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Step 11: Breathe

“Tango music” is traditionally played by an orquesta típica, including two violins, a piano, a doublebass, and two bandoneóns. The bandoneón is like an accordion that has bellows and buttons. It breathes. And because it is the bandoneóns that keeps the beat, the dance breathes too.

I took a workshop with Fernanda Ghi and Guillermo Merlo recently. At one point, Guillermo observed that the whole room was moving as one, with the breath of the music. It was so lovely!

Mimi also pointed this out to us in class once, to remind us to respect the space in between. Unlike the hard and definitive sound of a snare drum, the bandoneón gives you a moment of suspension. That moment is the one that allows a sacada to occur within a molineta. That moment is the one that allows the Follow to respond to a Lead’s intention. Inhale. Exhale.

I experience it similar to Vinyasa Yoga, in which you string together a series of poses in a flowing sequence, allowing your breath to set the pace. My experience of tango has a similar flow, a richness and fullness. But I’ve noticed that people have a tendency to speed up when they are apprehensive or uncertain, as if going faster will reduce the chances of them messing up. Or perhaps it’s like crossing a rickety bridge. They just want to get to the other side.

Perhaps it mirrors their breathing. Isn’t it true that when you are nervous or tense, your breathing speeds up too? [Read more…]

Practical Mommy’s Impractical Art Project

So for-EVER, I’ve been struggling with boleos. Boleo is often translated as “whip” because of the whip-like effect of the Argentine bola (the equivalent of the American lasso). It’s “I’m going this way! Wait! No, I’m not.” And the result is exactly that action-delayed-reaction of a whip. It’s spontaneous fun. It’s letting go at the top of the roller coaster. It’s allowing your body to do what bodies do.

But to execute a boleo requires what many dancers describe as “controlled looseness.” I’m a master at the control part. And can summon looseness at times. But for me, achieving both simultaneously in dance was like waiting for pigs to take flight. My Type A control freakishness meant I was “cheating” my dance partners out of this super cool move. I was too tight, holding myself too close and guarded in my belly. Technically, a lead should be able to indicate a boleo with just the slightest push of energy at the right time. Like a flick of the wrist is all it takes to crack a whip. But with me, it was like having to move one of those piggies that are still waiting to sprout wings.

[Read more…]

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Step 9: Sacadas
We’ve spent the semester learning sacadas. The literal translation of the verb sacar is “to take.” So in this move, either the lead or the follow moves into the space that his/her partner just left, creating the illusion that the other is being displaced.

As we execute a series of sacadas in a row, I note the circular energy; the result is two people spinning together, taking turns pivoting and in the axis position. In the last variation, the backward sacada the follow powers the turn. So for a minute, your roles are reversed. The follow supports the lead, as he balances his weight on one foot. [Read more…]

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Step 8: Finding Quiet

On Sunday evening, I was full of hate. Spit and vinegar as my “co-parent” likes to say. Yeah, a few frustrating exchanges with said “co-parent” still manage to do that to me. But as I drove to the dance, I willed myself to let go of all the crap. No luck.

I kept turning the scenario round and round in my head, trying to find some silver lining to it all. Where was the bright side? C’mon, Pollyana? What could I be thankful for? What lesson was I learning from this situation? What secondary benefit was I getting from hanging on to it; or continuing to create it?!

Not working. I just kept getting angrier and angrier!

So I got to my destination and strapped on my shoes, knowing full well that my head was everywhere but where I was. Tal walked over. I was silently praying he wouldn’t ask me — because I was tango disaster waiting to happen. I almost laughed out loud because just a few days ago, Mimi was praising me for being so grounded. Ha!

[Read more…]

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Step 7: NOW

So my friend Scott the Writer says that all thoughts are connected — because the brain is one giant self-organizing system. Perhaps my self-organizing brain picked out Coyote Blue at the bookstore last week for a reason unapparent to me. I am fully aware, however that I underlined this passage on page 97 because of my preoccupation with balance!

