Reflections on Tango

Norway 2017

I have returned from an extraordinary weeklong stay in Norway. I went to connect with former students and to meet new ones!

This particular part of Norway is quite rainy. Even though it is summer time I had checked the weather reports. They had had a record of straight rainy days for the month of June. (versus August or another month!!!) So I assured them I would bring some sun! And we did have at least one most spectacular warm sunny day. I spent that day with a new tango friend. A fabulous Leading Lady herself, she invited me to her exciting place of work: Troldhaugen, the former home of pianist / composer, Edward Grieg. Amazing. I experienced a lunchtime concert with the fabulous pianist, Tor Espen Aspaas, who shared stories and quotes from Grieg’s life to accompany the 10 short pieces he played for us. I was so moved (yes, to tears!). After the concert, we sat and had coffee with him. What a most special treat! To discuss music in a beautiful setting, outside, it was amazing. And the day just kept getting better and better.

The tours through this small museum, composer hut, concert hall, and Grieg’s house include guides with musical talents! One minute there’s a 15 minute “About my favorite piece” segment where a lovely young tour guide sang to us her favorite Grieg piece accompanied by my lovely new friend on piano. She then explained the piece of music: the motifs, the structure, her thoughts around the piece. It was fantastic. Then later in the Grieg’s home tour, another lovely tour guide accompanied by one of Grieg’s Steinway pianos in the living room sang another song to the tour group!!! WHAT AN AMAZING PROGRAM! This to me was the epitome of a musical experience! It really brings Grieg to life! A Must do if you ever go to Norway for a visit.

We finished off this part of the day with a 360 view from the top of Grieg’s home on the widow’s walk where Grieg’s wife used to have her plants! This was a special treat, don’t expect that on your tour if you do go!!! The day would not have been complete without some tango on the gorgeous wood performance space in the concert hall!

After that luxurious experience, 30 hours of private lessons, and packed group class, I will add that my Tango soapbox about embrace continues. The emphasis for the dancers (of all levels really) was to bring awareness to the connection through their embraces. There’s a lot of 1 sided embraces in Europe and both sides of the body need to be engaged in our dancing.

The week ended with my first attendance at an Encuentro. Another word for 150 tango friends from all over gathered for a milonga all weekend, with strict rules of etiquette enforced. And I’ll leave that for another blog!

Off to Berlin! and enjoy the pictures!

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About the Practilonga!

The Popular Practilonga!

Practice + Milonga = Practilonga!
Since my interview and time spent chatting with Mitra, I have found that the topic of growing tango and teaching beginners to really be a hot topic (again or still). I spoke recently to my colleague Karen Jaffe of Tangogypsies in Asheville, North Carolina and she spoke adamantly about the joy of practicing. The practica seems most logical, like with anything you need time to practice, to let something new sink into your body and your mind. And it should be a fun place to do that!

I remember in my early years of tango going to Buenos Aires and attending several practicas that were hosted by well-known maestros. It really was a practice space. It was a great way to meet people and to connect with them to go to milongas together usually after the practica. The atmosphere was casual, music playing in the background, people talking, drinking mate, asking the Maestro questions, usually with one partner, using the time to problem solve, to discover, to explore, to PRACTICE! There was no ronda (line of dance), it had the air of something about to happen! Like a classroom where everyone was told to take a partner and go to a corner and solve a problem, and at the end there would be a correct answer!

Over the years the Practilonga came to be, I think mostly in the US and Europe. This is a combination of the practica Karen Jaffe - TangoGypsiesand the milonga. Funny to think that these 2 could meet but it was / is an answer for communities where the traditional etiquette and structures of the milonga could be put aside. This might be due to community size or competing events.

I offer you Karen’s Practilonga user’s guide

What is a practilonga?

A practilonga is a social dancing event that combines the relaxed etiquette of a practica with many of the same elements you will find at a more formal milonga.

Designed for all level dancers, there is more light in the space and a designated area for people who want to stop to work on a movement or talk, where they would normally impede the line of dance at a milonga. That practice area can be delineated by chairs or tables, however you want to make it clear that that space is for practice.

How does it work?

The music is played in tandas, as is found at most formal milongas. Dancers may chose to continue social dancing, moving counter clockwise around the floor, working on refining navigation skills. They may also choose to work on elements of the dance, in the designated practice area. The rules of etiquette can be relaxed making it ok to dialog with your partner while dancing. If it becomes necessary to stop to dialog, or to work on something, then that couple can move to the practice area. Line of dance will be expected to continue moving.

