Wednesday, 16 December 2015

'Question'-Why become a high level dancer?

by Isolde Kanikani

Why become a high level dancer? What is the need behind this search? Is it the promise of more dances or a deeper more qualitative connection? Is there a line we can reach when there are fewer people we want to dance with? Why?

At some point in our tango adventures something changes or we leave for another activity that suits us better. For most of us this change is intrinsically personal but the need to become a better dancer seems to be a common outcome. Why? Whether its to become good at something or to be accepted in the ‘cool crowd’, to not be left out when people come asking or that we are hooked on the self learning process possible with this dance. I can’t answer for you, only bring the questions to aid your own searching. Always question and you will go far. Its when we stagnate in our knowledge that we are ‘good’ or that we have ‘achieved what is desired’, that we inevitably become normal or loose the things we found because we no longer work for them. I can only offer my own experience and that of those close to me.

My first lesson hooked me on tango and I wasn’t to know this until later on. I will always remember my first teacher Adele who was so beautiful in her deep red dress and graceful flowing movements. A bit cliché maybe but I was stuck by her beauty in the way she moved and more deeply as a woman. I was 16 at the time and searched for the discovery of what it was to be womanly, moving comfortably in my body.

But it was only about 6 months later, when I had a really bad lesson from another teacher that I questioned why each and every week I turned up to dance with people 2-3 times my age. The difficulty of the lesson that provoked the question was having to look into the eyes of my partner and walk around them in various ways, for about 15 minutes. This is fine if you feel safe, but he happened to be the known letch of the group and I felt decidedly more uncomfortable as we went on.

My only answer was that I loved this dance, and wanted to become a better dancer. In my case I had wanted to learn a dance since I was about 12 but never had the chance until I moved into an area with more things going on. The unconditional freedom one can have to move with partner and music, while confined in the movements and vocabulary of the Tango. These confines or boundaries, becoming the tools for creativity and fun. Without them we are left standing. I got addicted to the feeling of dancing in my body and connecting with other people. Also to the endless adventures I found myself in, travelling to faraway places and flowing spontaneously with those wonderful situations that can only happen when you are in the moment. Be it in the tango or simply in life. I was learning to be present with now and yet I found myself always planning the next big adventure, to the extent of not really living in the present one. Something that later become apparent in my search for people I wanted to dance with.

I travelled, I learnt and I grew as a dancer. After a little more than a year I was asked if I would like to teach. Something I had childishly dreamed I might do but never thought it was a real possibility. I was going to be a barrister and had every intention of going to law school in later years. But when I was asked, it was like something clicked into place. I said yes, and I started to teach. I carried on learning. I am still learning. I love teaching and I love dancing.

As I travelled I grew as a person and in the understanding of myself. When I was 18 I went to Buenos Aires for the first time. I grew in experience, the people I wanted to dance with when I got back home become harder and harder to find. I think many people can identify with this. Two things happened for me in this time. The first was that I felt people wouldn’t accept me as myself. They were becoming a mirror. I would see myself as 16 in their eyes. At 21, I went to America to help some friends with their tango scene while they went to Argentina. I taught regular classes, workshops and travelled to other tango scenes in the USA. Linking this with being in Buenos Aires for the 3rd time meant that it was about 4.5 months before returning to the UK. During this period, I realised that by allowing people to see me as a 16 year old, I was denying all the experience worked for and gained in the last 5 years. , in dancing ability, in understanding of teaching and most importantly with life itself. Some of my old ‘friends’ thought of me as an angel, innocent in many things. What they didn’t want to see is that I was more experienced in life, coming closer to the image of the woman in red I had seen at my first Tango lesson.

The second reason that people I wanted to dance with got fewer was a matter of perception and level of dancing. It was true that there weren’t so many people with the same level of experience to dance with in my area. As I learnt this got more and more pronounced. If I focused on this I would get frustrated and finally take myself away somewhere to find people who inspired me. But then the realisation came that all this is also a matter of perception. Yes there were few people around of the same level but why is that so important to enjoy a dance. Ok, one wants to be comfortable and stretched at times too. But one can be comfortable with a beginner. We can also have those amazing dance connections with someone who has danced under 10 hours. I know because it has happened many times. So why this idea that beginners should dance with each other and if you are ‘an advanced dancer’ then you do them a favour by dancing one dance.

