Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Grist for the mill.

So, a little more about horrible tango night, because I'm still grumpy about it.

I dropped in on a beginner class taught by a teacher I really like, hoping to get in some leading practice. My intent is getting better, but I have the bad habit of bending my knees, which makes me look like Donald Duck in "Disney Tangos on Ice" or something. Trying to nip it in the bud toute suite. I mentioned this before class, and the teacher pointed out that even in heels a lot of the women are shorter than I am, and that I might be trying to compensate or get more "push", etc etc. It was exactly the kind of feedback I had gone to get, and I was feeling excited at the start of class that I could make progress.

With two minutes to go, there were two guys without partners, and me.

I'd like to say I demanded to be allowed to lead, and showed some guy how it was really done, but the teacher clearly needed another follower, and I figured I could always use more practice in following, so I ponied up.

Mistake. Stupid, stupid pony!

The first guy I got never introduced himself or made eye contact; when we went to the cross he pinched me in his right arm, his right shoulder blade aiming for my chin in some weird attack pose, and turned away from me with his left side, so I had absolutely no space, not even space I could fudge or create myself - all I could do was walk and try to avoid the Shoulder Attack. After each attempt, he would look down and walk diagonally for a while before trying again. He never asked for feedback, and I was not in the mood to offer any after being treated like a stand-in, so I just walked and concentrated on pointing my foot properly.

At long last, he stopped. "Why can't I get you to cross?" he asked, puzzled.

I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt if he was asking for feedback, so I suggested mildly, "Maybe if you kept your right arm a little softer (something the teacher had suggested to the group), I could use the extra space to move in front of you into the cross."

He had no reaction to this, as if I hadn't spoken at all, and after a moment said to a space past my knees, "Why can't I get you cross?", just in case I hadn't been sure before that I was being ignored as the follower apparently deserves.

The teacher called for the classe's attention at that point and reiterated exactly the suggestion I had made, using me as the demo follower to show how a cross is made, pausing to point out that the follower needs to be able to move in the embrace. We demonstrated ways to get out of the cross using ochos, walking patterns, the sidestep.

The teacher concluded with, "Okay, so, keeping that in mind, try again with your same partner."

When I turned around, he was motioning to a guy a few spaces away in the line of dance. "Come on," he called out across the room, the bitterness in his voice so sharp everyone in the class turned to look, "you dance with her. I'm not gonna."

The guy he'd spoken to looked mortified; no one was dancing, still watching, frozen.

"Thank God," I said mildly, and went to the next leader in line, seething quietly.

I regret not sticking to my guns and leading, regardless of the teacher's ratios. I regret not being more forceful with this guy to start with and getting away sooner.

I regret not having my stilettos on so I could perforado this guy.

There's nothing worse for me than following a leader when I know I could lead it better. The frustration ruined the night for me, and I neither led nor followed well.

The frightening thing is that soon this guy will be at the milongas, and he'll get dances.

No words.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Video of the Week - A Tango Lesson

See, this is the kind of video that makes me sit up and thank YouTube. As much as I adore the performances, things like this are endlessly useful, and the steady cameraman here has put the focus on the feet. Yay! No huge heads in the way of interesting footwork! (There is that one guy who makes a panicked run for it right in the middle, but I sort of love him, so we're giving him a pass.)

This girl rocks an embellishment, too. Obviously not a lot of milongas give you that kind of floor space, but this kind of playing around with walks and paradas and stuff is definitely interesting to me. Plus, hot shoes!

Clubs Trump.

You ever have a night at tango where you think maybe you should have taken up bridge instead?

Yeah. Good times.

May or may not go out tonight; I want to shake it off quickly, but at the same time, who knows how long this streak of spectacularly bad luck could go on if I push it.

Friday, February 23, 2007


Tonight I tango, and the worries of the work week will be immediately replaced by worries about my axis and my ankles! ...yay?

Speaking of axis, though, I saw this photo on Flickr (I am totally online-stalking Corina and Julio, you guys, it's embarrassing) and had to post it:

First of all, even though this is a still picture I feel like they were valsing - she has vals-face on. Second of all, her axis in this picture is just UNREAL. As is his, frankly. And their joint axis. So really, the lesson here is Axis.

(Nice shoes, too, Corina!)

Huge thanks to PeterForret, who posted this picture on Flickr and made my Friday.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

My superhero costume would be pajamas.

I passed a kid and mom this morning, on their way to school.

"So when I'm a superhero, I fly and you can't shoot me and I play basketball and have a lion and change shapes and I eat whatever I want!"

I'm sorry, but that's the most amazing superhero ever. Mostly the power of flight and the power of great metabolism

My superhero would have 20/20 vision, immunity to the common cold, steel metatarsals, and the ability to change the channel using only the power of her mind.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Stupid out of pratice...ness!

