Sunday, October 24, 2010


One follower reminded me that I have been remiss in posting, to put it mildly. While I have not posted in ages, the tango has been pursued and imbibed in full measure without pause. And to top it off, I have opened my bookstore LIBRERIA again.

Having a bookstore has always been a dream, and while it came true for awhile in 2004, I decided to close it down in 2006, reality came knocking and the store was not good for the pockets, mine at least.

So why open another one? Because every time I step into a bookshop, I remember the thrill of choosing which books to order for sale, and the fresh smell of a newly opened box of books. Because books provide a common ground to share, to discover and to build new friendships. Because a bookstore is a haven I hope to share with kindred spirits, and a home for fellow bookworms who love nothing more than the cozy embrace of books amid the smell of freshly brewed coffee. Because a bookstore is home to me.

The scheme is distressed white and caribbean sea blue. The floors are old duckpin bowling alley lanes complete with a motley set of fill-ins. There is a plump and welcoming 3-seater to accommodate readers and a folding cedar table in the middle for instant coffee talks and impromptu discussions.

The tango lives on, and if things go well, the upstairs could be another mini tango studio right above the bookstore.

Here's to living the dream... not just one but all of them!!!

If you are in the area, do drop by LIBRERIA Bookstore, Cubao Expo, Gen Romulo Ave, Araneta Center. Daily from 3pm up. Books, coffee and conversation await you.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Finding My Center

All this time, it was just right there. Amid the teetering and the toppling over and the uncontrolled extra steps, it was just there, waiting to be tapped and channeled.

Like a first love that never went away, finding my center is like unwrapping the basic and the essential in me. Once found, it just opens so much more inside.

My journey to find my center has come to that point where I can feel it, where it offers glimpses of itself, where I am at home and solid in the whirl of boleos, saludos and ganchos. It is inside me, not anywhere else, just waiting to reconnect, to be acknowledged as center and core.

While I have read about this journey of self-discovery and the epiphany of getting in touch with oneself, to actually experience the process is at once exhilarating and humbling. There is no formula, no set way to find it. It will happen, but it comes with focus and commitment, and a willingness to quiet down, to shed the layers of a sedentary lifestyle and an inhibited environment.

Like a string it is, I have been told. One that traverses from deep in your gut to the top of your head. One that steadies you, and anchors you, and keeps you standing tall despite the motion and the energy that comes with dancing and pretty much the rest of what we do in life.

Find it in you, in your own time, focus on that singular point, that will steady you, and anchor you, and keep you standing tall. I would say it is much like getting in touch with your inner self, as you search and explore, for to me, the center speaks not only of balance or energy but also direction and vision and heart and soul.

So am I finding my center or am I rediscovering everything else inside me. Or am I going through both. Getting in touch with my core by letting go of the old ways and the self-consciousness. Even as I must acknowledge that the serenity in my heart and the unflinching readiness to take on the future  comes from the certainty of connection that has been there since way back when.

For it seems that parallel to my self-discovery is the fruition of another journey that has come full circle in recent days.  All these years, it was always there, a connection so basic, time or distance never diminished that togetherness, that certainty in the soul. All this time, it never died, just got pushed into a far and hidden corner, waiting for that time when it would be right and we were ready.

Finding my center is not a done deal, and much like rediscovering a connection that feels like home, it is a journey that taps into the heart of the matter: am I brave enough to trust in what I feel and what I see, to let go and let my discovery change the way I dance and the way I live.

And in the glimpses I have of how liberating that discovery is, I see glimpses of how simple things really are. It is all inside of me, the question is am I ready to trust and be free.

Am I ready to accept the leader's challenge, to play the game of tango, to bait and bite, to step forward and embrace the passion. Am I ready to dance and to take a chance. I am. Ready for both.

The tango its passion invites. The heart its meaning finds.
The dance it mirrors life.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

It's All About the Dance

Vacation is over, back to the regular routine again, well almost.

Welcome back floor exercises, repeat and again, and again. Welcome back, higher saludos, repeat and again, and again. Welcome back, caminadas and boleos, done in rhythm, done without hurry.

Rediscovering the little adornos I learned before, but forgot along the way. Especially one favorite that requires a little spin on the upswing after sweeping the floor. Still trying to get back that snappy spin with a twist.

Practice, practice, practice.

But beyond applying every lesson that has been taught, and letting these lessons flow into the limbs and the muscles, it really is all about letting tango flow through you, from heart and soul to torso and leg. It just flows if you let it, and you get to dance, dance, dance like you were born to tango.

And it doesn't matter whom you dance with, as long as you let the tango lead you, let the music take you, let your leader take you through the journey of a song or a tanda. If you let it, the tango in your soul will lead you, no matter who the leader is.

What makes it even more enthralling is that after I stopped thinking and just let the tango in me breathe, I danced with more ease, and I followed with more trust. As a Manhattan Transfer song goes, Nothing you can do about it, relax, enjoy the ride.

What a ride, this tango I have fallen for. What a giddy, exhilarating journey, and I have only just begun.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Frozen Shoulder: No Frozen Delight

Another sleepless night, not as bad as the Holy Week incident, but still a night of deprived sleep. The cause: shoulder pain, selective ache at certain angles, less mobility once more.

Having learned from my previous ER visit, I refrained from having a massage and instead waited to see the doctor this afternoon. The sports clinic at the Moro Lorenzo gym was packed, apparently the good doctor I was referred to was a rock star of sorts.

The minutes ticked away, as I tried not to move, lest I trigger another bout of pain. There was no specific angle or path of pain, it would come and go. Sometimes when the left arm is left hanging. Sometimes when you attempt to raise the lower arm. Sometimes when a sudden jerky movement is done. It just came and went, the pain, the growing immobility.

Turns out to be frozen shoulder, early stage. The good doctor said it comes with age and hormonal imbalance. Great. So, it just happens, and now I have to do therapy. A frozen shoulder this hot hot hot summer. Is there an irony there that I am missing?

