Polly's Tango Talk

August 16, 2015


 Many doors can lead to tango, for example, watching a performance; being bribed or convinced into taking a class, or perhaps satisfying our curiosity. Beyond the first door, others lead to styles like salon, close embrace; and Nuevo, to name a few. Within each of those, doors lead to social dance, performing, teaching and more. Which door led you here?

An introductory path is typically led by our first teacher who we follow until we become interested in discovering what’s behind one or more of the other doors. Some students are enticed by the “Trick Door” while others are attracted by the “Basics Door.” Some enter the “My Way” door and attempt to learn by watching videos, taking drop-in classes or just attending milongas. Some follow multiple paths simultaneously, a daunting task with a high rate of burn-out.

In about 2002, a Portland venue opened that specialized in Nuevo style, and drew large numbers of the under thirty set. Some traditionalists became concerned that novices were not learning “true” tango. We felt they were being led down the path of turning standard moves inside out, creating unusual embrace positions, exploring unorthodox leg work and footwork, and all was being done to (gasp!) alternative music.

When examining my own path, I realized that “Fancy Footwork” led to my instant attraction. The flash and fire figures by Sonny Newman and Patty Leverett instantly changed my dance life, and shortly, my life-life. The more I thought about itthe more clear it became that no matter which entrance we arrive through, if tango resonates with us, we will continue opening doors and learning about what’s behind them. (Many who enter the “Alternative Door” move on to study traditional styles, while many who enter through “Basics” never move forward.

Let’s imagine standing in the center of a room surrounded by a circle of doors, each of which leads to a different aspect of tango. Our quest will lead us through a unique sequence of entering, exiting, and exploring the paths associated with various passageways.

I’ve learned that any door we enter and path we take when learning/living/loving tango can lead to all others; that no door is more correct, better, or more authentic than the others, and that there will always be more doors.

From my book “Tango Quest.”














































October 12, 2014

Tango Jest

Filed under: Uncategorized — tangopolly @ 10:32 pm


A  fantasy festival/jestival where very little is sacred and

pretty much everything is considered fodder for

poking gentle fun at our

flaws and faux pas.


Welcome to TANGO JEST

where rumors are repeated until they are accepted as fact.

 You were invited because someone mentioned you in one or more of these hot topics.  

When you arrive at a festival,




 You’ve danced with partners  who seem to be stuck in 



You’ve shared a few  


Over which foot goes where


You’ve been nearly suffocated by the



 You’ve been led in 



You know how to look cool when you’re having a  



You’ve danced at  



You turned a senior moment into a great variation last night



Your life is arranged in two categories: 



Your family is the only one in the area who knows



When friends send you videos, you debate which to watch first: 



You get annoyed when someone in class is over their head and



You have NEVER taken a class



And you qualify for one of our skill levels:  





If you believe that none of these is true,









August 2, 2014

Subconscious Tango

Filed under: Uncategorized — tangopolly @ 5:47 pm

I’ve been involved in Portland’s tango events since they began in 1996 and before that coordinated a community festival for 17 years in the small town I lived in that drew 10,000 attendees. High energy weekends have been a significant part of my life for many years, so “festival fatigue” was not a factor in this story.

In October 2013 during TangoFest, my friend Kara stayed with me, was going to leave on Sunday but accepted my invitation to stay for the last day of the festival.

During the event I was particularly tired, no energy, and even “hid” at times to avoid interaction that would require mental or physical activity. The rest of the team was handling everything well and except for DJing for the two Guided Practicas, co-hosting the Grande Ball on Saturday night, and presenting my usual short skit, (this one was “TangoJest”) I stayed in the background as much as possible.

At 2 am Sunday morning I un-decorated the tables in the lounge, and took a cab home. Kara arrived shortly after. I remember her coming in, but nothing after that. She told me later that she’d asked if I was ok. She says I mumbled that I was fine and she says that at 4am, I went to the computer and started typing. Then back to the couch, sitting slumped over, which is where I still was later Sunday morning when she left  to go to the festival.

The next thing I remember is hearing her knock on the door, about 2.am. Monday. Hmmm, I was not able to stand up. I gripped whatever I could hold on to to get my balance, stumbled back to the couch and re-assumed my slumped-over, sitting position. (Kara had already gone into the bedroom and did not see this fiasco.) After she got dressed, she asked again if I was ok. (I hadn’t moved since she’d left the day before and convinced her (I thought) that I was fine.) She left about 11:30, stopped for coffee, turned around and came back because “something didn’t feel right.”

