Sunday, December 9, 2018

Advice I followed (and advice I didn't follow)

We recently received a comment on one of our old posts from way way way back in 2010.  I had mentioned in the post that our great friend and teacher Alberto Dassieu had told me three little things that took my following to an entirely new level - but I didn't actually say what they were.

So Mikhail very kindly made a comment (And thank you for reading our old posts, by the way!) and asked me whether I could share Alberto's advice.   

Sure!  What Alberto told me was (Drum roll please):

1.  Do not go faster than the leader
2.  Do not stick out your hips/butt when you are doing a giro
3.  Do not do any adornments unless the leader gives you opportunity to

I will also throw in the advice that the legendary Osvaldo Cartery gave me:

1.  Pick up your feet!  (Meaning don't drag your feet on the floor making feet draggy sounds when you are walking.  Yeah, I know that's four words and I had said "three words" - and it was three, in Spanish, and I forget exactly what they were but that's what they meant.)

A lot of you out there may be going "Pffffft!  I ALREADY KNEW THAT!" and "But that's what everybody says!" but hey, those little things were EXACTLY what was wrong with the way I was dancing. They are still my golden rules and I follow them to this day.

People seek and receive a lot of advice about Tango.  I know some dancers who take every single group class and private class available from local and visiting instructors regardless of the style or ability of the said instructor (That's right, I look at some of these instructors and think "WTF?  Should they really be teaching?") and continue to pester the instructors for more tips at milongas outside of the classes.  

With so much time, energy and money thrown into Tango you would think these people would be really really fantastic dancers and teaching their own classes by now!

Reality is they don't improve.  They keep on dancing the same ol' way OR WORSE, they get so confused by the landslide of good, bad, conflicting and/or irrelevant advice they completely ruin their dancing.

I think what it boils down to is judgment - or luck.  You either have to "know" when someone is telling you something that won't work (or is a total crock of bull****) - or you have to be really lucky and meet the right teacher at the right time who tells you just the right thing and nothing more or less.

We were lucky and we had really great teachers who didn't bull**** us and knew what they were talking about.  Some other Tango Professionals/Long-time veteran dancers gave us advice too, and I'd say we exercised some really good judgment about most of it.

So off the top of my head, here's a random sample of some advice that we had received over the years which we followed or did not follow:

1.  "It doesn't matter what shoes you wear to Tango!"

That was stupid and dangerous advice.  Man Yung followed this advice being a newbie (and because he likes a challenge) and wore street shoes with non-slip ridged soles.

This story ends with him wrecking his feet and bleeding all over our carpet.

2.  "You have to do MORE adornments and show off to people your beautiful footwork!"

Maybe this is good if you are an instructor selling "Happy Spectacular Tango Fancy Feet Whizzing Flicking Tapping Drill" workshops.  

Otherwise, this level of adornistatic enthusiasm truly ruins your following.  See above Alberto's advice to me.

3.    "To look more grounded and "Milonguera", your feet have to stick to the floor with every step."

Tried it, filmed it during studio practice, and it didn't work.  Trying to make your feet stick to the floor doesn't make your feet look like they stick to the floor.  

However, relaxing your feet and ankles and NOT dragging them on the floor (as per Osvaldo's advice above) makes your feet look more grounded and "Milonguera".  Go figure.

4.   "A leader has to keep his left arm back while dancing - you have to be able to put an umbrella in that space between left hand/shoulder.  All good Tango leaders practiced with the umbrella!"

This is great advice.  I have observed that most women leaders actually get this (WITHOUT practicing with an umbrella!) and have their left arm in the correct position.  Do you know why women leaders get this?  Because they have all been on the receiving end of a man leader who DOESN'T do this.  If the leader has his left arm pushing forward the follower ends up with a really really (and sometimes permanently!) sore right shoulder.

I have been told I am one of the most comfortable leaders to dance with.  That's because I have had the most permanently aching sore wrecked right shoulder from leader left arm pushing and I don't want to inflict that on anyone I dance with (yes Man Yung hint hint).

5.  "Remember to Pause while dancing."

Absolutely mandatory advice.

You think Tango happens when you are doing a triple gancho boleo volcada enganche piña colada with a banana split and a cherry on top?  

It's all happening the Pause, baby!  Yes it is!

6.  "Dance no more than ten (10) steps during the whole milonga."

Our Maestro and friend El Gallego Manolo told us this and he knows a gazillion steps.  

There really isn't any need to do all gazillion at once.  If you are doing a gazillion it means that for at least a trillion billion of them, you aren't that familiar with them and you are practicing steps at a milonga which is a no-no.

In any case, from a follower's perspective a walk and a giro feels exactly the same whether the leader is doing them regular with two legs one after the other, with a hop, skip and a jump, or with a costume change in a telephone booth in between.  

7.  "Be natural."

Osvaldo told us this.  You shouldn't be dancing Tango like "I AM DANCING TANGO NOW!"

Tango walking is just like any other walking (Osvaldo would mime taking Coca by the hand and walking down the street to the market).

Man Yung explains: "If you eat an apple, you just eat an apple.  You are not trying to impress people with your apple eating skills, you are not showing to people how elegantly you are eating an apple.  You are just eating an apple."

8.  "I have no more advice for you.  You are fine as you are!"

Alberto said this to me.  And he was right - at some point you don't need any more.  

However, Alberto, Osvaldo and Manolo always had more advice for Man Yung.  Lucky Man Yung!

