First update in a while…

I have been trying to get back to WordPress for a while to post something new, but for some reason it’s been difficult. Finally, I have some time, a little inspiration, and so I’m back.

My Alma and I spent the first weekend of October in LA, mainly to see Gotan Project on Saturday night at Club Nokia. Now whether you like to dance to their music or not, I would recommend seeing them live. They were quite good, and the energy was infectious. We arrived on Friday afternoon, and checked into the exotic Figueroa Hotel (you can see a few pictures here). If you are ever visiting downtown Los Angeles, please consider staying there. It is a little older, and it doesn’t have all of the fancy amenities of a modern resort, but walking through her doors is a journey into another world and perhaps another time. It’s gorgeous and charming and seductive, and it’s located right next to Staples Center and LA Live, in the heart of downtown, so everything is within a very short walking distance.

Figueroa Hotel
Figueroa Hotel

Since we had an entire weekend away from the boys, and we were in a different city, we just knew we had to go to a Milonga. I asked my Facebook friend, Emily Ortiz, and she said that Milonga Querida at the Granada in Alhambra was the place to be. So after dinner, we merged into the nighttime traffic of the LA highways, and oh-so-slowly found our way to The Granada. I believe that, even though a combination of nervousness and excitement made the trip feel longer, it was only about 35 minutes door-to-door. There was plenty of free parking around the club, which was an unexpected bonus. We ended up in the parking structure directly across the street. There is an abundance of restaurants in the neighborhood, as well as inside the club. Should you desire, you could eat dinner, dance, and enjoy the decent bar selection, all in the same place.  Had we known this, we likely would have gone there earlier instead of eating in downtown.

This was our first Milonga at a place like this. Until now, we have only been to Milongas that took place in dance studios. There is something very different feeling about going to a dance club, though. I found that it was easier for me to forget about practicing my dance moves, and just letting myself dance. The facility is gorgeous, and even though it was a warm night, the A/C and the large fans kept it from getting overly hot on the dance floor. The Tango takes place in a good size room on the third floor, which has it’s own bar.  As one can expect, the prices at the bar are a bit inflated ($7.00 for a glass of wine, $3.00 for a bottle of water), but if it helps keep the place going, I am happy to contribute.  Since the parking was free, I think we ended up paying less than $40.00 total for the night, so all-in-all, it was pretty good for a lovely date with my wife.

During our dinner conversation, I told Alma that one of my goals that night was to ask a complete stranger to dance. It shouldn’t be too hard to do, since I wouldn’t know anybody there, but I still wanted to vocalize it, therefore committing to it. Alma agreed, and even though the idea still made me nervous, I began to prepare myself. I was preparing for rejection, for screwing up in the arms of a more experienced dancer, for bumping too many people on the dance floor, and for being too repetitive in my movements.  However, I was also preparing to overcome all that junk and to simply dance. I want to feel comfortable dancing with any woman, any place, and this would help me in that goal.

We arrived a little too late to join in the lesson, which was disappointing to me.  I always think it’s fun taking a lesson from someone completely new, and for Alma, the lesson helps her to warm up, and loosen up, which then helps her to dance better once the Milonga officially begins. Since we missed the class, we had to wait for twenty minutes or so before the Milonga would officially kick off. Remember that this was still Friday, and we had worked a full week, been up well before 7:00 AM to get the boys off to school, ran some errands in the morning, and driven about three hours to get to LA (not to mention the other things that come along with a romantic weekend getaway, ha!). Needless to say, by 10:00 PM, we were both a bit tired, and I wondered how long we could realistically last before we were completely spent.

