Tuesday, January 30, 2007

things that piss me off when I drive

* people who drive too slow on left lanes.

Dude, if there are cars passing you on the left AND RIGHT, you are going too slow, I don't care if you're going "the speed limit". MOVE TO THE RIGHT! Unless you are a cop, it's not your job to police the highway. If you're going on a single lane road and there are more then 4 cars close behind you and none in front, YOU ARE GOING TOO SLOW. Go faster or pull over so the traffic can move!

* people who merge in highway traffic expecting the other drivers to slow down to "let them in".

When you are on the ramp, ACCELERATE TO CRUISING SPEED! Trust me, it will be easier to merge in traffic if you are traveling at the same speed as the other traffic! If I have to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting you when you merge in, YOU ARE NOT GOING FAST ENOUGH!

* people doing other things when driving, when they obviously can't!

Look, if you can't chew and drive at the same time, DON'T! If you drink coffee, make sure you do it in such a way that the cup DOESN'T obstruct your view. Seeing the road and the other cars is sort of important when you drive. When you drive, that's where your attention should be, if you need to pacify your kids, PULL OVER, don't turn around to yell at them as you're flying down the road at 75mph.

* people slowing down to gawk at accident scenes.

I absolutely love to be stuck in traffic for 30 minutes just to get to the "source" and see it's an accident ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE HIGHWAY! Let me try to make it easy to understand, if there are no cars in front of you and many behind you, GO FASTER! DO NOT SLOW DOWN TO LOOK AT ACCIDENTS.

* LOOK before you change lanes!

Using the blinker doesn't mean you don't have to look, before you change lanes, MAKE SURE THERE IS NO ONE COMING ON THAT LANE asshole!

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Friday, January 26, 2007

On group classes ...

I would like to hear what others have to say about this topic. I would appreciate any comments you may have. I am hoping that this info would ultimately reach teachers and maybe the group classes would improve.

Lately I've been taking less and less group classes because I'm getting increasingly frustrated with the experiences I'm having in the class. Here are my sources of frustration.

1) skill level

it seems to me everyone is grossly overestimating their level. I've attended intermediate classes where followers did not have BASIC following skills (like waiting for the lead, having the ability to maintain their own axis while pivoting, having a presence, being able to disassociate (or even knowing they are supposed to) their upper and lower body, being able to walk in a straight line, etc). I'm sure leaders sucked in equal amount, I just didn't have any experience dancing with them.
It seems like everyone judges their skill level by how many years they've been dancing. In my opinion, that's just as accurate as judging one's skill level by the amount of money they paid for their shoes.

As a result of wildly different skill set, either the teacher is lowering the difficulty of the class to the lower common denominator which will make it boring, or they don't and I don't have anyone to practice with and it's frustrating.

2) gender imbalance
for whatever reason nearly all the classes I've even attended are "leader heavy". Spending half the time "practicing" a figure with an imaginary partner is too frustrating for me.

3) the switching partners nightmare

I wholeheartedly agree that people should dance with as many people they can to refine their leading/following skills, but the process of "switching partners" is always a bloody mess. There is little I hate more in tango classes then that moment where everyone is looking around confused trying to figure out who's changing and who's not, trying to figure out if they are "desperate" enough to RUN to a decent
follower/leader or risk doing another round of dancing with an imaginary partner or worst, "dancing" with someone lacking basic skills.

Now here are some suggestions on how to address some of these issues :

1) Registration required with payment in advance

The teacher should accept registrations in such a way that the leader/follower ratio is always 1/1. Asking for payment in advance would increase the chance the attendance is better. Also, it will allow the teacher to build on elements taught in prior classes.

2) Pre-vetting students.

The teacher should not accept students who's level is not at the level required for the class. Period. They should rather encourage those to attend a lower level class if available. They should judge the people's level by dancing with them, not by how many years have passed since their first lesson.

3) Have a system for changing partners.