Try looking at it from another perspective. If you can only lead ‘an advanced’ follower are you really so proficient? Can you make an absolute beginner feel like they have had the best 3 dances they could possibly have, with the clarity of your lead allowing them to find ochos, turns and at times even the cross? Have you tried it? As a follower have you given a new leader the feeling that he can lead you? Yes he is unclear in his body language, but are you sensitive enough to know what he is after? Ok last question; can you remember how it was to be a beginner when an experienced dancer danced with you, instead of giving advice on the dance floor? I can remember that far, just about (smiling). As a beginner that there were two men who would regularly ask me to dance. They were at a more advanced level. It was wonderful because they showed me I could dance with very little experience. Later it swapped round, I became more advanced and we still dance.

Some friends got as far as making the decision to stop classes, the figured that if they got more advanced than a lot of their peers it wouldn’t be so much fun. Prolonging the enjoyment they can have with tango. Some have still kept it up and have a great time in milongas. While others stopped learning and questioning their dance. Inevitably falling behind and in some cases stopping.

Whether you choose to find some way to prolonging the journey of learning and enjoying. Changing perception, maintaining level or travelling to faraway places. Or you take it for what it is a story with an end to tango, but a beginning to something else. Taking all the discoveries you have made along the way with you. Who knows, many go both roads. Can we try and savour this experience too long who knows. Keep asking yourself the questions that only you can know.

Forever friend cutest cat i ever knew


Sometimes I think its so rare to truly love and be loved by another person. somehow all the complexities of life interfere with the simple act of loving someone or something. we get too caught up in what it means if we love someone, what we want need or fear from loving and how should be go about doing this in the right way. also in the fantasizing about how it should be if we really fall in love. i am very slowly learning there isn't a right way, but getting my brain to take this on in a practical way is totally different to understanding it intellectually.

but when it comes to animals we humans (especially the English it seems), have a huge affinity for love with no complications. so i right of the animal that showed me unquestioning love. she had many roles in my life when i was growing up sister, mother, friend, tiger, little monster and Rose the cat that loves me. it may sound strange but i think she shaped the way i relate to people both in physical contact and in the way i love someone.

The reason i write about love and this Rose is that she passed away on the 20th June 2008. she lived to the age of nearly 20, accompanying me through life from when i was 4 years old. we grew together, loved together, she had fun with tom cats and we looked after her babies, together.

we used to play this game where she would run off into the house and scatter up to the top of one of the doors, i would chase after her and have to shake each door in turn to make sure she wasn't there. when she was she would jump down and run to the next. in the beginning it was usually because i was trying to catch and put her outside for a while, but eventually it became a game we both enjoyed.

When she was about 8 months old she started to have many kittens. The first ones died as she wasn't really aware of how to look after them. I learned so much about life and death and suffering from these kittens. but also about the joys of the world. In the beginning we had to feed the kittens with cows milk through little pipets from medicine bottles. They died anyway but it was the trying that mattered, and of course the fact that Rose slowly got the idea that it wasn't enough to get frisky with Tom cats but if she wanted the kittens to live she would have to feed them. she became a very good mother. we ended up keeping 5 of her babies at various times (Bryer, Merlin, Simba, jasper better known as 'little boy' and daisy). as she got older some of the kittens were being born malformed. i was helping her with one litter when I was about 12 years old. there was one baby born with no skin and some of its limbs were missing, but amazingly it lived. i steeled myself, took the kitten outside where there was a big flat rock and I crushed it with another. I was shaking so badly afterwards but it was the right thing to do. it was in such pain and was making these horrible noises. i had to help it. this was the best i could do. she had approximately 70 kittens over all and she filled many peoples lives with the love that only animals can give to humans. in some ways later on she was also a typical Italian big mama, with her boys who sorted her territory in Penzance and then she was retired to Devon where she was loved a lot by my father or Da.

It was only in her last years that i was away from her a lot (and my father or Da loved her and was loved in return). i have many tears, but know she had a good life. its difficult to think that she died on the day that i really let go of living in the UK. i think somehow she knew this was the time within which everything was changing. She was and will always be deep in my heart, my little tiger, My Rose.

