Friday, August 8, 2008

Question #3: What Was Your First Milonga Like?

What Was Your First Milonga Like?

My first milonga was at the Cell Space, which is a very cool, art studio inside a big warehouse. I walked in and immediately felt the buzz. It was packed with people tangoing in a huge counter-clockwise river of dancers. It was fun, exciting, and a big party.

I watched everyone tangoing and they made it look so easy. Certainly it would be that easy for me, too. I took the floor with my friend and I took her into our embrace prepared to look as smooth as everyone else on the floor.

So, how did it go? Yeah, not so well.

I felt confused, chaotic, and stressed. And this was all with my former salsa partner who is a great dancer. We performed salsa for three years and we've always connected extremely well in our dance. But that was because I knew how to lead her in salsa & because she's such an accomplished dancer. Now I was trying to lead her in a tango, a dance neither of us knew. So, while tangueros floated by us completely in synch, I struggled to know how to walk myself, let alone walk and lead my parter at the same time.

When I went to my first milonga I'd been dancing salsa for seven years, so I felt very comfortable with it. But now for the first time in years I felt like a complete beginner all over again.

Given how difficult my first milonga was, I wouldn't have guessed how passionate I'd become about tango. Tango is the most challenging dance and that's part of her allure.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Question #2: What Is The Best Tango Dance You've Ever Had In Your Life?

Thanks again to dear Laila for providing the inspiration for these questions. Some of these came directly from her and others are mine...

What Is The Best Tango Dance You've Ever Had In Your Life?

I was dancing here in San Francisco with a wonderful woman who shall remain nameless, of course, but she's been my inspiration for some of my posts here before. I wasn't very good at the time (not that I've improved that much since!). But you know how in tango you can feel like Sisyphus at every milonga--forever pushing your boulder up the Everest that is tango? I struggled and pushed and give it my all, but still didn't feel like I was making any progress.

Finally, though, I was at this milonga and I danced with my friend. We had an amazing tango. I mean our connection was awesome & I felt like I was tangoing at a new level. She's always been a better dancer than me, but she raised her level that night, too.

Somehow it all came together for that tango. We finished & kind of looked at each other like "How the hell did that just happen!"

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Question #1: "Why Do You Dance Tango?"

As I was barreling through the backroads one night on my way to a milonga with a dear friend of mine (Laila), she started to ask me some provacative tango questions. I had rapid responses for some and no answers for others.

And so, with Laila's permission, I'm posting today the first of her questions. I'm going to write my own response below and I'd love it if you'd add your own answers, too, as a comment. Here's today's question...

"Why Do You Dance Tango?"
Well, there are probably about 10 or 15 easy answers that come to mind, but I don't want to steal other people's thunder, so I'll focus on the most important one for me: tango allows me to meet and connect with great people.

I've made more friends through tango over the past two years than through anything else I've done...more than from work, soccer, skiing, tennis, salsa dancing, and travel combined. And I don't mean just acquaintances--I mean really awesome people.

It all starts with the close embrace, of course. I danced salsa for about 7 years before moving over to tango. I love salsa, but almost all of my friends I made were through the performance team I was on--not from folks I met in salsa clubs. That's mainly because it's harder to get to know someone in a salsa club--it's louder, the norm is to dance one song with a woman and then rotate, and when you're dancing it's usually in an open embrace.

But in tango I find it easier to meet people because it's not too loud, the norm is to dance 4 songs in a tanda, and I usually dance in a close embrace. And then between songs we get to talk some, which makes the whole tango scene very social.

I've met some great guys, too, in classes and milongas. I can't even guess how many guys have helped me with technique, which is so helpful--especially since I haven't even been dancing for two years yet.

So, it's for these reasons--getting to meet and connect with so many wonderful people that I dance tango.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

For Women: How To Ask A Man To Dance

OK, ladies, it's time to take a crash course in how to ask a man to dance. This has been a hot topic of conversation for me at milongas of late and I've learned a few surprising things as a result. I'd say I ask the woman to dance at least 90% of the time. But I'll usually have a couple of women ask me to dance at most milongas and that's fun, too.

Some of you Ladies are already pros at this & have more tandas at milongas than most men. In fact, what I'm listing below is a compilation of great methods women have used in asking me to dance and other methods female friends have told me about.

The Verbal, Direct Method: just ask. He says "yes", great. He says "no", welcome to the men's club (and, increasingly, at milongas in SF, the women's club). Now all you need is a few hundred/thousand more rejections & you'll catch up to the average man in terms of rejections we've collected over the years.

The Verbal, Direct Non-Invite Method: I get this one a couple of times a month. I've just come off the dance floor & am standing there as the next tanda starts. A woman I don't know comes up & strikes up a conversation. We chat for a bit and then she says "I LOVE Di Sarli! Do you?" I get the clue and ask her to dance. So, she's done everything except technically ask me. We tango.

The Verbal, Indirect Non-Invite Method: This one is harder to read, but I like it because it's so friendly. I'm standing near the dance floor, a woman approaches me & strikes up a conversation. She won't make an overt comment like how much she loves the orchestra, so we'll just chat. If I don't need a water break, I'll always ask her to dance. Sometimes she'll say goodbye & move on if I don't ask her to dance first. So, honestly, I'm not 100% sure if she wanted to dance, but I think she usually does in this situation (women--any comments on this that can enlighten me?). Even if she moves on I'll always try to make a point of asking her to dance later in the milonga after my break.

The Non-Verbal, Direct Method: The cabeceo. Most women are very good at inviting men this way, so I won't go into detail about this one. It can be confusing at San Francisco milongas, though, because some women use the cabeceo & some don't. As a result, sometimes I'll ask a woman who is looking my way when in fact she's not in the mood to tango. But generally the cabeceo is helpful for me because I can usually tell which women aren't up for dancing if they're not making any eye contact.

More Milonga Musings:
-If a woman is sitting alone with a man, I'll never ask her to dance because I assume she's on a date with him or that they're married. I'll only ask a woman to dance in this situation if I'm acquainted with her, I'm positive they're not a couple and they've been sitting there a long time.
-The more interested you are in dancing, the closer you should sit to the dance floor. For example, at the milongas at Nora's Tango Week there were 2 rows of seats on one side & I was twice as likely to ask a woman to dance in the front row than the back because it felt like the woman in the back row was less open to dancing (maybe she's taking a break?, maybe she's with someone? etc.).
-Don't sit right next to the door: when I enter a milonga I don't like to stand at the door because I don't want to block people coming in & out of the milonga. This is why I always keep walking to the left or right & ask women away from the door.

Ladies, if you decide to take the plunge and ask a man to dance, please don't let a rejection or two stop you from asking more men. If a man says no, it's his loss. And the more you ask, the more dance partners you'll end up with. Plus, you'll get to meet some really great people.

Of all the invites to tango that I've ever received, one of my all-time favorites was just a few weeks ago at Nora's Tango Week. A lovely, charming senior woman came up to me and asked "Will you be my victim?" I broke out laughing. I've never turned down an invite from a woman to tango anyway, but how could I turn that down? We had a great tanda and I got to meet another fascinating woman. You just can't lose in tango.

So, there we go ladies. I have plenty of female friends whom never have and never will verbally invite a man to dance and that's their prerogative.

But if you want to give it a try, buckle up & go for it. He'll be lucky to tango with you.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Is It Harder For Women To Ask Men To Dance?

A month ago I was certain it was easier for women to ask men to dance. I always assumed this to be the case because I thought every man would accept.

Well, it turns out that's not quite true. To my surprise, a number of my female friends have convinced me that it's usually harder for women to ask men to dance.

Why? Well, there are at least two big reasons.

1. For starters, most people (men and women) believe it's the man's role to ask women. I know plenty of women that ask men to dance, but I also know plenty that never have and never will ask a man to dance. Sometimes this is the woman's personal philosophy, sometimes this is based on the culture the woman is from. For example, I've only known a few Argentinean women that ask men to dance. Clearly, the norm in Bs As is for the men to ask women to tango. Here in San Francisco, it's not uncommon for women to ask men, but normally it's men asking women.

2. The other reason is that, as another generalization, getting rejected when asking someone to tango is harder for most women than it is for most men.

Why is this? In a word, practice.

The first girl I ever asked to dance was when I went to my first church dance when I was thirteen years old. (Bonus quiz points: who thought he was the world's greatest dancer to Aerosmith's "Walk This Way", but in fact was among history's worst? Me!! I'd pay a lot of money for a video of me "dancing" at that first dance, but I'd pay twice that amount to keep that video off of YouTube). But I digress because a lot has changed since my first church dances. Back in the day (1) my best friend (Dave) and I would brag to each other about all these really awesome girls we'd danced with, (2) the girls were almost always better at dancing than us guys, and (3) the "nos" were difficult to hear.

OK, so maybe there isn't much that has really changed. Actually, only two things come to mind: (1) my Mom doesn't drive me to my dances anymore and (2) instead of having heard only a couple of "nos" as a thirteen year-old, most guys (myself included) have heard countless "nos" over the years. That might sound like a negative at first, but, in fact, it's a positive because we got used to it over time and each "no" rolls off our backs a little faster. It's this practice that most women don't get growing up, which is why it's harder for most women.

Take my female friend who had never asked a guy to dance until she started to tango. She's only asked about ten men to dance in her lifetime. The first nine said yes and the last one said no. And that one "no" really stung (the first one always does), so much so that she hasn't asked another guy since.

