Nancy Learns the Tango

And other forays and jaunts—on and off the dance floor

How The Vaccine Saved My Life and Ended a Friendship

“Want to get vaccinated?” my friend Eric asked me.

“Why?” I replied, “Are you vaccinating people?”

“No.” Eric said, “But Jennifer and I are on a mission to get our friends vaccinated.”

“Sure! I’ll take all the help I can get!” I said. But don’t you want to get appointments for your family?” I asked.

“Have you met my family?” Eric replied.

He went on to tell me that the Meadowlands Vaccine Mega-Site had end-of-the-day appointments for leftover and unclaimed vaccine. He sent me the link.

Eric and Jennifer are my around-the-corner neighbors. Their friendship is bestowed with the kind of enthusiastic generosity that’s makes you just love them. They’re also the kind of friends you’d want to have in a disaster. When Super Storm Sandy flooded Hoboken, where we live, they were among the few who still had power. They immediately set up a charging station in their driveway for passersby to power up. They rescued meat freezers from a beloved neighborhood restaurant and installed them in their garage. They cooked for the entire apartment building across the street. They even loaned their bathroom to a neighbor who was desperate for a hot shower. And now we have a plague, and they’re back at it.

I’m 63 and unfortunately (in this instance) very healthy. In mid-January, I didn’t fall into New Jersey’s first phase categories: Healthcare Personnel, Long-Term Care Residents, First Responders and Individuals at High Risk— which includes 64 and older. And smokers! I doubt that the half a cigarette I smoked when I was 11 at Camp Se-Sa-Ma-Ca counted.

I’ve wrestled with the ethics of getting the vaccine before my turn. But a late afternoon, use-it-or-lose-it shot of Moderna or Pfizer in upper middle class Bergen County, NJ was acceptable on my morality-meter.

Throughout the pandemic, my friends have been my salvation in this time of crisis, loss, uncertainty and isolation. In particular, two dear friends Sharon and Beth (and Brian Lehrer of WNYC) have been my constant lifelines. They have helped me cope with the collective trauma, the loss of three family members I could not properly honor, and the constant concern I feel on behalf of my parents. Thanks to my business as a dinnerware designer, I’ve been creatively and sometimes even blissfully engaged…and above water. Thanks to my one-year-old puppy, Olive—I have joy. But it’s my friends who have really gotten me through.

And now Eric and Jennifer were serving as a lifeline in a literal way—offering to help get me vaccinated.

I’ve spent a year deeply concerned about my parents, late 80s, Palm Beach County snowbirds. I pester them daily to wear masks. I plead with them to cancel all mah-jongg and bridge games. I beg them to have their two-fer Dove Bars and Ballentine’s Finest whisky delivered. And I beseech them to not invite anyone over, no matter how safe they think they’re being!!

The thing that’s caused me the most sadness and anxiety is not seeing my parents. We’ve not been together since last summer. I was one of the many who took heed, stayed away from family and had a solitary, but-for-the-grace-of-Zoom Thanksgiving.

But, time is short.

My plan was to get vaccinated, pack up Olive, and make the two-night, three-day drive to Florida. But securing one of these fleeting appointments had the feel of trying to score concert tickets on Ticketmaster. I was at the mercy of how fast I could type, or how speedily I could cut and paste my health insurance information from my handy, COVID-19 Word doc scratch pad. The anxiety of watching the appointments evaporate as I typed frantically proved to be too much. I decided to leave it be and wait.

One day, after a few days of surplus vaccine hunting, I was on the phone with Beth, as I was almost every day.

Beth, my brilliant friend, is a Da Vinci of everything. She’s a master draughtsman of industrial design: of flatware, glassware, furniture, and architecture. She designed her barn-shaped home. She taught herself the 6,000 year-old method of lost-wax carving and casting, and created a livelihood of crafting the loveliest fine gold jewelry. She’s an oracle of visual communication: of graphic design, typography, photography and social media. She has a sharp, analytical mind and can think me under a Design-Within-Reach Saarinen pedestal table when it comes to just about anything.

She’s socially concerned, cares deeply about fairness and equity and is charitable with her time and money, helping the wider community as well as her own. We’ve supported each other’s volunteer efforts. Together, we’ve written and mailed thousands of postcards to voters for campaigns up and down the ballot. I bought a ticket to her raffle featuring a gold friendship bracelet, with proceeds going to Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight. I remember saying to her that I didn’t need the bracelet because I had the friendship.

Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve been sewing masks for anyone that wanted or needed one. We discussed, refined and exchanged mask templates until we got it right. Beth suggested using the lovely and tightly woven Liberty of London fabrics, and sent me yardage of all the textiles she’d collected. I’ve donated 500 masks to a few Hoboken organizations, many of them sewn from fabrics she gave me. Oh! And of course she can cook. And it wouldn’t surprise you to learn that she cans her own homegrown garden vegetables.

I know—I’m exhausted too.

The downside of having a friend who knows and can do everything, or who strives to know and do everything, is that I’m always the student—even though I’m almost seven years her senior.

She has an irksome way of fact checking me in real time. If I mention something that she doesn’t already know, which is rare, she either becomes offended, or copy edits me, live, over the phone, by way of Google. I know it’s not her intention to undermine me, but that’s the cumulative effect.

But, through all this ducking and weaving, I still loved her. I’ve had some of the richest conversations of my life with Beth. I valued her knowledge, her curiosity, her perspective, her observations and her input, and her support.

That day, on the phone, I mentioned to Beth about my frustrating attempts at getting one of the leftover vaccines.

“You know that I have a really big problem with this, Nancy,” she said. And then quickly added, “But I’m not judging you.”

I sensed where this was going. She’d bitten my head off many times over our more than 25-year friendship. It sure felt like she was judging me, and in order to avoid being further cross-examined, I changed the topic.

A few days later, I woke up to a text from Eric that said he’d managed to miraculously book me an appointment—for that very morning. “We can take Olive,” his message read.  “And if your car is buried under a mound of snow, take ours!”

Within two hours, I was driving to the vaccination center in Holmdel—a conservative, wealthy, white-collar suburb off the Garden State Parkway.

The vaccination pop-up shop was held in the athletic-field-sized atrium of a former Bell Labs complex. Once indoors, the site was easy to locate by its telltale cluster of white collapsible tents, and the anticipated long line. As I waited my turn, the man in front of me told me he was in remission from leukemia—as is my father. The woman behind me was escorting her elderly mother in a wheelchair. As we chatted, giving each other the thumbs-up, and wishing each other well, I could not shake Beth’s disappointment in me. I couldn’t help but wonder—was I jumping the COVID-queue?

I could hear my best friend Sharon (who’s a science journalist) say, “Everyone needs to be vaccinated, and I’m thrilled that my beloved Nancy Green is going to be one more for the Hoboken herd!” I fortified myself by recounting a New York Times article that said, “If you’re offered a vaccine, take it.” The opinion piece went on to say that there’s no reason to believe that if you forgo your dose, it will go to someone with a higher risk. So, I inched my way with the rest of pack toward inoculation. I received my first dose of the coveted vaccine with a mix of quiet elation and muffled shame

I hadn’t spoken with Beth in a few days. We played a few rounds of telephone tag until we finally connected. I’d been grateful for the reprieve and I dreaded telling her that I’d gotten my first dose. I was tempted not to tell her, but that felt like a lie of omission. I had a pretty good idea that my decision to get vaccinated would make for a really uncomfortable conversation.  I was right.

After a long moment of dead silence, she reminded me that she had a serious problem with my choice. “After all the conversations we’ve had this past year about the cruelty of the previous administration, the unending need…how could you?”

“I want to see my parents,” I said.

“I want to see mine too,” she replied.

I told her that I understood what she was saying. I managed to utter a few words about the scattershot and inequitable vaccine rollout. And that I purposely did not go to impoverished Newark or Camden to deprive a poorer New Jerseyan of a vaccine.

We didn’t speak again for a week. I’ve been on the end of her silent treatment, her needing-space treatment, her taking-a-break treatment, many times before. I knew the sound of this silence.

Over the years, I’ve seen her end a few close friendships. The fall-outs have been over behaviors that she could not tolerate, could not abide. I always wondered when it would be my turn.

She called me, finally, after I’d texted her about a new Postcards to Voters campaign, It was my peace offering prompt to get the ball rolling.

The conversation that followed, my last with Beth, is a stomach-churning blur. She said something about trying to be kind, about not wanting to hurt me, about looking at her own behavior when her righteousness took such a firm grip. She said she needed some space, wished me well, and that we ought to keep in touch. I wished her well and said the door to friendship is always open.

“Goodbye Nancy,” she said.

Goodbye Beth,” I said.

The day after, my taste buds flipped out and lost their senses. Even chocolate tasted terrible. I lost my appetite. I lost weight. Sharon and my primary care physician urged me to get a rapid and then a PCR COVID-19 test. Both negative.

I didn’t have COVID, in part because of the vaccine I’d gotten. But the vaccine had exacted its own price. I was heartsick. I felt maligned. I always reasoned that there was so much value in my friendship with Beth, that I could tolerate the walking-on-eggshells part. But, the truth is that I was afraid of her and never had the courage to say what I was thinking.

It’s been a couple of months since Beth ended our friendship. Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, I’m relieved. A friend said I even sounded ebullient.

The bitter irony that getting the vaccine to stay healthy caused the end of my last unhealthy relationship is not lost on me.

Olive and I delivered a double batch of cranberry-pistachio biscotti and a bottle of champagne to Eric and Jennifer to thank them for the awesome gift of finding me a vaccine. We met outside on their doorstep and I told them that my decision to get the vaccine resulted in the end of a longtime friendship. And that at times I doubted my choice.

Eric laughed and said, “Jennifer feels the same way, and I think that’s bullshit! Don’t you feel that way for one second! With Jennifer’s Catholic-Jewish guilt, she said that when she’s fully vaccinated, she’s going to volunteer somewhere unsafe. And me? I’m going to a bar.”

Perhaps I’ll join him.

©Nancy Green 2021

Postcards From Left of Center

Since the beginning of this never-ending U.S. election season, writing postcards to voters has been part of my daily domestic hygiene routine. It’s right up there with hand washing, flossing, making my bed, and listening to Brian Lehrer on WNYC. The act of hand writing positive messages, over and over, has both given me solace and offered an antidote to the onslaught of daily—somehow still shocking—frightening and egregious news. 

I’m one of thousands of volunteers who joined Postcards to Voters to send handwritten, friendly reminders, encouraging Democrats to vote in key races up and down the ballot—in every state. Tony McMullin, known to us postcarders as “Tony-the-Democrat,” founded the group in 2017. It began with a handful of people trying to support Jon Ossoff’s first congressional race. It’s swelled into a movement with more than 75,000 volunteers writing for 238 campaigns, and this year, creating a river of more than 8 million postcards; 1200 of them are mine.

What used to get me out of bed in the morning was a bagel and cream cheese. I never would have imagined the thing that would jump-start my day was saving our Democracy.

“Mom, are you wearing the KN95s I sent? Promise me that you and dad will wear them when you go to Publix or Costco, or when you pick up a hot-pastrami special at Flakowitz Deli.”

“What do you mean you have a bridge game? With who? Oh, it’s online, okay good.”

“Mom, listen, gotta go, I’ll call you later—I’ve got to flip the senate!”

This was the most important election of my lifetime, and after the relentless havoc of the past four years, I was wiped out—and didn’t know what to do. My friend Suzanne, who I often run into when we’re walking our dogs for their morning constitutional, told me about Postcards to Voters

I went to their website, followed the instructions, and emailed a hand written practice postcard as part of their approval process. Postcards to Voters is a self-service, get-out-the-vote interactive enterprise. Once my handwriting sample was deemed legible, I was introduced to Abby the Address Bot. I text HELLO, and my bot-bestie cranks up her address machine, sends addresses, instructions, and even words of encouragement:

Nancy, thanks for all you do

Nancy, keep up the great work

Nancy, I really like your style

Nancy, I know you’re going to make voters smile

This postcard project requires that the card’s imagery be issue-neutral, and that we hand-write them and incorporate a three-sentence script. If I write small enough, and there’s room leftover, I can pick and choose from a list of additional items that they trust me to reword or combine, as long as the message remains the same:

-Relying on science, not politics to beat COVID-19

-Taking climate change seriously

-Taking big money out of politics

-Voting is your Superpower!

– I’m volunteering to write this because the stakes are so high

-Thank you for being a voter

Although I’ve been postcarding in a pandemic vacuum, just knowing that thousands are doing the same makes me feel like I’m part of a team. Though I’m more alone than ever before, somehow it evokes the cooperative nature of a quilting bee, crossed with pen-pal correspondence—even if one-sided. 

A number of friends are also part of this solitary, do-it-yourself mission. On the phone, we’ve compared methods and procedures while we’ve written our way through the campaigns: presidential, congressional, and then the Georgia runoff. 

Finding the right postcards felt like an important decision. A “voter postcard” industry has popped up and flourished to cater to all your get-out-the-vote needs. Postcards to Voters sells volunteer-designed cards and there’s a wide assortment on Etsy. But what message to chose? YOUR VOTE MATTERS, or CHANGE REQUIRES ACTION, or YOUR VOTE = YOUR VOICE, or BE A VOTER?

A friend who’s a brilliant designer—was the driving force behind a blue and white billboard on PA Highway 81 that said, “IF YOU’RE SEEING THIS, THERE IS STILL TIME TO VOTE THEM ALL OUT!” Okay, it wasn’t exactly issue-neutral, but it was pretty darn good messaging—depending on which side of the billboard you stood. She designed a series of graphically elegant and succinct cards on thick, refrigerator-worthy stock. They were my preferred cards—until I was inspired to design my own!

With a tall stack of postcards, rolls of 35-cent stamps, and a book bag’s worth of back-to-school supplies, it was time to begin writing. I settled in at my claw-footed, drop-front writing desk to do my part to protect our Democracy—one postcard at a time.

The next decision was what pen to use? As a left-of-center lefty, I always have to mind the southpaw-smudge, as I drag my hand across a once perfectly good and fresh sentence. Consulting with another left-hander, we concurred that the quick-drying, quotidian and dependable Sharpie is the only way to go. Black or blue Ultra Fine Point, of course. 

Another handy tip I picked up was using an assembly line method to get out the message. I’d start with the salutation, Dear Partner in Democracy, on a stack of maybe 10-20 postcards. I’d then write the next sentence on each card, which for the last 500 cards has been: Elect Democrats Ossoff + Warnock for Senate. Then on to the next sentence, and the next, until I wrote my way down to the signature, then over to the address, and lastly the stamp.

At first I balked at this almost robotic process. I felt disconnected from the message. I hoped that the recipient wouldn’t sense the impersonal nature of conveyor-belt campaign correspondence and toss it in the trash. It was a leap of faith to write to someone I didn’t know, even if a fellow Democrat. But the trade-off of not being deeply involved in the narrative was that I was a postcard-writing machine, and mailed hundreds of postcards.

The process evolved. A watershed moment came when a friend asked if I was using highlighters. Highlighters! I grabbed a KN95 mask, ran over to CVS and bought a few packs of vividly colored, chisel-tipped markers. I found that when used judiciously, the graphic power of highlighters grabs attention, punctuates the message, and declares a call to action.

I also began to color-code. The word “democracy” was usually blue—though as a nod to changing one’s colors, I sometimes used purple. Green was for a candidate’s platform on environmental issues, neon yellow was for election dates and times, and fluorescent pink was for imperatives! 

Though really, who was I kidding? Highlighting, underlining and coloring with a rainbow palette’s worth of felt tip markers is just a whole lot of fun.

 But as I was writing, I couldn’t help wondering about the effectiveness of this pursuit, the hours spent, the millions of cards landing in mailboxes across the country? Tony the Democrat thinks it’s falls somewhere in between door-knocking and phone-banking. 

So what prompted me to write these postcards?  Why did I spend so much energy on this sequestered citizen-activist pursuit? I wrote because:

Kids ripped from their parents and held in cages.

Black Americans murdered while driving, while jogging, while sleeping, while holding a sandwich.

You can’t negotiate with white supremacy.

Hundreds of corpses stacked in refrigerator trucks.

Drilled decimated wild lands.

People have lost their jobs, their health insurance. 

Fellow citizens are hungry, and they’re being evicted.

Inequality, the suffering, the hypocrisy, the grift, the lying, the hatred, the violence.

Because, because, because…

Because we can do better.

I wrote postcards nearly every day from the first week in September until December 29th, which was the mailing deadline for the January 5th Georgia runoff election. While I had no way of knowing what direct effect my cards would have, the act of writing them had a surprising effect on me. I became personally invested in candidates and campaigns that had nothing to do with me. Or so I thought. I wrote for Ohio’s Supreme Court Justices, for Texas’ 22nd Congressional District, and for Alabama’s State House District 49—to name a few.

I had become an engaged American citizen.

As I signed and stamped my last postcard, I hoped for a world where everyone can make a living wage and had access to affordable healthcare. A world where the needs of people and the planet take precedence over corporate profits. A world ruled by empathy and kindness.

I hoped for mailbox magic.

Yours in Democracy,

Nancy—a volunteer.




How I Stopped Swiping Left on


She called him “Eli Honey-Boy.”

There were photos of him sitting on her lap, smiling. There was a photo of the two of them walking companionably along the Hudson River. There were even photos of him peeking out sheepishly from under the covers.

As I creeped his deceased owner’s Facebook page, I felt a pang of sadness. Even though she had died, and Eli, this sweet furry boy was sitting by my feet, I still couldn’t help but wonder: Did he miss her? Did he long for their former life together? Was he happier with her?

That was the moment I realized that I was falling for him. It had only been two weeks and Eli, my adopted Tibetan Terrier, had already taken a dog-biscuit-shaped piece of my heart. He was tall, long-legged, and black and white, with the two-tone shagginess of an Old English Sheepdog. And he was exceedingly handsome.

