Sunday, August 16, 2015

How to run a Super-Duper Authentic, Traditional Milonga in Toronto (Did we mention Super-Duper?)

 Where did all the people go?

1.  Make sure there is a strict dress code.  Tell everyone there is a strict dress code.  Emphasize that there is a strict dress code.  Lecture everyone on the strict dress code.  But when guys show up in shorts and sneakers and girls show up in daisy dukes and boob tubes, let them in!  When there's no air conditioning in the venue, you don't want people fainting from heat stroke.  Come on, it's not like people are showing up with fig leaves over privates or even stark naked, we're a Super-Duper Authentic Traditional milonga here.

2.  Match entradas to rate of inflation.  Inflation in Argentina, that is.  Raise the price two times in eight months!  Milonga organizers in Vancouver are obviously not savvy enough, still charging $10.00 for entradas across the board - here in Super-Duper we've just raised it $15, and when someone sneezes (or whatever other excuse you can come up with, like oooh, we're going to make someone perform tonight for your entertainment, or we are going to serve sandwiches) it's going to be at least $20!

3.  We pride ourselves on floorcraft and safety.  Everyone has to follow the rules.  That is, except if you are a tango professional.  Or even performers in the traveling tango show.  Then you can dance real big and aggressive and kick anyone you want.  If you aren't among the said elite professionals/performers, don't complain to us.  Not will we not say/do anything to curb the enthusiasm of the high kickers/unruly spinners, we will scoff at you.  You are just lucky we let you in to the Super-Duper milonga, paying $15 for entrada is cheap, you should be paying $30, or even $50 for the privilege of rubbing shoulders here with the Who's Who (Who? I've never heard of them before) of Tango. 

4.  We promise you one day, there will be air-conditioning.  Oh, isn't that what we have promised you every year?  Stop whining about the entradas, it goes towards air-conditioning fund.  Maybe.  And anyway, summers in Toronto aren't that hot.  Thirty-four degrees in the shade, that's practically frosty.  Just show up in your underwear and you will be cooler than cucumbers.

5.  Interrupt dancing with a long self-aggrandizing speech.  Who cares if people have tuned out the mumbling wind-baggy self-promoting proclamations of self-glory and self-authenticity and self-traditionality, this is what organizers do in Buenos Aires.  What?  No?  That's not what they do?  They are actually pulling lucky numbers out of a hat for fifteen minutes?  Ooops, shouldn't have cancelled the sorteo without a word.  But don't worry, will make the best of it - less time on sorteo, more time to spend on self-inflating incomprehensible speech.

6.  Toronto DJs not quite good enough for our Super-Duper Authentic Traditional Milonga.  Too "Toronto", too little "Argentino". Get a visiting Argentinian to guest DJ.  Any random Argentinian will do, just make sure he is fresh from Argentina.  If you are cooking a fish you want to make sure that he's jumped right out of the sea onto your plate - same with your Argentinian DJ.  Who cares if he doesn't know that there are supposed to be cortinas between tandas?  It's funny and refreshing if he just plays one vals (not one tanda/tandas of vals, but one vals).  And what innovation, to cheerfully blast at full volume orchestras that sound like Gobbi and/or Gente de Tango all freakin' night.   When the music suddenly stops mid-tanda several times a night, it's ok, gives people time to rest....otherwise how would they have energy to dance the seven or eight folksy/salsa-ry tracks he puts in a tanda of milonga?  Who cares about golden age, this DJ is 100% Argentinian and we LOVE IT.

In fact Argentino DJ is so amazing, it's like the music is playing by itself.  Oh wait - yeah, it is playing by itself, Argentino DJ is too busy boogieing down on the dance floor to give a flying f***.

7.  .....And if anyone complains about any/all of the above on Facebook, delete their ass!

