Thursday, July 28, 2016

Argentine Tango! Those Blue Moon Moments.

I have learned that opening a dance floor for Argentine Tango requires determination, a willingness to dance with the wall, or to work solo on balance, pivots, and adornos in a mirrored hall. There are indeed evenings when no one is able to come dance Tango. 

This year I feel so fortunate to have found a dance floor within walking distance from my home. As well, I am able to afford to the rent, and so I may practice Argentine Tango every Tuesday from 8 pm - 9 pm. Of course I don’t want to dance alone. 

As this new venue is a proper dance hall, has off street parking, and is easy to find, more and more dancers are coming out to experience Argentine Tango.  This Tuesday three dancers who have danced on this floor before came to practice, there was one first time dancer, one dancer who has a few years experience in Argentine Tango.

The Blue Moon Moment? This Tuesday a very experienced leader came to the Open Floor as he was in need of Argentine Tango. (I understand this need very well!)  

I offered him the floor and asked if he would he care to teach. He politely declined and left me to it. Every week, as so many are new to this style of Tango, some having their very first encounter,  I offer an introduction to the basics of the dance. 

I discuss the “Four Relationships”, the one-footed principle, and this week, at the moment of my introducing the ‘one footed nature,’ to my great delight, our experienced dancer asked to participate with me, and help me show the importance of ‘one footedness.’

It was wonderful. He explained the importance of being one footed, and I partnered his explanation. So, those present were able to hear and to see Argentine Tango in process. The why of ‘one footedness’ was immediately apparent. 

Our visiting leader showed forward and backwards walking steps, the pivots, ochos and pauses while sharing his passion for the dance, and for the non verbal relationship which can indeed be the “passion” of Argentine Tango particularly when danced by a man & a woman.  

All this was wonderful to hear. Clearly, our visitor came from a culture where men dance. It was hard for him to believe that he was looking at the only open floor Argentine Tango group meeting in what is geographically the largest city in the United States. 

Further, when he realized that I danced the role of leader more often than I follow, he was incredulous. Ever the gentleman he finished his explanation and returned me the class. 

All who came to listen had an introduction (or review) of the importance of “shift weight in place”, the side step, the forward and backward walk with the emphasis one allowing your partner a place to step. After steps and practices in front of the mirror, we chose partners and danced. 

Those who have had several lessons partnered with those who had never danced. Our visiting dancer (I hope he returns!) danced with everyone. 

Now - some people comment that those who dance Argentine Tango are “snobbish” about the dance. I have not had this experience very often.  

I have been to one milonga where, after a two hour drive to attend, and after dancing with everyone in the one hour class, I sat the wallflower for two hours hoping for a dance. I had one tanda. I did not feel welcomed, and so I haven’t hurried back. 

I will try again another time of course.  Every group can have an off night, every teacher an off day. If we are kind and remember that we are on a journey together - I feel sure the journey will be joyful. 

As I type now, I remember the kindness shown me by experienced leaders, and experienced followers who gave me vital tips. In fact, most all the people I have met have been very, very kind indeed. 

To return to the evening, as the class time was ending, I asked our visitor if I might have a dance. I put my “girl shoes” on (I dance lead in a jazz shoe now) and was very happy to accept his instruction as how best to embrace. 

I am 5’2’’ barefoot and 5’6” in a stiletto. I am short anyway you shake it, and he was taller than I. However, as an experienced dancer, his advice on how best to embrace was impeccable.  So we danced. 

I can’t tell you the song, but I can tell you that I experienced the delight of the union, the passion and the magic that happens when one surrenders to the dance itself. I have not had a good dance for awhile now, and to be invited to gaucho, to molinette, to offer adornos, to move across the floor in the embrace of a skilled Tanguero was a pleasure indeed. I was glowing. 

Sadly no one caught the moment on video….. but I wil remember that dance for as long as my memory endures.  I have no idea if I missed a step, should have offered a boleo here or there, I was lost in the moment of this dance.

If you care to join us we dance every Tuesday at  SDS Performance Arts Center located at 5049 Normandy Blvd, Jacksonville, Florida 32205. We dance from 8 PM - 9 PM. 

There is a $10 Floor Fee to help pay rent, cover costs, purchase supplies, and one day in the not to distant future, host a milonga! 

Visit us on Facebook to see all sorts of useful videos, and to stay up to date with Argentine Tango dances in Florida.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Buying Tango Shoes • How D'Rasa Changed Everything for the Better!

When I first started to study Argentine Tango I was not willing to invest in high dollar dance shoes. I really wasn't sure this was the dance for me. 

Feeling prudent, I bought the least expensive dance style shoe I could find. (Did you guess?) I bought the “Character Shoe” which seems to be a Broadway staple. 

This Character Shoe is a closed toe Mary Jane style shoe with a very low heel. There are not many stores that have a wide selection of Tango shoes in my city and, as I said, I wasn’t sure at all about the dance. 

