Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Line of Dance Is a Circle

[New Year’s Eve: Two years to the day after starting this blog.]

Only connect.
Howard’s End, E.M. Forester

I had great plans for this year. Great plans!

This year would be the Year of Connection. What can be more tango than that?

All year long I touched on what it means to connect.

my hips
my muscles
the many myths of my one body

many teachers, disciplines, styles underlain by a continuous thread,
one teacher, Grisha

the Denver tango community, unbeknownst even to itself, one
larger than the sum of its contentious parts,
in context global and historic, immediate and ethereal

composers and singers, rhythm and tune, the bandaneon
Fresedo and Canaro and the Communist Pugliese
resolved in the beat of one lead’s heart

lovely Comme il Faut shoes duct-taped,
one prayer to hold them together until a new pair can be found

old wood and moguls, the floor of the Merc,
gossip and small talk, Kari's laugh

The Five: Glenlivet, Stan, Tom, Andrey, Mark
plus one: The Mathematician

The Man on the Wall
My Deep-Thinking Friend
each one of them one of a kind

Argentina, its soul

my family, sisters, brother, father, mother
their stories, the story we are making together

my solitude

my story

my one heart

Look to the right, read the section headed “Only Connect.” It’s a catalog.

I meant to run through the catalog. I meant to connect the dots. I had a plan, a sketchy outline. I meant to write like crazy through the last twelve weeks of the year.

I was right on track. I had created a story arc, I had set up the ending. All that remained was to gather it all together with BrillianceMeaningTruthBeautyLight.

In the face of such a task, there are only two things a writer can do: drink or lie.

This is memoir. Lying is out.

Here’s a true story:

Shortly after Barbara died, I asked her husband, as he was cleaning out her things, to send something of hers to me. It’s a little creepy, this drive we have, to hold onto the dead. In Victorian times, the survivors cut the hair of their loved ones and wove funeral wreaths. They were not rough mementoes, they were d├ęcor: sophisticated and intricate showpieces.

I didn’t want Barbara’s hair. I wanted a talisman (n., from the Greek consecration).

He sent a red sweater. I had one just like it. I had bought the sweaters a year before. Barbara would wear hers on the East Coast and I would wear mine in the Rocky Mountains. It didn’t turn out to be as woo-woo meaningful as I had hoped.

I stuck the sweater in a drawer. Next summer, when Keith and I went camping, I wore it. We were cozy around the campfire when a coal burst. A cinder landed on my shoulder and burned a hole the size of a silver dollar.

I tried to cauterize the hole. I tried to rejoin the threads. But you cannot keep a damaged knit from unraveling. With every move I made, the weave came more undone.

It hurt to watch the hole grow large, ragged. Soon I threw the sweater away. It was not a big moment; I had no emotional attachment.

Barbara once asked: Do you ever want it all to connect?

I do.

I live in solitude, not in isolation. I want it all to connect in ways that are unseen and mysterious and cosmic and in ways that are immediate and earthy. I don’t need a god’s master plan, I only wish to believe that when a thread is plucked, the whole web goes ping!


It does not matter what I want. As the song goes: Life comes together and it comes apart.

Tonight as I practice with Glenlivet, I tell him all of this.

“So that’s it,” I say. “I’m going to end the blog by saying it’s all just a big, unraveled mess.”

We laugh, and then he stops laughing. An idea is forming, he is going to think it aloud. It takes but a second. He pronounces it with certainty:

“It does all connect,” he says. “In you.”

in my one heart

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

How Visiting Your Family Warps Your Brain

News from the Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience via the Discovery channel (and yes, that's the real headline):

"We like to be around people that look more like us, but we do not find them as sexually attractive," added Platek, editor-in-chief of the journal Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience. "I think it is linked to our subconscious ability to detect facial resemblances so we avoid lusting after those that may be related to us."

Read more.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Archaeologists Discover Demolished Remains of Cafe De Hansen, Famed Cradle of Argentine Tango

A group of archaeologists found the remains of the Cafe de Hansen, one of the birthplaces of the tango, which thrived in Buenos Aires from the end of the 19th century until the beginning of the 20th and has been named both in chronicles of the times and in lyrics of Argentina's most typical music.

The culture minister of the Buenos Aires municipal government, Hernan Lombardi, told the daily Clarin on Saturday that experts had found part of the brick flooring of the mythical cafe 50 centimeters (20 inches) underground in Palermo Park on the city's north side.

The cafe was demolished in 1912 to make way for roadworks.

Read the full story.

* * *

La Troileana

(From Lahontan [Nevada] Valley News)

Another recent and recommended release is “Troileana” (World Village/Harmonia Mundi) by Liliana Barrios.

Barrios was awarded the Gardel Prize — the equivalent of the “Tango Grammy” — in 2005 and this release is a celebration of the music of Anibal Troilo, one of the foremost composers of Argentine tango’s golden age, and the first album to be dedicated exclusively to his music.

Troilo was a student of Gardel’s as well as the mentor of Astor Piazzola, and his pieces are very much the essence of the Argentine tango tradition.

Her vocals are accompanied by two bandeons, (some excellent playing by Walter Rios) two pianos and a string trio; the music is magnetic and demanding.

Barrios has maintained that tango-song is unique in that it is felt through the music, imagined in the lyrics and danced by our feet. The lyrics (all in Spanish) are dynamic evocations of lived experiences, which can be typified by her inclusion of two versions of “La Ultima Curda” (The Last Binge),” that National Tango Hymn.

Her expressive voice is well-suited for this material. True to the emotive nature of tango, its heights and depths of feeling, her expressive voice takes us on a roller coaster ride of joy and sadness, lust and despair.

* * *

Buenos Aires Gets Tango Monument
They say it is the first time any city or country has honoured a style of music in this way. Read more.

