray!

Tangocoaster: 1
Me: like, 600

A little later into the evening, a much more experienced dancer asked me to dance. We're friendly, so I said no and explained there was absolutely no way I could keep up with him, because I am honest and also at that moment I was very very afraid. He insisted, so we danced.


Tangocoaster: 601
Me: 0

I'm not actually upset about this, since 1) I gave the dude fair warning it was going to suck and 2) I didn't fall over. I can expect no more of myself.

Oh, who am I kidding, I'm totally pissed. I've been practicing about two hours a night since then. Next time, tangocoaster, I'll be ready, and then the boleo of your exultation will be cut short by the back ocho of my justice!

(Metaphors: 2
Me: 0)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Attacked by the Wild Animals of Fashion.

I can't believe it. I really never thought I'd have to do this again. I mean, lately the style has been jersey skirts with uneven hems (totally fine) or gaucho pants (totally fine, more "fine for tango" than "fine in real life", but still fine) or even those capris with the I Dream of Jeannie slits up the sides (looks like a stiletto trap to me, but if you can stay aloft in them, totally fine).

Sometimes a costumey dress or a strappy top or calf-length fishnets or weird liquid-gold pants pop up on a tango video someplace, but that's okay, because if you can dance in it without falling out or tripping or something, more power to you, and I actually appreciate weird fashion. Better weird than skanky, I say - liquid-gold pants are infinitely better than wearing a filmy white skirt with a black thong, which I have seen more times than I am really comfortable with.

Anyway, my prevailing point is that I like when people dress like sensible humans, and when I see someone whose outfit seems to defy all the bounds of logic, I get confused. We all get confused, I know. We all wish we could do something about Unsmart Outfit Syndrome. But then I see this:

Tango dancers of the world, I beg you - just because a woman is wearing a dress so long she can't possibly dance in it and is bound to trip is NO REASON to enlist a group of lions to rend the bottom of her dress so you can see where her ankles are. This will not help! The lions don't like the taste of mesh, and so you get all the inconvenience of a long, ratty hemline, plus now this poor girl is going to freeze. This isn't fair - she has enough to worry about, since her dress has split at the waist and is currently displaying the outline of every empanada she's ever eaten.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Videos of the Week - Chicho, Amsterdam Milonga

I'm putting these two videos in the same post because I think it's an interesting juxatposition of performance tango against social tango.

In this first clip, Chicho Fromboli cuts up the floor. It's beautiful to watch, and he gets a whole stage on which to show off his moves.

This clip is from a milonga in Amsterdam. There is some Chicho influence on some of the moves here, but obviously toned down for dancing socially without slicing somebody's knee off. Just as interesting to me as Chicho, actually.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Leaders' Secret Manual

Last night, I hit the dance floor in earnest, and while I had several very nice partners, I was also reminded why sometimes I prefer not to dance. Clearly, all the leaders have gotten a little pamphlet. The contents, extrapolated from experience, are below.


Welcome, leader, to the world of tango. Enjoy the bustle of a milonga, the thrill of close embrace, the joy of fighting to get a woman to go from open to close embrace regardless of her preference!

Here are some tips to make your evening even better.

1. Awkward lead? Still learning a figure? Dancing with a beginner? Don't be afraid of those complicated moves - everyone loves a planeo! If the follower seems reluctant to do your amazing volcada, feel free to stop the dance and explain what she was supposed to do. Practicas are so boring, and no one's there to be impressed by your awesome choreography - a milonga's the place to prove there's always time for learning!

1a. If she doesn't get it the first time, but you have the faith, it's fine to try six or seven more times in a row. She's bound to get it eventually, right?

2. No balance? No problem! We're sure she has plenty; those heels are only, what, four inches? Lean all you want.

3. If you pull down on her left side, you get that really nice bent-over silhouette that looks so good.

4. She said no? Never fear! A woman rarely knows her own mind; ask her again in ten minutes. You'll see!

5. If you want to put your face against hers, even though she's holding her own axis a few inches away, by all means stretch your neck and drop your whole head on her. She'll probably think it's her sweat, anyway. Girls are really sweaty.

6. It is, of course, acceptable to use a woman as a weapon; that guy you hate will never see it coming if you boleo a stiletto into his leg. For this reason, it's important to pick dance partners with really sharp shoes, and see if you can target his follower while you're at it. Like bumper cars, only pointy.

