["Plate 209 - The Three Chiefs - Piegan" by Edward S. Curtis - circa 1900]
December 22, 2010 - I originally wrote this post back on April 4. I'm not sure why I never posted it. Perhaps it fell into the "too much drivel" category - like the stupid Cosmo v. Alex Gift Ideas thing I pulled yesterday. Sorry for that. Those of you subscribing via Readers/Feeders got it anyway. Sorry for that, too.
Perhaps I didn't post it originally because I felt blasphemous about the obtuse tie between Tango and Wounded Knee. But the tie is there - I'm being honest about that. These guys, talking tango up in Montana, prompted me to look at a map, which prompted a flood of memories from my past.
Does tango do that to us? Trigger or otherwise incubate or nourish introspection and memory and curiosity and emotion and deep pondering of things various and sundry?
Tango does do something to us...those of us who find our hearts clenched in its tendrils...and that, my friends, as always, is a subject for another post.
Anyway, all blasphemy aside - I decided to run with the original title of the post. I may run another one, let's call it Part II, on the 29th - the anniversary of the massacre at Wounded Knee.
So here it is...
April 4, 2010
Boy, what an obtuse and convoluted and twisted thread my mind sometimes weaves. I friended another blogger on Facebook a few days ago. He happens to live up in the northern plains of Montana - somewhere along the Yellowstone River, or perhaps the Bighorn. Where exactly is not important.
Anyway, whilst doing my thing on Facebook, I noticed an interesting dialog between him and a friend of his - about tango. It's some "good stuff" on a subject near and dear to my heart - which we will eventually get to.
But first, I want to follow my thread. We're off to Inner Mongolia first.
I'm continually intrigued by the geography of tango - where it exists on this planet; where it is danced; where it was planted and is now taking root, and by whom. Occasionally, when I check the stats for this blog, I notice a remote corner of the world that generated a hit. The Namib Desert of Africa generated a hit from Google two years ago - with the search words "tango quotes".
The other day there was a hit from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia - with the search string "electricity production", which probably came from this.
So, I found it interesting to find a couple of dudes on Facebook having this very deep-tango-though-ish discussion way up in Montana. I already knew there was tango up there in the Big Sky country. A few of those folks always trickled down to the Denver festivals. Montana and Idaho tango folks. Anyway, interesting. So I got their permission to lift their conversation and put it in here. Eventually. Way down there at the bottom. Feel free to skip ahead and avoid my drivel.
Sam (the blogger I mentioned) posted something about going to the funeral of a friend's daughter in Crow Agency, the "capital" of the Crow Nation. That was my starting point. Just out of curiosity, I wanted to see where that was in my world. I always need to do that when geography is on my mind - look at an analog map. Good old fashioned paper. I had to go digging for my road atlas up in the studio. Don't forget the magnifying glass. Ah, there it is.
I started out looking for an appropriate image to lead this post with. The first thing that came to mind was a photo of some verdant northern plains grasslands - preferably just rolling native tall-grass prairie. No such luck. I didn't look too hard - found some with tatanka grazing(Lakota Sioux for bison/buffalo) - some with tipis. All too stereotypical for what I had in mind.
I was trying to make a geographic tie to Montana to the spot on this Earth where this post originated. This land. This Mother Earth of ours.
Looking at all of the images, looking at the maps, reading and remembering the names of the rivers and the mountain ranges - all of it unleashed a flood of memories and emotions for me. I could feel it welling up inside me. Artesian-like.
Now I'm fucking crying. I hate it when that shit happens.
I've never been to Montana, but I have spent some time in the Wind River Range of Wyoming. Lander. Dubois. Pinedale. I went in one side of the range and came out on the other side 33 days later. Backpacking and mountaineering. With a 90 pound pack. I was at my healthiest and strongest in that summer of 1978. Sweet memories of mountains and women and the drive from Lafayette, Louisiana in my loaded-for-bear VW Rabbit. The Green River (other side of the divide) has huge meaning for me, but is a subject for another post. Grasshopper Creek and the "Miraculous Nike Running Shoes In My Size Manifesting Themselves Under a Fallen Spruce Whilst Bushwacking After I Had Blown Out My Own Shoes On An Eleven Mile Cache/Resupply Hike Story". Bathing in a creek that flows from beneath a glacier at 10,000 feet or so. (Talk about shrinkage.) Rock climbing in Sinks Canyon. The Popo Agie River. The Wind River. It becomes the Bighorn and flows north into Montana - just past Crow Agency - right through the Crow Nation. Tons of memories almost long forgotten.
I played pool (billiards) that summer of '78 in a smoky dive bar in Lander, Wyoming with a few Shoshone. Or were they Arapahoe? Lander is on the edge of the Wind River Indian Reservation. We played pool until daylight. They took a liking to me and wouldn't let me leave. We got drunk and played pool all night. There is a vague and foggy memory of waking up on a pool table as the morning light streamed in through the door. As I recall I was drunk all the next day, hiking and scrambling around near my campsite in Sinks Canyon on the Popo Agie River all by my lonesome. Me and something big in a cave. Mountain lion? Big enough to turn me around licketysplit. I met a group of girls from New York City that day and was no longer so lonesome - I recently reconnected with one of them on Facebook. Okay, now I'm really digressing.
