Monday, 24 December 2007

Ho ho ho

Merry Christmas all, or happy solstice, hannukah, divali, whatever flavour your midwinter festival is. And a happy new year: may all our tango dreams come true in it.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Terpsichorean haiku

Two climb a mountain
My poor heart
Isn't used to this

Apologies for the current radio silence. I'm up to my ears in preparations for going away; finishing off bits of work, putting my stuff into storage, etc. Yesterday I started retrieving my scattered belongings from the places they've been stored for years. This involved a lot of excavating dusty attics, moving heavy things, and tears. I'm an emotional bunny at the best of times, and digging up the past is guaranteed to make me weepy. Amongst other things I rediscovered a notebook containing some haiku from the very beginning of my last (recently ended) relationship, nearly ten years old. We used to just make them up on the spot as and when we felt moved to do so, and I'd jotted them down later so that I wouldn't forget them. We had the metre wrong, and some came out better than others, but it didn't matter. Each one was a snapshot of a tiny, precious moment in time, and I sat in the dust reading and sobbing. I highly recommend improvisational haiku as a means of recording moments for posterity. Much better than photos.

Tangos are much like haiku, I think, but as we can't write them down they just fade into the mist of memory. Each one is a perfect snapshot of its own moment, characterised by our mood, our partner, and the music; so, like haiku, a place where external and internal factors meet, and each informs the other. In haiku we are moved by our surroundings (the weather, that view, this cherry tree) to say something about how we feel at this time, in this place, both in ourselves and in response to those surroundings. In tango we are moved by music to dance something about how we feel in this time, in this place, both in ourselves and in response to each other and the music. Our steps describe both beats: that of the tango and of our hearts. And the particular combination of those two things for any given tango will never be repeated. So some dances may come out better than others, but each is a unique expression of its moment, and therefore infintely precious.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007


Oh my god! I was just watching the daily Strictly show, and the presenter said 'Flavia and Vincent completely revolutionised Argentine Tango, and made it something amazing." Where do they get this information? Flavia and Vincent are a ballroom/latin couple, who learnt some 'Argentine' tango as a sideline and won some show competitions with it. If I understand correctly, they're not social dancers, and they're not involved in the real tango scene at all. They're beautiful dancers in their style - really gorgeous - but not tango dancers in the sense that we understand it.

I find it so frustrating that people hear and see this stuff and think it's real; that most people never get to see the real maestros, and think that 'Argentine' tango involves slit skirts and hard faces (don't get me started on the section on tango in the lonely planet guide). Now, this is a frustration that I've mostly learnt to live with, but to hear someone say, on the BBC's prime-time show about dancing, that these guys revolutionised tango, I just find insulting to the real maestros.

For the curious, below is a clip from the last series. The comments are depressing - most people saying that V&F are clearly the best (because after all they're 'world champions') and that the other couples are rubbish - but interesting, because the other dancers actually are on the tango circuit. Well, I don't know about the girl called Anabella, I haven't heard of her, but the other three certainly are. They all teach, they all dance all night at the milonga. But what's really odd is that they are not dancing here the way they normally do - not even a little bit. I can only assume that they've been given either some choreography or some really restrictive style notes. Or perhaps it's the fact that they seem to have turned the music into some bizarre kind of paso doble.

Ach. I don't mean to be disrespectful to anyone - V&F really are gorgeous dancers, in the ballroom and latin style. But I wish they, and the Strictly producers, would acknowledge the real tango maestros, and the real tango not-maestros-but-still-dancers. Even the tiniest bit of research would reveal that there is a world behind these 'moves' that V&F have borrowed, and that being 'World Argentine Tango Show Champions' has very little to do with that world.

Don't say, "Yes!" Just take my hand and dance with me.

The Invitation

It doesn't interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn't interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon...
I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened by life's betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn't interest me if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,

It doesn't interest me
to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn't interest me who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like the company you keep
in the empty moments.


That's a poem by Oriah Mountain Dreamer. I just came across it on a random blog and it made me cry. Of course, most things make me cry. I'm such a hippy.

Incidentally, the quote in the title of this post is from the opening poem of her book The Dance.

A trail of crumbs

The trip to BsAs has suddenly gone from something coming up in the not too distant future to something which is almost upon me. I have so much to do. Eek.

I know there are many people in the tango blogosphere who've been, or even who live there now. Do you have any advice for an English girl on her first trip? Any dos or don'ts? Anything I might not expect but desperately need to know in order not to disgrace myself?