Thanks for all the comments a few posts back on my leading frustration; it was awesome to have the reassurance that I am not a hulking alien beast out to stomp on tango traditions the world over. In fact, Miss Tango in Her Eyes pointed out that men used to dance with each other for practice, which is not only a pratical idea when out on the range for months at a time, but also an excellent reason for some of my favorite tango boys to start dancing together! (Though guys seem to freak out about that, which is hysterical when one of the visiting male instructors asks to see the move and takes the follower's position, and the student is more freaked out about the fact that it's a dude than the fact that they can't do the move.)

I went dancing for the first time in two weeks on Monday, and my following was fine - I've begun the tentative entry into the world of embellishments, which means that every once in a while I tap a downbeat and feel a wild surge of elation that I haven't fallen over. Nothing like keeping expectations low!

Sadly, after two weeks of not leading I could tell a difference in my embrace, and after one tanda with the world's sweetest woman, who pretended I wasn't suddenly boring, I cut the night short before I could manhandle anybody. Morale was low at home that night.

I think I'm going to go back to my current training trick, where I dance in my living room with a stack of wafer cookies in the crook of my right arm. If I open my embrace too much (losing my imaginary follower), the cookies fall. If I manhandle her, the cookies are crushed, and then I have to clean up thousands of tiny cookie crumbs from my floorboards, and it serves me right for being a bad leader!

Plus, I get to fill my house with wafer cookies. Their sweet, chocolately filling compels me!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Best Dance Quote Ever.

"I wanted to be a ballerina when I was little. But, according to my mom, six-year-olds with mild scoliosis and giant man-feet aren't dancer material."

- Dr. Elliot Reid, Scrubs

Capezio, oh Capezio - why?!

Dear Capezio,

Our relationship has been short but passionate, but lately I wonder if you care for me at all. You tempted me with your comfortable class shoes, and oh, how I needed you! oh, how our love blossomed!

When you offered me
this shoe: "...soft, comfortable, sleek and responsive. Genuine cow suede heel and sole pods are padded for comfort and shock absorption. Sueded heel and forepart socklining connect with a stretch material providing support without sacrificing articulation."

How could a woman resist? You provided a sensibly-priced pair of shoes, and after trying them on in the store and oching for a while, they felt as if you had crafted them only for me, as if no other mass-market dance-shoe manufacturer could ever know me as well as you did.

Capezio, these shoes are a PACK OF LIES. These is like the Nixon administration of shoes. They cut off the circulation of the arch and somehow manage to grind the top of my toes towards the ground so that my foot gets negative support. That's right, my love, NEGATIVE support.

I actually began to turn into a tree, Daphne-style, and my heart ached to think that this is what you wanted - that THIS was what you called love! This morning I was walking around my office like R2-D2 because my feet still hurt from NOT EVEN DANCING in these shoes for the past two nights.

Darling, I don't understand. You also make this extremely comfortable sneaker. Clearly you must still care for me; clearly, deep down, you could hear my silent cries. Why did you have to hurt me with all that talk of revolutionary "sole pods" when all I needed to know was that this other shoe had a little layer of padding in it?

Capezio, I'm so confused. Please, please write soon. My heart pounds to think that perhaps I've been wrong about you all along - that perhaps all this time, that Russian Sansha might be the generalized split-sole jazz-sneaker for me, and you never cared for me at all! Oh, Capezio, how could I bear it?

I send you a thousand kisses - and also this stupid shoes, which I'm returning, because ow.

All my love,

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day

Picture time!

Don't worry, this publicity still is the antithesis of yesterday's. I promise. No visible underwear or crotchtasticness or anything.

We already know that Ney Melo and Jennifer Bratt are awesome dancers, so I trust that their feet in these picture are pointed and nice. But even if they were in sneakers or Uggs, this picture retains that lovely "I stumbled across this really well-dressed couple dancing tango on their stoop" feeling. (Shut up, I know you look for that feeling, too! You run to stoops all over the place!)

Happy Valentine's Day, bailarins.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Serious Post. You've been warned.

Okay, so this post not nearly as fun and underwear-flashing as the previous post. It's a reaction to something that I find frustrating and baffling, by turns. (Hence my disclaimer in the title, which I origially typed "You've been warmed." You are the Hot Pockets of my life!)

Gentlemen, let's get this straight:

1. I am not claiming I am a better leader than you are. If you think I'm a better leader than you are, that's your problem. I'm just enjoying the music.

