On learning to be the tango boy, when you are really a girl — Part 2: Energy

Photograph courtesy of Alan Marks, UK

Absolutely the most intriguing part of learning to be the tango boy has been finding out how it feels to hold a woman in my arms for three minutes. Not just one woman, but many women. Every one of them unique in physique, unique in technique, and most of all, unique in energy.

I’ve written quite a bit about energy in the past, for example here, and indeed one of my 11 Sallycat’s Rules for Happy Tango in Buenos Aires (in my book Happy Tango) is Rule 4: Exude magnetic energy.

Perhaps it’s part of living a path of the heart, or a result of listening to my soul, or just a consequence of getting older, but with every day that I am alive I become more aware of the energy that I send out into the world and of the energy of every other person I come into contact with; sometimes I think I can even see it (sometimes faded and empty, and sometimes pulsing with life). Lately I’ve begun painting portraits and I feel that the result on the page is a pure combination of my energy and the energy of the subject combining and being revealed by my paint stokes over a period of thirty minutes or however long I allow for the paint to speak. I think it is the same for every conversation we have, every act of love we make, every tango we dance; perhaps it’s a combination of different energies to make a moment, and nothing else at all.

In 2011, after four and a half years of tango, I dance purely for the bliss, or whatever you want to call it. I long to rediscover it with men I know already, and I seek it with strangers who will create it with me for the first time. It leaves me dizzy. It leaves me with questions. It leaves music singing in my ears. It leaves my heart racing. It leaves me out of breath. It leaves me sitting out the next tanda so as to savour the rush and welcome the cool. It leaves me wanting the next opportunity to feel it all over again. It leaves a scar of desire and mystery on my soul, that can only be soothed by more of the same. And it leaves my own energy more complex, more vibrant, more magical; I think that the dancers who are meant for me find me, in part, by sensing that my energy is a match for theirs. And they are able to, when I choose to reveal and release who I really am, because, of course, it is always within my power to hide.

When I dance the tango boy (and I say ‘dance’ in the softest of ways, because I really mean when I am exploring what I can do in a practica or when I am working with a British woman to help her to focus a more confident energy into her embrace — it will probably take me years to actually ‘dance’ the boy), I have been stunned to find out very quickly who I have in my arms, sometimes even as she walks towards me: grounded and calm or nervous and flighty; present or scattered; staying with me or backing off; open (risking vulnerability) or defensive (sometimes decorated with chatter or laughter or apologies…). I have been amazed by how different each woman feels in the embrace and sometimes, within just a few seconds I feel that I know more about her than perhaps she even knows herself. Is that how men feel when they hold me? I hope so.

Some tango dancers say that for them, the music is everything, that it resonates with their every cell and creates the dance; I think that when both partners match each other in their depth of connection to a particular piece of tango music, then the possible level of connection with each other deepens too, but only when the personal energy of each partner allows it to be so.

Others seek perfection in their technique, because they believe it enables more fluent interpretation of the music they love and a physical ease that allows for deeper connection with their partner; I think that given a certain necessary level of technique, it is finding, listening to and understanding the body of their partner that can result in the richest possible tango connections; while ‘perfect technique’ (by whatever definition, as there will be many differences of opinion!) on both sides may help, it is no guarantee of a great connection. And what an audience sees on the outside may bear little resemblance to what is felt on the inside by the two dancers. Great technique can make smooth and heavenly tango, I have no doubt of it, but if either partner blocks (consciously or subconsciously) the energy flowing towards connection, then I fear the dance may have the look of a heart but will really only be the shell of one.

Saturday night, at Los Consagrados I had mixed tango experiences, it wasn’t my happiest evening on the dance floor. Why? My body was tired after dancing four days out of six. A few of my favourite dancers were missing and another left early, and though he danced one tanda with me, I felt his energy unusually distracted (as I’ve seen him at four milongas this week, perhaps he was tired too); I allowed myself to get excited by chat with a girlfriend I haven’t seen for a while and made a couple of less-brilliant partner choices because I lost my focus to enthusiasm: one man drove me with his arms and another was more interested in trying to hook my leg around his than anything else (I didn’t like his energy and so stiffened my muscles so as not to obey, which either made him think I couldn’t do what he wanted or know that I didn’t want to… at least he didn’t hiss Hook in my ear, but his energy shouted it, just the same). When I entered the milonga my own energy was sky high, up for it, excited, looking forward to moments of bliss, but when they didn’t come, it dipped fast because I was tired, and I realised the error of my ways; I’d forgotten to stick to my own damn rules.