No mind

The zone = no mind.

Must read more about no mind. Also, must read the Tao of Tango!

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Performance anxiety

If I think I've got problems with finding the zone, Eli Manning's got it worse. Seems like he was struggling with his own performance anxiety this weekend. I wonder how much of the problem was knowing that his brother was watching.

I don't have 80,000 people watching me, thank god. Nor do I have half a dozen 230lb men desperately trying to knock me off my feet. But I do think the mental state required to perform at your best is more or less the same in tango as in sport. You need to find the zone, that almost trance-like state where everything seems to happen without effort, where you're not thinking because you're really present, where you're at your centre and therefore perfectly balanced.

When I was at uni I captained our college pool team. When I was playing at my best it was because I was in exactly that same state of mind. In that state of mind I made shots that I would have thought were impossible if I'd actually thought about it.

I wonder whether there's anything in sport psychology that can help me with this. I'll investigate and report back. So far I've found articles about the zone in gymnastics, golf, and reffing football, but none of them are telling me anything I didn't already know.

The tangocoaster strikes back.

It's been an up and down weekend.

Part of it I spent with some very old friends, going round very old haunts. I passed my old school and peered through the fence. One of the things I loved about our school was that, because it was a former... well, not a stately home or country house, but certainly the large house of some very rich people... it had absolutely gorgeous grounds, and I spent much of my childhood hiding in the shrubbery making temples (I was never exactly your average kid) or sitting at the top of the tallest trees I could find. So I was sad to find that they'd cut down most of the trees and most of the shrubbery. I always hoped that one day I could go back and sit in those trees again; now I know I never can. Oh, and they'd also ditched my favourite climbing frame. Boo.

Then we went to the old school of one of my male friends (we were all at public school - that's private school for those of you across the pond). It's attached to a cathedral, as quite a lot of the oldest boys schools are here, and we all went in there and he regaled us with stories about the place. I was amazed to discover how much he knew about it, my scruffy, rebellious friend, and I had a sudden feeling of connection, a glimpse into a part of his life that had previously been unknown to me, a sense of the enormity of everyone's experience, and found myself quite emotional. Evensong was on at the eastern end and the space was full of music, and I sat down in the nave and listened, and looked, and thought about all the thousands of stones that the building was made of, each a different shape, but making its perfect contribution to the whole.

And part of my weekend, of course, involved tango. And it was very coastery. First of all I had a breakthrough milonga. After our chat earlier in the week about the problems I have bringing my whole self to the milonga, I somehow managed to do it. Well, perhaps 90% of myself. My wings were definitely out, if not *completely* unfurled. We flew around the room, with only the occasional stumble. I was elated; my teacher seemed thrilled.

And then I had the obligatory one-step-backwards. In this week's lesson, right from the start, I felt I wasn't at my best. I've learnt that I almost always feel that way at the start, but usually settle into it after a bit. But this time there was no settling. It just seemed to get worse. At the milonga afterwards we tried again, but it just wasn't happening. I worked my coping strategies. I looked for the positives. I engaged my inner Peyton ('That's ok, Psyche, you're still the best boleo in the neighbourhood.') I wheeled out the affirmations. But I just couldn't settle. The Brain was out in force. No matter how many times I tried to bring my attention back to the music, the connection, my centre, that little voice kept pointing out it wasn't going well.

Meh. I know that's just how it goes. I know that even when it feels like you're going backwards, you're still going forwards - that's just how the learning process works. I know that I was tired and emotional, I know that any really good experience is always hard to follow, I know we all have off days. But I still feel blue about it.

Oh, and I walked off the dancefloor to discover that a recent slight niggle in my knee had become quite a large niggle, with accompanying slight swelling in the ankle. Time for a trip to the osteopath.

But hey, I figure if problems, whether emotional or physical, are coming out now, it's a good thing because it gives me a chance to work on them before I go away.

Thursday, 22 November 2007


I've just discovered a site (other than Guaranteed Fit, who I will never, ever use again) that sells Fabio sneakers. In lots of different colours and styles! Hurrah! It's

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Part-time wings

Chloe: When I dream, sometimes I remember how to fly. You just lift one leg, then you lift the other leg, and you're not standing on anything, and you can fly. And then when I wake up I can't remember how to do it any more.

Dream: So?

Chloe: So what I want to know is, when I'm asleep, do I really remember how to fly? And forget how when I wake up? Or am I just dreaming I can fly?

Dream: When you dream, sometimes you remember. When you wake, you always forget.