Knowing all that, I understood that Alma was feeling very tired, a little grumpy, and a bit insecure. I can’t remember if she said it out loud to me or not, but I absolutely knew that she didn’t want to dance with anyone else that night. So, being a good husband, I shrugged off the disappointment of not being able to accomplish my goal of dancing with complete strangers, and when the two of us weren’t dancing, I sat close to her, with my arm around her, warding off any potential offers to dance. The two of us danced many times throughout the night, and I thought we danced… ok. There were several times when the line of dance looked just like the LA freeways, and everyone came to a complete halt for a bit too long, and I wondered if it would break up at all. A few times, I had to cut the corner just to help break up the gridlock. I’m not sure what the proper etiquette is there, but I did it anyway, even though I felt like I was taking cuts in line.

We had a really good time, but since Alma was in a little funk, it kept us from having a great time. Additionally, Alma was a little turned off by the fact that nobody introduced themselves to us. We would have been completely alone the entire night if we didn’t offer a spot at our table to a gentlemen that was obviously looking for an open space for he and his two guests to sit. They were all generous and fun people, and I’m thankful for our brief encounter with them. Not being approached by anyone bothered me less, because, well, let’s face it, I’m a man. Social interaction isn’t on the top of my to-worry-about list. Also, I was purposefully trying to protect my wife, which surely made us less approachable. Lastly, it didn’t bother me because we could have just as easily introduced ourselves to people, but I get her point – we were the guests.

The level of dancers there was quite impressive.  It was pure entertainment to sit back and watch the precision and artistry of the masses as they moved and turned, communicating with the music, each other, and even the dancers around them. It amazed me to see how well these dancers could express their Tango in such limited spaces! When Alma & I danced, I kept reminding her not to kick too high, and thankfully, we never had any incidents.

As the night wore on, there was a birthday celebration, and several wonderful performances. I’m not familiar with everyone that performed that night, but they were all poetic, and inspirational – Especially the milonga! Oh, that was just pure joy in motion, and I am grateful that I was able to witness it. I made a note to myself that I must work on putting more joy into my milonga, and to stop taking it so seriously.

Another mental note that I made: the first floor of The Granada has a very large, open space that hosts Salsa dancing on Friday nights. I’m not a fan of Salsa music, and it was a little distracting at times to be able to hear, and literally feel the Salsa music thumping through the floor while I was trying to get lost in the Tango music. I was able to tune it out better as the night went on, and I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it was terrible or even bad.

While not a perfect night, it was still wonderful, and most of the minor issues we had were due to our own circumstances that night. I believe that the event takes place on the first Friday of each month, with the occasional exception. I definitely plan on going back there again. Next time, I guarantee that I will dance with other women.

The last thing I wanted to share in this post is something that made my heart happy. Last week, my 15 year old son, Douglas, had his girlfriend over to watch a movie and hang out. After putting the younger boys to bed, I walked down the stairs to check on the lovebirds. Of all the things I could have caught them doing, one of the last things I expected was to find them practicing their Tango! It was great! They were brushing up their moves and getting ready to show their stuff at Homecoming. I love that my son has taken to Tango. My hope is that he stays with it, and is able to get as much joy out of his Tango as Alma & I have gotten out of ours.

Musicality

Musicality was the theme at last night’s Tango class with Yulia, and what a great class it was! It was very challenging for us all. None of us in the class had this kind of training before, and it showed. We were all back to square one, feeling completely lost and confused, and it was perfect. Until now, my attempts at “musicality” were mainly just trying to steadily march to the rhythm and match up some more showy moves with obvious musical peaks. Honestly, so far I’ve only felt so-so about my attempts at trying to just do that much. If you’ve read my previous entries, you know that not only am I new to Tango, but I’m brand new to dance in general. I’ve never experimented or been trained on how to move to music.

In several of our earlier classes, Yulia would throw in little bits about listening to the music, and speeding up and slowing down our movements accordingly (how many times have we heard “quick, quick, slow, slow, quick, quick, slow…”?). Last night’s class was really just about listening and expressing; feeling the music, and responding to it in movement. Part of me wishes I could have had this kind of instruction at the very beginning, but I’m not sure it would have been good for anything but an exercise in frustration back then. I think that I would have been overwhelmed with trying to listen to the music and trying to figure out how to physically respond to it, even in a very basic sense. At least now I can move around the dance floor. I no longer need only to think about where my feet are, using some mystical, zen-like powers of self-control to convince every brain synapse to join forces in this singular task to the exclusion of all other functionality, convinced that any division of my concentration would lead unavoidably to humiliation and, possibly, destruction. Allocating some small fraction of my processing power to actually hear and feel the music while I’m moving with my dance partner is now somewhere within the realm of possibility, and very nearly reality.