Suggestions for a productive practice
1. Find an element, concept or movement; something specific to focus working on.
2. Ask a partner if they would like to work on that specific topic with you. You could ask them prior to coming to the practica or at the practica, but they might already have practicing plans with another. It also might depend on the community size.
3. Establish a warm-up practice period where each dancer is making “mental notes”, but otherwise remaining silent, perhaps 5 minutes or 2 songs.
4. After the warm-up period have a dialogue time, where each dancer has a chance to say something. Choose something that felt “good,” or “right” about the topic, and then something that “could be improved”. Focus on one point at a time.
5. Repeat the practice, working to incorporate the new information.
6. Dialogue and practice until you feel it is time to choose a new focus element, or to change partners.
7. REMEMBER to use “I” statements; I feel, I need, I would like, I think, etc. Generally, these are received better and they take away the feeling of blame. Avoid the use of negative words if possible. It’s always nice to thank your partner!
8. When in doubt or in need of assistance you can always direct the questions to assistants or to the teacher.

Karen: Practicing is not just for beginners, but for EVERY LEVEL of DANCER and I think, even MORE important for more experienced dancers who may have habits, that they would like to break out of in order to create new habits or to find new ways to make their dance more enjoyable and interesting. The focus really is on EXPANDING, it is not just a linear progression, it is QUANTUM.
I feel that even after 20 years of dancing, my continued study and intense practices during my annual month long trips to Buenos Aires, as well as exploratory practices and preparations for teaching workshops, are an important part of my growth as a dancer and teacher.

Find Karen at home in Asheville, in her garden, or on her monthly stays in Buenos Aires at Tangogypsies.com

To conclude, I think each community needs to be attentive to the group they are serving. Maybe some of the suggestions need to be altered. But communicating the goals of the space to your community definitely helps.

How does your successful practica or practilonga work?

Thanks for visiting Access Tango THE BLOG !

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Lovely Portugal

Wow! my dear readers! I spent a lovely week in Portugal and am intoxicated by the experience so much so that I want to return!
There was some tango as most of my visits to places are created through tango connections, so this one was no different. And yet, so different!!!
Maybe it was the sunshine, maybe it was the delicious coffee (to this barely-ever-drinks-coffee person), maybe it was the hills and the streets, and the smell and the food and the friendly people? I just don’t know but it all left me buzzing for more.
I taught 2 lovely classes in Porto to generous and patient students.
I, who do not have a sweet tooth (no gluten or dairy for this lady), fell in love with Pudim S. Bernardo: like rays of sunshine they called to me – egg yolks and sugar – heaven, a total foodgasm! Who knew!!!
I danced at several milongas and met a colleague and tango organizer who had recommended a student to me in Arizona!! So the internet does work, Adam recommended me back in September 2006!!!! And we finally met and danced a few tandas!!!
I do have one tango reminder – don’t assume a position and dance from there, you are dynamic beings – let your embrace create your space, let your embrace determine your position!

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Body as Autobiography – Back in Europe

I have been back in Europe for about 3 weeks now. This has included a trip to Berlin to assist Graciela Gonzalez with her classes.

Grande Place Mons

Grande Place Mons

This time around I am staying in a sleepy town outside of Brussels called Mons. This will be my base for the next several months.

The visit with Graciela was again, one of great reminders:  1) how much force, effort does one really need to dance tango? and 2) the embrace and how do we embrace? bringing us back to the essence of tango.

It is so funny to me how much language gets in the way of the body. I have said this all through my teaching career and probably during my modern dance career too. How we each interpret information, as that information makes its’ way through our autobiography into the body, completely fascinates me. How someone says something, when someone says anything, we are interpreting all of it through a filter, our own autobiographical filters.

In Boston, before arriving to Europe, I had the joy of taking class again with some of my modern dancer friends with our teacher. Mons(Mind you, I can’t remember the last time I set foot in that studio, so it was a lot of things and most of all, wonderfully familiar.) As I spoke to him (dear teacher Marcus Schulkind) briefly after class about an aspect of the body and the leg’s movement backwards, he said something to the effect of “just take their leg and move it backwards, the physical movement will get them to understand.” YES!

There is a dance form in Bali where the passing on of the tradition is done through manipulation of the dancer’s body. The transmitter of the dance actually manipulates the dancer’s arms and legs for her to remember the “choreography”. This makes me also reflect on the origins of tango, there were no schools, it was just manipulation of bodies to transmit the information corporally.

After my weekend with Graciela, which is never only about me translating her classes but it is Graciela and Daniela in Berlinalways an intense revisit of the material of tango in my own body. And because I know that the body is also a “telling tool”, it reveals to me where I have been and where I am. That tension? That stuck place? That block? They are all revealing where I am in my current journey and it’s also affecting my dance. And so I learn, again!