Chloe: But that's not fair...

Dream: No.

Brief Lives

In this week's lesson, it really felt like tango with wings. It was pure tango heaven. My teacher looked at me and said, 'Why don't you dance like this at the milonga?'

And that, my friends, is the fifty-million dollar question. In class lately, I feel like I have wings. I feel centred, present, stable, responsive, light, smooth. But at the milonga, even dancing with my teacher, I am definitely earth-bound!* I miss things, I stumble, my balance is uncertain, the Brain is on guard.

It's like those dreams where you can fly, and then you wake up and you feel like you ought to be able to still do it, but you can't. Or it's like someone's taken my body and switched it for one that doesn't quite fit.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons why it's harder to dance at a milonga than in class. You're surrounded by a press of people on the floor, so that's one extra thing to be aware of. There are people all around who may or may not be watching. A particular problem for me is the worry about what my partner thinks of the way I'm dancing (ssh, Brain). Then there's extra noise and less light, or disorientating light if the venue has disco lights (yep, really). But still. It must be possible to find a place where this stuff doesn't affect you too much.

On a happier note, many thanks to Tangobaby for pointing me at these gorgeous wings. I want a pair to go with every pair of CIF I own! I may have to content myself with a glowy hair thing, though - dancefloors here are chaotic enough without me introducing wings into the equation.

* Not the best choice of words, as a large part of my recent improvement has been down to the work I've done lately on grounding! But you know what I mean.

Monday, 12 November 2007


I've had a lovely weekend, but very busy, and so am behind on posting and commenting and things. I'll catch up soon. But to tide you over, we interrupt our regular programme of navel-gazing to bring you some actual factual content. (Only a tiny bit, don't worry.) Pablo Veron has been around at milongas while he's been working on Carmen. But on Saturday night we had not only him but also Sally Potter at Corrientes. I resisted the urge to go over and quiz her about her directorial process.

Nothing really to say about it, but it's too noteworthy an event to go unchronicled.

Thursday, 8 November 2007


Canaro's Poema has a special significance for me. It was the first piece of tango music I ever truly loved, and it still grabs me my the heart every time I hear those gentle opening notes. Even at my lowest moments, listening to Poema reminds me why it's all worth it.

A really good performance to Poema will impress me more than almost anything else, because flashy choreography does not work with it, it's all about the musicality. That means you can really see when a couple are feeling it - or when they're not.

Here are a couple of my favourite Poemas: the first, Pablo Inza and Moira Castellano; the second, Jennifer Bratt and Ney Melo. I'd really like to be able to add the gorgeous performance that Analia Vega and Marcelo Varela gave at the Crypt recently, but I can't find it anywhere, I don't even know if it was recorded.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

You win some, you lose some

The Colts lost. This makes me sad.

But I got a free fireworks display, as the nursery school next door to me had one. This makes me happy.

Neither are tango, but for various dull and annoying reasons, it's been a no-tango weekend.

But, we do have a very tango Christmas coming up, with both Pablo Veron and Gustavo Naveira in London teaching and dancing. Pablo Veron's been around working on Sally Potter's Carmen, and is a doing a one-off workshop. Gustavo Naveira's doing a whole four days of seminars before popping over to Amsterdam for Tangomagia. Shortly after that, we've got Chicho and Fabian Salas at Bylaugh. Big names in little Britain.

Saturday, 3 November 2007


In Wisdom Quest I've just come across some exercises about centres: one to draw down 'sky energy' for your mind, one to draw down 'earth energy' for your body, and one to balance the two. The earth energy one involved working with your centre, in the tan tien sense, the area within your pelvis, which of course I've been thinking about a lot lately with all this grounding and home stuff. (The balancing one involved balancing the two energies in the heart region.)

Anyway, one of the things it suggested was that you can unite your mind and your body by focusing on that point, that lower centre; that that brings your mind, which normally races around from thought to thought, past to future, back into the present, rooting it in the here and now, and into stillness. Which certainly echoes my recent experience - thinking about my centre / home is doing wonders for my mental presence.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Fear and courage. Or at least encouragement.

A wave of fear. What am I doing? Why am I going? What if this whole thing is one big illusion, which will vanish if I look too closely at it, if I try to touch it, the end of the rainbow which isn't there when you get to it? What if I go and it's not what I want, what if I wake up and find it was all a dream, what then, what else is left? What if I'm chasing a mirage?

