Nancy Learns the Tango

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 a trekking companion once told me, “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 lives 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, 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 pole.

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.

 

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© 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

Dirk Jun cart

monument

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. I consider that to be a very positive start.

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

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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.

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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

Dance Floor Psychoanalysts

At the milonga in Union Square Park, I danced with a handsome Indian gent.  During which he asked if he could give me a few pointers.  I said–and always say–yes.

Perhaps I should rethink that.

“Don’t look at the ground.  Keep your head turned this way, not that way.  Focus on my chest.  Wait for my indication to move, do not anticipate.  Take a deep breath and for god’s sake, relax.”

Well who could relax at that point?

He then asked if I was an unhappy person.  And that he could tell by the way I danced that I was a depressive.  Also that I was backleading and therefore must be in a “bossy job.”

I burst out laughing.

Backleading can be likened to back seat driving.  When the Follow executes steps contrary to the Lead’s lead.  A major faux pas.

I believe I had been misdiagnosed.  After all of his scrutiny and adjustments, I had become quite nervous.  I did my best to keep up and to not disappoint. This resulted in my anticipating his every step.  Incorrectly.  How very bossy of me.

I asked if he were a therapist or philosopher by trade.  “My dear, we are all philosophers.”

Oy vey.

After the therapy session ended I sat down next to a man who was deeply, deeply involved with his phone.  He looked up for a moment just as a woman danced by in her follower role, that is to say backwards.  Without a partner.

He turned to me and said “Only in New York.”  Okay, granted she had a distinct air of…sanatorium about her.  But content.

I said that the up side to dancing a partner dance without a partner is that you are never in need of one.  He said “The danger of dancing alone is…”and I interrupted and suggested that perhaps one can appear a little nutty?  He said no, that  wasn’t it at all.   That by dancing solo, one can run the risk of ending up lonely and remaining alone.

Another dance floor analyst.

Just then a man came over and asked me to dance.  I left my seated neighbor with his phone, alone.

Copyright © 2012  Nancy Green

Show and Tell

At the practica (an informal practice session) the other night, we were treated to a terrific performance by some of the advanced students. After the dance, a couple of my teachers asked me if I had ever considered performing at a similar event.

Well…no. I had not considered that. Or had I?

My first response was: “Not to denigrate myself…but why would anyone want to watch me?” After all, I’m only in my seventh month–of learning the tango that is. What could I possibly demonstrate that all the students had not already seen let alone done or are doing?

My friend Melissa (who values process as much if not more than outcome) said that she would find it more interesting watching a beginner than an expert. That seeing what a beginner can do is more accessible than someone further down the road in his or her craft.

And as I know from being a longtime product designer, the process is where I experience discovery and ultimately deeper value. Not to mention joy.

I suppose that witnessing someone in the early stages of her journey is the point where you can imagine yourself in her shoes. And they are fabulous red suede t-straps!

And that showing myself, my steps, missteps and missed steps is an act of sharing as well as showing.

And in the spirit of sharing, I realized that I’ve never mentioned where I’ve been learning this intriguing dance.

I had wanted the essays to stand on their own. As pure experience. I did not want to name names of all the men I’ve stepped on. The unkempt, the sweaty. All the ones that haven’t asked me to dance. And the ones who aren’t paying attention. I am happy to report that lately, they do ask me to dance. And they are paying attention. As they/we are in the process.

The dance studio is Triangulo. The teachers and staff are wonderful and encouraging and kind. I cannot thank them enough. And it just occurred to me that the way to thank them is to accept the invitation to perform. To share with everyone what my teachers have taught and what I have learned in these seven months

So Carole, Laure and Dante, my answer is YES.

 

Copyright © 2012  Nancy Green

My Dance Card

I was all set to write about not being to be asked to dance at the milonga on Christopher Street Pier.

About how I sat there in my fancy, sexy skirt, looking as pretty and open as can be.  About how I waited for close to two hours before someone asked me to dance.  About how when he did ask (and I let him know of my beginner-ish status), he hesitated, and said:  “Well…let’s dance one dance and if it doesn’t work out, then no one will be insulted.”  I knew then that I was about to be insulted.  And after the one dance, as predicted, he thanked me and walked away.

Was he never a beginner?  Where was his dedication to the Argentine tango and paying it back?  Where was his generosity of spirit?  Apparently elsewhere.

And so, my confidence went right through the boards and into the Hudson.