2. Of course I still love following. In fact, my following has improved by leaps and bounds since I began leading, because now I can follow a subtler intent and I know what feel best to the leader. Saying that because I lead I don't like to follow is like saying that because I like boats, I must hate trains. They both take you places. What's the issue? (Unless you're saying all this because I've declined to follow YOU, in which case, see #1.)

Now, this bizarre passive-aggressiveness comes from a small percentage of the guys. Growly, hypermasculine, stompy, but small. I take comfort in the knowledge that they are generally unpleasant people anyway, and clearly just want something to grump about.

The nice guys, the guys I like to dance with,
point out embellishments I could do to dress up a simple step and bring out a flourish in the music. They remind me to hold my elbow back and not to bend my knees too much, and then ask me if I'd like to dance.

Women are generally much cooler about a woman leader, and I have had a much better reaction from them. There are, however, some women who also need clarification:

1. I am not out to cop a feel or dominate anyone. This is more than you can say for a lot of the not-so-good male leaders who ask you to dance, who are just out for a warm body against them, which I know from experience and am surprised you still tolerate. I am leading because it's a tanda I love, and either my leader of choice is not available, or I would prefer to interpret it myself (and dancing alone in a corner looks pretty dumb).

2. I only dance with women who ask ME first. If you see me leading for a while, it's because she's asked for another tanda. I am not kidnapping anyone. I promise.

Clearly most of the readers of the blog are not the sort of knee-jerk haters who go home and stick pins in voodoo dolls of tango dancer, and this rant is totally uneccessary. It's just a shame that somehow it's a big political statement whenever I want to walk around to di Sarli with someone who likes to dance with me.

One of many posts today, but by far the most crotchtastic.

My plan is to buckle down and post a lot today, since I actually have some things to say that are not quite related enough for one post. However, I always say that and then I end up staring at one line of text for three hours, so what do I know?

Actually, I DO know that this picture has to be one of the most unfortunate tango publicity shots ever:

The questions posed by this picture are a veritable Da Vinci code of bad ideas. Is she caught in his fly? Why does he look like Michael McKean? Where do you rent a waiter's tux and who let him do that for a photo shoot? Do they KNOW that it looks like she's caught in his fly? Who reversed the shot? (If the shot isn't reversed, the next question is: how do you lead in lace gloves?) What photographer allowed a shot that looked like she got caught in his fly?

I feel as if 80% of the questions I get about my dancing from people who don't dance relate to this picture, since this is the general public's collective image of tango. Nothing wrong with that, stage tango can be awesome, but I have a feeling my office imagines that after work I grease back my hair, slap on some lace gloves, and march into the night.

Upside: for all I tease her accesories, this woman has not been attacked by a wild animal.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Element of Surprise.

I am rather peerlessly dumpy. At work, my clothes are always clean and professional but so nondescript that I might as well be wearing pajamas. My hair is in between cuts and has been for about six months; my nails are short without polish. I favor orthopedic shoes.

Today I'm standing at the copy machine practicing boleos; left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. A coworker comes in, slightly dewy, and I drop my foot and stand like a normal person.

"Man," he says, "since I started running I just feel this - this power! Like, my body's a machine!" He looks me over and makes a slightly weird face. I wonder if he's looking for praise, but it looks like runner's high, or mild constipation.

I stand next to him in dumpy clothes, watching the copy machine spit paper into the tray.

He breathes in and rolls his shoulders back. "It's like I'm this superhero, you know? You think I work in an office, but surprise! I can run two miles!"

I look at his well-cut suit, his striped shirt, his matchy-but-not-too-matchy tie. "That's great," I say.

He grins. "Yeah." After a moment he frowns politely, as if trying to tell me something, and leaves.

I know that frown; I'm way too clumsy not to know that frown. I check my teeth for spinach, run my hands over my hair looking for cowlicks, sniff discreetly at my underarms.

At last I look down; there are chalky footprints on the backside of my pants.

I check my shoes.

There's construction on my floor, and the soles of my shoes are covered with powdered drywall.

My boleos have left footprints on my ass, nearly at the hip, one on top of the other.

They think I work in an office, but surprise.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Leading. No, seriously.

So at first I was just waiting for the day I'd shove my follower through a window and she'd plummet to her doom (you never know!), but it's been a few weeks, and I think I've begun to lead socially.

I've been leading a little here and there with close friends at practicas or at home, so I hadn't really put myself on the market as a lead. I'm a beginner, which speaks for itself. Plus, I'm a woman, which is a stroke against me with a lot of the women who come to the milongas solely to find a connection with guys.

Disclaimer for the above statement: don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking the search for connection at all. Man/woman is traditional tango and I'm all for it. (Except that man/man is also traditional tango, but not many guys really want to get into that, so we're right back where we started.) It's just that I personally like finding a connection with the other dancer and with the music, regardless of gender, so leading or following a member of the same sex has never really been an issue for me. Your mileage may vary.