That's the unfortunate news. For such women that want to continue verbally asking men to tango (don't give up, Ladies!), all I can do is encourage you to pull yourself up by your Comme Il Faut straps and ask again. Trust me, the 2nd rejection doesn't sting like the first, and by your 300th you'll barely notice it anymore.

But for women that don't want to verbally ask a man to dance, there are a lot of things you can do at milongas to invite a man to dance.

And that's my tango post for tomorrow...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

"Will You Be My Victim?": The Last Milonga At Nora's Tango Week

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And so Nora's Tango Week came to an end last week. As I went to one of the last milongas I went early to be sure I could get a seat. I arrived fifteen minutes before the doors opened and there was already a long line of tangueros in front of me (photo).

Geez, you folks are crazy for your tango.

And then the doors opened, people scrambled to get their seats and before I could even get to mine people were on the dance floor dancing to their first tango.

The performances were awesome and I had many friends there, so it was a great evening. But one of the highlights of the week happened a few hours later when a lovely senior woman walked up to me and asked "Would you be my victim?"

That was one of the best invitations to tango I've ever received. Not that I was the victim, though, as it quickly become obvious that my new friend was an excellent dancer. I felt more like she was my victim. It turns out she's a French artist (a painter) who does oils and exhibits frequently.

You meet the most fascinating people in tango.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tango Maestros During Their Group Talk: Nora's Tango Week


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On the last day of Nora's Tango Week we got to hear all of the great maestros talk during this "chamuyo."

In this picture, from left to right, are Giselle Anne & Gustavo Naveira, Esteban Moreno & Claudia Codega, Eduardo Saucedo & Marisa Quiroga, Fernanda Ghi & Guillermo Merlo, Ed Neale & Nora Dinzelbacher, Claudia Mendoza & Luis Castro, and the Godparents of tango, Elba & Nito.

When I took this picture Nito was just starting to tell the story of how in Argentine culture people sometimes like to play jokes to cause a little stir. Nito said he had a friend that went to a milonga with a man and woman who were a couple. The three of them showed up together and then the man went over to the table next to them and whispered to the table "I'm here with that woman, but that guy won't leave us alone!"

And Eduardo told a great story about the meaning of going for coffee or pizza after a milonga, but I'll have to leave that one for another post.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

To Not Tango

It has been long since I've written. And it is with great sadness, I confess, to reveal that I have not been tangoing as much as I could, as I should, as I would like to. Life got in the way. And life continues to get in the way.

However, the good news is that I went to the Chicago Mini Tango Festival, Stone Soup Festival, the Denver Memorial Day tango festival, and just recently finished the Chicago Tango Week festival this past 4th of July. And I saw friends from far and wide, friends from BA, from Sweden, from Turkey, from Houston, San Fran, NY and all over. We all live in a surreal world when we come together to celebrate, to cherish, to dance and hold each other in our arms.

And also good news: I ran into no ex lovers. And I will not run into any potential lovers either. No. I will not say never, but am highly hesitant to ever date a tango dancer, to be lovers off the dance floor. Tango is too surreal, too unstable, too intangible a love, too emotional and too strong to ever be grounded in reality. Those who tango and love in one basket must live in an ever long dream.

But the sleepless nights, the early brunches, the hugs and the kisses, hosting friends and friends hosting me - they are exquisite. To me, it is a crème brûlée and strawberry glacé come to life. The sweetness is a thing to behold. To dance until my feet can no longer hold me up, the have my heart sing with the music and my body soar through veils of exhaustion.

No matter how much life gets in the way. I will never give up tango.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Thank You Tango Friends: After 100 Posts, Confessions Now Has Readers in 68 Countries

Back on December 11 when I started this tango blog celebrating Carlos Gardel's birthday, I didn't know what to expect. Well, I'm happy to say that last weeks post ("More Than Tango, It's About You") was our 100th.

Blogging about tango has been great fun because I enjoy writing. But the biggest bonus I've gotten by far is from connecting with you all. I really appreciate everyone that reads this blog and, in particular, I am grateful for all the amazing comments people make and emails you send me.

I also want to thank Victoria, Sappho, Laila and Ram for their great contributions.

So, I thought it would be fun to give a snapshot of how this blog has developed over 8 months by looking at the analytics. But please note that this data is never personally identifiable. I only know if you've personally come to my blog if you tell me or if you post a comment using your name (obviously, I have no idea who the folks are that post as "Annonymous").

So, here we go. There are now readers from 43 states across America and 68 countries world-wide (note: I've adjusted this number so it only includes people that have spent significant time on the blog and not "bounced".)

Here are the Top 5 countries where readers come from:
1. U.S.
2. United Kingdom
3. Canada
4. Germany
5. Argentina

Interesting Keywords Tangueros Used To Find This Blog (my thoughts in parenthesis):
"Comme il Faut" (plus hundreds of variations of this keyword)
"Tango Crushes"
"Addicted to Tango" (welcome to the club)
"Sexy tango skirt" (isn't this redundant? what woman doesn't look sexy in a tango skirt?)
"Tango Nirvana" (we're all searching for this, right?)
"How to get over a tango crush" (soundes like one of my searches)
"Tango Sins" (I've committed just about all of them)
"Sexy hug" (I love this description of the close embrace)
"Forget yourself from heartbreak" (impossible)
"Tango Temptress"
"Ways to know if you're addicted to tango?" (see my April 21 post "Top 15 Ways To Know If You're Addicted To Tango" to know how addicted you are)
"Why are women obsesed with shoes?" (clearly other men share my confusion)
"How Long To Learn Tango?" (only a lifetime)

You meet the most fascintating people in tango.

Thank you,

Thursday, July 10, 2008

More Than Tango, It's About You

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It's not just about tango.

Tango is the black, bad ass '51 Mercury that we drive in the dark of night to get us there, but it's not my destination.

You're my destination.

I don't tango just to tango. I tango to hold you in a close embrace, to move with you, to connect with you.

And I don't take tango lessons just to improve at this dance. I study for days and months and years, so I can develop my lead and movement because then I can connect with you in a way that is mas profundo.

The better I lead, the less distracted I am by my mistakes. The smoother I move, the more I can stop thinking and simply be with you now.

Yes, we're surrounded by hundreds of people, but they're not here. I'm only here with you.

I love tango for her journey, but you're my destination. Remember that always.


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Bowing To My Partners: Tangoing With Our Japanese Sisters

Nora's Tango Week isn't over yet, but one of my favorite memories so far has to do with something I'd never experienced before in tango: bowing to your partner before you take each other into the close embrace.

Why the bowing? Well, you see there's a wonderful group of tango dancers who came all the way over from Japan for tango week. Not all of the women, but most of them bow to their partners before they start dancing. Obviously, bowing is common in Japan--I'd just never experienced it before in tango. But I must say I really liked it because it brought to life something one of our maestros (Esteban Moreno) mentioned. Esteban said to dance tango is a privilege. I agree with Esteban and getting to bow with my partner was a great way to bring to life our respect for each other before taking a total stranger into a close embrace.

I'd heard how strong the tango community is in Japan and how much it's growing, but I'd never danced with any of our Japanese sisters. But having danced with five of our Japanese sisters I can tell you they were all excellent--very elegant and smooth.

One last note--I got to speak with the women that organized their trip. She said she came over to Tango Week for the first time last year with just one other friend. They had so much fun that she grew their group to nine this year. We were the better for it.

Tango Shoes at Nora's Tango Week


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I finished Nora's Tango Weekend Sunday night and it was awesome. To get to the class rooms you had to walk by tables of Comme Il Faut and Neotango shoes for sale.

On Sunday I was eating an apple near these tables waiting for my next class to begin when I noticed how differently men and women reacted to these tables. Most men walked by and didn't pay attention to the shoes. Most women walked around the corner, saw the shoes and went into a state of rapture. (I didn't see one near the table, but I think having a defribilator on hand is a good idea)

Truth be told, ladies, I still don't really get your passion for tango shoes, but part of me sensed some of you would want to see this photo.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Packed Milonga At Nora's Tango Weekend


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Nora's Tango Weekend was awesome. I have many great stories to tell this week. In the meantime, I wanted to post this photo, which was last week.

This photo is of the opening night milonga, which was a blast.

Tonight we had numerous perforances because it was closing night for the Tango Weekend. The place was packed & the maestros amazing.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Out Of Office AutoReply: Nora's Tango Weekend

I am out of the office today. I'm away at an important business conference involving molinetes and ganchos.

If you need to reach me, feel free to cabaceo me.

If this is important and you need to speak to me personally, you can find me in the conference room "Milonga". It's the room that looks like a dance floor and it will be packed with hundreds of fellow attendees. I'll be there through the weekend holding very important tandas with wonderful milongueras from around the world.


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Cortina: The Greatest Soccer Goal of My Life


In today's cortina please ignore my immodesty as I proudly proclaim that I recently scored the greatest soccer goal of my life. Why the greatest? Because it was my first and only in over 3 decades of playing.

I started playing soccer as a kid and I've played every year since. I've always played in the defense, so I've always, well, defended. Even so, I should've scored some goals. Sure, I've scored countless times in practice, pickup games, indoor games and against my three-year old niece, but never in an official game. (Truth be told: my three-your old niece stopped my first seven shots, but I managed to slip one by her by pointing behind her and asking "is that a pony, Catherine?!?" Hey, a goal is a goal).

