Nancy Learns the Tango

Category: Dance Partners

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.

 

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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

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Dirk Jun cart

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Locomotive Jun

© Nancy Green 2015

Hands Off, He’s Mine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Copyright © Nancy Green 2014

Nice Pair

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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

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

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

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

Dance Partner No. 2

In tango etiquette class my teacher recommended that I let a potential partner know of my two-month beginner status.  Even before the first salida.  This gives him the opportunity to excuse himself before I step on his feet.  And he can save himself from looking inelegant as he suffers through yet another beginner.

Too late.

He said: “You followers don’t need to spend thousands on dance classes.  All you need is a good lead.  Like me.  I’ve been dancing the tango for ten years.  You don’t need to tell me that you’re a beginner.  I’ll know it from your first step.”  I’m seeing a common theme here.  I must have beginner written all over my feet.

To his credit, he hung in there with me.  Using my every misstep as a teaching opportunity.  “Stop shifting your weight, I know where your weight is.  Do not anticipate my next move.  If I tell you to stand on your left foot for ten years then you stand on that foot until I indicate that you move to your right foot.”  Charming.

Truth be told, I could barely follow his lead.  Where was the elegant invitation to dance?  The firm but gentle hand on the small of my back, indicating that I move this way or that?  His movements were sudden and choppy and dizzying.   So, I checked  that my t-straps were secured and held on as he shoved me around the dance floor.

Copyright © 2012  Nancy Green

Dance Partner No. 1

My first dance partner was Rama.  South Asian, pressed jeans and all grin.  Our first dance had the awkwardness of ballroom dance class in sixth grade in the basement of Temple Emeth.  Without the white gloves.  He held me in an open embrace which felt like and probably looked like we were holding each other at arms length.

I have since learned that the invitation to dance the Argentine tango begins with the cabeceo.   A nod of the head from man to woman across a crowded room.  She accepts by holding his gaze.  The agreement to dance has been made.  He escorts her to the dance floor and offers his left hand.  They form the connection of the embrace.  The woman waits, softly shifting her weight from one foot to the other.  Ready for the invitation to move with him that she knows will come.  Though not when.

But we knew none of that.

Rama’s invitation to dance went something like this:

“Okay Nancy, let’s dooo eeet!  Okay, c’mon, ready?  Let’s dooo eeet!  Okay, let’s go.  C’mon, we go!  Nancy, we go!  Let’s dooo eeet!”

And we danced?

Copyright © 2012  Nancy Green