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.