Reflections on Tango

Genoa to Berlin

From Genoa To Torino to Berlin – By Train!!!

I am 1 week back in Berlin and it feels great – even though the chilly weather has greeted me, there has been a mix of sun, clouds, rain, drizzle – it’s Berlin, right? I have to say Torino and Genoa were especially mild, if not warm in comparison!
Genoa to Berlin you say?
I took a very very very long crazy train ride from Torino, to Milan, to Verona, to Munich, to Berlin – alone, with my 2 heavy suitcases and a backpack – why do they seem to get heavier? It definitely was a romantic idea but since I traveled mostly at night, being at the Verona train station at midnight was, well, creepy!! It was about 19 hours total!! (and no – not cheaper, I could have flown probably for less!) So I did that.. don’t have to repeat!
But let’s back up:
I went to a marathon in Genoa, Italy. What a cool port city! The best way I can describe it, is that industrialization and globalization merely pushed a little here and there to create streets for cars…. wandering around was the best and I got to do this with a Belgian tango dancer architect friend!!! So we gladly walked into buildings and aaahed and ooohed at beautiful things!!! On one main street alone I think there were 42 grand palaces, and the street itself is declared a UNESCO Heritage Site! Really fun!
And of course the iconic Lanterna, the renaissance lighthouse of Genoa built in 1543, which we missed going into due to strange hours and our strange tango hours!!!

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I had lovely food in Genoa and some nice dancing! There were 2 venues for the Milongas. One was much better served for catching dances the other was too narrow for cabaceo and somehow smoking was happening on the enclosed terrace where ladies heels would fall into the gaps in the floor boards! So you were either on the smoky terrace to catch a breath (not really) or a drink, and watch the floor so you wouldn’t get stuck in the floor boards OR in the dance space where there wasn’t much moving room unless you were sitting on a chair on the sidelines sweating or dancing! Being with Italians is always fun but more often then not I felt like I had crashed a wedding or a large party that I was not invited to! And I had been told that Italians play their music LOUDLY! and this is true. Deafeningly loud!
I stopped briefly in Nijmegen for dancing the day after I arrived (another, what was I thinking move, sitting in a car for another 6 hours!!!) I say briefly because between my catching naps whenever I could and dancing, the Sunday car ride back to Berlin came really fast! I mention the volume of the music because in Nijmegen I felt like the music was so soft, that it made me wonder if I had lost some hearing while dancing in Italy! One of my dearest college students came up with a Tango Emergency Kit that he would carry to milongas and boy, I wonder if he had ear plugs in there… I could have used them! Maybe now I will keep some in my bag!
So now back in Berlin, I am happy to be living where I am, a fantastic neighborhood (designed with my foodie needs in mind!), a really lovely german flatmate and the other flatmate is traveling! I hope I will be able to stay a bit without having to move around as much as I had the last time I was here.
I am teaching a 4 week course entitled The Big Four with Raimund about the top 4 tango orchestras and ideas on how to dance to them differently. I have also started sharing Restorative Exercise again to my small group of ladies who enjoyed and benefited from it the first time around. Now to spread the word more widely….
It has been nice to go to milongas and have dancers recognize me and welcome me back! That was kind of a lovely surprise. I have some upcoming adventures in England again and hopefully in Istanbul. And another tango marathon in Geneva!
If you miss me and miss my words remember there’s the Tango Workbook and I have also been doing Skype sessions with some students – a nice way to get some tune ups!!!

As always – keep dancing and happy!

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My Milonga Tips for Those Who Don’t Get It

My Milonga tips, the dance and music, not the place, for those who have a hard time getting it.

The dance, milonga, seems to elude people. You either love it, somehow plod through it, or avoid it all together. Which is a SHAME! Recently one of my fun dancers, a lead, asked me to teach him milonga. What? Why? “Because I just don’t get it”, he said. No wonder we never danced it before, we always seemed to dance the romantic tandas.