'Inside Story' Argentine tango traveling the world


Smooth Moves Ezine March 2008

Argentine Tango came about in the late 1800's, at a time when many cultures were mixing (mainly European and Argentine), in music, in culture and in a basic need to survive in a place where work was scarce, The lure of promised riches from fertile land in Argentina were laid barren when many immigrant men arrived from countries all around the world. They found desert or rock in their allotted land, and so most migrated into the big cities, namely Buenos Aires and Montevideo. At one time there was approximately 70% men to 30% women and it was said to be even worse, this was due to many of the immigrants having left their families behind. These where the circumstances that lead to the formation of Tango, and the common representation of two men practicing together in order to increase their chances of dancing with a woman.

Its very hard to say exactly where it came from or how it formed, due to the many myths that engulf its past adding to the element of mystery in the dance which is so much a part of our intrigue as dancers. Some say it developed in the brothels of La Boca a barrio of Buenos Aires, others whisper conspiracy in saying that it originated in Montevideo and isn’t of Argentine origin at all. For me as a dancer I feel its origin isn’t so much important as its nature to evolve and change with the times, and even the fashions of clothes, music and the way people are expected to relate to each other in society have had influence. The pencil skirt for example, made it impossible for the women to make large steps, so in the 50s when this was ‘ la mode’ the movements become smaller and much more compact. But there is also a wonderful sense of preserving the old, there are many organizers that promote traditional tango in a form that is as close to Buenos Aires as it ever can be considering that we live in a another culture with a different way of life, tempered also by a change in times and the roles of men and women.

But the dance is something more than an explanation of its existence. This is merely a context for tango, a generality or cerebral way to try and understand it. My personal experience of Tango has been an adventure I could not have predicted. Improvisation, playfulness and a willingness to explore are characteristics in the dance that have unconsciously diffused and taken residences as a way of life.

I still remember my first lesson which was in a big theatre, edges darkened, lights dimmed for atmosphere and its most prized possession was a perfect wooden dance floor. A woman clad in a beautiful flowing dress, red when caught by the light, took us through the first steps of tango. There was one moment about half way through the class, when she gave me some hint or glimmer of what the dance could be like in experience both in terms the sensuality in the body while creating the movements of tango, and the feeling of simply expressing the music. I was hooked in the space of half an hour only to be told afterwards that there were too many followers, and that I being the last to sign up would have to wait until the new classes started. I was upset and crying when I left, but was soon rescued by another teacher who had more men than women. So the precarious start to my tango journey had begun only to lead to more obsessions in body and movement as the months past. I now teach and dance all around the world, moving from one dimly lit room to another.

I am always in search of something that the dance gives me and still I cannot name it. But what I do know is this dance is beautiful for the fact that you can never stop learning if only you are open to the possibilities. The improvised nature of Argentine Tango gives special moments of spontaneity and connection very hard to find elsewhere. With music and a space to explore and freely express it being introduced to the concoction, I am surprised any of us ever find a reason to stop.

The dances existence was provoked by the differences between men and women. Its evolution and origin forming from the immigrants with their many dances, and music traditions when arriving to Argentina. Its status and reputation growing with the travel between Buenos Aires, Paris and the popularity that is growing around the world. Continually evolving with the times but protectively coveting the old and the traditional. Lastly Tango is the technique and playful improvisation that allow two people to experience connection with each other around and through the music.


'Step into the Dark side'


Smooth moves ezine, September 2008

The tango dream, one of passion, amor (love), and the embrace. Often blurs through taboos such as sensuality, lust, sexuality and politics. Painting a smudged flowery picture that is perceived to include clearly all of the above.

Another image is one of the Holy Grail that entraps every dancer into an ever-lasting fanatical search of the ‘One moment’ within which we will find a deep-seated feeling of unity with our partner and the space. Forever goaded on by the multifaceted mysterious awe of the elixir de tango that is the music. On occasions when we find such a connection it feeds the addicts need to find more of the same sustenance. So we are doomed or enlightened (depending on ones outlook), in the search for the Holy Grail, that is the oneness of two. But what about a step into the dark side.

The drama, passion and fire of tango are often what attract people to start dancing in the first place. But this is only surface tension seen and exposed in stage tango (tango fantasia). My interest is in the emotional and physical fuel that feeds the fire. Not the fire itself. As a dancer and teacher of tango I am intrigued by the processes people go through in order to learn and through this enjoy the dance. The way they deal with often-intense situations. The expectations and desires that come into play when confronted with oneself in relation to a partner or social jostling of a group of dancers. The desire to know oneself, to be sensually in ones own body. Or to explore the boundaries of sexuality within the dance. Sexuality and sensuality are often mixed up with desire or lust and amor (love).

