Return to Tango – 9 months on.

Well, the time I’ve had my new hip in my body is the time needed to grow and deliver a baby. A strange thought!

But not really, when I think about it. It has actually taken that time for me to feel comfortable, mostly, with this new addition to my body. The hip itself has just sat there, quietly surrounding itself with new bone, but the muscles have grumbled mightily and taken a long time to stretch out, develop and feel easy.

I’ve been sore a lot of the time but, as my physio and pilates teacher said, I am asking for a high degree of rehabilitation by wanting to return to tango with all its physical demands. That’s made me feel better about it all.

And I have been really improving with my dancing. My axis is stronger than it was even when I started learning- I think my hip was starting to weaken back at that point. My legs are also stronger now because of the excellent, very specific and focused pilates classes I do and I have much more strength, control and stability than I did. Now, my body can actually manage to do what I want it to do – most of the time.

I’ve been having some private lessons to help fine tune and consolidate my dancing. This is excellent as I had developed some defensive techniques to wriggle around my weaknesses and it’s terrific to be sharpened up.

Even so, I need to be careful about not doing too much – very frustrating. I do just one class and then only a few dances at the following Practica. A few weekends ago, Sidewalk Tango ran a terrific Vals Workshop which ran for two hours followed by a Practica. I managed the Workshop but was pretty tired. However, I was so pleased to be dancing comfortably that I danced on for far too long at the Practica. Not good. My body was very, very overtired and I was hopeless at class that week and even the next week. Plus, I’ve been a bit sore again and my ankle is now grumbling- on the other leg!!

So! This post has been rather like all the others, a mixed bunch of success and tribulations, but marking a general improvement. It’s not a fast and easy process.

 

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Voleos in Tango:Shape-changing and the Washing Machine.

I looked down at my Delicate Wash slowly sploshing around in the washing machine and last night’s tango class on Voleos came to mind.

I realized that for some of the time, I felt like that washing: out of shape, out of control and at the mercy of another force. This is me trying to do a voleo if I am not yet on my axis.

On the other hand, I can also have lovely moments of Here Am I Being the Rotor. This is when I am the rotor: on my axis, tall and straight, and rotating strongly and firmly and vertically.

I’ll go for the rotor anytime!

 

Hip Replacement and Tango: 6 months

It’s been interesting the way the targets have sort of spread out and become less noticeable during this 6th month since the operation. The pace, whilst never ‘linear’, has become steadier with fewer clear cut markers or events.

However! The six month visit to the surgeon, Mr Phong Tran, was reassuring in that he is very pleased with both the placement of the new joint and the bone growth around it. I hadn’t been thinking about bone growth so it’s good to have had something happen without me consciously making it happen! I don’t need to see him again. I left with instructions/permission to do as I wish but not to fall over and break my hip.

Pilates continues to be excellent and I love it. Apart from obvious strengthening work there some very enjoyable balance work. I’ve had a couple of massages by the physio to loosen the hip area now that I have some muscles there to loosen. That was good.

My muscles continue to be sore and tight but are improving. Pool walking seems to work very well. This work will go on for about a year at which stage people tell me their bodies suddenly feel normal again. I still get tired but apparently that diminishes too.

Tango is going really well. I’m stronger than I was even when I started a few years ago. I seem to be taller. I can do a whole class now quite easily and have a few dances afterwards at the Practica. It’s terrific!

 

 

Back to Tango after Total Hip Replacement: 5 months

It’s been about 4-5 weeks since my last post about actually getting back on the dance floor and a lot has happened. I’m now at the stage where I can do a whole class and a few dances afterwards at the Practica and feel tired but happy. My legs are tired and thighs fairly tight the next day but the tightness goes with some exercise and stretching.

My new hip has made a huge difference to the strength on that leg even though the muscles are still tight and not terribly strong. Generally, my dancing is developing back to being smooth with some very occasional little bits of wobble and loss of control.

Interestingly, I’ve found that my concentration is harder to maintain but that’s improving. I think it’s because I’m still a bit anxious about ‘how I will manage’ and how I will go with different partners.

What has helped me hugely has been Pilates. I found a physio who specializes in hip and core stabilization and have been going to her small, 3 people, classes once a week. She works gradually and progresses the exercises at a really good rate. I have a set of exercises to do at home. She told me to be really careful about the dancing but recognized my need as a ‘mental health’ issue and therefore important to do.

It’s been important to loosen these muscles as they work and strengthen so I go and have a monthly Remedial Massage.

I’m back to taking a low dose anti-inflammatory once a day to help the knees which still have remnants of tenderness from the bursitis and to help the hip joint itself settle down. That helps and, if I need to, take an occasional Panadol Osteo to remove the pain of tightness if I’m going to exercise and want to do that properly.

All in all, I’m at a good stage of strengthening and feeling normal life returning. I do get tired though. The physio says that it takes 6 months to gain strength in the muscles and another 6 months to develop control.

