Saturday, November 10, 2018

Emotional Intelligence

My father was born and raised in a small mountain town in central Italy called Tocco. He emigrated to America when he was thirteen years old but his heart never really left the town. Thirty years later he returned with my mother. She described to me the scene of them arriving back in town, tears streaming down like rain on this retired army sergeant major’s face.
Through his tears, he said, “I never could allow myself to think that I could ever return.”
The town was like a mother to him and he lived all his life with the pain of having been ripped away from her just as he was becoming a man.
Twenty years later I introduced him to the internet and helped him create his first webpage: it was all about Tocco. One day he showed me something he had posted on his website. It was a poem he had written. Here it is:

Oggi Tocco Sei Mio

Oggi Tocco sei mio, mio unico. Nessuno nel mondo somiglia a te. Hai il sole della mia fanciullezza e mantieni la speranza di oggi. La gioia di rivederti e sentirti nei tremonti. Se le pene del passato vengono in mente, le posso mettere da parte. Oggi sei mio.

Today, Tocco you're mine, mine alone. Nothing in the world is exactly like you. You hold the sun of my young experiences. Filled with joyous moments and fruitless worry. If painful recollections of the past come in mind, I can put them away. They cannot spoil Today.

He wrote this when he was 65. As a veteran of two wars, I am sure the sentence about ‘painful recollections’ is very meaningful to him. As his child, having mostly known him as a stern man, I was surprised that he had so much passion within him. It made me feel good that I had been a conduit for this to happen, the ripple effect of a good deed.
As I think about this event years later, it occurs to me that I had grown up in ignorance of emotions. I’m certain it’s not just me, I believe it is an American phenomenon, a part of our culture. We are a country of emotional idiots. We are taught about pride and anger but they are just topics in books, we are never really taught to explore our own feelings in our education. My encounters with people from other nations tells me this is not the case where they come from. Europeans freely talk about emotions as the cause of a person's actions and oriental philosophies constantly encourage disciples to harness their emotions as the pathway to peace and understanding.
Yes, there is a lot of literature about the topic of feelings but we rarely undertake activities that unleash our emotions. We are so starved for the actual experience of others exhibiting emotions that we seek them out in reality TV shows. This is something politicians recognize and feed to us in order to win our vote.
When I started dancing tango I experienced such a rush of emotions that I had trouble breathing while trying to lead. I was so pathetic that women would often tell me to breathe.
At this time in my life I was in the middle of writing a book about my river, the Lehigh. It is my Tocco: the place where my heart will always be; it is the mother that helped me deal with the emotions of becoming a man, my right of passage. When I proposed to my future ex-wife, I did it by the confluence of the two streams that become the Lehigh River. We became one, then two and then three. We raised our children on the river, that’s how much it was a part of our lives, both of us having been whitewater river guides.
I love the river. It is a place where I can be me, sing as loud as I want and to be as happy as I can be. Off the river, I was not like that. I was a stone and that is why I had such a problem with tango; I lacked an understanding of my feelings, I had no emotional intelligence.
My book became more than a fictional narrative of a whitewater river trip, it became about me and my difficulty in being so close to a person of the opposite sex. Writing about my problem helped me to understand my feelings a little but they were more than just the few chapters of my book called River Tango; they were an entire universe that I needed to explore and tango was the vehicle that would take me there.
After six years of tango experiences, I wrote another book, Fear of Intimacy and the Tango Cure. It is a compilation of blog posts I had written at, a blog I created to help me harness the overwhelming emotions unleashed by the tango embrace. In the book I write about my discovery that I was in sore need of emotional nutrition and dancing tango was the vitamin that would restore my health.
I think evidence of our nation’s lack of emotional intelligence is our current president: money can’t buy happiness and he is living proof. It is quite evident he gets his emotional nutrition from large crowds of adoring fans gathered before him and his podium.
Dancing tango is an education in emotions. It is a South American martial art. It is the discovery of peace in the embrace of a stranger. It is the connection between two persons in an attempt to move as one in the spontaneous choreography of a song. It is the realization that you are one half of a couple trying to navigate in a crowd of people and that you are a part of that crowd. As a part of that crowd, you learn that your actions affect the mood of the entire gathering. When you become aware of this, then you have become emotionally intelligent, or woke.
Whether or not you choose to be a positive or negative influence on the group is up to you, but, once having become aware, it is up to you to lead others there.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Not Letting Go