In Happy Tango I share my own 11 Rules for Happy Tango in Buenos Aires. Here are three of them. Rule 1: Only accept or invite a person you have observed dancing (this rule I do break often, because as I say above, you can’t always tell, but you can tell things like ‘driving arms’ or ‘bouncing’ or total lack of care, and so it can pay to be vigilant and make good judgements rather than totally random choices). Rule 4: Exude magnetic energy. Rule 7: Leave your expectations behind. These are the three that slipped my mind on Saturday.

These days I spring back fast from tango disappointments. A thirty minute wait, in the sudden and unexpected chill of Buenos Aires autumn, for a bus that never came, left me alert. I sheltered in the safety of the doorway of Centro Region Leonesa. I heard English on the lips of people discussing which way to turn out onto the street. I couldn’t help but speak to them, Just walk left to the corner and taxis will be heading into town. And the man replied, We’re going to La Nacional, why don’t you come with us? I declined the milonga, but shared the taxi…  I thought I’d get out and take a bus further on. A few streets later we discovered (when I gave a few personal details in answer to his question about what I was doing in Buenos Aires) that the guy reads this blog. He said a lovely thing about it; I was quite moved that he seemed delighted to meet me. We shook hands with big smiles. They went on their way to dance, and I celebrated his comments by treating myself to the rest of the taxi trip, chatted with the driver all the way home on the subject of Argentine men and their love of women, went to sleep thinking of the generous-hearted energy in Eugene that made him offer me a ride, and the open-hearted energy in me that allowed me to accept, and the joyful moment of recognition that followed.

As it is in tango, it is in life. Confidence. Open hearts. Generous energy that reaches out. Bliss always a possibility. If I want it.

OK, that said then, I’m ready for more; day off yesterday to refresh my enthusiastic zing. Today, La Nacional, I am there.

Meanwhile, my question for you is this, How much attention do you pay to your partner’s energy when you meet them on the dance floor, and how does their energy affect the way you dance? In the interests of my ongoing fascination with connection in the social-tango embrace, do open your tango heart and share.

Interested in discovering more joy?

On 1.1.11 I founded the Happy Hearts Quest on Facebook. With daily inspirations and weekly practical tasks, the Happy Hearts Quest (HHQ) is a Quest for Joy, and you are welcome to join in. You don’t have to be a member of Facebook to access the HHQ; you can find the page at facebook.com/happyheartsquest and you can find the Task Notes (Tasks 1 to 8 have been published so far) by clicking the Notes label either on the left of the page or at the top of the page, according to the way the page is presented to you by Facebook.

You can read how the HHQ came to be, on this blog, here. 72 hearts have joined so far. Go on. Encourage your he(art). Take part!

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12 comments

  1. jamesy’s avatar

    Hi Sal
    Nice to see you back at work so to speak (dancing and writing) Re the energy thingy it is so true when you embrace your partner you know then, instantly what the next 3 mins will bring. I also know that when I am tired the whole thing goes to pot and I should only dance sparingly if at all.
    By the way is learning to be the boy helping you be a girl???
    Luv xx JB

    1. sallycat’s avatar

      Hello dear JB,
      I guess that one of the things that interests me about connection and energy is the question that comes from exactly what you say here… I agree that we can know what is likely to come within those first seconds, but I do wonder what we can do ourselves to influence it and perhaps make it even better. Do you see what I mean? Sometimes the person won’t allow me to influence their energy at all, but other times I can do it… oh so hard to explain, but possible to demonstrate maybe to the person who holds me or who is being held by me. Can we train our energy to do more?
      Why should we bother, is perhaps the next question. I think when I reach out more, I get more back from my partner, or at least I do sometimes, and perhaps those are the most exciting moments on the dance floor for me. I don’t always have the will or the desire to make the first move, as it were, but sometimes the results can be quite wonderful.
      So, should we be satisfied with how we think it is going to be after those first few seconds, or can we decide to influence the scope for connection and maybe change things for the better?
      What say you JB?

      Is learning to be the boy helping me to be the girl?
      I am gonna think on this one before answering; perhaps it could be the subject of Part 3!

      Wishing you the happiest of connections in your tango, and thank you so much for sharing with me on this. Your words have given me some good stuff to think about.
      SC

      1. jamesy’s avatar

        I agree, and even with my limited ability I always endevour to reach out as it were during the dance, then as the dance progresses you improve and confirm the connection, when it works it is magical…..but sometimes I must admit that I cannot get anything back then I give up and just dance musical patterns which can be nice but not fab…. However, by the way that my partner enters into the initial embrace I reckon you have a good idea of what can and can’t be achieved.
        Thank goodness there are a few more teachers in the UK and Europe now that are teaching the importance of the embrace and connection i.e. the guys running and teaching at ‘Abrazos’ Festival of Social Tango in Dartington
        Look forward to the next post re leading/following
        Luv JBxx