My wife is having a little more difficulty with the music than I am, but I think at least some of that is due to the fact that I had years of music lessons as a child and she had none. The difficulty for me, and for many others that I’ve talked to, is that Tango music seems almost fundamentally different, and that finding the rhythm and/or melody is not as simple as it is with the music we hear everyday in America. Still, the payoff is worth it I think. Tango is a beautiful genre, with complexity, texture and flavor.

I have always found that my favorite music is music that I like at first, but that I’m not quite sold on, and with each successive listen I hear something new. There are layers of discovery that help me to form an intellectual and emotion bond with the music, and it naturally becomes one of my favorites. Perhaps it’s the foreign origins of Tango, but I’m finding layers, and it’s growing on me. Still, I’m learning how to hear it.

For Alma & I, we are making it a goal to build our Tango music collection. I don’t think we should just go out and buy 20 CDs right off the bat, but maybe 5 or 6 at a time. That way we could really spend time listening (and dancing), and getting to truly discover the music. So where should be start? I did a quick search and found this link: http://www.tejastango.com/tango_music_collection.html.  It looks like a good starting point.

What do you think?

I’ve forgotten all of my moves

Alma & I have been taking group Tango lessons twice a week at two different studios, as well as a Performance Tango lesson each Saturday. Top that off with milongas every Friday, and we have had a very busy Tango schedule for the last several months. We both work full time, and we have three sons, so life gets pretty hectic for us. Perhaps the busy-ness of life is a factor, but I have come to realize something very frightening recently… I’ve forgotten all of my moves!!

For the last month or two, learning new steps or variations has been almost too easy. In order for me to “get” a step, I first need to understand what I’m trying to lead the woman into. I need to understand her step before I can lead it. Back when we first started taking lessons, all I could do was patterns because that’s all I understood (and all I was taught). I could lead the patterns pretty well, I suppose, because it was a routine that I could follow. Step here, move my torso this way, shift my weight this way… Slowly, I came to understand the lead a bit better, and found that I could take those patterns and combine them and alter them, entering and exiting at different times. Now during classes, I find that I just need to see the step done properly once or twice, and I have it. I can dance it, I can lead it. It’s a nice place to be.

However… I’ve also realized that when I dance at milongas, my steps have been frustratingly limited. Why? We’ve learned dozens of steps and variations. What’s going on? Well, as you have probably guessed from the title of this entry, I can’t remember anything, and I can’t figure out why. Watching dances on YouTube, I recognize many of the steps that we’ve learned, so I know that they’re in there somewhere.

Part of me thinks that somewhere, below the surface, I have been purposefully trying to forget the patterns in favor of just dancing to and connecting with the music. This sounds like a great goal, and it’s definitely where I want to end up, but right now it’s frustrating! I want the music to inspire me, and to move me. In forgetting the patterns, I’ve forgotten everything! I worry that I’m getting repetitive in my social dancing, and I’m scared that I might be getting myself stuck…

Being a beginner and a lead is a very stressful position to be in! I’m certainly not taking anything away from being a beginner follower, mind you. Surely there’s plenty of pressure to perform worthy of a good lead, but all I can really speak to out of experience is the lead. As the lead, I need to dance to the music, avoid collisions, lead the current step, anticipate the next step (and maybe the next after that), prepare to lead the next step, maintain proper posture, make sure I don’t use the same step too many times, figure out and the different ways women respond to my lead and make the necessary alterations, listen to the woman and give her opportunities for embellishments, and also… breathe! Why is it so easy to forget to breathe? Honestly, it feels even more stressful than all that. I worry that the woman will get bored with me. I don’t feel like I have enough variations for a single song, let alone a full tanda! I think my lead stinks, and I’m sure that 80% of the screw-ups during the dance are due to my unclear, indecisive lead. There are so many things to think and worry about. Obviously, the top of my current list of Tango insecurities is that I can’t remember my steps. We’ve taken so many lessons, that if I could recall all of the steps and variations that we’ve learned, I know that I would have plenty of variations to play with. I want more than just three or four steps at my disposal.