Heh. As I was writing this I remembered hearing 'Pick yourself up' on the radio the other day, and went to YouTube it. And lo and behold, it cheered me up. So, I guess I just have to trust that whatever happens I'll be able to pick myself up. And maybe develop some leet tap dancing skills along the way.

Why do I love Astaire and Rogers so much? Why do these movies have something that no modern movie does? And how on earth is she keeping those shoes on? They must have some invisible straps or something.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Things are coming together

I have a plane ticket. A fried of mine has a place for rent, a gorgeous little place in a great area. And I've joined a mailing list for ex-pats to get the inside scoop (god bless the internet).

In the first batch of emails was a notice from someone looking to hire people in my profession. When things like that happen I tend to take it as a sign of a gift from the universe, but frankly I'm still sulking about this particular gift. Wah! Don't wanna work! But I have to admit that of course my bank balance would be a lot happier if I did...

Tangocoaster coping strategy no. 2 - affirmations

I embrace my mistakes and celebrate them as signs of my courage, commitment and creativity.

I know it's kind of cheesy, but it seems to be working for me.

Simple pleasures

I had a really lovely time tonight, no drama, no tangocoaster, no Brain hyperactivity, just a really nice, simple, chilled evening. For once the milonga felt like a safe, friendly place, not an emotional minefield. It was just what I needed, thoroughly good for my morale and my soul. Some highlights:

  1. I shared a proper table with my tango friends, and spent most of the evening gossiping and laughing with them. I'd really like to do more of that. It means I don't dance as much, but I enjoy myself a lot more. There should be more of this in my tango life, and less worrying. I'll have to make the effort to hang out with them more from now on instead of fretting about who's going to ask me to dance and whether I'm on form.

  2. I test drove the new contacts, and it was a success.

  3. I saw the maestro that I danced with the other day dancing with his partner, and their close embrace was more open than I'm used to, not less. So it can't have been a question of too little pressure. Also, one of my regular partners asked me how it had been to dance with said maestro, and when I explained, he said that I shouldn't assume that the problems were all me. Apparently he's danced with some teachers who looked absolutely fantastic when he watched them but then when he danced with them he found they couldn't quite follow him. (He's a wonderful clear leader, so there's no reason it should have a problem with his lead.) He theorises that some teachers spend so much time teaching and performing that they somehow forget how to lead or follow. I wasn't tremendously convinced by this argument (I can't believe any Bs As based dancer would get away with that), but in any case it's good for me to be reminded that problems aren't always all my fault.

  4. I watched the man from one visiting couple dancing with the woman from another visiting couple, and saw them have problems more than once. I'm so happy to know that even tango gods make mistakes! No schadenfreude there - it's just good for me to remember that there's no such thing as perfect, and it's ok to make mistakes. That even the best dancers may for some reason just not click.

  5. I didn't dance with anyone on my usual most wanted list, and I didn't care. I didn't worry about it once. I was too busy having fun with my friends. Instead, I danced with a lot of guys who were relative beginners, and enjoyed the relaxed simplicity of it. I just danced.

  6. I danced with one guy that I almost said no to because he just looked... not quite right. When we started dancing, I briefly kind of wished I had said no. But it quickly became apparent that he was just nervous, or acclimatising, or both. Having warmed up he was actually a very nice dancer, subtle and musical, and I was glad I'd said yes, and ashamed of myself for having been initially judgemental. Must try to be more humble.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Sometimes when you fall, you fly.

I just told one of my clients that I was leaving and why, and she was so genuinely thrilled for me that it left me all newly happy and optimistic again. A few years ago she left her high-flying city job to start a new career as a holistic therapist, so she's done her own 'jumping off a cliff' thing and knows the feeling very well! Seeing it through her eyes reminds me that if you take the Fear out of the equation then this really is a marvellous thing.

Man: It's all getting to be too much for me. I feel I'm out of my depth. I'm scared. I'm scared I'm going to do something stupid.

Dream: And if you do something stupid, what then?

Man: Aren't you scared of falling?

Dream: It is sometimes a mistake to climb; it is always a mistake never even to make the attempt.

Man: What are you saying? That I should ought to go back to the show? Not walk out? You're just a dream. Listen, I've made up my mind.

Dream: If you do not climb you will not fall. This is true. But is it that bad to fail, that hard to fall? Sometimes you wake, and sometimes, yes, you die. But sometimes when you fall, you fly.