Frozen shoulder. But not a cause to weep without let up, as I can dance, I can tango. Of course, that was the first question I asked. To which the answer was in the affirmative. I asked again before I stepped out of the clinic, and again the answer was positive.

I have yet to understand this pain, and its source. I will find out when therapy starts later in the week, just how long it will take, and what level of therapy I will need.

But having clarified that the tango will go on, I will live with the frozen shoulder, and be patient with the therapy. Since it has not frozen my delightful tango, then the rest of what it means to my body is manageable and acceptable.

Slowing down this week, as real life intrudes in many forms. Home study as in practicing ochos and caminadas on my own will have to do for now.

The tango goes on, even if it means having to dance at home, nursing a frozen shoulder. The passion of tango will surely thaw that one too.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The heART of the Ocho

The ocho or figure-eight pivot step has been my continuing concern, to put it mildly, since I started learning the Argentine Tango.

Over time, my lessons have shown me that there is the all-essential pivot, which distinguishes the ocho, from the ocho-like movements that dot the tango floor, my own version included. But teacher after teacher had tried to impress the importance of the pivot, only to finally make sense, as the maestro said it would, one fine tango lesson day.

And yet as my pivot improved, albeit still entirely dependent on the balance challenge that I have, it has not been as effortless or easy on me or on the eye as I believe it should be. There are rare days when I get it, like yesterday afternoon at Savannah.

It is step that requires lightness and balance, even as one stays within the spirit of the sultry dance. I have been coached about using my torso not my shoulders, bending my knees, having softer knees, not locking my knees, and just finding my balance to get it right.

I think I am getting there. When I do the ocho right, the pivot is flawless, easy, and as the leader said yesterday afternoon, there was no unnecessary jerk in my movement nor a discernible change in my weight as would happen when I force the ocho using my hands and arms.

I will test that art of the ocho again tonight at Bureau. And with the help of this very insightful and clear video instructional I found just a few moments ago, I think the heart of the ocho is well within reach.

Drawing the figure eight is the heart of the ocho, and it is with this new bit of information that I will tackle the pivots tonight. How to pivot right and draw a sexy eight, that is the question.

The lady in the video is Gabriela Schaffer, a known tango dancer and instructor. Her explanation of drawing the ocho makes the learning much much easier. Catch her on this Argentine Tango series of basics at eHow.

The tango floor beckons and soon the ocho will be done with mucho gusto.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

That Old Familiar Feeling

Back in the rhythm of my tango life again. Lessons, Tango Nights, home-based exercises, stretching.

Back to the aches and pains of tired feet, stretched muscles and a taller posture.

Back to that old familiar feeling of this tango addict.

Getting back to the feel of the music, the intensity, the getting lost in the dance. Again, learning to do that, on my own.

Once the poignant strains of a slow traditional tango begins, the enchantment takes hold and the dance takes over.

In the firm yet light arms of the leader, the signals are felt inside, the energy, the emotion, the passion moving back and forth.

And in that singularly intimate circle, the tango heart beats, two as one. Within that embrace, there is but one thought from two souls: to let the music play in every step, in every taunt, in every sacada and boleo.

Getting back into the lyricism of the dance, knowing that it is inside me, no matter who leads the way.

That old familiar feeling. The tango in the soul is burning bright.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Tango Break: Proud Mama

Sharing a post that made my day. This is all about my daughter, she makes this mama real proud.

my daughter, the photographer
If I told you it all blossomed from one drunken night at the house of a photographer taking pictures of her vain friend, you might not believe it. But that’s exactly how Daylight Saturday, an indie portrait ...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Last Night At Danceland

I was high last night at danceland... and I kept on dancing until the night was nigh.

It was a celebration of many things: another year to be thankful for, 10+ pounds lighter, 3 dress sizes smaller, new friends, new steps, old friends, old loves, another year to look forward to.

So last night, I danced with not one, not two, not three but six adorable dancers, tango masters, tango teachers, tango lovers all. Of course, I shared them with the rest of the selected old friends and cousins who came to shimmy and shake that floor.

The DJ was mighty fine, and in fighting form. Take a bow, Charles. You just get better and better, without missing a beat spinning that swing, reggae, chacha or tango tune.

The food was superb, as everyone said in between munching on the calamari, the fried chicken, the sisig, the steak, with gusto. The Bureau kitchen outdid itself last night.

And the dance vibe was intoxicating. Doctor's orders were momentarily disregarded, as the madreselva pink leather stilettos tripped the light fantastic from 730-1230. Not to worry, I was selective about the dances... tango, swing, reggae, a little chacha and a little salsa.

We closed out the night with DJ Charles' 80s mix that started with September by Earth, Wind and Fire which Wilson and I just had to dance to, even if my feet were almost numb from the aches and pains. The boys [Glen, Wilson, Willie, Willy, Jun, Dennis] decided to make it my "18 Roses" dance-a-thon, and flawlessly took me through the turns and spins of the swing, one by one, in two dizzying rounds.

What a way to end the night... I was so high last night at Danceland. And I kept on dancing until I could fly.

Another birthday, another dance night, until next year.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

When Simple Is A Stretch

After a 1 week lay-off, the tango nights resume.

The back is without tangible pain, and the doctor has acquiesced to my way of thinking, albeit with a stern reminder that I should lay off on the stilettos for now.

So the 3-inch NeoTango "flats" get dance time for now, and the sky-high stilettos stay on the shoe closet top shelf.

Once you get used to the Darcos and Comme Il Faut stilettos, any shoe you wear after feels like heavenly "flats". The support is more solid, and the height is more manageable after centering one's weight on 4-inch reed-thin heels. Ah the foibles of the new-fangled tango addict.

One of the conditions for the medical approval was for me to do stretching and back-strengthening exercises. Unfortunately (for this late-bloomer of a dancer), I have been (and still am) a bookworm for most of my life and the only stretching I did was to reach out for any of the treasures that fill up my bookshelf of a home.

Simple stretching, as basic as reaching for my toes. You laugh now, but once I get to stretch all the way down, you will laugh with me in triumph.