I mention this because I perceive tango and dancers in 2 categories: rhythmic or melodic. Not that we can’t be both but in general my experience (and remember my experience has been mostly with beginners at the university) is that people tend to lean towards one or the other. They might actually favor one over the other too, and it is reflected in their learning as well. Maybe not a great example but I love romantic tandas; I grew up listening to classical music and playing classical piano to become a concert pianist. Rommel (my former partner) grew up on salsas and cumbias, these are close to his heart and he manages to find rhythmic parts to even the most melodic of tangos!

My belief is that we can all hear music but some sounds resonate more than others. I often notice this in my classes as well. I have been known to change orchestras based on how I perceive a student moving. I had a student who couldn’t figure out a Di Sarli but managed well with Canaro!

So let’s get back to my friend who can’t find his milonga!

Because we had to establish a baseline for understanding I told him I’d start him off like I do my beginners so we would have a foundation and a shared language.

Firstly, I create some soft rules, for as we know rules are meant to be broken (sometimes)! They are: no using “la cruzada”, only use parallel system, remember that milonga is happy, and follows be ready to move. I find this allows the student to focus on finding the music and their “milonga-body”.

After establishing this the mind can relax a bit and I we continue:

1) Listening and putting music in the body. I play some Canaro milongas and I encourage students to find, what I call the stepping or marching rhythm or beats and we walk to these.

2) Finding the “milonga-body”. How the body is – a certain tone in the body to start with (since most beginners lack body awareness I find that hips and ribs and shoulders and knees can be moving all over the place) in order to arrive on the beat in this “milonga-body”, which has to feel different than their tango body. The body can’t be too lax at this stage because your body will be delayed in arriving on the beat of the music. In order to find this “milonga-body” I asked my friend to soften his knees (which means bend them) and imagine stepping with his whole foot.

3) The accent is down into the floor, if you straighten your knees you will tend to move out of the floor and look like you are bouncing.

The above outline comes first. Repeated to several different milongas and worked on alone.

The next phase is that I use “la milonga basico” or a variation of “la baldosa” step as a an anchor. I normally have introduced parts of this step in my tango classes so the form looks familiar and I now have them repeat the step to the music with a partner. I use parts of this pattern to launch into other combinations of steps and later into traspie.

Remember, I am just getting students jump started into their milonga and to not fear it. Also, when I taught semesterly at the University I spent about 6 hours on milonga and then would play milongas in subsequent classes as refreshers and practices.

So tell me, what has worked for you as a student or a teacher? Any of my former students feel free to comment as well.

(dedicated to NC – enjoy your milonga training until we dance again!)

Here are 2 videos of milongas: by Dany El Flaco Garcia y Luna Palacios en Buenos Aires and the other Maximiliano Cristiani y Jesica Arfenoni

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Art, Architecture, Cinema, Oh My!

Still in Torino, I have had an amazing week filled with Art, Architecture, Cinema, Music, Dance! A Creatively Full Week!

I had the luxury of going to see the Matisse (and some of his contemporaries) exhibit here in Torino  “Matisse e il suo tempo”, at the Palazzo Chiablese.Laura and I at Matisse

I was so inspired afterwards. I am reminded how creativity is not static and how wonderful that as artists our art has the opportunity to change, expand and evolve with time, practice, experience, and who we hang around with, our models, our inspirations all influence us. And dance too reveals our autobiography.
From Matisse’s contemporaries, his move through Fauvism and Cubism, to his adventures in still lifes to his timeless cut outs, his magnificence as an artist is seen. This exhibit truly demonstrated his influence on art and culture and really how it transcends time.
I invite all of you to get to a museum!
As not just a dancer but seeing myself as an artist, my dance has changed and evolved over time too. How I dance now is a total of all my experiences up until this point, and “the why” I dance now is different than why I danced 10 years ago. I think the changes are important to notice. It’s inspiring to see how some of the dancers I admired in the late 1990’s have changed and grown. As performers, we dare to put ourselves “out there” to be seen, and to be accepted or not. I was so inspired to see the Matisse exhibition and to see his growth and change as an artist. It’s a good reminder!