I'm sensitive to the fact that I'm referencing Native American culture all over the map, literally. The photo at the top is of three Piegan or Blackfoot Chiefs [from northern Montana]. The Wounded Knee Massacre happened in South Dakota and involved the Hunkpapa Sioux. The Wind Rivers are home to the Shoshone and Arapahoe Nations. And the Crow Nation, in southern Montana is close to where Sam lives. (Re-reading this six months after I wrote it (wrote it in April, reading & possibly posting in December, I'm guessing this is probably all wrong...)
I read the book "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" by Dee Brown in 1975, at the age of 15. It's written from the Native American viewpoint. I became very interested in Native American history and culture, very interested in the history of the American West and the culture of the Mountain Men and the fur trade. I read everything I could get my hands on.
I have always taken the counter-view (to the norm of the majority, I suppose) with regard to Native Americans. I believe, deeply, that they were wronged by the Wasi'chu. Were, and are now and probably will be forever wronged. That's all I'll say about that, for now, in the interest of brevity. I'm just barely touching the surface of my thoughts on that subject. I've always taken the counter-view with regard to most everything - especially environmental and development related "stuff". I'm not sure why that is, but it is. I used to keep it all to myself, keeping my mouth shut about what I think and feel about the world around me. Forty-seven years of silence is long enough. (Dec 2010 - Forty-seven? Okay, I was forty-nine back in April, so maybe I figgered I didn't start talking, and hence could not yet be "silent" until the age of two...? HTF knows what I was thinking back then...)
Montana and the other northern plains states encompass some beautiful country. The last remnants of a beautiful people live and love and struggle there. Some tango has taken root up there, and I feel blasphemous to even make the tie, but the tie is there. The tie that binds.
Here is Sam's blog. It's called "Men...101".
And here, finally, is that dialog about Tango from Facebook:
Sam: Tango instructors: Teach the system, not the style. You can quote me on that.
Ken: However, I'm not quite sure how one separates it out? How is style different from system? Are there fundamentals or not? And, from what I understand, there is great argument about "the true tango"?
Sam: I should probably keep my mouth shut and wait (generations?) for them to figure it out. But, as I am impatient, I'll borrow and paraphrase definitions from a skilled teacher of motion (thanks Skip): "SYSTEM - The unification of related concepts, principles, ideas, facts, truths, and basic elements of (Argentine tango). STYLE - The manner in which an individual applies and executes the (tango) they have learned."
Sam: The "true tango" debate is probably not different from the "pure karate" debate Ed Parker had with traditional martial artists. It is probably inevitable that this occurs with tango, especially as it spreads to other countries. The Argentines will lose CONTROL over it - with a predictable outcome.
Sam: Looking at my old notebooks now, and thinking of all the nifty little ideas employing simple definitions (from Kenpo) to tango: theory of proportional dimensions, ideal phase, what-if and formulation phases, extemporaneous and spontaneous action (for Chrissake WHEN is anyone going to get this as a fundamental idea in tango!), tailoring, dimensional sequence of movement, plus countless others that have yet to be developed because we're moving to MUSIC!!!! But . . . I'm ranting.
Sam: Of course, tango has spread to other countries. Time is slowly beginning to tell, with the debate about "true tango." How long has this been going on? Decades? And there must be fundamentals. The embrace we use is a convention, with basics emerging as 'form to function.' The fact that it's hard for someone who's been doing tango for a while to name and describe some of the fundamentals is atrocious, and speaks to the RELATIVE INFANCY of it - and perhaps the EGOIC BASE and lack of EMPATHY, or BEGINNER'S MIND (a feature particular to a master) among some of the advanced practitioners and teachers. It's not rocket science - why not break it down so others can learn it!
Sam: Now I'm on a roll. FURTHERMORE - there's the whole "gender thing" to consider. Far be it from me to express a humble opinion there . . . 'cause most of my opinions are not humble . . . or within apology. I'm about to choke the next person who uses some poor-white-trash-gender stereotype to get their "teaching point" across. On another topic: ...If someone wants to teach tango, fine. Lead or follow for at least 500 hours. 'Nuff said. Learn to correct "mistakes" without even saying a word. Find a minimum of 5 basics/fundamentals, and be able to use beginner, intermediate, and advanced dance "moves" to express them. (However, I don't think the dance is in the "moves," it's in the passionate, physical manifestation of the music, but that's something else. Nothing like seeing a bunch of fancy moves WITH NO PASSION. Testosterone should ooze from a man with his every step. WOW, that's good! Someone please, please quote me on that!) Oh, and learn a simple way to make beginners value basics so that they want to practice on their own. I can go on and on . . . think I've bottled this up for a while?
Ken: Or, that tango is culture and not "science." The same debate goes on in capoeira which was a folkloric form learn from body to body, without words. As it became a "performance" and subject to "academic" or "scientific" standards, it changed.