I’d lost my beloved Tingri, a beautiful, petite, gray and white Tibetan, in the summer of 2015. We had a good long 15-year run together. In the last year of her life, she developed bladder cancer. She ended up in doggie-diapers: modified Pampers Cruisers, with a hole cut out to accommodate for her tail—and then reinforced with Gorilla Tape so they wouldn’t leak. She developed a crafty, Houdini-like maneuver of removing her diaper in the middle of the night, and in the process ripped her nappy to shreds, spilling its urine-soaked contents all over the rug. Early in the morning on my way to the bathroom, I’d often step in her discarded project—the gooey absorbent-gel squishing between my toes. Around that time, my vet called to begin the conversation about her deteriorating condition, the pain she may be enduring, and her quality of life. She said that it was time to start thinking about letting her go. When she died a few months later, it was a relief to know she was no longer suffering. I’d promised to love and care for her since she was an adorable ball of fluff, and although heartbreaking, the decision to let her go was the greatest honor I could bestow. It was my final act of love.

Yet there was a hole in my heart, and a hole in my home.

It took a couple of years for the reflexive, daily habits of our longtime partnership to fade. Eventually, I stopped having to be careful to not step on her as I swiveled out of bed each morning, as she had liked to sleep on the floor, bedside, on top of my slippers. When I left the house, I left alone and had two fewer things to grab as I walked out the door: I no longer needed a leash or poop bags—only my keys. I had no one to check in with, to worry about, to feed, to groom, or to scratch behind the ears. No one to pet or hug, or to say I love you to. My apartment felt empty and still. It had lost its heartbeat.

Not long after Tingri died, someone I knew—who happened to be a life coach and who happened to not like dogs—informed me that the timetable for mourning the loss of a pet is three months. Max. When he rambled on, citing the schedule for mourning the loss of parent, I got up and walked away. It was then that I knew the exact worth of unbidden advice.

Good friends, in their effort to cheer me up, would sometimes ask when I’d be getting anther dog. The decision on when or whether to become a dog owner again is profoundly personal, ranging somewhere between the next day, and never again. I didn’t know where I’d land on that timeline, but I was pretty sure it was between ten years and never again.

Though six months later, while I was waiting for heartbreak to turn the corner toward sorrow, I registered with the Tibetan Terrier Club of America Rescue program—just in case I was ready a lot sooner than never again.

I also sought some solace in doggie-window-shopping by taking a daily scroll through It’s a heartening pick-one-from-column-A and one-from-column-B, build-your-own-companion venture. The menu bar options include Find a Dog, Find a Cat—and Find Other Pets. You can adopt something small and furry, as well as a wide range of other sentient beings with scales, fins, wings, and you can even adopt a barnyard animal.

In the Small and Furry section, I discovered Megabyte, Kenzie, Harper and Frannie: with enough love in your heart, you could provide a forever home for four adorable young chocolate and white, short-coated rats—all girls. They were rescued from a life of lab research in North Carolina and at the time were being fostered in Brooklyn. Their profile said that they were fearful and untrusting at first, but were beginning to engage in natural ratty behavior, such as shredding up newspaper and building forts, or finding new hiding places for their food hoarding endeavors. They were house-trained and preferred a home without dogs, cats or children.

I read about “Miracle” in the Scales and Fins section: a one-and-a-half year old special needs bearded dragon from Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Miracle had muscular dystrophy. Her profile said that while she could flip herself over, she didn’t move around that much. She was on a diet of dubia roaches (a medium-sized cockroach sold in pet stores that normally won’t infest your home) and specially formulated reptile veggie burgers; sometimes, she required syringe feeding. There was a regal portrait of Miracle draped over a twig, staring off into the middle distance of her 40-gallon tank.

These were not the animals for me. While I might have enough room in my heart for various scaly, furry, winged and cloven-hoofed creatures that were looking for their permanent homes, I only have enough room in my life and my urban railroad apartment for a small-to–medium-sized dog, so I clicked back to the “adopt-a-dog” section.

Petfinder featured more than 3,000 pages of adoptable dogs. It listed 257 varieties from purebreds to mixed breeds to lovably odd spare-parts dogs, resulting in an abundance of possibilities for canine companionship. There are dropdown filters for location (ten miles to anywhere); age (puppy, young, adult and senior); preferred size; (SM, MD, LG and XL) and preferred gender.

In the mixed-breed section, I found Clarita, a two-year-old Cocker Spaniel mix, handsome with his silky caramel coat, his ears drooping past his chin. His hind legs had been paralyzed after being hit by a motorcycle in his home country, Mexico.

He was rescued and sought asylum in New York where he was waiting for his forever home. His profile noted that he could roll over for belly rubs, wanted only to be in your lap, and was good with other dogs. The photos of Clarita looked as if he were poised and posed for adoption. Even though he’s propped up on his forepaws, back legs limply splayed out, his comportment is untroubled, contented and seemingly ready for love.

There were thousands and thousands of photos of dogs with floppy ears, pointed ears, expectant bright eyes, heads cocked to one side, under-bites, over-bites, freckled noses, furrowed brows and tails drooping or in mid-wag. Their coats of hair or fur were single, double or smooth-coated, wire-haired, short-haired and long-haired, straight, curly, wavy or fleecy—and spanned the canine color palette from blacks, browns, chestnuts, reds, apricots, golds, grays, blues, silvers, creams and whites. These canines sported an endless array of patterns and markings: bi-color, tri-color, parti-color, striped, brindle, roan, harlequin, merle, tuxedo, dotted, spotted and solid. Their sorrowful or hopeful take-me-home demeanors stared right into me from the screen. Looking through these galleries of pups was a lesson in extremes, both joyous and heartbreaking. I saw the horror of what humans do to animals, and the beneficent kindness of what humans do for animals.

This is quite a different experience from searching for a human companion online. Unlike searching for a new pet, internet dating feels more like a dispiriting chore than a promising search for an intimate friend, dinner companion, hiking buddy, or someone to snuggle with. Every once in a while, when I get the notion to find a human partner, I try to clean up my attitude, log on to (or now that I’m in the early days of my sixties I’ve been relegated to, and hunt, peck and swipe my way through the eligible bachelors.

I have a bias for men younger than my 88-year-old father, but who are as kind. I have a soft spot for men who will date women their own age. Social, environmental and economic justice-for-all politics is compulsory. I prefer a member of the spiritual–but-not-religious faith, someone who has a good sense of (my) humor, someone who is able to drive at night, grooms himself, and can string an intelligent sentence together. It would be best if he was relatively fit, loved to hike, might be interested in learning to dance the Argentine tango, and is—or could be—a dog person.

I know it’s a tall order. When my enthusiasm inevitably lagged, and when I couldn’t bear to look at one more profile, I switched back to Petfinder—where the only “hook-up” I was interested in was clipping a leash to a collar and taking my dog-to-be for a walk. While tongues hanging out, matted hair, and plaintive looks from behind bars would be a deal breaker when looking on, on Petfinder, they are reasons to take a second look.

Then, last October, while I was at my desk working, quietly minding my own business, I got a call from a Tibetan Terrier breeder whom I’ll call Angela. “Nancy” she said, “I have a four-and-a-half year-old Tibetan and he’s house broken if you’re looking for a good Tibetan.”

“It’s Eli,” she said.

Eli had been up for adoption through Angela a few years back. At that time I was nowhere near ready for another dog—and he wasn’t my type. I didn’t want a male dog, I didn’t want a dog over 25 lbs, and I didn’t want a black or mostly black dog. I wanted a dog that was more like my beloved Tingri: a little 22 lb. girl, her wavy long coat, a pretty brindle of taupe, gray and white.

A week before, I’d been scanning the Tibetan Terrier Facebook page. The page is just what you’d imagine, an endless feed of impossibly adorable puppies and stories of their naughty behavior. There are photographs and videos of shaggy dogs bounding through fields, splashing along shorelines, and diving snout-first for a rollicking roll in the mud. It also serves as a crowd-sourcing site for health and training tips, and for rescuing and rehoming dogs in need. Sadly, it also serves as a doggie obituary page where condolences can be expressed with a click of a heart or crying-face emoji to those whose dogs have died, and gone over the rainbow bridge. Sometimes though, it’s the owners who’ve gone over the rainbow bridge—and I’d seen a post, which is how I knew Eli was in need of a new home. I was not surprised when Angela called me—in fact I was expecting it.

So, with a half-nod towards being open-minded, I told Angela I’d drive over to meet Eli, so at least I’d know what I was about to say no to. I fully expected not to adopt him, but I grabbed my checkbook anyway.

I enlisted my best friend Sharon, who has a keen sensitivity to animals, and she has a house full of them. She’s been rescuing critters all her life, and now as a journalist writes about big cats, wildlife trafficking, and not often enough—animal rescue. Even though this was a potential dog rescue, I picked her up at the dentist, fresh from a root canal, and off we went to Angela’s home in a wooded part of New Jersey.

She’d rescued Eli as pup from a down-at-the-heels breeder, kept him for a couple of years with her pack of Tibetans and then adopted him out to a couple who were older empty-nesters. Two years later, the woman developed terminal cancer, her husband dropped Eli off at Angela’s and he declined to pick him up after his wife’s funeral.

Angela met us at the door with Eli trailing right behind her, dapper in his black and white tuxedo markings. He was tentative at first, sniffing his way around us a few times, but keeping a little distance. And then he flopped over on his back, paws in the air, legs spread, and presented his soft, speckled belly for a rub—which I did with one hand, as I fumbled for my checkbook with the other.

I knew there’d be an adjustment period for this four-and-a-half-year-old, passed-around pup, but how do you explain to a dog being uprooted one more time? He’d have to learn to trust yet again, to get used to his new person, adjust to another home, and new routines. He started out as a country dog, became a suburban dog and was about to become a city dog, and downsize to a backyard-less, main street, third-floor walk-up apartment. He’d have to get used to walks on cement, exercising in dog-filled city dog runs, and his new view of the world would be from three-stories up. One of us was about to become the other’s support animal, but I wasn’t sure who’d be wearing the therapy vest in our family.

So, with Eli by my side, carrying a bag with his few belongings we walked to the car.  Along with Angela’s parting words of well wishes she said: “He makes a noise when he goes.”

Makes a noise when he goes? When he goes where?

It took only until the next morning to understand what she meant. Eli screeched in pain when he defecated. And I don’t mean a little squeak or squeal: it sounded like I was killing him as he extruded off-curb. When he was done, he returned to the sidewalk as if nothing had happened. I stood there, rattled, left holding the bag (of poop)—and wondering what had just happened.

So began a five-month campaign to get to the bottom of the pain in Eli’s bottom.

On many mornings, I could be seen on Hoboken’s busy main street, crouched behind a yelping, pooping dog, iPhone in hand, taking documentary action videos. It was evidence I was using with vets as I tired to figure out what was wrong with him, and to plead my case to Angela and with her help to the Tibetan Terrier Health and Welfare Foundation for medical help and financial assistance to cover the ever-growing vet bills.

When I looked at his prior medical records, the first vet noted that his rectum was inflamed and he vocalized with BMs but they offered no diagnosis.

The second vet did a rectal exam, found that his anal glands were normal, prescribed antibiotics, suggested it could be behavioral—and again, offered no diagnosis.

The third vet did the same rectal exam; his anal glands were still normal. He did an ultrasound, took a set of X-rays, noted that everything else looked normal, shot him up with an extended-release steroid, a prescription for a nerve blocker—and gave me a hands-up-in-the-air, shrug of a diagnosis that some dogs “just cry when they defecate.”

The fourth vet did the rectal exam, found his anal glands were yet again normal, did a sonogram, reviewed the X-rays that were sent over by vet #3, all other systems were normal—and he, too, had no idea what was wrong. He recommended examining his digestive system both from above and below with an endoscopy and a colonoscopy.

My mother had suggested a number of times that I contact Eli’s previous owner to see if I could learn something that could help my poor dog, I didn’t want to do that. “Mom, he just lost his wife,” I said. “Angela has already been in touch with him,” I said, and she’d already relayed that information from him. “Well you should call him anyway!” she said. Then the motive for her persistence became clear: this man was newly single and my mother had a dream—and a plan.

“Why don’t you write a story about meeting and falling in love with the widower—a love story about how he gets his dog back.” she asked.

“Mom, that’s not part of the story,” I said.

“Well write it anyway,” she said.  “If Nicholas Sparks wrote it, it would be a best seller.”

After four different animal clinics or veterinary hospitals, countless rectal exams, suppositories, stool softeners, topical ointments, antibiotics, nerve blockers, steroids, CBD oil for anxiety, canned pumpkin to help with digestive regularity, lots of hand-wringing and hand washing, tons of cleaning up and disinfecting, a couple of thousand dollars in vet bills—and headed for a $3,500 colonoscopy—I was downhearted and feeling hopeless. After five months of seeing my dog in pain and having to be on constant alert for his sudden, daily, involuntary, almost-out-the-door accidents—I was worn out. As a last ditch effort, I sent the action-videos to my dog trainer, and she sent them to on to her vet. It was the astute, life-saving vet #5 who diagnosed Eli with a variant of Inflammatory Bowel Disease. With constant monitoring, meds and a specially tailored diet—while not curable, it was treatable.

He was finally going to get better.

But in between his bowel movements, Eli and I had settled into a routine. We took our daily constitutionals around the neighborhood, I was proud to walk alongside him. With his wooly white paws, he had the proud stature and high-stepping gait of a Clydesdale. We ambled along Hoboken’s majestic Hudson River shoreline, visited our postage stamp-size dog parks, stopped by our local pet shops, and met up with friends and their dogs. It was good to be at the other end of a leash again.

As we adjusted to our new life together, my ideas and preferences of what I’d thought I wanted in a dog were slowly debunked, one by one. One reason I hadn’t wanted a male dog was because they marked on anything vertical, from pillar to post. But Eli squatted and peed like a girl. I didn’t want a dog that was larger than Tingri, but there was more of him to love. I didn’t want a dog with a black coat because I thought I wouldn’t be able to see its expressive, deep brown eyes—but I trimmed his bangs, and in no time, as Rex Harrison sang in My Fair Lady, I’d grown accustomed to his face.

But then at about the six-month mark, his behavior began to change. Or perhaps it was changing all along and I was so caught up in his health crisis that I didn’t notice. Or couldn’t notice. Eli began to resource guard one of his most important resources: his home—our apartment. I watched him growing more anxious by the day, increasing to the point where he’d flip out, bark in high-pitched yelps, and charge the door at any noise he heard in the hallway. It escalated to the point that I had to keep him on a leash indoors when anyone came over because he’d lunge and snap at everyone: friend, neighbor, plumber and even the dog walker. And eventually, he developed a record—the dreaded, troublesome, liability-prone, bite history.

After consulting my vet, dog trainer, a veterinary behaviorist and Sharon, I considered my options: muzzling him; giving him anti-anxiety meds; investing in expensive behavior modification training; never having anyone in my apartment ever again; moving into a single-family home—or rehoming Eli instead of rehoming me. I’d become so attached to him, but I knew that I could not warp my life around his pain anymore than I already had. For weeks I agonized over what I should do, but in the end, I made the best decision for both him and me—which made it no less painful. He wasn’t happy in an urban apartment. So I began the process, called Angela and the Tibetan Terrier Foundation to ask that they find another, better suited home for Eli. That unleashed a flood of scolding, wrath, hysteria, and shame.

I was scolded for opting to not crate Eli—who was housebroken—as per the instructions I was given when I adopted him. It was thought that not crating him could have led to some of his anxious behavior. I bore the wrath of the rescue foundation for breaking my adoption contract after six months. I then suffered their hysteria: a dog with a bite history is difficult to rehome, and if Eli bit again, he’d have to be put down. And then there was the paralyzing shame I felt in breaking my promise to Eli, to love and care for him always, my sweet, troubled, beautiful, black and white boy.

After he was gone, I stumbled upon an excerpt from the book Dog Is Love in the Washington Post that said, “Dogs fall in love much more easily than people do, and they also seem able to move on much more easily than people can.” I ached for Eli and feared that I’d further traumatized him by giving him up, but the article noted that there was evidence that dogs were not as distressed from upheaval as we think they may be. Then I read in an article about dealing with guilt after giving away your dog that called dogs “survivors” because they are so adaptable. They can adjust to a new home so quickly that I might even feel offended at being replaced so easily.

I was hoping that Eli was so wildly happy in his new world that I might have the chance to feel offended.

This was not the story I’d set out to write. It began as a story of falling in love with a dog again after living without one for almost four years. It was supposed to be a story about going against my mulish preferences and opening my heart to something new. It was to be a shaggy-dog story of who rescued whom.

Though as it turned out, all those things did happen. I did fall in love again. I did change my dogged ideas of what I wanted in a dog, and I did open my heart to something different.

As to who rescued whom, even though the experience was so hard, and I couldn’t keep Eli in the end, I helped a dog that needed help.

Eli now lives in rural Ohio with a pack of other rescued Tibetan Terriers. I’ve seen a few photos of him, bright-eyed, tail up and smiling. He has a lot of land to run around on, and I hear he even has a horse.

But…my shaggy dog story does not end there.

Many months later, on my last foray into the world, just as the pandemic was hitting the fan, Sharon and I drove to Maryland to pick up a puppy that I’d reserved B.C. (before COVID-19).

I’d not planned to get a puppy to keep me company during the plague, but it fortuitously worked out that way. Now as I obey Hoboken’s stay-at-home–order, I have the joyous, quarantine-company of an adorable, busy, apricot ball-of-fluff, 13-week-old mini Labradoodle; Olive. My heart is full, and my home once again has its heartbeat.


©Nancy Green 2020































































Tango, Toilet Conversion, Tibetan Elders and the National Dish of Bhutan

“For only $85 you are welcome to, but not required to, sponsor a toilet during this event,” read the tri-fold color brochure from the Himalayan Elders Project.

The copy went on to say that the Himalayan community of New York was throwing an unprecedented dinner party featuring cuisine prepared and served by members of the unique cultures that make up the mountainous region. Funds raised from the Himalayan food festival were to benefit the Toilet Conversion Project. The flier was also illustrated with color photos of toilets, lids up, and ready to go. Curious as to what in the heck a toilet fundraiser entailed, and although Himalayan and cuisine are two words I’d never used in the same sentence—at least not above 16,000 feet, I felt this was an event I could get behind.

