MY LIFE IN TANGO
We Anglophones have all heard some of the most popular of the exported Argentine tangos, and most of us associate the tango -- an undeniably sensual and intimate dance form -- with submissive female participants dominated by macho men in black, dramatically bent backs, flung legs, and perhaps roses in teeth (for a parody of this, check out the tango scene in Some Like It Hot, available on YouTube). All potentially true, but generally only in performance tango.
And fortunately for people like me, there is social tango. Everyone says that the tango changes your life, and my story is no exception. Here's the short version of how I became a tangophile.
I have an extensive musical background, always liked what little I knew of tango music, had seen snippets of tango in film, but was never a dancer until quite late in life. I struggled with tap lessons for a number of years in the interests of preserving bone density and cardiovascular fitness, but did nothing with a partner. One of my few me
mories of dancing with my late husband Keith Crandell was a summer evening in 1974 in East Hampton after our housemates had returned to Manhattan when we played Solace
, a Scott Joplin piano solo that occurs in the soundtrack of The Sting
. When Keith died, in 2005, I enlisted his musician brother Richard Crandell and our friend Jean Zipser, a wonderful dancer with balletic training, to perform Solace
at Keith's memorial. Richard played the piano for Jean, who crammed Argentine tango lessons for weeks and danced solo the woman's part of what is normally a dance for two. She, whose ballroom lessons had ended abruptly in adolescence because of family difficulties, became obsessively hooked on ballroom and tango. Six months later, hurrying to a lesson with her teacher to train for a teacher-student tango competition, her car hit black ice on a hilly curve. She was killed instantly. Tango lyrics, as you might expect, are mostly about love and the many forms its losses take -- the equivalent of country-western songs for us, as someone has observed. It took me quite awhile to feel that it might be my turn to try to step over my emotional losses and to attempt to learn the tango. I finally began lessons seven years ago this month, and was fortunate to fall in with a number of superb teachers and congenial classmates, first at the now-closed Sandra Cameron School of Dance near the loft and later at the Dardo Galletto Studio in midtown.
Although the tango is by definition a walking-based improvisational dance for two, each person needs to master on his or her own posture, flexibility, strength, balance, basic possible steps, tango etiquette and the musicality without which the dance is just mechanical and no fun at all. With partners -- and we should dance with as many as possible -- we learn the subtleties of the tango embraces, close and open, that make possible the lead-and-follow roles. I have led so much else in the other parts of my life that I made a conscious decision to become the best follower I can be in this realm; so I have never learned to lead in tango. Both partners must pay minute attention for a successful dance. My friend Carol Conway, in whose company I began lessons, said it best: "If people paid as good attention to their relationships as you have to pay to your tango partner, the world would be a much peaceful place." My other favorite quote on the subject of what makes a good tanguero or tanguera, from tango teacher Nick Jones, is: "It's easier to teach a nice person to dance the tango than to get a good dancer to stop being an asshole."
Once we gain basic skills, and master the basic three types of music commonly played in social settings -- tango, vals and milonga, a heavy-footed, syncopated dance that owes more to Africa and the Caribbean than to Europe, we usually begin going out to milongas, as social tango parties are called. I bought lots of recorded music, practiced at home and began my years frequenting bars, restaurants and multiple dance schools, honing my skills, learning the repertoire and becoming acquainted with other members of the Manhattan tango community.
Then it dawned on me that, as a member of the Salmagundi Club of New York, I could hold milongas in the Main Gallery of the club. These three paintings derive from these occasions: In the foreground of Attentive Leaders, Carol Conway dances with Joe Goldman. In Concentration, our dear friend Juan Pablo Jofre, the great master of the bandoneon, the instrument that gives the tango its characteristic soulful sound, plays with his cellist colleague Adrian Durov while I sit listening (full disclosure for art historians: this painting was also inspired by Degas's painting of his father listening to the guitarist Pagans). JP Jofre's.
|Attentive Leaders, acrylic|
In Tango Floor, the legs are mine and those of Dan Dillon, whom I met at one of these Salmagundi milongas.