This is not a complaint, in fact, it is just an observation about an infrequent experience I have had with women who are new to tango. In my tango travels across America, I have danced with some ladies who do not disengage from the embrace entirely when the song has ended. She simply stands there, gripping my left hand with her right, her left hand still on my shoulder. I suspect this is not a conscious act. I can remember when I first started dancing tango, I couldn't breathe. I was oblivious to the fact that I wasn't taking in breaths but it was quite noticeable to my partners. Such are the mysteries of human behavior when two people join together to move to the music.
My initial reaction was to forcibly disconnect; not in a rude way, or so I thought when I was just a novice tanguero, maybe they did find it upsetting. Then I spent a year and a half studying the close embrace. Through frequent discussions with my girlfriend, I learned that the concept of ‘touch’ has an entirely different meaning to women than it does for men. Though I cannot quite say what that meaning for women is exactly, it is enough for me to know that it is different from mine. I must treat the act of embracing her with great care and not to come to any unfounded conclusions as to what she is experiencing.
I think this approach could apply to all people as a way we should all treat each other in all our social interactions. We should act as if we don’t really know what the other person’s experience of our encounter is and not to make any assumptions based on whatever biases we may have. This kind of behavior could do a lot to restore civility in America today.
After five years dancing tango, I learned that final impressions were just as important as first impressions. For the next three years I worked on finding the right moment to disengage from the close embrace. It is possible to ruin the memory of an entire tanda, regardless of how well you performed, by breaking contact abruptly.
I think the reason women find it so enjoyable to dance with other women is because they know exactly how, when and where to touch each other.  
I realized that my concept of the meaning of ‘touch’ had to change. I am not ‘touching’ her anywhere; she is merely settling into my embrace. Even though there is contact between our bodies, I am not taking notes on the specifics of which body part I am feeling, but rather, I am using that point of contact to find out where her balance is. My hand beneath her shoulder blade is where I see how she is connects to the ground.
The tango embrace is more than just two bodies coming together; it is a physical connection, yes, but it is also a mental, emotional and maybe even a spiritual communion as well. To find her balance I must establish a mood, I must make her feel respected. My frame is not so much a place for me to hold her as it is a room where she feels safe and free to enjoy what? Me? The music? The crowd? Who knows? I don’t. I can only hope that she is comfortable being with me and that I must work to make sure she stays that way.
I firmly believe that, as much as men have no clue as to what is going on inside a woman, women have no clue as to why men do what they do: they can only guess. My advice to any tangueros who may be looking for answers as to how they can become better partners, is this: don’t keep her guessing. Let her know that you enjoy the touch of her hands on your body, not through words but by your demeanor, smile honestly if you can and make eye contact. Above all, try to create a feeling of respect. For the next ten minutes, you will not be a man directing her backwards through a crowded room, you will be a place for her to go and to enjoy an experience that will reverberate back into you. If she chooses to stay connected to you through that awkward silence between songs, consider yourself lucky and enjoy the moment for what it is: a blessing.

For more thoughts on tango and life by the Kayak Hombre, check out my books available on Special thanks to Lutin Wu for helping me redesign the cover of my second book 'Fear of Intimacy and the Tango Cure'.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Love Is The 5th Dimension

I think my computer is in love with me. I’m not sure how I know this but I’ve
noticed that it does not work well in the hands of others. Recently, I asked a
coworker to open the lid, it powers up upon doing this except in this case,
it stayed off. I told him to try again: same results. I took the laptop from him and
opened the lid and…..voila!
Love is a fantastical thing. It is my theory, as professed in my books on tango,
wiccans and other things, that it is a dimension unto itself. It is not simply a
strong emotion, but rather, it is a phenomenon that exists outside of the constraints
of time and space. It joins all things together and has an influence on the course
of events, be it a particle being repelled by another or the rejection of a lover by
his mate.

We are taught that Love is a strong feeling but it is much more than that: Love
exists where humans do not. It inhabits places and things as well as people. It is
in my computer and I am okay with that.