That 40 year drought finally ended when I scored a few weeks ago. How did it feel? Well, the sky seemed bluer and the artificial grass seemed greener that bright, shining afternoon.

So, how did I score? It's all thanks to Melanie (in the picture with me). She passed me the ball & I hit a one-touch rocket into the net (note: "rocket" is my adjective and I do not agree with my teammates who describe it a "squibler"). Melanie played her college ball at Berkeley with Brandi Chastain and other U.S. Women's Gold Medal Olympic players were on the same team. As you can imagine, Melanie kicks ass. In fact, the women as a group on my team do, too, and it's a big reason why we're heading into the playoffs.

After the game I did what any serious-minded male adult would do--I called my Mom, Dad, Brother, and Sister and replayed for them the goal second-by-second. My Mom and sister gave me polite "that's nice, Mark" responses while my Dad and brother both asked me if we won.

BTW, Menlanie and I are holding up four fingers because that was our final score against the other team, not the age I'm acting.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Christmas Eve, My Birthday and Nora's Tango Week

It's almost here! Nora's Tango Weekend starts Thursday night with a free milonga and then the first day of classes start Friday. I'm doing the Tango Week, too, which starts Monday. All of this culminates with "A day with Gustavo and Giselle" and the Celebration Milonga a week from Saturday (12th), all of which should be awesome.

To say I'm pumped about this would be putting it mildly. This is Christmas Eve expectation. This is birthday joy. I was supposed to have outgrown that excitement years ago, but haven't yet. That's one of the fun things about tango week, though--I don't have to hide my giddiness because everyone is giddy.

I went to Nora's Weekend & Week last year & the teachers were great. We have some of the same from maestros from last year and some new. The silver Godparents of tango, Nito and Elba, will be there again and last year Nito gave me one of my favorite tango memories. One of the other maestros decades younger than Nito had a new move that Nito was excited to learn. So, Nito kept running the new move over and over again with his friend until he had every detail down. That one scene explained to me why Nito is such a great dancer: his passion and focus on continuous improvement.

I hope to see you there. If I don't get the opportunity to as you to dance first, please ask me to dance. One of the best things about Nora's Tango Week is making new friends, so I hope we can share a tanda.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Time To Retire Cologne From Tango?

Ah, yes, the eternal male ritual I've taken part of since I was a teenager--putting on cologne. And then putting on some more and, well, why not a little more. It was fun back as a teenager because I thought it would help increase my chances with women (that proved to be untrue, so I'm not sure where that urban myth started). It was also part of the passage into manhood. My grandfathers wore cologne, my Dad wore it and now I was wearing it.

Old habits are hard to break and that's a big reason why I kept wearing it for years. So, in the beginning I thought "of course I'll need to wear cologne to milongas--tango is such a masculine dance certainly it calls for my best cologne, right?".


Let's have the ladies speak for themselves. As a milonguera commented here a while back: "Too much cologne or aftershave is a nightmare. I know the same goes for us ladies, but we don't wear perfume on our faces. If our face is touching yours, and you have a lot of scent on your skin, it can be really overwhelming."

But give up my cologne for tango? That would be like giving up part of my manhood.

But then I got another email from a woman who said "I'm tired of coming home wearing a mix of bad (or even good) cologne. I'm pretty sensitive to odors and it can make dancing even with a good dancer extremely unpleasant. And then I smell funny for my next partner. I'm sure most guys feel the same way about women wearing too much perfume, so it definitely goes both ways. I'd much rather dance with someone with no cologne who smelled not at all, or of good old soap and shampoo! Now I'm going to take a shower to try to wash off tonight's batch of scents!"

All of which reminded me of a class I took at La Pista recently where I rotated to a lovely woman. She had some nice perfume on (not a lot) and when we took each other into our close embrace I started sneezing. The teacher (Oscar Mandagaran) happened to be walking by us checking on how the move was going and my partner joked to Oscar that I was allergic to her. I started laughing and told Oscar I was sure it was something else (I've never had allergies). I took her back into a close embrace and immediately started sneezing again! We resolved to tango in an open embrace.

And there we have it. I'm sold. Cologne, perfume, eau de toilette, eau de it what you will, they don't have a place in tango.

So, it is with deep regret that I hereby swear off wearing cologne to milongas. I will continue to wear it proudly and manly to dinners, dates, and parties. But when it comes to milongas, will anyone else join me in going cologne-free?

Next time you go to a milonga, leave the cologne & just go eau de tango.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Inside Our Russian Stacking Doll: Tango At the De Young Museum


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Over the past year and a half the only thing that has boomed more in SF than the price of gas is tango. When I switched to tango a year & 9 months ago there were usually a couple of tango events going on each night. I just took a quick look at & in the Bay area today there are twelve tango events (classes, practicas and milongas). This boom was very evident Friday night as the tango community descended upon the De Young Museum for a great milonga organized by Terence Clarke and Beatrice Bowles (great job, Terry, Bea and the De Young team!).

I was hoping there would be enough dancers there to give the milonga a party feel. I need not have worried--the De Young was packed! The dance floor felt more like bumper cars at times, but it was well worth it. Not only was the De Young packed with tango dancers, but our milonga turned into a live work of art as the museum-goers lined two and three deep to watch everyone tango. Even the main stair case was packed with kids and adults watching in fun. I finished one tango and a lovely couple came up to my partner and me and said "you both look so happy!". Well, that's because we were. We encouraged the couple to try a tango, but they just wanted to watch.

And then it was time for an excellent tango performance by Nora Dinzelbacher and Ed Neale. It was during their performance I realized that the milonga felt like we were living inside a never-ending Russian stacking doll (you know, one of those Babooshka nesting things) because there was one work of art inside another. Here we were in the incomparable San Francisco and inside her the green forests of the Golden Gate Park and inside her the shocking copper beauty of the De Young Museum and inside her our joyful milonga where Nora and Ed were tangoing passionately in front of Richter's wild piece, Strontium (seen in the photo above).

Strontium, by the way, is a chemical element that can be combustible. Pretty much sums up Friday's milonga at the De Young.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Cortina: Why I Have A Crush On J.K. Rowling

Part 1 from J.K. Rowling's Commencement Speech at Harvard (June, 2008):

Part 2:

Yes, this is a tango blog, but please indulge me today, since I feel compelled to confess my new crush on J.K. Rowling. So, can we just consider today's post a cortina?

Let me start at the beginning. My Mom had an exchange student (Chi Hai) from Beijing live with her for a year back in 1998 when he was in high school. He quickly became part of our family and we've become good friends with his parents, too. Well, Chi Hai just graduated from business school, so we all went to his graduation earlier this month at Harvard.

The commencement speaker this year was J.K. Rowling, the famed author of the Harry Potter books. When I heard she was going to be speaking I thought to myself "Well, this should be fun. She'll tell a lot of Harry Potter jokes, talk about her success and give us a few of her favorite 'life lessons learned', all of which will be forgotten by days end."

Not quite.

I sensed something was different about J.K. as I watched her facial expressions and body language while she was being introduced (I can use her first name, can't I, given that I have a crush on her or is that presumptious?). She seemed genuinely nervous sitting there waiting her turn, but who wouldn't be given all eyes were on her and the pageantry of Harvard's graduation ceremonies. There were many men wearing top hats and tails, the school band came marching through playing joyfully, and school songs were sung. It was great fun for all of us in the audience. But now J.K. was supposed to stand up and say something memorable. Just as her introduction was nearly finished I caught another glimpse of J.K. and she looked anxious.

After Harvard's President (Drew Faust--a very impressive woman) finished introducing her, J.K. walked to the podium and said "The first thing I would like to say is 'thank you.' Not only has Harvard given me an extraordinary honour, but the weeks of fear and nausea I've experienced at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight. A win-win situation! Now all I have to do is take deep breaths, squint at the red banners and fool myself into believing I am at the world's best-educated Harry Potter convention." Her joke about 'fear and nausea" seemed quite sincere. And that was a very funny Harry Potter reference. I'm sure it's one of a dozen to come. So, now she'll start with the the predictable philosophy-lite given by most commencement speakers, right?


J.K. followed with the bravest, most personal and memorable commencement speech I've ever heard. In fact, it was one of the best speeches I've heard in my life. Her intellect, sense of humor, modesty and humanity were all on full display.

J.K. talked about the importance of failure in life, relieving poverty and the need to improve human rights worldwide. But what made it so powerful was that she talked about her personal experience of growing up poor and being poor again after her divorce. She said she was 'as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless.'

Likewise, when she spoke about improving human rights, she didn't do it with platitudes, but by describing some of the horrors she heard personally while working for Amnesty International.

And towards the end when she could have coasted home to an easy ending, she instead threw down the gauntlet towards all of us:

"The great majority of you belong to the world's only remaining superpower. The way you vote, the way you live, the way you protest, the pressure you bring to bear on your government, has an impact way beyond your borders. That is your privilege, and your burden. If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped transform for the better. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better."

The lioness finished and sat down to one of the longest standing ovations I've ever seen, all of which she received with great modesty, even surprise. But so often it's that way, isn't it? The brave don't realize they're being brave because they're just being who they are. All of which made J.K. even more irresistable and explains my crush.