I am excited to report that I will be teaching around! Next stop Portugal!
Please check my calendar for where I will be next and remember that the times on the calendar are stuck in USA Arizona time.

 

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9 Suggestions for a Personally Improved Milonga Experience

An improved Milonga Experience you say? Ok, to be fair this blog will not be about my opinions on lighting or table seating arrangements, although I am sure I have opinions on that too, this is about YOU and how YOU can improve your own experience, or at least attempt to.

I hear so often (and have heard since I can remember) the diametrically opposed feelings of attending a milonga. I will addressPortland milonga the followers’ lament – the time spent dressing up, smelling good, really looking forward to the dance and the music. Then the apprehension from the mind chatter: will I get dances, will he like me, will I find “the one”, am I pretty enough? Am I good enough? Will I ever be like her? When? How many more classes?

And then comes the post-milonga chatter – why not me? Why her? Why not him? She’s so x? He’s so y? Maybe I’ll buy more shoes!

What if we could choose to change our milonga experience (obviously, if we were not having a good one)? Well, after a European tour of several hundred milongas with seas of women sitting down and then back in the US with the same dilemma, how are we going to change our experience? I suppose we could stop dancing – but I know for my soul and body, that’s not an option.

Can I really change my milonga experience?
I ventured more deeply into an understanding of energy and what I called, at the time, alternative thinkers, when I moved back to Arizona in 2003. With a strong link to Sedona, AZ where everyone is a mystic and seemingly blessed with endless happiness, my exposure came more intensely not only with a love interest but with a life coach.

If I am having a bad experience I am the common denominator, so how do I change it?Ladies sitting at milonga

So as I sat at another very large festival watching and wondering about the dynamics at play and being accosted occasionally by a negative rant from a female friend, then it came as no surprise that my reading of Dr. Wayne Dyer sparked these ideas.

  1. Before you even start to get dressed for the milonga, take a moment to assess your mood. How am I feeling right now? Happy? Apprehensive? Stressed? On a scale would it be a 10 = yepee I feel happy or close to a 6 or below. Don’t judge it or beat yourself up. Just assess it. Notice it.
  2. I vowed several years ago that I would not go dancing unless I was feeling really great. And I also vowed that when I felt content at a milonga and satisfied, I would give myself permission to leave. Whether it was after 1 tanda in 4 hours or 4 tandas in 2 hours, whatever it was, that when I was still happy and feeling satisfied I would leave and leave happy. But this still put the milonga in control of me, the milonga as the ruler of my mood and how I would feel for a few hours afterwards or days sometimes!!! So I worked on raising my mood anytime I felt a little down. We can change our mood by eating well, exercising, yoga, a little meditation, breathing, listening to music we love, dancing alone, affirmations. Whatever it takes. If you want to wear those cute shoes, dress, scarf, wear them if that makes you feel good. Recognize when there’s a shift in your mood to the negative and see if you can change it or at least release it.
  3. Intention – Have a clear intention. “I intend to feel great and to have great dances”. (And the clincher here is not to censor it afterwards with a buzz kill, ie: “I intend great dances unless that guy that smells badly who always asks me to dance asks me.”
  4. Take a sip of water! Sometimes hydrating helps to move energy and can change how you feel.
  5. Acceptance – Anytime a thought comes to you that judges another person, say to yourself, “I allow everyone their own experience”. And then be happy for them!
  6. And SMILE to your self! (breathe and relax!)
  7. And then smile more! And pay someone a compliment, “What a beautiful dress, what a nice tie, lovely earrings, I love your shoes”!  Last year in a European marathon I knew only a couple of people and I really was putting these ideas into action! There was a woman whose necklace I had noticed earlier in the evening and I found myself standing in front of her, and I told her I thought her necklace was lovely. She told me thank you and commented that women rarely compliment each other and how nice it was to receive a compliment. SO LADIES sincere compliments are nice!
  8. Practicality – On a practical note, get to know people, circulate in a room, figure out a way to meet people. Where are people congregating? Where are the exits and entrances to the dance floor? You have to do the work of meeting people or knowing people. Do the work pre-milonga, during the milonga and post milonga or take a class to meet people. This too will help your mood! I like to circulate, especially in a large room. Sometimes this is a hindrance, because a leader will say to me, “I saw you sitting over there and then I couldn’t find you!” BUT overall, taking a walk-about can let people see you, you get to see who is there, it allows me the time to assess the milonga as well.
  9. And finally (or maybe firstly) – don’t care what others think about you. It doesn’t matter because you can’t control that. What you think about you is all that matters. Wouldn’t you want to choose to be happy and want to stay that way? I would.

What do you do to have a great milonga experience?

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