7. She still won't dance with you, eh? Well, faint heart never won fair lady! Keep asking!

8. The younger they are, the better they must be. See if you can find someone at the milonga who's still in secondary school and cleave unto her. It's not creepy as long as the music is playing!

9. Pausing is for those who can't keep a beat - step lively, soldier!

10. See? Told you she'd say yes eventually. You're great at this tango thing!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Je ne sais quois.

Before you think this title makes me hopelessly pretentious, let me explain. I once got a birthday card that read, "You have that certain 'je ne sais quoi'." Then you opened the card, and inside it read, "That's French for 'card with no money in it'."

I know you think it's lame - I can see you rolling your eyes! - and that's okay. What matters is that there is never a moment in my life that card is not funny, because I'm a literalist.

So, currently, my tango has that certain 'je ne sais quoi', which is French for 'time-sucking void of back ochos'.

I'm trying to balance writing and tango, which is proving nearly impossible because my pride forbids me to progress any slower than I'm currently progressing (read: nearly a standstill) and whenever I sit down at the computer to write, even to write the blog, I end up grabbing a pair of stilettos and making a break for the nearest milonga so I can find one of 'my guys' and get in a few tandas.

My guys are the group of guys I enjoy dancing with, and whom I feel comfortable approaching with the intent of getting a dance invite. This used to be an Austenesque comedy of manners until I eventually figured out I wasted half a tanda on small talk. Now it's mostly, "Hi! Dance?"

I love my guys because we are close enough that I can ask them to dance rather than waiting for them to intuit that I like the tanda and want to give it a go. Plus, it gives me a chance to dance early in the evening and get rid of the jitters, so that when I get asked by a guy I don't know as well, my inner monologue is a little muted.

(Hint: My inner monologue is usually something like, "Don't fall don't fall DON'T FALL am I on my instep I should really pay more attention to that OMG DON'T FALL.")

I think that, as I try to balance writing and tango, my guys will end up being very important as a way to get the most of every milonga, and I won't end up feeling guilty for neglecting my writing.

No, seriously. Out of the last 14 nights? 9 milongas. It's a disease.

ps. Recently, I've noticed that the "thanks, but no thanks" attitude is one of many things that men can get away with in tango and women generally can't. If a man doesn't ask a woman to dance, everyone agrees that's his prerogative without questioning his reasons. Women, on the other hand, are expected to either dance with a guy when he asks, or decline with the world's most generous excuse.

"Oh, I'd love to, but I don't dance to De Angelis since...uh...the war."

A woman, while she technically has the prerogative to choose, has to sweat it out every time she declines, because some guy she actually wants to dance with might see her turning someone down and decide not to ask her himself. This leads to chronic, often fatal, Horrified Followeritis. You've seen their faces in every milonga, pale and dreading, hoping the guy is leading a back ocho and not a volcada. They need your support now. Please, think of the followers.

I don't know where I'm going with this except that my friends are way more polite than I am, and now one of them has Chronic Horrified Followeritis (CHF), and has expressed the hope that one day one of the real dancers will notice her kindness and ask her for a tanda. I hope she's right, but je ne sais quois.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Video of the Week 14 - Tango Lesson with Eray Yuksek

This video is the kind of thing I would like to learn in the new year, as a leader: take simple moves (in this case, the ocho cortado) and learn how to adjust them a little to make them more interesting. I also like that the first variation on this move allows the follower to make whatever adornos she'd like without taking up a lot of floor space or risking getting a stiletto caught in someone's leg.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


This year, I resolve to:

1. Find my axis.

2. Bring my heels together 90% of the time. (Right now I'm running at about 70%, because as soon as I start a giro it's anyone's guess where my ankles are.)

3. Become a better lead. This can be any combination of learning how to lead more complicated, interesting steps, or developing the kind of musicality that leaves room for the follower to embellish. Right now I have only one or two followers on a regular basis, and they are both wonderful women, but both have a habit of worrying for me. What this means is I will take a side step and a dramatic pause, and after two seconds she whispers, hilariously, "Um, is everything okay?"

4. I should really, really figure out how to communicate "all is well".

5. As a follower, I will learn better how to wait. If the leader hasn't told me to do something, I will endeavor to hang out and embellish or count my own eyelashes or something instead of trying to outguess him.

6. I will learn more about the music. It's a little annoying to recognize one song in fifteen and one orchestra in six. I can narrow that spread considerably, I think, if I put my mind to it.

7. I will be more openminded about nuevo.

8. A little more openminded, anyway.

9. ...We'll see.