I'm often wrong, but never in doubt. But I can't remember being more wrong about a person in the past five years. I don't know who her husband is, but he's a lucky man. And we were all lucky to hear J.K. speak for twenty shining minutes.

God bless J.K. Rowling.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

My Tango Brothers: Making Sure Every Woman Has Partners At Milongas

Guys, let's face it, we've got it good in the Bay area when it comes to tango. Most milongas we go to have more women than men, so it's easy for us to almost always have someone to dance with. And we're also lucky in that women here often ask us to dance, so an evening of tango can fly by for men with barely a break.

Many women have equally busy nights. But, unfortunately, sometimes some women don't and they might only have a couple of tandas (or, tango gods forbid--none). It's this situation I want to talk about.

To put it straight out there, men, if we see women sitting out tanda after tanda, we should make a point of asking them to dance. I've been as guilty of this as anyone--not really paying attention if certain women weren't being asked to dance because I was too wrapped up in my own tandas. At other times I've assumed that sooner or later a man would ask her to dance, only to realize later that wasn't happening.

Most men have been on the other side of this at times. I know I have and it's not fun. I did my undergrad at the University of Florida and our ratio was 52% men/48% women. As a result, it was tough at times getting dates (sure, some said it had to do with trivial factors like personality, but I found it so much easier to just blame it all on the bad ratio). And proof of that came for me the first time I spent the weekend at FSU for a football game. The ratio at FSU was the reverse--so there were 52% women. I still remember my shock when a woman come up to me at a bar and asked if she could buy me a drink. In all my years at UF that had never happened to me. I was so certain one of my friends put her up to it that I kept looking around the bar for one of my laughing friends.

But I digress.

The point I'm trying to make is how much I like it when women buy me drinks. No, no, sorry--lost my train of thought there. The point I'm trying to make is that ratios matter in life and in the Bay area tango scene that's particularly true.

So, guys, next time you see a woman sitting out numerous tandas, please ask her to dance. It's always fun making new friends and it makes milongas even better when everyone is tangoing. There are few downsides to tango, but not getting to tango much at a milonga is one of the biggest. And as many women friends have told me, all it takes is one or two good tandas to turn an average evening into a really fun one.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

My Tango Championship With Cheryl Burke

I am posing in this photo with Cheryl Burke from "Dancing With The Stars" because (see answer under my name):
A. We just won the American Nationals for Argentine Tango
B. Cheryl just accepted my marriage proposal
C. I wasn't actually in this photo with Cheryl--I Photoshopped her in
D. None of the above. I took Cheryl's first dance lesson at her club and had my photo taken with her for fun (BTW, she gave a great class & was very nice)
Answer: Obviously, D

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tango Sin #4 For Men: Giving Unsolicited Advice To Women At A Milonga

Men, I implore you--learn from my mistakes and do not give women unsolicited advice, tips, or constructive criticism at milongas. Ever. Back before I switched to tango I used to give feedback to women often when I was at salsa clubs until finally one night my dance partner said to me "Mark, I just want to have fun. Can we just dance?"

I quickly recovered from her comment (it didn't take me more than 3 months). As difficult as it was to hear this, I knew instantly she was right. People go to dance to have fun, not be criticized by others. So, I stopped giving feedback to women that night and I've never done so at milongas. It's made milongas so much more enjoyable for my partners and me. Most of us want to get better at tango, but that's why we take classes, go to practicas & take privates. We don't go to milongas to get unsolicited feedback from other people. In fact, it's rude to do so. I've spoken to my female friends about this a lot and they rarely, if ever, ask for feedback. So, the vast majority of time men are simply offering it up on their own.

Why do men do this? In a phrase, it feels good.

It feels good to be the "expert", to "impart" one's knowledge to another person.

Why don't women like to hear the unsolicited feedback? It's for the same reason men don't like to hear "constructive criticism." In a phrase, it doesn't feel good!

Now, men, if you're raising objections at this point against my argument, then that probably means you give unsolicited feedback thinking it's wanted.

Trust me, it's not.

I was at a milonga this week and one guy gave feedback to every woman I saw him dance with. I could hear his pedantic style at one point because he finished a tanda next to my table. I was amazed by his partner's patience. He kept badgering her until she finally excused herself and walked away. The crazy thing is that of all the women I saw him dance with, most of them had better technique than the guy!

If you want to focus on improving tango, focus on your own--not others.

And if you want to make someone feel good, don't focus on yourself, but focus on your partner. Compliment her on one of her tango strengths. I've danced with countless women now and every single one, including absolute beginners, has at least 2 or 3 obvious strengths (connection, musicality, elegance, body movement, technique...). I'm definitely not suggesting you say anything gratuitous. But, men, if you feel an uncontrollable urge to give unsolicited feedback, don't point out one of her areas for improvement. Mention some of her true strengths, instead.

Monday, June 23, 2008

So Sorry For My Absence: My Tango Posts Resume Tomorrow

So sorry, friends, that I haven't posted in awhile.

I've been swamped launching a new website at work & traveling (graduations & baby showers). But I do have some tales to start telling this week about tango, the greatest soccer goal of my life, and the woman I have a crush on (hint: Harry Potter's creator).

Thank you, though, for your polite emails ranging from "So, got any posts in the works?" to "What the hell, Mark?!?"

I'm resuming our tango tomorrow. Please join me.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Tango Fever (Part 2): By Laila

I'm very happy to say that I just received Laila's Part 2. Take it away Laila...

Tango Fever, Part 2
From Laila

"The following Saturday morning, I enrolled in my first tango lesson.

The instructor, Nora Dinzelbacher, whose striking beauty was enhanced by glistening, long black hair, welcomed me to class. “First you must learn how to walk,” she told the class. Walk? I can do that. As Nora moved gracefully and with determination across the classroom dance floor, I attempted to model her. However, I soon realized that my walking was completely wrong and so were my shoes, which were flat and didn’t give me enough support in a forward lean. To walk properly in tango, one must stand tall, thrust the chest slightly forward, pull the hips and buttocks up and then push them out a bit and walk with the knees touching each other before each forward or backward step, as if they were fastened together with elastic bands.

So many challenges confronted me at once: standing, then walking correctly, dancing with my chest leaning forward and walking backwards in a straight line in high heels. Then I needed to learn how to dance with a partner - “breast to chest,” forming an A-frame so we could walk without knocking each others’ knees or kicking each other. With my torso pressed against my partner’s, often someone whose name I didn’t even know, I felt awkward, but sometimes comfortable, if the man and I had a good person-to-person and dance connection. When Nora reminded the men to tighten their embrace with their partners, it would cause some nervous giggling among some of the newcomers. Hands on hips, Nora would respond: “Don’t you like to embrace? Why do you think we Argentineans invented the tango?” Yes, I do like to be embraced. I do. I do.

To cope with the intricacies of learning the tango, I have adopted beginner’s mind. I have learned how to walk – and its importance. Oscar Mandagaran, a great tango dancer and instructor, explained that “When one man wants to compliment another man on his dancing, he says, ‘He walks well!”

After many months of listening to and dancing tango, I was bitten by the tango bug. For those of you unfamiliar with this condition, the melancholic chords of the bandoneon pierce the skin ever so gently, enter the bloodstream and then slowly, steadily seep into the heart where they make a home. When one person dances with another who has also been stung by this musical critter, the result can be a delightful affliction.
Several years later, I now enjoy moving in a close embrace, especially if my partner took a shower and didn’t consume too much garlic prior to the milonga. And I’m more confident doing figures such as ochos, molinetes and ganchos without putting him “out of commission.” My initial awkwardness has evolved into some level of confidence and has rewarded me with an abundance of joy. When my partner and I dance as one to the music and I feel his perspiration on my cheek and his heartbeat, I know that there is a heaven after all.

A friend expressed surprise that I could not just pick up tango. “After all,” she said, “You’re a salsa dancer.” To that I replied, “Salsa is to tango what checkers is to chess; you don’t just learn the back and forth moves. You have to learn many facets and how they interconnect. And you need a lot of patience.” I could write so much more about my tango, but I hear the bandoneon calling and I feel a warm, inviting hand in mine – and a fever coming on."

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Tango Fever (Part 1): Written By Laila

Of all the things I love about tango, the most important for me is that I've been able to meet so many wonderful people. And out of all my new tango friends, one of the dearest to me is Laila. Laila and I have performed together (she's a much better dancer than me) and she's a joy to spend time with. So, I'm very happy Laila agreed to contribute to this tango blog to tell her story of how she came to tango.

Take it away Laila...

Tango Fever, Part One
From Laila

"Finally, I can walk. I thought I could learn to walk correctly in just a few lessons. Then I realized it would take many more than that. Several years later, I’m able to walk like a tanguera, a tango dancer. And since I can walk like a tanguera, I should be able to dance like one. After all, tango is simply “walking to the music.” However, I discovered that the path from walking to tangoing is extensive, fraught with bumps and twists and tangles, challenges I gladly took on because of the flame that touched me one night at the theater.