All the memories of not being asked to dance flooded in.  The grammar school, high school and bar mitzvah dances.  The not being asked to dance at the prom. As I was not invited to the prom.  Oh, and as for not being asked goes, don’t get me started about online dating.

In my middle age, I recognize that these feelings are merely visitors.  Paying a visit to see if I’m still paying attention and on my toes.  And as it happens, that is exactly where I can be found these days; on my toes.  And the view is wonderful.

Well okay, so I wrote about it.  The not-being–asked-to-dance aspect of learning a social dance.

There is of course a brighter side to this sad story.  The being asked to dance and the dancing.  Lately my dance card has been filling up.

There have been times recently when dancing the Argentine tango has been so sublime.

I have come to the dance floor knowing of the suffering of the world, feeling the occasional isolation of living alone or being made insane from upgrading to Lion.  And the other night, in just one dance, it all took a rest.  I  connected to humanity, one human (male) at a time.  In one dance we committed, listened to each other, negotiated and moved together.  And all to the sultry and otherworldliness of tango music.

I have chosen a practice full of surprises, discoveries, history, artistry, sensuality, joy and of course great shoes.  A practice where the learning is never finished.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Copyright © 2012  Nancy Green

Hooked: Learning The Gancho

My first recollection of the tango is the dance of Morticia and Gomez.  Arms extended, heads thrown back and Gomez with a rose between his teeth.  Or was it Lurch with the rose?

After 5 months of participating and observing, I have yet to see a lead with a rose in his teeth.

The move that typifies or at least intrigues the most is the gancho or “hook.” The gancho is an embellishment where the follower flexes and swings her free leg and sharply hooks and releases her knee around her partner’s supporting leg.  Inside or outside his knee, high or low on his thigh.  Very sexy.

Last week in Women’s Technique class, the dance floor was divided in half by a gauzy curtain so that a Men’s Technique class could be taught simultaneously.

Although this gender segregation was for the purposes of learning our individual lead and follow roles, it felt suspiciously like religious tradition. An Orthodox synagogue or the separation of bride and groom before the wedding.

And the funny part is, what we were learning separately, that we would soon enough do together (in public) was so sexy and intimate.  When the scrim was pulled back and we were revealed to each other…the awkwardness was palpable.  We approached each other with the shyness of fictional newlyweds.

That lasted but for a few seconds.

Let the ganchos begin!

“Ladies, spread your legs so that the men can step in between them.  Men, hold her close and pivot so that you are thigh to thigh.  And as you are turning, her leg will naturally wrap around the inside of yours.  Hook and release.”

Argentine tango: Not for the faint of heart, shy persons or the orthodox.

Copyright © 2012  Nancy Green

What To Wear?

I read a quote that said “If you see a woman over forty shopping at Forever 21, she is dancing Argentine tango.”

Too true.

Recently, I too could be seen in a similar shop that sold fashion…not of my maturity.  Or preferred number of stitches per inch.

But what could I do?  There it was, in the window.  The cutest, sexiest skirt.  White polka dots on black.  Hemline up in the front and down in the back.

Well now I’ve got the skirt, got the shoes.  But do I have the nerve and do I have the moves?

I paddled a whitewater kayak for many years.  At that time neon gear was just coming into vogue.  I remember thinking that the only people who should wear shocking pink and acid green were the really great paddlers or the really lousy ones.  You either called attention to your hair-boater moves or were in serious need of a rescue.  And needed to be found.  As a solid intermediate paddler, I wore navy.  Classic

And this brings me back to the dance floor.  Do I want to call attention to myself or do I remain in the background while I quietly and diligently practice my steps?

Heaven forbid I overdress for my talent.

By engaging in this social, sexy and intriguing dance, haven’t I already made the decision to show off?  Perhaps putting on the costume is my next step.

Decision made.  The skirt and I will make an appearance at the next milonga.

Copyright © 2012  Nancy Green

Close Embrace

When I entered the world of Argentine tango as well as learning a dance, I also made an agreement to move towards intimacy.  With strangers.  Or at least the appearance of intimacy, until I got the hang of it.  I’ve taken the silent vows of good personal hygiene and the popping of breath mints.  Ix-nay on the garlic and onions.

Lately our teachers have asked us to dance in close embrace.

