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