The spark for my love affair with Argentine tango began several years ago. As a salsera and aficionada of Afro-Cuban dance music for many years, I thought no other musical genre could move me with such passion. But I began to hunger for something more – not to replace salsa but to add another musical genre to my dance palate. When I heard that Argentine tango was, like salsa, hot and spicy, I bought a ticket for Luis Brava’s theatrical production, Tango Argentino, when it toured San Francisco in the 1980’s. So riveting was the first dance number that I left my seat and watched the rest of the show standing in the wings. The steamy connections between the men and the women and their fiery, passionate moves mesmerized me. I was puzzled by the intricacies of the steps, danced to the complex sounds of two great Argentinean masters - Osvaldo Pugliese and Astor Piazzola, among others. How could a dancer, with her torso flush against her partner’s, kick her right leg back and up high, as if she were striking a match between her partner’s legs – right on beat with the music? How could a lead dancer lift his partner chest high and swing her over one of his legs where she would land and melt into a backbend over one of his thighs? The flames these tangueros generated permeated the theater. My dancing spirit lept onto the stage and joined the other dancers until the final chord of the bandoneon sounded. I left the theater artistically fulfilled -and hungry to learn to dance Argentine tango, which I thought as feasible as dancing salsa with Antonio Banderas on the moon.

Several years later, I saw The Tango Lesson, an independent film by Sally Potter, about a middle-aged, English woman and her interest in learning to dance the tango. Her success inspired this mid-life woman to start my tango quest. The very next afternoon, the man in line in front of me at the grocery store was wearing a Tango Argentino T-shirt and spoke English with an Italian-Spanish accent. Argentinean, I presumed. “Yes, I study tango with Nora at the Mission Cultural Center,” he told me.

The following Saturday morning, I enrolled in my first tango lesson."

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Thanks For Your Comments! / Start Your Own Tango Blog?

Dear Tango Sisters and Brothers,
I'm so sorry I got behind in responding to your awesome comments you've posted on this tango blog recently. I read every tango comment you make and was just waiting to find the time to respond.

Well, I'm finally caught up! I just spent the last 3 hours responding to every one of your comments.

If I inadvertently missed anyone, please let me know & I'll respond asap.

Lastly, I wanted to say how insightful/funny/poetic I find your comments. A number of you already have your own great tango blogs. But for those of you that don't, please start one!

Your tango voices are important & the more people we have blogging about tango, the more people we'll bring into our great passion, the more new friends we'll make, the more partners we'll have to dance with...

Ok, I'm off to the Studio Gracia milonga.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Tips For Buying Tango Shoes in SF & Buenos Aires : Thanks Ana!

I'm taking the liberty tonight of posting a great comment that Ana de San Francisco left recently. She's got some great information below about Jennifer Bratt's new boutique and Ana's favorite tango shoe stores in Buenos Aires, etc.

So, thanks so much Ana for posting this comment! She gives some great insight & tips below, so take it away, Ana:

"Jennifer Bratt now has a Comme Il Faut boutique at her & Ney's studio on Russian Hill here in SF.

As for me, my new favorite is Lolo Gerard (on Anchorena 607 in BsAs). The quality of their materials, construction and design are outstanding, and they have plenty for the guys too.

Another favorite is P.H. (on Grito De Ascencio 3602 in BsAs). Their designs are becoming more fashion forward and they now have spikey stilettos a la CIF, but with a more traditional design, so more supportive than a strappy sandal, but you still get a very nice arch and a lot of footbed padding, typical of P.H.

And for the record I have 2 pairs of CIF, and 0 NeoTango...but many, many other pairs from others (Lolo Gerard, PH, Artesanal, Tango8, Victorio)...The thing with shoes is that everyone's feet is different, and so everyone will have a different opinion on which shoes are "best" -- and even that is subjective with more people giving weight to fit, style, stability, etc., and all colored with the dancer's own experience and skill level. So ... bottom line... to each his/her own...

As for CIFs, no doubt about it they are among the most beautiful shoes I own, but I rarely wear them because I have other shoes that are more comfortable and equally or more beautiful."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tango Eavesdropping (Unintentionally)

So, I'm sitting by myself waiting for the pre-milonga tango lesson to begin. There are 2 guys to my left & 2 women to my right--I don't know any of them. I knew men talked this way because it's the same type of conversation I have every week with my brother, Dad, & every other guy I can talk sports to.

But who knew women talked this way? (my internal dialogue is in parenthesis).

Dude 1: "Did you see LeBron last night?"
Dude 2: "He was on fire!" (I'm a Celtics fan, but even I have to admit that's true)

Damn Sexy 1: "So, how's your week been?"
Damn Sexy 2: "Ok, I went to dinner with Chris" (not his real name; cool--a peak into the unreadable mind of a woman coming up)

Dude 1: "Damn, 45 points in Boston & they still lose"
Dude 2: "Yeah, but he can't carry the whole team by himself" (good point)

Damn Sexy 1: "Yeah, how'd that go?"
Damn Sexy 2: "It was fine, the restaurant was good & he kissed me goodnight" (...and you would tell your girlfriend this because...?)

Dude 1: "That's true--I'm just saying if he had a little help they would've won that series"
Dude 2: "But they wouldn't beat Detroit anyway" (this guy knows his basketball)

Damn Sexy 1: "Well, that's good, but you don't sound very excited." (I agree)
Damn Sexy 2: "It's just that it was like a normal kiss. He didn't kiss me like he wanted to rip my clothes off" (Whoa! Do women really talk like this? I swear this was a quote. Obviously, she's saying she wanted him to kiss her like he was really passionate about her. When are they going to talk about last night's game?)

Dude 1: "You don't know that--they'd have a better chance than Boston" (b.s.)
Dude 2: "That may be true, but I want to see Boston in the finals against L.A." (for sure)

Damn Sexy 1: "That's too bad. So, what are you going to do?" (this is starting to sound like a Venezuelan soap opera; not that I've ever seen one, but my Spanish teacher said they make Desparate Housewives look tame)
Damn Sexy 2: "I don't know--he's a nice guy, but it's kind of like 'what's the point?'" (I resist the temptation to offer a solution, mainly because I don't have one)

Dude1: "How sweet would that be"
Dude 2: "Real ol' school, minus Bird & Magic, but still awesome" (I'm dying to jump into this conversation, but the tango lesson is beginning)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Tango Sin #3 For Men: Leading Your Partner Like She's A Bumper Car

Tonight we continue through the list of tango mistakes men make when leading and I don't know of any leader who has committed these sins more than me.

I was at a milonga recently enjoying a great tango with my partner when suddenly I felt a four inch heel land into my right heel. I bit my teeth in pain, turned around to see who had just fired their nail gun, but instead saw a petit milonguera. She immediately apologized and clearly felt terrible about the whole thing, but it wasn't her fault--she had no idea she was so close to me. Unfortunately, it happened because of her partner, since it's the leaders responsibility to keep her and everyone around them safe.

So, how did this happen?

Unfortunately, it was another example of a guy leading his partner like she's a bumper car.

From my experience, there are three types of leaders I see at milongas who lead their partner like this:

1. The "Tailgater": I'm sorry to say this is what I used to do because I would tail the couple ahead of me by too close of a margin. When I first started out I was so focused on trying to lead that I wouldn't notice how close I was getting to the couple in front of us. By combining my lack of awareness with some leaders who take steps backwards without knowing if someone is behind them, the only outcome was bumping into each other. Some of our brothers bounce around a milonga using his partner like she's a pinball in a machine. There are no points scored for leading one's partner into another couple, so please be aware of your space to avoid my mistakes.

2. The "Speed Racer": There's a guy I'm acquainted with whom I see at milongas. Good luck finding a nicer guy to talk to, but when he gets on to the dance floor he slices through crowds for no apparent reason. He flies through the crowds trying to squeeze through openings so small it reminds me of the motorcyclists here that drive on the white line through stopped traffic. Both seem to be racing, but to where?

3. The "Heel Spiker": This is the dangerous one of the three because at least the Tailgater is usually a guy leading a woman's back slowly into the back of another man or woman. But, unlike the Tailgater, the Heel Spiker is normally led quickly into another couple without warning. It's the surprise element that normally leads to the spiking.

None of these examples are the followers fault although, ironically, it's normally the woman who apologizes. No, these bumps & spikes are the responsibility of the leader.

I know how hard it can be to pay attention to spacing on what are often crowded floors--especially as a beginner. Please, brothers, avoid my earlier mistakes. Protect your follower and the other dancers around you by using the widest safety zone possible.

My heels thank you.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Why I Stopped Going To Milongas When I'm Exhausted

I like to tango.

A slow week for me is when I only get in tango 3 times. A more normal week is 4 or 5 times a week.

But I used to go for tango even on nights when I was exhausted. So, how did that work out for me?...yeah, not too well. I finally stopped doing that when I was a beginner because I was so tired one night I was having trouble focusing.

My internal dialogue went something like this: "hmm, who can I tango with?; she looks nice & not too far above my level; great--she accepted; wow, she dances better than I realized; geez--she can really move her body; damn, she's sexy; ok, I've just repeated the only two moves I know eight times--what was that new one I just learned? was it a boleo to the right or left? I think it was to the right? no, it was to the left, or was that the gancho? why did everyone stop moving? or is a gancho that move I just learned or an Argentine cowboy? John Wayne--now there was a cowboy! Although Jimmy Stewart was better in "Destry Rides Again"; why are people walking off the floor?; I wonder who would've won in a fight between John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart? Yeah, sure the obvious choice is John Wayne, but I bet Jimmy Stewart would've kicked his ass. Hell, Stewart flew dangerous missions in World War II--now that was a guy with a backbone! it got real quiet in here all of a sudden; And that scene when Stewart danced into the pool with Donna Reed in "It's A Wonderful Life"--hilarious! I would've loved to have tangoed with Donna Reed. I wonder if she or Grace Kelly would've been a better tango dancer? Why is my partner is looking at me quizically? Damn it, the tango ended! How did I miss that? I've got to focus--no more drifting. 'Thanks for the dance--sorry I missed the ending'; ok, so Jimmy Stewart kicks John Wayne's ass, but would he have beaten Clint Eastwood? Clint was probably a faster draw, but if it's a barfight--I'd take Stewart again--he's just too fast; hmm, who can I dance with?; she looks nice and not too far above my level..."