(This disclaimer does not apply for men who don't button their shirts and for women who wear fishnet stockings and fishnet gloves at the same time. Those people are looking for a different kind of connection, if you get me. O HAAAAY.)

My following has improved immensely since I started leading. I was worried I would be unable to mentally switch back and forth, but my teacher makes sure I keep the two roles separate by switching the lead on me mid-song during our lessons, so suddenly I find myself worrying about pointing the foot instead of navigation, or about holding the follower correctly in back ochos instead of embellishments. It's awesome. No, seriously.

At a milonga this weekend, a woman I know from the scene came up and asked me to dance, mentioning that she had seen me leading one of my close friends a week ago and wanted to give it a try.

"I'm a beginner," I said, trying to think if I could possibly be interesting enough. Reviewing my library of steps, I realized it was all Easy Readers, and I blanched. "Like, really a beginner."

"Yeah, but you have nice rhythm," she said.

(Tangocoaster: 601. Me: 1!)

We agreed on just finishing the tanda - one song left, and it was di Sarli, whom I love like I love cake (I looooove cake), so I could at least give it a go.

I kept it as absolutely simple as I could, concentrating on the music and the clarity of the lead instead of anything in my Easy Reader Library of steps. Remembering how beautiful a tango walk can be, I went for feeling over footwork.

For the first time it occured to me how utterly the leader drives the song - something I hadn't had time to think about when dancing with friends or teachers who are critiquing your posture and making sure your intent is clear. Thankfully it was one of my favorite di Sarlis, so I was able to make a go of it musically.

She asked if she could dance the next tanda with me.

(Tangocoaster: 601. Me: 2!!)

Best part: passing my friends at our table, who didn't realize until that moment that I was leading a stranger. Two of them were beaming, one was tapping her shoulders to remind me not to bend my neck to the follower. That's true friendship, right there.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Follower's Secret Guide to Embellishments

(They handed this out to followers the same day they gave this out to leaders, I swear. It’s astonishing how often I see these.)


You’re on your way to becoming a beautiful tango follower. Congratulations! A world of passion awaits you. And passion gets you dances. Of course, musicality is so subjective that some leaders might not notice your passion unless you really WORK to get that message across. The easiest way to telegraph passion?


Sure, Jennifer Bratt has a tutorial on nearly every embellishment you can do in close embrace. But why stick to those old, conservative adornos? Mix it up! Try some of these modern interpretations.

Ancla. Is he leading a low boleo? Make sure your foot really sweeps the floor by sagging in his arms to get that last little inch. Don’t worry, he can hold you up, and it looks extra-sad! Make no mind of other people on the dance floor – a swift, swinging object is no danger there.

FrotaciĆ³n. When the man invites the woman to step over, he is asking her to take the musicality into her own hands and create the most poignant adornos possible to enhance the song and create a deeper communication within the dance itself. Reward such a gallant gesture by sliding your foot from his ankle to his hip, as slowly as possible; repeat from the crotch to the floor on the way down his instep. If the music allows, rub from knee to ankle a few more times to show your gratitude. If you’re really, really grateful, make another trip to the crotch.

Perforado. This is a tricky one, and should be attempted only by those who are sure of their own strength. Wait until led into a front ocho; on the pivot, fling the free leg into the air parallel to the floor and out behind you as far as you can. This is a display of tone and flexibility, and you will know is has been successful when someone cries out that you have pierced their leg with your heel. Victory!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Video of the Week: Disturbing Prodigy Children

These kids are amazing. There are a few moments of choreography that are a little over the top and remind me of that time in fourth grade we put on a play about the dangers of drugs and one kid had to give the big monologue about how his brother died from marijuana. However, these kids are already totally astounding. I mean, seriously.

It's a little reassuring to know that I will never be as good at tango as these kids already are. No, seriously. Her axis is unreal.

ETA: Okay, she's eleven and he's ten. YEARS OLD. And they choreographed this themselves. PRODIGY CHILDREN.

(I'm sure every kid in Buenos Aires can dance like this. I'm still amazed.)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Zee Passhown of zee TAHNGOH.

From the Hollywood Reporter:

Sandra Bullock has set her sights on the world of tango and Argentina. Through her Fortis Films, the actress-producer is set to produce a film version of Marina Palmer's memoir "Kiss & Tango" with an eye to star for Fox 2000 Pictures.

The story centers on an American woman who goes to Argentina, falls in love with a man and a culture and rediscovers herself in the process.

Okay, I'm taking bets: The next Tango Lesson or the next Take the Lead?