If you’re mostly curious about my shoes, you can skip directly there.
Dancing in the milongas of Buenos Aires issued a sharp psychological demand to love and believe in myself or walk back out the door. It is the hardest thing I have done, and it made everything else easy.
I began to follow as a recovering anorexic, newly able, just, to tolerate my body sufficiently to participate in group activities. Directed by another, I could use my body without experiencing constant shame. I never thought I would believe I looked beautiful. It never occured to me that I would perform. My first dance partner, Fritz, opened my frozen experience of myself as an inadequate object by saying “you’re sexy when you MOVE.”
I feel both radiant love for and profound fury at my teachers. Those, like Dana Frìgoli, who worked to empower followers rather than praise innate abilities have my enduring gratitude. But my anger motivates me too, because I feel I spent a lot of time and money and power and angst with people who were either obfuscating what they knew, or who did not have clear explanations to sell.
I started to lead in a fit of political rage when a female friend was kicked out of a milonga in 2007 in Los Angeles, for marking another woman. I had countenanced tango’s retrograde sexism too long already by that point. I went about learning to lead with equal parts trepidation and fascination. Once in a private lesson with Carolina Lafata I stood in the embrace for ten minutes and could not move to lead a single step.
Now I experience myself alternately as authoritative man, and as the feminine woman I always failed to evince.
I was a difficult student, famous for my notebook. I brought lists of questions about how to distinguish various movements. I demanded that my teachers and dance partners articulate their techniques.
I can’t count the number of times that I’ve asked “how do you do that?” or “what part of your body do you move first?” and had a teacher tell me “you think too much.” I believe that when teachers refuse to be precise, it means they either don’t know what they’re doing or they are unable to articulate it. Dealing with their own inadequacy by pathologizing the student is basically abusive behavior and should not be tolerated.
I love and yearn for Buenos Aires. Argentine Tango is as central to my life as food. Yet I am suspicious of invocations of “authenticity”.
I reject the mystification of an ineffable, inherent, indescribable tango. I believe there is a biomechanics of lightness, clarity, and even of tango’s seduction. And I believe it is irresponsible to teach if one doesn’t know how to make these plain. My teaching is motivated by my determination to teach myself, and my commitment to revealing the mechanics of my own movement clearly to my students, with the intention that they will dance as well as me or better, as soon as possible.
My technique is always deepening, like my dance, like this dance. Seeking to make my dance more profound and my instruction more powerful, I continue to experiment with new ways of moving and explaining, and therefore my technique is continually in a process of distillation.
I am a tango theorist, fascinated with the mechanics of tango. I work constantly to revise how I understand and articulate technique so as to be principled and consistent. My students are now able to analyze anything they see according to its biomechanical elements.
I am also a rebel. I question everything about tango in the interest of keeping this dance alive, rich, and generous. I write about it all in my blog.
Ich führe (kreiere) und folge (schwelge).
Wenn ich schwelge, fühle ich mich wie eine Ballerina Prinzessin Feen Königin.
Wenn ich kreiere, fühle ich mich wie ein Mann.
Ich mag es, mich zu kostümieren.
Ich kann in allen möglichen Arten von Schuhen tanzen, solange sie schön sind.
Ich werde “high” vom unterrichten.
Ich liebe es in enger Umarmung zu tanzen.
Mein Lieblingskomponist im traditionellen Tango ist d’Agostino.
Ich bin ein Feinschmecker und vor allem mag ich Nachspeise.
I began dancing tango in Los Angeles in 2005, learning from Makela Brizuela and Pablo Rojas. I took classes with all of the teachers who visited Los Angeles those first couple of years. The ones who impressed and influenced me the most were Homer Ladas for his gentle-powerful movement and personality, El Pulpo for defining a new creative structure and for his liquid hips, and Ivan and Sara Terrazas for their passion to be systematic about technique.
At that time I was a professional economist, fighting my own jaded disappointment with the conformity of my discipline when a lot of courageous work was needed. I had been threatening to retire.
In 2006 I performed in Makela’s first choreography, Urban Tango. I also designed the costumes.
In 2008, Duro and I decided we needed to take responsibility for growing the world of Queer Tango, so we started teaching beginners classes for GLBT folk in Boston. When we left the city in 2009, we founded the community group, Queer Tango Boston, which is an ongoing community-run organization with regular classes and practica. Our farewell party was Boston’s first Queer Tango Milonga and we also organized a Celebration of Women Leaders.
Immediately on arriving to Wellington in 2009, I kept my promise to our Boston students and started to build what would become Queer Tango Wellington. For me, Queer Tango is a necessary space not only for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender dancers, but also for women leaders and men who want to follow. In my experience, Queer Tango communities are generous in spirit – lighthearted and kind to beginners.
In 2009, Duro and I published Aleph Bravo Tango, a novel about beginning to dance. We used the name Dyv, which is a contraction of Duro y Vio. Among many other things, the novel encourages readers to imagine a Queerer Tango. Dancers make comments like “how did you know what I was feeling?” … We also made a couple of silly videos, SnowTango and BasketballTango.