Also this week I went to the spectacular Museo Nazionale del CinemaNational Museum of Cinema

Housed in the fabulous Mole Antonelliana tower, you must pace yourself on an exciting historical adventure of how cinema began, with interactive displays and so much to see! 3 hours later my mind was reeling but I was so impressed. Being an amateur photographer when I was younger and a HUGE film fan, seeing the intricacies and details of some pre-cinema and photography artifacts was fantastic. It served as a lens into our culture as well – Our desire not just to tell stories, but to share the world from the earliest days and to document everything from war to every day life, and then for photography and film to become a means of self-expression and exploration.
Another inspirational day!

Yes, I have danced tango but there’s so much to do here. Wandering the streets surrounded by the most amazing architecture means there is never a dull moment. I have been to my cousin’s Jazz Accapella rehearsal, taken a class in Piemontese Folklore dancing, started a tour into the world of chocolate, and THIS WEEK, I will go to the 2nd largest Egyptian Musem and to the Museum of Human Anatomy before heading off to Genoa!

Staircase at Palazzo Madama

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Happy New Year 2016!

Happy New Year to you!

I just spent the last few days in Karslruhe, Germany at a small intimate Encuentro. And I did run into people that I knew!!Karlsruhe Which is becoming a fun surprise for me! I spent a lovely time connecting also with new dancers. It seems that a visit to Belgium is definitely in the cards.

I had my first adventure in a Hostel, since probably 1989 when I studied in France and toodled around France and Italy with fellow students staying in hostels. Let us just say, I seem to never have a dull moment! or maybe it’s just perfect content for a future book!

The visit to this event was very last minute and I jumped on the hostel bandwagon after the Airbnb booking I thought I had showed me that I needed to reconfirm with a code that I didn’t receive in time. Ironically, on the Hotels.com site I found a 3 night deal for the hostel right next to the train station in Karlsruhe, as long as it was a room for 4 people. Well, I arrived to an empty clean room and thought, yeppeee!!! But that was too soon to rejoice. I returned to my room at 2am after the milonga. As I got off the elevator on the 5th floor I heard quite a bit of moaning and thought, wow, some people are enjoying their evening. As I approached the door to my room, I thought, “O! my gosh! They are in my room! and then I thought, is this my room?” I hesitated a moment and backtracked to the elevator and thought, yes, this is my room. So I went in! Poor young things! Faster than a cartoon character someone dashed into the bathroom, which I hadn’t realized until she popped out of the bathroom several minutes later in a t-shirt, “hallo”! As we all: she, her poor young boyfriend, and I all acted like nothing happened, she crawled back into the twin bed with him as I proceeded to get ready for bed… No words were exchanged. They spoke in German to each other and said nothing to me. They left in the morning. Another couple came the next day and I saw them and mentioned to the young man that I would be back in the early hours of the morning so any activity should be conducted before hand! They were quiet and managed to sleep through my early AM arrival. And on my last night, an older gentleman came in with a lot of plastic bags. In the evening as I prepared for the milonga and to check out the next morning, he, in tank top and black tight boxer shorts, proceeded to make several smelly sandwiches in the room, then crawled into bed with his ipad and headphones to watch a movie and all those sandwiches – of which he ate and proceeded to put the crumbs on the floor behind him!! I returned to the room around 4am and as I opened the door was accosted by the smell of smelly feet, sauerkraut, sweaty man odor, cheese, and I don’t know what! Although cold outside, I opened the window! wow, that was a hard quick nap to endure! I checked out in the morning, danced all day and took the train back to Switzerland! Needless to say, I slept through most of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day! I did feel a little silly, being here in Europe with SO many great options for New Year’s Eve! Oh Well, I will plan better for next year!

I am off again to Zurich for a couple of days of dancing and sight seeing, then back to Bern and then off to Italy! Then back to Berlin in February!

I have had a lot of time to reflect over 2015. This journey has given me a lot of nice surprises and can really be called an adventure. I have found that I can’t be upset for long, or sad for too long, or angry for too long or anything! Just grateful for all that I am experiencing, even when it is difficult, or seemingly difficult.

I posted the following on New Year’s Eve on Facebook for those who did not see it and I share it with you.