Fables and Reflections

Brain fodder

I danced last night with one of the current touring teachers, whose dancing I've been particularly admiring. And it didn't quite work. I mean, it wasn't a disaster, but every so often I couldn't figure out where he wanted me to go, his chest was doing something too small to be a step but too big for me to stay comfortably on my axis. And he kept to fairly straightforward stuff, which suggests to me that he wasn't sure I could handle more (it's not a taste thing, not that he prefers simplicity, because I've seen him dancing with other people).

So why? Why didn't it work? I mean, obviously it's me, but in what way? In my beginner days, I had many, many dances that for some reason just didn't work, but over time those have become fewer and fewer, and now, fortunately, it hardly ever happens. So why should it happen now? Most really good dancers are easier to connect with, not harder. Is it a style thing? Is he more old-style than I'm used to? I do sometimes find some traditional style dancers quite hard to get on with, I sometimes can't find a way to be comfortable in their embrace, but so far that's never been the really good ones. The last very traditional teacher I danced with was an absolute dream (for me - I'm sure I wasn't very exciting to him!).

See, this now has me worrying that actually I don't know how to follow at all, or that I only know how to follow nuevo, and that I'll get out to Bs As and find that I simply don't know how to dance with 90% of the people there.

Is he used to more pressure? Is that it? I don't often give much resistance, having always been taught to always put myself where I'm being led, to never force the leader to push or pull me there. When I dance with a guy who has a lot of forward momentum, that great drive from the chest that some guys have, then yes, I'll match it. But I didn't feel that from this guy, not to any great extent.

Ach. Tango. Does there ever come a point when you stop worrying about this stuff? I guess I know the answer to this - 'if you choose to'.

Halloween means scary things

Have now booked in for my jabs. Oh, the joys of travelling.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

The Fear

With time racing past, the reality of this whole Bs As plan is starting to hit, and I'm starting to feel genuinely terrified. Not all the time, of course, but periodically. The Brain likes to run through the worst case scenarios - what if I find I can't dance with anyone there - perhaps they lead differently - what if I can't understand a word anyone says to me - what if I never make any friends - what if I can't find any food and get totally hypoglycemic all the time? Fortunately the Brain is not in charge, and reason so far prevails, albeit with occasional bouts of tears to let out the nerves.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Grounded, centered, balanced

This home thing, this grounding thing, is starting to mean things to me in new ways. Previously, the idea of grounding meant little more to me than the idea of earthing excess energy. Then I started to try to think in terms of roots, of being rooted and therefore stable. That led onto the lower chakras and the home thing, and that to Hestia, first and last, and now I'm really starting to see how and why Hestia is first and last. You can't do anything properly if your home ground is messed up. Home in the sense of a physical home, and how much difference it makes when you create a nice home for yourself. Home in the sense of everything beginning at home, of people in glass houses, of the apprentice year, of sorting yourself out before you try to go out into the world, of putting your thoughts in order before you go to bed.

Tonight, I concentrated on the tango equivalent of home - axis, centre, posture. Just that. And it made a huge difference. I think that I've been paying insufficient attention to myself when I dance - I think I tend to focus too much on what my partner's leading, and not enough on where I am. I look outside myself, assuming that my body can look after itself. But bringing some of my awareness back into my own centre hugely improved my ability to follow what's being led, both in terms of my physical ability to do so (thanks to being more on my own axis, more grounded, more balanced, more relaxed, and therefore better able to respond), and in terms of my ability to read what's being led (because somehow it makes my mind more centered and responsive too, and enables that state of mind in which I'm accepting and open, enjoying and not judging.) I really felt transformed. I felt perfectly balanced and perfectly able to respond. I knew I had plenty of time to do whatever was asked of me. Even in quick, long turns, I pivoted, with all the time in the world, and then stepped, with all the time in the world. It was amazing.

No absolutes

I've come to a conclusion: there are no absolutes in tango. And I think if more teachers recognised this, then the world would be a happier place.

When I first ventured beyond my first teacher, it drove me absolutely crazy that different teachers seemed to tell you completely contradictory thing. How were you supposed to get things right when they wanted different things?

After a while, I started to feel that although they seemed contradictory, actually they were just different ways of looking at the same thing, like the blind men and the elephant. If one teacher told you to have strength in your right arm and another to be completely soft and exert no pressure, then there must be a happy medium between the two - what they wanted was for you to be present but relaxed.

I now realise it's not that simple. (Or, perhaps, it's more simple that that.) Those teachers really are telling you different things, because there are as many different ways of dancing as there are dancers. I know excellent dancers who want a soft arm, and others who want a firm one. I know excellent dancers who never, ever put their heels down, and others who put them down whenever they can. These things are red herrings. What really matters is that you are stable but mobile, relaxed but present. How you achieve those things doesn't matter. You just have to find your way. Listen to everyone, try their ideas out, then choose what works for you.