Earlier that day, my friend, and sometime Argentine tango partner Bruce asked me if I wanted to stop off at a Himalayan food festival in Elmhurst before an evening of tango in Astoria. Even though I prefer dancing tango on an empty stomach, because I don’t want it or the remembrance of garlic and onions past to come between my partners and me, I just couldn’t pass up an evening of interborough-globetrotting. I thought it would be nice to break bread—or roti—with some Sherpa (etymologically speaking: people from the east). Though this time it would be a lot closer to home, east of Manhattan, in the most ethnically diverse urban area in the world; Queens.

The Himalaya has been the stuff of my dreams. I love its sparsely populated, remote, magnificent high places. Ever since I first glimpsed the colossal, snowy-peaked mountain range from the flat, potted-plant safety of the roof garden of my hotel in Gangtok, India—I was hooked. I was captivated from the moment I met our pack animals; a train of shaggy, snorting, bell clanging yaks in the Indian Himalaya. I welcomed the challenge of pin-balling my way through a far-as-the-eye-can-see boulder field in Bhutan, with no real discernable trail—save for a muddy yak print now and then. I was awestruck when at 18,000 feet I first sighted the East Face of Everest from Tibet. It took my breath away—literally.

When I’m home at sea level, I do whatever I can to evoke these adventures. Whether it’s cinching up my backpack and hiking the Hudson Highlands, or whether I’m chatting with an Uber-driving New York City Nepalese Sherpa, I’m brought right back to the Roof of the World.

Looking forward to a banquet of Himalayan fare, and wondering what toilets were being converted to, I invited my adventure-travel trekking buddy Fran. As the event was practically in her neighborhood, she readily accepted. Plans made, Bruce and I hopped on the R Broadway local in Manhattan and popped up in Elmhurst. We joked along the way: Why wasn’t a fundraiser for toilets being held in Flushing?

The benefit took place at the United Sherpa Association’s gonpa, or temple. The gonpa was housed in a modest, deconsecrated red brick church that was built in 1947. With its Gothic pointed arch roof and trefoil window, it looks like your typical neighborhood place of worship. Though now in its new incarnation, with its vermillion carved columns and its vividly painted, handcrafted cornice in the Tibetan style, it’s immediately obvious that this building is no longer a Lutheran church. The outside is adorned with primary-colored Buddhist prayer flags. They spread good will and compassion throughout the Elmhurst neighborhood, as they flutter in the wind.

Bruce and I met up with Fran in the wood paneled basement of the former church. In its six decades, the community rec-room had likely seen its share of raffles, bingo games and AA meetings. But now it hosts the teachings of the Buddha, religious festivals, and Tibetan language and dance classes. That same day, they’d also hosted a dice game competition: The New York Sho Championship. This lively game is played by slamming down a wooden dice cup onto a yak-leather pad that sits in the center of a clockwise spiral of shells. Sho is traditionally a gambling game played by men.

The gathering had the joyous camaraderie of multigenerational families at a rural, mountainside Sherpa grange hall. Kids were running about as wizened elders quietly counted their prayer beads, their faces permanently ruddy and weather beaten from years of cooking over yak-dung fires in windswept mountains. The younger had the smooth skin of a city life spent indoors with gas ranges and central heat. But all of them, and their forbears were connected in some way to the 1500-mile-long Himalayan range.

Even though we were in a 1970’s nondescript brown-paneled cellar, the people in the room evoked the majesty of the Himalaya. Many wore traditional clothing, with layers of vivid hued textiles from their varied homelands. Some women wore a chuba, Tibet’s national dress: an ankle-length robe that’s wrapped and tied with a wide sash, topped by a colorful three-column striped apron, known as a pangden. Originally the apron was utilitarian, worn as an extra layer in the frigid high peaks, used a hot pot mitt when cooking over a fire, or as a handy cloth to wipe a child’s face. The pangden became a sign of marital status; modern Tibetan women now wear this distinctive garment as pure ornament.

I spotted a few young women who were obviously Bhutanese, decked out in the country’s unique, elegant traditional finery: the kira. This brightly colored, intricately handwoven long dress (though some choose the more modern half-kira), and is worn with a wide-cuffed blouse. Putting on a kira takes some skill and dexterity to negotiate its seven steps of draping, wrapping and tucking. The origami-like folded garment is then fastened at the shoulders with ornate silver clasps.

We helped ourselves to steaming cups of butter tea that tasted like a salty broth, and took our seats as we waited for the event to commence. Sonam Sherpa, one of the evening’s hosts, stepped up onstage sporting an embroidered, side-buttoned tunic. With microphone in hand, he thanked us for coming and began to explain in Tibetan and in English the purpose of the fundraiser.

He told us that the Toilet Conversion Project was an initiative to convert squat-style toilets into Western upright ceramic models. It was conceived earlier that year when the founders of the New York Himalayan Elders Project traveled to northern India to meet with older Tibetans. In talking with these seniors, they discovered that many were hesitant to use the ground-level toilets for fear of injury; and so identifying an easily fixable quality-of-life issue. The issue being that a squatting toilet, as the name implies, requires one to squat while using it. Resting on one’s haunches is a natural position for elimination, letting gravity do the work and making the process more complete as it were. Even though many of the toilets have rope handholds to assist, it’s getting up from a crouching position that presents the problem. This is especially difficult for those of advanced age, and those with mobility challenges. As a result, many seniors are hesitant to drink water or countless cups of beloved yak butter tea. While trying to avoid the risk of breaking a hip, they are in danger of becoming dehydrated. Not to mention that a squatting privy is certainly a place where one might like to avoid any I’ve-fallen-and-I-can’t-get-up situations.

During my treks through the Himalaya, I’d had many opportunities to visit and utilize some of the region’s diverse and challenging WC facilities. Some of which were downright life-threatening, like the one that had me balancing over a dugout pit in a sentry-like canvas toilet-tent teetering on a Nepalese mountainside. One wrong move would have required crevasse rescue. And there was the one in Ladakh, where I had to clamber up a slapdash, bamboo-rung ladder to a two-story-long-drop, reeking open-air outhouse—that had a downward sloping slippery mud floor with a hole big enough to fall into—in the rain!

Although the squatters that were ripe for the Toilet Conversion Project were indoor private privies that mostly sat on level ground, harmless enough for those with good balance and quad strength, they were none-the-less treacherous for the elderly Tibetans.

Sonam explained in more detail that since the water pipes and septic systems were already in place, this simple plumbing job could easily bring relief to many. The cost of replacing the old porcelain floor-level style toilets with gleaming new Western throne models would be $85 each. If we’d like to make the extra contribution, we could sponsor a toilet. Perhaps in the same spirit as commemorating a park bench or adopting a highway—brass plaque included?

Then he announced that dinner was served. He asked that in keeping with their deep respect for elders, please allow those of advanced age to be the first in line at the buffet table. Fran, Bruce and I waited patiently, sipping our butter tea and chatting with the young couple seated near us. We waited for the dozen or so senior guests to help themselves to dinner. We waited for an elderly man to stop working his prayer beads and get in line. We scanned the room and looked toward the food tables to get an idea of when it might be our turn, but hardly anyone had lined up. It suddenly occurred to me that as I was on the downward slope of my 50s, and Fran was at the tail end of her 60s, that we were the elders! The two of us burst out laughing.

We left Bruce seated—he’s just a kid in his 40s—and stepped up to fill our plates. We scanned the row of canned-heat steam trays that were piled high with rice, noodle and meat dishes. The first corrugated aluminum pan was stacked with a mountain of shaphaley (Tibetan beef patties), that’s served with the requisite hot, red chili sauce. We were served a helping of Sikkim satchu, a smoking-hot dried beef curry. Next was a tray of fiery-orange shogo khatsa, a potato dish from Kalimpong; a hill station home to the Indian Army’s 27thMountain Division. We moved along to a chafing dish of a sweat-inducing pork stew with fermented bamboo shoots, a traditional dish from Nagaland; known for its historic rituals of feasting and head hunting.

But the spiciest of them all was ema datshi, the national dish of Bhutan, a concoction of surprising ingredients: a burning mix of red and green chilies floating in a cheesy sauce made from yak or cow’s milk curd. Bhutanese cooking is not for the faint of heart. They consider the chili a vegetable, and not a spice. Making it more Tex-Mex than Indian Subcontinent. The first time I’d tried this comfort food (in Bhutan), I was launched into a desperate panic for a frosty Corona, or its local equivalent, or anything at all that could quench and prevent myself from going into complete shock.

I noticed that one of the event’s other hosts, Thupten Chakrishar was not partaking in the banquet.  When I asked him why, laughing, he said that the food was too spicy and burned just as much on the way out as on the way in. His unselfconscious manner and matter-of-fact way of alluding to a bowel movement (at a buffet dinner no less), was in keeping with the evening. It occurred to me that during the entire toilet-conversion presentation, there was a noticeable absence of nervous laughter—and no potty humor. If this had been a community meeting in my neighborhood, the embarrassed chortling and lavatorial jokes would have been flying.  But a gathering like this would not have happened in my increasingly homogeneous and ever- gentrifying region of the world, Hoboken, New Jersey.

At the end of the evening’s events, we bid farewell to our hosts. “Tashi Delek,” we said, which is Tibetan for may all auspicious signs come to this environment. Bruce and I then said goodbye to Fran and ducked underground again, only to emerge five stops later in Astoria for the dancing portion of our evening. On our walk from the subway to the Centro Español de Queens where the Astoria Tango Club meets, I couldn’t help but marvel at this community’s mix of cultures that lived and worked shoulder-to-shoulder and storefront-to-storefront, home to a United Nation’s worth of peoples, languages and cuisines. The neighborhood was bustling and chockablock with bodegas, trattorias, tavernas, taquerias, tapas bars and shawarma shops.

It made me think about this nation of ours—an America of and built by immigrants. Not that long ago, had I spent the same evening in Queens, I would have had a cheery story to tell of savoring and partaking in so many diverse cultures that are just a stone’s throw, and two river crossings from my home. From a Himalayan feast benefiting Tibetan elders in India to dancing the Argentine tango at a Spanish heritage social-club. I knew none of the languages, knew only small amounts about these cultures, customs and ancestral lands, yet I was welcomed just the same.

But now, in our climate of legislated cruelty, a happy story is becoming harder to tell. As I witness our administration’s assault on immigrants and asylum seekers, I fear for all those who’ve become refugees overnight, and who have to constantly look over their shoulders. I imagine that now, on the walls of the kitchens in the restaurants that line Steinway Street, next to the requisite safety posters on how to aid choking victims, there are public notices with step-by-step instructions on what to do when ICE calls.

As a third-generation Jewish immigrant, whose grandparents left Lithuania fleeing anti-Semitism, I realize how naïve  I have been. It has taken Charlottesville and Squirrel Hill to shake me from my complacency. My parents, born in the 1930’s have never forgotten; and have always known how tenuous assimilation is.

As Bruce and I made our way from the subway to the Astoria Tango Club with the promise of a wonderful night of dancing, I was acutely aware of my freedom to move (and dance) through society—as I please. I walked with my tango shoes in one hand, and my dubious white privilege in the other, unremarkable, undisturbed, un-deported.

I spoke with Thupten Chakrishar a few weeks later and was heartened to learn that the benefit had raised enough money to help 45 families upgrade to upright plumbing.  When I find myself distraught by the deep divide in our country, it helps me to remember that kindness is always number one.  And in the case of the Toilet Conversion Project, it is also number two.


©Nancy Green 2018

Dancing Into My Third Act

As I dance myself right out of one decade and into the next, I often marvel that I have the chutzpah and the cheek at almost 60 years old to be Argentine-tangoing the night away, night after night. Laughing from one embrace to another, I double-step or traspié from my current act and into my next—in heels, of course.

As I grow older, and accept the unwavering gifts of menopause, I make a mental note to replace the term “anti-aging”with the more age-positive phrase, “growing into my own skin.” Positivity notwithstanding, getting out the door for a night on the dance floor does take more care and consideration than it once did.

There are many micro-decisions to be made before I leave home.

I deliberate from toe to head, starting from the ground up, with my never- fail, mood-elevating tango shoes. Do I wear the understated, yet sophisticated red suede T-straps with the Louis heel that hearkens back to the Golden Age of Tango? Or do I buckle up the strappy, glittery-gold peep-toe beauties with the leather rosette? Is my pedicure passable enough to wear my fabulous gold shoes?

Then my attention turns upwards. What to wear? Is that ensemble too revealing? Not revealing enough? Does that dress make me look fat? Who’s looking anyway?

There’s the fact of my thickening middle, and what outfit to choose in order mitigate—or contain this swell new development. On the plus side, a little extra padding when wrapped in an intimate embrace can provide another point of contact, and a comfy place to lean. While I welcome a little girth between my partner and me, on the dance floor, I’d prefer it not be mine.

Another tanguera once gave me a pivotal piece of advice on the question of what to wear. “Nancy” she said, “I have just one word for you.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Spanx,” she said.

It was sage advice that continues to shape my views.

Then to top it off, there’s the issue of my misbehaving eyebrows. I’d never really considered them until they’d begun to leave. Now with my eyes lacking punctuation, I sketch them back into place with a pencil made for the use—restoring my eyebrows to their same old used-to-be. And even though I always use a waterproof product, I’m still concerned that some night, when wrapped in a close embrace, my right eyebrow might rub off on my partner’s right cheek!

As I make these and other small, non-invasive efforts to pull myself back from the brink of middle age and beyond, I realize that I’m succumbing to society’s expectations to look my tango shoe size (European size 38)— and not my age.

But I’m often reminded that the third act can be a disappearing one, with the slight everyday indignities of not being noticed. Or sometimes worse: being looked right through, as if I no longer exist. As I leave my 50s, this has been happening more often than not.

Like the time I was willfully ignored on the PATH Train, while commuting from New York to Hoboken, protecting my shattered wrist that was in a sling on one arm, while balancing bundles on the other. No one even glanced up from their devices, let alone offered me a seat.

Then there was the night at a milonga—a tango social—when a tanguero made a beeline for the young woman I was conversing with and whisked her onto the dance floor without even so much as a goodbye—from either one of them.

Whether it’s the loss of civility or the onset of invisibility, either way, it’s downright maddening.

Even when I’m minding my own business, perfectly content in this year’s skin, even then, a small off-the-cuff, not-meant-to-offend comment can shake me out of my blithe spirit. Last August, on a beautiful late summer’s eve, I had the pleasure of dancing with my good friend Michael. We met at a milonga that’s staged at the very end of New York City’s Christopher Street Pier, which extends into the Hudson River. He and I “grew up” in tango together. We’d stepped and miss-stepped our way from beginner to advanced classes, almost every night of the week, for years. Michael is one of the best, and most graceful tangueros I know, and dancing with him can be a high point of my evening.

As the music began and I nestled into his embrace, he gleefully told me that a woman he’d met recently at the Albuquerque Tango Festival, whom he loved dancing with, was coming to meet him that night. He could barely contain himself.

“She’s one of my top five,” he said.

Did he forget that there was a woman in his arms, dancing with him?

Just as I was slipping into the profound interconnection that tango can be, I suddenly felt like I’d become invisible, and I disappeared, along with my self-worth. My posture slumped, and my axis (that imaginary, vertical line where we tango dancers find our equilibrium) spun out of orbit. For the rest of the evening, I felt off balance, doubting my dancing ability as I stepped on, tripped over, and automatically apologized to every partner for my every missed step.

In that moment, I told him that I was happy he’d found at least five women he enjoyed dancing with, but for the rest of our tanda (dance set)—and perhaps the rest of the evening—I’d wonder where I ranked on his roster. Did I make it to first page of his spreadsheet? The second? I suggested that he might not want to say this to other women, particularly when he had his arms around them. Annoyed, he said, “Get out of your head, Nancy.” I hadn’t been in my head until he’d made that comment. He eventually apologized, noting that five was a fluid number—and then told me that he loved dancing with me.

He also asked me not to write about our exchange.

Well, how could I not write about it? So, I emailed to give him fair warning and a chance to respond, which he did. “I remain disappointed that my comment had that impact on you,” he wrote. “Saying that I liked dancing with someone who is not you doesn’t reflect in any way my joy of dancing with you. Further, I have never danced with any other Nancy Green. I never directly compared you to anyone, or anyone to you.” He finished with “I think we have different perspectives here.”

Even though we’re dancing cheek to cheek—I guess we don’t always see eye to eye.

The tango is, after all, a polyamorous dance. But as I hop from embrace to embrace, changing partners every 12 to 15 minutes, out of respect for the one I’m with, I never talk about other men that I’ve enjoyed dancing with—even if those men are in my top five.

But there are the times when my whole “vanishing-woman” argument is totally blown out of the water. Like the time at another summer outdoor milonga on the Hudson, some 90 blocks uptown from the Christopher Street Pier on the Upper West Side.

Just when I thought my desirousness had lost the plot and that without proper attention, my sensuality was on the verge of fossilization, along came Hashim, a captivating Parisian tanguero. Olive-skinned and athletically framed, he wore a ripped T-shirt that was tattered in such an unstudied way that I like to believe it was genuinely threadbare—and not a conceit to fashion. I’d spied him across the dance floor with his wild unrestrained black curls—and full beard to go with, haloed by the setting sun. I caught his eye, the way we women do in tango to make our desire to dance known. He smiled and cocked his head by way of an invitation. He walked toward me, held out his hand, and escorted me onto the dance floor. What followed was perhaps the most unexpected and erotic experiences I’ve had in heels—while dancing.

For the next 15 minutes, I was carried away by his ardent, confident lead, his keen sense of musicality, and the rise and fall of his playful moves. I lost myself in his hair, his sweat, and his strong embrace.

At times I had to remind myself to breathe. You can’t fake a tango.

As Hashim and I circled the dance floor, I opened my eyes and saw Dante, my tango teacher, watching from the sidelines. He smiled at me. It was the kind of grin that said, Nancy, let this put an end to your grumbling about not dancing with the best, or hottest leads. And then, he winked. Well-done girl.

Although experiences like these make putting in the effort to go out and have some fun really worth it, they are more the exception, and the gauze of being unnoticed is becoming more the rule.

If you do a search on women becoming invisible in their 50s and 60s, you’ll find a whole host of blogs, opinion pieces, news stories, first-person tell-all memoir posts, sociological studies—and reactions.

