The big gift my first tango teacher gave me? He said 50% of my practice time should be visualizing doing the moves; the mind matters. Tango ends up being a synchronization of thinking, feeling and doing. Each one of these is easy to get a hold of on their own and was worked on in isolation for a long while before I could string them together. I was more than just overwhelmed in the beginning. Tango looks easy from the outside. It’s a lucid memory, the first time I was asked to walk across the room in a beginner tango class. Bambi on ice. Ridiculous. I am a graceful grocery cart pusher now, all steps are tango steps. Boleo! To the produce aisle!
I am a nomad right now, beginning my big year in tango; well the run up to a big year in tango abroad. I am making a practice run exploring tango while driving across the country I live in. There is tango nearly everywhere but in most places so far it’s a modest number of people keeping the love alive in double digits. Tonight I attended a twenty person milonga. Last week it was a twenty-ish person “encuentro”. The Tango Cynic stereotypes persist no matter the size of the community. I am the visitor. I came from taking the few tandas I could get to accepting the few tandas I want. I’m essentially three for three.
The community I am in this week is fractured, scattered and competitive with (what would seem) fewer students than there are teachers. Students are spending years on end with one teacher and rarely stray from their instruction. This creates bizarre twangy accents in technique, hidebound followers and dogmatic leads. Forgive me, I struggled with how to write about this environment — which everyone discusses in low voices with me, behind the back of their hands. There are apologetic confessions and defensive proclamations mixed with the pervading question, how long have you been dancing? Delivered in many forms with and without finesse or thoughtfulness. I have a quippy answer to deflect the question. Often I pretend I didn’t hear the them ask over the music, twice and the person stops prodding.
I feel the strangeness of looking picky turning down several grabaceos (from the same man) in the basement milonga of a local teacher; 11 dancers in attendance. I just watched him dip the last three woman he danced with. I mention in a gentle voice that I prefer cabaceo. He marches across the room and issues a cartoonish cabaceo, which I decline. He marches back over and says, I tried to cabaceo you. I said, I know, I declined.
Whatchagonado. We come from different schools of thought.
There are a kind of Scout-like and Girl Guide-like badges, invisible ones, that we collect as we spend time tango dancing. Survival of this, mastery of that… The bragalicious Buenos Aires badges (1 through 10), the blood stained marathon shoe badge, the rarely attempted sequins covered scenario performance badge. Travelling is the one I am working on at the moment. I am hungry for the surprises the pursuit of this has in store for me. So far so good. I continue to meet wonderful people who embrace me with an openness that seems to be global in tango. I am home, everywhere. To be continued…