Simple crunches, with nothing more required for now than for me to lift the neck and upper shoulders. I tried that this morning and it felt good to feel the muscles in my torso get worked up. All the better for mastering the art of the ochos.

Simple exercises all in all. Two basic must-dos if I am to make sure I never have another lumbar spasm incident.

But for this non-athletic aspiring dancer, simple is literally just a stretch. And I will dance happily ever after.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Due to physical malfunction of this 40-something body, I am ordered to resist and desist from tango for the rest of the week, maybe even through the early part of next week.

The last session, danced with great energy and much enthusiasm with my original partner Wilson, was so much fun I did not notice that I had pulled a muscle somewhere in my lower back. Or maybe it was the stilettos while traversing the Savannah dance floor.

Oblivious, I was to the assault that had happened to my back.

Whatever it was that happened in the afternoon caused extreme discomfort and two sleepless nights, trying to find a position where I would not grimace or where there would be no stab of pain. To no avail, it was two nights of agony after an afternoon of tango ecstasy.

The emergency room was the sanctuary of choice, in which I was told that it was a lumbar problem, thankfully nothing else. Take the muscle relaxant and pain reliever without fail, and sleep with a big pillow under your knees or turn on your side with knees flexed to ease the stress on the lower back, the good doctor said. No heavy lifting, just rest, and do not sit for long periods. And come back to see me after 5 days.

Of course, I had to ask, first the resident, then the good ortho doctor, if I could dance on Monday. They both looked at me as if I were just a little bit crazy. There I was complaining of extreme back and side pains, consulting in the ER, and now asking if after 5 days, I could tango again.

The answer was not what I wanted: let's see. But the good doctor also said, don't wear your stilettos if you do try it out on Monday.

There are the lower heels that I lovingly call "flats" after wearing stilettos. And they are just waiting to be called to duty next week.

So this Holy Week is not only reflection time for the spirit to recover, but also rest time to let the body recover.

And if the body cooperates, then I can start up slow and ease back into the tango pace that has become so much a part of me, I have become oblivious to pulled muscles, aching feet and sharp heel-induced leg scratches.

Oblivious to everything else but the tango on my mind and in my soul.

Monday, March 29, 2010

My Treasure Hunt

When I fall head over heels, as I have with tango, I immerse myself with everything I've got. So with tango, I have taken on the manner of dress [and the shoes!!!] and actually practice my exercises anywhere, even while waiting for the car outside a mall.

From flowing, balloon skirts that rose to the occasion during twists and turns of swing and salsa, I now wear cropped fitted pants and the naughty slitted babuchas. All the better to execute the kicks and lifts, the boleos and the ganchos, without having to worry about showing more than necessary.

And just a few hours ago, as I waited for the car to come around, I practiced my balance and footwork exercise: amague to the front, amague to the back, lock, shift weight, no settling. amague to the back, amague to the front, shift weight, no settling. I could sense some other folks staring at me, probably wondering why I was moving back and forth in place in that weird sequence of steps. Because of exercises like those my balance has improved and my footwork has speeded up.

With the growing enchantment with tango, I resolved to read up and stock my library with tango books.

I also wanted to widen my tango music list and add to the CD shelf more Astor Piazzolla, Carlos Gardel and other tango classics.

But if I had hoped to do enrich my tango world with local purchases of books and music, my weekend treasure hunt proved otherwise.

After the wonderful discovery of Maria Finn's memoir on tango, there are no other books on the subject, whether instructional, historical or biographical. The one book I found, a collection of dance exercises, focused on the American tango, not the Argentine tango. A quick search on the internet showed that some titles could be had from Singapore or Hong Kong, but at a price that even this bookworm would not shell out.

The music hunt was a little more encouraging. The music section of Fully Booked at The Fort, occupying a whole section on the top floor of their haven of a bookstore, was a treasure trove of tango CDs. I scored 2 Piazzolas, and 4 other albums, including a two-disc set of Live Tango. The music went straight into my iPod Touch and was good company during Earth Hour.

But the music bounty stopped at that one store. The 3 other music shops I trooped to had no offerings, no tango for the hunter.

There is more to find on the internet, if one is really persevering, and is versed enough on the artists and songs worth downloading. I guess my music treasure hunt will be done online over the summer.

The book dilemma is harder to resolve, as shipping across the oceans is costly and takes too long. I will have to rely on the bookmooch well of goodies for more tango books, as well as the bookstores around Asia if I do get to travel again this year.

So my hunt for tango treasure will go on. I still have some book haunts I have to check out, although they are farther south, and I will continue to hope that tango titles find their way to my favorite stores, and soon.

Meanwhile, the tango memoir and the music on my iPod are more than enough for my tango life right now.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Follow the Leader

Tango Night on a Thursday and I was going it alone, this time sans the comfort zone that is the maestro.

Time to flex those tango feet and tango to the lead of another. Something like the finals in a semester, where one's accumulated learning is tested and measured. While there is no exam in the tango school, being able to follow the lead of any partner is to my mind a fitting benchmark to check if I am indeed learning to tango and learning tango.

While I had previously danced with my partner for the night, this could be counted as the first time, after my intensive lessons over the last three months.

Balance. Pivot. Move. Attack. Musicality. These were my test areas. And armed with hours and hours of studio workouts, I faced the lean and energetic Willy, ready to tango.

Four hours and an endless stream of boleo, sacada, gancho, saludo, ocho adelante, ocho atras after, the sweat was streaming and my breath was coming in gasps. Energetic he was, and enthusiastic about maximizing my new-found skills and agility.

The dance floor was ours. Whether crowded or not, he made it the arena to test my limits, stretch my limbs, add to the arsenal. Unrelenting and bubbly, Willy led me with authority, brooking no argument in his hold, encouraging me to step wider, reach longer, give more with every move.

The frenzy got me dizzy, he wasted no time, and he pushed until I got each quick sequence right. Imagine my delight when he noted how much lighter I was becoming as the night progressed. And how much my tango had improved since a month or so ago.