Some women are furious. Some are in despair. Some are in denial. Others say that fading into the background is a choice, not inevitability, and they see their invisibility as a super power.

Some of the more reflective essays I read posited that aging and feeling loss of attractiveness or sex appeal, whether we’ve traded in that currency or not—hits us where we feel most vulnerable. Because our society obsessively places all its value on youth and appearance, and seems to disparage the wisdom and experience of maturity, as I grow older, it only revs me up to get more of both!

The unexpected and freeing consequence of this partial invisibility is that I’ve become somewhat fearless, and I care far less about what others think than I did when I was younger. As I grapple with and buck up against the social pressures to look a certain way, I’ve eased up, and have forgiven myself for looking like I’ve lived this long. And though I chose to not have children, and I’m past the point of being able to do so, my usefulness according to much of society has diminished. And yet somehow, I’ve lived—and am living— a good life, and make other worthy contributions. While I’m on leave from the tiresome and disappointing job of attracting a mate, and I’m on a break from the tyranny of keeping a flat tummy—it sure has freed up a lot of time!

Over the past few years, while nobody was looking, I’ve been more creative, more curious and more engaged in the world than I’ve ever been.

I’m a designer for the tabletop and textile industries, and with all this reclaimed time, I’ve created some of the most beautiful and innovative artwork I’ve ever produced. While I still make a slight effort to accommodate my client’s requests, as it turns out, designing what I love and what I damn well please has achieved both. I’ve presented them with collections that they didn’t know they needed—until they saw them.

As a young woman, I was afraid of my own voice, and I’d sooner quietly leave a party, or an uncomfortable situation rather than speak up and be seen or heard. Now, as I’m about to enter my sixties, I feel that I can’t afford not to speak up. Or out. A good friend who is a bit older than me used to say, “If you’re not having a mid-life crisis, you’re not paying attention.” I’ve now updated that statement, adjusting it to reflect our administration’s zeal in their decimation of social, economic and environmental justice: if you’re not enraged, you’re not paying attention. Well, I have been paying attention, and I am enraged, engaged and speaking up.

Back on the tango dance floor, remaining self-assured and visible in this mostly men-asking-women-to-dance pursuit can be a balancing act. While women’s rights are being legislated out of existence, and the daily purge and perp-walk of outed male sexual predators marches to an ever-quicker beat—you might wonder how in the hell a lead-follow dance could, or even should survive. The tango exists and thrives because we are in agreement to either lead or follow. Without these defined roles, there would be no dance. Tango has its own constitution, with strict codes of etiquette that are in place to ensure everyone’s safety—and keep to us on our toes. Because of these respected rules of engagement on how men and women should interact, I know that when I go out for the night on the dance floor, I can expect an evening of fun, civil, and consensual dancing.

As I rehearse daily for my next chapter, I do what it takes to remain vibrant, involved—and upright. So I dance, I laugh, I create, I read, I write, I ask questions, I listen, I learn new things, I spin, I hike, I march, I protest, I show up, I love my friends, I call my representatives—and I call my mother.

In the end, I’m visible where—and with whom—it matters the most.

©Nancy Green 2018



Friends In High Places

“Nancy, do you wear panty liners when you hike?” Fran asked.

It was the day before we were to begin a three-week Himalayan-trek in Bhutan—The Land of the Thunder Dragon. Hashmat Singh, our guide, and a group of 13 fellow-trekkers were meeting for the first time at the buffet lunch hosted by our hotel.

Fran’s query, though more like an interrogation, reminded me of the question, when did you stop masturbating? But without the entrapment. I looked up from my plate of steaming noodles, smiled in lieu of answering, and hoped that none of my soon-to-be trekking companions had even heard her.

So began my 15-thousand-foot and above, friendship with Francine Gordon.

She was a 57 year-old, retired Phys Ed teacher from Jericho, Long Island. She was loud, emotional, inappropriate, meddlesome, and curious. And I loved her for it—eventually. She had the kind of smile that took over her entire face and she wore her heart on the sleeve of her Patagonia base layer. Though what eventually cemented our friendship, and what drew us together, began more out of survival, than sociability.

We were a few days into our trek to the base of the 24,000-foot peak, Chomolhari. Fran and I were among the slowest and often the last hikers except for Kipchu, the sweep. He was easy to find wearing a traditional mid-calf, white cuffed, plaid, kimono-like Gho—with knee socks and hiking boots poking out from underneath. And to top it off, he carried a full spectrum, rainbow-paneled umbrella to signal the end of the line—even if it wasn’t raining.

That day, we found ourselves alone, with the temperature dropping, and the sun beginning to set behind a far-as-the-eye-can-see massive boulder field. With no real discernable trail, save for a muddy yak print now and then, we plodded on hoping to see the other hikers ahead of us or Kipchu’s cheery umbrella—popping up over the gray granite landscape, behind us. We saw none of these human trail markers.

Fran stopped frequently to rest, and was becoming anxious at the possibility of being lost. I was more confident in navigating the barely detectable path, and between the two of us, I chose to be the rock of our paired down expedition as we pin-balled our way through vast rocky field. That was the moment that Fran and I became lifelong friends.

In the distance, if we squinted, we could catch the glint of a blue tarp. It’s the unmistakable, industrial, United Nations blue that says developing country, or emergency shelter. It’s also the blue of our camp’s dining tent that held the promise of a cup of hot tea and a biscuit. But this was one of many false summits of the day, and as we got closer we realized that the blue was the tarp of a nomadic yak herders home.

The bouldered terrain eventually gave way to a meadow that was more pasture than rock. I guess the yak herder’s tent and the grassy paddock should have been a pretty good clue as to what happened next, yet we were still startled—no terror-stricken, to see a herd of shaggy, snorting, bell-clanging yaks barreling towards us—shepherded by a teenager carrying a stick! At home, I was weekend-hiker and the only four-legged creatures I’d come across were smiling golden Labrador retrievers. I had no training for this sort of thing. I mean what does one do when one is about to be trampled by thousands of pounds of beef on hoof? Luckily, there were a few scattered boulders about, and we ducked behind one of them as we waited for the stampede to pass, and the dust to settle.

It was dark by the time we got to the end of the pasture, and finally we could see the blue glow of our dining tent. Hashmat and some of the other trekkers came running toward us lit by flashlights and headlamps. They escorted us, as we dragged ourselves into camp. Fran and I were welcomed by resounding clapping, and cheers and the tireless, cook-staff plied us with cups of hot, steaming tea—and biscuits.

Fran and I continue our lively friendship to this day, and we often recount our Bhutanese adventure and some of our other Himalayan escapades—at sea level.



© Nancy Green 2018


Fran’s love of the Himalaya led her to create Nepal Program For Progress. It’s a non-profit that provides educational opportunities for children in remote regions of Nepal. And she’s there now as I write this!


It Takes Way More Than Two

Last Tango in Chelsea. A tribute to Triangulo: New York City’s only studio dedicated to the Argentine tango—closes. For now. We await its transformation to a new location.

I’ve never been much of a party girl. Or if I had been, I have no memory of it. I hated bars. And a barstool doesn’t have any back support. I failed substance abuse, and the only altered state I could manage was a sugar induced one. But intoxication took on a whole new dimension, and all my head-spinning attempts at inebriation vanished the moment I took my first steps of the Argentine tango.

It was on pure whim, some amount of guts, a free Monday night, and close proximity to the PATH Train that first led me to Triangulo. As soon as I walked into this dance studio, I knew I’d entered another realm. The room was warm and inviting and evoked another century, with its burgundy colored walls, its gold accents, and crowned with a collection of ornate, mismatched chandeliers. And all of this against the backdrop of the lavish, Bruegel-like mural of tango dancers—in full swing. Dancers that I’d eventually come to learn were real people —the luminaries of tango past and present.

So with one foot in, I signed up for my first beginner-class package, and followed the well-worn path of tangueras before me—the dancing odyssey of intelligent women—who were once level headed.

Though after my first class of stepping on, and being stepped on, I wondered why in the hell I’d want to obey, and follow any man around a dance floor, engaging in something that set women back decades—backwards and in heels.

But, it only took until the second class to understand that my role was as important as his. For without me, there’d be no dance. And if I ever got past the awkward, jostling beginner stage, and avoided shoulder dislocation from over-enthusiastic leads, I might actually learn.

So one class per week became two, and two became three, and in no time I’d developed a pretty healthy tango habit. I became a willing participant in the twelve steps of tango addiction. I danced almost every night of the week. I planned my life around classes and milongas. I made excuses for, and bowed out of social events that interfered with my tango schedule. And if this were even possible, I found seven nights a week to love shoes that much more. My work suffered. My feet hurt. I laughed more. I talked about tango so much that my friends and family were either becoming very concerned—or entirely bored.

But nothing could stop me. How could I turn my back on so much joy? For the first couple of years, I took every level of every class with my beloved first teachers—the talented triumvirate of Carina, Laure and Dante. And if that weren’t enough of an embarrassment of riches, along came two powerhouse couples in the form of Carolina and Andres, and Ana and Diego. Triangulo’s teachers were determined to make dancers of us all­—and they used everything they had to get it done. With their passion, dedication, creativity, generosity, and a whole lot of laughing, we became tango dancers.

But Triangulo and the Argentine tango turned out to be more than I’d expected. Aside from learning the dance and having a cult-like, nifty, portable skill, I made friends. Good friends. People shared their lives with me—in between dances. I met someone who told me that he had nothing until he’d found tango. Another told me that after a bitter divorce, tango had prevented him for walking into oncoming traffic. And since then he’s met and married the love of his life—a tanguera he’d met at the Union Square milonga. A dear friend recently told me that tango allowed him to enter (with another) into a world without words. I saw how tango changed lives, and in some cases, it even saved lives.

I met people from all over the world, and though we spoke different languages, we danced in only one.

On a lighter note, I’ve never laughed as hard as I have on this dance floor. Whether it was cracking up mid-dance over some of the best jokes I’ve ever heard, or whether the hilarity was due to Dante’s Always-Keep‘em-Laughing School of Dance. At times, it’s been near impossible to maintain a serious tango face.

And all of that happened here, at Triangulo—our dancing living room.

These days though, Triangulo is much more than a dance studio—it has become a refuge. As I witness the decimation of social, economic and environmental justice, and when I can’t take another piece of breaking news, or one more obscene tweet, I always had Triangulo. And because of tango’s own constitution—its respected rules of etiquette, I knew that when I entered this studio of friends, or potential new friends, I could expect to enjoy an evening of vibrant, joyful, equitable, civil, and consensual dancing.

Tonight, when I leave for the last time, I’ll be accompanied by tango music as it tumbles out of the third floor window and onto 20th Street. There were times, that if I listened very closely, I’ve been able to hear the music almost all the way to 6th Avenue.

Carina, thank you for creating the warm, welcoming and vibrant place that we’ve come to love, and to depend on.

Whenever and wherever Triangulo’s transformation turns out to be—when you build it, we will come.


© Nancy Green 2017


See what Triangulo is up to now.


Ten Cents a Dance (Adjusted for Inflation)

I’ve been published in!

She was twice his age, her vermilion hair matched his red velvet suit, and her three-and-a-half-inch sparkly-gold tango shoes allowed her to peer over his head—by at least a foot. Who was he dancing with? His grandmother? His great-aunt?

It was one of those evenings of watching others dance tango, and spending a little too much time on the sidelines, not dancing—having not been asked. Tango etiquette has some antiquated rules of engagement, and the one that causes the most chafing is that men do the asking. If that weren’t problematic enough, combined with the lead-follow imbalance, the New York tango cliques, and the exclusive couples, it can all add up to doing some extra time on the bench.

That night, I had plenty of opportunity to track this truly odd couple circle the dance floor for yet another go-round. She had the air of an Upper East Side heiress, meticulously preserved, costumed in something beaded, asymmetrical, and slit halfway up her thigh. He looked like a grinning, dance-hall dandy, with a pencil thin moustache, and penguin-like, as he sported a pair of black and white spectators. If he’d been wearing a hat, he’d have tipped it as they tangoed on by.

I asked the woman sitting next to me about the mismatched pair, who never split up,even though tango protocol states that you change partners after each set. “She hired him,” my bench-mate said. “She what?” I asked. “She hired him for the evening. They’re taxi dancing,” she said.

As it turns out, there’s a foolproof way to make sure that you’re not a tango wallflower. You can buy dancing insurance! It comes in the form of a partner for hire, a taxi dancer. A tango escort service if you will.

During the 1920s and 1930s, taxi dancing was a popular ticket-a-dance arrangement that operated in closed dance halls. Closed in that female customers were not admitted, which opened the door for a new kind of non-domestic, urban job opportunity for unmarried working-class women. Dancing female employees. Male patrons would present a ticket to a chosen dance-hall hostess, and the pay-as-you-go, ten-cent agreement would last the length of a song. Taxi aptly, though indelicately refers to renting her—on the meter—not unlike cab fare. This of course was considered a scandalous profession chosen by—you guessed it—morally corrupted women. Today though, with morality up for grabs and corruption setting its sights on loftier goals, the notion of taxi dancing once thought illicit, now seems quaint. Today, on the tango dance floor, faced with a dearth of good leads, hiring a male dancing escort just seems like a really good idea.

One night at a milonga (tango social) I asked my beloved teacher, Dante, if he felt pressured to dance with his students outside of class. Was he aware that some of his female students tracked him around the dance floor? Making sure they knew where he was, who he was dancing with, and then getting into position so when the music stopped, they’d just happen to be within asking-them-to-dance distance. Kind of, if not exactly like, what I was doing with him at that moment. I told him that I respected his right to have a tango social life, and while I didn’t expect him to dance with me beyond the studio, if he asked, I wouldn’t say no.

“Nancy” he said, “There is a way that you can dance with me often, you know.”  “How’s that?” I asked. “You can hire me,” he said.

So reader, I paid him.

Deal struck, and joy to be scheduled, Dante and I made a date to take our tango-trade-agreement out for a whirl. We met on a warm fall evening at my favorite outdoor milonga, Riverside Gypsy Tango, held at the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument on the Upper West Side. Built atop a promontory, just north of the marble monument, and down a grand staircase is a charming, formal, amphitheatre-like terrace. The balustraded-balcony, surrounded by curved granite benches, sits high in a crown of trees. It’s a perfect place for contemplation, assignation, and Shakespeare re-runs. And decked with 800 pounds of portable parquet flooring, perfect for Argentine tango.

We sat down on one of the stone benches to plot out our evening’s dance card. Milongas are carefully configured tango socials made up of tandas or dance sets. Each set consists of three or four songs of the same style of tango, and usually from the same orchestra. To signal the end of the set, a cortina,the 30-second piece of non-tango music is played. This musical chairs like interlude, is the time to change partners, pop a breath mint, go to the bar, or rest your dancing feet.

Dante suggested that spacing out our hour’s worth of tandas was a good strategy as it gave us each the chance to dance with others, and maybe avoid the appearance of a financial arrangement. But paying to play didn’t bother me—much. I was ready for a night of marvelous dancing in the arms of a smart, handsome, funny, sexy tanguero (male tango dancer), who was a beautiful dancer, and knew how to show a tanguera (female tango dancer) a good time.

The Argentine tango is a deceptive dance. From the outside, it can look like an intimate conversation that once started, is best finished off the dance floor. Deeply woven in each other’s arms, lips brushed up against a cheek, and with its leg-entwining antics, you’d think the tango was all sex. What makes it so intoxicating though, is that the tango is really an inside job—a hypnotic, dancing meditation. The goal, and then the pleasure, is to dance as one, to tango’s time honored steps, to be so merged, that the separate self is abandoned. Well…not unlike like sex.

Dante escorted me to the dance floor for the first set, a tango—the style of music that’s most associated with Argentine tango. All passion and pathos, and everything’s unrequited. It’s the kind of music that makes you want to put a knife through your heart right after you pulled it out of someone else’s.  But because of, or in spite of its theatricality, we hammed it up a bit and engaged in a little pre-dance play-acting, my femme fatale to his debonair. I’m at ease with tango’s defined lead/follow roles. To be in the arms of a strong, capable, leading man, and to then interpret (not follow) his lead can be thrilling. I’m often reminded of my mother’s shorthand, gender studies proclamation “vive la differénce!” The four-song rapture ended and as no crimes of passion were committed, we collected ourselves and waited for the music to begin again.

The next set was a vals tanda (waltz set). In the refuge of his embrace, watching the moonrise over his right shoulder, we danced, skipped, flowed and played, around and around again, to the seductive, rhythmic three-count melodies. The music was from the Golden Age of Tango, from the 1930s. It had the nostalgia of a Hollywood musical, all Fred and Ginger—and Dante made sure to throw in a dash of Gene.

Even though I’d bypassed the grand gesture of being asked to dance, and paid for the pleasure, the benefits are the same, if not better. Hiring Dante eliminated all of the game playing, the disappointment, the waiting to be asked, and some really bad tangos with leads that just can’t. I was insured for an evening of perfect tangos. Another bonus to dancing with an expert is that I become a better dancer. It’s a simple equation really; ease and confidence on the dance floor leads to a joyful, happy looking tanguera, which leads to more invitations, which leads to less time on the bench.

After the second set, Dante took my arm as we returned to our seats. I felt flushed and had the slight ache of a permanent smile. I was elated from our fifteen-minutes worth of dancing intimacy. So euphoric, that I was startled that much more when I heard the woman sitting next to him say, “Are you dancing socially tonight?” I dropped my head along with my already sunken shoulders. What she meant was, would he dance with her for free? What I’d heard was, she didn’t have to pay to dance with him.

Deflated, all my joy had been let out, and I wanted to sink into the granite bench with shame. But the stone seat wouldn’t allow for it. Embarrassed that I’d had to pay for someone to dance with, and chagrinned to be middle-aged, and still single in a world that over values couple-hood. All the times of loving and not being loved back enough, and all the years of not having a partner to bring home to my family and friends came rushing in. The times of tagging along, of being the guest who has to sleep on the single air mattress in the hallway, or the traveling singleton always having to pay the single supplement.

But enough of that.