There was ONLY class I've ever attended that had a decent system of changing partners. They asked all the couples that are not switching to go in a corner. They ask all the others to partner up and form a circle. Then they asked the leaders to memorize that spot in the room where they were standing. When "changing" partners was requested, all couples that were not switching were to go to their corner, all leaders where to take their current follower to their "spot" and then the followers would rotate one to the right. This way, everyone danced with everyone and there was never that awkward moment of trying to figure out where do you go.

4) DO ask people to change partners but not every 2 minutes and more often then every 15 minutes.

5) Less lecturing and more practice time

It seems like most teachers like to hear themselves talk, so in a lot of cases I spend up to 60% of the class time listening to the same thing 5 times. Say what you have to say succinctly, have people start working on it and then go individually and address the issues they have.

6) Dealing with unequal skill level

Do not slow down the class if a few people cannot keep up, move along, we ALL paid for the class, I have no reason to subsidize the training of the few that can't hack it. Spend equal time with all the students, just because some can do better then most doesn't mean that they don't need input. If they were perfect they wouldn't attend the class.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Following ...

Yesterday I followed for the first time. Yes, I did follow on occasion a couple of steps, when somebody was showing me a specific figure or step, but I never followed for more then 5 seconds.

Yesterday though after I lead S for a few tandas and getting a lot us really useful feedback, she asked, "do you follow a little?". Uhh, "yeah, but very little, I'd love to learn though". She said, "relax, step decisively, don't think". Hmm, rather familiar suggestions, I'm usually the one saying that though ...

So we got into the embrace (close) and off we went. WOW! That was fantastic. I'm sure I misread 50% of the steps but what a rush. I had no idea what steps were we doing, where I was in the room, who was around me, none of the things I'm usually dealing with. It was just the connection and the music. Awesome. S said it was more pleasant to lead me then a lot of other (I assume she meant beginner) "full time" followers. Oh? Well, apparently I can keep my balance, I support my weight, I step decisively, I have a good embrace and I wait for the lead (even though I'm mostly misreading it). Hmm, yeah, I'd dance with me ;) I think I'll ask some of the better leaders at the next practica to lead me for a while. It would be nice to dance with S again and actually be able to follow the lead.

I wish more women would learn how to lead. It would be nice to experience this more often. Yes, I know I can dance with men, and I will, but it's not the same. Tango is a sensual dance and while it can be completely non-sexual, I'm not comfortable with that level of intimacy with another man.

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Feedback at practica

Yesterday I went to the Sunday practica and I was lucky to dance with S. Before we started I told her,"please feel free to give me feedback on my dancing", she replied with "uhh, OK, but I'm VERY picky you know". Good.

After a couple of songs she mentioned a detail about my left hand being too stiff. And then about providing more support when leading ochos, and she showed me by leading me into ochos both ways. Later she mentioned her preference for a more subtle lead for sacadas and again she demonstrated.

This must of been one of the most productive practicas I attended in a long time. So, please, when people ask for suggestions, MAKE them! Too often all I hear when I ask for feedback is "uhh, it's fine". That is not helpful.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

a year since the very first tango lesson ... part 3 (the VIDEO)

D was kind enough to tape me while I was dancing with V. I'm the one with the tail coat and the flared pants. The colors are all out of whack because it was filmed with the "nightshot" feature (uses infrared). The pants are a wine red.

Here it is :

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Practica - why some people learn faster then others ...

Monday I went to a Practica in P, I guess I was starting to feel the "withdrawal" effects. Once I got there and said hello to everyone I noticed O was there. I only danced with her once maybe 3-4 months ago and I remembered enjoying it quite a bit. So, I asked her for a dance and off we went.

The first dance (song, not tanda) was ... ok, the second one was better, the third was even better and ... you get the idea, we ended up dancing together for two hours, an hour and a half of it was completely non-stop.

So, as I was talking with O I noticed she had the same attitude about dancing. One, she asks for feedback (for real, not like some other people do in search for a compliment) and she listens to it. Then she decides if it's something she would like to apply or not. She gives real feedback when asked. She is critical of herself but she's not putting herself down. She doesn't get defensive when one makes an observation about her dancing. She is SERIOUS about getting better. While she technically started a year and a half ago, she only danced a third of that time.