We’ve been dancing thus far in open embrace or what I call the “keep-you-at-arms-length” position.  Which is antithetical to Argentine tango.  It’s all about the embrace.  The connection

Well, who can think about connection, what with all the salidas, cruzadas, ochos, barridas, paradas and molinetes?  How can one consider an intimate embrace with all the stepping on, the stumbling into and the running over of my partners?  And that of other people’s partners?

As a beginner my focus has been on learning the steps and patterns, understanding nuance from my teachers  and maintaining good form.  And then somehow miraculously dance while not thinking of any of it.

But as you know, I am now an advanced beginner and I am delighted to tell you that my muscle has some short-term memory.

I have made the bold move in some instances to move closer to my partner, give him a big hug and see what happens.

I am reluctant to use this old chestnut, but…size does matter.  Or at least it seems to. Too tall and my arms are above my head and become fatigued.  Too short and my endowment is blocking his vision.  Last week I danced with a man half my size and I felt his breath on my elbow!

As it turns out some of the most connected, intimate and sensual dances have been with men that are my height.  We are cheek-to-cheek and heart to heart.

I may not even know his name, though I will wholeheartedly follow where he leads.

Copyright © 2012  Nancy Green

Beginner’s Mind

I am happy to report that I have graduated from beginner to…advanced beginner!  And with advancement comes a new reality.  It is time to commit.  Or not.  Gone are the happy, sexy days of blissful, stepping-on-my-partner’s-feet ignorance.  Oh sure, I still step on feet, but now I do it with good posture.

Throughout these first experiences,  I have tried to maintain the openness of “beginners mind.”  I’d like to know though, is there  “advanced beginner’s mind?”

From knowing nothing about the Argentine tango a few months ago, I can now say with confidence that I know next to nothing.

With a small repertoire of the basics: salidas, cruzada’s, ochos, ocho cortados, molinetes and sacadas there is no turning back.  I am officially having fun.

What next?  Continue dance classes, go to the practicas.  Dust off my shoes and confidence and brave another milonga.  How do I continue to learn when not in dance class?

My teachers suggest that we practice at home.  Alone.  I should be able to do ochos (pivoting forwards and backwards on one foot) without holding on to someone or something.  They implore us to listen to tango music a lot.  Even at work.  Especially at work.  Find the two count in milonga.  Find the one-two-three in the vals.  My teacher Dante says that there is nothing sexier than a woman’s walk.  “Ladies, we invite you to walk.”

So, at home, in dance shoes, asking my dog to step aside, turning up the Francisco Canaro,  I can practice my steps and walk as sexy as I please.  I can pretend that I am a great dancer.

Sometimes it can take one.

 

Copyright © 2012  Nancy Green

Nancy Takes the Lead

The descriptions of dance lessons say that you do not need a partner to learn the tango.  Which is surprising since we all know that it takes two.  They also say to not let the lack of a partner stand in the way of learning.  Perfect.  I don’t have one and now luckily I don’t need one.

As it turns out, going it alone has its advantages.  Gone is any attachment to be or not to be with the partner you walked in the door with.  In class we rotate after every song.  At a milonga, couples dance a tanda.  A set of three to five songs.  And then move on.  The constant changing of partners has had its thrills and challenges.

In class, I danced with one man and felt transported right at the connection of the embrace.  Happy to be in his arms and excited to follow wherever he led.  We moved around the dance floor beautifully.  At one point, I missed his indication for a cruzada and stumbled.  He said: “Don’t worry, I’ve got you.”

And by contrast, my next partner mumbled something about ochos not being his favorite move.  Our dance was all apologies and blame. “You’ve led me into a cruzada, please help me out of it.”  “Well, I don’t know the women’s part.  You will have to figure that out for yourself.”

My last beginner class was all couples and one other single woman.  Not enough men to go around.  The uncoupled women’s lament. And the teacher did not rotate partners.  So I was paired with Sandra for the evening.

As this was her very first tango class and my third series of beginner classes, I decided make it challenging and take the lead.  Okay, so what did I know about leading?  My role is to initiate the steps and guide her into a walk.  It is my job to take care of her and not back her into another couple or into the wall.  I have to step into her space with enough intention in order for her to move out of the way.  I have to make her feel and not think.

And so how did all this tapping into male energy work out for me?

What I had on my hands for the evening was a giggling, hesitant, apologetic young woman stepping all over my suede shoes.

I really missed my feminine role as follower.  No apologies.

Copyright © 2012  Nancy Green

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