I had dancing to do, and the next set was a milonga tanda, the completely fun and vibrant quick step of tango—a step for every beat. I grabbed Dante and we traspied (double stepped) our way onto the dance floor. It took me a few measures to regain my balance, and to remember the gift I’d given myself that evening; the joy of dancing tango by moonlight, with my teacher, my friend. It was more than a fair trade.

After the tanda, Dante told me that he was equally startled by her intrusion, and didn’t even know how to answer her question. He said that the genuine warmth he feels for the women with whom he taxi’s (and for me especially), places the transactional arrangement in the context of the social dance, and not exclusive of it. He said her entreaty was so personally rude, and so inelegantly in violation of the “filo-dough-pastry-ritual” that is tango etiquette. Rules he said, that exist not for artifice, but to preserve everyone’s dignity in a situation that is intimate, public, private and vulnerable.” When we were on a break, he asked her to dance anyway. He’d known her for many years and gave in to her arm-twisting. Much to his chivalrous credit though, he told her that what he did on the dance floor and with whom was none of her business, regardless of how public the milonga is.

Brilliance and gallantry in dance shoes.

It was almost the end of the evening, the meter had run out, and I’d had enough tango to last until the next time. We settled up, and I wished Dante a good night. On my way out, I suggested that he go and ask a beautiful woman to dance.

“Nancy,” he said, “I already have.

© Nancy Green 2017

Nancy Takes A Hike

In my fourth year of dancing and not dancing the often-joyous and sometimes deeply disappointing Argentine tango, I’m beginning to emerge from the late-night, dark dance halls and step out into light of day.

Though I’ve shared some of the most sublime moments while dancing the tango, there’s a decided catch. This lovely experience happens when I’m dancing–not while waiting to be asked.

Now of course, this is not news. I could go on about the lead-follow imbalance, the exclusive couples, the New York tango scene cliques, the fellow students who’ve moved on, and countless other gripes. But when I do get to dance, all is forgiven and forgotten and the euphoric experience of moving in unison, with another, to a seductive tango makes the rest worthwhile. That is, until I’m planted back on the bench and have sat out the third tanda (dance set)in a row.

One would guess that learning the Argentine tango is challenging enough of an art form, but as it turns out, attracting a dance partner to complete the act involves just as much artistry. As I bore myself contemplating my longtime singlehood and I continue to feel alienated from a world that values couplehood, I decided to give myself a break and stop fretting about pairing on–or off–the dance floor. I resolved that the only pair I really needed were my Asolo Stynger GTX’s, which are my waterproof, Gore-Tex lined, red suede hiking boots.

And so with my sensible, hi-tech footwear, three liters of water and a packed lunch, I set out to hit the trail.

I’ve long been a white-water paddler and an avid hiker of near and far. Over the years, I’ve spent many weekends running shuttle to the kayak put-ins, and trailheads of creeks, rivers and mountains up and down the East Coast. I’ve also had the great fortune to take off for weeks at a time to trek the Himalayan foothills of Nepal, India, Tibet and Bhutan.

But I’d traded in my wet-suit booties long ago, and years later, replaced them with tango shoes. Now, with no Himalayan trips in the offing and the longing to get outdoors and to step away from my desk and the dance floor, I rejoined the local chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club, and went outside to see what I could see.

Since early spring, every weekend I’d be on the road just after sunrise, driving to a designated trailhead either in Harriman State Park, the Hudson Highlands or the Catskills to meet up with an interchangeable group of rag-tag hiking enthusiasts. The AMC has a rating system so one can choose a hike based on terrain, distance and speed. While tango has taught me much, the one thing it has not prepared me for, which I’d kind of forgotten about, was the physicality of hiking. Though I took care to choose moderate hikes that were challenging and just long enough, even then, I was always the last hiker. So, my goal for this hiking season was to become the “sweep” by choice instead of by default.

I do like bringing up the rear. It’s quiet but for the birdsong, and the frogs, and the sound of scampering through leaves, and my heavy breathing. To be in so much green and hear twigs snapping underfoot, and water moving over rocks; glorious. And I love the puzzle and decision-making of navigating a rocky trail. So, it’s the end of the line for me, and as in Himalayan trekking, unless you’re the lead yak—the view is always the same.

Last Saturday, while hiking with the AMC in Harriman State Park on the Ramapo-Dunderberg to the Bokey Swamp Trail, I hoisted myself atop and traversed a huge fallen tree that obstructed the route. I lost my balance, fell off—backwards–and shattered my wrist. What ensued is a gruesome tale of serious injury in the woods, some stellar and some not-so-stellar examples of human behavior, and the fierce power of adrenaline. I’ll set aside the grisly details of the three-mile hike out, though part of it was on the “Red Cross Trail”–I kid you not.

Aside from some grit and determination, what eventually saved me, without much thanks to my fellow hikers, was my best friend Sharon–who wasn’t even on the hike. Astoundingly, I had cell service and when I called her, though she’s temporarily living in Washington, D.C., she happened to be an hour from the trailhead, headed upstate to a triple-header family celebration that she was also helping to host. She met me deep within the park, and asked if I could drive and suggested we take a test drive to see if it were at all possible—it would have been a logistical nightmare to leave my car in the middle of the woods so far from home. I was pretty sure I couldn’t drive, or more to the point, shouldn’t. She freed me from my backpack and hiking boots, laced up my après trail shoes (sneakers) and buckled me into the driver’s seat. I started the ignition with my left hand (the uninjured party) and we took a tour of the Lake Tiorati Parking lot. I could indeed drive!

With the help of my dear friend’s loving levelheadedness and my GPS, I had the confidence to get myself to the trauma center at Hackensack University Medical Center–where they have valet parking!

I checked into the emergency room and handed over (with one hand) the requisite contact information. When I told the young man behind the desk that I’d injured myself in a hiking accident, he asked if I had seen the movie “127 Hours.” “You know, the one where the guy gets his arm pinned by a boulder and has to use a pocket knife to amputate it”, he said. Luckily, my mishap required no cutlery.

What followed was a surreal choreography of waiting rooms, X-rays, clipboards, orthopedic surgeons, gurneys, IVs, emergency surgery, pain meds, room service, thankfulness for Obamacare–and the indispensable care and kindness of nurses. Sharon was waiting for me by my hospital bed when they wheeled me back to my room after surgery–the next day.

Now I have a new titanium wrist to match my titanium trekking poles.

The good news is that I’m home and doing really well. I can now put in contact lenses one-handed, which I learned watching a quadriplegic teaching this trick on YouTube. I’ve also discovered that a New York Times blue plastic home delivery bag secured with painter’s tape makes a handy waterproof cast cover. And I’ve had so many offers of help from friends and family that it’s an embarrassment of riches.

Since I’m not quite ready for a one-armed tango embrace and hiking is on hold, my tango shoes wait patiently in my closet beside my hiking boots. So for now, I’ve got plenty of time on my hand to contemplate that while I’m not part of a pair, I’m hardly alone.


© Nancy Green 2016

Have Dance Floor, Will Travel

It’s early November and all but one* of New York City’s outdoor milongas (tango social dances) have closed up shop for the season. Our gracious hosts have filed away their NYC Parks Department permits, packed up their transportable sound systems and disassembled their portable dance floors, all of it stowed and in hibernation until spring.

I had a wonderful time of it this summer and early fall, dancing around the Shakespeare statue in Central Park, tangoing to live music at Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night’s Swing and watching the sun set, reflecting orange on the Hudson as I gazed over my partner’s shoulder. But what really made this outdoor tango season wonderful was the addition of “Riverside Gypsy Tango” to my dance card.

The Argentine tango can have an all-embracing effect on people. It tiptoed into my life by infiltrating my daydreams, co-opting my conversation and compelling me to go out dancing every night of the week. It altered my posture (in a good way), expanded my musical tastes and wardrobe, and it continues to fuel my creativity.

It affects others in different ways. In the case of my friend Dirk, tango led him to buy 800 pounds of portable parquet dance flooring.

Dirk, an enterprising tanguero (male tango dancer) set out to realize his dream of an egalitarian, come-as-you-are milonga. He wanted to create a space where anyone could ask anyone to dance, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, previous experience, what you’re wearing or the amount of leg you choose to show. And most importantly, he wanted to stage the dance in an outdoor public space. “Tango is a dance of the street,” he says. “Whether people come by to dance, or they chance upon it, maybe while walking their dog and sit and stay to watch for a while. Each person shares and contributes to its energy and so I’d like each person to feel equally involved and welcome.” He joked that his ultimate goal really was to create a place where he could dance tango in his pajamas.

So with an initial 200 pounds of DanceDeck Deluxe simulated oak parquet modular flooring (which he kept stacked against a wall in his fifth-floor walk-up) and a dream, Dirk scouted the length of Riverside Park for ideal locations to stage his equal opportunity milonga. He eventually secured Parks Department permits for three Hudson River locations; Locomotive Lawn at 62nd Street, Pier I at 70th Street, and the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument at 89th Street. Dirk also convinced the department to let him store the flooring at the 79th Street Boat Basin. Then he enlisted our friend and now resident DJ, Jun Kim, and the nomadic “Riverside Gypsy Tango” was born.

Locomotive Lawn is aptly named, for it features retired locomotive No. 25 and was once part of the Penn Central freight rail yard. It’s a quirky spot: The lawn portion, which runs between Trump Towers and the Hudson River is a patch of Astroturf that seems more like a mini-golf course than a meadow. But still, it’s a wonderful place to set up a dance floor with its stunning river views.

Pier I was also once part of the rail yard.  It was built on the remains of the original wooden shipping pier, jutting 795 feet into the Hudson. Dancing at the tip of the pier, practically on the water, in the middle of the river, is nothing short of miraculous.

But of the three locations, my favorite, is the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument. Built atop a promontory, at the north side of the marble-columned structure and down the grand staircase is a charming formal terrace. The balustraded balcony with its arcing granite benches sits high in a crown of trees. It’s a perfect place for contemplation, Shakespeare re-runs and Argentine tango.

On a warm Friday evening at the end of May, with Metro card and dance shoes in hand, I crossed the Hudson and made my way to the Upper West Side to participate in Dirk’s humble, egalitarian milonga experiment, and to scuff up and help inaugurate his parquet floor.

I was expecting Dirk to make an announcement, but there was no mention made of setting aside the long-established protocol where men invite women to dance. So I followed tango etiquette and sat patiently (sort of) for an invitation. I made a mental note to add the Upper West Side to my repertoire of places where I’ve waited to be asked to dance. Which felt strikingly similar to waiting to be asked downtown.

Eventually I was invited to dance by one of the founding fathers of social tango in New York. After two songs, he “thanked” me (ended the dance) mid-set, but he was so kind about it that I hardly had the chance to feel terrible. He escorted me back to my granite plinth, sat down and proceeded to put on a down jacket and a wool cap. I questioned him about his expedition gear on such a warm spring night, the kind of night we’d waited for all winter. He told me he became cold and tired easily because he was anemic. I wished him well…but…what a relief! Our abbreviated dance had nothing to do with me–or my dancing.

As it turned out, and as Dirk had hoped, dancing was only part of the evening. The tango music, artfully arranged by Jun, with its melodic tone that is sometimes mournful and at other times playful, was made even more so by the acoustics of our semicircular granite tree house. I talked with friends and watched the dancers gliding across the floor under a canopy of green. I took a stroll around the patio,  petted dogs and chatted with people who had happened upon us and were curious about tango.

At the end of the evening, I asked Dirk why he hadn’t announced a waiver of the time-honored code of who-asks-who-to-dance. “As my understanding of tango and its protocols have evolved” he said, “I’ve come to feel that each person approaches the dance along their own path, so in order to give people latitude to explore their feeling towards tango I wanted to leave my own expectations out.” So in lieu of a group agreement to do otherwise, 125 years of tango etiquette and its codes prevailed.

His generous, open spirit, love of tango as well as the stunning Riverside Park locations is why Dirk and Jun’s Riverside Gypsy Tango became a resounding success. So much so, that they eventually had to quadruple the dance floor to 40 square yards, weighing in at a hefty 800 pounds.

At the end of that first night back in May, we passed the hat in appreciation of a magnificent evening of tango and perhaps to help offset the cost of the chiropractic care that Dirk and Jun would surely need after packing up and hauling the laminated flooring back to the 79th Street Boat Basin. Fortunately, all ten blocks are downhill.

*Note: For the most intrepid of tangueros, the milonga on the mighty Hudson at the end of Christopher Street Pier is still going strong. So put on your base, insulating and windproof layers, and if you’ve got shearling-lined tango shoes–wear them. This milonga runs until the first snow.

Soldiers & Sailors


Dirk Jun cart


Jun floor

Dirk 2

me & charles hiro 2

monument night

Locomotive Jun

© Nancy Green 2015

My Best Girl

If you sit down at my computer and look through my web search history from say, a year or two ago, you’d find what you might expect: evidence of my tango obsession. Queries such as: Where to buy the latest Comme Il Faut tango shoes in NYC? Or, what is the ratio of men to women at every milonga in the tri-state area?  Or, what’s the weather in Buenos Aires?  And, is there tango in Trenton?

Though lately, my concerns have taken a decidedly different turn. These days I find myself shopping for things like dependable bed wetting supplies, and attractive waterproof sofa covers, or searching for information about the causes and remedies for urge incontinence. I’ve also been watching YouTube videos on the best way to convert baby diapers into doggie diapers. And just to allay any concerns that you may have for me, I’m happy to report that I’m not in the middle of this type of health crisis–yet–but my dog is.

My fourteen-and-a-half year old beautiful, precious, obstinate, funny, Tibetan Terrier is beginning to fail. Most of my free time, with my pup’s reluctant blessing, used to be taken up with everything tango—dancing my way through the week. Now, much of my days and nights and thoughts are dedicated to the care of my feisty, four-legged, octogenarian (in dog years); Tingri. My best girl.

At the beginning of our journey’s end, I made my way to a section of the A&P that I knew very little about, the baby care aisle. There I stood, head in hands, trying to choose between Pampers Cruisers adorned with Bert, Ernie, Elmo and Big Bird or Huggies Little Movers decorated with Disney characters. I chose Elmo: Tingri’s ethos has always felt much more like Sesame Street than Walt Disney.

This is my first hands-on experience with elder care and it has been quite a ride; at times very funny, sometimes heartbreakingly poignant, and often frustrating with overtones of relentlessness.

I can’t say that Tingri has taken that well to wearing diapers, or being dressed at all for that matter. She has a charming habit of ripping them off, destroying the nappy and spreading its sodden contents all over my apartment—every hour. Even a velcroed diaper cover didn’t keep them on her. My determined little Houdini, managed to remove the diaper–while leaving the cover on–in a move not unlike yanking a tablecloth out from under the table setting or removing your bra through one sleeve without taking off your shirt.

That’s my girl.

I’m just now realizing how my life has been altered since my apartment became the equivalent of a canine nursing home. I’m reluctant to invite friends over, my kitchen counter has become a diaper prep station, and conversations about tango have been replaced by the physical woes of my scruffy, aging pup.

Last week I bumped into a friend in the hardware store. I was buying Goo Gone and Gorilla Tape, provisions for my baby-diaper-to-doggie-diaper conversion. My friend asked if I was doing some home repair. I told him that Tingri was incontinent and it was less expensive to convert baby diapers than buy expensive dog diapers. I went into great detail explaining how I cut a hole for her tail, reinforced that hole with strips of Gorilla Tape, and then cleaned my gunked up scissors with Goo Gone every two or three diapers. He just stared. “You know Nancy, you could have just told me you were doing some home repair,” he said.

I also dance less, though every now and then I do take a break (which may be more of an escape) to head to a milonga for a much-needed change of scenery and for the chance to slip into that blissful dancing meditation that tango can be. Even then, Tingri is always in my thoughts. Whether I nuzzle my partner’s neck, or give him a couple of swift pets in praise of a dance well done, or wonder what kind of a mess I’ll find when I get home, she is with me. I often leave the dance early—even before the stroke of midnight to head home and check on her.

Tingri and I made a contract fourteen-and-a-half years ago. I promised to love and care for her and she promised me nothing. I’ve loved (almost) every minute of it and cannot imagine my days without her.

Here’s to you Tingri, with all my love.  My best girl.

Tingri adjusted

Copyright © Nancy Green 2015

Hands Off, He’s Mine

I’ve made some wonderful friends while learning and dancing the Argentine tango. It is a social dance after all.

On the dance floor, comradeship with men is practically unavoidable, what with his arm encircling my waist, my lips brushing up against his cheek or neck, and my leg wrapped around his thigh. And all before the first hello.

Though you may think that all this dance floor canoodling has led to scads of boyfriends, paramours and trysts, (and I’m not saying whether it has or hasn’t) it’s mainly the women of tango that have made the dance a social one.

Since we generally don’t dance with one another, the time I spend with fellow tangueras (female tango dancers) is on the sidelines, when we just happen to be in between dances. It’s on those benches and chairs that I’ve learned a bit about the lives of my tango compatriots. I’ve heard about their aspirations and career successes as well as the disappointments. I’ve commiserated about their painful breakups, the unhappy divorces and one nasty split that led to a restraining order. I’ve listened as they told me about the failing health of, and more poignantly the loss of, parents, husbands, siblings, cousins, boyfriends and beloved pets, and once, heartbreakingly, the loss of a child.

For the most part, the women I’ve met have been terrific. They’ve been fun, good-natured, encouraging and usually very inclusive, embracing us tango tenderfoots. Veteran tangueras have cheered me on as I’ve progressed, or when I’ve needed it, talked me down from hanging up my red suede T-straps. They’ve coached me in the mysterious ways of tango etiquette. They’ve introduced me to their favorite dance partners who’ve now become my favorite dance partners. In return, I now try to encourage a new crop of wide-eyed and sometimes teary-eyed fledgling tangueras.

While I’m driven by the desire to dance a transcendent tango in the arms of a capable leading man, at the end of an evening I almost always leave having deepened a friendship with a fellow follow–while we just happen to be in between dances.

So it comes with great surprise and some dismay that after all this seated befriending, I’ve encountered a few (very few) ladies who were not on their best behavior once they’ve stood up.

The cortina–the brief musical interlude of non-tango music between the end of a tanda (dance set) and the beginning of the next, seems to be peak time to witness errant etiquette.  It’s a bit chaotic, not unlike musical chairs, when men escort their partners back to their seats and new invitations are extended and accepted or declined. It’s also a good time to rest your dancing feet or to make your way over to the bar.