        1. sallycat’s avatar

          Dear JB, thanks for coming back and adding more. Yes, I’m with you. I try, but if it ain’t happening in the end I do as you, opt for a nice-enough experience but conserve my spirit a little; I’m not even sure I have the resources to give of my energy fully every single time… it can be quite exhausting. Certainly I often have to sit out a tanda or two after it’s been amazing as my whole body just needs a chance to calm itself.
          The other factor is, and I noticed it last night at the milonga, that a few Argentine men are so controlling in the dance, strong and gripping to the point of nearing unpleasant… having now held women, I know know how small and delicate their bodies can feel and so I feel a little annoyed at these men, the pressure they exert is way more than is necessary and I have to put all my energy into controlling my own body so that it withstands their direction; there is little room for enjoyment on my part; plus, I feel them so inflexible that there is little hope of meeting and molding into one.
          I think the whole thing is an art that men can master, how to offer the greatest possible chance of release in the woman (those secrets I mentioned once before in my ‘gift post’), and I think that women can master the art of openness to the release, and that if both love the piece of music to the point of longing to dance to it, then it can be the most special.
          I am delighted that there is increasing focus on teaching on the subject of connection in the social-tango embrace in the UK, and I am very sorry that I won’t be at the Abrazos Festival of Social Tango myself; if only there was a cheap weekend return to the UK from Argentina!
          Meanwhile, big big abrazo para ti, SC

        2. ChristineH’s avatar

          Hi Sally

          For me the shared energy is so important. It’s magical when you dance with someone who exudes enjoyment in sharing the movement and musicality. Never the same with a Leader who is technically ‘great’ but doesn’t want to share a part of themselves.

          Personally, when I have low energy, I may only dance with a select few friends who will be happy to ‘care and share’ with me – knowing that it might only take a couple of tracks to put things right. For me, being ‘technically’ OK, isn’t the same dance.

          Equally, it’s nice to share emotions without words and through tango. I’ll always remember the first time I saw a dear friend after his wife had died suddenly, we didn’t exchange any words, just danced – that was enough to communicate all that we needed to say.

          Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

          C.

          1. sallycat’s avatar

            Hi Christine,

            “I’ll always remember the first time I saw a dear friend after his wife had died suddenly, we didn’t exchange any words, just danced – that was enough to communicate all that we needed to say.”

            Thank you for sharing this with me.

            I remember one time in a class with my teacher, Ariel. Our dance relationship has always been teacher/student; I am certain that while he is working with me his energy is totally different to how it would be with a woman he had invited to dance socially.

            However, one day in 2007, our dear mutual friend, one of my great girlfriends (and my first friend in Buenos Aires) left Argentina after 5 months with us to return to the States and we both felt sad. We had a class. He wore her scarf. I wore her cardigan. Neither of us had much focus on teaching/learning. We just decided to dance for a while. I felt his sadness and I know he felt mine. I was close to crying. Maybe it was the loveliest dance I ever had with him. I still remember it.
            This was the first time I understood, felt the changed energy of a person in their dance, knew who he was in that moment, knew that he felt my sadness too. It was a greater lesson than any scheduled lesson could have been.

            “Personally, when I have low energy, I may only dance with a select few friends who will be happy to ‘care and share’ with me – knowing that it might only take a couple of tracks to put things right. ”

            Sometimes I find this hard in the milongas here. I have to work very hard a lot of the time for my dances, and concentrate on exuding that magnetic energy to attract a cabeceo; when I feel sad or low it can mean I get invited less, even by people I regularly dance with (it happened last night), and then my confidence can take a knock and so on and so on… whereas in England I might do as you do, choose a friend to dance with and know that I can relax in their care because they know me and maybe even know my circumstances, which people in the milongas here never do, they never know anything about me. Thinking about this gives me a whole other subject I could write about… and one day, when I have mulled it all over, I will.

            It’s always good to hear your experiences. One day soon, we dance!
            Un abrazo fuerte, SC

          2. Jamie’s avatar

            Hi Sally,

            “How much attention do you pay to your partner’s energy when you meet them on the dance floor, and how does their energy affect the way you dance?”

            I try to pay a lot of attention, as much as I can, and my perception of the partner’s energy will affect the dance completely. But as you say, it’s not a one-way thing – it’s more like there’s an energy dialogue, feeling the way to a mutually agreed level of openness and sharing.

            I find that this takes some time – I don’t agree with Jamesy who wrote that “when you embrace your partner you know then, instantly what the next 3 mins will bring”. Certainly you can feel a lot instantly, before even the first movement is made. But I often find that the energy changes over time, as you get to know the other person, trust them more (or less – luckily this is rare!), discover the music and/or circumstances that each other like, and overall find the right place for that partnership in the milonga.