"Deleting your comment is like the worse idea ever," said Man Yung when I told him that our complaint about the insane-asylum guest DJ got deleted in Facebook.  "Doesn't he realize that not just us, but scores of other dancers have legitimate concerns about the way the milonga is being run?  Someone who wishes the milonga to do well will speak up if something is wrong and hope the organizer will take the criticism seriously to improve the milonga.  But others may not be so forthright.  They may say nothing, or even offer insincere praise, like they "enjoyed themselves" when they didn't.  At the end of the day, people are going to vote with their money.  I see that some regulars have stopped attending regularly, the numbers are going down..."

"Oh well," I said, "Milongas in Toronto come and go.  You may be the hottest milonga in town one day, and then closing your doors the next.  An organizer has to be vigilant about keeping the quality of the milonga constant and keeping the regulars happy.  It's the regular dancers who make the milonga, not the visiting instructors/DJs/dancers.  People are not fooled by self-promoting speeches - if they had a bad time dancing at your milonga, they will stop coming.  If you don't make sure your regulars are happy - your competitors are watching you, no-one is invincible and there will be another milonga to take your place.  It's happened before.  Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Elina Roldan: "Mi tango nacío en Sarandi"

Just found this beautiful little documentary by extraordinary Tango teacher and milonguera Elina Roldan.  Elina is a gifted dancer, performer and teacher and a truly lovely person, what a delight to watch her dance and to listen to her words of wisdom about tango.  Enjoy!

Sunday, July 19, 2015


Whisky is Man Yung's favourite drink.  More than wine, more than beer, more than brandy.  In Hong Kong when Man Yung was a young man, whisky was not very popular.  People liked to drink traditional Chinese double distilled rice spirits (burned like hellfire going down, but cheap and widely available), or, if they were snootier and wealthier, they'd drink cognac.  There was a rumour going around that whisky reduced a man's...manly power, so the men would stay away from it.

"Why did you still keep on drinking whisky back then?  Weren't you afraid that the whisky will reduce your manly power?" I asked Man Yung.

Man Yung scoffed.  "The trouble was that I had TOO MUCH MANLY POWER.  Had to find a way to make it less!"

Once Man Yung was invited to dinner by a friend.  The friend asked what kind of drink Man Yung would like.

"Oh, how about Red Label?" suggested Man Yung.

Man Yung showed up to dinner...disappointed.  The "Red Label" was actually the Chinese double-distilled rice spirit called "Red Label".

"I thought you were going to get Johnnie Walker!" said Man Yung.

"I thought you meant - Red Label!" replied the friend, waving the bottle of rice spirit.  "How was I supposed to know you meant scotch?"

The other people might have no idea, but Man Yung knew plenty about whisky.  White Horse.  Vat 69.  Black and White.  Dimple.  There wasn't much single malt available in Hong Kong in the 70's, but Man Yung knew all the blends. Man Yung's favourite at that time was Black Label (Johnnie Walker, of course).

Fast forward twenty years later.  Knowing how Man Yung loves his scotch, I got a book out from the library to do some research. Everything you may want to know about single malt. The book made me confused.

"Why do all the bottles and labels look the same?  Why are there so many different freaking brands?" I flipped the pages impatiently.  "Man Yung, you have to help me out here."

Man Yung took a look.  "Well, I've had Glenfiddich and Glenlivet.  Drank a whole 1.14 litre bottle of Glenfiddich with a buddy in one sitting once.  Pretty good stuff."

"What about these other ones?  Aultmore?  Old Pultney?  Strathisla?"

Man Yung hadn't heard of them.  So we went on a field trip to the LCBO.

Luckily at that time LCBO was pushing the "Six Classic Malts".  Made it easy for us to learn about the different styles of single malts.   There was Glenkinchie, from the Lowlands.  Fruity and sweet.  Dalwhinnie, from the Highlands - Elegant and light.  Oban, from the West Highlands - like sea air, with a certain ozonic flash on the finish.  Cragganmore, from Speyside - Peaty and smooth.  Lagavulin, from Islay - smoky and strong.  And lastly, Talisker, from the Isle of Skye: rugged and intense; warm; briny and powerful, like a stormy sea under a rolling cloudy sky, like a handsome ebony-haired Byronic hero sailing into a maelstrom on an noble and impossible quest...