Once, mid-cortina, a partner-to-be and I moved toward each other, his extended arm inviting me into his embrace. Just then, a woman appeared out of nowhere (and a friend at that!) making a beeline right to him. In the process she sideswiped me, kissed him, ignored me, and kept on going! I was merely an inconveniently placed object that needed moving out of the way.

Okay, I get it. Great leads are a scant and precious resource. It takes bravery and dedication for men to learn and dance the tango, and perhaps some bow out too soon, (and some not soon enough). When I share an intoxicating and unforgettable set of dances with a man, I naturally will continue to seek him out. But I do try to stop short of mowing down another woman in order to seal the deal for my next dance.

There also are subtler (or at least less aggressive) ways that women mark their territory. A year or so ago, I had attended a practica (practice session) at Dance Manhattan for the first time. It was well regarded as a place with good dancers and a welcoming atmosphere. I sat down next to a former classmate who by way of greeting  said: “What are you doing here?” Evidently I had walked into her place without clearing it with her first.

Then there is the not-so-veiled, backhanded approach to safeguarding one’s turf. Another acquaintance plopped down beside me after dancing half the night with…let’s call him Bobby.  It was one of an entire summer of evenings where they danced only with each other, excluding everyone else. Dancing consecutive tandas is perfectly acceptable of course, though not the tango norm. It may cause some eyebrows to raise, especially when the gender ratio is out of balance, which usually means more women than men. But this woman was radiant, having had a marvelous summer of tango. She asked if I had the pleasure of dancing with Bobby and I replied that I had, though just once. She consoled me with her explanation that Bobby dances only with women that he feels a really, really, really deep connection with. Consoling indeed.

Another method of staking one’s claim is to maintain a profile of being in high demand. I once complimented a fellow tanguera on how well she danced with a particular partner. When she asked me to describe him, I mentioned that he was someone she danced with a lot. She couldn’t possibly guess who that would be, she said, for there were so very, very many men that she danced with quite often.

As part of my research, I asked a few other men and women if they had ever encountered territorial behavior on the dance floor. One tanguero (male tango dancer) said that he’d never seen it, and suspected that these partner-procurement shenanigans among women were not meant for him to see. I laughed and said that if he saw us in action, he might like us less. He grinned and said: “I already do like you less.” But he told me that men have their own ways of jockeying for position. For example, sometimes when walking toward an intended partner, he relayed moments when he’s been rudely intercepted by a fellow lead. Though he used a more elegant term: “cock-blocked” he said.

One night I had the pleasure of dancing four lovely tandas (dance sets) in a row with my beloved instructor, Dante. While I know this is slightly at odds with tango by-laws–monopolizing the teacher, he is such a marvelous dancer that I could not resist. As we rounded the dance floor for the umpteenth time, past a long row of benched ladies, the whispering and finger pointing had begun. I suggested to Dante that we ought to stop our scandalous behavior.

“Nancy, you know you’ve had a successful evening when all the women hate you,” he said. And we burst out laughing. Apparently I am not above reproach, either.

I suppose when faced with so many dwindling resources, stress can arise and complex social behavior can break down. At least it does for mice. But on the dance floor, the Argentine tango has been a welcome respite from the anxiety on the street. So I try to check my disquiet at the door and leave behind the need to be first, to win, to own, or to be right–and just dance.

 Copyright © Nancy Green 2014

Nice Pair

photo 2

One evening while admiring my stunning new cadmium red leather, triple strapped tango shoes with the saucy leather rosette and the wide copa heel that harkens back to the Golden Age of tango, my dance partner asked me if since I’d been dancing the Argentine tango, had I developed a new appreciation for shoes? What shoeless planet was he from? How naïve! Did he know any women? I told him that many of us ladies choose to dance the Argentine tango because of the shoes.

If you see us seated on the sidelines at a milonga, engaged in serous yet lively conversation with much finger pointing in the direction of the dance floor, chances are we’re not talking about the parade of dashing leads. We’re talking tango shoes.

So let me ruminate on this entirely uplifting topic. I’m talking high heels. We’ve heard ad nauseam that it takes two to tango. I’d like to propose that with the addition of a pair of stunning tango shoes, it takes three.

Women’s love affair with shoes has been well documented. Among the many reasons for our deep devotion is how they make us feel. While self-worth, income, weight and age tend to be in a constant state of flux, the one metric that I can generally count on to not go kaflooey is my shoe size. If a pair of shoes doesn’t  fit, I don’t suffer from the same plummeting confidence as when squeezing into a pair of jeans and then having to admit defeat. A great pair of shoes can change my mood the instant I step into them. And on the dance floor an exquisite pair of sparkly ankle strapped stilettos can transform even the most uninspired of tango get-ups.

We’ve all seen the evidence of the benefits of wearing high heels: the elongated leg line, the arched foot and the all-important lifted and well-formed derriere. While I value elegance from the added height (and who doesn’t like a well-toned muscular calf), I also place a high value on being able to run from oncoming traffic.

On the street I may not choose to walk in them, but on the dance floor I sure can dance in them. Aside from being things of beauty, heels are part of our equipment. They help to offset the slightly forward lean of the tango posture. As tools of the trade, tango shoes differ from others by being more flexible and having well-secured and balanced heels.

One of the aspects that make tango look like tango is the expressiveness of our feet by way of flourishes–known as embellishments. These are the movements that can add that little something extra as part of our collaboration with our partner. They may be as innocent as simply toe tapping the floor or as seductive as gently caressing myself, or my partner with my leg–or my shoe.

Since we’re doing all this dance-floor flirting with our feet, why not step it up and flaunt a pair of fabulous shoes? Whether we slip on a pair of gold-encrusted four-inch stilettos or we buckle up our black and white spectator-peep-toes with a two-inch Louis heel, we have endless, exquisite possibilities of how to show our individuality even while listening to what our metatarsals are telling us.

Oh, but how then to choose? There is much discussion among tangueras about the various shoe options, leather soles versus suede soles, sling-backs or closed heel cage and the most heated of them all, stilettos versus thicker heels. While these are all deeply personal preferences, on a crowded dance floor, when we’re kicking up our heels, the difference between stilettos and a thicker heel is that of a puncture wound versus blunt force trauma.

I suspect that half the reason for taking a trip to Buenos Aires is to go shoe shopping, though there are plenty of other ways to secure a pair or three of these beauties. In New York, we now have our very own tango shoe shop: La Mina Tango Boutique. It’s just down the hall from the Foxy Fitness & Pole Dancing School.

There are also online shoe stores like Mr. Tango Shoes. You can choose from their off-the-rack offerings or have a unique pair custom-made by choosing from their mix-and-match menu of styles, colors, heel heights and heel shapes.  Or, if you’re overwhelmed and paralyzed by too much choice, an enterprising tanguera, Mari Johnson has reimagined Mr. Tango Shoes and dreamt up her own combinations.  She has done what I consider a public service.

Sometimes these entrepreneurial shoe peddlers come to us and set up shop at a milonga—practically on the dance floor. Some of the most distracted and disconnected dances I’ve ever had are when my partner inadvertently danced me by one of these impromptu shoe displays. Like the time I had my eye on a pair of gold-heeled, parrot green, patent leather sling-backs and I could not wait for the song to end. For this, gentlemen, I am truly sorry.

While men may not be as easily diverted by all this shoe mania—they do have a thing or two to say about dance floor footwear—theirs and ours. One partner remarked: “You know Nancy, men strive for individuality too.” He went on to tell me about how he meticulously duct-tapes the soles of his Pumas to give them that extra spin. Another said he was compelled to move toward shiny, sparkly things, especially when strapped to a woman’s arched and pointed foot. The most heartening of all is that some men are not completely blinded by all the glamour. They look at a woman’s shoes to see how worn they are, with the telltale wear and tear being the mark of an experienced dancer.

Putting all the admiration of others aside, simply put; we love shoes, and dancing tango gives us seven nights a week to love them even more.

So, at times when I can’t sleep as I despair at my own economics or I’m at a loss as to what to do about the latest destabilized country, the decimation of tigers or my dog’s inoperable tumor, I take a short break from it all and do a little Web window-shopping for tango shoes. While I know that the desire of things does not happiness bring, in that half hour or so, I am perfectly happy.

With styles such as The Goddess and Seductora, that come in vermilion, emerald green, peacock blue and radiant orchid, I know I’ve stepped way out of my Birkenstocks and into the vibrant world of the Argentine tango.


Copyright © Nancy Green 2014



Apparently And Ultimately…It Takes Two

In my efforts to sharpen my focus, continue to evolve, and enjoy the Argentine tango, I made the counterintuitive decision to reduce the amount of weekly dance classes by 80 percent. For almost two years I’d religiously attended almost every class that was offered at Triangulo—my dance studio.

I’m not such a great dancer that I’m past the need of instruction, for I will always be learning, re-learning and refining the fundamentals of tango: walking, posture, balance and the embrace. But as I’ve become a better dancer, I‘m now able to recognize what good tango feels like and as a result, I prefer to learn and dance with men who can, well, dance.

Lately at milongas (social dances) I’ve been surprised that while dancing with some of the same men that only a year ago I once thought terrific, I now find myself hoping that the tanda (tango dance set) is a group of three songs instead of five.

So, it was time to say adios to many of the earnest, fledgling dancers and bid fare-thee-well to the ones who were in need of remedial tango. In order to continue to learn, I needed to dance with better leads. So perhaps as they evolve, we shall meet again. Goodbye to the beginner, advanced beginner, pre-intermediate and intermediate classes and hello to a six-week advanced class taught by our beloved teachers Ana and Diego.

But there was a catch. Did I mention that the advanced class was a partnered class? In other words, I had to have a pre-designated dance partner in order to participate–unlike every other class I had taken up to this point where we rotated and changed partners after every dance. This advanced class required that I show up with my very own leading man, to have and to hold. We would remain as a couple for the entire six-week session.

Off the dance floor, one of the things that has eluded and confounded me the most is couple-hood. While I’ve not been without love and I’ve not been without intimacy–and sometimes they’ve even managed to show up at the same time, longevity in an intimate partnership still remains a mystery to me.

Being uncoupled is also at odds with much of society.  It does not fit the domestic norm, and is seen as an aberration. Just try being a middle-aged, never-been-married, non-mother and step outside of your cosmopolitan city. I met a married Midwestern mother of a couple of young children who chatted me up about her kids and her husband and then kindly asked about me. When I told her that I had never been married and had no children, she exclaimed with horror (or sympathy or envy or perhaps all three), “Good for you!” Well yes, it is good for me because that is how I’ve chosen to live my life up until now.

That’s enough about the hackneyed plight of single womanhood. I was on a mission to procure a dance partner for a six-week limited engagement!

I made a mental scan of all the classmates I’ve known, and truly loved dancing with and without hesitation, I chose Charles. We adore Charles. He is an equal opportunity flirt of the best kind. He loves women—all women. Charles has the rare ability to make each and everyone one of us feel like the only goddess on the dance floor. He’s kind, gentle, beyond muscular and muy sexy. And just when I thought chivalry had left the building and didn’t hold the door open for me, Charles appears at the doorway beckoning me to step over the threshold. Oh, and did I mention that he’s a superb dancer? I invited Charles to be my partner and he readily accepted.

The theme of this advanced class was musicality. Simply stated by Merriam- Webster, musicality means sensitivity to, knowledge of, or talent for music. In tango, being able to comprehend the music is everything. During first year we learn steps and patterns, which are plenty complicated enough to lead and to follow. But as we progress, we discover that in order to make these sequences look and more importantly feel like tango we must interpret and improvise these patterns with individuality and feeling. All to the rhythms, melodies, phrases and the silences in tango music.

I arrived at the first musicality class and I was all set to face the music except for one small detail.  My partner did not show up. My dashing lead Charles, due to unforeseen work complications, missed the class. Fortunately I was able to participate for there was an extra lead whose partner had also failed to turn up.

But as it turned out Charles missed half of the classes. I was relegated to the bench as I watched the class dance on without me—where I sat visibly distraught and feeling humiliated at being stood up and made publicly partner-less. I may as well have been wearing a scarlet letter emblazoned on my chest: “S” for Single (or for Shame).

I was crushingly disappointed as I was so looking forward to dancing with this lovely young man (by young I mean 33). For often when I despair of being single, one enraptured dance is a reminder that I’m beautiful and that there are wonderful men out there—and I ought to stay in the game. Dancing with Charles is that kind of experience.

To the uninitiated, the tango can look like an intimate conversation that once started, is best finished off the dance floor. But for those of us inside the tango embrace, which may (and often does not) include sexual attraction, the language is that of deep, mesmeric connection. Our goal is to dance as one to tango’s time-honored steps and to be so attuned that we’ve abandoned our separate selves. When the song is over, and we’ve parted, I sometimes feel as if I’ve awoken from a trance-like state. And that is what makes dancing the Argentine tango so intoxicating.

I’ve often wondered how a wife or girlfriend can stomach watching her partner in the embrace of another woman and then another—all night long.  As an outsider I can only guess as to how married and other exclusive couples manage all this extra-marital dancing.  Perhaps it’s no surprise that some tangoists leave their significant others at home.  Of course there are couples where both are tango dancers.  I’ve noticed that they often dance mostly or only with each other.

All conjecture aside, I owe a debt of gratitude to the couples that recognize their partner’s passion for the tango.  I directly benefit from the pairs that believe that one cannot own another and happily send their spouses and boyfriends out the door, with dance shoes in hand.  For without their generosity of spirit, the dance floors would be half empty and I would not be able to learn this marvelous dance.

One of my classmates had been given a list by his wife of women she preferred he did not dance with—presumably the prettiest and most flirtatious. I discovered that I was not on that list. I don’t know whether I was pleased or insulted.

Whether on or off the dance floor, at times I’ve been cognizant that my simply being man-less may be seen as a threat to some partnered women as they stand guard.  I have no intention of upsetting twosomes and absconding with someone’s husband.  I don’t want someone else’s husband.  I’m very respectful of monogamous relationships.  For instance, when engaged in conversation with one of these duos, I behave accordingly–I apportion at least 75 percent of my attention to the female of the pair bond.

But back on the dance floor all bets are off. If I want to participate in this intimate art form, the Argentine tango, then 100 percent of my attention must be paid to my partner.

Though I remain uncoupled as I write this–much to my bewilderment and that of my friends, (and especially my mother). But an evening of dancing tango allows me to change partners every 15 minutes—and love the one I’m with.


Copyright © 2014  Nancy Green








When The Thrill Is Gone…?

Tango and I recently celebrated our Second Year Anniversary.  This momentous occasion neatly coincided with bringing in the New Year and turning a page of my own calendar, my 56th birthday.

That gave me three excellent reasons to celebrate and literally kick up my heels.  Not too high a kick though, so as to not injure others on the dance floor with a potentially poorly timed boleo (a whip-like swinging of the leg).

To celebrate my auspicious day, a dear friend and fellow tanguera Shawne, treated me to evening of tango on both Upper Sides of Manhattan.

We began on the Upper East at The Museum of the City of New York.  The museum was hosting an Argentine tango themed event inspired by a painting exhibition depicting the tango dancers in Central Park.  At times, I too have been seen in the park dancing around the Shakespeare statue on a midsummer’s night.  The viewing was followed by a dance performance with Maria Blanco and Jorge Torres, who were accompanied by a tango orchestra, all of which was flawlessly performed under the spiral of a gleaming, white marble staircase.  Though lovely and wonderful to watch, by the end of the show we’d had our fill of tango as spectator sport and so with a wink and a nod, we grabbed our tango shoes (never leave home without them) and set out to find the nearest dance floor.

We taxied our way across town to the Upper West.  Headed to a milonga (tango social) hosted by the flaming-red-headed, rhinestone-encrusted, peace-sign-wearing, irrepressible Lucille.  It was there that I was honored with my very first birthday dance.  For the uninitiated, this is tango’s way of saying Happy Birthday.  The lucky celebrant stands in the middle of the dance floor and for the length of one tango, leads (usually men) or follows (usually women) take their turn dancing with the honoree, aka me.  That night as I passed the halfway point of my 50s (never to return), I celebrated with good friends and took part in the tango rite of passage as I was spun around the dance floor by a revolving door of dashing leads.

While this all sounds lively and fun and engaging–and it was–I never in a million tandas (tango dance sets) thought I’d be saying this: Sadly, some of the thrill is gone.  I seem to have reached what may be an inevitable plateau.  Now I’m not talking about a high plateau of dancing excellence. I would characterize this as more of a low mesa, at an intermediate level. The novelty has worn off and some of the passion has begun to lag.

How could this possibly happen?  The tango and I were madly in love for the better part of two years, to the detriment of all other relationships.  Even my dog was wondering where the heck I had up and gone off to.  I couldn’t wait until the end of my workday so that I could put together that night’s outfit, apply my mascara, grab my tango shoes and head into the city.  All dressed up with someplace to go.  At one point, I was taking two or three classes a night and a couple on a Saturday afternoon, plus three or even four milongas and practicas weekly. I was gliding (when I wasn’t sitting and waiting to be asked) across one dance floor or another at least 20 hours a week.  Lest you think that sounds a tad excessive, I was in very good company.  The classes were well attended and the social dances were packed with plenty of other familiar dancing fools.

This may come as a shock but…10-plus tango classes a week is now too much. Two and three classes a night began to feel like a run-on sentence in need of punctuation.  Not surprisingly, dance class fatigue has set in and I’m not having quite a much fun as I used to.

One of the reasons may be that, as I’ve progressed, it’s become apparent that we are not all advancing at the same rate, and the skill level at times is uneven.  In deference to my classmates, most of them have become great dancers and are as nuts about the tango as I.  Then there are the others that ought to repeat a grade.  In the beginning, it was much easier to dance with everyone.  I knew nothing, they knew nothing—it was a match!   But after two years of dedicated (if not obsessive) practice, simply put, it’s easier and more enjoyable to learn with the leads who can lead and frustrating to learn with those who can’t.

At the risk of sounding like a late night infomercial that addresses loss of desire, how then do I put the spark back into my relationship with tango?