Friday, December 19, 2008

What Is Lonely?

When it is Friday night and all of your tango friends are at the Merc dancing and you are for the fifth day in a row bedridden with flu.

[When you are little kid who has made up the funniest pun in the world and nobody laughs, no matter how many times you repeat it, jumping up and down in frenzied excitement at what you have seen, peeking through a tear in the thick canvas tent, the word circus!, where words fly the trapeze and juggle and tumble out of tiny cars and make elephants balance on brightly colored balls, and ride bareback on ponies, shouting “Get it? Get it?”

When you are lying in your bedroll on a broad prairie beneath the indifferent firmament with a cold, dew-soaked dawn coming on, growing old.

When the week before Christmas your best friend, so frail she is nearly transparent in a stranger’s tattered, hand-me-down nightgown, climbs through a maze of filthy junk, the leavings of too many transient predecessors, in the unlit basement of a wreck of a house, calling in a starving, angelic voice that could still sing beautifully if only she could, calling for her lost kitten, when she says, to protect you from falling in the dark, “Stay back, you can't come with me.”]

When, making the best of the flu, snuggled in the dark, the cozy burden of double-knit afghan pinning your every curve and angle to down cushions, steaming cup close at hand, narrow light trained on your lap, you open a book

that breaches all your readerly/writerly walls, walks right up to the palace of your heart, with one confident finger reaches out and rings the bell. Every jaunty word sings vibrato, all of the palace doors fling themselves open, the jugglers and elephants and trapeze artists and bareback riders flood the square ... and it is all so peculiar you cannot think of one other person to share it with.

If the word circus came to town and nobody bought a ticket ...

Writers need readers.

Suddenly you are lonely, so lonely you must behave rashly, must set the book aside and shout into the void studded with nodes as the indifferent firmament is studded with stars:

Hey! Read this!

Whale Season, by N.M. Kelby.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Tango Serendipity

Tango Lovers Dance in the Streets of Buenos Aires last Saturday...

... same day as the Tango Colorado Holiday Ball!

How much fun is that?

How did they know...?!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Tango Colorado Holiday Ball

Tonight is the Tango Colorado holiday dance. I am breaking feminine rules and wearing the same dress as last year. It has a glittery, silver bodice with a floor-length silver-gray taffeta skirt. It is as beautiful as the day it was made, some 40 years ago.

What a difference one year makes! Last year I couldn’t dance very well. This year, coming off Fandango de Tango, I feel like All That.

I am a good, solid intermediate. After spending one year at the bottom of the beginner class and one year clawing my way out, this feels like a million bucks!

What about my dad? This time last year he was suffering from cancer, huddled under blankets and shivering in the aftermath of his chemotherapy.

This year he is well. He has a clean bill of health. The cancer may come back, but it is quite treatable.

Too bad he recently lost his medical insurance. Now his pension ison the chopping block. In the absence of union contracts, what The Company giveth it may freely taketh away. Do not say one word to me about the logic that requires corporate investors to starve the geese that lay their golden eggs for them.

Clouds are massing on the horizon. I expect a Perfect Storm. I am battening down my hatches. Next year I may need to cut back on tango. Next year we all may.


Glenlivet has just taken a loft with a huge dance space. He intends to give only one tango party, he tells me: It started last weekend and ends on the day he dies. I love Glenlivet.

Kari called a few hours ago to tell me to save her a prime seat at the holiday party tonight. She wants a seat right on the dance floor. We will chat between dances all night. I love that!

Right this minute I must leave for the holiday ball. I am to help with the cooking. I love to cook for a crowd!

Next week I dance with Grisha in a student showcase for my family at Patricia’s house party. I love Patricia’s house parties; I love dancing with Grisha; I love showing off for my family!

All of this fun, all of this love! How lucky is that?

How much more is this: I am a writer with readers.

I kneel and kiss the ground.

Let’s dance!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Fandango de Tango Looking Back 4

Lesson 4

Taking eighteen classes in five days, you’re bound to learn a step or two. That’s how many combinations I memorized: two.

But that’s not the point. I never go to class to learn combinations; I go to do them. Sometimes, being dragged through the paces, I wonder why I bother.

Fabian Salas explains…

The idea that a follower can blindly follow any step is a fiction. Remember when you were a beginner, learning the cross?

No, Fabian says, a follower is like a computer. First you need to download the software, then you can use it.

There’s something offensive in his simile, I suspect, but his point is well taken: If a follower doesn’t know how to execute a move, or if a lead asks her to do something foreign or nonsensical to her, chances are she won’t get it right. She’ll resist it or do it badly.

Think of volcada. What follower in her right mind would go along with that?

I am a pretty good follower, and I still can’t respond to the lead to step forward into the man’s step. Stan does it often when we practice, and I never get it right on the first try. Might a class help?

A class gives a follower technique to use in executing a step. The concentrated repetition with many leads forces the follower to develop sensitivity to the lead’s cue regardless of how it is executed. Most important, a class gives the follower permission to take the unfamiliar, perhaps uncomfortable, step.

Yes that’s right, the teacher reassures her. With every repetition, the follower gains sensitivity to the cue and refines her execution.

By the time class ends, the follower has filed both the cue and the move in her muscle memory. A few sessions at home with a broom or a partner, and she’s ready to take her cool new move public!

In a milonga, a considerate lead gives a follower only two or three chances to pick up on a cue. Then he spares her the misery of missing the step. I never want to miss a lead’s cue. Far better to go to class (18 classes in 5 days!) and be dragged through the paces umpteen clumsy times, so when the move comes up in milonga, I’m ready.

Don’t ask me what steps I learned at Fandango de Tango. Lead me and I’ll show you.