But the highlight of the evening was when he decided to test if I could do the volcada. He asked as we were dancing, and in the next breath proceeded to go into an abrazo, the prelude to the wide wide ronde. As I was taught, I followed the leader. And did a volcada. and another one. For which I heard the words which makes every studio hour and every painful foot worth the sacrifice: you can tango already.

His words were an affirmation of what I could feel in my bones and in my limbs the whole night. I was in step, even though at times still off balance, stretching, reaching, moving in tune with the leader and the music. I was out there, not timid, not waiting to be dragged. I attacked as much as I could, and I could feel it in my tango.

And it got better as the connection grew. From an unfamiliar authoritative hold, the connection came alive, as I let the leader take me into his circle. His moves, his energy, his enthusiasm were being absorbed and relayed into my own moves, my energy, my enthusiasm.

Again, last night I tangoed with everything I had, and it felt good.

Follow the Leader, I did; and tango with heart and soul, I did.

Tango Reads 1

I finally found a way to merge my love for books with my new-found passion for tango.

Last Sunday as I indulged at Fully Booked at Rockwell, I made way to the arts shelf, after finding a pop-up edition of my all-time favorite, Antoine de St Exupery's The Little Prince. [Check out my other blog, LIVING BY THE BOOK, to see what pop-up heaven is all about.]

As I slowly went through all the titles on the leftmost shelf of the arts section, I saw the dance books on the first and second tiers. While most of them were too technical or too classical, I stumbled upon a memoir by Maria Finn. What grabbed me was the cover, a top shot of a man and a woman in abrazo, with the camera angle focusing on the outstretched limbs of the pair.

But what will enchant you is the way she has captured the tango and tango. Her words echo the maestro's lessons in more explicit and visual terms. The words of her first instructors and her partners add shades and nuances to tango, as dance and as life, in a manner that this student can relate to.

From Chapter 1: El Abrazo, The Embrace

"... Tango, in its strictest definition, is a form of music and dance. In essence, though, it is a way of being---and it lures you... Tango is a journey for those who want their lives to change course..."

Maria Finn's Hold Me Tight & Tango Me Home is a memoir about how tango lifted her out of her heartbreak and showed her a new way of living. She spices it up with meaty morsels of tango history and delicious dashes of music and must-reads.

While her writing is light and very readable, the substance itself must be savored, not to be devoured in one sitting. Even if one wanted to. For tango does not rush, and this book should not be rushed either.

A must-read. As tango is a must-do.

"You have to breave [breathe] to feel the music," Graciela said. "You have to feel the music to dance tango. And when you make that connection with your partner, it is a pleasure you will never want to leave."

So that is why I tango more and more. And I didn't even see it that way yet.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Traipsing Along

That was how it felt to be on a break away from home, in Singapore. It was a time for bonding, a time to just be, and indulge a little. Like traipsing home, after a good day, dawdling where there was reason to, skipping quicker to get to the next stop.

I dawdled, skipped and lingered in the 3 plus nights we spent in the cosmopolitan island. While we were there as a birthday treat for my grown-up baby, it was a much needed break for me as well.

With no specific itinerary or must-do's, we made do with the short break. She with her Mosaic Music Festival must-sees, and me with my need to check out tango shoes in Singapore.

I was lucky to have been in touch with several tangueras based in Singapore. One in particular who so generously spent her lunch break at her tango joint so I could try on the heavenly stilettos.

I got to Abrazos early, as it was a quick taxi ride from the Peninsula Excelsior along Coleman Street. Luckily, the charming two-storey was also home to a kindergarten school so I nestled into a bench and enjoyed the young girls and boys riding their trikes.

The cocooon of quiet ushered in the pleasurable one hour of exchanging tango tidbits and getting to know May of Abrazos, all this while I was gushing over the Comme Il Faut pairs which occupied one whole wall in her spacious tango cafe.

One after another, I tried the size 7s only to realize my tango feet were meant for a size larger of this brand they describe as the Manolo Blahnik of tango shoes. Justifiably so, I found out, the designs were so fashionable, more dress shoe than dance shoe.

Needless to say, I indulged, and not only in the Comme Il Fauts, but also in another gorgeous brand called Madreselva. Lower heels, but exquisite designs as well. My tango feet were happy, itching to take them shoes on a spin around the dance floor.

Much as I had wanted to check out the tango scene in Singapore, the no-agenda vacation meant tired tired feet and shopping finds to pack into one suitcase. I promised myself a return trip, if only to meet up with the very warm tango community that I found on Facebook via Tango Singapore.

A year ago, if anyone would have told me I would fly across oceans for tango shoes, or that I would rework my schedules to fit my tango lessons, I would have given my loudest, most boisterous laugh.

Today, that laugh is heard when I am nervous, before I push another limit that my tango feet were about to breach, when the maestro demands something he knows I can give, despite my protestations.

And yes, I can laugh out loud with everything I have got, because the traipsing along I did in Singapore gave me even more reason to fall in love with the tango that is in my mind and in my heart.

So traipse and hop and skip I will, as I travel along the tango trail.

And again... glide forward, feet on the ground, close, step side, boleo, gancho, close, and glide forward... again.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Taking A Break, Just Deserts

Torture, sweet torture. That would have been a better title for this post.

Deliberately or not, the last studio session before a Singapore weekend break became quite an arduous two hours. Whether it was to compensate for missing a lesson or to prepare me for a longer summer break, the maestro made sure the new exercises would challenge me enough for the coming "vacation".

Picture a studio, with dimensions around two-thirds of a basketball court. Floor-to-ceiling mirrors on two sides. Airconditioning that had just been turned on, at 3pm of a sweltering el Nino-March summer day. And just you and your teacher in the studio. No distractions, no interruptions. A studio, the music, and a demanding maestro. That is just for starters.

On this particular day, the problem of balance was tackled with an exercise that required me to traverse the entire length and breadth of the studio executing the caminada with adornos. Choosing the direction I wanted to go to, I had to do a front and back adorno (or vice-versa), before stepping long and in perfect balance.