When I told my friend Melissa how I was feeling, she sent me a terrific article titled “The Psychology of Getting Unstuck: How to Overcome The OK Plateau.”  It describes the three stages that we pass through when acquiring new skills, the last one being the comfort zone of autopilot, when one is satisfied with their skill level and improvement slows to a halt.

Whether I’m on an OK plateau or a complacent mesa, it’s  time to revaluate and come up with a strategy to continue to challenge myself and ultimately free up some more joy.  I talked with my teachers and a few longtime tango-dancing friends and they had a few ideas. One of my teachers recommended that for now, I take fewer classes and attend more milongas.  At her suggestion, I’ve reduced the number of classes by 80 percent and am now taking only two classes a week.  I’ve also made it a point to ask my instructors for more targeted feedback so that my practice can be more focused, whether in class or when budget allows, a private lesson or at a social dance.

When I was dancing with my friend Daniel the other day, he remarked that I had not posted anything new to Nancy Learns The Tango since November and that its absence had not gone unnoticed.  “Nancy, your fans await you,” he said. I told him that I was working on an essay titled “When The Thrill Is Gone.”  He stopped mid-ocho (pivoting to form a figure-eight) and said, “You may not want to mention that to your dance partners, especially while dancing with them.”

We cracked up, laughing so hard that we could not continue dancing, causing a traffic jam on the dance floor.  I agreed with him and let him know that present company was excluded.  As we rejoined the line of dance, Daniel noted that since I am no longer a beginner, having traveled way past the stage of causing injury to myself or to others, I now have the opportunity to experience and enjoy tango from a contemplative and inward perspective.  A dancing meditation if you will.

Tango demands that I pay attention, to be present so that I can respond to and interpret my partner’s improvised steps.  That’s right…improvised.  He may have no idea what he’s going to do next until he does it!  Therefore, anticipation on my part can really mess up the works and will inhibit my connecting with him and consequently, even though I am in his arms, it may cause me miss out on the dance.  It’s essential that I check all outside distractions at the door, for if a thought comes in, I often stumble, and my partner, if he’s tune with me, will know that I’ve “left the room.”

Later that evening, I asked Daniel what tango meant to him.  He thought for a moment, shrugged and said, “Sometimes when I ask myself why I on earth do I keep doing this, the only thing that I can come up with is that…I simply love to dance!”

Tango is a dance of communication, passion and partnership.  The irony is that since we change partners after each set, we are in and out of a new relationship every 15 minutes.  The one constant, the one partnership that I can count on is ultimately and thankfully the one I have with myself.

So maybe the thrill doesn’t have to go.  Perhaps approaching tango from the inside out can be my new tactic.  As our relationship matures and we dance on into our third year, the tango and I will adjust to each other’s rhythms.  And as I continue to search for deeper meaning, perhaps the answer was always right there at my feet–I simply love to dance the Argentine tango.

Copyright © 2014  Nancy Green

Ladies In Waiting

The Argentine tango is a universe unto itself.  Tango can be found from Buenos Aires to the Black Sea, from Seoul to St. Petersburg, from Tucson to Tel Aviv and from Perth Amboy to Paris. In New York there are milongas, (tango socials), every night of the week.  We dance in restaurants and bars, in dance schools and social clubs.  Weather permitting, we dance in Central Park and outdoors at Lincoln Center.  We dance on a pier in the Hudson River and in the pavilion at Union Square.  In other words, we dance everywhere, all the time.

Except when we are not, because we are sitting on the sidelines at a milonga waiting to be asked.

Dear Argentine Tango,

I am a little weary of defending your old fashioned rules of engagement: men asking women.  I’m chagrined at having to pretend to my pre-tango friends that I’m okay with the one sided-ness of it all. And I’m running out of irrefutable justifications such as, “Without me, there is no dance!”

In Buenos Aires, the invitation to dance is more egalitarian.  The enticement, called the cabaceo, is conducted entirely through eye contact. The man initiates this dance hall foreplay by gazing at his intended partner from across the room.  She accepts by holding his gaze and he seals the deal with a nod, a wink or the raise of an eyebrow.  Although men appear to do the asking by nodding first, it does take two.  For this silent conversation to work, women have to actively scan the room to signal their availability.  Both genders can either accept with a nod–or decline by looking away.

The cabaceo evolved as part of Argentine milonga etiquette and has saved many a turned down tanguero (male tango dancer) from great embarrassment.  I’ve heard it said that for a man, after being rebuffed, it’s a long, humbling walk back to his seat from across a crowded dance hall.

Here in the United States, the cabaceo has devolved from a sly glance at one’s intended to a haphazard game of musical chairs with everyone jockeying for position when the music stops.  Unlike the women in Argentina, we stateside ladies are not in the habit of staring at men.  Heaven forbid we lock eyes for a brazen second longer than is acceptable and run the risk of it being misconstrued as an invitation to something else.  But in the tango arena, these Victorian cultural norms need not apply.  If we stare for that extra moment, we may get exactly what we are asking for: an invitation to dance.

Once, while practicing this Argentine art, I set my sights on my desired partner and waited for his signal of acceptance.  And there it was!  He nodded his head…and then covered his mouth with his hand.  What I had mistaken for an invitation to dance was in fact an audible belch.

Although online dating has helped to level the romantic playing field for women, there are still a couple of situations where women will wait for men to pop the question.  Whether it’s waiting for him to show up with a diamond in hand or  for a proposal to dance tango, we permit ourselves to anxiously wait in a passive state of readiness.

There are nights when I am sitting on the sidelines and not being asked to dance–or not being asked by those I really, really want to dance with–and it just feels bad.  Having to sit and stay in order to be chosen can rankle any of us, no matter where we are that day on the confidence spectrum.  But if we persist in strapping on our tango shoes and venturing out into that good night, we best have a Milonga Management System.

Here are a few methods that I’ve used or observed to insure that we tangueras (female tango dancers) leave the bench and get in the game.

Sometime back, a dear friend, who practices age-blindness said that I shouldn’t be surprised if I were to eventually find myself batting my eyelashes at octogenarians.  One night, I sat down next to one of these dapper, older gents.  He was clad in suit and tie, and had white hair and a matching beard.  On his feet, he sported a pair of pristine black and white spectators that nearly glowed in the dark.  While batting my eyelashes, I was compelled to say, “A year ago I would have ruined those!”  He then stood up, bowed and offered me his arm and escorted me onto the dance floor.

One way I amuse myself and help diffuse some of the rejection is that I keep a running list of the men that don’t ask me to dance the most.  It is a list that is forever changing.

I have one hard and fast rule: I never engage in a conversation with other benched women about not getting asked to dance.  Once we start talking about how this one never asks or that one only dances with the youngest and prettiest, it’s a downward spiral and our disappointment radiates onto the dance floor.

When chatting with a fellow tanguera on the sidelines, we follow protocol:  We never face each other while talking.  We would sooner talk out of the sides of our mouth than take our attention off the dance floor lest we appear otherwise engaged and unavailable.  And when either of us is asked to dance, even in mid-sentence, (even if the conversation is about shoes), we have an unspoken agreement to put a bookmark there and continue post-dance.

What may not be immediately apparent is that while we ladies are sitting and waiting and talking (while not looking directly at each other), we are developing friendships–some that may last a lifetime–between dances, one or two sentences at a time.

In the spirit of full disclosure: There are many evenings when my dance card is full and I never return to my seat.  Then there are the other evenings when 12 songs have gone by and I haven’t yet stood up once. It’s the top of the 3rd tanda (a dance set of three-to-five songs) and friends plop down beside me mopping their brows. They breathlessly say: “It’s so hot in here!  Aren’t you hot?”  To which I reply: “No, not at all.  Try sitting out three tandas in a row and you’ll cool right down.”

At such times, I’m tempted to employ the wisdom of a fellow tanguera.  When faced with an evening of not dancing, she said, her rule of thumb is to leave right before she is about to weep.

I had one of those nights at La Nacional a couple of weeks ago;  an evening of too much time on the bench, blinking back a tear or two, eyeing my coat on the coat rack and looking for the nearest exit.  I was even willing to miss a performance by my teachers, the delightful Ana Padron and Diego Blanco.  (See them dance here).  Halfway through an evening of tango-as-spectator-sport, just as I was about to grab my coat and run, Diego noticing my sorry state, asked me to dance.  I almost wept with gratitude at his kindness.  After the set, he asked if I had been to the bar.  “Why?” I asked.  “Do you think I need a drink?  Would it help?”  “Well, yes perhaps” he said. “What I mean is, why don’t you walk around and change the energy?  Ana is at the bar, go stand by her, she has great energy.” Taking Diego’s advice and bidding farewell to my chair, I strolled across the dance hall to the bar.  On the way, I was asked to dance.

There is a foolproof way to make sure that you’re not a tango wallflower.  For the faint of heart and thick of wallet, there is dancing insurance!  It comes in the form of a partner for hire known as a “taxi dancer.”  A tango escort service if you will.  It eliminates all game playing and disappointment and you can insure a night of wonderful dancing.

There are other ways to insure an evening on the dance floor.  Laura (my dear friend in all things tango) has come up with a method that I have dubbed “tanguero wrangling,” whereby she texts many of our classmates and friends we’ve made along the way and invites them to meet us at a milonga.  While I am more willing to go it alone and see what happens, Laura prefers to avoid disappointment whenever possible.  You know, she just may have a point.  Some of the most wonderful evenings have been spent dancing and not dancing with a lively bunch of dear tangueros and tangueras thanks to Laura’s wrangling.

In general, I approach tango the same way I approach life. A strategy I use both off and on the dance floor is to make friends.  I meet everyone, men and women, good lead or bad, teacher or beginner. And just as I’ve been shown kindness from patient leads I try to return the favor.  I’ve encouraged beginner leads and noticed them getting better mid-dance!

And while I’m at it, I try to encourage most leads.  It takes a lot of guts for men to learn this difficult, nuanced dance and then have to navigate the dance floor.  If that weren’t daunting enough, they have the awesome responsibility of showing us a good time.  So, I try to make it a point to be gracious and let them know that I’ve enjoyed our dances.  For just I as want to get in the game, it is my job to make sure that they stay in the game.

And quite often, that has been worth waiting for.

Copyright © 2013  Nancy Green

The Night I Cheated On Tango With ………… The Salsa King Of Siberia

Since it’s apparent that the tango and I are not splitting up anytime soon, my friends and family have gotten used to the idea that we are an item. But prior to their approval, somewhere between curiosity and acceptance, a particular family member (okaymy mother), had some ideas as to how I could augment my new found passion for the Argentine tango.

My beloved mom, in her not-so-subtle way of coaxing me to mingle with singles, (Jewish and eventually otherwise), has often suggested alternatives to my extracurricular activities, proposing other amusements and venues that she thought were more likely to result in pair bonding.

“Have you ever considered Club Med?” she asked as I was almost out the door with my boat, paddle and helmet to kayak the Chattooga, Ocoee and Rogue Rivers of Georgia, Tennessee and Oregon.

“How about a singles trip to Israel?” she suggested as I packed my hiking boots, ice axe and antibiotics for a three-week trek to the Himalayan foothills of Nepal, India, Tibet and Bhutan.

“What about learning to play bridge?” she asked as I grabbed my tango shoes, a back up pair of tango shoes and breath mints as I was running into New York headed for a milonga (tango social dance) at the Ukrainian East Village Restaurant.

Well… I am happy to report that recently she has changed her tune, gotten in step and has reconsidered her approach. Now she is recommending that I learn other dance styles!

As coincidence would have it, a dear friend, recognizing my love for tango and assuming I had a free night and room enough in my heart for another type of dance, gave me a gift certificate to the Piel Canela Dance School of Latin Arts.

And so, armed with beginner’s-mind and my tango shoes that I hoped could double as Latin shoes, I set out to learn salsa.

I’d grown used to Triangulo’s studio, an inviting room that evokes another century with its collection of mismatched chandeliers and lavish mural of tango dancers. Piel Canela, however, felt like Adult Continuing Ed of Latin Dances. Room after mirrored room filled with the music and students of Salsa, Samba, Merengue and Zouk.

The teacher was terrific and by the end of the second class she had us shimmying our shoulders and shaking our hips. The music made me want to…well…dance, unlike the music of tango that makes me want to put a knife through my heart right after I pulled it out of someone else’s.

After a few classes and an understanding of the basic step, I was asked to a salsa social by–of all people–a tango friend, Igor. Or is that Eye-Gor?

I first glimpsed Igor at a milonga, with his shiny black ponytail and almond-shaped eyes. Wonderful! A Native American dancing tango! And then he spoke…with a Russian accent as he offered me some of the beet and sour cream concoction that he’d brought as his contribution to the festivities. Igor, who dances salsa in Siberia, was visiting New York City for a few months with the express purpose of learning the Argentine tango.

He was intriguing, with brooding Inuit good looks that could give way to eruptions of laughter at anytime, without warning. And around his neck he wore an amulet that looked as if it held the key to the enigmatic Russian soul and could have been purchased from the Dan Brown gift shop.

When I told him I had been taking salsa classes, he grabbed my hand, pulled me into the hallway and invited me to dance and show him what I had learned. Afterward he looked at me with disgust. “You did 17 things wrong” he said. Which I found amusing since salsa is an 8-count step, two of which are silent. Do the math.

On the dance floor he had an unconventional way of combining the giddy flirtiness of salsa with the serious sensuality of tango. Though off the dance floor, his social skills needed some tending to. Nevertheless, on a Friday night, off we went to dance salsa with a stop for a cup of tea at his favorite eatery, the 7-Eleven.

When we arrived at the social and one-two-buckled my shoes, I was asked to dance by Roberto. So what if he came up to my elbow, even with his Cuban heels and a fedora. I rarely turn down an invitation to dance, but felt obligated to advise him of my beginner status. He held out his hand and said, “I cannot in all good conscience let a women with red shoes sit.” Which is, by the way, exactly why I wear red shoes.

Over the evening, Igor and I danced a few dances though I could see he was eager to shine. So I cut him loose so that he could shake it and shimmy with other more experienced partners.

I found the men to be delightfully gregarious and generous, a sharp contrast to some of the men I‘ve observed dancing tango that can be arrogant and selective. I’m developing a theory that each dance style may attract a different male subspecies. In salsa, couples have the option to change partners after every song, which greatly increases the number of dance partners per evening. And women can ask men. In tango, couples dance a tanda, a set of three to five songs and men exclusively do the asking. This results in fewer dance partners for everyone and encourages more calculated and selective choices by men. I’ve noticed some men at a milonga scanning the room, perhaps plotting a mental spreadsheet for that night’s potential dance card. It’s a numbers game.

In real terms, that leaves many of us tango-dancing ladies sitting and watching the lovely dancing of others, giving us ample time to contemplate our obsession with the Argentine tango.

Over the semester, I missed some salsa classes, enough that I felt I would never be able to catch up with all the hip shaking and shoulder rolling and I returned to my true love, tango.

Within the first year of learning this marvelous dance, I met a young woman who remarked that dancing tango would be a great way to meet a husband. To which I replied, “Yes, tango is a wonderful way to meet a husband. Why, I have met and danced with many husbands, other people’s husbands, but husbands just the same.”

Which brings me back to my mother and her well-intentioned campaign. Here is what I know for sure.

If my goal had been strictly to settle down, I never would have paddled a whitewater kayak through the roiling rapids of creeks and rivers, sometimes upside down.

If my plan had been to get hitched and walk down the aisle, I never would have followed a yak herder and his yaks up and down rocky Himalayan trails, coming up for air at 18,000 feet.

And if I had thought for an instant that learning the Argentine tango or salsa was a way to meet a life partner, I never would have been relaxed enough to become a dance partner.

And now after a year and a half of moving in synchrony with so many lovely partners and a lifetime of embracing the joy of new experiences, I welcome friends and relationships whether they are clad in wet-suit booties, hiking boots or dancing shoes. It matters not.

Oh, and there is tango in Kathmandu. I checked.

Copyright © 2013  Nancy Green

Nice Axis

There seems to be an ongoing parade of visiting, nomadic Argentinean and Colombian tango dancers in New York these days.

They set out from home for a few months at a time with suitcases in hand, filled with dance shoes, sparkly outfits and pomade.

We are graced with their expert technique and they do their best to impart the essence of Argentine tango as they see it and dance it. Hot off the stages and dance floors of Buenos Aires and Manizales.

They usually come in pairs: Leandro & Laila, Alejandro & Cyrena, Gustavo & María, Gabriel & Analía and so on.

At Triangulo (my dance studio) there was room enough on the dance floor for a parade of one. Our traveling tangoist was Carlos Paredes.

He was small in stature, limited in English and muy grande in personality.

Carlos began class with a sensational proclamation; DANCE STEPS DO NOT MATTER! He asked that we not imitate him and he implored us to play and create our own tango. But without steps, then what with?

While we were recovering from the shock, he began strutting around the room while passionately espousing his 3 rules of tango: Relax! Have Fun! Love Your Partner!

With the deftness of a speed-dater he sashayed up to every woman and asked if she would be his girlfriend. He wasted no time, got right to the heart of the matter and said: “I laaahve you! Do you laaahve mi?”

And that is how I became girlfriend number 7 of 15.

Though we were befuddled by his teach-no-steps method, he did emphasize that without the core fundamentals of walking and balance, dance figures and patterns mattered little.

And to demonstrate further, he invited girlfriend # 3 (or was it # 5?) to walk with him in close embrace. He would periodically let go of her to see if she was maintaining her own axis, that imaginary line about which the body rotates. In other words checking to see that she was not falling over.

He said: “Don’t need me, don’t need me, don’t need me too much because I have many, many girlfriends.”

That’s why I love this dance so much. There is a life lesson at every media vuelta (a half turn used to change direction), even when you weren’t looking for yet another life lesson.

The Argentine tango from all outward appearances; women leaning on men, its lead-follow structure and its strict rules of dance floor courtship (men asking women), one would think that we ladies are hopelessly dependent.

But it is crucial that we possess our own balance, our independence. For without it, this dance of interdependence is impossible.

At a milonga recently a friend complained to me about the dances he had just danced. About how the women could not maintain their balance and used him as a prop to perform their own dance. That in turn inhibited him from leading and he was exhausted by it and not happy.  And as we know, a happy lead is a happy follow.

