Friday, April 17, 2009

The chalice of my walk

The Chalice of my Walk

I've been environmentally ranting and raving of late, with not much to say about tango. I'm not dancing socially much anymore, influenced somewhat by choice, somewhat by higher priorities, somewhat by a chock-full social calendar. It's all good. I do miss it, and I don't. I know it will return in good and proper time.

I was sitting here in the morning darkness, CNN muted on the television, determined to find something to write about on the subject of tango. My mind scanned the dancers (leaders) who inspire me, and I remembered Gavito. I pointed out to my self that no one seems to write about him, or hold him up as a model. (I say, I say, self, no one seems to....) I found one of my favorite YouTube videos of him dancing a show with Maria Plazaola and posted it below.

Then I started surfing and searching and googling for a good quote by Gavito to include in this post. I found the quote below on the website/blog 'Tango-E-Vita', an extensive Dutch (but multi-lingual) site, whose proprietor I know nothing about.

"The secret of tango is in this moment of improvisation that happens between step and step. It is to make the impossible thing possible: to dance silence. This is essential to learn in tango, the real dance, that of the silence, of following the melody." [Carlos Gavito]

Continuing to read below the quote on the Tango-E-Vita site I ran across this:

In Argentine tango, walking is philosophy.

The way of walking can emphasize femininity, or masculinity, showing power by military marching, so constructing an identity image, or a dance choreography. Thus, between boots and high heels, the way of walking goes through a whole life spectrum. Meditation is important in the correct understanding of the act. Movement is living motion and immobility is not the absence of movement, it is a knot, a tight cluster of movements. Dancers will realize that both the movement and the awareness, arise and disappear in a moment. They realize that an intention precedes every movement. Intention is the condition for the movement to occur. Mind and body are unsatisfactory because they are always oppressed by new uprisings and disappearings. There is no soul that can control it. Things appear and disappear according to natural law. It is as if organic chemistry cannot be otherwise.

Motion as a form of touch, assumes a line of communication, a haptic listening and responsiveness to the other’s body, and being touched by the music.
Dancers develop this sensitivity in maturity. Mature ballet dancers acquire an attunement to the other that increases their enjoyment of performing. Performing no longer becomes a matter of ‘being seen’, no longer performing an optical illusion in front of the mirror, it also invokes the reciprocity of ‘seeing’, ‘touching’ the other, the audience. An experimental question can be whether the audience also reads through the literal body movements to the underlying desire of the act of dancing. It is the body and its corporeally inscribed memories of movement that offers the embodied self the possibility of rescue from fragmentation. Discovering the inner self through dancing relates directly to body memory, the lived-body. Dancing can be a way of incorporating past into present and maintaining continuity and inner growth.
[From Tango-E-Vita]

Motion as a form of touch, walking as a philosophy, walking as a seduction, the art of the walk. Deep stuff. "It is the body and its corporeally inscribed memories of movement that offers the embodied self the possibility of rescue from fragmentation." Really deep stuff.

This all got me thinking about walking. Then, I remembered a thought I had as I DJ'd the final milonga of the Austin Spring Tango Festival a couple of Sundays ago. I noticed that no one was walking. Granted, on the crowded pista, it can be next to impossible, but openings do present themselves to simply walk. Openings on the pista, and openings in the music. I hear the walk in the music, and I must walk. I MUST walk.

In these places in the music where the rhythm says "walk", where the rhythm SHOUTS "WALK ASSHOLE!, I walk, even if it's only two steps. Everyone does not hear the music the same. Everyone does not interpret the music the same. Everyone does not feel the music the same, at the same time. Everyone does not hear "WALK" when I hear and feel it. I suppose it would look pretty silly if everyone broke into a walk at the same time, but I always wonder why I am the only one walking.

As the DJ, I sat and watched at that milonga more than I usually do. I danced maybe two or three tandas, waiting for my favorite songs with my favorite followers. As I watched, I remember thinking that no one was really walking. Again, crowded pista, less opportunity for walking, but those opportunities are still there. Unscientifically, with no quantitative research to back it up, it seems that not many people "just" walk. Am I dreaming this, or is it real? Is it a trend, or an evolution that the tango walk is disappearing?

We almost never see the walk in "performances" at milongas and festivals any more. It's probably too boring for people to watch two dancers getting into the music, getting into their connection, getting into each other, simply walking. Detlef y Melina walk. Ney y Jennifer walk. Javier Rodriguez walks. Gustavo Naveira most definitely walks. Osvaldo Zotto walks. The milongueros walk. The young bucks aren't walking much it seems.

As we all know, the tango walk is the most difficult aspect of tango to learn, and to teach. It is both the most difficult to learn, and takes the most time to learn. I think it took me three years, maybe two-and-a-half, to "get my walk". But it's important to note, that while I "got it", I still don't "have it". It's like a silver chalice compared to the fucked-up, paper Dixie Cup walk I walked with for those many months. The chalice of my walk is tarnished, and it still has a long way to go. I don't drink from the chalice much, and it needs to be used and polished on a regular basis. Someday, in many more years, the chalice of my walk will hopefully become a gilded, bejeweled chalice. Worn and dented, tarnished in the deep grooves of the detail, missing a jewel or two, but polished from use in other areas, and with an unmistakable patina of age and experience and beauty. Some day. Perhaps. In my dreams.