Brothers, if you ever find yourself tangoing with a lovely woman and wondering if Jimmy Stewart would've kicked John Wayne's ass, it's time to go home.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Tango Sin #2 For Men: Throwing Your Partner Around Like A Ragdoll

And, yes, I committed this sin in my first year of tango, too. You know what it usually looks like--a guy is doing a fine job of leading his partner, nice salida, elegant backward ochos and then, bam!, he throws her like a ragdoll. She's jarred and continues with a look of dread; he's oblivious and continues with a look of anticipation planning his next big move.

Or so it normally goes. I was watching this very type of scene two Sundays ago--the guy wasn't being respectful of his partners body even though her discomfort was obvious. I honestly don't know if the guy had any idea how uncomfortable this was for her, but I had the feeling he didn't. Finally, he jarred her one too many times and she appropriately walked off the floor.

What an unfortunate and frustrating experience for her. She was there to have a great time and now she's having to worry for her safety and feeling the awkwardness of having to leave her partner on the dance floor. There were a lot of glancing looks as people tried figuring out what had just happened. Fortunately, I think the guy got it because during his next dance he didn't try any of his show moves and his boleos became more subtle.

Women, I will never try to excuse my own bad leading from the past (I'm sure many would question my use of the "past", but please throw me a bone). Nor will I try to excuse the lead of some of my brothers. But I will try to explain it.

Why do we sometimes lead moves as if our follow is a ragdoll?

Because too often we don't take enough classes to properly learn moves and we end up leading them badly. As a result of not having really learned the moves, we don't know strong our lead should be in the beginning.

When new leaders (and sometimes more experienced ones, too) start going to milongas, the confusion mounts because there's a lot to remember and we start hitting sensory overload (difficult dance to learn, sultry music, close embrace tangos, sexy women, great people, the chattering crowd, the flowing line of dance...). You add all this up and then combine it with the challenge of having to gauge how strong your lead should be for different moves and, unfortunately, most of us make mistakes in the beginning.

This is why, brothers, it's important when you're starting out to please practice your new moves in classes and practicas before surprising a women with them at a milonga. And if you're determined to try a new move, err on the side of leading the move too gently at first and only increase incrementally as necessary. What's the worst that can happen?...the move doesn't work, but at no risk to her. I can tell you it took me well over a year to get boleos down and I'm shocked now by how boleos are a simple transfer of weight. I lead them now with half the power, but they're twice as effective. Less is more.

So, brothers, lead her safely. If we're respectful of our partner, we'll have a new friend who will gladly dance with us at milongas for years to come. And what could be better than that?

Friday, May 16, 2008

But Doesn't Three Tango Performances Qualify As An Excuse?

Dear Friends,
I'm sorry I wasn't able to post more recently, but over the past 2 weeks I've been swamped launching our new website at work (a few too many 1am calls to New Dehli) & I've had 3 tango performances with LiberTango.

Now I know what you're thinking: "But, Mark, I don't even go out tangoing until 1am, so, that's a lame excuse."

Good point.


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A Big Fat Greek Wedding, A Little Tango, A Lot of Bachlava

God bless the Greeks.

I'm fortunate to be on a tango performance team called LiberTango, led by the multi-talented Christy Cote and Darren Lees. Sunday night we performed at a Greek-American wedding at the beautiful Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Oakland Hills. I've performed about 25 times before (tango & salsa), but last night was my first time performing at a wedding.

It was great fun, mainly because there were a couple of hundred people there and, thankfully, they really got into the tango. The funny thing is we hung around after our tango performances to see if any folks at the reception needed any enouragment to dance to the band. That turned out to be completely unnecessary because Greek-Americans need about as much encouragement to dance as Latino's do. It was more of a sprint to see who could get to the dance floor first.

So, out of respect for the privacy of the families, I'm only posting a distant photo to give you a feeling for the room, which was great. We felt like we were tangoing inside a giant blue cumulus cloud. This photo was just before the band started playing & everyone packed the dance floor in two big circles for Greek dances. Awesome.

I can't remember the last time I saw people having so much fun at a wedding. God bless Greek-Americans.

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Monday, May 5, 2008

Tango Sin #1 For Men: Tossing In Moves Above Our Level

Brothers, before I jump into today's blog, let me say that I've made every mistake in the tango book. So, when I offer feedback for us that I've heard from women, please don't think I'm saying I don't make the same mistakes--I've made them all.

Having said that, I have heard from women that they lose some of their tango love for us as leads when we think we're better than we really are and, as a result, try to lead moves at milongas that are above our heads.

Men, how do you know if you fall into this same category I was in for too long? Well, do you feel comfortable leading all of your steps? More importantly, when you're leading your more advanced steps does your partner have a look on her face of happiness or anxiety?

If she has a look of anxiety or frustration then you might need to bring some of your Forever Tango-inspired moves that you're doing at milongas back into practice sessions until your partner tells you they're ready for prime time. When I was in this same phase I was trying to squeeze every single one of my moves into every single tango--regardless of whether I knew how to lead them and ignoring the fact that some didn't fit the music. I was trying to create a great Argentinian guisos soup from my tango, but I kept dumping in too many half-baked ingredients so I ended up with my own "specialty"--an inedible tango broth that tasted more like a combination of Miso/pumpkin/chicken/beet & squid stew.

So, what did I do initially? The logical thing...I inwardly blamed my partners! Surely it wasn't my fault.

But try as I did, I still had this nagging suspicion that the problem was me, not her. Admitting that, though, was hard.

So, what was the tipping point for me when I finally realized it was me? It happened at a milonga at ODC one night. I'd seen a very nice senior woman tango before & was looking forward to dancing a full tanda with her. We started what I assumed would be the first of three or four tangos, but immediately after our first one ended she politely thanked me and walked away. "Hey!" I thought to myself as I watched her sit down, "I still have another 18 moves to show you!" And that was it--I knew then I had to change my ways. But how? Fortunately, I've had great teachers and when I asked them for how to improve my tango almost all of them basically said "less is more--don't try the advanced stuff at a milonga until you're sure you've got it down."

And so overnight I started leading moves that were half as difficult, but felt twice as fun for both my partner and me. The frustrated expressions of my partners slowly left. I started enjoying the basics more and my technique started progressing faster, too.

So, men--give it a try. Unless you're positive you've got all of your more advanced moves down, remove your most difficult 2 or 3 moves from your mental step list and don't break them out again until they're milonga-ready.

And if that doesn't work, then you can blame your partner!

That was a lame joke, obviously. Of all the possible explanations for our partners unhappy expressions, blaming our partner is the only thing that's never an option.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Wonderful Sounds of Tango & The American Bullfrog

Recently I was in St Augustine, Florida visiting my Dad.

Funny thing about St. Augustine--great beaches, lousy tango.

At the end of my week there all I could think of was how strange it felt to not dance tango for 5 nights straight. My Dad's place is close to the beach, so instead of my flat in San Francisco where the fog rolls in from the Pacific, I smelled the salt drifting in from the Atlantic. After awhile I put on my iPod to listen to tango. I start to concentrate and finally I start to hear tango in the distance. I'm slowly drifting into a milonga. But wait-what's that noise? I've never heard that at a milonga. Maybe that's because my mental tanda is being crowded out by the croaking of American bullfrogs and the bellowing of the gators in the wetlands behind my Dad's place.

Yes, bellowing gators--as in the twelve footer in the pond behind my Dad's place.

I decide to try & find a milonga, so I get online. The closest tango is in Orlando--a good 2 hours away. I'm tempted, but is it worth the drive just to tango with Minnie Mouse? Not that I have anything against dancing with mice. Don't get me wrong because I'm not mousist--I'll tango with anyone or anything at this point. It's just that I've heard Minnie backleads.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Goodbye Tango "Strangers", Hello Partners In Crime

I had a tango revelation at my last milonga. Our pre-milonga class ended & and for my first tanda I asked a stranger to tango. We took each other into a close embrace for 3 minutes and I realized how much I dislike the word "stranger" in tango. Why? Because synonyms for "strangers" ("foreigner, alien and outsider") are all words that describe exactly the opposite of how I felt during our tango.

Whether or not I've ever met a tanguera before isn't important. When I think of the tangueras I dance with, I think of "partner, cohort, compadre, crony, and my favorite--partner in crime."

I don't need to have met a tanguera before to already be connected to her through our shared passion for the world's most intimate dance.

Monday, April 28, 2008

TangoCast: Excellent Tango Lessons With Christy Cote & Darren Lees At Cocomo

Tonight at Cocomo's was very rich. We started off having an excellent class with Christy Cote & Darren Lees. They even performed afterwards! DJ Polo does a great job playing the music--he has a real talent for chosing creative tandas.

