Monday, March 26, 2012

The Tango is the most sensuous dance in the world

It's best danced by a couple that are deeply in love but happen to be very angry with each other at the time. The parallels to triathlon are not obvious.

Tango looks like a dance where the man leads and the woman follows. So much for the surface appearance. The dance is full of breaks where the woman can do her own thing. There are times when the woman can break out and do her thing to the extent that the man can't lead anything, and must let it happen. Even if she's looking for another partner, or trying to impress someone else. It's abrupt, smooth, gliding, athletic, erotic, angry, and so much more. It's possible to walk through it and get nothing out of it. It's possible for the simplest steps to convey tension, conflict, love, hate, and conflict.

What brought all this on, you ask? I was watching Tango by Carlos Suara. Quite aside from triathlon, it's a beautiful film and quite worth watching even if you aren't a dancer. If you are, it's should be on your must watch list. It's amazing.

This is the first time I've watched it since I started getting more fit. I am newly astonished by the sheer athleticism of the dance. There's one scene where the woman does a very deep one leg squat, with the other leg extended, as she twirls, and then stands up again, AND makes it look easy. Even after taking ballroom dance lessons myself I'm newly struck by how centered these dancers are, how quick, how precise, how in control, and how amazingly strong they must be.

There are times doing a workout that you simply aren't in tune. The first 7 or 800 m of my swim today was like that. Yes, I was swimming, but I was struggling to stay ahead of the 2 minutes per 100 pace. (In a 50 m pool.) That's why you sometimes see people dancing, and that's all they are doing. Then I got the water feel, and my pace picked up. I wasn't working so hard, and was gliding through the water. When dancers are on, you can see it. The guy isn't just leading from a physical standpoint, he has become one with his partner, and they truly are one being with 4 legs.

It was hard doing ball room dance at first. Our society is enormously prudish. There are very strict limits on the permissible ways to touch each other. It almost doesn't matter about gender. Then in a class you put a bunch of strangers together, and they have to violate at least some of those limits. Especially in Argentine Tango. Let's just talk about knees, for example. Let's overlook how they wrap their arms around each other, since that's a post in itself. Just the knees. The man's knees capture the woman's right knee. The woman's knees capture the man's right knee.

I'm serious, their knees are almost interlocked. And then they step, walking at first, knees still in contact. Actual contact all the time. (There is a reason pro dancers very carefully check out a potential partner's dimensions, and I'm not talking bust waist hips.) Then there are turns, pauses, changes of direction. Sometimes the knees are apart, sometimes not. When acting as a teaching assistant, we'd often ask if a dance couple was actually a couple before helping them. A romantic couple is likely to be more comfortable with the full stance than a pair of strangers.

Dance class is one place where it is permissible for a guy to watch a woman's legs, and for a woman to show them off. And dancers have great legs. There's a reason for that. It was a bit hard getting used to the contact, and dealing with the potential for accidental unauthorized contact, if you know what I mean. Yes, sometimes you end up touching what you shouldn't be touching. Generally it's fine if everyone involved is convinced it's accidental. The least suspicion of groping and you're out of there.

Argentine Tango is a dance that is closer than most. It's fair to say that the woman is often draped over the man, or can be. That can be very nice, even if it's not your partner. Yet the odd thing is, that the dance originated in the brothels, and was danced by men, with men. The Tango movie mentioned above has a sequence where two guys are dancing. If you're good you'll notice they swap leads periodically. Neither is the least bit feminine, and it's a very athletic dance. Once people get used to the idea that when dancing you are playing a role, it becomes much easier.

I remember one particular dance class. Level one, filled with beginners. At first everybody is a bit shy about dancing with strangers. Us Teaching Assistants can easily tell who has taken lessons before. They walk across the floor, pick a partner and get on with it. Oddly enough, even when they pick different partners, they end up picking people that have been in class before. There were two sisters or cousins, I forget which. They were both total knockouts. Yet after the first few lessons, if there were more girls than guys, these two would be left on the side. Why? Not only couldn't they dance, they couldn't even do the basic steps that had just been demonstrated. Neither had any frame, no clue how to follow, and didn't seem to have any desire to learn. They didn't put anything into it. In short, they were no fun to dance with at all.

In triathlon there are issues with prudishness. Some have it, some don't. The people that are new often feel a bit uncomfortable in the sweaty skin tight outfits, especially if they are carrying a few pounds too many. There are times you have to watch people to see what they are doing, and they might not be wearing much. Coaching is a gender neutral role. After a while you get used to it. While you never not appreciate the view, so to speak, you focus more on the activity at hand. What, exactly, are that person's arms, or knees, or body doing in relation to breathing during a stroke, or as a foot hits the ground? Yes, it was a little odd the first time I showered after a swim with a co-worker.

There is lots I don't know about this sport, and I'm happy to learn what I can. I fully recognize that people younger than me, or have been doing it less time, can teach me. I struggle with the limitations of my body. There are things I can help other people with, if they want. Triathletes are a friendly, helpful, and outgoing bunch. But there is a bit of reserve, people waiting to see if you're serious about training, if you listen when told something.

The teaching assistant class was fun. You end up learning both gender's roles for each dance. I've danced with other guys. You deal with it. Sometimes it's fun to dance with other people and wrestle for the lead in symmetrical dances like cha cha cha. There are times watching very good dancers I've watched the guy, because he is the better dancer. It doesn't matter how much skin the girl is showing off. That's not what it's about. And no, the winner of Dancing with the Stars is not necessarily the best dancers. Real dance judges are looking at the dancer's feet.

Now think about triathlon and other sports. There are times training you are in the groove, and times you're just going through the motions. You know the difference or should. If your coach were watching they'd probably notice the difference even quicker. Often, other athletes can tell too. There was a day Katie and I were at the track near Glenmore pool while some kids were practicing the various events. Eye candy galore for both of us. We watched this black guy running. Holy crap! Katie pointed out some of the other people doing well. Mostly they were running like the wind, and some of them, the black guy especially, looked like they weren't even trying.

Watch people that are very, very good at what they do. Any sport. Any physical activity really. It's almost at the point where they aren't doing it, the sport is doing them. Like the painter that dashed off the painting of the cat that oozed catness, they are so in tune with what they are doing they almost don't have to think about it anymore. In fact, it's probably better if they don't. They just relax and it happens. Of course, that takes a great deal of practice. More than most people can do or are willing to do.

Like I said, even though I've only been out of the water a few days, I could feel the rust. Flip turns sucked. I had no feel for the catch. My roll was subtly out of time. Yet it came back in the last bit of my warmup. Which, I suppose, is what a warm up is for. After that I did some pull, and some 50m drill. Even though the feel was starting to come back, I didn't have my heart in it. My legs and core were cranky from the weekend and I didn't want to push them. This was more getting into the groove again, though it took a long time. Then some water core stuff.

There has been a few times, dancing, running, biking, swimming that I've been in the groove, and didn't have to think about the mechanics of it. It just happened. When it does, it's great. Mostly these days, I strive for that feeling of being in the groove. I'm not trying to go faster by beating myself up. I'm trying to feel that groove because then everything works much better. It's a mental thing almost as much as a physical thing.


  1. Wow, this post brings back so many great memories about ballroom dance class, Tango, being a teaching assistant. Great post!

  2. It was fun. Pity U of C is so far from here.


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