And some of it was even repetitive advice :-(

Sunday, November 18, 2018


The last of our original four cats died at the end of September.  It was a very difficult and sad time, but he had a long and happy life.  Two of our cats were strays we found on the street; the two others we adopted from the local shelter.  We had them before we started Tango, so they accompanied us on our Tango journey and witnessed all the ups and downs of our Tango adventure - and were really mad at us whenever we disappeared for two weeks to travel to Buenos Aires!

It was devastating to come home after a milonga late at night and have no kitties waiting for us at the door.  Sometimes we would forget that we had no more cats and we would open the door thinking he was still waiting patiently in his usual spot for us.

Man Yung didn't want to adopt any more cats.  He complained it was too much work to clean and care for cats, and he was getting older and too tired to deal with another cat. And we can't travel guilt-free if we have pets at home.

Actually I think he was most afraid of having to go through the grief of losing another cat.

I knew we had to adopt another cat.  There are so many cats in shelters waiting for their forever homes.  Having a cat is beneficial to mental and physical health and we would be doing a good deed.

And a home doesn't feel like a home unless we have a cat.

After much debate, we went to the shelter and adopted a feisty tiny two year old Tortie.  She had been found abandoned with her litter of kittens.  We don't know what happened to the kittens (the shelter wouldn't tell us) but when we got back to our condo, Mrs. B jumped out of the carrier and made herself home right away like it was destiny.

It's been only four weeks but it feels like we have had Mrs. B forever already!

Man Yung with Mrs. B, wearing his brand new 
Alice Starmore Kinsale fishermen's sweater that I knitted for him.  
It is a huge bonus that Mrs. B lets him carry her around like she was a baby :-)

Mrs. B doesn't Tango she doesn't know what the fuss is all about.  No partner is good enough for her! Joking aside, she can only be the sole cat in a house because she is very territorial and she attacks other cats.  She is great with people though.  A complete cuddle bug who purrs up a storm.

Mrs. B may not want to Tango (with other cats), but loving and caring for her and all of our original kitties IMHO made us better dancers.  And better people (hopefully).  There's nothing more wonderful than to infuse our dancing with all the (kitty cat) love in our hearts.

Just look at that sweet face!

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Death of the Embrace

A couple of years ago a very respected veteran Toronto Milonguera told me that a Milonguero Encuentro could not be organized in Toronto.

I was surprised she would say that.  There seemed plenty of "Milonguero Style" Toronto dancers in Toronto.  It's not like everyone is flocking to Nuevo Tango.  Why wouldn't an Encuentro work?

She was right, of course.  There are maybe TEN really good Milonguero Style dancers in Toronto now.... and most of them don't even come out to dance anymore.

Another Toronto Milonguera told me recently that she goes through phases of not wanting to come out to dance.  It was just too disheartening, arriving at some of the more popular milongas in town, anticipating a having a good time dancing - but leaving disappointed because:

1.  The FIVE really good Milonguero Style leaders have all decided to stay home (and not get kicked in the shins at the crowded and crazy popular milonga);

2.  Being asked to dance and having to dance with Flingy leaders who just want to do ten million giros, enganches and ganchos - all in the same tanda.  And not leading them very well either.

3.  Not being asked to danced by any of Competition Tango Laddies, because they like to stick with the Competition Tango Ladies who have all gone to the same classes as them and have been trained by the same Competition Tango instructors and therefore have a chance to understand WTF they are leading.

4.  Being asked to dance by any of the Competition Tango Laddies, and then not knowing WTF they are leading because hey, she never learned the same "Choreography".

5.  Not being asked to dance, or refusing to dance, because it's a raging seething sea of Flinging and Tango Competition Choreography out there.

#1-5 above means no fun AND it also means the Embrace is dead.  Or dying.  Or people think the Embrace is something that it is isn't what it really should be.

Even Flingers and Tango Competition Choreographers can write f'g beautiful, literate, convincing, bring tears to your eyes essays about the Embrace.  They truly may believe they are good/excellent/Tango Gods of Embrace because they have lots of dance partners/placed well in a Tango Competition/Teach and Perform Tango.

But come on, are they even Embracing?

Flingers only need the "embrace" like a Judoka wants you to put your hands on any part of his or her body in a fight.  Someone's gotta be touching you in order for you to execute a (Judo) move on them.

Please hold me tight... so I can throw the s*** out of you.*

Tango Competition Choregraphers look like they have perfect embraces - of course, they score points for them in Competitions!  The better the "look", the higher the score.  Some of these types of dancers will "rearrange" their partners embrace (basically by pushing them out of it) so it would look better and they will have some space to do some nifty Tango Competition Standard movements and adornos.

No, no, no!

I am in the minority I guess in the Brave New Tango World of flinging and competition but that's not the Embrace for me.

I won't Embrace someone just so I have a grip on them and can make them "do stuff".

I am not Embracing someone in a certain way so that I would "Look Good" and "Score Points".

Embracing someone and thinking "Moves!" or "Looking Good!" is a failure to Embrace.

To Embrace, you have to be completely present in it, not elsewhere with your thoughts.

You have to give your whole Embrace to your partner, and in return they have to give their whole Embrace to you.

All those Tango pauses you are supposed to do with the music?  They aren't to show off your Tango posture or to show off your ability to pause strategically to win points and admiration.  They are moments to feel the Embrace more deeply and intensely.

And to connect with your partner completely.

Dancing Tango without the Embrace is like stuffing your mouth with shovels of food, but Tasting absolutely nothing.

*By Mhultstrom - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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