And then it came to him. This was just a different kind of coyote blue — trying to look into the future too far was ruining his balance. He had to focus on right now and eventually he would learn what he needed to know when the future got to him.

And this is why I love the mindfulness that is Argentine tango. Just like Zen Master Thich Naht Hanh teaches (and apparently “Zen Master” Christopher Moore), there is only now.

If I anticipate the next step, I mess up the one I’m trying to do. If I obsess about the last one, I’ll also miss the lead for the current one. There is only now. [Read more…]

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Step 6: … in heels!

Mimi says, “Balance is especially important for the follows because you’re wearing those super tall heels!”

I’ve always had feet problems. When I was 22, I actually had foot surgery and was laid up for 4 weeks. Navigating the “El” train in Chicago every day on crutches was a lesson in composure. My friend Jeremy actually made me a mix tape (yes, that would be cassette), titled Feets Problems. I gave up rollerblading because my feet couldn’t take it.

So now I tango. In heels. 5-8 hours a week. Ha! Ironically, my tootsies are loving it!

Well, perhaps “love” is an exaggeration. What I’ve found is that my feet and legs, even my stomach muscles are much stronger. My balance is much better. [Read more…]

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Step 5: But, I’m going backwards!?!

Talk about a prescription for my control issues. In order to do this tango thing, I had to do it blind! Or at least, be okay with not knowing where I was going. Perfect. f$%#!

Melissa Pierce is one of my sources of inspiration. She is a stay-at-home mom turned documentary filmmaker/speaker and the question she poses in her project, Life In Perpetual Beta is this: “Is the unplanned life still worth living?” [Read more…]

Practical Mommy’s Impractical Art Project

Step 4: Lead & Follow

Recently Tal, one of my tango instructors reminded me that I had come to tango for answers and that not surprisingly, answers were willingly supplied. Funny. I’m not even sure what my questions were.

In Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert was also looking for BALANCE. She picked her post-divorce destinations on her quest to find the balance between physical experiences (Italy) and spiritual experiences (India). Early in the book, she asks a Balinese medicine man the question of how this balance can be achieved. He answers by way of a picture: a man with his head in his heart, and two feet planted on the ground.

What does this have to do with tango? If you’re a tango dancer, you can wipe the grin off your face now.

In that very first class, this is what I learned: the leader leads with energy from his chest. As the follower, I focus all my attention there. This is where all the information and energy is transmitted from lead to follow. Quite literally, I put my head in his heart. [Read more…]

Practical Mommy’s Impractical Art Project

Step 3: Just Step

Back in the 90s, when I would visit my family in Manila, we would all go out to dance clubs. For those of you who’ve been there, you’ll know that ballroom dancing was all the rage at one point. Maybe it still is.  You would go with a bunch of friends, hire a few D.I.’s (dance instructors) for the evening, and have them twirl you around the dance floor.

So when people asked me, “But why did you pick tango?” I would say, “Tango is the easiest one.” WTF? Yuh huh… that’s what anyone in the St. Louis tango community said to me, at least with their eyes.

Don’t you love not knowing what you don’t know?!

To be fair, until 2009 my limited exposure to tango had been with D.I.s who instructed me in broken English to, “Just step!” Perfect. I know how to step. I don’t have to learn any fancy change-ball-change crap.

Yup. Tango. No fancy steps here.

[Read more…]

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Step 2: But Why Tango?

At this point, I began living my life by the signs. Sometimes, I didn’t exactly know what they meant but at least I was paying attention. This was a new thing for me since up until then, I was a take charge kinda girl. I was convinced that the only way to get anywhere in life or get anything done, meant I had to do it myself. Period.

My DIY Method is what had allowed me to transplant myself at age 13 to halfway around the world. This philosophy is how I graduated at the top of my class, how I landed one of two prized positions at a prestigious ad agency, how I created a stellar career as a designer, how I got to be 36 years old, 2.5 kids, in the top 5% of household incomes in the world, and feeling… profoundly empty. [Read more…]