For more writings by the Kayak Hombre, check out his books available on Amazon and Kindle:

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Tango Touch

Touch. It is such an inconspicuous word for a sensation that has such an enormous impact on our emotions and on our lives. Touch is the feeling that remains with me long after the milonga has ended. So it was after some incredible dances with a delightful tanguera last Sunday. I was headed to the Baltimore area for work when I stopped to attend a practilonga in Media, PA, about two hours from my destination. I was on such a high when I left there that I could not listen to the radio for the rest of the ride. I drove the next hundred miles in silence, savoring the feeling of her in my embrace that was so clear it felt real.
Monday morning, I awoke in my hotel room to the thought of her in my arms. I could still remember quite vividly how she felt, my right hand on her shoulder blade, her back filling the nook of my elbow and bicep. Tuesday: same feeling but the memory is fading; I struggle to keep the impression of her in my mind fresh but it is fleeting. It is Wednesday morning and the recollection is almost gone. I am compelled to write or else the memory will be gone forever.
Touch is the sensation that keeps us coming back to tango like a drug addict to the needle. There is more to this sense than its mere definition suggests; it is an emotion that makes a memory; it is a digital readout of the person or object being touched; it is a sensation that records in our brains more than just texture and tone, it records possibilities.
Possibilities? Let me try to clarify that statement. If I pick up a million baseballs, one at a time, I probably will not remember touching any one of them. If I pick up a baseball my Dad gave to me, I will probably remember how the ball felt quite vividly as well as what I might do with it: throw it back to him, put it in my glove, toss it up in the air a few times, etc.
I did not remember how this particular tanguera smelled until I started writing about her: she smelled good, I remember the odor of her perfume made me think of a western forest and pinon pines, a desert aroma that is also sweet.
Her fragrance, however, was not the sensation that accompanied me on the rest of my drive, nor did it invade my thoughts in the early hours of the morning. It was the memory of the touch of her body that did this. There was a feeling of satisfaction when I touched her, maybe something more, I think she was happy. Whatever she was feeling I could sense that it was a good feeling through the contact of our bodies within the tango embrace.

This is my digital readout of her but what of the possibilities? Well, that should be obvious: we will dance again and the dancing will be good.

For more thoughts of the Kayak Hombre and Tango, check out his books available on Amazon and Kindle:

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Happy Ending

On my tango journeys out West I met a woman and fell in love. Love is a college filled with incredible avenues of learning unavailable in other courses of instruction. We shared many things but mostly we shared insights into our perceptions of tango. From our discussions I discovered a simple trick to make many of my tango engagements remembered favorably by my partners. The trick is to end the dance on a positive note and the way to do that is in the execution of the final release.
I had been dancing tango for five years when I met her and thought I knew everything but really I was just beginning to learn what is truly important to a tango encounter. Instructors of milonguero-style had swept through the western cities of Denver, Albuquerque and Tucson yet I had never heard of it. I was a New-York-City-style dancer, educated in all the fancy moves: lifts, volcadas, colgadas, etc. Tango to me at that time was more of an acrobatic feat than a true connection with my partner whom I barely understood, though, in my naivete, I assumed I knew all I needed to know.
My lover was a total beginner. I took it upon myself to educate her properly in the art and she blossomed like a flower, revealing to me a beauty of the dance I never knew existed. Because we were lovers, I was able to ask her questions about the men she danced with and felt certain I had gotten honest answers.
It takes three years to learn how to hold a woman in the tango embrace. It is not just an act of understanding the physical mechanics of where to place your arm and how to arrange your spine. It is the composition of many things, of mind, body and emotions. Holding a woman, a strange woman whom you’ve never met, has to be done from an attitude of respect, your mind must be clear of primal thoughts but those thoughts must not be hidden. Tango is full of paradoxes. You must project confidence and be calm. Above all, you must endeavor never to push her off her balance. If she is off-balance she will panic and that is no way to conduct a relationship, for that is what a tango dance is: a relationship if only for the length of the song or the group of songs that comprise a tanda.
We attended a tango festival in Tucson, then another in Albuquerque. In the spring of the year following the time when we first met we attended a close-embrace workshop in Salida, Colorado, taught by instructors well-versed in the milonguero-style of tango. This method of dancing focuses primarily on the emotional connection between a man and a woman and very little on movements beyond ocho cortado and caminar. Looking back, I probably gave the instructors less credit than they deserved because this workshop was the doorway to an invaluable insight for me into the tango connection. It was not so much what they were teaching that illuminated my experience, rather, it was what my partner was learning and what she was telling me about her experience that I found so valuable.
Here is what I learned from our late night and early morning conversations: if a close embrace connection is established then the disruption of that connection can be disconcerting to the woman. Every time your bodies disengage surface temperatures on the skin begin to drop and panic sets in for the woman; when contact is restored, calmness returns.
This was an epiphany for me and I was able to take this thought all the way to the conclusion of the dance encounter. If you are a follower of my blog you will know that I am a whitewater river guide at heart. A river runs through my life….literally. Of the many rivers I have worked on, the ones with great rides through the rapids at the end are the most loved by the rafting patrons. It is the final memory of the day and so it is with tango that the final memory of the dance should be the most pleasurable.
For the next four years after that workshop I worked on improving my performance of the release of the tango embrace after the dance. My lover and I had agreed that 2.5 seconds was the target duration of time that it would take to complete a proper disengagement of bodies though I have found, in practice, that it varies from woman to woman and from encounter to encounter: not all engagements are the same.
When the song has ended and everyone has stopped dancing, this is no time to disconnect abruptly. Doing so creates an unfavorable emotion and the entire experience may be counted as a failure. I have found that waiting for my partner to begin the release, either by her exhalation or a relaxation of her frame, eliminates the infusion of negative energy at the completion of the dance and, therefore, I believe, the registration of the dance in her memory as a positive experience.
Memories are a funny thing. We only remember things that we can associate with an emotion, be it positive or negative. The key, therefore, is to make that final moment of the dance a positive one by taking the time to allow her to disembark from your frame at her own leisure.
I began my tango education as a study of movement but I found this dance is about so much more than that. It is a dance about a woman and her experience of you, a man; an experience that is profound, unique and only available to those who venture to discover the universe that exists within another individual.