But more importantly, SHE HAS FUN doing it! Soon she will be going to Argentina for about half the year, I bet when she comes back she will be one of the best dancers in New England (at least).

What I like about her dancing is :

- she is relaxed
- she has FUN dancing! whether the "figure" works or it was a total disaster, she doesn't lose her composure. I think being able to "sail" out of disasters gracefully is just as important as learning the skills required to avoid the disasters in the first place.
- after trying a few (close) embraces, we settled on the "right cheek to right cheek" style which along with it's "cousin", the "right cheek to left cheek" styles (a-la-M from Montreal, one of my other "beginner" favorite dancers) are my favorite.
- she has a presence (as in, she doesn't hang off my neck, nor she acts like she's afraid to touch me). This is SO important, so much more important then fancy figures and steps. The embrace feels so much better when it feels ... settled. The exact opposite of that would be the kind of embrace one uses to "formally" hug a person (like when you meet business partners you sort of know but not really).
- she doesn't anticipate, and I have a feeling that is at least in part the result of the embrace. She can easily feel the lead so there is not need for guessing.
- she is a fast learner

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a year since the very first tango lesson ... part 2 (the PARTY)

Saturday Jan 13 I organized a party/milonga to celebrate one year since my first lesson. It was pretty awesome, a large part of the local community was in attendance (maybe around 60-70 people) and I had the opportunity to dance again with a few of my favorite partners.

I announced the dress code to be "formal with a twist" and some of the invitees complied but most did not. The "casual" is so ingrained in this society that people don't even own formal attire anymore. Well, I was dressed in a dark grey tail coat, with seriously flared red pants and a white, fairly long linen shirt. I will upload a video in the next few days, and you can decide for yourself if the outfit worked. I liked it.

D was there and at the beginning of the party, when there was no one else dancing we went ahead and danced a few tandas. She did really good, good posture, presence, no (much) anticipation. I am proud of her. She did "lose" it later and she was really depressed about it. Funny thing, I am familiar with that feeling. As I was getting better, once in a while you get one of those dances (or even whole tandas if you're lucky) where EVERYTHING works. And then it stops working and the depression sets in ... Well, it looks like it's part of the process. I think it's a combination of ... ahem ... mojo, vibe with the partner, music and chance. The good news is that these moments get more frequent as one gets better. So, keep at it D, you're on your way.

For the party I made a couple of bowls of eggplant salad which was a great hit, and I didn't even have tomatoes to go with it (shhhh, don't tell anyone but they go really well together). D made hummus and a cold pasta salad, they were both delicious and they were a great success as well. People brought some more food and along with the other snacks we had I think we managed to keep everyone fed.

While it certainly hurt in the wallet, I'm glad I did it, tango is such an important part of my life now, a year of tango seemed important enough to justify all the trouble.

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

a year since the very first tango lesson ... part 1

Soon, on the 12th of January it will be exactly one year since my first tango lesson. I remember vividly the first few minutes. It was at the BCAE near the Public Garden in their big ballroom. There were about 12 of us, we were all kind of quiet, looking at each other inquisitively, "umm, now what?".

The class was supposed to be taught by Simonida, one of the local instructors, with Roger as her assistant. But she was still in BsAs so Roger was the one trying to teach us how to walk the tango way ...

A video of that first class would've been hilarious ... I swear, at the end of the 90 minutes, I was walking like Robocop (trying way too hard to follow all the rules one needs to follow to keep the tango gods happy). The only reason I went back the next time was because I prepaid for the entire 5 week set.

The reason I started tango to begin with originated at a party I attended in Nov 2005. There, a couple started to dance together and I was intrigued on how on earth one would choreograph such moves in a fashion that allows the dancers to navigate around random obstacles. Yes, I did not know the concept of a lead/follow dance. To me, all the "ballroom" dances were a series of pre-set, rehearsed, choreographed moves. Imagine my surprise when they (the couple I mentioned before) told me it was "just" improv, him leading and her following. But the real surprise was that they only knew each other for 3 days. Wow. So I told them I'd like to learn how to do that as it was "really cool". They told me about the lessons and such, and they ended with "be careful though, it will take over your life ...".