By this time I had taken a leave of absence to have the freedom to do the research I really wanted to do. But it also gave me more time to get serious about tango. We went to Buenos Aires twice, studying daily in Buenos Aires at Pablo Villarraza and Dana Frìgoli’s school, DNI, for three months in 2008 and 5 months in 2009/2010. Also in 2010 we completed Chicho’s annual 30-hour Buenos Aires seminar. Tragically, our very intensity destroyed our beautiful relationship. We expected each other to improve faster than we could, and we lost sight of what we had together.
I emerged from that second trip to Buenos Aires with the observation that I was no longer carrying my shoes in a computer bag, but carrying my computer in a shoe bag. Remembering Ursula LeGuin’s recommendation that civilization should be studied as a history of carrier bags, rather than hunting and wars, I regarded this as significant and declared that I had become a dancer, although I wasn’t sure what that meant. I returned to Buenos Aires twice on my own in 2010 and 2011, bringing my total training time there to 11 months between 2008 and 2011, a period I describe as “The Virtuosic Era” when Marks danced aggressively with the best Revel they could get their hands on. I witnessed the beginning of “The Popular Era” in the first days of El Yeite.
TangoForge was founded with Sanjay Pancha in 2010.
At the 2011 Asia Pacific Outgames, I gave my first performance as a leader with Lara.
From 2010-2011 I practiced more than 250 hours of Pilates under the supervision of a former prima ballerina, Ali Townsend at The Pilates Studio.
In early 2011, thanks to the generosity of Debbie Bax, I had the opportunity for an artist’s retreat of sorts, during which I identified and invested the intentions of TangoForge, articulating what I really wanted to create in the world of tango, which I called “dynamic tango”. It’s not only about dancing with a lot of creativity and power, it’s also about a space that celebrates dynamic roles, music, embraces, and smiles!
For me, achieving this involves a moratorium on claims to authenticity. Not that I don’t have incredible gratitude and love for tango traditions, but I think those claims often disempower students in their attempts to find their own direct relationship with this beautiful dance. What I want is for people to dance with connection and creativity, and this means encouraging them to use the music that gives them feelings, and to explore how tango can be relevant in diverse cultures. I do still strongly encourage people to use the cabeceo, not because it’s authentic, but because it functions well. That functional approach is what drives the pedagogy I use in TangoForge.
Working with Sebastián and on my own, I investigated my experiences with the body, with beginners, and with my own process of learning to lead. Any teacher (and most dancers) can say a lot of things about a student’s dancing. I want to say things that work. Eventually I departed from most of the sequencing that teachers have reproduced around the world, finding that certain advanced moves have a lot of pedagogical value with beginners, while certain preliminary moves are quite physically demanding. I also decided to abandon the mystification of tango and make it straightforward. I have developed a pedagogy that is straightforward and consistent. I give students tools to make their bodies powerful and beautiful, to improvise and bring out the best in one another. This work is captured in the TangoForge KnowledgeBase.
My extraordinary examination of biomechanics has enabled me to recognize how very different dancers are actually using the same biomechanics. I can translate for my students the seemingly contradictory instructions that different teachers give, because I see how we are all searching for ways to help our students to do the same things. I try to show students that tango is one river, and what may appear to be diverging styles are personal expressions, not fundamental differences. Although the founders of Nuevo Tango insist that the didn’t invent a single new step, when I dance dynamically people tend to label my dancing as “nuevo tango”. (They don’t seem to notice that at other moments in the same evening I have also danced traditionally.)
One time at a milonga the announcer even tried to make a derogatory comment by describing my dancing as “acrobatic”. That day I’d had my first trapeze lesson, and I interpreted the comment as an insult to acrobats. After I thought a lot more about it, I decided that feeling like you’re flying is a nice part of tango. Improvising amazing things with your body and another person’s is really fantastic. Probably people would like the chance to be acrobats if they can. So now I embrace that word.
You can read more about my experiences and analyses of the tango scene in my blog.
In 2015 we moved to Berlin to work with Roberto L’Ange.
During 2016 TangoForge partnered with the most beautiful milonga in the world, Tangoloft, to teach classes there. We performed in the Contemporary Tango Festival.
You can read our whole agenda of European teaching and performances in the archive.
The marks I emulate are: Chicho Frúmboli, Pablo Villarraza, and Homer Ladas. The revels I emulate are: Dana Frìgoli, Juana Sepulveda, and Eugenia Parrilla.
I am not interested in teach marks how to dance with or seduce untrained girls. I teach my students to dance like the best dancers I’ve ever danced with. I teach and dance socially the entire repertoire developed in the history of Argentine Tango, in every possible embrace. I believe that masculinity is about creativity, and the Revel is the sacred witness and medium who enables a man’s creativity to come forth. I live for these moments. And I use the cabeceo, because I believe this divine act is one that the Mark must feel ready for, with me, now.
22 March 2017