Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Progress


My tango walk used to look light, flimsy and ungrounded.

No matter how much I tried to step heavy, lower my centre of gravity, get grounded and make my feet stick to the floor, my walk still looked like a delicate twinkle-toed tango balancing act with two wobbly chopsticks on a blustery day.

Today - try as I might, no foot-lifting, tip-toeing or all-round prancing I do can duplicate the "Stick Insect in a Wind Tunnel" walk of yesteryear.

Is it all that practicing to be grounded, or could it be the weight gain (from too many lamb kebabs and too much sitting and knitting)? Whatever it is, my walk is visibly matronly.

For those who may enjoy and advocate the "Ballerina does Tango en pointe" look, this development may appear to be quite the opposite of progress....

Monday, July 27, 2009

Martha and Manolo at Salon Canning


Just received an email from Martha and Manolo - they will be performing at a special event at Salon Canning on August 20, 2009. If you are in Buenos Aires at that time don't miss it!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Disappearing in Three Acts

I.

Our cat Mr. B disappeared for a full fifteen minutes this morning. Perhaps he was chagrined by the presence of noisy contractors who came inside our unit to change the fan coil filter. In any case, Mr. B responded to neither calls from Man Yung, the rattling of the kibble bag, nor even his favourite catnip treat.

When Mr. B did not appear when the catnip was produced, Man Yung became frantic. He ran to look for him in the outside hallway, and up and down the fire stairwell. He even asked the fan coil people whether they had seen Mr. B. No luck.

Man Yung almost had a heart attack there and then thinking that Mr. B had gone down to a different floor on the elevator or perhaps he had snuck into another unit to be turned into someone's "Dragon/Tiger/Phoenix soup" dinner (the "Tiger" in this famous chinese dish is actually CAT).

Well, after fifteen minutes, Mr. B finally appeared - not in the least bit troubled by the fuss that his disappearance had caused.

II.

I myself have been in a state of disappearance for the past week. It started when I received a package from Jan in Cornwall, U.K. last Monday containing 1500g of Frangipani guernsey yarn in "Herring Girl Pink". Not even the GPS sale at Wal-Mart, the new Harry Potter movie nor promise of an extravagant eight course "Thank-you" dinner by visiting relatives from Winnipeg could entice me to emerge.

When I finally reappeared this morning, all I had to show for my disappearance was this:


A slightly used cone of yarn, pretty sore hands and 10 cm worth of sweater (Alice Starmore's "Fulmar" from her book "Aran Knitting") knit in the round.

Make no mistake - the sweater is not for me, it's for Man Yung. Yes, it's pink, and yes, Man Yung chose the colour. Because real men are not afraid of wearing cotton-candy, "Herring Girl Pink".

III.

I thought I was dancing with Man Yung on Saturday night during our practica. In fact, he had disappeared.

The key to make Man Yung dance without him thinking about steps or whether I should be knee-lifting, mule-kicking or foot flicking a little bit more to emulate the newest Geraldine embellishment is to make the music so good he can't think about anything else but dancing to the music. So I compiled an hour of Man Yung's favourite music, ever. A tanda of Di Sarli with Jorge Duran, followed by D'Agostino with Vargas, then a tanda of vals habitually performed to by Osvaldo and Coca and Alberto and Paulina etc. etc.

I even snuck in some not so traditional stuff that he always wants me to include "for fun!!" but I have been quite resistant to (too weird for me, thanks!) - like a tanda of FOUR DIFFERENT VERSIONS OF THE SAME TANGO and even a tanda of.... GARDEL.

Did Man Yung make any comment about the scrumptiousness of my music selection? Did he even raise an eyebrow when the third or fourth version of "El Adios" started playing? Did his dangerous attempt at dancing to the music of Carlos Gardel drive him insane?

Not at all! Apparently, as they say, "The lights were on but no-one was home." Man Yung was somewhere in the outer reaches of the cosmos at one with The Great Spirit of Tango from the moment he heard the opening notes of "Muriendome de Amor".

Good thing that we videotaped the whole hour. Because when Man Yung reappeared, I showed him the video and had the pleasure of hearing remarks from him like, "What? We were dancing to Di Sarli's 'Whisky'?", "I didn't know that you put in FOUR different versions of 'El Adios'!" and "You played a whole tanda of GARDEL!!!???!!?"

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Alain Delon and the Mr. Men

Alain Delon!!!

Man Yung grew up watching Alain Delon's movies whenever they played in Hong Kong back in the 50's, 60's and 70's.

If you think that people were crazy going to watch "Dirty Dancing" four or five times - well, watching every Alain Delon film four or five times in a row was merely normal for Man Yung. "Plein Soleil", "Borsalino", "Le Samourai", "Rocco e i suoi fratelli", "Le Cercle Rouge", "Scorpio" etc. etc. - you name it, Man Yung has not only watched it, he could give me a detailed account of the plot with an accurate description of what Alain Delon was wearing in the movie thirty years after!

Right now, Man Yung has got me hooked on Alain Delon movies too. Great movies, great actor, impeccable style and class, impossibly handsome - who can dispute that Alain Delon is the real deal? If you add the combined ages of Man Yung and myself together, you will get a number that is darn pretty close to 100, but that alone would not stop us from squealing like pre-teenage schoolgirls at a Wham!* concert whenever we think of how dreamy Alain Delon is.