To make it even more excruciating, the maestro decided to he would add more value by sharing tango wisdom as I started the exercise. Fortunately, he understood the look that he got from me. So I got the quiet that I needed to concentrate on the exercise.

Step forward, close, lapis, adorno back, adorno forward. And close. Step right, foot in tango mode grounded as you move to segue to a lapis then adorno back, adorno forward. Close and step back, extend long from the torso, lapis, adorno, adorno. And again forward, and side and back...

I traversed that floor in slow motion. Trying to move to the rhythm of the music and keeping my balance. With hands in tango position, all the while dancing tall, with intent to conquer the wobble, the hesitation, the shyness. One round and back. Minute after minute. Complete one set with a slight wobble. Then topple when doing the back step. And again...

I traversed the floor length to length but once, choosing to sidestep and do the back and forth to get the adornos and the balance right. The heat did not help to make it less of a torture. And the full-length mirrors kept taunting my shaky frame as I took step after step, as slowly as possible to get that balance and make dancing tall a constant reality.

At the end of the two hours, my feet hurt and I could not flaunt another boleo even if my heart wanted to. My back was complaining and so were other body parts that were utilized in the exercise. Weak from the heat and battered from toe to upper shoulders, the maestro called it a day.

But as I did the exercise when I got home, I was able to do the adornos with none of the stiffness and less of the awkwardness I had started with in the afternoon lessons. I could actually lock in that foot and close and do the next step without toppling down. I watched myself in the mirror dancing a little taller, less shy, less wobbly, and yes, raring for the next lesson despite the aching feet and battered body parts.

I love the tango and it seems the tango is liking me just a little bit more.

That makes this Singapore break a fitting treat, just deserts, as that old idiom goes.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Pulling Back No More

In the studio this afternoon, as I again did the exercises to help me with my balance, another insight sparked my fuzzy tango brain.

During the deliberately slow exercise involving a series of movements---walk, rock, pivot, changing direction depending on my teacher's lead, I literally saw myself pulling back just a tiny bit before I gave in and followed. I saw it as a wariness to get out of my personal space and get closer, moving into the leader's personal space.

It happened several times. A very quick resistance, but a resistance nevertheless. A hesitation that translates into the loss of a few precious seconds and also one of the reasons for my balance problem.

I caught myself pulling back several times more. And told my teacher so. To which he agreed and reiterated his advice to attack, to go where his lead takes me, to take up the challenge and show him, the leader, that I had challenges of my own to give out too.

With the awareness of that troublesome instinctive action, I tried again, to attack, to go outside of my invisible defined space, and get closer, to let the playfulness of tango take over, as is necessary.

So I tried. Leaned forward, leaned into the leader's own space. And found myself less wobbly. Again, taking the cue from the leader, I stepped up, letting the right foot glide outside of my space, and then feeling the leg and the torso move into the space that had been offered. Without hesitation, no pulling back. Nice and easy, no rush.

The invitation to dance, to play, to frolic in the rhythm and the music was repeated over and over during the afternoon lesson. Each time the leader sent the impulses inviting me to explore the newfound confidence to get closer, to attack, to step up to the challenge, I danced forward, I accepted the invite, I took my place up close.

It felt good. I felt less unstable. I liked the confidence that was rising with every deliberate move, with every foray into the tango circle, as I call that space within the tango hold.

The more I danced right into the circle, the lighter I felt, the better I responded to the lead and the music. No more pulling back, one less stumbling block to an even more exhilarating tango life.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Picture! Picture!

Part of Saturday's lesson was watching my teacher's selected videos on the best performances of some of the best tango couples nowadays. From the humongous collection, we viewed about five great dance routines and I drooled.

But the intention was not merely to induce awe or envy, but rather to show me that every move must be with confidence, without hesitation, with gusto. The lesson on owning every move, on attacking every step as opposed to just doing the move, came up again.

This time around the more visual example of every move being picture worthy drove the point home.

In these parts as in most anywhere, having a picture taken requires putting one's best foot forward and one's best face or smile up there to be captured for all time. And that I understood without a doubt.

Looking at the videos, from the beginning before the play button is pushed, in whatever position the video had stopped, each of the couples looked picture perfect. Because each step, each move was made with gusto, with balance, in the spirit and in time with the music.

Picture! Picture! But rather than be conscious of the watching eyes or the flashing cameras, I understood the lesson as a wake up call: dance with everything you've got. And seeing the couples move, I went beyond drooling and found a new appreciation of what I have jumped head on in to.

It's not the knowing but the dancing that matters. Get into the dance, give it all you've got. That guarantees a picture that captures the heart of tango.

Monday, March 1, 2010

That Connection Thing

It used to be a mystery to me, when the word connection would be used to define the how and the what of my tango moves. I was told it would eventually be the connection that would lead me, no need for wrist action or other highly visible or even exaggerated physical signals.

So the lessons progressed, and again and again I heard all about connection, and feeling the connection, and letting the connection lead me.

The wrist signals were easy to get used to, as they left no doubt what one had to do next. When the leader's wrist twists left, you move left or do an ocho. When the wrist action goes into the ragdoll move, prepare for a boleo. When the hand tightens, expect a special move to be executed.

Predictable, safe, not needing much of a connection really. For the wrist actions and their meanings, once established between leader and follower, are like the push button menus. Wrist left, move left. Wrist right, move right. Ragdoll, do the boleo.

But as time passed, and my lessons leveled up from learning the steps to cleaning up my moves, the wrist action became superfluous. And forceful leading that used to literally take me through the steps became unnecessary as I imbibed and practiced the dance "on your own" mind set.

And the concept of connection became real, evolved from just something my teacher kept talking about. Over time, I realized I had been connecting with my leader, a bond born from hours and hours of dancing together, of moving two as one, of letting the dance take over.

How does it work? Where before, the wrist would signal a caminada or the extended arm would mean an ocho, now, a slight leaning in from the leader would trigger my leg to extend backward for a caminada. Where the ragdoll wrist signal would open me up to a boleo, one slight move from the leader, and the boleo is ushered in. Subtle, imperceptible moves; a case of singular interaction, two as one.

