Questions to power the grand beautiful experiment of community

Today as I make my first keystrokes in this new year, I am envisioning a world of gentle thoughts and a deeper curiosity. 

Here are the questions that keep returning to my mind, as I participate with all of my heart in this grand beautiful experiment of community: How much more honesty can we find in our interactions with each other? How many fewer assumptions can we make about other people? How many confusing situations can we engage directly and learn from...instead of avoiding? How much more curious about each other can we become?

I know how tempting it is to talk about people instead of to them, to complain and assume instead of digging deeper to understand. But in the weeks of this past month I have also discovered again and even more vividly this time how many gifts we gain when we look directly into each other's eyes to find, again and again, the connection that is always there. 

I wish for each and all of us a year of the kind of growth that emerges from fearless honesty. Love, Mitra

Dear women of Tango. Let your joyful, unbridled, innocent, sensual self find the dances it wants.

PHOTO BY GLENN CAMPBELL PHOTOGRAPHY

PHOTO BY GLENN CAMPBELL PHOTOGRAPHY

I know a woman who knows her power. She knows the power of her body, her mind, her soul. She is creative, successful, at peace in a life she chose and she loves. But what happens when she steps into a Tango event? She becomes passive, somnambulistic, slightly demented, her fury barely veiled, the very picture of a victim.

She’s furious - and she’s furious with nothing and nobody but herself. I know her because I have been her. I have been her but I also see her, everywhere. And I know why she’s furious.

She has all the power and the passion, the tenderness and the ruthlessness and the sweetness of the Tango seething inside her. She is wearing a beautiful dress, she is fragrant, her shoes shine. She knows she is gorgeous and her whole being wants to dance. She feels the dance dancing her from within and she is ready.

And then she does it: she quietly sits and goes about slowly suffocating the dance inside of her until it completely dies and all that is left is a disgusted, wasted, expensive dress.

Here is how she does it: she tells herself things:

“There he is! I think he sees me.”

“I’ll wait until he finds me.”

“I don’t want to dance with him unless he wants to dance with me.”

“I’ll just sit here. He can come invite me.”

“Of course he knows I want to dance with him. And I am sitting right here.”

“See, I don’t want anyone to feel pressured.”

“There are too many women here tonight.”

“Those women are so pushy. He’s dancing with her because he feels obligated.”

“I would never ask someone good to dance. I don’t want to pressure them.”

“The good leaders only dance with young, sexy women who are right there in front of him.”

“If I walk over there, will he think I want to dance with him?”

“If I say hi, will he feel worried that I am asking him to dance?”

“He can just cabeceo me anytime. I’m available, isn’t it obvious?”

“I’ll dance to whatever music. Just as long as it’s with one of the good dancers.”

“Okay, fine, I’ll dance with anyone who asks me.”

“Seems like an off night. I’m going home. Maybe next week.”

“Tango sucks. I hate Tango.”

Dear powerful lady. Tango doesn’t suck and men don’t suck either and there is nothing wrong with those women who go out and take initiative to create the dances their souls thrive on. The only thing that has happened here is that you have hypnotized yourself into a thoroughly senile state from which it will be impossible for you to kindle the mood of a Tango.

The dance begins before the embrace

You can’t expect the Tango to come to you while you do nothing. You might have glimpses of weak bliss here and there but it is an awful way to live and you’ll probably be mostly bitter. Why do that? You have to go out and prowl, find it, encourage it, romance it, create it, kindle its fires, fan its flames, water the seeds of equality and love.

Here’s what’s true. Tango is a dance of equals. A dance where both partners express the fullness of their power. A dance where masculine power holds, contains, sculpts and reveals the joyful, unbridled, innocent sensuality of feminine power.

Here’s what’s true. Tango is a very specific dance. A tanda is an encounter: This man, This woman, This music, This moment. A never-to-be-repeated anomaly, a totally transient work of art, a tesseract. This dress and this suit will probably never touch each other again. When you are sitting around waiting for something to happen to you, you are not participating in the creative process of sorting out which specificities need to happen specifically now. And that process IS the milonga. Everyone else is in on it. Nobody can know how the Tango is talking to you unless you show them through how you dance the milonga.

The dance begins before the embrace, it begins in the minds, it’s played out in an invitation process where both partners show vulnerability and courage and risk rejection for the sake of passion and beauty. If only one risks rejection, it's not equal, it's not exciting. So we dance before we embrace - we dance out the invitation.