What am I to do? I am determined to remember, and to expand my Tango vocabulary. Perhaps if I had a video diary of each of the steps we’ve learned that I could review and practice, that would help. I’ve seen Dario’s Tango Guide, which is as close as I’ve seen to something like this. Does anyone else know of additional resources? We’ve started doing this a bit in our classes, and my goal is to create a full document of the steps and variations that we learn. I’m not really qualified, or interested in, creating tutorials (like Dario has done so well), but rather a simple reference. Show the “name” of a step, then show it from a couple different angles. What do you think? Would this be something you would find helpful? How would you change the concept and make it better or more useful?

Lastly, is there anyone out there that has gone through the same thing? Perhaps this is a normal stage in the process of learning to dance. I’d love to hear your input.

I am not a dancer

Why did I start dancing? Why Tango? Why this blog?

I am not a dancer. I never danced as a child. My parents never danced (not that they were against it), and none of my siblings ever danced. My sister, Amanda, was a National Champion Gymnast, which about as close as the family ever got to dance. I was never encouraged to dance. In fact I don’t ever remember the subject of dance ever being raised in any context in my childhood. It just wasn’t something that any of us did. I had a few cousins that were really into dance, swing mostly, but not my family.

My father was a big man, an offensive lineman in college. He was athletic, but big. Maybe this is why he didn’t dance? I’m sure he had the physical ability and the grace to get away with it, but perhaps his size kept him from ever pursuing dance. Maybe he just never wanted to – never had the desire. He died suddenly a couple years back, so I’ll probably never know. Whatever the reasons may have been, dance just wasn’t there.

I’m not that old (33), and I don’t come from some highly traditional social environment (San Diego, CA), but I want to communicate what my thoughts and feelings were about boys who danced when I was younger. No doubt everyone will have slightly differing ideas about their age-group and geographical/social/religious environs, but here was mine. I suspect that there are four types of boys (I hate when people try to categorize and label other people, but I’m doing it anyway):

1. Boys who dance – These are the boys that were either forced, encouraged, or volunteered to go to some type of dance lessons as a child. Typically, they were either effeminate or their mother forced them to go.

2. Boys that “danced” but didn’t have a clue what they were doing. To be this guy, you needed to be popular AND have a near complete disregard for what others thought about you. Mostly, though, you just knew that you were so popular, that no matter what you did (which was probably your best imitation of movements you saw on MTV), your peers would think you’re cool, perhaps even more so because they “knew” that you didn’t care. Rebel.

3. Boys who had absolutely zero interest in dancing. I had to throw this in the list, even though I’m not sure I know or knew any of these guys.

4. The rest of us. More specifically, the boys that to various degrees wanted to dance, but never knew how and were too scared to just get out and try or even ask someone for lessons or pointers. We would just look longingly at the dancers on MTV, and even more longingly at the guys (category 2) that would get out on the dance floor at the school dances and look like they either knew what they were doing, or they were just letting it all out and having a great time. Our dates to school dances would spend most of the time dancing with their girlfriends while we sat at the tables trying to look cool.  We would dance the slow songs, of course, since that was just hugging the girl and moving in a vague circular pattern.