Methinks it is the difficulty of the walk that few dance it. They give up too soon. Methinks this may be, quite possibly, the reason the new, young dancers (and a few old farts) are sliding into nuevo, abandoning Argentine tango in whole or in part. Who knows? I don't want to start that debate again, but those who know me know how I feel about the subject. Last night I responded to a discussion thread on the new 'ning' dealy-bopper 'Tango Connections' about "the most important things" to teach beginners. One respondent talked of the importance of teaching the basic 8. I responded that I purposely avoid and never mention, and definitely do not teach the basic 8. There are too many leaders dancing the basic 8 socially, back step and all. Plus, the basic 8 is totally unnecessary as a teaching tool, or as dancing vocabulary. In my classes, I focus on the walk, the walk, the walk. I drill it in each week (both lead and follow technique) before presenting new material. So far, they keep coming back for more.

With a solid walk, the other "stuff" comes easier. With a solid walk, you can connect and enjoy and feel good about your tango progress. With a solid walk, you can walk an entire dance. Some songs lend themselves to walking - "walking songs" I call them - how original. I'll never forget the first time I got the balls to walk an entire song. It was at a practica, and DiSarli's Verdemar came on (of course, it was me dj'ing). After walking the dance, she said, "it's so nice to dance with someone who has the balls to 'just' walk...". I've been complimented on long walks in other dances at other milongas. The dance becomes more about the connection, the "stuff" is inconsequential to the point of not noticing that it isn't there. The follower can relax, even rest for a time, in my embrace. She really doesn't have to think and can lose herself in the chalice of my walk.

The best of luck to all of you in 'finding' your walk.

Lastly, the Tango-E-Vita site has a great page devoted to the walk. I'm going to go back and read it myself.

Carlos Gavito y Maria Plazaola :: Milonga a Gavito

Gustavo Naveira y Giselle Anne :: Solo Caminadas en clase
(to Di Sarli's Verdemar, in an Atlanta workshop I attended a couple of summers ago...still one of my inspirations)

Osvaldo Zotto y Lorena Ermocida :: Confiteria Ideal :: Indio Manso

My apologies for posting these same videos (posted many times before), but they remain my "walking" inspiration...


Mari said...

Truly, I can't thank you enough for that post. I always feel I shouldn't comment becaue I'm so new to tango (a few months old, as it were), but posts like yours resonate.

In the midst of all the "steps" we're learning and all the beginner leaders are trying so hard to lead perfectly - when they just let go and walk, even for a step or two - it's a like a deep breath... a sigh. It can be perfect just as it is. Finally hearing the music through him and with him, walking. I thought I must be missing something to enjoy walking so much at times. Thank you for writing what you did.

Elizabeth said...

Alex, I am glad you are still saying something about tango. The walk is everything. The more we dance the more we see that the walk is the tango. You say it well.
This is really what Alicia is teaching, and she teaches well.
Thanks for the videos and the good thoughts for this morning. Hope we dance again soon....

Anonymous said...

Alex, thank you for this beautiful post. My dance partner and I spent a blissful hour and last night at a practica, doing "just" walking -- and by the end of our time together we had found a way to make it perfect -- all floating, all connection, all music. I know leaders want to build a stunning vocabulary of dazzling steps, but if they really want to delight a partner, they should take her in their arms, breathe with her and walk her into the music. Nothing less, nothing more.

Malevito said...

Hi Alex, how are you?

Oddly, I seem to be noticing a lot of people taking time off from tango lately. I wonder if there's something about the zeitgeist that's making people feel burnt for some reason.

Re: the walk--I'm not sure if I personally would call it the single most difficult thing to learn, although I would agree that it is probably the element with the most infinite potential for refinement.

As far as the popularity of walk in tango is concerned, I think its relative lack of use has been an issue for years. I recall an interview with Miguel Zotto where he mentioned that by the time he left the show Tango Argentino it had become, in his words, a "circus of pirouettes."

I have a different opinion regarding why people don't walk the dance. Yes, the tango walk takes time to master, but I doubt it's the difficulty that dissuades people. Rather, I think they take the walk for granted because they don't really understand what it is. I think that in learning to walk people work out something that seems to function and then they feel that they've "got it" and move on to the next thing, which to them are all the tricks. And I think they obsess so much more over the tricks because to them, the tricks are what define their impression of what tango is. To me, that's kind of like looking at the leaves without seeing the tree. Likewise, these people don't seem to see the beauty inherent in the foundation, which ironically blinds them to the ideal execution of the tricks.

(side note: to expand on when you mentioned how the other "stuff" comes easier when you have developed a solid walk, I'd say that functionally all the "stuff" are, at base, just manipulated walks. Everything comes either from a step or an intention of a step. If you're not dancing them that way then you're doing them poorly.)

Also, I think it's kind of a fashion thing as well. For example, the sharing and skewing of the axis is popular right now so everybody is doing it. But as Pablo Verón recently commented, it's something that has hijacked the dance because people do it every three steps. And ultimately, because everybody is doing it there is a sense of sameness about everybody's dance. Whereas the walk can more strongly convey individuality because it's much more personal and direct; there is so much less "noise" to get in the way of the impression or the nuance of expression.

Anyway, I could go on and on... sorry if it seems like I'm pontificating.