Please note that next Sunday is another milonga at Cocomos. The teachers will be Romina & Marcelo who are very smooth. Hope to see you there.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Comme il Faux Tango Shoes

Well, I suppose it had to happen sooner or later.

A few nights ago I was walking from my car to a milonga when out of nowhere a guy in a dark alley whispers towards me "Hey, buddy, if you've got a special lady in your life, I've got Comme il Faut's here for her at half price!"

Half price? That sounded too good to be true. I don't know what Comme il Faut's normally cost, but I know from tango blogs that they're expensive. So, half of a lot sounded pretty good, as I figured I could get some for my friends inside.

The guy held out what looked at first glance like an authentic Comme il Faut. But he pulled the shoe back so quickly I was reminded of the illicit money changers in Prague back in the early 1990s whom I used to see on the side streets. They would flash you a wad of Czech crowns and then hide them before you could tell if they were real or not.

So, here I was talking to a guy in an alley whose face I couldn't even see. I was tempted, but from what I'd heard Comme il Faut tango shoes keep their value better than my car, so half-price seemed fishier than Pier 39 in August. I asked to see the shoes one more time and it was during this second flash that I saw the name on the shoe was actually "Comme il Faux." Finally, it all came together for me in an instant & I had my confirmation that these shoes were about as authentic as a Dick Cheney smile. Sensing I was on to him, the smuggler started backing away and before I could catch a glimpse of his face he disappeared faster than a handful of counterfeit Czech crowns.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Top 15 Ways To Know If You're Addicted To Tango

As addictions go, this is a nice one we have, isn't it? If you're not sure if you've completely lost yourself to Argentine tango, this blog is officially saying you're addicted to tango if you:
1. Get frustrated when you can't lead your dog into the cross
2. Check your iPod's "recently played" and it's all tango
3. Think of Buenos Aires like you think of Heaven or Shangri-La, except with better dancers
4. Wonder if you could ever date or marry a non-tango dancer
5. Sign all your emails with "abrazos"
6. Think your friends are crazy for not tangoing 5 nights a week (and vice versa)
7. Have thought of moving to Buenos Aires to study tango
8. Practice moves walking down the street, in the bathroom at work, in supermarkets...
9. Wonder how you ever lived "BT" (Before Tango)
10. Blame your cat for not being able to do a proper molinete (assuming you're the lead, shouldn't you blame yourself?)
11. Think it's natural to walk up to a person you've never met in your life, take them into your arms and hold them in a close embrace for 3 minutes
12. Own more Comme il Fauts or NeoTango's than you do work shoes (Women only)
13. Get itchy if you go more than 2 nights without getting your milonga fix
14. Think the sexiest thing in the world is a woman that tangoes well (Men only?)
15. Don't understand why colleagues at work don't accept your cabeceo to lunch


Friday, April 18, 2008

Confused By The Cabeceo?

One of the things I love most about tango is that the rules are so clear for dancers to follow:

1. The man leads, the woman follows (unless, of course, the lead is shared as the follow does certain embellishments)

2. All instructors teach the same core of tango technique (although it is true that most teachers have their own variations of tango technique)

3. The cabeceo makes the invitation so easy & clear (actually, this is only true in Buenos Aires where the the cabeceo is the rule; if you're in America one has to use a mix of invitation methods such as the cabeceo, verbal requests, extending the hand, hand signals, semaphore and smoke signals)

Okay, so maybe things aren't quite as crystal clear in tango as they first sound in blogs.

So, like I was saying, one of the things I love most about tango is that the rules are so appropriately flexibility...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Comme il Faut versus NeoTango: Which Are Your Favorites? (Take Poll In Top Right To Decide )

Just when I thought I was getting the hang of how universal women's love for Comme il Faut tango shoes is, a friend of mine told me she "hates!" them. She doesn't think they're comfortable enough & her personal favorites are NeoTango.

At a milonga recently I trotted out my new knowledge and, using my "I'm in the know" tone, told another friend I knew that a lot of women love NeoTango shoes more, a notion my friend promptly rejected. She replied that her Comme il Faut's are awesome & proceeded to whip out one of her girlfriend's Comme il Faut's. As if to prove her case, she held the shoe up for me and asked "What do you see?" I told her I saw a heel. She looked at the heel, then me, and then back at the heel, wondering why I couldn't see what she saw: the pillar of all tango civilization.

So, Ladies, I give up. I thought I could grow to understand the unspoken Comme il Faut vs. NeoTango competition, but I don't.

But before this breaks down into the next Hatfield versus McCoys, I have a simple solution. Take the poll in the top right of this tango blog to choose your favorite pair of tango shoes and we'll let the readers decide.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Close or Open?

Ladies and Gentlemen - when you have invited/been invited to dance, it is both people's choices to dance close or open.

If you're uncomfortable dancing close embrace, for any reason, look into your partners eyes, smile cordially and put your hands out in front of you in an open embrace. Do not budge. Your arms become a barrier so that the other person has to accept. Should the other person object (clear sign they're disrespectful) you can say...

"I'm not comfortable dancing close embrace..." with you.

"I'd like to try open embrace first..." because you smell like my college roommate's month old laundry. Remember to smile politely.

If you'd like to dance close embrace, then open your arms wide, like you're about to hug the person. Your arms are not in front of you, they are on either side of you, about to accept the other person into your arms. This is the key difference between open and close - in open embrace your arms are in front of you, blocking the other person from entering, in close embrace your arms are open wide ready to invite the person to hug you. And then you lean into them and begin to dance.

Usually I will dance close embrace with a new partner. It's easier to close my eyes and concentrate on finding a connection and maintaining it. When two bodies are melded together, it's easier to find that connection. I generally will want to dance close with a good lead - I want to feel their shoulders, their upper and lower back and really get a sense of where their feet is.

As for why I will dance open embrace - generally if its someone who creeps me out and I've somehow lapsed into momentary insanity and said yes and accepted their dance. I will also dance open if I can't stand a lead's posture (I can't begin to impart how important this is). Bad posture will kill everything in a dance. I will dance open if the lead is a beginner. OR - OR, I will dance open if the lead is really good and I'm dancing tango nuevo to alternative tango music. There are some songs I do not want to dance close to - Tango in Harlem, No Diggity, Fever, etc. I absolutely love alternative tango music and some of them are best danced open, nuevo style.


There are many postures in tango, many schools of thought. Pick and choose your own wisely.

If the lead is the Hunchback of Notre Dame, things get real difficult. Many leads from Buenos Aires bend their backs (I can't stand it!), making the female arch her back and stick her butt out. This looks really cool, but kills my lower back. I will upon occasion adopt this posture - if its someone I really want to dance with. If I don't want to arch, then the only connection I have will be from the shoulder where my arm is wrapped around them. This makes it super challenging - sometimes so challenging I give up.

My favourite posture is what I call the hug. When you go to hug someone, you don't stand stiff. The stiff posture is ten times worse than the Hunch or the Bend. It's like dancing with a telephone post. Try pivoting with that. When you hug someone, you lean into them just a tiny bit, so that your chest touches. Then you wrap your arms around them and hug. The hug is comfortable, sweet, sincere and well connected. It is not a squeeze and it is not hugging a pineapple tree. Some men's embrace is so light I wonder if they want to touch me at all. A hug is loving. And so is close embrace.

And some leads will change their embrace depending on the song, the tanda, or their moves. You may not be completely connected/attached at all times. Some men have a preference of having their follows connected at all times, others will allow you to disconnect so that you can do what you need to do. Personally, staying connected for an entire 3 minute song will drench my shirt. Not comfy.

And here's a myth I would like to de-mystify. Tango and connections can be hit or miss. I've danced with some amazing dancers before and felt... blah. Some of my friends have raved about so and so. And when I dance with this amazing so and so - nothing. Meh. Sometimes your connection will be great, but the other person thought it was okay. I've had a few leads fall in love with me when I felt bored. I've danced with some amazing dancers and thought - WTF?

By the by, if you can't have a good connection with your tango teacher, fire him/her. If your teacher can't show you how a good connection feels, they're not for you.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Please Gentlemen, I beg of you..

I'm on a tango frenzy, dancing until my feet can no longer hold me up. My head becomes an oscillating fan, turning to and fro to catch eyes or ignore cabaceos as I see fit. A nice gentlemen I had observed a few tandas before smiled at me and leaned his head towards the floor. I had watched him dance and he was so considerate of his partners, so comfortable looking that I had to find out if he was as comfortable as I had believed.

We come upon each other and I raise my right hand in offering. He accepted graciously. I raised my left hand - this is the biggie - if the left hand raised is firm and forward, in front of me - it will be open embrace. If I raise them to the side and wrap my arm around his shoulders, it will become close embrace. (Ladies, you never have to dance close embrace with anyone - open and close is a quiet, nonverbal negotiation). I opted for close embrace and wrapped my arms around him as if in a hug... and had a curious whiff of day old laundry.

Oh dear.

Please, please, please gentlemen - smell nice!
Whenever you find yourself, or know to find yourself in close proximity to the ladies, do what you can, what you must, to smell as pleasing to the female senses as possible.

