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.