So nowadays, I expect that link that leads. My tango senses seek the impulses and signals that come with connecting in body, in rhythm, in spirit.

Connecting requires a bond of trust, an open channel and a singular focus that lets the communication flow even as the feet move, the limbs tangle and two tango as one.

Amid the intense music and the crush of the tango crowd, that connection thing will lead you to tango with everything you've got.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

I Danced. Tango, I did. Tonight.

No holds barred, no nervous laughter to stall the inevitable bolkada, no time-consuming questions, which my teacher says he enjoys anyway.

None of the distracting tactics [now I have to think of new ones] to stop the dance from pushing through. I bit my tongue, I focused on the music, I let the connection take over.

And I danced. Tango Argentina. Slow and sentimental. Quick and snappy. Languid but liquid. Danced even to the music of the rhumba and the foxtrot. Just danced. Tangoed. I finally let the tango in me out into the open.

And that felt mighty fine. Missteps and miscues and all. Forgotten cues, improvisations and unbalanced moves aside, the tango tonight felt good. Because I know that I did dance, that I set my shyness aside, and just let the tango in me come out.

I finally got it, to get where you want to be, you have to give in and give all you've got. No pain, no gain. No missteps, no improvements. No risk of shameful mistakes, no reward of progressive learning. The lessons have been learned, it was time for the learning to take the dance floor.

I have always wanted to dance, to just let the music move me. So I learned, and tonight I let go. I danced, tonight. And that is only the beginning.

These words from Lee Ann Womack's song sum it for me tonight and for the longest time.
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance
I hope you dance

I chose to dance, and I did dance. And I will continue to dance.

Tango, I will. Dance, I will. Live, I will.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Walking My Way Through

Yesterday's tango lesson focused on walking, walking, walking.

Back to the most basic move, walking to the music, walking in step with the beat, walking as natural as possible.

You are probably wondering: 5 months of tango lessons and it is back to walking. How poor a dancer is she? Hopefully not as slow a learner as I seem, as you will see.

Yesterday was all about walking again, but this walking was to be done two as one, without displacing weight or position, in step with the leader. Try that for size.

Walking and yet dancing. Walking as light as air, two distinct bodies as one. Walking around the floor, feeling that connection, knowing that after 5 months, I am walking as I tango, and I tango with just my walking.

Twisty and contradictory as that may sound, you've got to give it a try to understand.

Stretch that leg, push back and close. Other leg, stretch, back and close. Before you know it, you've traveled the dance floor walking, walking, walking to that sensuous tango beat.

And ain't that sweet. I think I finally learned to walk on tango feet.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Be Still My Tango Heart

For there is much too much going on in my tango life.

What started as once a week lessons turned into lessons plus tango night Tuesday then tango night Tuesday, Thursday and even Friday and lessons in between days.

Tonight I said, the question is: which day do I not dance? And with that came the sudden realization that I had overcrowded my life again.

This jumping feet first into tango is so typical of me, that burst of enthusiasm and the intense concentration, which hopefully will not turn into a sudden waning of interest. Not this time, I can see.

There is much to learn. Balance. Attack. En ganche. Embellishments. Slow tango. Show tango. Much more to sweeten the already exotic mix that spices up the days and nights of this life I have danced into.

There are partners to tango with, and test, and tease. There are shoes to traipse the light fantastic in, and those babuchas and gauchos to showcase the boleos that are yet to be done.

There is a whole world yet to be explored, and yet that cloying sense of too much too soon demands a gentle break into the familiar serenity of quiet and aloneness.

Right now, that sense of being crowded and being too out there makes me want to curl up and just stay off the dance floor, away from that pulsating beat. Just because. The very private me is looking for the quiet that I have gotten so used to. The private me just wants to get back that space that is all mine. Just for now.

With all that I am learning and the limits I have breached, the voice inside of me says stop awhile, and let the music take you in again. Let the music seep back into your soul, so the dance and the moves and the lessons and the dancers become invigorating again, become inspiring again.

Be still my tango heart, rest awhile my battered feet. Breathe, let the spirit of this dance embrace you in your quiet time. So when morning comes, my tango heart will rise in joy again.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

It's A Matter of Trust

Dancing the tango, I mean. Among other things in this life.

Trusting enough to follow the lead of another, for starters. Having the confidence that the leader will take you through the dance, enable your feet and your moves to express your understanding of the music, and just let the spirit of the tango settle in your soul as you follow the lead.

Trusting enough to know what each light tap intends for you, where every step will take you, how to absorb and exhale the energy sent your way. Knowing what, where, how and when to flow and glide and yes, even muster the bravura to flaunt that oft-practiced boleo-gancho-caress signature.

Trusting enough to let the newest lessons settle into the psyche, waiting for the time when it will suddenly make sense, and the moves will just happen.

It is all a matter of trust, this tango I am learning. Without it, the bolkada will be an exercise in frustration, for there is the element of letting one's weight, and indirectly, one's self, go; relying entirely on the leader to take you on, and lead you to the next salvo.

A trust that also sharpens the sense of carrying one's weight, and the leeway within that intimate embrace to stand, to secure balance, to dance as one even as one remembers that the duet is possible because one is as always on your own.

Suffice it to say that aching feet, tired muscles and new cuts only make the dancing even more enjoyable. The synergy shows and the dance becomes more expressive as time goes by, and the trust grows.

It's a matter of trust, and as everything in tango, it must grow and deepen for the dance to take flight.

Friday, February 12, 2010

On My Own

I mean, on my own balance, and not passing off my balance to the leader. On my own, standing alone, dancing tall, two as one but still dancing on my own.

A concept I have come to understand as another peculiarity of dancing. Not every teacher puts it as plainly as that, but every one who has taught me over the last 13 months has emphasized the need for balance. But not as succinctly as the tango teacher has stated.

