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.

Monday, April 7, 2008

TangoCast: Claudia Lissette's Class at the ODC Practica

Maybe it's just the tango crowd I roll with, maybe it was for no particular reason at all, but I've never known much about Claudia Lissette's teaching. I've taken a ton of tango classes with Claudia's partner, Julian Miller, that I've always gotten a lot out of. But for some reason, even though I knew what Claudia looked like, I'd never taken one of her classes.

This was my loss.

But this all changed Friday night when I took her class at ODC before the practica (please play the audio player above to listen to my TangoCast from that practica).

So, I wanted to highlight in this tango blog the most important things I learned from Claudia's excellent class:

1. She focuses a ton on connection, which I loved. She had us do a drill where we focused just on our connection. We were connected torso to torso, swaying back & forth with our partners, but we couldn't use our arms. Then we did the same armless exercise walking together. Please try this with a partner if you haven't already--it's a great way to learn what we need to do to connect more with our partner.

2. Our torsos should always be engaged, but relaxed. Mine was too rigid & that was preventing a more natural connection with my partner.

3. Lastly, Claudia is excellent at explaining detailed technique. She didn't just show us & then let us fall apart. She went into great detail about tango posture, connection & how our bodies should feel.

Friday, April 4, 2008

4 Steps To Becoming A Great Tango Dancer

I'm not a great tango dancer, but I love studying "expert performance" and there's something that's come out of this field in recent years that can help those of us working on becoming better tango dancers. What is this fascinating finding?

Experts are made, not born.

So, what does that mean for us? How can we develop into much better tango dancers than we are today?

Well, it turns out there are actually some very clear ways to do this. Paraphrasing one of the world's thought leaders on expert performance, Professor Anders Ericcson, it all comes down to "deliberate practice". According to Ericcson, there are 4 critical elements that everyone must do to become an expert, which I've tailored below for this tango blog:

1. Set specific tango goals. Where do you want your tango to be in 1, 3, 5 years? Is your focus on becoming a better social dancer or do you want to perform or both? Do you want to become a sacada or colgada master? I have friends that want to simply enjoy tango at milongas, so they're correctly casual about their tango. But I have another friend who wants to become a leading tango teacher in America, so she has set very specific tango goals for herself (take x classes a week, take x privates a month, go to x milongas a month...). When she first told me this I felt like her tango had become so regimented that the fun must be gone. But then I realized I don't know anyone developing faster than her and she's more likely to join the ranks of great tango dancers than anyone I know. Interestingly, she does find it fun because she's making such fast progress towards her goal.

2. Focus on technique. Too often people focus more on doing as many moves as possible as opposed to focusing on technque. I made this mistake for years in salsa and it's the same in tango. Woman would rather dance with a leader who can only lead 3 moves with excellent technique versus dance with a leader who throws in 20 moves, but doesn't have much technique. When my tango technique goes through growth spurts it's always when I'm taking the most classes and privates from the great teachers, watching a lot of teaching videos (I'm watching a lot of Christy Cote's & George Garcia's videos now, which are excellent), watching video of myself, and going to a lot of practicas and milongas.

3. Get immediate feedback from your tango teachers on what you need to improve the most. It can be hard hearing this feedback at first--especially for beginners. I know--I've been there (one time in a salsa class my teacher said I was dancing like Robocop and I don't think he meant that in a good way). But this feedback is critical to our development, so ask your teacher for it. Another great way to get feedback is to video yourself. I remember how shocked I was the first time I did this. I'd never seen myself dance tango, but I had a mental image that I looked like the best of the Forever Tango performers (hubris is an amazing thing). Then I was Forever Humbled watching my video as I saw what I was--a beginner with lousy technique making a hundred mistakes. I recovered from that shock & am always using video now to get feedback from teachers, tango friends & for self-feedback.

4. Work extremely hard. This is probably the easiest element to understand, but hardest to do. It's critical to development, though, as proven by both of last years "Athlete's Of the Year" according to the Associated Press. Tom Brady, Quarterback for the New England Patriots, has long been known as the hardest working player on the team. And according to Links Players, Lorena Ochoa (# 1 women's golfer in the world) "is marked by two stunningly mature benchmarks: extraordinary discipline and a yearning to be mentored. In college, Ochoa's fitness regime was almost legendary. When the rest of the team showed up for workouts at 6 a.m., Ochoa had already completed a 10k run."

Funny thing, but it turns out that "practice does make perfect". This is why to avoid burnout as we work on our "deliberate practice" it's so important to do something we love.