So, I long for the day when teachers stop dictating. "Step on the inside of your foot, step on the flat, press his arm, don't press his arm, stretch your legs, bend your knees..." Arse. If teachers present their style as the One True Way, then they're misleading us. What I would like is more of this:

"We consider that each tango teacher has its own truth about how to dance tango, and all those truths are the truth, tango is like this; we propose you to try ours."

Brilliant. Damian and Nancy, if I ever have the chance to take one of your classes, I'm so there.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Signs of progress

Some real signs of progress with this whole home/grounding/state of mind thing tonight.

For example, there's a dancer, a highly-reputed dancer, that I've danced with a few times before but for some reason just found impossible to follow. Tonight I danced with him and it worked fine! Is this due to my new chilled state of mind? Or just general tango improvement? Either is great news.

Then I danced with one of my favourite leaders, and he seemed to be having an off night. But I was able to recognise that, instead of just assuming it was my fault. Hurrah!

Then I danced with another of my favourite partners. For some reason I often get nervous dancing with this guy, because I feel I make a lot of mistakes with him. But tonight, even though it was the end of the evening and I was knackered, we seemed to dance really well together, and I think it was because I felt much more relaxed than usual. Hurrah!

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Living abroad

I'm not there yet, but the Brain is already pointing out possible difficulties of living abroad. For example - rubbish. How am I going to figure out what to do with the rubbish? I don't even know the word for rubbish. (That's what dictionaries are for, Brain. We'll manage.)

First, start with Hestia

So, that home thing.

Thinking about home, the first thing I thought of was the goddess Hestia, so I did a bit of research. (The Brain isn't all bad. It's good at research.)

Apparently Hestia's name means 'the essence'. This home thing really is important, isn't it?

"These virtues define the goddess Hestia: mild, gentle, forgiving, peaceful, serene, dignified, calm, secure, stable, welcoming, and, above all else, well-centered." Stable, serene, centered - yep, sounds like exactly what I need.

Apparently, the Greeks had a saying: "First, start with Hestia." I suppose that's the Greek equivalent of setting your own house in order before meddling elsewhere. Or being the change you want to see in the world. Or putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs. Or, for tango, sorting out your axis, your balance, your stability, and your following mind. Hestia's work is never glamorous, but it is essential.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007


I've bought a ticket. In the new year I will be in Bs As. Eep.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Grounding = home?

I seem to be getting little nudges to look at the idea of grounding in terms of the idea of home. I'm missing a sense of home at the moment - had to sell my house recently, really didn't want to, and haven't really settled into the new place. And now suddenly there are giant Ikea posters everywhere saying things like 'Home is the most important place in the world' and 'Do you live in a house or a home?' My friends keep talking about the lower chakras and their connection with earth and home (they've always said my root chakra is MIA).

So, if you'll excuse my getting a bit hippified for a minute, it seems my inner home needs a little looking after, the place where I assimilate and rest and recover. If you go along with the whole chakra paradigm, then that area is the same place as the place that tango teachers (and tai chi practitioner) sometimes talk about as the centre - a place inside your pelvis - and I already think of that when I think of grounding in tango. Will ponder.

Tangocoaster* coping strategies

The tangocoaster is a cruel master. We must store up all the tools we have for handling its unpredictable swings. Here's one of mine:

Tangocoaster coping strategy no. 1 - develop your inner Peyton

Yep, you read right. I was inspired by this Mastercard ad, and have now got myself an inner Peyton. He sits on my inner tango bench and leaps up at those danger moments to remind me that I'm still fabulous, even when I miss the lead / lose my balance / stab myself in the foot with my CIFs ('Rub some dirt on it'. Heh.).

* I believe the genius that is la Planchadora coined the term tangocoaster. The term says it all, so I hope she doesn't mind me borrowing it.

Friday, 12 October 2007

A breakthrough

When I was a beginner, I had this idea that if I could get to a certain level, then I would be able to relax and enjoy myself (it was one of the things that drove me so hard to improve). I now know this is arse. Although it's true that I am more chilled than I used to be, I'm still nausea-inducingly nervous before every milonga.

I can see now, it's not about your level, and it's not about the number of mistakes you made tonight. It's about your attitude. With the right state of mind, you will enjoy your evening and the many little gifts it brings. With the wrong one, you will doubt, fret, self-judge, and worry that your partner is secretly wishing he were dancing with someone else.

