Friday, March 25, 2011

Life on the Tango Highway

These postings are not going to be a discussion of just steps and music, but also a look into the journey that the tango can be.  I did not know how I was going to get into it, but then it happened in.......where do you think?  A milonga.

A friend took me to a milonga in Miami, my first trip there, and I had a great time.  There are some very good tangueros there.  Very traditional milonga, music and structure and good dancers.  Good sized crowd as well.  I ran into a woman I had danced with a decade earlier in Las Vegas and she dropped me a line having heard a bit about me traveling around the country in a trailer and was interested in taking off in a similar fashion with her cat and seeing the country.  Rather than send her an email, I thought I would answer her here, since it will reveal a bit of the life of one man's pursuit of tango.

The short answer is, don't do it.  It is a hard, difficult life.  If you want to travel on major highways, to major RV parks and campgrounds, in season,  basically from Memorial day to Labor day, then it is pretty safe.  Stay where you can call for help from your cell phone, and have plenty of money available.  But once you vary from that, the risk factor starts going up fast, and the skills necessary get more demanding.

Once you get off the highways and start heading into the back country you realize that this is a great big beautiful country, and it is a country that is very dangerous and unforgiving.  The conditions that took the lives of so many people crossing the country in both Summer and Winter are still going on, and when you travel off the beaten path, there is always the possibility of encountering those conditions without the conveniences of modern society.  In other words, you break down, no phone, no fuel and survival becomes an issue.  Trust me, it happens.  If one wants to travel the back roads, a solid working knowledge of mechanics is bound to be necessary.  Everything that moves, breaks.  Planes, boats, RVs, all require constant attention, and everyday you discover new things you need to pay attention to.

As well as mechanical skills, one must have serious survival skills.  People die every year in situations that should be no problem, but without the essential skills, they succumb to the elements.  And once you are out of the Summer season, things can happen fast.  High in the mountains, the temperature can dip in October to the single digits for a high.  Extended periods of extreme cold, definitely play with your mind.  Not my dogs.  The colder it is the happier they are.  There is always the reality of wildlife that would be happy to eat you.  In the mountains of California there is an abundance of mountain lions, since they are not hunted, so they are always a concern.  Black bears are the main bear and are generally fairly mild, but then anything as large as they are deserves respect.  Coyotes are a everywhere and I have had some very interesting encounters with them.  One time North of Phoenix, my dog and I walked through a pack of coyotes, with some within 15 feet of us.  Another time I found myself in a tree, similar to the scene in Apoctolypto, where the hero was in a tree with the lion cubs on one side and the mother on the other.  In my case it was a bobcat mother and two cubs on the other side.  It was pretty tense for a few minutes, but mother was reunited with cubs, and I went on my way.  But then there is the real serious threat that should dissuade any sane person from venturing of track, and off season, humans.

The most dangerous law enforcement job in the country is game warden.  Back in the wilderness, law is, flexible.  The veneer of civilization is thin at the best of times, and when many miles from other humans, things change.  The mountains of the Southwest, South, oh hell, anywhere the climate is good for growing pot, there is the chance that you might run into people from South of the border.  I had a close encounter once where a couple of guys in a truck made a long detour to come over to where I was walking, and there was no question that 200 pounds of wolf dogs and a 45 made them leave after some veiled threats.  I have been set upon by multiple dogs back in the mountains of Big Sur.  Ugly situation that left my dog with a big bite out of his butt and a pit bull half drowned.  A forest ranger in the Tahoe National Forest told me that they do not pick up garbage because of the possibility of it being booby trapped.  The back woods are also used by the people who cook or whatever they do to make various drugs.  Then there is just the good old fashioned poachers.  My point in all this, is, a woman in an RV with a cat is pretty vulnerable.  Not saying it cannot be done, but don't think it is going to be fun or easy.  But then, whoever said life was, fun or easy?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

An All American Argentine Tango

American, Argentine Tango?!  What am I talking about?  Before anyone comes to my class, practica or milonga, one thing that I need to reveal in the interest of full disclosure; I am an American.  I did not grow up in Argentina, and dare I say it, I have never even visited Argentina.  So how does that impact my approach to teaching tango? 
Well, for one thing, I am not teaching tango culture.  Tango is to me, a dance.  As a ballet and show dancer, adage work, or partnering, was always my passion and strength and kept me employed for years.  As I had studied and worked hard at partnering, I was immediately intrigued by the approach of tango to the movement of two bodies in space.  Technically and aesthetically, ballet and tango are a great marriage.  Why do I bring this up?
I dance because I love music.  Music plays and something happens within me.  Whether it is rock music driving me on while I run or rollerblade, or Gregorian chants that calm me down after a stressful day or   blues music when I am down.  Music speaks to me and tells me how to move to it and guess what; a wide variety of music makes me want to tango.  I go to the library and get cd's of music from around the world, and then I listen while walking my wolves.  Many are the times I have been in the mountains and forest and find myself dancing to the music I am discovering.  If it tells me tango, it gets into my rotation, wherever it comes from. I am particularly fond of American blues for Argentine tango.  I believe that they were both born out of hard times and suffering, and make for a perfect blend of music, movement and emotion.
These sentiments are not approved of by Argentine tango purists.  Tango is only danced to tango music.  Not at my events, whether class, practica or milonga.  So be forewarned.  If you only like romantic era tango, or nuevo tango or whatever era, you will probably not be happy at my events.  I do love much Argentine tango music and use quite a bit of it, along with a variety from Bach to Stevie Ray Vaughn.
Another warning;  my milongas are definitely "alternative".  Besides a wide variety of non-Argentine music,  I also do not observe the tanda structure for a few reasons.
The main reason is because I do not want to be committed to dancing 3 or 4 dances with one woman just because of convention.  Most milongas around the US have a disproportionate number of women to men, and I like to circulate around so that more women get to dance.  The second reason, I do not like the  mood break that is the cortina.  When I get into the zone, or am experiencing a "tango moment" there is nothing more disappointing and annoying than to have a cortina come along.  Definite buzz killer, tango interruptus.  As far as I am concerned, people in the tango world are generally adults and should be able to politely thank a partner for a dance and leave without depending on the cortina to save them.  That being said, I do like to group music for a common theme, dance style or feeling.
So now you know a bit about my approach to music and tango and should expect to be dancing tango to a wide variety of nontraditional music in a nontraditional form.  An American, Argentine tango experience.