After one or two classes, I knew I had found a movement, an exercise, a challenge, a dance that was so much more than steps and patterns. I found a challenge of posture, and balance. I found a dance that called for the best of me in so many ways - and I was very, very happy. 

I began to notice the shoes that experienced dancers wore. Most all had the open toe style and most had a higher heel than I was wearing. Most all student dancers had shopped at the local “Dance” wear shoppes and some shopped on line. 

The teacher, a professional dancer and instructor, had top of the line leather Argentine Tango shoes which I shop if I could get to Clearwater, or Miami. As those were not options at the time, my second pair was a very nice shoe at $100 or so. It was an open toed, low heeled sandal style and I spent a year or more “falling off” them.  

What I did not understand at the time was this:

Tango shoes are like very fine tools. I needed the right tool for the joy of dancing Argentine Tango. Over the months, I tried on a variety of shoes - 2” heels (which were too low) then a 2 1/2” heel (again too low)  then a 3” heel and sadly, not the shoe but much closer! 

I was still not feeing balanced, fleet of foot, and I kept “losing” the connection with my partner. Partners really do not like the disconnect at all, regardless of role or gender. 

I did not realize that the pitch of my shoe had a good deal to do with my ability to maintain connection as a follower. 

Fortunately after a year or so I was able to go to a Milonga in Titusville, Florida. There were tables and tables of lovely hand made shoes in all styles and all heel sizes.  (In a street shoe, I wear a 6 and it has been my custom over the years to wear a flat shoe.) 

To my surprise, when presented with all the styles and heel sizes at this Milonga, I found out that what I had been missing was a lovely 4” stiletto in a size 5. My surprise! The shoes fit perfectly, my feet did not hurt at all, my posture was perfect and I was suddenly lightening fast!

I chose the D’Rasa brand and ordered the shoe with extra padding. All was custom, so I added a leather sole and a few special touches.  All my previous shoes had come from ballroom stores and a suede sole was really the only option presented to buy there.  A suede sole does give me “purchase” on the dance floor. 

Secretly, I had wondered how the dancers I saw on YouTube and in various videos were able to be lightening fast, to pivot on a dime, and to have such elegant footwork. Of course there is no discounting years of practice - but once I put on the leather soled shoes, my pivots improved immediately. 

In fact, my Tango posture improved as well for two reasons. The first is that the height of the heel - which many find amazing - helps align my body just right. My shoulders are over my hips which are over my knees and those over the metatarsus of my foot.

As well, the pitch of the shoe made it very, very easy to be forward - to connect with my partner. There was a great difference in the pitch of that hand made Colombian D’Rasa dance shoe vs. the pitch of the Latin dance shoes I had purchased and worn time and again.

Today, if I want to work on leading in heels, I will wear a suede sole. If I am going to dance as a follower, then I want all the speed and grace and perfect pivot that the well crafted leather soled shoe has to offer. 

Recently a new dancer who had been dancing in socks or in a worn rubber sole was able to borrow a high heeled shoe. I think the she may well have a 3 1/4” heel, but it is hard to tell as her first shoe is something of a platform sole. A good dance shoe will have a flexible leather sole. 

For gentlemen with nice leather Oxford style shoes - that sole is likely much too thick to help you “feel the floor” when you are dancing. The upper leather is often very stiff and restricts your movement so that you cannot have the same experience with Tango as you would in a proper gentleman’s Tango shoe. 

For followers, the platform is not at all helpful as this too disconnects you with your primary partner - the floor! Of course if that is what you have to bring, please come along! 

The dancer who experienced Argentine Tango while wearing a high heeled shoe for the first time was immediately a better dancer.  The heel height and the pitch of the shoe enabled her to be more present with her leader. 

If one must dance in a flat - I often wear a jazz shoe - it is necessary that as we elongate the spine, we come off the floor a bit. 

This is simply not a flat footed dance. (Remember now - this is my experience with Argentine Tango - yours may be quite different. You may have more experience, have been able to take more classes, or to attend weekend workshops. I often feel as if I am dancing in the desert here, so my observations may required a bit of watering - some nurturing.) 

This does not mean we dance on tip toe…. but if you watch fine dancers in heels or not - you will see the follower will “come up” off her heels and more onto the metatarsi of her foot to be able to be present wth the follower and to execute some of the more advanced steps with grace. 

You are welcome to come dancing with us in socks, sneakers, the finest dance shoes money can buy -  you are welcome.  

One value of the group I dance with is that all are welcome. We are too small for cliques, better than/lesser than dancers. 

Everyone dances - although some choose to dance alone to improve a step or to work on balance.

If you choose to join the class where I dance, we all take turns at leading and following and workshopping ocho cortados and adornos as we may. 

I am a week late in posting - and the good news for next blog is the list of a new gentleman dancer!