I was then, and remain to this day, a category 4.  I don’t want to look like an idiot.  I don’t want other people to see me dancing unless I look amazing doing it.  I want to look like I’ve been doing it all my life.  Perhaps an even stronger desire is to want to dance amazingly for my partner.  I want to lead her gently and clearly, and I want her to feel comfortable and safe.  I also want her to have a fantastic time for those 10 minutes that she’s in my arms.  I want her to be intrigued and excited for our next dance.  So how do I even start?  I don’t want to ask for help, and I don’t want to look like an idiot.

I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I would never dance.  If nobody ever knew about my desire to dance, that would be fine.  I would just make my way through life never having to address my fears.  Then about eight or nine years ago, I was halfheartedly watching a documentary about Argentina when they showed a short clip of Tango.  I was instantly hooked.  I had never seen it danced before, and I knew nothing about it.  I just knew that I loved it – the passion, the connection, the sensuality.  I saw a way to express my deepest desires and fears.  I wanted this.

I did a little bit of research and found a dance studio that had Argentine Tango lessons about 30 minutes from our home.  Nervously, I suggested to my Alma, that we take these dance lessons.  Like I imagine most wives would, she jumped at the opportunity!  So we started our lessons.  I think they went pretty well, and after a couple months, I was dancing all over the apartment.  After four or five months, we went to our first milonga.  I was so scared!  I didn’t really know what I was doing, and didn’t know what to expect.  Most of the dancers were way more advanced, and that didn’t help.  I was so intimidated.  I think I danced with my wife once, and that was it.  Shortly thereafter, we stopped taking lessons.  Work, sons, and life-in-general seemed to squeeze Tango from our schedule, and before you knew it, years had gone by without dance.

Alma had dragged me to a few Salsa classes, but they never did anything for me.  The moves seemed too flamboyant, and the music… well, doesn’t work for me.  Many people absolutely love Salsa music & dancing (more power to them), I’m just not one of them.  So other than those brief encounters with Salsa, there was no dancing.  For years.

At Coachella in 2009, we were introduced to Bajofondo and loved them.  We saw them again in Los Angeles a few months later.  Around that time, Alma & I had realized that we had become very bad at going on dates together, or just doing anything without one or more of our three sons.  Inspired by our encounters with Bajofondo, we decided to give Tango another try.  Hey, if nothing else, it would be a guaranteed date-night once a week without the boys!  This time, the bug stuck with us.

Now here we are, nine months later, and we are now trying to figure out how we can cut down on our Tango…  four nights each week is getting to be too much.  But we love it!  On Tuesday nights, we even take our oldest son, Douglas to class, where he is doing great.  I want our boys to grow up unafraid to dance, and unafraid to express themselves.  Alma & I are even turning our garage into a dance floor so we can dance every night.  Hopefully, some of our neighbors will see us dancing (we will keep the door open as much as possible) and be interested enough to start dancing themselves.

That is the main reason why I started this blog, and my Tango North County Facebook page.  I want to spread the good word of Tango, exposing the uninitiated to this beautiful dance, and to encourage those who have.  I would love to have a thriving Tango community.  I want the beginners to feel welcome and not intimidated.  There seems to be a pretty solid Tango community in the south, closer to downtown San Diego, which is fabulous.  However, for the most part, the San Diego dances and lessons are at least 45 minutes driving each way, and after busy workweeks, that is pushing it, especially if you do it every weekend.  We do have options for Tango up here in north county, and I want to see those grow, and perhaps even grow our community enough to support even more teachers and milongas in the future.

I want men to know that they don’t have to be afraid, that they can do this.  Look at me!  I’m not a dancer, and I dance all the time!  I know that I am still a beginner, and that I have so much more to learn, but that’s no reason to withhold myself.  I will dance with any woman that wants to dance with me, regardless of level.  Yes, I’m still intimidated when I dance with advanced women dancers.  I don’t want them to be bored by my simple, limited steps, or my inconsistent lead (I’m working on it, I swear!).  Even though I’m intimidated and scared, I will still do it.  Why?  It’s pretty simple:  I love Tango, and if I ever hope to become the dancer that I want to be, I have to face my fears and just dance!