27 February 2017

Finding your tango self

“Sometimes it takes a long time to sound like yourself.”
(Miles Davis, jazz trumpetist)

Last week, I found myself. Yes I know. How cheesy isn’t that? But seriously, that’s what it felt like. After all the technique classes and all the practicing and the thinking and the frustratingly slow progress, this one sentence from a teacher brought everything together. I kept thinking of it, and suddenly, it felt like it was my body that was dancing, not my brain trying to understand how to dance. What also happened was that the mental pictures I had were not just of my teachers, or other dancers I'm inspired by, anymore. Now I was able to visualise how I myself wanted to dance.

It’s not like I am a fabulous dancer now. It could be that I look and feel about the same as before. And I'm sure there's lots of frustration ahead of me! I’ll always be somewhere intermediate-ish. The difference is that suddenly, I'm getting more enjoyment from the way I dance now instead of constantly thinking about how I want to dance in the future. At the same time, I'm looking forward to continue working on my dance and learn more. Improved joy of dancing, improved joy of learning. Win-win situation.

I know this may seem a bit navel-gazing. But I want to share this experience in case there's someone out there who needs a bit of encouragement. Don’t give up! If you want to improve, keep at it. Keep taking classes. Learn from different teachers even if it seems like they contradict each other. Sometimes they do, but often they’re just using different language and different pedagogics to teach the same thing. And keep practicing. Go to prácticas, do solo exercises at home. Listen to the music. Everything you invest will pay off somehow.

And, most importantly: if you want to improve, don’t let anybody tell you that you shouldn’t. If you want to get more out of your dance, and if you want your partners to get more out of dancing with you, keep learning.

Keep collecting the pieces that build your dance.

23 January 2017

Spotlight on the essence

Once upon a time, there was a super famous couple who visited a European city to teach at a workshop weekend. During the Saturday night ball, they gave a totally magnificent performance that more or less left everybody in awe. After the show, the milonga continued as per usual. At some point, the DJ put on Troilo with Marino and the super famous couple went back on the floor together - not to perform this time, just to dance together. And then time just stopped a bit as they embraced each other in the ronda, he in his black suit and she in her red 1950s inspired dress. With one spot of light shining down on their jet black heads, the rest of the dancers a sizzling mess in the darkness, they quietly tuned in on each other and on the music, becoming the eye of the hurricane. Finally, she took one impossibly long, smooth, soft step together with him.
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It might have been the most meaningful step I’ve ever seen. I remember thinking that that moment was just perfect. In my mind, that moment is still there, like a photography of the essence of tango, reminding me to not lose sight of this essence as we’re constantly trying to learn more, constantly practicing to improve our dancing. But it also reminds me that pushing our limits can help us understand the essence. By learning more, we’ll know how to do less. By practicing the complex, we can master the basics - a soft, non-intrusive embrace, a body that’s strong but without tension, smooth walking, awareness of our axis, knowing the music well enough to understand when to walk and when to pause and when to be fast and when to be slow - all these things that make us capable of tuning into our partner without disturbance. Knowing we can do more if we want to, knowing that we’re not on the edge of our capacity might be just what will give us the confidence to find the essence in our dance: our own essence, and our partner’s essence - ultimately, each couple’s essence.

— Music: I don’t know if this was the exact Troilo tango that was played that night, but here’s “Torrente”, Aníbal Troilo’s orquesta with singer Alberto Marino, recorded 1944. It’s the perfect dramatic music to dance quietly. Click here to listen.