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Archive for the ‘Tango’ Category

Fairy dust

We, people, seem to have a faulty wiring.  The only time we can inhabit at any given moment is NOW, yet staying in the present is one of the hardest things for us to do.  Dogs have no problems with it:  my pooch is napping now, begging for a treat when she sees an opportunity (even thought she may have just gotten one a moment ago and knows very well how to score another one from me in another minute);  she greets me with kisses and wildly wagging tail when I come through the door, regardless of whether I was gone for a hour or a day – the joy of my return resides in the instance of me entering her field of vision.  Humans, however, have a hard time with what should be the most basic existential truth.  We are haunted by the past, worried about the future, tortured by the conditionals.  Yet so much of the time nothing especially dire is happening AT THIS VERY MOMENT.

I love tango for focusing me on the moment and suspending the whirl of time and thought.  In fact, when I can’t put my anxieties out of my mind – the scurrying rats that gnaw at scattered remnants of the past and chew holes in the fabric of the future – I dance terribly.  I can’t connect with my partners, can’t find the flow of my inner rhythm, can’t enjoy the music and the movement through space.  This week I’ve been preoccupied with processing some problems.  As I went out to dance two nights in a row, I could not chase away the dark rodents inside my head.  I typically dance for most of the evening, invited by a succession of partners.  But these two nights I must have been radiating tension and gloom, because even the usually friendly faces seemed to shun me, and I sat in my chair most of the time, adding worries about my ruined tango future to other temporal self-flagellation.

Yet on good nights, it is tango’s ability to suspend time and to retain me in the moment that serves as a drug that keeps me addicted to this dance.  The complexity of coordinating my own movements – beautifully and creatively – to those of my partner and the music occupy my mind enough to erase worries about anything else.  The flowing pleasure of gliding to the shifting lines of music compels me to savor a given minute.  The fantasy world tango creates – in which I am an alluring spirit connected to my partner for the duration of the song by fine golden filaments – removes me from my mundane world of money, work, or relationship angst.  I float away from these boulders to peachy clouds that are not weighted down or darkened by whatever traumas that happened before or disasters likely to occur soon.

Tango allows me to live in the now.  That’s one of its holds over me.  Whenever I stray into over-thinking and over-worrying, I fumble my steps and ruin the pleasure of the dancing conversation I am sharing with my partner.  Firmly, yet seductively, tango reminds me to remain true to it, and in return it rewards me with euphoria and fairy dust that draws men to me song after song, asking for the pleasure of my company.

It seems so simple and instantly beneficial to live in the moment with confidence and joy that compel the world to do your bidding.  Yet is it so difficult to achieve in the course of regular life.  Worth trying though.  Worth taking the lesson from tango.

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Ordinary people

I have spent many happy years living in the ivory tower.  I liked my residence:  it was quiet and comfortable, it gave me freedom to do what I wanted – which is write books by myself all day, talking to no one but my pup, it comfortably limited my contacts to a small circle of academic friends, and let me indulge in my self perception as a misanthrope.  Being fairly introverted and moody, I preferred socializing when I felt like it with like-minded people.  Non-intellectuals needed not apply.

Then I fell in love with tango, and slowly, subtly, like a river burrowing its way through a dry landscape, it began to change me.

Tango is a democratic dance.  It brings together people from all walks of life.  So it exposed me to men and women in whose direction I would not have looked before.  What would I talk about with a construction worker, a dentist, or a computer geek?  What do I have in common with a nursing home operator, a media producer, or a television starlet?  Yet suddenly there I was, surrounded by these people whose lives and preoccupations were foreign to me, who did not read books, did not entertain deep thoughts, and spent their leisure hours just dancing.  I found them fascinating.

It seemed a miracle to me that someone who spent his days tromping around building sites in dusty clothes, wielding tools, scaling scaffolding, and issuing orders to laborers could don elegant attire by night and become a swan, gliding around the dance floor with grace and nobility that entirely masked his regular life.  I was amazed to see how tango transformed people into entirely new beings, erasing social and cultural differences.  I fell in love with its cosmopolitanism, the way the Greeks mingled with the Turks, the Asians coupled with the Persians, the Russians spread their wings next to the Indians.  Of course some of this mixing of nations reflected the internationalism of LA.  Yet there is also something about tango that draws people from all over:   ordinary people, unremarkable people, quite uninteresting people – and makes them appealing once the music begins.