Dancing the invitation is beautiful and fun. It means you take the decision to be and feel beautiful and project beautiful energy across and throughout the whole milonga. To be present and attentive in every moment. It means you let your whole being and presence at the milonga be and share who you are and what your dancing is: joyful, unbridled, innocent, sensual. It means you move when you feel like it, and move towards things that attract and interest you - honestly! It is a very advanced form of following. Advanced, because, it can be hard to do in a setting where everyone’s minds are crisscrossed by many little fears. Living and being this way attracts dances that match you. Sometimes the ones you attract will surprise you!

Dismantling the fearful thoughts that interfere with your feeling free

1. I am afraid he will feel pressured.

Here’s what’s true. You have an out-of-all-proportion fear of pressuring a good dancer man. You are terrified that your tiny hello and attention will elicit some kind of bizarre revenge in which he avoids you forever, never dances with you again, and tells all his friends that you are aggressive.

The good dancer man is not like that.

  • The good dancer man is excited, nay, inspired, when he knows a beautiful woman wants to dance with him!
  • In fact, a lot of times the good dancer man doesn’t know what he wants. And sometimes what he wants will be shaped whether he can feel that you want to dance with HIM, NOW, to THIS music.
  • Finally, the good dancer man can be trusted to say no if he doesn’t want to dance. Isn’t that good to know?

If you can regally and openly accept it when the good dancer man cannot dance with you in the moment you wished - because that will be the truth sometimes - you are safe.

2. I am afraid other people will notice that I want to dance with him and judge me.

It can be a little bit terrifying when you realize that to live honestly you will probably have to show your cards. To notice that you can only get close to a dance by occasionally moving your whole body toward someone hot and that other people will see that. They will see your move, your desire - and possibly your changing your mind or your negotiation not going the way you wanted.

Let us realize that we free the other women around us when we are practicing being ourselves - being true and honest to our flow, our inspirations, our needs, and being brave and honest in moving ourselves in the directions where our intuition is telling us to go.

(By the way, cabeceo is definitely awesome and a strong way to go, and it also works beautifully well in concert with walking around and hugging and saying hello to people we feel drawn to and want to connect and share energy with. It's a different but related topic. I like to create most my dances by cabeceo.)  

3. I am afraid of not dancing.

Some of us have a slightly mad and highly American goal-orientatedness at milongas that does not really fit with real Tango culture. You think you’re doing “good” if you’re dancing a lot and you want to just get those miles in. You start to feel sour if you’re not dancing 70, 80, 90% of the time. This puts you in a mood where you’ll dance with “anybody” above a certain level and as the event wears on you lower your standards lower and lower.

But the fact is, Tango is not about “just dancing as much as you can” but it is about specificity and quality. The encounter. How many different kinds of success are you open to?

  • You might have one epic tanda that feeds your soul for a whole evening and after that all you want to do is giggle and chitchat.
  • You can have an epic Tango with anyone if you’re open to it - a beginner, another woman, an elite-professional-star - if you’re in the right headspace and if you’re tuning to the music and feeling it inside.
  • And, you can also have an epic Tango with someone without dancing - a full true sincere connected deeply mutually attentive tanda of conversation in which you find the oneness that refreshes our whole psyche. (Are you open to that too? If you are, then don’t avoid talking to people. ;)  

4. I am afraid of saying no.

Sometimes that tanda of “just” conversation will be way better than just any dance with anyone who managed to pluck up the courage to invite you even though you were just sitting there looking confused or glassy.

The more we are geared toward wanting to dance 100% of the time and the more our own thinking brings us to our knees to the point where we will accept a dance with just anyone, the more screwed up our Tango world becomes. Because we are then unable to do the one thing that keeps us and all women safe: to say no.

Women, please, learn to say no. Say no if you’re not feeling it. Say no to anyone! Yes, you can say no to a teacher, a star, a “good dancer” or a “bad dancer.” Stay true to yourself, and now go out and create the tandas that are true to what the dance inside you is telling you.

You’re maybe afraid you’ll say no and the guy will seek revenge, he will never dance with you again, and neither will other guys. But actually the more we women say authentically no, the more we help everyone. Good men will get curious and get more serious in their quest to uplift their Tango and their skills. Some guys I said no to early on actually thank me now for motivating them to become more kick ass dancers! If you keep coming out, and keep getting good, keep making friends, keep caring about Tango and contributing joyfully to the scene, you have nothing to fear.