Now I invite you to have a look at the video, so that you can see a further aspect of where all this has led to. Daniel and I are competent social dancers, with no aspirations to perform for others. The music is an old favorite, Quejas de bandoneon, which I would translate approximately as "complaints or moans of the bandoneon." An accordion-like instrument with buttons and bellows only -- no keys -- sometimes called the poor man's church organ, it is a notoriously difficult instrument to play. I've included the video in the spirit of suggesting how the music inspires movement and also feelings.
|Quejas de bandoneon|
ABSTRACT IMAGES BASED ON TANGO
Several years ago, as an experiment, I made a number of very small paintings and drawings inspired by specific tangos, valses and milongas. Instead of dancing with all of my body, I moved my painting arm, and, in the case of the drawings done in oil pastel, both arms, while listening to specific pieces of music. The typical tango lasts about three minutes, so I had to play each piece a number of times -- no hardship -- in order to complete each work. Some are watercolor over which I dripped fluid acrylic, some are dripped acrylic over acrylic and some are oil pastel on a tinted gesso ground.
|Luz Verde. Watercolor, acrylic on paper. 7 x 14. 2008|
The processes were about as improvisational as dancing, except that, without a leader to follow, I suited myself as to the direction, quality and duration of my movements. With a few exceptions, the titles are identical to those of the pieces of music I listened to. I've included just a few works here; the rest may be found on my website under "Abstract Work."
|Volver. Acrylic on Canvas. 6 x 12. 2008|
|Kangastus, photo credit: Joe Goldman.|
Working on Kangastus, (a fabulous Finnish tango; the name means "mirage" in Finnish), drawing with both hands.
Every tango-loving locale has its networks. For New Yorkers, I can recommend as a source of information Richard Lipkin's NY Tango
page. This site is a good way in for anyone in our area looking for lessons, music and places to dance socially.
Once the Salmagundi Club main gallery renovation is completed later this Spring, I am hoping to resume our monthly milongas
, But until I have a chance to dance on our new floor, I am holding off scheduling them. Stay tuned by following the club's calendar at www.salmagundi.org
, and I'll send an e-blast if we can resume our milongas. Otherwise, get in touch with me any time after mid-March to inquire. And, in the meantime, if you're a leader and run into us at milongas
(we're currently quite partial to those at Triangulo on West 20th Street), please feel free to invite me to dance. Who knows? You may inspire a future painting.
News and Upcoming Events
Salmagundi Club NYC Black and White Exhibition, My monotypes are items 131: Ponies in the Mist: Chincoteague (already sold) and 130: Three Days Old; the show runs through February 14.
Salmagundi Club of NYC: Spring Auction Exhibition. Wednesday February 19-Friday March 28; auctions March 14, 21 and 28, 7 pm. Details about bidding: see www.salmagundi.org
ANNIE'S STUDENTS' SHOW -
Sunday March 16 at Annie's Bond Street loft. Call 212-677-7215 for information.
Sunday, March 2, 1-5 pm.
Indoor Plein Air workshop at Annie's loft
Sunday, March 30, 1-5 pm at my studioPlants, Flowers and Water
Getting ready for the colors of Spring by focusing on pigment choices in water-based media. Combining watercolor, gouache and acrylic, we will explore each medium's possible contributions to compositions that incorporate plant material. Participants who have been intimidated by watercolor because of its resistance to easy correction will have a chance to use gouache and acrylic for repairs and improvements.
ONGOING WEEKLY CLASSES
Space is currently available in small group painting classes offered at the Bond Street studio. Monday 2:30-5:30, Wednesday 3:00-6:00, Thursday 10 am-1:00 pm. Call or email me for details about these and private lessons.
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|Lera and Sam, watercolor and gouache, 2013|
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