Those were prophetic words ... In the last year my "default" activity during the evening (you know, what one does if they don't have anything in particular to do) switched from watching TV to dancing. Most Friday and Saturday evenings I'd go dancing. I have now 4 pairs of shoes and will likely get more. I'm making tango pants ... Tango is truly addictive, and it gets more addictive the better you get. Because once you get good enough to enjoy the dance, you get to have those absolutely perfect dances once in a while and then you spend the rest of the time chasing the next perfect one. But, I'm thinking there are much worst things to be addicted to ...

So, here am I, a year later. How is my tango dancing? I think it is pretty good (considering it's been just a year). During the New Year Party, as I was chatting with one of the better dancers there between tangas, when I referred to myself as a beginner, she said "what are you talking about, you are divine to dance with". Divine? Taken at face value, that would boost my ego right through the roof all the way into the stratosphere ... However, I'd like to believe I'm anchored solidly in reality, so I am well aware of the fact that my dancing can use a lot of work in every aspect of it, but even when you "subtract" from "divine" the healthy amount of "padding" that people use when they pay compliments, I still think she must've enjoyed our dancing quite a bit. For the record R, you are absolutely divine to dance with as well (and I am not using any "padding"). If it wasn't for that milonga tanga that broke the momentum, I would've danced with you until morning or until my feet would've come undone, whichever came first.

So, yeah, milonga. My nemesis. It constantly does this. I stumble upon a great dancer, we dance tanga after tanga and then they play a milonga and I have to bail. And I see the disappointment on their faces and I feel like slapping myself for not "getting" this dance faster. Why do I have to bail? I can certainly "fake" it, but I'd rather not. I feel like people go to a milonga to have fun, not to be the guinea pigs for my milonga learning experiments... So, unless someone volunteers knowing exactly when are they getting into, I'll keep bailing until I can dance at a level that satisfies me. At a practica though it's a different matter, I will "torture" anyone I can find ;)

Speaking of milonga, at the New Year party there was this guy from NY, I don't know his name, but he was the best milonga dancer I've seen. Ever. When I grow up, I want to be just like him. I would've told him, but I thought that might've freaked him out ...

So, to celebrate the one year of tango, on Jan 13th I rented the studio from Providence Tango and I am throwing an all night party/milonga. So far there are at least 50 confirmed guests, I would expect this is going to be a really cool party.

(to be continued ...)

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Providence's 30 hours 2007 New Year milonga

Yeap, 30 hours. Well, I "only" made it through 22 hours out of the 30. I guess I'll have to do better next time...

So, over all it was really awesome. I think... Some parts are a bit of a blur ... but here are the highlights :

The Dec 31st evening/night felt like a "regular" all night milonga. I went dressed with my grey straight cut pants, a white fitted shirt (un-tucked) and my tail coat. Yes, I wore a tailcoat I bought on eBay a month ago. It (or should I say "I") looked pretty sharp. I left at 6AM and crashed when I got home.

I was back there around noon for the "brunch". This was the coolest part, people were dancing and taking breaks to talk and eat, some people were sleeping on whatever horizontal surface they could find and the music was a combination of clasic and alternative music. There was enough space on the floor for me to dance without getting stressed with navigation so despite the exhaustion, I think my dancing on the 1st was much better then the dancing the night before. The "brunch" time kind of blended into the evening and around midnight I was too tired to even stay awake so I left. I wore my black flared cords (really flared) and a white linen shirt, a pretty cool outfit. However, all that "coolness" came at a cost. I kept stepping on my own pants which caused some ... err... trouble a couple of times. I know I should hem them higher, but they look really, really good when they drape all the way to the floor, so I think I'll just keep them as they are. A rather small price to pay I would say ...

I have to mention just a few of the women I danced with. A from D, R from P, D from NY and S from NY, they are all amazing dancers and dances like that are the reason I keep spending this much time and money on tango.