5. I am afraid I am not good enough.

You are a gift and a joy and whatever your Tango skills are right now there is probably a delightful moment awaiting you at the milonga if you believe in yourself and know yourself to be the beautiful being that you are.

How “good” you are - or how “good” others perceive you to be - is to some degree contextual and depends a little bit on how present you are, how present others perceive you to be. And that is one thing you do have control over in THIS moment. You can let yourself be deeply immersed in the music you are hearing - instead of ignoring it and worrying about dances. You can let yourself be deeply involved in the people who are here - instead of checking your phone all the time. ;)

Remember, if someone doesn’t want to dance with you they can always decline. You don’t have to decline on their behalf and steal from them an opportunity they might have loved. And seeing a “no” as a valuable form of feedback that inspires you to improve your social or dancing skills is a powerful choice that will only uplift you.

Your happiness at milongas will definitely become more consistent the more skillful you become in Tango. The more you practice, the more you inquire, the more you seek the profound essence of Tango and find and create its meaning for yourself. So really that commitment, to keep growing, to be with it for the long haul, is really the most effective long term way to anchor your Tango happiness.

Being true, sincere, and present to what you truly want

Finally and in summary, ladies, please become alert to the tiny ways you can betray yourself by pretending you don’t actually want what you do actually want. Being in this state is extremely stressful because you are totally split and will not be able to act in a coherent way.

What I discovered is that for me, when I DO want something, it is very very clear. It keeps coming into my mind, more and more often, with more and more urgency, elaboration, specificity. This is very different from being in a state where I don’t want anything in particular or I am not sure whether or not I want something.

  • Your soul don’t necessarily want to dance with someone just because he is famous on Facebook.
  • Your soul doesn’t necessarily want to dance with someone just because you’ve danced with them seventeen times before and each time was epic.
  • Your soul doesn’t want to dance with someone just because it hasn’t danced for the past forty minutes.

Your intuitive soul is very specific and surprising and inspired by all kinds of weird things. So don’t get stuck in patterned habits. Instead, listen to the small voice of inspiration and get used to how it tells you what you want and be open for something totally unexpected! I wish you luck, love, fun, and enthusiasm on the path. Love, Mitra

Improvising to Pugliese on a windy night

If you've been following this blog you might be aware that our opinion is that we've sucked for many years. In this performance, though, we both agree that we don't suck. :) We felt present with each other and with the music and able to let unexpected things come through. We didn't even know exactly which song we'd dance to - we gave DJ Varo five Pugliese pieces to choose from, and he selected...Emancipacion! 

This performance happened because our friend Ilona Glinarsky of Living Tango invited us to perform at a milonga held in honor of the wedding of our friend Naomi Hotta to Sergio Higashiyoshihama. She invited us just a couple days before the event, saying that we represent a beautiful union whose partnership would be in keeping with the spirit of the event. We were so happy to be able to make this gift to the couple. 

I am finally wearing the dress created by Rina Gelderman of Atelier Vertex! Thanks Rina! With many thanks also to Robert Le for taking this video. 

The gentle, excellent, chivalrous, skillful, sexy men who Tango

Photo by Glenn Cambpell http://www.glenncampbellphoto.com/

Photo by Glenn Cambpell http://www.glenncampbellphoto.com/

I’m Mitra Martin and I love to dance with men. I love to dance with women too, but this is about men.

This is about men who have taken the time to go through the humbling and scary challenge of learning to dance Tango. And whose Tango gives me huge inspiration and a feeling of oneness that lasts for days.

(Some men confuse me. I am not sure if they are confusing me as a “strategy” or if they are just confused themselves. Probably both. The confusing men, I’ve decided it’s probably not worth it to think about them or dance with them too much.)

For a guy to learn to dance, I don’t know if you realize what a thing this is. I do, because I run a dance school and have seen lots of guys struggle with the process and fail and succeed and everything in between.

What it takes for a guy to learn to dance

  • For a guy to learn to dance, they need to choose to persist in doing something that feels uncomfortable for a long time. They need to set aside anything in them that tells them that they need to already be impressive. They need to be cheerful with sucking.
     
  • They need to be really curious about people, the people they dance with. Really attentive. Abnormally attentive and protective and caring. Absorbedly interested in their bodies, their moods, their patterns, their quirks.
     
  • Some might need to expand themselves and their view of men, women, and life. They become deeply gentle, brave, chivalrous beings through feeling how great brave men and women create a dance. So they extend their comfort zone to dance with and learn from people in new ways, taking on the play of roles and allowing for new kinds of relationship to have space.
     