The context must be stated for the principle to make sense. For dancing tango is never done alone. And the concept thus becomes a contradiction.

Yet it is not. For one can only be as one with your partner, if one can tango to the music, move in response to prods and commands, and dance with full control, steady on one perfectly balanced leg, on your own.

For if not, then the moves are stilted and stymied by one's inability to stand steady and tall, on your own. The ochos that lead to snappy boleos are less than lyrical when I fail to stand, on my own. And the smooth change from abrazo to a free hold is less than easy when i am late half a beat for not being able to close tall, on my own.

Little things that make all the difference in the tango, as in life. Steady through the storms, on my own. That has gotten me through trials and tantrums. Slow but sure, focused on the next step, as I have learned, on my own. Anchored on my center, no matter the challenge, be it a crossroad or a choice of boleo or caress, still always certain to make a choice and land steady, on my own.

Even in the closest of abrazos, it is good to always remember that while two dance as one, that is possible only when I dance on my own. Performances past in my life affirm that indeed, the tango will be conquered, on my own.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Take Your Time

One step at a time. No need to rush. Let the music lead you.

Again and again, I would hear those words during tango lessons. Or even on tango nights, when my teacher would explore the limits that I could breach in terms of expanding my range of movement.

And again and again, I would mentally take that in, and rush into the boleo or the ronde again.

Take your time. The dance is not going anywhere.

But one night, the repeating admonition finally settled into that compartment in my brain that processes all the dance input, and eureka! I took my time and did that problematic ronde with ease, with more grace and yes, in time with the music.

It just all clicked, and it felt good.

What did I do right? I was in perfect position, I let the music lead me, and let my teacher's subtle prompt trigger the moves. Easy, languid, liquid moves.

That felt good. But it was not perfect all the time. Getting there.

Still have to watch my balance, still have to let the mantra take over when I dance.

Take your time. Tango is all about the music and the intensity that will drive your body and your feet to move and flow and glide, together, as one.

Little things, small details, you might think. But they do make all the difference.

When I let the mantra into the flow of my dancing, the timing was good, and I was light and liquid.

I took my time, and I moved good.

Now to do that again, and again, and again... breathe and move... again.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The First Cut

Nothing exotic or kinky, or even remotely dramatic. I just cut myself today.

Wearing my just arrived Darcos from Buenos Aires, I slashed myself.

I bled, it stung, and I did not know I had cut myself.

It was probably during the volley of boleo, gancho, boleo that my teacher likes to exercise me with that I cut myself.

Concentrating so hard on getting it done seemingly effortlessly and in tune to the rhythm of the tango beat, I did not feel it, and found the bleeding gash well after it had happened.

Nothing deep or requiring hospital care. Just a little over an inch of a thin gash, giving credence to my theory that it was the fine stiletto heel that did this. The amazing stiletto heel that goes from blood red to black in shimmering gradation.

The culprit. Lazos 2, it is called, and it made the first cut on this budding tango addict. As my teacher put it, all part of being a dancer. After all these years of frustration and dreams, I guess I can say I am a dancer. And I had to get my first cut to be called one.

Let the dance begin...

Friday, January 22, 2010

Stillettos: Heavenly Heels or Killer Shoes?

The shoe of choice for tango addicts is the stilletto. Killer heels, fit for a killer of a dance.

Higher than normal, thinner than thin at the heel, sexy, sleek, slinky.

Mine arrived today, well the first batch at least. Ordered online from Guaranteed Fit. com, the brand that delighted my feet last night was VidaMia. Adjustable, so so so comfortable, and stilletto too.

Black with buckles, which were adjustable, making it easy to fit with comfort, and dance with ease despite the killer heels.

After a few false starts, and some difficulty in gliding on the floor, the shoes were working fine. And the leader tested my endurance and my dexterity in those stilettos.

For the first time, I did the bolkada, in stilettos. The threat was that we would not go home that night if I did not do it right. After three hours, I had done a lot, and had finally met my leader's standards.

And then he changed the game, again. Everything I knew and had learned, he turned around. The deal was, unlearn and relearn. Testing my ability to follow, to let the leader do the job of letting the music come to life, in the steps and in the figures that our duet evoked on the dance floor.

I must admit, the stilettos were such a joy to wear. VidaMia you are heavenly. Never mind if the higher than high heels could kill your feet.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The abrazo that is the close embrace

In the language of argentine tango, the abrazo or embrace is the general term for the hold of the leader/man on the follower/woman.

There is the open embrace which connotes a distance between the pair to allow for greater room for maneuvers and movements, and then there is the close embrace, where leader holds follower close to his chest.

The open embrace was my introduction to argentine tango, and is mostly what you will see when you dance anywhere in Manila. It allows dancers to execute the variations of the tango, without encroaching into the more personal space.

If you did as I did at the start of my ballroom life, and just watched as couples did the argentine tango, then you would notice the safe distance that exists between leader and follower. I would say that comes from the culture and the norms, where being circumspect and demure are expected of women. I too started out keeping a safe distance in most of my dancing, and to this day, I do not have the moves to do that sultry rhumba. But that is another story.

So, back to my close encounter with the abrazo. It is the inspiring teacher who, after showing me how much fun the dance can be, proceeds to introduce me to the abrazo that is the close embrace.

I am not a gushing teener nor a newly-confident twenty-something nor even in the thirty-plus era, yet the "closeness" of the close embrace was totally new. Even if I have worked with mostly men, of stature and command, for the last 12 years, that first close embrace came from left field. It was not a tentative near-embrace, mind you. It was the "I take you in my arms, hold you tight and lead your every move" kind.

Considering that my teacher, inspiring and comfortable as he is, was then an acquaintance of just two sessions, my demure persona was reacting, subconsciously thinking: why is he locking me in this embrace!!!

Well, whatever shock I felt couldn't be expressed even as a joke, because it had to be set aside immediately since the inspiring but demanding teacher had already commanded my body to glide... forward, side, close, backward, legs long, feet always touching the ground... and dance I did, or tried to that first time, locked in that tight embrace.