From what I can tell the old milongueros danced and had a way of teaching body to body, just as the old capoeira players. And, with the arrival of the Japanese teachers, who had forms and close to 300 years of western influence, the old capoeira players were forced to change.
Much the same is happening with tango. You might find the "tango discovery" series interesting...
My objection is that this approach replaces poetry with steps and stages.
Me, I like history and poetry.
Ken: Oh, well, while I was writing the above, you took off on a whole other tack. Yes, there should be drama in the simple forms. And, there should be music in every step. And, learning a lot of maneuvers is not enough :o)
But, that is what the Argentine's say -- tango without heart and passion, it is so English :o)
Ken: Oh, from what I've read, the old milongueros learned the "women's" part before they learned the "man's." As to gender roles, think Jung, think the deep archetypes. Dance is seduction, and seduction plays off the deep and classic patterns of romance and gender identity -- as understood in a culture. It ain't rocket science, thank G-d !! And, it ain't gymnastics, either.
Sam: I think the dance evolves within the individual, given a self-value system that a) inclines one to evolve, because b) mastery and self-evolution are inherently valuable. It will probably be the yoga people who do tango that bring this to the dance, if the zenned-out conflict avoidance (spiritual bypass) crutch doesn't impede them (not that yoga makes everyone a conflict avoider - most of them aren't).
Ken: OK, I re-read the above and think I understand. Here is where I would disagree. The individual will integrate into tango. Tango is not an individual, it is a community. So, a necessary part of learning tango is learning to be part of the community of tango. This is a complex community which is historic, worldwide and local. It resides between the ... members of the community as they explore not only their transient selves but as they come to be master communicators in the idiom. The idiom includes the classic music of the tango. While non-tango music may be "cute" it is the music that developed with the dance that leads one into the depth of tango.
Sam: The culture of tango and the dance of tango are not separated in my view, either. I think the path evolves from learning fundamentals - and that a beginner should know what some of those are after a few lessons. Because you mention something of communication, I'll use the "language analogy", keeping in mind the co-creative aspect of this (it ...takes two to tango!). Phonetics of motion become letters of motion, which become words of motion, which becomes sentences of motion, which become paragraphs of motion, which eventually leads to the co-creation of a "story" of motion. The common path is to teach "phrases of motion," which are better than nothing, but grossly limited, because the phonetics are not clearly addressed. You can't learn the language, and enter the 'culture' when all you can do is ask where the bathroom is. Problematic, because a) learning "phrases" presents the ILLUSION of learning a language when the speaker has not, and b) learning phrases creates a "rolodex of moves" (which helps create burn-out). The basics, truths, principles of motion, etc. that comprise the fundamentals of tango need to be developed. Create the "grammar for motion," and the "culture of tango" will be more easily accessed. Beginners and intermediates won't have the horrible time some of us had, and are having. Of course, people will lose their authority . .. and status within the culture . . . and students may want to discuss and debate and test concepts . . . but the dance will EVOLVE. Which means some of the egoic midgets (male and female) will have to grow too.
Sam: There are a few teachers out there who teach conceptually. Mike Malixi is one of them. The problem is that people like to "collect" things, such as cool dance moves. Few want to spend much time learning to hold their core, keep their frame from moving (vs. pulling your partner around with your arms), pointing your toe as you step back (which creates that sexy, elegant step so many of us like to watch a woman do), hold forward intention, etc. Of course, a good teacher can use "advanced vocabulary" to teach these principles . . .which makes a beginner see the value in having good basics, which makes them want to practice basics more, which makes them better dancers.
Sam: Short story: I saw my kenpo teacher many, many times teach "advanced techniques" to beginners. Everyone wants to do weapons stuff in the martial arts - it just feels so cool to use a knife, or sword, or staff, or nunchaku, or fight multiple opponents. But you learn that you can hurt YOURSELF more than anyone else if you don't have SOLID BASICS... Which makes new students want to practice basics more . . . And I just gave tango instructors a clue (take two - they're small) how to make their teaching life easier.
Sam: If I had to list the principles of tango, I'd start out with things like core/center, frame, and directional harmony. Students will magnify all the errors in their teacher's motion, so if a teacher isn't getting their own lessons . . . well . . . let's just say it's the difference between pursuing mastery, and pursuing a masterful image. As we used to say in the kenpo world, their is a difference between martial art and partial art.
Ken: Well, there is having fun :o)
END OF FACEBOOK DIALOG
Thanks guys - Sam and Ken - for allowing me to post your conversation. Perhaps our paths will cross one of these days. Let me know if you ever get down this way.
Oh, and one last thought. I do want my heart to be buried somewhere. Right here. Right here on this spot is where I want my heart to lie. In the meadow, near the spot where we make the bonfires. Cremate the rest; sprinkle a little of my dust here, on the ground covering my heart; a vial or two on the pistas of the milongas in Buenos Aires; and keep some in an urn on a shelf. But not for a while. I have more to say. Much more to say and do in this life.