Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Buenos Aires 2007 Part IV

Dear Veronica,
Here is what is happening in Buenos Aires over the last few days:

It has been really humid here. Not always hot or sunny, but the humidity makes you feel gross within 5 minutes of walking outside. The city was nicer on the weekend: during the week it is really congested and polluted, with the buses sprouting more black smoke than usual.

Tomorrow is the last day of the Camicando (Canyengue, Milonga, Candombe) festival and boy it isn´t too soon. We have been taking five 1 1/4 hour classes every day from 1 p.m. to 8:15 p.m., and it is getting painful. My feet hurt like hell and even Man Yung can´t walk properly this morning. We have learned a lot though, both in terms of shaping up our Martha and Manolo style milonga and Canyengue, and also learning new stuff from Osvaldo and Coca.

The classes are held at La Nacional, which has air conditioning, but for some reason it has been erratic. So most of the time we are sweating a lot, and then freezing a lot, etc. You can imagine us on one hand trying to wipe away the sweat from all that exercise, and then wearing scarves. There are about 50 - 60 people taking classes, some of them disappear and only take one or two classes a day, and around 25 are taking almost all the classes. Most of the people are foreigners, with South America (Brazil, Chile, etc) well represented, as well as Europeans. We are the only asians. I think to the others it seems that we learn the steps so fast it is magic (!) of course unless they have talked to us they wouldn´t know that we have already been through one whole month of classes with M & M and some of the classes in the festival are review.

There is one class of milonga taught by Osvaldo and Coca, the 2004 salon tango world champions. We originally had no expectations of what they would teach because of a comment that Ercument had made to us. He took classes with them when he was in Bs As and he said he ¨didn´t really learn anything, and it was really hard to understand O & C because they didn´t have any teeth¨. Anyway, he couldn't be more wrong - we think they are utterly fantastic. Not only are they really willing to teach in the same way that M & M are, they also have very useful and beautiful technique to teach. They are a really funny and natural couple, full of life and affection for each other, and they are always joking around. Osvaldo looks like an animated skeleton - He is stick thin, and he is always in the middle of a large gesture, flailing arms and legs and the like. He has a really strong accent, I don´t think he ever pronounces any ¨s¨ or ¨v¨ or even ¨b¨, in fact I don´t think he ever pronounces any vowels, so he sounds kind of vietnamese-argentinian, if you can imagine such a creature ;) but I find that I understand him and especially Coca quite well when they teach. And they are really willing to teach! Almost the first thing they taught was something Man Yung had desperately wanted to learn from watching their videos. None of this nonsense that a lot of teachers we know in Toronto engage in - not willing to teach or teaching very little (or not really having anything to teach but always telling the student that they aren't ready yet for the next thing) so they can milk their students for years.

Tonight was ¨Milonga with Show¨ night at La Nacional (on Friday we will have a closing milonga at Confiteria Ideal). Martha and Manolo put on a really great performance, but we always have great anxiety they will slip make a false step, you know? They are getting on in years and yet they do such difficult steps, it is like watching them walk on a tightrope. Osvaldo and Coca are a different matter, perhaps it´s because we aren´t close to them, and also the type of dancing they are doing is not as tricky, but we know they have very low risk of falling flat on their faces when they perform. They put on a great show. And a half hour later another young argentine couple performed who were not part of the Camicando festival. It was cringe worthy watching them perform 1) New tango, with Cirque du Soleil like moves, and 2) Milonga that had been choreographed. Their frames were awful and they didn´t follow either the music or the rhythm.

This was also the first time we had gone to a ¨tourist¨ milonga downtown. As I had predicted, we didn´t like it, I was totally justified in not choosing to go to any of the big tourist downtown milongas last weekend. As I had expected, there were Japanese, European, North American and young hip Argentinians, and a few older, what I would call ¨fake milongueros¨ trolling for tourist dollars or cheap thrills with tourist ladies. All of them dancing as if to put on a show for other people. Not that the level of dancing wasn´t good, it reminded me a lot of Montreal, but then, I have never been a fan of Montreal dancing, it had always seemed to me so exhibitionist and self-centered, self-important. It was pretty crowded and there were a lot of people doing big movements and high ganchos, or speeding all over the place like it was the Gran Prix racetrack, but we had no problem navigating the floor. However, I couldn´t stop myself from grinning because it was like dancing in the middle of a big circus - some guy dressed to impress in red ¨Je suis Parisien!¨necktie and big floppy white shirt with big sharp extended elbows to the right, some girl dresses up in nuevo tango harem pants and a bra to the left, some other girl with a really constipated expression on her face behind us trying to emote "I feel the music!" behind us. Another girl was wearing a see through dress so see through you can see her peach panties ;P And there was this absolutely ridiculous guy dressed up in a green bandana looking like Pirates of the Carribbean, doing the "I´m going to dance show tango during the cortina so everyone can see my fantastic performance" jig. Man Yung said he should have thrown the guy a loonie. Anyway, it was a real horror and I was really glad that Man Yung can see what I meant when I said I don´t want to go to any milongas that are a hornets nest of tourists. We only danced a couple of tandas - one tango, one milonga and one canyengue, and for the rest of the time we just sat down and shook our heads at the carnival.

All that time spent at the festival doesn't mean we didn't have time to buy shoes! Our shoe tally: Three pairs of Comme Il Faut with more to come for me, and one pair of burgundy-beige practice shoes from Tango Brujo. For Man Yung: One pair of black leather wingtip shoes from Neo Tango, two pairs, one beige and brown and one brown and black from PH Tango (recommended by Martha, but located about 30 minutes from downtown in Nuevo Pompeya), and one pair of blue and black practice shoes from Tango Brujo. I tell you, if we didn´t get the practice shoes we would have not survived the last two days of class.

PH Tango was interesting by the way. We really got to see a lot of the "real" city in our ride to and from the store. The low gray or white cement buildings, the everyday stores with the not-so-fancy painted signs, the corner bar/cafes with the neon lights, people going about on their business in the working class neighbourhoods. I loved it. The store itself is a one-storey building located on an intersection of inner streets far away from the main street, both a factory and a retail store at the same time.

Martha gets her really cool shoes with the metallic spike stilettos there - there weren't any ready-made pairs, and I didn't want to get a custom made pair, so I didn't get anything. It appears that they supply a lot of the shoes to stores like Tango Leike, I recognized some of the same styles. It was pretty quiet in the store - looked like they had just opened their doors and we talked to the lady in charge for a while. I'm surprised we could have an entire conversation in Spanish - about the Japanese (because in Buenos Aires apparently all asians who dance are Japanese!), about how her teenage children don't want to dance tango. She even complained that she wants to dance tango more, but her husband doesn't want her to because he is jealous!

Hope you are doing well and enjoying my accounts of what is happening. Take care,

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