  • They need to learn how to hold space for sexiness while staying focused on the needs of the moment. They need to sidestep being distracted or indulging in patterned sex thinking. I heard that can be hard for some men to do when they are holding a woman close to them.

I am so grateful and thankful for the men who have gone through this thousands hours effort to find what I feel as a truly unearthly surety and gentleness as they Tango.

I see them manifesting this loving kindness in their lives as well. Open to elaborate a sincere friendship with a woman, that also holds space for the deep mystery of Tango’s connection.

In this world I think it is a highly unlikely miracle that these men exist at all. I think and hope it will be less unlikely in the future. Women, maybe we can make it far less unlikelier now by saying out loud what such men bring to us.

To the great men of Tango:

You have helped me accept myself, my movement, my dancing. Your communicative friendship has helped me understand more about how men are and feel safer being myself around them. Your nonjudgmentalness has given me a chance to accept my errors and believe in my ability to grow. Your example of setting clear boundaries has helped me get better at knowing what I need and want at any given time. Your kindness and good manners helped me have fun at events, instead of leaving me in a confused limbo. Your seriousness about the substance of Tango - its music, its material - has inspired me to focus on that substance, too, instead of petty political dynamics and social domination. Your example inspires me to share your good works with my male students as they step into the world of social Tango with all its temptations. It may feel like a complex and confusing world, but I want them to know they have the power to make it a world of love, kindness, mutual consideration, creativity and friendship among equals.

PHOTO COURTESY OF OSCAR CHANG http://www.oscarchang.com/

PHOTO COURTESY OF OSCAR CHANG http://www.oscarchang.com/

A Year Is Too Short: How A Long Term View Supports Tango

"If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all." -John Cage
Practica slideshow featuring Tango community members, curated by Shane Crosby


In Tango-time, things grow slowly.

Sure, there’s the occasional surprise tanda of delight with a total stranger. But mostly, things grow very very slowly in Tango time.

Friendships - they grow slowly.

Partnerships - they grow slowly.

My own skill - it grows slowly.

Community - grows slowly.

You keep committing, sincerely, to your practice. To becoming a dancer who can seed joy. Nothing changes, forever. Then finally, you are suddenly somewhere new.

Watch for Your Tourist Tendencies

In a fast-high-achieving-hyperworld, it can be very weird and frustrating to be in a place where things grow slowly.

Especially when you can see - or you think you can see - where you wanna get to. You figure there’s got to be a quicker way. Maybe if you go someplace else, do something else, move to Buenos Aires or somewhere.

I don’t think there is. See, in Tango-time, things grow slowly. No matter where you are or who you are with.

When people don’t understand how Tango really works, they usually look at it through the question: “What can I get out of this? How can I get more?”

This focus distorts the energy around you, and makes you weird at events, slightly restless, careless, demanding, flitty. (And I’ve been here - a lot! Still struggle with it.)

Being a community-tourist, skipping around from one knot of humans to another to get as much as you can without committing anything, is something we all have to deal with. But is it a high quality model to build our lives on? At some point, it loses its charm. At best. At worst, it can become a bit toxic.

The Bravery of Commitment

It can feel so good to finally not rush. To just realize that the quality of the relationships you are building is way more important than getting what you think you want right now. How do you build a friendship? Can you do it in less than a year?

Familiarity unlocks trust, and friendship, and creativity. Those things unlock great dancing. That’s how it goes.

There is something so incredibly powerful about choosing a long term view of community, in a world where we are used to everything being disposable and temporary, including our connections with others.

I am thrilled to be part of a committed community. Among practitioners who are brave and willing to say: YES, I will be part of this thing for at least one summer, one fall, one winter, and one spring. I’ll be here through more hard times and the times when I doubt myself and the people around me too. Beyond simply consuming Tango, I’ll take responsibility for creating and expanding Tango’s joy. I invite you to be part of this.  

CHALLENGE

You are thinking of giving up on a certain person, place, event, activity. Is there a difficult conversation you think you will avoid by withdrawing? What if you decided to have that conversation, instead?

P.S., For those of you who like the idea of a slow, steady, deliberate, persistent, no-drama approach to learning in Tango, at Oxygen we offer a unique, flexible, long-term-oriented course, which is up one full year of dedicated coaching along with rich resources, opportunities, and room for your ideas.