 

Mountain Tango

   Empty path

Picking my way along narrow, steep mountain paths in the French Alps, I found that I was being accompanied by tango music from our Melbourne Sidewalk Tango classes running through my head. The beat gave a rhythm to my steps which were often up and down and around awkwardly placed rocks. My peripheral vision was of an ongoing rock garden filled with Alpine flowers or snowy peaks or the valley below. However, my attention was always on my feet and the path they were about to walk on – too much scope for accidents otherwise. So I’d stop and stand still if I wanted to look up from the path.

It came to me gradually that I was dancing a sort of tango with the mountain as my partner. I embraced the mountain leaning slightly forward, feet placed firmly and cleanly. Grasping the walking poles, I took care to plant them one at a time in a steady balancing position. There is a direct contact with the mountain. The gaze varies according to the difficulty of the path.

Mountain tango

In the open embrace, when the walking is fairly straightforward with the poles used quite lightly, the gaze is centred in a widish circle slightly ahead of the feet and monitoring where to step. The close embrace is used when the path is steep and rocky. Here the gaze becomes intent on the actual area of the feet and path and the pole grip is firmer and closer to the body. It’s intense and focused. I realized that when I was lifting my foot and leg cleanly and neatly over and around rocks so as not to trip, I was actually doing Decorations.

There’s a closeness between me and the mountain path where I have to be attentive to its every configuration and follow its lead. Sometimes it leads me in a steady, smooth walk, sometimes it will ask me to step over a rock, or, with more complexity, ask me to choose a series of short, safe foot places in a short rock climb.

My body and mind are totally engaged in this tango with the mountain.

 

You’ll note the dress code is very different for mountain tango.

 

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Sidewalk Tango and Enid Blyton’s “The Magic Faraway Tree”.

 

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I step through the tall carved doors of the Tiki Lounge in Swan Street Richmond, opposite the expensive car dealers and between a bolt warehouse and a chef’s clothing outlet. The entrance is crowded with the footpath tables and paraphernalia which go out later. I climb a straight flight of industrial concrete steps towards a little fifties vinyl and laminex bar at the head of the stairs. This is the reception desk.

Sometimes I hear only our steps then gradually David’s voice comes in, quietly explaining something to the Beginner’s class. Sometimes the music is on and we rise into it. Depending on the time of day, it might be the end of the 7 pm Beginners class or if it’s a Sunday afternoon, the music of the Practica. Then again, on the first Friday night of the month, it will be Milonga music and a whole different atmosphere.

One evening, I had a sudden memory of Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree in the Enchanted Wood. The children would run excitedly through the woods and climb the tree, passing the strange inhabitants on the way up. Then at the very top, a ladder reached upwards through swirling cloud. The children seemed to find this ladder totally irresistible, because at the top, they climbed into a magical land. There they would have adventures before descending to the safety of the tree and then slide right down through the heart of the tree to the ground.

It was the feeling of not knowing quite what was going to happen which was what I recognized about our tango experiences.

Our first trip up those stairs to a hidden world was on a hot January Saturday morning. We had enrolled to do a weekend beginners’ workshop. A colleague of Nick’s had finally persuaded him to take up tango, something I had never even dreamed of doing, and here we were. I was very nervous. So, up to the little desk we climbed. We were welcomed by a man who was the David we had spoken to on the phone about the class, enrolled, paid, were checked off and waved towards the lounge area. “Make yourself at home. Have a glass of water.”

We stepped tentatively across a corner of the dance floor which filled about two thirds of the space. The boards were gleaming in the hot morning light coming through the warehouse windows onto Swan Street. The transparent red draped curtains and matchstick blinds softened the glare. Unusual music was playing through the tall mounted speakers around the room. Other would be dancers hovered in the Tiki Bar lounge. The décor was an eccentric mix of Pacific Island meets retro suburban couches, chairs and coffee tables. We made polite conversation and those who had proper shoes (ie leather soled – mine weren’t) changed into them.

David called us on to the dance floor and introduced himself and Di . The two of them are Sidewalk Tango. He explained the music as Golden Era Tango Music from Buenos Aires, introduced us to the beat and started us walking in time around the room. Thus began my introduction to the mysteries and difficulties of the tango walk.

By the end of that day, we had walked, learnt the embrace, learnt and forgotten a whole lot of new Spanish terms for steps, learnt and forgotten a whole lot of new peoples’ names, learnt how different each partner felt, realized how nice it was to change partners around the line of dance and learnt some basic ochos, in three separate sessions. We had been served lunch and afternoon tea. It was exciting and bewildering and we descended the stairs into the end of a hot Saturday wondering how on earth we would manage the same again next day. However, we did; just! It was a terrific introduction into both the dance and the friendly, quirky, professional atmosphere.