For more thoughts from the Kayak Hombre, check out his books available on Amazon and Kindle:

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Crazy Thoughts and Suggested Readings

Do you ever wonder about those things we cannot measure yet we know they exist? Things like love, faith and deja vu. At fifty-eight years of age I’ve come full circle; I’ve grown up believing in God and religion, eschewed my faith in an effort at practicality and find myself once again believing that there is a divine purpose in this world. I was led to this conclusion through tango and my inquiry into the physics of string theory and quantum mechanics. I believe we exist as both a particle and a wave of pure energy and, at any one time, we are either material or ethereal, depending upon the state of our subatomic particles.
Through tango I was able to observe the subtle yet powerful forces of human interaction. Learning how to use the cabeceo to invite a dance partner to join me on the dance floor taught me much about the language we share subconsciously when we are in a crowd; that we are one of many and that we exist as a singularity and as a part of the whole simultaneously.
I struggled to understand the tenets of string theory that propose multiple dimensions beyond those we take for granted: time and space. In my writings in Wiccans, Zombies and the Mayan Blood God,  I hoped to define, however inadequately, what another dimension may look like or be; that maybe our emotions and feelings of things we cannot explain or quantify are proof of those other dimensions. Writing is not my forte and I failed to realize any popular success from my endeavor but it helped me realize how great my lack of understanding truly was.
It’s all real. All we suspect and imagine are true as difficult as that may be to believe. Ghosts, goblins, the Bible, the Law of Attraction, evil spirits, angels, superstitions, all of that is all true. There is a reason why people purport the existence of these things to be true and it is because they are. Our fear of the dark is not an unrealistic emotion, it is our senses warning us that there are bad things out there that exist beyond the realm of what we can see with our eyes and hear with our ears or touch with our hands or taste with our tongues or smell with our noses; or maybe we do but just can’t comprehend what it is that we are seeing, feeling, hearing, tasting or smelling.

I know, this sounds like crazy but maybe crazy is what is necessary to come to terms with the insanity of the universe that we live in.

Want to hear more crazy thoughts of the Kayak Hombre? Check out my books available on Amazon and Kindle:

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Remembering the Double-Xanax Tanguera

Once I danced tango with a woman who was tall, with short hair that revealed an incredibly slender and beautiful neck. She was nervous and told me so, something I would have done when I first began dancing tango: put words to the awkward truth of my situation so I could forge ahead with this invasion of my personal space. For me it was an exhortation of my partner’s allure, which was not meant as a come-on, only something I needed to say so I could maintain control of my faculties and attempt to lead with some amount of proficiency.

That was years ago but I often think about her and how hard it must have been for her to attend the tango workshop where we met. In doing so, I realize what an amazing transformation I have gone through myself.

