Nancy Learns the Tango

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

Tag: dance partners

It Takes Way More Than Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 



© Nancy Green 2017

 

See what Triangulo is up to now.

 

Nancy Takes A Hike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aside from some grit and determination, what eventually saved me, without much thanks to my fellow hikers, was my best friend Sharon–who wasn’t even on the hike. Astoundingly, I had cell service and when I called her, though she 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

 

 

 

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

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