S was dancing just for a year and not very often as she has other obligations, yet she is one of the best dancers I know. Like all the other dancers I mentioned in this and other posts, she really understands that tango is about the connection and communication, not about the steps or figures. At some point we danced maybe 4 or 5 tangas in a row, I was getting tired and one of my toes was killing me but I kept going because I did not want to break the "magic". Interestingly enough, last time when I went to the Chelsea Market milonga around Christmas she was there, but we didn't meet until she came to Providence. Since she lives in NY I'm sure we'll get to dance again soon, as I'm planning to go to NY on regular basis.

Dancing with R was the most fun I had the entire time. Not only she is an amazing dancer, but she can be playful and silly and we had a lot of fun dancing together. Sadly she lives 5 hours away so it's unlikely we'll dance very often together, but I'm looking forward to dancing with her whenever that may be.

D's style reminded me of M from Montreal, a very warm and ferm embrace but not heavy, head to head contact and her left hand on my spine between the shoulder blades. Very good dancer and VERY popular with the better leaders, so I didn't get to dance with her as much as I would've liked but she lives in NY so I'm sure I'll see her again.

I danced with A a couple of tangas and she was the most "serious" of the lot, but once again, an amazing dancer.

There were many more dances with a lot of people, but I'm going to stop before this entry reaches gargantuan proportions and just say that over all, it was a pretty good way to start a new year.

I wish you all a very, very
Happy New Year

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Not about tango but about ... pants!

Sacrilege? No tango talk? Indeed! There is life outside tango, who knew?

A very long time ago, I must've been in high-school, I really wanted a pair of white jeans (hey, it was the 80s!), but I lived in communist Romania and buying jeans required an act of congress and white jeans, well, even if I had the money, which I didn't, good like finding some in the communist stores... So I went to the fabric store and got some white cotton fabric, I think it was canvas or something like that, and then went back home and using the only pair of jeans I had as a guide, and using an antique Singer sewing machine I manufactured my first pair of pants. They didn't fit very well, and the workmanship was ... ahem, less then perfect, but I had a white pair of jeans. While I might've used that sewing machine later for small adjustments, I never made any other pants again.

Fast forward to December 2006. One thing about tango (well, I guess I could not stay away from mentioning tango after all), people tend to dress up, or dress down, or maybe I should say, dress ... special. The Nuevo tango dancers wear loose fitting or flared pants and I like the way they look when you move. That, and if I wear them, they conceal the wide gap I have between my legs even when my feet are together, which is good because you don't want to look like a cowboy when dancing tango ...

But, good luck finding flared pants in stores in US. US is a great country but the guys here are not exactly ... daring when it comes to fashion. And since stores cater to masses, finding flared pants in US in 2006 is just as easy as finding white jeans in communist Romania of the 80s. What to do ? ... Oh, wait a minute, this is after all 2006, we have internet and I have credit cards. So, after hours of search I find a store in England that sells "alternative" clothing, so ten minutes later I placed an order for two pairs of pants. They didn't have one of them in stock, so a week later I have in my hands a pretty cool pair of black cords. They look awesome and I wore them during my second trip to Montreal when I attended the Tango Rendez-vous festival.

So I'm hooked, I want more. But paying $100 for each pair of pants kind of stings. And, I have a bunch of shirts that I want to adjust (I like fitted shirts and, once again, good luck with that in US). So, it would appear that I'm either going to spend my entire income on tailors or ... I'll just have to do it myself.

So, thanks to eBay I'm now the proud owner of a Pfaff 1222 sewing machine and a Juki serger. At D's suggestion I purchased muslin (a very cheap fabric the resembles linen, that people usually use to try patterns before they cut really expensive materials) and I made my first (well, actually second if we count the white jeans) pair of pants. I still have to attach the waist band, but they are almost ready and they look good. I might even wear these as I kind of like the way the muslin drapes, but only after I dye them. I already purchased my first "serious" fabric, a beautiful dark red wool, and soon I will start working on the "real" pants project.

Pictures to come soon!

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