So began a long period of entering the world of the Beginner’s class on Wednesday night. Now we climbed the stairs at the end of a working day and met a different group. Quite a few from the Workshop but others who had been learning for quite a while but still valued the basics taught in this class. We learnt the ritual of the shoe changing and the piling up of the shoe bags under the tables and beside the couches. I still felt anxious about ‘being able to do it’. Mostly I got along not too badly but some steps defeated me completely- the Lady’s Basic for instance. Somehow, in that step, the connection between brain and body vanished.

However, I loved being in such a group of mixed ages and sizes and abilities- and men! Since I’d left teaching it just came to be that I moved in circles that were predominantly women. I missed the company of men with their good humour and jokiness. I was astonished to dance with men younger than my son and men as old as my father was when he died. I valued being accepted as just another person wanting to learn this complex and exciting style of dance.

This land at the top of the stairs was not entirely comfortable. I was often tired after a day’s work in my ceramics studio. I was aware that my legs were not as strong as they could be and still felt a bit self conscious. I tried really hard till sometimes my brain was fizzing  and it was quite often a relief to head down the stairs and home.

At least, compared to the lands at the top of the Faraway Tree, the stairs were always there! As an adult, rereading the story, I found it horrifying that the clouds could close up and hide the children’s exit to their world. It was strange that this hadn’t bothered me much at all as a child reader and it just seemed another exciting part of the story. They always did find their way home, once with the help of a little aeroplane which they climbed into and in which the boy, of course, flew them off the edge of the cloud and down to safety.

The world of the Sunday afternoon Practica has changed a lot since we first started. It took quite a few months before we felt brave enough to leave the security of our Beginners’ class and face a new experience with this thing called a Practica. We had been told it was a time where we could practise what we’d been learning in class and that a couple of the assistants then, Maeva and Bruce, would be there to help. So, one Sunday afternoon we entered the studio to find a whole of people we had never seen before and they were dancing tango like we felt we would never be able to do. They moved around the floor in the afternoon light, some dressed elegantly, women all in high, high heels and some men in the rather baggy forties trousers which I have come to realize is a style associated with the forties Golden Era Music and tango . Other men were in jeans and tee shirts, in fact it was the like the usual mixed bunch of our class, only different and much more accomplished. This was all a bit intimidating. However, we plunged in and it was good to have Bruce and Maeva to help us remember and refine our steps from Wednesday night. We didn’t know enough to be able move around the floor continuously and at that stage the practicas were a bit of a duty.

They gradually became a pleasure as we improved and became friendlier with the group. I liked coming up the stairs to see who was there. People brought cakes and there was coffee- it was friendly and low key and gradually the dancing became easier and I became more confident dancing with people who weren’t Nick. One Sunday, we had dogs up there! Someone had organized a fundraiser for the campaign against puppy farming and we were welcome to bring our dogs. Di was there with her dog and husband and we had just missed Tom and his rescued greyhound.

Apart from dogs there is the roof top BBQ. It is very strange to come along in our dressy clothes, once to a Melbourne Cup Milonga and recently an Australia Day Milonga to see an insubstantial red painter’s ladder under an open window leading on to the roof at the back. Even stranger to see David, elegantly suited, descending with a plate of barbequed chicken in one hand for our lunch/afternoon tea/supper. There are a couple of gas barbeques permanently up there under the eaves silhouetted through the matchstick blinds -if you happen to look.

The sense of fantasy is always there. We’ve become aware that David and Di are show people and entertainers and really enjoy events and performances. Last year’s end of year Milonga was Circus themed and the whole studio was set up with a circus theme decorations. We’d been asked to dress ‘Night Circus’ or, at the least, elegant tango.

The fantasy disappears in the Land of the Private Lesson. We had become comfortable enough after a couple of years to think that a couple of private lessons might quickly smooth out some rough edges and move us along a bit. But I was nervous again. It was very, very quiet as we ascended one Thursday morning for a lesson with David. What would it be like to be isolated from the crowd and have all of David’s attention on us? We could hear only our footsteps as we reached floor level. There was David standing at the music console. He waved and came across. His manner was relaxed and easy and we had a bit of chit chat before moving to the dance floor. I forget what we did, but once we started it was alright and I just enjoyed the learning and the attention. During the class, Di arrived in a flurry of energy and after setting up a cup of tea for herself came across to partner and help Nick for a while. It was terrific. The atmosphere was quiet and friendly with a real emphasis on learning.

Nowadays, I’m always a bit reluctant to leave that upstairs world and descend to street level. I realize that now the difference between our tango world and the Faraway Tree world is that the children are nearly always relieved to escape from something a bit uncomfortable, if not frightening, and they are anxious to get home.

I leave a transformed world. The physical change of level lifts me to a realm where lights, music and the décor take me somewhere else. I’m helped to move from the world of familiar and often pedestrian routine to a time of movement, engagement and, at the same time, disengagement of my brain. It can become a meditation with my body and brain which is both calming and exhilarating. I am isolated with myself and another and the music. It can feel like being in the eye of a storm and at the centre of the universe. Nothing else matters and I am truly in a Faraway world.

 

 

 

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