The Perils of Being a Songwriter-A Simple Wish-by Cynthia Brando

When I discovered the dance of tango, it was very unexpected. I never thought about tango, even though I had traveled to Argentina several years before I ever took a mixed Latin dance class. I took the class, thinking that I would really get into salsa or meringue. I didn’t even know tango would be on the menu; but during the last remaining days, the teacher, who had just started to learn some tango, decided to show a few steps to the class-so there it was-tango. 

I was not familiar with the music. The instructor put on a recording from the 30’s. A powerful voice came through the scratchy underlying sounds of violins and some sort of accordion sounding instrument I later found out was a German instrument called a Bandoneon. The music had such a nostalgic feeling to it-as if I were time traveling back to elegant ballrooms where the common fashions were suits and chiffon dresses. We learned a few moves, and they were not like other Latin dances I had tried before, where you moved constantly to a beat. The tango could be slow, so slow that it was encouraged to stop for several moments and reconnect to your partner-that it was an actual dance move called the “tango pause." The tango could also be fast, with sweeping leg movements to a frenzied violin. It was precise, yet fluid-grounded, yet lofty from a mixture of classical dance from a rapid migration of Eastern Europeans bringing ballet to Argentina. There were also elements mixed in of African and Argentine street cultures who danced in the barrios. It was complex and intriguing, and when I took my first steps, I immediately knew that it was for me. From that point, I was on the tango journey for some years, and at first-it brought me pure joy. The initial feeling was just that-joy. When I danced with joy, my body simply drew upon the muscle memory from every learned step and I didn’t have to think. My soul moved joyously to the freedom of intuition and spontaneity, which was quintessential to the tango and encouraged, as tango was often called the “jazz” of dances. The tango became the perfect balance of thought, feeling and action.  I absolutely loved it. 

dancing my passion-the tango. 

dancing my passion-the tango. 

My teachers were excellent, and like most things I developed a passion for,  I re-arranged my whole life to revolve around the tango.  I took classes, private lessons and workshops. I went away to tango excursions; I read books, listened to music and studied videos.  I wanted to be a great dancer, not just in how I looked on the floor, but in expressing something inside of me that I felt was vital that the tango could reveal. I wanted it so badly, that soon, the pressure began. Teachers who pushed your limits, paired with a critical and impatient self. I suffered from mental exhaustion, trying to grasp what exactly stood in the way of learning the next step difficult step and executing it flawlessly…being considered one of the “best dancers” and then the self consciousness that set in; frustration and giving up-ending it all and retreating-only to be re-awakened by the passion the tango stirred within me. I would return stronger from the much needed break and reflection, to dance the essence of something fundamental, for tango became a great philosophy, a metaphor for life. There were books called “The Zen of Tango”, classes on how to dance leading with your heart; the close embrace and how to communicate with your partner; instructions and discussions on balancing discipline with natural flow- I was deep, and I would often get lost-so lost that I would forget my one simple wish-to feel joy…..

I felt the same about my music. I had the simple wish to do what I was passionate about, and I had waited a long time to be ready to fully embrace it.  The joy was the same feeling I had about tango; it was simple-holding my instrument close, feeling the vibrations go through me as I strummed the strings on the guitar and the sounds cascaded; the release of sounds coming from the inside, then out…inside my guitar, and inside my body when I sang. It felt like such a powerful release; invigorating, yet calming at the same time; a loss of time and space-it felt joyous, this simple wish, to be in that state more often than not- it felt like the most important thing in the world, so I got on the ride. I quit my job, left my home, left behind the university education that would grant me a “real job”… Like the tango, I was ready for the commitment-I made the bold moves, and learned how it was a possibility to do the music thing in Los Angeles, but then realities set in. There’s the endless hard work to gain traction, the rearranging and sacrifices, the successes and defeats, the financial burdens of living in an expensive metropolitan area…I start to lose myself and feel pressure- to pay my bills and take care of myself; maybe even have some fun, but time is limited, and I’m older. Pursuing something with a strong ambition takes you into a different realm-the vibe changes; all of a sudden there is competition, worry and doubt. All for that simple wish-to feel joy. How did it get away from me?

Some look down upon pursuing an artistic career with the opinion that it’s “frivolous” or irresponsible; but for me, I just want what every person wants-to wake up in the morning and do a job that I’m passionate about.  I feel so strongly about it, that if I got off the ride, it would be a kind of death; yet sometimes staying on the ride can also feel grim. In tango when it became too much and I backed away and reflected on my simple wish of how tango made me feel. When I returned, I danced better, even though I would be out of practice. I loosened up-In music I have so much fear of loosening up-that the dream of becoming a self sustaining artist will slip away if I do it “just for joy”. But isn’t that why I started in the first place? Isn’t that why I’m supposed to be doing it? I always return to the word joy-some people like to say, "do it for the fun of it", but joy always felt a bit more magical then “fun”; sure it is great fun, but it is so much more...To focus on the sustaining energy of joy can lead to much more fulfillment, and many more chances of opportunities that can be seized by focusing on the sacred joyous feeling your passions stir.  I have hobbies and activities that are fun, and they serve a purpose that is more momentary, where as music and dance is much more than that in my life. 
    On this musical path, I have to remember that life is happening all around me, and that our passions can sometimes take over; blocking out the beauty of our dreams and wishes. Returning to joy, I languish in the fluidity of it; and the endless possibilities that joyous passions stir. In dance, we balance our bodies and trust in ourselves to move through space unencumbered, and in music; to have the confidence to share ones innermost experience. I look to joy to lift me up to face myself through the mirror of my art, to abandon fears, and open my heart.  

photo by Robert Soffian. 

photo by Robert Soffian.