After he recovered and we danced a set he told me that he was able to create our harmonious dances because of me. That because I was on axis he had the freedom to improvise so that we could dance. Together.

And so after an evening of relaxing, having fun and laaahving my partner(s) it was time to call it a night and hang up my red suede t-straps.

As I was sitting there with one shoe off and contemplating my axis, I was asked to dance. This may be the best invitation I’ve received thus far. He said: “If you put your other shoe on, I promise you that you won’t regret it.”

And I didn’t.

Copyright © 2013  Nancy Green

The Queen Stands Her Ground

“If you want me to be the king, you have to dance like the queen.”

I’ve heard this statement in various ways a few times now.  From teachers and leads alike.

The actual quote is from Carlos Gavito, an icon in the history of tango dancers and it goes like this:

“I say that any man who dances tango and doesn’t look at the woman as a queen, will never be king.”

I think what we have here is a chicken and egg situation.  Who was crowned first and does it matter anyway?  Without standing on ceremony, I will celebrate my own coronation by taking the first step.  And dance as the queen.

Metaphorically that is—for as we know, it is he who begins the dance.

The first time I heard about this king and queen stuff was from Daniel, kind, wise and professorial in a tweed sport jacket.  When dancing with him, I know that I am in good hands.

He explained that to dance like the queen meant that I had to use the floor and own it. One time in mid-dance, dancing as close as we do, while unable to see my feet, he sensed that my right foot was floating when it ought not to have been. This could cause me to be unintentionally off axis. And we could both lose our balance.

When I asked him how he knew of my foot placement or lack there-of, he said: “I know everything about your body.”

He told me that I was a good “follow”, though by not standing my ground, I would feel and appear somewhat passive.  He asked that I step with intention, dance as an equal participant and not as an object.

Well if that’s not a metaphor for how to be a woman in this world, I don’t know what is.

Although I’ve been on the planet for plenty of years and have lived in the same home for thirty-three of them (some may call it stability though an ex-boyfriend called it a rut), there are times when I felt as if my feet were not solidly planted on the earth.  And that I had little claim to be here.  Somewhat invisible.

But…I am delighted to report that changes are afoot and I am experiencing a “transfer of weight” both on and off the dance floor.

Whether it’s the freedom of being in my fifties or dancing Argentine tango (almost every night!), I am just now realizing that invisibility is never a factor…when I am visible to myself.

And as irony would have it, since I’ve been stepping and stepping out with intention, I have become quite visible.

My posture has changed.  I  smile and laugh more.  And after seeing Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk on what body language reveals, I no longer fold my arms over my chest.  For they alone are worth revealing.

Things are coming more easily.  New business opportunities have appeared seemingly out of nowhere.

On more than one occasion men have approached me and said that I project a wonderful energy.  One on the dance floor, one in the airport (who wants fly me to Buenos Aires to meet him at the Teatro Colón) and one at my mother’s 80th birthday party!

And of course all of this is to the soundtrack of gorgeous tango music.  The kind of music that makes even the General Pulaski Skyway over Jersey City more poetic.

And so with a song in my heart and a traspié in my step, I now know one thing for sure.  It’s good to be the queen.

Copyright © 2013  Nancy Green

Close Encounters

Now I get it.  Or at least I think I do.

Up until now, I realize that I have been swimming in the shallow end of close embrace.  Testing the water.  Dancing around it.  Close, but no cigar.

There is so much reverence about the abrazo—the embrace.   It has taken me a full year to discover that perhaps the Argentine tango may be only about the embrace.  And the steps, which my teacher Dante calls: “A big game of footsie”, are merely a way to facilitate it.  When you’re doing it right.

A couple of weeks ago I went to the milonga (the social dance), at La Nacional.

La Nacional is a tapas bar at street level and upstairs it’s a grand floor-through of a Chelsea brownstone, dedicated to Hispanic American culture.  What began as the Spanish Benevolent Society in the late 1800’s, now feels like a well-used urban grange hall.  And on Thursday nights it’s Argentine tango.  Until 2 am.

Their motto: “Where The Best Dancer’s Meet.”

Well, I’m certainly not one of them and I’m not even sure I should be meeting them.  But there I was, sitting pretty and ready to follow whoever asked me to.

And there he was, Jorge.  Tall, elegant and confident. With an almost boyish grin.  An actual Argentinean as it turned out.  And it would be my first experience dancing with the source.

He looked at me and nodded from across the room.  I looked left, and then right to see whom the cabeceo (the tango invitation to dance) was intended for. What?  Who me?  Really?  And he whispered back, “Yes, you.”

He escorted me to the dance floor, singing along with the music.  I don’t speak Spanish (yet), but I had a pretty good idea that in most of these tango ballads everyone is in the throes of heartbreak and someone often ends up dead.  I asked him to translate and he said: “You really don’t want to know.” I agreed, telling him that I had my own problems.  To which he suggested that we cry on each other’s shoulders.

I suppose that suggestion and a few other romance novel-scented lines, in combination with his cologne (which I resolved to tame next time by applying lavender oil under my nose), should have been the tipoff that he was a practicing Lothario.

But it mattered not.  I was a goner.

I had read in Kapka Kassabova’s book “Twelve Minutes of Love—A Tango Story” that tango is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire.  Without devolving into purple prose, let me just say that after the third tanda (a set of three to five songs–and tango law states that a couple dance only one!), I was expecting a marriage proposal.

Well who could blame me?   The passionate music.  The “love hormone”–oxytocin, coursing through my body, triggered by the intimate contact. The refuge of his embrace.  So, I settled in for the ride and what I can only describe as a transcendent experience.  Afterwards I felt as if I was going to swoon and held onto his arm as he escorted me back to my seat.

Our dances lulled me into a trance state, not unlike the euphoria achieved through sexual union.  When you’re doing it right.  When the separate self is abandoned.  A place I long to be at times.

Truth be told, I am not a huge fan of longing.  It has an insidious way of dragging me out of the present and dropping me square into the past or future.  Into the land of the what-should-have-beens or the what-could-bes.  But ultimately isn’t.

And let’s face it–the present is where it’s happening.   And where the joy is. Or can be.

So how do I manage tango with it’s never-ending desire and tidal pull into wistfulness?

Fortunately (or not), all dances are not like the tandas I shared with Jorge, or else I’d be on the next plane to Buenos Aires.

Some are just plain FUN.  And some are just plain disastrous.  I danced with one lead that will not dance to my level (lower–he lets me know) and insists on executing all kinds of flashy, quick and invasive moves. That dance resulted in my having to super glue my big toenail back together.

On second thought, maybe a dream-like dance or a swoon now and again couldn’t hurt.  Or more likely, wouldn’t hurt.

And so, in the coming months, as winter warms to spring, and hearts race a little faster as we pivot, we shall see.

What happens on the dance floor may not have to stay on the dance floor.

Copyright © 2013  Nancy Green

Tango: The Year In Review

My Birthday and New Year’s Eve are a day apart.

So in effect, I have the good fortune to say goodbye to the old and ring in the new, twice. And double the amount of reflection, resolution and celebration.

During the week leading up to these two auspicious events, I have been cleaning house, literally and metaphorically.

Dusting and a sweeping. Turning over the mattress, plumping up the pillow. Straightening out a relationship here and there. Ending one and tending to another. Deepening others.

And with my partner, the vacuum cleaner, practicing forward ochos with embellishments(!), to the soundtrack of the great tango orchestras.

It has taken me the full year of practice to begin to become the type of dancer I admired all those months ago. One who dances the simplest of steps with grace and confidence.

A few of the men who have kindly endured the phases of my stepping on, tripping over and the anticipating-their-every-move-incorrectly, have noticed that our dances have become easier. And dare I say…enjoyable.

All evidenced by compliments such as: “Well danced, Nancy.” And “Hey, everybody, would you get a look at this one!” And my all time favorite, “Fearless, just like you.” As told to me by actual leads: Daniel, Michael and Jack. (Insert happy face here)

Oh tanguera, beware the slippery slope of too many accolades resulting in the sin of pride.

To which I say: “Damn it all!”

Like many students, I have only wanted praise and recognition from my teachers for a job well done. A dance well danced. And as we know, the wanting really impedes the learning not to mention the enjoyment.

In our Walking & Embrace class I was picked for the purpose of demonstrating close embrace with our handsome, funny, sexy teacher.

Yes Dante, you.

And by close, I mean hearts beating close. Lest you think all this hugging sounds quaint, in Argentine tango, it bypasses friendly and moves straight to smoldering. No questions asked.

As Dante and I were demonstrating the really close embrace, he mused to the class that he wasn’t so sure that Nancy wanted to be that near him.

To which everyone laughed and said: “No…we‘re pretty sure that she’s okay with it.”

But how does one manage humility, learn the lesson and have a good time as the chosen one of the moment? In front of the entire class!

With grace, confidence. And blushing.

During my first year of learning this marvelous dance and clocking in some of the requisite 10,000 hours, I have come to relax and let the learning take care of itself. I am hardly embarrassed or frustrated by not knowing, or taking longer to know it. The tango and I are going steady.

And though the giddy newness of learning the dance has transitioned to familiarity, the enjoyment has only increased.

Upon reflection, learning the Argentine tango may be the best and most life affirming decision I have ever made. It has opened up the world to me and more importantly, me to the world.

Copyright © 2013  Nancy Green

Sandy Don’t Dance

The morning of Sandy, while I was out doing some end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it provision shopping, I passed by Giovanni D’Italia, our beloved shoe repair shop.

I asked Nick why on earth he was open?  Were they expecting a flood of emergency shoe repair issues?  A run on waterproofing supplies?

He looked at me and in earnest said, “Some people need their dance shoes.”

Well yes, some people do.  And as we would soon see, some people would need their hip boots and waders. Including all at Giovanni D’Italia, who found themselves under water, as most of Hoboken did that day.

I am one of the very fortunate.  My street does not flood…yet.  My home is on its foundation.  No lives lost.  No looming insurance nightmares.  But no power for a week.  It was like camping…indoors.

After five days, the charm had worn off and I had some options.  A place to go where the lights were on and somebody was home.

I was conflicted about bailing on Hoboken though.  About missing the volunteer and communal opportunities.  And the free food.  To which my best friend, who is one of the flooded weary said, “So what.  I’d leave if I could.”

And so, by candlelight I packed a bag that included my dog, external hard drives, hair care products, survivor’s guilt and my tango shoes.  For you never know when a tango opportunity will present itself.  With a quarter of a tank of gas I fled for higher ground to my family in Massachusetts.

Dancing would have to wait until the waters receded, tunnels were pumped out and New York was turned back on.  And as I write this, our PATH train, one month later, is still out of service.  Indefinitely.

In exodus, in a lit and heated home, I spent all of my time and data allowance on Twitter trying to get a grasp as to what happened to New York and New Jersey when Sandy came to town.  I’m sure that I was quite tedious to be around.

One of the signs that one is becoming a tango addict is that one could turn any conversation to tango within two minutes.

I found that I could turn any conversation to Sandy within one.

When the coast was clear, and I did not need a flotation device to cross town, I returned to clean up and pitch in where I could.

And so, accompanied by battery powered Pugliese, I listened to tango music while I scrubbed my flooded friend’s defrosted fridge.  By headlamp.

Copyright © 2012  Nancy Green

You Know You Have A Tango Problem When…

After my initial foray into the world of Argentine tango—even before I was aware that there was a world, a friend sent me a checklist of the telltale signs that one is becoming a tango addict.

I thought it was amusing, though I didn’t recognize myself in any of it.

Until now.

A couple of things have cropped up lately that have prompted me to submit my own entries.

I remember thinking (a little too smugly) how fortunate I was to have a strong body, good posture and no knee issues.  While all that  remains true, there is the little problem of my feet in the 3” heels.

I won’t go into too much detail, after all, who really wants to hear about my foot pain?  Suffice it to say that many hours on one’s toes in one’s beautiful tango shoes, is a sure way to get to meet your local podiatrists.

And after making the rounds and gathering the  opinions of foot doctors and friends, I have collected a shoebox full of information.

I cried at the first opinion.  Hoboken Foot & Ankle said to stop dancing or I was surely headed for surgery.

I wept with relief at the second.  Hoboken Ankle & Foot said that with modifications and perhaps a lower heel (sniff), I shall live to dance another day.

I sat up straight at the third.  My teacher Dante said that with a combination of dance sneakers (there is a sneaker for every occasion), toe exercises, and working with my friend Suzanne (a Feldenkrais teacher), I could keep serious injury at bay.  And take my feet into my own hands.

I laughed at the fourth.  My mother suggested that I take up bridge.  Which is her solution to many of life’s problems.

I can officially say that I have tango-foot.  Though there must be salsa-foot, samba-foot and rumba-foot.  Not to mention ballet-foot.  Ouch.

And if that weren’t enough tango trouble, my best friend said that she thought I was developing an unhealthy obsession with the dance.  And that I had become unavailable and she felt abandoned.  She also said that I was using tango to avoid loneliness.  To which I replied: “Exactly!  And it’s working.”

I didn’t understand what she would have me do instead.  Sit home alone in a lotus position and be one with loneliness…every night?

Isn’t this what I’m supposed to be doing?  Engaging in life, learning something new, making friends (women and men), and having the most wonderful time.

I assured her that I loved her, would never leave her and that an intervention was not necessary.  For that is what addicts say.

When I told Dante of the tango mess I was making, he laughed, high-fived me, and said: “Now you are a dancer.”

Copyright © 2012  Nancy Green

Follow (Interpret) The Leader

When I first began to learn the Argentine tango, a few of my girlfriends bristled at the idea of giving up the lead and of having to take direction from men.  And worst of all, of having to wait to be asked to dance.  “Nancy, how can you do it?”

I listened to stories of couples that decided to learn a social dance right before they got married.  About how he wanted to lead and she wouldn’t let him.  About weddings almost being called off.

I have one good friend who decided to take up tap because she didn’t have to depend on a man to learn the dance.

And I must admit after my very first tango class I left thinking that the dance sets women back decades.  He initiates, he decides which steps and when and he determines the pace.  I am to obey, going backwards, in heels.

Though it only took the second class for me to understand that my role is as important as his.  For without me, there is no dance.

And while it may appear as if I’ve canceled my membership to NOW, I do have a lot of say as to how this dance is danced.

I am the one that determines the closeness (or not) of the embrace.  I am the one that interprets (as opposed to follows) his steps.  If I do not feel his lead, I simply don’t take it.  And when asked to dance and choose not to, I always have the option to say, “No thank you.“

Oh, and have I told you that tango law states that if a step is missed, it is always the lead’s fault?  Liberating.

And so in giving up the lead, I’ve come to enjoy and to expect men to…well…lead.

I danced with a man at the Union Square milonga who was so timid and limp in his affect that I’m not even sure a dance had taken place.  Though I knew something must have happened, for when the music stopped, we were at the other end of the pavilion.  I had to stop myself from saying: “So lead already.”

I want to clarify that I am not talking about physical strength here.  While I do appreciate the beauty and thrill of being in the arms of a strong man, it is his intention that gets me to take the first step.

He starts the conversation with the invitation of the embrace.  And no matter how simple the steps are, he is able to communicate movement clearly.  I answer by interpreting his movement so that we may remain in motion.

And that is our shared goal.

Copyright © 2012  Nancy Green

Lessons Learned

You know, I didn’t think it would happen and I’ve really tried to resist it but…I have developed preferences.  In dance partners.

The upside of realizing that I can discern good lead from bad is that I am learning to dance.  Another side is that there are leads I prefer to dance with and others not as much.

I remember thinking during the first series of beginner classes that all leads were great.  We were in it together.  Taking the same classes, stepping on each other’s feet and learning at the same rate.

And even if they weren’t so great I always had my fall back lessons of practicing kindness, patience and good posture.  And waiting it out until they got better.

As we’ve progressed from beginner to advanced beginner and dare I say to pre-intermediate, I realize that we aren’t learning at the same rate.  And yes, there are many factors: economics, amount of practice and number of left feet. To name a few.

The fact remains though that we need each other to execute our individual roles or there is no dance.  And in class, depending on whom I dance with, this is sometimes the case.  No dance and no dance lesson learned.

One of my dance partners admits the he and most of his family are “a little off.”   He’s genius, sweet, does not recognize social cues and frustrates easily.

Recently, he became so anxious while learning new steps that he began a series of stress reduction exercises.  Deep inhaling and exhaling.  Shrugging of shoulders and flailing of arms.  I had to remind him that we were still in an embrace and would he kindly detach himself from me before he started his calisthenics routine.

Another one of my classmates until recently, led solely and enthusiastically with his arms.  In effect giving me an upper body workout headed towards shoulder dislocation.  He told me that rugby was his sport and that is where he learned all of his dance moves.  That made perfect sense, made me laugh and like him all the more for it.

In fairness to these brave men, they have big dance shoes to fill.  Not only are they responsible for the direction, they have to pay attention to the musicality, allow time for her artistic expression and be mindful of traffic on the dance floor.  My teacher Dante said that it took him a couple of years to remember that there was a woman in front of him.

And in further fairness to my male classmates, they have gotten so much better.  I’ve even noticed their progress in mid-dance.

But then there are these pesky preferences.

In class, women rotate after every dance.  This gives all of us the chance to experience each other.  Or at least that’s the plan.

The problem arises when couples pass each other on the dance floor.  The natural order of things then becomes disrupted.  This can result in dancing with the same struggling lead three times in a row and never dancing with one of the more experienced leads.  Of course this can and does sometimes work in my favor.

So what are my options?  I can grin and bear it, take the next level class or talk to the teacher privately about rotation management.  Or I can take matters into my own hands.  Which is not pretty.  And that is what I did the other day.

The class was almost over and I hadn’t the opportunity to execute the steps the teacher was teaching, for the lead could not lead them.  I did something so shocking, so out of character…I cut in front of one of my fellow follows.  I basically stole her partner.  Not one of my better moments for which I apologized to her immediately…after the dance.

So what lessons have I learned?

I will renew my vows of patience and kindness.  For even if the dance of the moment is not the one I had envisioned, without him, there is no dance.

Copyright © 2012  Nancy Green