I'm sick of making myself miserable. It's time to find the right state of mind. I know it's possible, because two nights ago I stumbled on a state of mind that made my lesson an absolute pleasure instead of a (wholy self-induced) threat to my sense of self-worth. It wasn't that anything had changed outside myself. It wasn't that especially good things happened to me, or that I felt less tired, or was dancing better. It was just that somehow my state of mind was such that all these things were ok - it was ok for me to make mistakes, it was ok that I was tired, it was ok that things happen as they do. And I had an absolutely wonderful evening, dancing and learning and experimenting, and not worrying at all. The Brain was almost completely silent - occasionally it peeked around the corner and made a tentative suggestion that all might not be well, but I was able to just reassure it that everything was fine and go back to dancing.

So what did I do differently? Well, it seemed to be partly to do with positivity, partly to do with grounding, and a lot to do with acceptance. I'm going to try and pin this down better as time goes by in the interests of reproducing it, but here's what I remember so far. I think the grounding started it, because I was at that holistic therapy place again the other day, and picked up a card while asking how I could find a better state of mind for tango, and got this:

Ground yourself

When you detach from awareness of your body and the physical world, you become ungrounded. Although it's pleasant to float heavenward, your attention and work are needed upon the earth. We're helping you balance the spiritual and material so that you can enjoy a fulfilling earthly life.

So I decided to give it a go. Certainly I do tend to live in my head, and being present is something I work on. But this time being present seemed to lead me to a more accepting state of mind, and that, I think, was the key thing.

I really want to work on this. I have friends who don't dance as well as I do, but enjoy themselves far more. I see them laughing and joking (and then dancing) with all the best dancers, all the visiting teachers. Somehow their personalities are constructed in a way which means that they have confidence in themselves whoever they're with. Well, I may not be naturally built that way, but nonetheless I'm sure I can learn a thing or two about it. It's not that my friends don't make mistakes; it's just that they recognise them as fleeting hiccups which in no way detract from their ongoing fabulousness. They don't waste time worrying that they're dancing badly tonight / getting worse instead of better / making their partner regret dancing with them. They just go straight onto the next step. I somehow found this state of mind this week, and that means I can find it again, with a little practice.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Blind as a bat

I have to get contact lenses. Last night a guy came over while my friend and I were chatting and said hello. He then asked me to dance. I failed to say yes immediately because I couldn't tell which of us he was looking at.

This will not wash in Bs As. I'm plagued with fears of missing a cabeceo that was meant for me - or worse, responding to one that wasn't...

The little gems

I'm working hard on my attitude at the moment. I'm far too vulnerable to the tangocoaster*, because I'm naturally introspective, socially anxious, and self critical. That's a pretty deadly combination. Oh, and over-analytical. The thing that I struggle with most in tango is not my dancing at all, but my state of mind. So I'm currently exploring ways to create a better state of mind for the milonga, one in which I can enjoy myself more and worry less.

Inspired by Tangobaby's excellent advice to La Nuit Blanche, I'm therefore making a point of noting tonight's little (and not so little) gems.

1. The dj played my two favourite tangos (sadly I didn't get to dance either of them) and one of my favourite milongs (which I did get to dance, with a great partner).

2. I danced for... I don't know, perhaps an hour... with a guy that I just love dancing with. He's fabulously musical and creative. Dancing with him is always a challenge for me, because I miss quite a lot of what he leads, including things I feel I ought to be able to catch, but fortunately he's the kind of guy you can laugh about these things with. I tried hard not to stress about it, and didn't do too badly - even when I stabbed him with my stiletto during a nasty missed back sacada. Bless him, he was great about it.

3. During said hour-long set, we had a single absolutely perfect ending sequence, lasting about 10 seconds. It was really beautiful. We were both grinning.

4. There were several really good dancers on the floor to watch during the quiet moments.

5. My new shoes are lovely.

Well, I didn't do too badly there - I wasn't able to completely avoid mentioning any negatives, but for me that's still really good going. It's a real struggle not to write a blow-by-blow account of all the things that went 'wrong'!

Actually, I feel better already. Tangobaby is wise.

* I believe the genius that is la Planchadora coined the term tangocoaster. The term says it all, so I hope she doesn't mind me borrowing it.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Go for it

It's nearly a year since my teacher first started suggesting I go to Buenos Aires, and at the time it seemed completely impossible. A few months ago he started suggesting again, and in my head it became something I should do at some point, in theory.

