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What Does Wayne Nelson Like to Do When He Is Not Being a Statistician?

1 May 2018 No Comment
Wayne Nelson dances with his tango partner, Cheryl Monti, who he calls an angel.

Wayne Nelson dances with his tango partner, Cheryl Monti, who he calls an angel.

Who are you, and what is your statistics position?

My name is Wayne Nelson. I am a semi-retired private statistical consultant and leading expert on reliability data analysis, recurrent events data analysis, and statistical methods for accelerated testing. I also give training courses for clients and professional societies. An employee of General Electric Corporation Research and Development for 24 years, I consulted across the company. As an adjunct professor at Union College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, I taught graduate courses on the theory and application of statistics.

Tell us about what you like to do for fun when you are not being a statistician.

When I was 12, my grade school gave me ballroom dance lessons with girls. Now 81, I’m still dancing with them—but, today, it’s Argentine tango, which is a three-minute romance. Seriously, dancing social ballroom at age 60, I discovered Argentine tango, became addicted, and now need a “tango fix” two or three times a week.

What drew you to this hobby, and what keeps you interested?

Argentine tango has various charms. Few in number, tangueros are friendly and welcoming to all dancers. I’ve been warmly welcomed in dances all over the US and abroad, including Buenos Aires, Cairo, Mexico City, Bordeaux, and embargoed Havana (I went there as a wetback).

Used to dancing chest-to-chest (heart to heart) and cheek-to-cheek, tangueros warmly hug friends on greeting. No other dance has such intimate contact—chest, head, feet, calves, and, yes, thighs.

The women dance only on the balls of their feet and have gorgeous legs. It is the world’s most difficult social dance, an enticing challenge that requires years to master. I’ve been working on tango for 20 years. Still humbly learning.

Tango music is romantic, beautiful, and expressive of feelings. Good social dancers express the feeling of the music using suitable “figuras” (dance patterns) and rhythms; that is, they spontaneously choreograph. Such musicality is rare in social ballroom dancing, which uses a simple repeating rhythm for each dance style. Hear the beautiful tango “Invierno” [Winter] and see charming professional choreography on YouTube.

The best dancers have outstanding technique that feels wonderful to partners. Ballroom partners are performer wannabes and try to look good. Tangueros try to feel good to partners. My partners have ranged from clumsy sumo wrestlers to butterfly angels who are lighter and follow me better than my shadow. I always fall in love with the angels. A tango with an angel is three minutes in heaven. Such a tango dance is described in Buenos Aires as “one heart with four legs.

Now 81 and an advanced dancer, I am flattered when asked to dance by gorgeous young 60-year-olds I don’t know. At a tango dance in the Catskills, Marilyn—a most attractive and skilled tanguera—invited me to dance with her in New York City. We’ve danced in Central Park, in the pavilion at the end of Pier 45 as the sun sets in New Jersey, in the UN Building, and in many tango clubs and dance halls. Tango brought me this much-treasured friend.

Some special tango moments for me include:

  • Anne, my beloved dance partner and sweetheart of 27 years, took me on a tango cruise. It departed from Venice and stopped at various Greek ports (including Rhodes and the ancient Olympics site) and beautiful medieval Dubrovnik. Our group of 25 tangueros had classes every morning, an adventure ashore in a new place each afternoon, and a private tango dance at night. Our eight teachers put on a first-rate tango show in the ship’s theater; it attracted 300 passengers just by word of mouth. The trip included memorable stays in Venice and Florence.

  • As a raw beginner, I went to tango boot camp in Buenos Aires for a week in 1997. In a class of 25 beginners, I was taught a figura by a maestro (master teacher) each afternoon, followed by a practice with five or six attentive teachers who drilled me on technique involving balance and delicate connection with partner that does not disturb the partner’s balance and movement. Each evening, we went to a different dance club, struggled on a crowded floor, and also saw a tango show. Still needing boot camp, I repeated it the following year. Boot camp showed me what technique I needed to learn to dance well with a partner. I am still working on improving technique.

  • Buenos Aires is the Mecca for tangueros. Self-employed and having a good boss, I have spent five weeks there in March and April each year since 2000. A high point was my Fulbright Award to teach reliability statistics in Spanish to engineers there for three months. Of course, you know why I chose Buenos Aires and what I did in my free time.

  • Recently, for the first time, I attended the Stowe Tango Music Festival, where scores (no pun) of musicians improved their skills, instructed by maestros. For four days, 100+ tangueros participated in dance classes and danced to a live orchestra of 23 musicians who raised the hair on the back of my neck.

  • There are customs at tango dances. You do not approach a tanguera and ask her to dance. In ballroom dancing, just asking is customary. To invite a tanguera, you must catch her eye (sometimes across the dance floor) and smile and nod. If she smiles back, you go to her and dance. If she ignores you, you’re out of luck. The tangos are played in a tanda, a set of three or four tunes of the same style and by the same orchestra. On hearing the first notes of the music, you can invite a partner suited to the music and dance that tanda with her. Some tandas have other styles of music such as swing, Latin, polka, paso doble, etc. In Argentina, they do the chacarera folk dance. In Mexico, they dance traditional danzón, which is like rumba but more complicated. Most music at dances is by the famous orchestras of the Golden Age of Tango—the 30s, 40s, and 50s—and some is by more recent orchestras. We dance to three styles of Argentine music:
    • Traditional tango with a 2/4 or 4/4 (march) tempo
    • Waltz tango with 3/4 time (a three-beat measure), which is like a Viennese waltz but with a faster tempo
    • Milonga with a 2/4 or 4/4 (march) tempo, which is faster than traditional tango

    These dance styles have a common base, and each has some unique steps and customs. There are other styles of tango. In the US, ballroom dancers dance “American tango,” which is much like fox trot danced to music with a heavy drum beat, for example, “Hernando’s Hideaway.” International tango is a studio-invented competition style with exaggerated stylized movement, such as head snapping, and the men wear tails and the women wear long ball gowns. In addition to the social Argentine tango, there is professional stage tango, called fantasy tango. It is athletic and complicated with high speed and lifts.

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