"You are only writing all this about bodice-ripping romantic novel hogwash about Talisker because it's your favourite!" said Man Yung.

Yes, Talisker is my favourite.  Man Yung agrees, it's terrific - layers of smoky flavour, lasting warm finish like rays of golden sunshine... I may have tasted better, more higher-rated whiskies since then, but Talisker will always be my favourite scotch.

What about Man Yung?  He likes a special little whisky called Longrow.  The distillery that makes it is actually called Springbank - and it's one of the last surviving distilleries in Campbeltown, which used to have so many distilleries it was named "Whisky Capital of the World."  Now only three are left.

Springbank usually makes a single malt called "Springbank".  Longrow was the distillery's experiment in making a heavily peated styled of whisky on the mainland, comparable to those made on the Islay (like Lagavulin).

They succeeded even beyond their wildest dreams.  Longrow is stuff of legend.  I'm not going to describe what it tastes like.  I'm just going to say that with one sip - Man Yung FELL IN LOVE.

In 2000, we managed to get our hands on two bottles before LCBO ran out.  Man Yung didn't dare drink too much, LCBO wasn't stocking any more.  He only drank Longrow on special occasions, when it was quiet and tranquil and everything was good and beautiful with the world.

It took Man Yung years to finish the two bottles, but all good things come to an end.  And, as I said, LCBO didn't stock Longrow anymore.  Until about 2011.  LCBO carried "Longrow" again! We were jumping up and down in excitement...until we tasted it.  Will remember that frickin' orange boxed watered-down disappointment forever, and not in a good way.  Some nonsense about being an "Entry-level" Longrow.  Wasn't even close to the Longrow that Man Yung fell in love with.

We were browsing through the single malt selections at Summerhill LCBO on Saturday when I saw it again.  Longrow.  I double-checked and triple-checked.  Is this some kind of fancy-schmancy entry-level hoodwinking monkey-piss Longrow again?  Didn't seem so.  I said to Man Yung, let's get it.  Man Yung said, No, I don't want to be disappointed.  Let's get Mortlach instead.  No, I said, I'm sure it's going to be okay.  Remember last time, Man Yung said.  Back and forth, back and forth.

Thank god for taste before you buy.  The hoity-toity bohemian-type couple in front of us were taking their sweet time with tasting a whole bunch of high class "Chateau" this, "25 year" that kind of things.  Lots of sniffing and swirling and spitting and making exaggerated faces of disgust.

Hurry up, hurry up, we silently cursed, it was like we had ants in our pants. 

Finally, the couple moved to one side to languorously gargle their selections.  The lady behind the counter asked us what we would like to try.

"Longrow please," I said.

She poured a tiny amount into a tasting glass.  "Could I have a bit more?" joked Man Yung.  The lady behind the counter giggled.  The couple stopped their gargling for a nano-second to smirk.

Man Yung took the glass and sipped.  He turned away and made a choking sound.

I looked over to Man Yung.  "Are you alright....?"

Man Yung nodded but hid his face.

The lady behind the counter smiled sympathetically while the hoity-toity couple continued to smirk.  Let's laugh at the Hillbillies.  Amateurs.  "It's okay - single malts are a little bit strong!  Would you like a glass of water?" she offered helpfully.

I turned to the lady.  "Oh no - he's not choking," I said, putting my arm around Man Yung and squeezing.  Yes, this was it.  "He's crying.*  It's his favourite whisky in the whole world, and it's been ten long years since he's tasted it."

Manolo once said that there's no shame in being able to feel. It's actually the most precious ability a person can possess.

Life is sweet and cruel.

* Man Yung was really crying.  "When I tasted Longrow again, all the memories came back," he said.

Alberto Dassieu


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