When I first started dancing anything I was full of preconceived notions that homosexuals were everywhere and all women were laughing at me...and that my stupidity was obvious to all. That last part would be true until I learned to keep my mouth shut. In retrospect, I think we all would appear foolish if we didn’t apply a filter to our thoughts which I did not do at the time.

Here is an example of my idiocy. I burned my hands with a rope during a rock climbing accident and both my palms were nothing but giant blister burns. I put gauze and ointment on my wounds and covered my hands with winter gloves when I went to my dance lesson at the local high school that night. I thought it would be cool, kind of like something Michael Jackson would do only with a full set of gloves. Eventually, one of my partners who happened to be a doctor, convinced me to take off my gloves. It took her just a few moments to conclude that I needed to go to the hospital which was advice I did not heed because I am a stubborn man.

That’s who I am: a man who doesn’t go to hospitals. It’s a wonder I am still alive at fifty-seven. I don’t like to go to four star hotels either. The formality of these places is too terrifying a situation for me to endure. I didn’t go to the prom and would have skipped my graduation if it wasn’t necessary for me to get my diploma and escape high school forever.

I tell you this to let you know how hard it was for me attend my first public dances. I wouldn’t have endured the immense anxiety if I hadn’t been involuntarily celibate the three years before I began my education in dance. I was extremely paranoid of being laughed at, of being accused of being a homosexual, of becoming visibly aroused before an audience and of being exposed as a failure. In hindsight, I can see that I was overly self-conscious. All those things happened to me but they didn’t destroy me, in fact, they had quite the opposite effect: they made me stronger and more confident in myself. I had broken through!

I met her somewhere out West at a tango workshop.

“I’m so nervous,” she said, “I had to take two Xanax just to get myself to come here.”

I was flattered to have been the recipient of such an honest insight and responded in kind with a stupid revelation of my own, “Once I told my wife I was taking out the trash and came back drunk three hours later. I think she’d have been happy if I had gone to church and not gone to the bar.”

She responded by saying, “I would have been more mad if you had gone to church.”

Wow! This blew me away. It was then that I realized I had just made a new friend. We had something in common, we were both on journeys of self-exploration and were equally daunted by the task. I liked her, not in a sexual way although I cannot deny that I have entertained those thoughts; I liked her because of her courage which I knew from experience that was needed to throw herself into such a public confrontation with a member of the opposite sex.

My memories of her are my reward for having undertaken an adventure in tango. We had a platonic relationship that was not without moments of sensuality.

I started a practica in the small town where we both lived, an event held only a handful of times and attended by her, me and two others. I showed her how to do a proper molinete and we practiced it over and over in many different ways. I moved on but returned to the area a few times afterwards. Each time we danced was a delight in spite of the fact that she did not pursue tango instruction beyond that which was offered in the remote area where she lived. Our encounters were delightful because she focused on the perfect execution of the molinete which made me proud.

I have rarely taken it upon myself to teach a woman anything, she was one of the few exceptions and, even more rare, she was one of my few successes. Remembering this makes me happy because I know she could go anywhere and dance tango. She might not realize that but I do and I am glad. Once I taught a woman how to kayak in whitewater rivers. It was much harder but in the end she was able to go off on her own and paddle whitewater rivers throughout the world.

Knowledge of my success gives me satisfaction to this day.

On one of my returns to the area where my double-Xanax friend lived, we met at another tango workshop. I enjoyed many dances with her as we explored how to move in balance with each other. Afterwards, we had an early dinner at an Oriental restaurant and parted ways for the last time. She looked so beautiful sitting there across the table from me, her short hair, slender neck and brilliant smile making me feel like I was the luckiest man on Earth; I was absolutely enthralled yet I did not make a pass at her. It was such an enjoyable moment that the memory of it lingered on inside of me for weeks afterward. Eventually I had to put my thoughts into words and sent them to her. That made her feel awkward but I felt good about having done so.

It’s okay to tell someone how you feel about them even though that may make them feel uncomfortable. Dealing with our discomforts is one of the great lessons in life; not mistaking a sensual moment for an invitation to sex is another. Like Odysseus I have heard the sirens’ call and lived to tell about it. I find this incredibly rewarding. I don’t have fame or fortune but I have a wealth of memories that I can be proud of and that is something we should all strive for.