            I think that’s how it should be, too. As you say – you don’t always have the will or the desire to make the first move, and if you don’t then the other person has to figure out whether it’s the first or second case! Plus there are all sorts of external circumstances that enter the picture – maybe the first time you dance with someone, the music is too dramatic or too dry, or you are nervous or distracted, or are expecting one thing and get another, or whatever. Unless you are a tango-zen master it’s easy to let the outside world seep into the embrace. Luckily, I find it fun to let each partnership evolve over time, without expecting each relationship to materialise instantly in final form at the first embrace…

            J

            1. sallycat’s avatar

              Hello J,
              Thank you for sharing with me on this subject.
              Absolutely warms my heart to hear you say,

              “I try to pay a lot of attention, as much as I can…”

              Last night in a very crowded slightly crazy ‘milonga’ (CITA festival, invited by a dear friend) I danced with a man who I had never danced with before and he truly did that for me.
              As you mention, I was nervous, because I was out of my comfort zone: the lights in Centro Region Leonesa were almost off with just the occasional spotlight to highlight potential partners, there were mostly lots of visitors from foreign lands, lots of younger good-looking visitors, and a chaotic dancefloor.
              This man was masterful, skillful, experienced, kind, his strong secure energy calmed me when I hestitated once or twice. He protected me from knocks, and reduced the size of his steps to squeeze our dance into an ever tinier space.
              I felt my confidence grow and grow and then I felt the moment that he relaxed with me too… I felt him start to play, have fun, get ever more intricate with his feet; I began to smile and to dance for joy and I forgot there was anyone else there at all!
              It got better and better with each tango, and he looked as delighted as I was by the end. How utterly wonderful that was. I didn’t need to dance again after that. I watched others trying to cope with the hectic scene and left on a good vibe. I am certain that if I danced with this man more times it would get even better as we relaxed and began to ‘fit’ and get to know each other’s dance.

              If we do get to dance with a partner regularly it can be so incredible the way the connection deepens and I love that longer journey. But often I might only get one chance, one tanda, like last night, as I may never see the man again. The art of deepening the connection in just 4 tangos is the challenge!
              If I don’t focus and try with all my heart, even if I see him every week in the milonga, the guy may never ask me again, so I do try my best to focus and shut out the world that very first time… or at least I do, IF I feel it is worth it, that there is enough there from him, that he may be a good match for me, that he ‘gets it’, that his energy is present and willing to find me and to be found… that he ‘wants it’, the bliss, from me and with me, that he is really present or trying hard to be.

              Last night I could have given up so easily; the conditions on that dance floor were not good. He could have backed off in dismay when I hestitated a few times in the first tango, I could have given in to anxiety or lack of confidence and fears of knocks from other couples. But neither of us did give up, instead we focused more. I think we each felt it was worth it, that there was more to come, and so we adapted to the conditions and each other and made it great; that is what excites me about tango, the mutual journey together (whether one tanda or one year of tandas), the discovery of bliss out of what may seem on first glance to be near impossible! I have a feeling you will understand what I mean.

              Un abrazo, and thanks so much for sharing your experience with me.
              SC

            2. Paula’s avatar

              For me, connection is hugely important. If someone is technically correct in their dancing, but I feel like they’re not really dancing WITH me, I’m bored and irritated.

              Alicia Pons (the goddess of tango connection!) says when we dance tango, we connect in five ways (in order):
              – With ourselves
              – With our partner
              – With the music
              – With the floor
              – With everyone else on the floor

              But I’m a milonguero girl, so all I want to do is cuddle!!

              1. sallycat’s avatar

                Hi Paula, Yes. I am a cuddle girl too!
                I know all these aspects of connection matter, but if you said to me if I could have them all for certain and in equal measure in a tanda of tango, which would I value the most highly, I’d have to say it’d be the connection with my partner I’d love the most of all; the strong but caring hug, offered and returned, that makes me feel safe treasured and exquisite and generates the feeling that I can never quite explain or describe. Perhaps the other things help it to be even more amazing, but they can’t make up for it if it is missing altogether. Having said that, I see she puts the things in order, and I do accept that if I am not well-connected and at ease with myself, perhaps I will never be able to experience fully the connection with a partner.
                Great contribution, thank you!
                I wish you wonderful connections always, in tango and in life.
                SC

                1. OliveTango’s avatar

                  I happily join you in the rows of the tenderness-addicted, milonguero cuddle girls ;-) Should we create a FB group ? ;-P
                  OliveTango

                  1. sallycat’s avatar

                    Dear OliveTango, Welcome :)!
                    SC

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