I survived that first session, and the next. But when it came to dancing in close embrace the whole night, it was the unused muscles on my arms, neck and the rest of my body, that spoke up. It is not easy, and in some ways, it is torture. You are pinned to the leader's chest, your movements are within a more limited space, and there is a posture and stance that are demanded by this thing they call the abrazo.

Guess the desire to learn overcame the aching muscles. The torture remains but is now more manageable. And the hours in close embrace have become longer and more frequent.

Four months later, the newness of the proximity of the abrazo in close embrace is not new anymore. Now, I look for and even expect the command and control that the abrazo has come to mean to me.

It is after all an affirmation of one of the first lessons I was taught about the argentine tango. From the start, I was told that the argentine tango required the follower to do just that: follow. From the start, the input was that with the right leader, my moves would be clear, as there would be no other option for my body and my feet.

And of course, the teachers were right. Whoever leads, whether teacher or partner or fellow student, I follow. I glide back when I sense the beginning of a forward leg move. I prepare for an ocho when the hand slides down to aid the twisting motions. I do the boleo when the leader does what I call the ragdoll command. I follow, when a slight tap or a quick press into the small of my back leads me into the next turn of the dance.

The following that I do becomes even more exact in the abrazo that is the close embrace. The extreme proximity heightens that oh so important connection. The sense one has of one's partner is immediate, tangible, translating impulse into action in the next breath.

From the viewer's perspective, the close embrace may represent the more seductive nuance of the argentine tango, which can actually be called an intricate dance of seduction. But from this follower's point-of-view, the abrazo that is the close embrace lets the spirit of the dance flow freer, and leads this follower deeper into the tango that fills mind and soul.

In the tight circle of a close embrace, the tango is danced with singular poetry. And the tango embraces you even tighter still.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Sunday of Rest

Four days of tango this week, and on Sunday I am given a rest.

It is all quiet in Sinabacan, Zambales. The only sounds you hear are the lapping of the waves as they hit the shore. The house is still, waiting for everyone else to rise and shine.

Last night, before bed I put myself to sleep listening to selections of traditional Argentine tango music. A treat from my teacher, to help my musicality and lead me further into the heart and mind of tango.

Yesterday, as a treat before a working weekend, we had a quick tango tutorial at Savanah. An hour and a half of abrazo, the delightful yet taxing embrace of tango. As in everything about tango, you let the abrazo sweep you into the rhythm and romance of the dance. As in everything about tango, you feel it or you fail it.

The rest of the week has been work and dance, work and dance, oh what a life I have. So today, I am gifted with a quiet Sunday for tomorrow the dance awaits me again.

Monday, January 11, 2010

It's another Tango night...

For three hours, tango music dominates the playlist, and die-hards get to swirl and sway and seduce all they want.

I never thought it was possible or palatable to just keep dancing argentine tango for hours on end. Always thought it would get boring after the 3rd song. Ah, but I did not know much about the dance then.

From neophyte gawker to struggling student in 3 months, that is what I have become. I have had a train of teachers, from the dapper Dennis S to the easygoing John to the inspiring Dennis L, with lightning instructionals during milonga nights at Mia's from the pioneering Jun B and instructive insights watching Tango stalwarts Jun A and Cecile G. And while the men teach and encourage, it is watching the ladies do their thing that keeps me wanting to learn more.

Catch the tango fever at any of these haunts. Club Bureau on Makati Avenue on a Tuesday night. Encore at The Fort on a Monday night. And dance the night away any night of the week at Mia's Dance Cafe on Jupiter Street, Europa Dance Bar on Pasong Tamo, Bykes Cafe at Lancaster Hotel in Mandaluyong, Savanah Moon on C-5, Harmony on Annapolis Street in Greenhills, and the newest place, Rhythm of the Night at the Adriatico Circle.

More about tango nights, and dancing the night away...

It was the music that drew me in...

The tempo was slow but intense, and the melody worked its way into my soul. The sheer magic of a bandoneon and a violin evoking such lyrical interplay between man and woman made me want to learn the argentine tango.

There I was, the latebloomer of a dance student, learning ballroom. A sure sign of advanced maturity among my peers, and an even surer sign to my daughter that her unpredictable mother was nearer to that mid-life marker.

At first glance, I thought it was a funny dance, with intertwined legs and curious movements. Why the ballroom aficionados and die-hards were engaged in the seemingly acrobatic steps and loving them was beyond my understanding.

I remember the first time I saw this dance. The loud upbeat music of the jive gave way to a poignant note followed by another and another, and the dancefloor suddenly filled up. One by one, couple by couple, the dance came to life.

Come closer, step forward, step side, lift your leg, twist to the side and then to the other side, then a kick or something like that. And again... move in close, step forward then back, step side, twist and kick... and again...

I asked what kind of dance that was... such haunting music but the steps were so alien and funny to me. Argentine tango was the reply. My consciousness honed in on the word "tango" and concluded that it was the good old tango that I could only watch from the sidelines, requiring training and practice and lessons and practice.

And again and again, every time I was in ballroom sessions, I would sit out the argentine tango, because I refused to learn. Too intimidated by what the name implied, and too shy to even try.

But the music kept haunting me... why not give it a whirl?

So one afternoon, three months into my ballroom lessons, in the confines of my favorite ballroom joint, I finally gave it a try. Basic steps: left hand on partner's right shoulder, right hand in partner's left hand, left foot forward and right foot collect and right food step side and left foot collect and left foot step backward and right foot collect... and move to the music, follow your partner's lead.

And again, and again, and again... follow the music, move with your partner.

The music kept me going through the basics. From watching on the sidelines and silently laughing at the dance, I had taken the first step into the world of tango, and little did I know there was no turning back.

Argentine tango asks of the dancer but one thing: the passion to make the music come alive in dance. It is not about how hard it is to learn, but rather how much you let the dance and the music teach you about how much you have inside of you.

Tango on my mind, and in my heart.

P.S. The song that haunts me to this day is Astor Piazzola's Oblivion.
Listen to it here