When she saw I still hadn’t moved, she called my daughter (using my phone to get the number). Stevanie came over and I answered her questions, but didn’t fake her out. She called 911. When the EMTs saw my condition and that my fingertips were blue, they whisked me away in one of those rigs we never want to ride in.  (They asked Stevanie if I might be drunk. She said “No, not like her.”  And one was overheard to say, “Good thing they called us when they did.” Yikes.

Six hours in emergency. Recovery sleep. ICU with all fours tethered to the bed and a breathing tube down my throat.  Tuesday afternoon tube removed (yanked,  more accurately). Regular room Wednesday, released Saturday. Culprits: Pneumonia, respiratory failure, lung infection of unknown origin, and breathing my own CO2 on the couch for 30 hours.

In my haze, unbelievable! Tango music! Same song. Over and over and over. In Spanish. One I recognized but do not know the name of, played non-stop. Clear as a bell. Eyes open/closed…no matter. I loved hearing it. Couldn’t hum it now but for a few days and nights it was my inner (and I thought, outer) companion extraordinaire.

When Stevanie returned I squeaked in an a hope-this-is-temporary scratchy voice, “Honey, listen! They’re playing tango music.” She listened, then shook her head gently and said, “I don’t hear it.” “Check in the hall. It must be coming from out there.” (I had begun to think someone had brought a CD and asked the nurses to play it. Why it would only have one song on it was not yet within my realm of reasoning.)

She said, “Nope, no tango music.” It had to be there. I was hearing it, clearly, and asked her to check again. (When your brain is fuzzy, you’re ecstatic to be among the living, and you’re hearing music that inspires when you’re fully coherent, your mind does strange things, apparently.) My daughter-turned-mother-to-mom returned and said, “No, Mom, really, there’s no tango music. There’s an alarm going off somewhere down the hall that’s about the same tempo as a tango,  but no music.” (I crack up every time I think about her saying the alarm was dinging at “about the same tempo as a tango.” (Dark yet delightful humor if ever there was.) I figured best to not argue. She was mobile. I was barely able to position myself on pillows under warmed blankets. So I resignedly accepted her observation, did not fully believe it, and later retreated to my silent-to-all-others-tune and let it lull me in and out of la-la land. Little-known fact: a semi and recently comatose person can conjure up things that are imperceptible to others.)

If ever I hear that song at a milonga, I will race to the DJ and ask for the title, orchestra and vocalist. It resides in a special corner of my subconscious as a vivid example of how deeply tango can become embedded within our being and comfort us in time of need.

July 13, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — tangopolly @ 4:33 pm

I’ve danced Argentine tango for 22 years, can’t imagine life without it, am extremely fortunate to live in Portland, Oregon and to have been a founding member of the Tango Community.  In 1992, Clay Nelson and I and our former partners discovered a new treasure and immediately knew that tango would speak for itself if we could get folks to give it a try.  We did, they did and it did.   Fast forward to today…ValenTango (created and directed by Clay)  has become the largest tango event in the country with over 500 participants from around the world (literally) attending.  Whooda thunk?   Details:  www.claysdancestudio.com.  Along the way, Portland has sustained a thriving community, wonderful teachers, beautiful venues, and tango every night of the week.  Details at:  www.portlandtango.com.

In 1998 Nora (Dinzelbacher) nee Olivera, (my idol) and I became friends when we were dorm-mates at University of the Pacific Folk Dance Camp where she was on staff.  That was my 18th year and up till that time my life revolved around International Folk Dance.  Performing, teaching, choreographing.   After Nora became Director of Nora’s Tango Week, (previously Stanford Tango Week directed by Richard Powers) she  invited me as her guest and to write “El Chamuyo” the daily newsletter.  I about fell off my chair when I read her email.  Incomparable privilege and honor.  Not to mention the fabulous experience of spending time with top of the line instructors!   Event details at:  www.tangoweek.com.

Link to video of my favorite partner and I ( grandson Joel; 22, started tango at 13) doing a demo to Pugliese’s “Recuerdo” at my Friday Practica.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=11u1c8Gw9EI.

Link to video clips taken at my 70th birthday party.  Includes family and friend in swing, tap, unicycle.  Last number is Joel and I dancing to “La Mariposa.”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UM2sNUQh9pI

Should you be  inclined, it’s ok to quote, copy, print, etc. with credit to author.  🙂

I’d love to hear your comments about anything on this blog or other tango topic. If you prefer to respond privately, email to:   tangopolly@gmail.com.

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