Sunday, September 7

Learning Argentine Tango: The dance

So far in this series, my attention has been almost completely focused upon the music of tango. I find this odd. Though I can better pursue the music on my own since it requires neither studio nor partner, it is the dance which introduced me to the genre and remains foremost in my affections. I only came to listening to tango for itself recently, yet when someone mentions 'tango,' my first thought still goes to the dance. It was in the spring of sophomore year during Beginning Social Dance that the instructor decided that we ought to know the Ballroom Tango. I think it was the dance's drama that first caught my attention. The swift, powerful steps and drastic dips stirred something within me such that once the semester ended and summer began, I kept my eyes open for other lessons and even actively searched for options.

It was in this way I came upon the now-defunct CenterStage's Thursday Tango and was introduced to the Argentine style. By the end of that first night the rigidity of the Ballroom Tango's slow-slow-quick-quick-slow became obvious. By the end of the second Thursday, the Argentine Tango had become my favorite of the social dances, easily overcoming the Salsa and East Coast Swing with which I was far more familiar.

No single reason can be pinpointed for this initial wave of attraction. The fact that it is one of the less popular social dances in the Spokane area no doubt played a part. I call it the devilstick process. Pick something esoteric which few are familiar with. Learn to do it marginally competently and any audience will be blown away because they have no standard to hold your own skills against. No doubt a friend who studied the dance in Buenos Aires for a month will disagree with the next point, but I also found the dance easier. The basic step was a slide, little different from a typical walk, and the dance itself was more improvisational the others I knew. The moves followed one another more organically and did not require the same mental preparation and planning that the more advanced Salsa and East Coast moves demanded.

But appreciation evolves. Turns out, there is a pretty solid Argentine Tango community in Spokane, but it remains small, never attracting the numbers of Salsa in dancers or regular venues. The dance still seems easy to me, too, but now I mark that up to the fact I have never practiced it under the eye of a personal teacher who could point out all the mistakes but a group instructor who is more interested in getting the idea of the basics down than getting them right.

The greatest attraction the Argentine Tango has for me now is its intimacy. Far and away, I believe it to be the most intimate of the social dances. Not outright sexual like so many of the Latin dances or so carefully restrained as the Ballroom dances, Argentine Tango puts the dancers closer to one another than any other dance and does not easily allow them to separate. Open turns, a common enough move in every other dance I know are near non-existent in Argentine Tango.  It is adamantly not flashy.  The dancers' only concern is their partner.  The two are constantly in contact physically and emotionally.  That is where the strength of tango comes from.

One instructor described the ideal of the tango dance as creating a dream and drawing your partner into it. You listen to the music, capture its essence in movement and share that with your partner.  It is not a bad goal for most dance to aspire to, but the emotional range of the tango music and the fluidity of the movements makes it the best suited to actually attempt this.

Thursday, September 4


To date is to enter a state of confusion.

Perhaps this is obvious. Perhaps I have come later to this revelation than most. That is understandable seeing as how I only began my first serious relationship late this spring. Not that there was much of anything in the way of romantic relationships before that. I never really sought one in high school. I had long anticipated going out of state for college, and since most of my classmates went no farther than six hours from our hometown, I just assumed that maintaining anything long-distance, especially over these very changing years, would be impractical. Besides, the possibility of dating someone I had known since kindergarten just seemed weird. Arrival in college and becoming actively interested in pursuing a relationship did little to change the fact I lacked a girlfriend. Just under three years of college yielded a couple of rejections and a single date last April.

But this spring I realized I wanted a different sort of relationship with a certain friend. That is when the confusion began. How to put this desire to her? We had known each other and been friends since entering Gonzaga in 2005. In fact, my first memory of her is from a show on orientation weekend when she pulled a nail from the magician's nose. What is more, mutual friends had thought we were dating earlier in the semester because, in an attempt to catch up on our Oscar nominees, we had gone to more than a few movies alone together. They were right, I suppose, to suspect as much. Our movie nights certainly did resemble dates even if we did not go beyond that. But things changed. I found myself in the waning weeks of the semester trying to figure out how to ask her out. "Do you want to go on a date?" just sounded stupid since we had already done as much. "Do you want to go out with me?" seemed to have the same problem. I settled on "Would you like to date for real?" At least, I that is what I think I said. Certain portions of that evening are a blur now.

The important thing, though, is that it worked. And the euphoria lasted about a week, maybe a little less. I realized then I had no idea what dating is. That put me into a downward spiral for a while. For the life of me, I could not define it, could not even figure out how a dating relationship differed significantly from simple, common friendship. I was taking long walks at night and coming up with nothing but more agitation. As I wrote before, I had no experiences of my own from which to draw a definition. Popular entertainment was of no help either. In those instances where a relationship was followed past the agreement to begin it and the first kiss, the trend seemed to be on couples who had only met each other a short while before rather than long-standing friends. In the end, I went to my own friends for help. One said that dating is an invitation to emotional intimacy. She said it was the desire to be open with one another. That helped. A lot. They gave me a direction to look towards. I still do not know what the right thing to do at every moment is, but at least I have now something look towards. It does not mean that every time we get together there has be some great outpouring of hopes, fears, secrets and all else, but we are open to giving and receiving it. We spend time together, do things together and talk.

I do not like writing about my personal life here. It is not LiveJournal but my blog. Ideas and critical analyses belong here, not self-indulgent diary entries, but I felt this post is necessary. This relationship is important to me and deserves reflection, but I also know what it is like to be worried and concerned at the beginning of it all and to be searching for understanding, guidance, anything someone will offer. I hope this post can relate an experience others might find themselves in and find some assurance in knowing that others have gone through it as well.

There is one idea, though, I have noticed since this relationship began that is more typical to this blog. Dating changes one's self-image. To actually think of oneself as a person who dates is something else entirely from a person who does not. To say "my girlfriend," be it among friends who know this my first such relationship or among more casual acquaintances who, for all they know, believe I am a playboy and have had girlfriends on the side since I was 16, is a difficult thing. It is an unfamiliar word when applied to myself. In no way am I ashamed of her or us together but to call her "girlfriend" is hard. First relationship? A girl I like? They are kind of a big deal to me and not something I want to talk about. If it all falls apart, it will hurt, and it will hurt even more if others know I cared about it. What I need to come to grips with is that it is not unusual to date or to care about it. I guess this post, too, is an effort to accept that.