I wrote to my maestra: “Nunca pensé que el tango me salvaría de inmensa soledad”. (“I never thought that tango would save me from immense loneliness”.)
2015 was an unexpected journey for me: of meeting new people, being in new places and self-discovery…. and it still continues…
I have never really needed to ‘rely’ on other people and it’s a skill I never really learned.. until this year. I am so so grateful to everyone who has helped me out this year – and in countless ways – from an act of kindness, to shared conversation, to finding places to live! The list of YOU is truly endless.. and I’m very grateful to my parents for their continued support. As a dancer my whole life I Know that dance can change people’s life and tango completely changed the course of mine, HOWEVER, I had NO idea the depth to which I would come to rely on Tango to help me as well….
I wish everyone a truly wonderful, prosperous, and joyful 2016. May it bring you all that you desire and need most.
I will see you passionately on the dance floor somewhere soon! And thank you for your support!

Happy New Year! Feliz Año Nuevo! Joyeux Nouvelle Année! etc….

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Axis: the W’s and the H!

Accessing your Axis: the W’s and an H!

Where is it? What is it? How do I use it ? maintain it? Who has an axis? When do I need to use it? Why do I need to know about it?

In a class recently a student was having a hard time with a “barrida” or a “drag”. And after many tries and different versions of the same concept, the question came up: Why can’t I do this? Or what am I doing wrong? And I replied, “The same concept that gets the follower to move in a walking situation is the same mechanics at work here.” He stared, not really blankly, but with a slight grin to his face!. I said, “So explain to me how or why my follower moves when I am walking in front of her?” He said, “I don’t know actually.” A HA – herein is where the problem lies.

He continued, “Well, in beginner classes you don’t get feedback and it’s hard to learn so now I need the fundamentals and I don’t want to go back to a beginner’s class”. (Actually, I’m not sure that’s exactly what he said but basically this is how I interpreted it!)

This is not only a rant about axis but also about pedagogy. What are teachers teaching if not a very basic fundamental concept in tango, AXIS. Sigh….

I guess cuz it’s not “cool” and not really what students want. But we as teachers do a disservice to the students without tackling this concept somehow! Because it shows up over and over and over again regardless of style.

Where is it?
Some teachers like to talk about the spine as the axis. I like this because even though you might never have had your spine purposefully touched you have an idea of what it is and where it is. The next level is imagining this line being in the middle of the body. I have also tried to access the idea by mentioning buttons on a shirt – your midline. Something to give students an idea of their dimensionality or, as I remember Los Dinzel saying, “your volume”.

What is it?
Axis is a fundamental tool for understanding how tango works with your partner. Your own individual movement relates to your own axis and to your partner’s. Some think of it as a “line” in the middle of the body but for me it’s more than a single plane or place.

How do I use it?
I like to think of the axis and moving through my body across my foot by using the articulation in my ankle. Did you get all that? Try this: stand on one foot (try barefoot first) and bend your ankle. Or move your spine across the length of the foot. Those who have taken my classes (or Rommel’s) think of 1, 2, 3 on your foot.
So you can use your axis along this transverse plane as well as combining the sagittal plane which would begin to add a spiral dimension along this axis.

Axis (PSF)

By Pearson Scott Foresman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By maintaining it. I think awareness is a big step in the right direction. Are you falling over? Did you stick your butt out too far? Is there still a relationship between your sternum and your pubic bone (or your 2 centers as I like to call them!)

Who has an axis?
Aw! I know you know the answer!

When do I use it?
All the time.

Why do I need to know about it?
In order to dance and communicate affectively and clearly with your partner. (this is in both directions – as a leader and a follower)

Definition thanks to Merriam Webster
: the imaginary straight line that something (such as the Earth) turns around
: a straight line that divides a shape evenly into two parts

Back to that student: open and willing to understand he is now ready to practice and actually wants to work on this to get it more into his body. He knows it’s boring but willing to put in the effort in order to improve his tango skills.

Come explore more about the axis with me on Tuesday nights in the technique classes in Budapest. Or take an individual session to explore this concept directly with me.

Happy dancing!

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