Monday, January 29, 2007

Chronicle of Tango Discovery

Day 1: 6pm Friday. We arrive at Conexion del Tango in Spokane a little stiff and tired from a 4 hour drive. Nervous, even anxious, we enter the studio. Two rooms, hardwood floors, old brick and stone, exposed beams, the space is smaller than I had imagined, intimate, in the best possible way. A bit below street level, the effect was like being in a fish bowl - the bright interior cast a glow onto the sidewalk, the windows in the front room at about knee level for the passers by.

The back room was larger, a seating area in the very back, mirrors along one wall, a kitchenette for making coffee, refrigerator to hold snacks. We found a place at a little table along the wall opposite the mirrors and tentatively offered greetings to the few others already gathered. Tim and Betsy, Robin, Kathleen, our studio owner and host Diane, and Ravi Taj, our workshop instructor. Pleasantries were exchanged, and we felt so out of place, having never taken a tango lesson of any sort, and having failed miserably at our attempts to learn from video. Through conversation, we discovered that in addition to being a Tango Discovery intstructor, Ravi was also a highly accomplished pilot. This additional connection gave My Pilot a far greater sense of ease than he would have had otherwise. I felt as though the Fates had conspired to bring us to this setting, with these specific people and this specific instructor.

We shared a meal, pot luck style brought by many. Beautiful salads, rice and lentil dishes, ravioli, potatoes au gratin, a bit of wine. A wonderful way to simply talk, make some friends, break the ice. It was a beautiful start, and set the tone for the rest of the weekend.

Our first exercise was simply walking, without a partner. Just moving through space, taking meandering turns, wandering. No regard given to direction of motion, to following another, just navigating space. Then we moved to doing the same with a partner. Awkwardness soon fell away, as My Pilot and I began to move together as one entity rather than as two merely connected through embrace.

One or two other exercises focusing on spatial awareness and visual cues, and the evening was brought to a close. My Pilot and I retired to our hotel room, tired, still a bit anxious about what was to come, but happy to be there.

Day 2: Saturday, 10:30am. We arrive at the studio and change our shoes. Ravi takes us through some more basic movement exercises, so naturally, smoothly, easily that any awkwardness such contrived movements generally cause in me were eliminated.

He first taught us barridas, or sweeps - leader or follower pushes, sweeps, coaxes the other's foot open, across, forward or back. Then came boleos, where the leg is snapped like a whip, or a lasso, a rope, whatever simile resonates with you. Then ganchos, or hooks - front, back, side, for follower mostly, although leaders can do this as well. We danced in our own inelegant way - nothing was wrong, just different or other than what was being taught. Ravi made us think - no set step patterns were taught, no counting, no right foot or left foot at this point. Simply different elements that make up tango. He brought to our attention the aspects that make a movement natural, flowing, pleasing to the eye and to the body itself.

When 4:30 came around, we were overwhelmed, tired, hungry, and my feet were absolutely killing me. But we had mere hours to eat, rest, repair our bodies and minds for the Milonga at 8. Diane had arranged for amazing live music from the Tango Strings, a string quintet made up of members of the Spokane Symphony Orchestra. It was heavenly - beautiful, soulful slow tangos and sad waltzes, a bit of Bizet, some pieces that really showed the European/German influence on tango music. The sound filled the rooms, made magical by the low light and twinkling candles. And such beautiful dancers showed up - elegant, practiced, some very young college students danced exquisitely, older couples who had been dancing together for years. My Pilot navigated me for a few turns around the floor, and we practiced some of what we learned in the back room. At 11 we headed out, back to the room, heads spinning, feet aching, cramping and on fire, hearts weeping for more.

Day 3: Sunday, 10:30 am. My Pilot and I arrived a few minutes early and grabbed some coffee, changed our shoes and warmed up a little bit. People were slow to arrive - most had stayed at the Milonga until past midnight and were feeling a bit weary come morning. We felt comfortable on this day, but worried that all that we had learned during our major overload session the day before had somehow fallen from our brains in the night. To our distinct amazement and the amusement of our instructor, we actually had NOT forgotten everything. In fact, when Ravi asked the students to do specific things from the previous day's lesson, we were first, on several occasions, to recall the maneuver and complete it accurately. This day was magical, not only for us, but for the other students as well. What was powered through by sheer force of will the day before, became elegant, almost easy. Social discomfort was released, as we each supported, encouraged, applauded the others without regard to level of dance execution - the important thing was that each and every single dancer could do the move!!

As we broke for lunch, Lela and Chuck invited us to join them for a bite - a welcome invitation, and so generous of spirit. We met that at Europa and enjoyed a delicious meal, great conversation, and a bit too much rest time, as we were a few minutes late getting back to class.


The afternoon was spent in arranging different combinations of elements, in whatever way we could or wanted to. As difficult as this was for me and My Pilot, we actually succeeded - more applause and validation and compliments and encouragement! I finally grasped the idea that not only was he to lead me, by agreement, cue or something short of brute force, but also that I needed to figure out how to not only execute what I felt he was coaxing me to do, but also to do it in a way that accommodated him, and myriad next steps, moves or elements. In other words, how to really make it work, with give and take. No frustration. If I failed to do the step My Pilot intended me to do, I'd do something else, and he'd adjust himself. If I needed to turn more, or less, or step out and away, or closer in to complete the maneuver, then that is what I tried to do. I cannot make My Pilot dance a particular way, or lead me in a particular fashion - I can only react and respond to the way he really is dancing and leading me. And I need to do that in a way that brings us both pleasure and ease. And he got this, too. So, I am not completely passive, waiting for him to give me some mythical dance experience full of ethereal and effortless leads and cues, nor am I imposing my own imagined structure on what we are doing. He does not have to power me through steps, simple or intricate. He indicates. Then waits. I respond, the best way I know how, and try to make it easy for him

Several times we were told, "You HAVE to keep dancing - you guys are tango dancers!" or "I can't believe this is your first class - you must be naturals." Nothing could be further from the truth - we simply were there to learn, with open minds, and blessedly open hearts.

And that, I think, is the most important thing My Pilot and I learned this weekend - to learn with an open heart as well as an open mind. That we really CAN learn to do new things, but to do so we must have patience with ourselves, push ourselves to our own place of tension. When we get confused, discouraged, turned around backward and inside out, to step back and then step it out, slowly. That we need to focus on how we feel together, not how we might look to an outsider (in our marriage, we're actually pretty good at this already). That I need to slow down a bit, get out of my head a bit, get into his head a bit. And simply make time for the unfolding.

3 Comments:

Blogger GeL (Emerald Eyes) said...

Wonderfully descriptive and tender chronicling. This is my first week at Sunday Scribblings. I'm delighted you wrote an explanation for the name of your blog because my husband and I love to dance and have taken Tango lessons and I'm an artist, although not with yarn. (It's not how we met though, although my hubby would love to be a pilot but can't due to poor eyesight.)

I enjoyed this very much!

1/29/2007 11:33 PM  
Blogger gautami tripathy said...

One gets to read so much different stuff. I am glad I got here. You write very well. I like it.

gautami
rooted.

1/30/2007 5:01 AM  
Blogger daisies said...

oh wow ... this is a wonderful chronicling of your learning tango, those first tentative steps, the life you breathed into the studio ... thank you for sharing :)

1/30/2007 12:09 PM  

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