In tango we ladies often dance with our eyes shut, so that we may feel our leads. What this does is shut down our sense of sight to heighten our sense of feel. What it also does is heighten every other sense out there - like the sense of smell. Maybe I'm finicky but I like to have pleasing aromas come my way and the aromatherapy is not one of "why didn't he do his laundry?" You don't have to bathe in cologne, but close embrace means that my nose will be dangerously close to your body. Shower, bathe and groom with confidence that it will go duly appreciated.

And while we're on the subject of grooming - what I would really, really like to see, especially during festival milongas - is the gentlemen change their shirts. When you dance all nighters, it's bound to get sweaty. That's ok. Everyone sweats. But at the end of the night and your badge of honour is the drippiness you leave your partners with... uhm, I didn't wear my newest, best dress for your sweat glands to try out. After one festival I was at, I had to dry clean my Oscar de la Renta dress twice before I could wear it again... one too many milonga tandas assured that I was not going to walk away dry.

While deodorant is absolutely necessary, do know that you're going to sweat. Everywhere. At one DC festival I was at, there was this gentleman that dripped from his forehead down to his beard to trickle then onto my forehead. For a second there I thought it rained. Bring a towel right along with your shoe bags my dear. And since we ladies do so much to present ourselves - our makeup, hair, shoes, clothes, perfume - the least you could do is keep us relatively dry and not offend our olfactory bulbs.

Yours always,


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Floods, Brothels & My Chinese Wedding Bed

Last fall my apartment flooded. I won't bore you with the details of how that happened, but suffice it to say I won't be sending my neighbor a holiday card this year. One rainy day I came home, opened my door and saw 3 inches of water throughout my flat.

What was my first thought as I looked at my new aquarium? It was "how am I going to get this cleaned up in time to make tonight's milonga at the Monte Cristo?" You see, even when swimming in my kitchen, I had my tango priorities straight.

So, I moved out of my flat and into a B&B called, what else, the Monte Cristo. Yes, I saw the irony of the situation. Here I was spending a lot of time tangoing at the Monte Cristo & now I was living in a place by the same name. But that's only where the twisted humor started--it was about to get worse.

After I moved into the Monte Cristo (the B&B, not the place that has the milongas), the owner informed me that it was opened originally as a brothel back in the 1870s and somehow survived the 1906 earthquake. Then he gave me the key to the only room he had left that weekend. I walked into my room and immediately saw a Victorian Canopy Bed. It was one of those frilly things women love & guys hate. I shook my head wondering what I had done to deserve this. But not wanting to dwell on the fact that I was surrounded by a roomful of lace, I changed into my tango clothes and left the Monte Cristo for the Monte Cristo.

I tangoed my tail off that weekend & before I knew it the owner of the B&B informed me I had to move out of the Victorian Canopy Bedroom and into another room. This was because a couple had reserved my specific room months earlier (I'm guessing it wasn't the husband). So, I packed my bags and followed the owner down the halls to my new room. I was happy to be out of that room. I didn't care what kind of room I was moving into--anything would be better than staying in Martha Stewart's dream bedroom.

Or so I thought.

The owner swung open the door of my new room and proudly announced "this is our Chinese Wedding Bedroom!" I started laughing at the sight of the bed feeling like I was caught in some tango twilight zone. Certainly I was on one of those video shows & my tango friends were going to jump out and yell "busted!" But, alas, no, I had just descended another level into my purgatory, which I had just made worse by offending the friendly owner who had been so clearly pleased with the room. I looked around & noticed the oddest looking shower in the corner of the room. But nothing was going to phase me at this point, not even the owner explaining to me how to use the bamboo ladder to climb 5 feet down into the shower.

So, I changed again into my tango clothes and headed out to the Metronome milonga.

This is where I learned something fascinating. Something so shocking, so heretical, so unbelievable, I wouldn't have believed it if it hadn't happened to me. What did I learn?

In certain situations, men are more sympathetic than women!

You can laugh, you can think I'm a fool, but I swear my conversations at the milonga went something like this:

Me: "Yea, my flat flooded, so I had to move into a B&B. I was staying in their Victorian Canopy Bedroom."

My female friend: "Too bad about flood, but that's great about the Victorian Bed! What color is the canopy? Do you have any photos? How tall is it?..."

Me: "Um, I'm not really sure. I had to move out of that room & into the Chinese Wedding Bedroom."

My female friend (looking at me like I'd just won the lottery): "Oh my God, what wood is it made out of? How big is it? It must be beautiful! Do you have any photos of it...?"

Ladies, I'm normally reluctant to give out advice. But if a guy ever tells you he's had to spend the last 5 nights in a Victorian Canopy Bedroom & a Chinese Wedding Bedroom, please don't congratulate him on his incredible luck. Offer him sympathy instead.

And this is where my tango brotherhood rode into town and gave me the only answer one man can give another in depressing straights like this. When I told my tango brothers the same story their response was a universal: "Damn, bro, I'm sorry to hear it--that's just wrong."

My 5 nights at the Monte Cristo turned into 5 weeks, but eventually I did move back into my aquarium. By that time I'd received so many requests for room photos from my tanguera friends, that I took the two above for this tango blog (including the ladder in the backround of the top photo).

What did I learn from this whole experience? There are just some gender divides that can never be crossed, even if you do have a bamboo ladder.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

#1 Mistake A Man Can Make In Tango

Men, we can step on her feet, stumble through our moves, and still have a fun tango with her. On the other hand, we can have awesome technique and musicality, but if we get this one thing wrong it's all over.

So, what is this #1 mistake a man can make in tango?: Not being respectful to your partner.

Respect comes in various forms:
1. Verbal respect
The most common frustration I hear from women outside of this blog is when we men give unsolicited "constructive criticism". I know because I've made this mistake before and then seen my partner's expression turn cold. Unless a brother is explicitly asked by a woman for feedback and unless he's considered a technique pro (by more people than just himself), I never recommend giving feedback.

Men, I have a simple question in this tango blog: how much do we like receiving unsolicited, negative feedback from women? Well, women want to hear our constructive criticism about as much as we do from them.

2. Body language respect
Even for our brothers that don't verbalize their constructive criticism, there is always the joy of body language. I'm talking about the frustrating sighs & looks of impatience that some of our brothers don't think women are picking up on. But as one of my female friends said after a bad tango, "He didn't have to say anything--his frustration with me was clear in his face. We were making mistakes during our tango & his body language was clearly telling me these were my mistakes."

3. Respect her body
She's the one walking backwards, not us. She has no idea if she's about to bump into someone or get a heel into her ankle, which is why it's our obligation to lead in a way that always protects her.

There's a very nice gentleman I see at milongas and good luck finding a funner guy to talk to off the floor. But once the tanda starts he leads his follow through crowds like he's playing bumper pool. I can't explain the disconnect between his friendly, off-floor personality & him being apparently unaware that the way he charges through crowds is, at best, not joyously received by other dancers and, at worst, dangerous to his partner. It's just like when we're driving home late at night with our girlfriend or wife--we have responsibility for two.

And we should also be careful not to jar women with sudden moves. I'm sorry to say I unintentionally jerked my partner once doing a move and she got a kink in her back as a result. She worked it out through the massage therapist I provided, but knowing I'd hurt my partner was the worst feeling I've ever had in dance. No more. It took me a while to realize what a teacher had always been saying: "Less is more."

So, men, the best way to impress a tanguera isn't by speeding through a crowded line of dance or surprising them with showy moves--it's through being a fun partner, connecting with her, your technique, and musicality.

But most of all, impress your partner through your spoken & unspoken respect.

How To Choose A Great Tango Teacher

As tango students we don't talk much about this publicly. But privately we talk about this all the time. What is this behind-the-door topic of conversation I wanted to add to this tango blog?:

"How good is your tango teacher?"

The truth is that not all teachers are created equal. So, if you're looking for a new tango teacher, here are some tips for finding a great one. Your tango teacher should:
1. Focus on technique more than moves. Most teachers can teach a move, but not many are excellent at teaching technique and yet it's technique that is so critical in tango. I had an interesting conversation last week with a friend who went to Buenos Aires for CITA last month. He said some of the best performers were also some of the least adept teachers. Of course, the opposite can be true, too.
2. Give you a lot of feedback. My favorite teachers have a keen eye for what their students need to improve. How much feedback does your teacher give you?
3. Be patient when you have questions. Not all teachers are this way, but my best ones are.
4. Be fun to be around. We spend a lot of money on tango lessons and we spend a lot of time with our teachers, so it helps when we enjoy spending time with them.
5. Be motivational. Some teachers are better at this than others. The best tango teachers I've ever had develop an understanding of what makes each of their students tick over time. Some students need a soft, supportive teacher while others need to be pushed with as much brutal feedback as possible. You know your learning style best, so hopefully you can find a tango teacher that matches it.
6. Loves what they do. Enthusiasm for tango can't be faked and when we see it in our teachers it increases our own motivation to keep learning.
7. Is constantly learning. Tango is a marathon without a finish line and the best teachers are constantly learning and then bringing that back into their classes. There isn't a tango teacher in the world that has reached perfection and the best ones have a great curiosity to keep learning more about tango. I'll always remember watching Nito (Nito & Elba) last summer at Nora's Tango Week. One of the other teachers knew a new move, which Nito was so excited to see that he had the other teacher who was half his age break the move down so he could learn it.

So, think about your teacher. Are you learning a lot from her/him? If so, it will be obvious as you continue to progress in practicas and milongas. But only you can know if your teacher is right for you.