And we do love tango.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

"Please Don't Disturb The Tango Fish"

Last Friday night I took most of my best non-tango friends (4 women & 1 guy) to the ODC milonga. Because I walked in last, I expected to see them inside the milonga, but, instead, they were sitting outside the dance room looking with wonder through the big glass windows. They were pointing at their favorite dancers that floated by and they practically had their faces pressed up against the glass, so much so that they looked like they were at an aquarium admiring exotic fish. Everyone was having so much fun we started tapping on the window with excitement pointing out great moves, at which point I expected a guard to come up to us and say "Please don't disturb the tango fish. These creatures are very sensitive."

But we were on the outside looking in & I wanted to tango. I asked my friends why they weren't inside & they all sang out in unison "because we don't have to worry about being asked to dance here!" My friends settled happily into their tank viewing perch, which is a play area during the day for kids (ODC makes it clear that parents have to stay with their kids with a sign on the wall that says "unattended children will be given an espresso and a free puppy").

Over the next couple of hours I tangoed and then I'd come back to listen to my friends' observations, which reminded me of how different tango looks to people seeing it for the first time.

What did my friends notice that made me want to blog about that night? Well, the intellectual, philosophical, sophisticated conversation one of my female friends and I had went something like this:

My friend: "So, is like every couple dancing married or hooking up?"
Me: "No, a few are married or dating, but most are single. Why?"

My friend: "Well, everyone is dancing so closely together"
Me: "That's true--that's why they call it a close embrace"

My friend: "But some of the women are even dancing with their eyes closed"
Me: "That's quite common--it helps women connect more with their partners"

My friend: "But that woman has her mouth so close to his ear--and they've been whispering into each other's ears the whole song"
Me: "Well, they're probably hooking up"

Even though my friends were newbies, they quickly picked out the best dancers. It only took one tango before we all agreed that one of the best male dancers was a senior who's about 70, so we admired his dancing. It was inspirational watching this senior who was proving you can be a great tanguero at any age.

So, at your next milonga sit out a tanda, relax and admire the exotic creatures in the aquarium.

Just don't disturb the tango fish.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Why I Secretly Love Dancing With Beginners

I'll always remember my first milonga (Cell Space), where I didn't know you were supposed to dance the whole tanda with your partner. So, with every woman I danced that evening I kept repeating the same faux pas of thanking them at the end of the first song and happily walking away, wondering why each woman stood there looking at me quizzically. I did this the whole evening until a friend pointed out my error.

Ah, the joys of being a beginner tango dancer.

But now that I have more experience & dance with a lot of beginners, I'm reminded of what a challenge it can be to be a beginner tango dancer. There even seems to be this mistaken belief that the more experienced partner is doing the beginner a favor by dancing with them because how could the more experienced dancer possibly enjoy tangoing with a beginner?

Not true!

So, I want to explain in this tango blog why there are so many reasons why it's great fun dancing with beginners:

1. You get to meet great new women

2. If your partner is fun then the tango is fun, regardless of your partner's level

3. It's fun to dance with people who are so excited to be learning tango

4. As a leader, it's our responsibility to help women learn Argentine tango, just like the countless women that helped us learn

5. But it's this last reason that might be a surprise. I know I never thought of it until I took a class with Oscar Mandagaran last year. He said the best way to judge your own tango level is by your ability to make a beginner look good.

I didn't fully get this at first probably because I was such a newbie myself at the time that I wasn't good enough to make a beginner look good. And even though I'm not that much further down the tango road now, I'm starting to see what Oscar meant.

So, fellow leaders, there are a lot of great reasons why we enjoy dancing with beginners. But if you need one more, take the "Beginners Challenge" & see if your lead has developed to the point that you can make a beginner look great.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

4 Secrets To George Garcia's "Lush Connection"

We've been blessed the last few weeks having George Garcia visiting from Hawaii and giving one great class after another--it's obvious why he's a Bay Area favorite. I was able to take 2 of his classes and it's hard to boil everything I learned into one tango blog post. But perhaps the biggest learning our group had was last night when George taught us how to create a "lush connection." I'm sure I won't be able to do justice to all the points George talked about or say it as poetically as he did, but here are the 4 things I took away:

1. A lush connection is about the couple expressing itself

2. The connection comes from the torso

3. Don't be afraid of touching thighs during the song as part of the connection

4. Leaders should lead with their right arm down somewhat lower on the woman's back than is normally taught. The part of the lead that comes from the right arm is not just the hand, but also the inner part of the forearm. The lead should be gentle, but clear. This is particularly true when dancing a milonga, but also applies for tango (you can see this in the video above of George dancing with the excellent SF teacher, Chelsea Eng). Our class tried this last night and it was the biggest "ah-Ha!" moment we all had. When George asked the follows afterwards how this lead felt one woman said she felt "loved". I'd never led with my right arm like this before (normally I keep it mostly stationary around her shoulder blade), but I must say I felt a much closer connection and ability to lead--especially when we danced a fast milonga.