Then on Sunday I woke up with an odd sense of clarity. I realised that now was the time to do it; that everything I needed was in place, everything which had previously stopped me was gone, and the whole last year of my life had been full of changes that had made it possible for me to do it. So I decided.

Tonight, I went to a holistic therapy place that I've just found for a treatment. My head was swimming with thoughts about Buenos Aires - has been since Sunday. In their waiting area they had a deck of daily guidance angel cards. So I picked one up. And this is what it said:

Go for it

Go for it!

Your prayers and positive expectations have been heard and answered. We've been working with you on this situation since its genesis, and we continue to watch over you and everyone involved. Stay on your present path, as it will take you very far indeed.

I currently feel so much like this is the right thing to do that I'm not even feeling the Fear. I know it'll turn up at some point, but I'll enjoy the sense of certainty while it lasts!

So, I'm going, and going indefinitely. I have no idea what it'll be like out there, or how long I want to stay, so I'm not going to try and decide now. I'm just going to go, in the new year, and see what happens.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

My tango nemesis

I have a tango nemesis. It's not a fellow dancer, or a demanding teacher, or even the dreaded back sacada. No. It's my own brain.

The Brain thinks too much. The Brain thinks that if it's not constantly scanning for trouble, then we will be pounced on by lions (or possibly raptors). It therefore notices every little slip and examines it closely, just in case it's indicative of a general decline, or a serious problem. It does the same with every tiny social interaction, in case I have offended someone / embarrassed myself / given the wrong impression. It worries that I am dancing worse than usual in my new shoes, or that I am disappointing my partner, or, most frustratingly, that I can't settle into the following state of mind because I'm thinking too much. Argh! The irony!

The thing that made my very first tango experience so instantly captivating was that the Brain shut up, and the Zone took over. Instead of my insistant, fretful, critical inner monologue, I had a zen-like sense of expansion and an incredible feeling of connection with my partner. I felt as though I was really hearing him with my whole body, and really hearing, full stop, for the first time. It was a deeply spiritual feeling, and I knew straight away that I'd found something which was going to be important to me.

Most of the time, that's still the case. Most of the time, when I dance, I am present, properly present, which is a rare thing for me. But every so often, the Brain decides it doesn't want to go to sleep for a bit. After all, if it's asleep, who's watching for lions? And once it starts, it's hard to stop. The process goes through little phases. I can go months with no trouble at all, but then have one tanda where the Brain starts yabbering, and after that, for a few weeks, it will wake up regularly to check whether it's managed to go to sleep or not (it also does this when I'm actually trying to go to sleep...). There seems to be no way to tackle it directly. All I can do is try and focus on other things. Focusing on the music is the most successful approach I've found, as it forces me into right-brain mode, or taking my awareness to the level of my chest, where I am connected with my partner. But the Brain is mighty, and ultimately, I just have to be patient, and wait for the phase to pass. The less attention I can pay to the existence of the problem, the sooner this happens.

I'm going through a particulary tricky bout of Brain hyperactivity at the moment. The thing that triggered it was that my teacher pointed out that my focus was not as good at a milonga as in class. I knew this, of course - I'm always nervous at a milonga, and especially when I dance with him, so I miss things that I'm actually perfectly capable of following, and lose my flow. But since realising that one of my next big tango challenges was going to be to work on this problem, I am of course noticing it all the more when it occurs. The Brain is constantly watching to see what state of mind I'm in. And of course, as long as it's watching, I'm not in the right state of mind! It's all to the good, I suppose, as it provides me with the opportunity to work on it. But it's deeply, deeply frustating.

Friday, 14 September 2007


So here I am, nervously stepping out onto the dancefloor of the blogosphere. There are quite a few blogging tangueras out there, and for a while I've been watching them, admiring their style, loving their expression, coveting their shoes, and feeling that little bit less alone from reading about their experiences. And now I've decided to have a go myself.

I suppose I'd better start with a little about me. Well, not about me, exactly - I like my interweb anonymity - but about my tango life. Tango was love at first dance for me. In my very first class I had my first transcendent tango experience, a sense of complete presence that I'd never experienced anywhere else, and knew I'd found something that was going to be important to me. A few lessons later I was miraculously lucky enough to dance with my first magical leader. It was like flying. Many miles, tears, and pairs of shoes later (dear god, the shoes), those feelings, the zen and the exultation, the connection and presentness, keep me tangoing, however challenging and difficult and stressful it gets. Which is quite a lot.