Then I remembered what attracted me to tango in the first place, many years ago, before I the thought occurred to me of learning the dance myself.  There was a show touring the country, called something simple and predictable, like Tango Argentino.  I went to see it in LA.  What impressed me then, and stayed in my imagination for years, was not the sexiness of the younger performers with lithe and erotic bodies, but the sensuality of older dancers, men built like refrigerators and women whose bodies have born children and expanded in all predictable directions.  Yet as they danced together, they became weightless, breathtakingly graceful, indescribably sexy.  They looked like ordinary people, but they moved like gods.

And now I was witnessing this miracle first hand as I myself began to dance.  I, who have long thought that I do not like people and do not care to know their lives, became suddenly curious:  what was hiding behind this or that tango persona, what did this man do in his normal life, what about him was capable of the metamorphosis from the mundane to the sublime?

My old, skeptical, curmudgeonly self mumbled that I was being idealistic and giving people undue credit.  My new self, freshly lured out of the ivory tower, chirruped back:  “Maybe there is something to everyone, something more interesting than first meets the eye.”

Or do people come to tango in order to become someone else, someone more interesting, more exotic, more passionate, or connected, or glamorous?

The promise of some kind of ascendance is definitely one attraction of this dance.  The fantasy of escaping one’s reality for the evening – a great allure.  The pleasure of meeting people outside my comfort zone – perhaps briefly, for the span of a tanda and the length of a couple of sentences between songs – has been a revelation to me.

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The strange rituals of tango

Those of you who know me are well aware of my tango habit.  Those who are not familiar with this dance need to understand that it is a powerfully addictive substance.  Once you get hooked on it, you crave it despite its strange rituals and contradictions.

For example, you would think that tango is a very social activity.  People take it up to meet others, to become part of a community, to have a friendly pursuit to look forward to at the end of the day or the week.  Yet tango is full of anti-social behavior.

If you are a woman, you do not get to know many other women, and if you are a man you know even fewer of your own kind because, if under normal circumstances men are sparse talkers with each other, in tango they are even more so.  While tango is all about making a connection, you connect mainly with members of the opposite sex, for a few minutes, then, like a bee, fly off to another flower.  You exchange several words in the pauses between songs, and once the dance is over, get busy looking available to be invited again, if you are a woman, or finding an available woman if you are a man.  Chatting with others, and particularly with your own species, distracts you from the crucial task:  making eye contact.

Invitations to tango are a fraught affair.  A woman is not supposed to ask a man to dance.  She must wait for him to make eye contact with her and incline his head subtly towards the dance floor.  So between dances she scans the room in search of a pair of eyes that would propel her into the next tanda (a set of 3 or 4 songs one daces with the same partner).  However, making eye contact has its constant counterpart—averting eyes or letting them glide along non-committally in order to avoid undesirable partners.  For eluding people you find for some reason disagreeable is as important as capturing the desirable ones.

Rejection is abundant in tango.  A woman can sit unbidden in her chair for many tandas, watching enviously as her more fortunate sisters glide past her and wondering what allures they possess that she lacks.  A man can muster enough courage to approach a woman directly and ask if she would like to dance, only to hear, “I am resting at the moment,” which is a polite form on NO.  Solid, mid-level dancers pine for the best partners who do not even look in their direction.  For tango is cliquish, and elite dancers stick together and do not mingle with mere mortals.  Meanwhile, former novices who had been grateful to be invited by anybody when they were making their first steps learn to ignore their erstwhile benefactors once they become more proficient.  Dancers whose skills or style have somehow displeased their partners are doomed to be shunned not only by the displeased party, but also by his or her friends.

Even when a man and a woman do successfully couple up for a dance, it is not an opportunity to get to know each other.  The rule of tango is that you do not talk during the dance.  It is considered bad form because it distracts you from the music and the movement.  If you are chatting away, you are apt to stop paying attention to your envorons, crash into other couples, kick them with the deadly stiletto heels worn by the women, or lose balance and fumble your moves.  In fact, you don’t even look into your partner’s face.  Men scan their immediate surroundings so as to navigate successfully around the crowded dance floor;  women tend to dance with their eyes closed so as to follow the lead better.  When the dance stops, you say thank you and move on to the next person.  For, as one friend described tango, “Dream over.  Next.”

If tango dancers do not socialize much during the dancing, they seem even more reluctant to do so when the music is not playing.  They may hang out in small groups before or after the milonga (the dance party), but at events that try to precede tango with dance-free conversation, tangueros show up once the music has begun so that they could plunge right into the dance’s Byzantine rituals.

So, given all these anti-social aspects, why on earth would some get addicted to tango?

Ah!  I’ll have to tell you that in the next post.

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