Sensuality can be seen as ‘a preoccupation with the gratification via the physical senses. It’s about arousing the senses or appetites. Internally its about embodying yourself, externally exciting the senses of another person’. But this is too mechanical. As a dancer I don’t always seek to sensualise the dance for the other person. I am in the search to become sensual in my own body and to find a containment that allows me to know and feel myself better. Through this my feeling of sensuality is made stronger because it’s more intensely concentrated. Other people can enjoy the sensuality they feel in me, and even become sensual through this. But the important thing is that I am sensual for myself. Many people take this as a sexual come on within the dance. One is not allowed the hedonistic feeling of being in touch with ones own body. Instead it’s often taken into new realms of lust, love and sexuality.

I have seen many short stories of love/lust grow and diminish around me. Sometimes lasting only a few hours, days and long ones weeks. These stories are the culmination of two people dancing in the right circumstances to allow two to become one in movement, embrace and thought. What I mean by stories is basically taking this connected and sexual dance feeling to bed. WE, in our present culture don’t understand how to be in our bodies, so when we experience such a connection with someone that’s so strong, be it sensual sexual or otherwise. We mistake it for love in many cases. In others where there is more experience of this phenomenon, it’s more about a necessity in the fulfilment of desire, closeness and often wanting to be in RELATIONSHIP but have many fears around this in everyday life. Tango attracts many people who are unable to be in relationships in the outside world and so instead search for the hedonistic instant gratification found in tango. Often being disappointed (after a while), in what they find. But for me one thing seems clear. We all want to feel secure and be LOVED. Not all will agree, but if you look closely I think that you will at least see in others that what motivates us is to find security in what we need to live, one aspect of this is intimacy with others. We will go through many profound emotions, experiences the unfathomable histories of hurt and pain that are deeply held in our body memory. Also remember the joy and laughter, the happiness of good times and what it was to be accepted in a group or by an individual. The embrace once more allows us to experience this acceptance.

Permission is given, one dancer to another. The embrace is unhurriedly made. The dance begins, and the connection is made. The exploration of what is comfortable starts and then the tuning in fades. The individual ceases to exist in the sluicing movements of tango, endlessly moving around each other, sometimes for hours on end. All senses are unified in the sole purpose of staying present NOW. Attention focused somewhere in the centre of the embrace. Oblivion to the outside world in a cocooned sphere of energy and desire. Again the need for containment is present which intensifies all. The more restrained one is in not acting on desire, the more one is able to experience the nature of the desired. It’s like standing still when the music is building higher and with more energy, higher and higher again elevated into a climax of notes that ecstatically entwine themselves in the bodies of the two dancers.

The other alternative is to take all the energy of this epiphany and to spend it in movement, thus diluting and loosing the moment. Often seen in show tango because it’s more interesting for the audience to see movement and speed rather than a seeming closed off unemotional dance. The image of an animal with four legs comes to mind. Words hardly do this justice but if you have felt it you will know what I am talking about. If you haven’t then you have an idea of what could come.

Politics is also rife in tango as with any place where strong emotions exist and there are high personal stakes to be gained and lost. I am not talking about the politics of tango schools or those that exist between two teachers. But of the politics of hierarchy. One rises or falls on the grounds of dance ability and social ability. Being a performer, a teacher and/or organisers also has a big effect. The status is not so important as what it means. SECURITY in ones social group. More dances giving more chance of INTIMACY and possibly LOVE. Along with Stability and acceptance. We are happy in these states but what about taking a step to the dark side?

The alternatives are infinitely more interesting. Feelings of exclusion, not being loved, loneliness in a room full of people. Not feeling good enough, young enough or beautiful enough to be danced with. Age-old insecurities held in mind and body, suddenly exposed by rejections, the intimacy of an embrace or even a teacher working with a specific body part.

