Nancy Learns the Tango

Category: Argentine tango

Ten Cents a Dance (adjusted for inflation)

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

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

 

I’ve been published in Salon.com!

To see how it turns out:

http://www.salon.com/2017/07/09/paying-for-it-ten-cents-a-dance-adjusted-for-inflation/

 

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© Nancy Green 2017

Nancy Takes A Hike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I do like bringing up the rear. It’s quiet but for the birdsong, and the frogs, and the sound of scampering through leaves, and my heavy breathing. To be in so much green and hear twigs snapping underfoot, and water moving over rocks; glorious. And I love the puzzle and decision-making of navigating a rocky trail. So, it’s the end of the line for me, and as 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, clipboards, orthopedic surgeons, gurneys, IVs, emergency surgery, pain meds, room service, thankfulness for Obamacare–and the indispensable care and kindness of nurses. Sharon was waiting for me by my hospital bed when they wheeled me back to my room after surgery–the next day.

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

 

shoes4

© 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