For example the jostling that can give a feeling of being with the in crowd is often due to past angst with groups. Someone who has experienced being a nerd or social outcast in school might feel the need to be ‘cool’ surrounded by those people who represent this. But if one is not accepted and in some way feels excluded deep emotions arise. I have the experience of one particular person being distraught, crying and intensely angry at not being asked to dance. She saw it as her right to have a set number of dances in one evening. The anger was directed at me because I am a host and teacher. For three days this woman let go of all her frustration at the situation, her anger and later the tears and sadness she felt at once again feeling like an outcast. I simply held the space, open for her to feel and to experience the process she needed to go through. On the fourth day she came and apologised. She owned her feelings and we talked of a time at school where she felt insecure and lonely. It was due to a lot of things happening in her family life at the time, but the loneliness and insecurity were created by a group of people at school. She had unknowingly transferred this past situation into this new group of people, and strangely they were reacting in the way she expected because she was projecting past pain onto new people. Of course they wouldn’t want to dance. On the 5th day she had the most dances she had ever had and said goodbye to be smiling and happy. She had been able to find a way of releasing old histories and found security and even a possibility for intimacy in someone else.

Another example is of a businessman who is used to working for himself. Having full autonomy and power to do, as he will in his working life. In other words an alpha person. He is used to being associated with the top, and will find it difficult firstly to start at the bottom in learning to dance. But also in not necessarily being seen as alpha in the tango world. The number of times I have been surprised to discover how many men and women there are, with high powered jobs and who are confident at what they do. When it comes to tango they become shy and seemingly needy of attention. Like a fish out of water, they try to find their way back to what they know. The top of the hierarchy. Either through obsessive learning of the dance or by association with the top. Anger is something often felt if they aren’t able to find water, i.e. to become alpha. I have another experience of an aggressive man in classes who is incredibly intelligent. He has the need to be recognised. He knows all the terminology and tries to bully teachers into giving more information than he is ready for. He gets angry if he thinks someone is denying him and passive when he is receiving a lot of personal attention from the teacher. When things don’t go his way or he can’t find a movement he is ‘supposed’ to know he will often take it out on his partner. A while ago we had a private lesson that I was secretly dreading, but agreed to. We had 2 dances in the whole lesson. One to start and one to finish. We ended up working with aggression and anger, what these meant for him. He wanted to explore these topics with me, and we made a good start. He realised that by being anxious about where he was in the social world of tango and as a dancer he was becoming a monster. Someone who everyone avoided and refused to dance with. His story is a little longer and took a lot more lessons but over the months he has become calmer and softer with his partners. Again through being aware of feeling insecure and out of water he was able to start to find more favourable place for himself.

Whether we are aware of tango as love and passion, or a simmering cauldron of sexual energy and sensuality is based on point of view. Backed by personal experience both in life and how much experience of tango one has. I am not intending to make you mind up for you, but to simply bring a little more light to the sexuality, sensuality, lust, love and politics that are seemingly inherent in tango.

Alongside this our own personal quests for the ‘Holy Grail’, each of will have a completely different story to tell, but there will be similarities in experience. Many people I have talked to at one moment or another, have felt some disillusionment about these deeply unfathomable moments of connection that at times surpass anything they have ever felt with a lover or partner. One has no idea its possible until it happens, it’s rarely talked about in any depth and one automatically assumes you have felt it when it is talked about. Without knowing for sure, with no context of what it is and what it means. It’s often misunderstood to be love instead or lust. There is no black and white here only a grey area for every individual is different, every experience of the ‘Holy Grail’ is different and is for the dancers to place.

If we take one step into the dark side we can become more aware of ourselves, we can open up possibilities in creating the security and intimacy we want and need to be happy. But this road is more difficult as you will find many things about yourself you don’t like and will want to change. And many others aspects of yourself which are truly beautiful and should never be exchanged for simple acceptance in a group.

The journey through darkness is more profound than the light at the end.


'Storm Walker' poem written in Buenos aires Argentina


A little of Buenos Aires

She walks the storm
Enclosed by skies fallen, no! falling tears around
Greetings from a friend
Reaching through skin to bone

Now she may cry
For the storm will cover her tears
As long as she smiles
No passing stranger will see her wants and fears.

I walk stricken streets
Through the deluge of storm
Here I can cry
As my tears will go disguised
As long as I smile
No one will know the sadness that fills me
But in reality one has only to look into my eyes to see what is truly within.

But I am changed by storm as it enters into me
I am laughing as I walk these soaked streets
While others run and hide, and watching me precariously
My eyes twinkle reflecting humour of the lightning lit sky

Who is this stranger who carries this drenched laughter
Like a child she stamps her feet
knowing well that each step means more water
I smile back at her, for she has touched me to my core
I see sadness in her eyes, and spirit in her heart
This beautiful entity, walking freely
taken by tempest, to some remote land

she is storm walker…but is surely of this land………………..