Alain Delon!!! with oh, some clingy woman** (I don't blame her)
in Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Eclisse


While Man Yung's formative years were heavily influenced by Alain Delon, I, on the other hand, grew up with the Mr. Men:

Roger Hargreaves' the Mr. Men

I had the Mr. Men Board Games (Mr. Men Dominoes were the apex of fun - I played these with my grown-up twenty-something uncles on our trip to Scotland until we nearly missed the train) and the Mr. Men Stationery Pack, but I only had two of the Mr. Men books - the stories of Mr. Bump and Mr. Small. I spent the rest of my short English childhood feeling deprived and wishing that by some magic happenstance someone would send me a care package of the complete set of Mr. Men books. Because to a five year old, the Mr. Men were way cute:

Take your pick....

Well, all good things have to come to an end - the Mr. Men didn't seem so hot anymore when one reaches the ripe old age of six.

The great mystery is this: Why then, do we have grown women in Tango still salivating and fighting tooth-and-nail over the various Mr. Men that they encounter at the milongas?

The last time we checked:

Mr. Bump, despite being a true floor hazard, always has his pick of young chicas to dance with. His best buddies Mr. Rush, Mr. Topsy-Turvy, Mr. Dizzy and Mr. Clumsy have quite a following too.

In a case of the blind leading the blind, Mr. Daydream dances with with his eyes closed, with lovely swooning partners - who also have their eyes closed.

Mr. Uppity, Mr. Mean and Mr. Fussy doesn't dance with just anyone that doesn't belong in the same class (or clique) as them. They are afraid that ordinary tangueras will find them too amazing. Their general sour uppity-ness doesn't stop most tangueras from lusting over their "manly" embraces - indeed, rejection from these Tangueros is a mandatory "rite of passage" for all Tangueras.

Mr. Silly, Mr. Funny, Mr. Nonsense and Mr. Wrong are so hilarious, they should get together and form their own stand-up comedy troupe. But instead they are formulating their graduate thesis on Tango and its relationship with Far-Eastern Philosophies and wowing the chicas on the dance floor with their ingenuity and "deep thoughts". If they take it even further they can be Mr. Clever, who has given up his lucrative high-paying day job to be a Tango teacher and is now putting his M.B.A./J.D./Ph.D. and advanced marketing skills to good use attracting the masses to his pricey, long-winded but utterly useless Tango workshops. Oh, and did I mention that the chicas love to dance with him?

Mr. Messy may look and dress like a temporary Toronto garbage dump - but he is a special favourite with the ladies because he is from Argentina and teaches tango.

Mr. Greedy's big paunch (Or is it Poncho? I can never tell the difference) makes him just as popular as, or even more popular than the average Milonguero when it comes to dancing Tango.

And last but not least, Mr. Tickle's long twisty arms can be found in every corner of every milonga - grabbing all sorts of asses. I don't know how he can find enough spare limb to lead the women he is dancing with with all that grabbing.

Oh, Tango's worthy Mr. Men - you are lucky that Alain Delon doesn't dance Tango. Because if someone with real good looks and real talent and real class like him danced Tango, there won't be a single Tanguera left on the dance floor - they will be all too busy drooling over him.

Meanwhile Man Yung and I will be busy ogling Alain Delon riding a motorcycle here:





Alain Delon!!! and Dalida - "Parole Parole"

* If you know what I'm talking about when I say "Wham!" then you are no spring chicken either.

** I'm just kidding - the lovely lady is Monica Vitti - pretty dreamy in her own right!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Es Facil!!!

One of the weirdest things I remember is my mother "not-teaching" me how to knit.

"Well," you say skeptically, "I've heard about people teaching people how to knit. How can you 'not-teach' someone to knit?"

Once, in my youth, I said I wanted to learn how to knit, and my mother grudgingly agreed to teach me - but only after many lectures on how difficult it is to learn how knit, how much patience it would take (I guess I didn't have any), and how impossible it would be for me to understand the many factors that go into the making of a knitted garment that was passed onto her through generations and generations of ancestral knowledge. It was also severely stressed to me that I simply did not have the right combination of DNA to embark on such a complicated, dexterous, lady-like activity such as knitting - apparently all the robust and hefty women on my father's side of the family were more suited to farming, ditch-digging and hog-wrestling than delicate craftwork). Given all these difficulties, my mother made it clear that teaching me how to knit will take a lot of effort and time and probably shave off a couple of years off her young life - and I better be grateful.

"Hey Mom! Hog Wrestling takes skill too!"

All that nagging and we hadn't even started. Finally she got out the yarn and the knitting needles. My mother cast on the stitches. Then she knit a couple of rows to show me how to make knit stitches. I tried one or two stitches - but they weren't to her satisfaction so she unravelled them and knit them again. I tried a few more - not perfect, and therefore not satisfactory, and so forth. Even when my knitting was "passable", I was not allowed to knit to the end of the row, or to purl on the wrong side - my mother took care of all of that. Why bother to explain to me how to do it and let me try? I wouldn't "get it" anyway.

So the whole bizarre experience had me knitting a few stiches on every other row, and my mother frowning and cursing and knitting all the rest. I came out of the experience with absolutely no clue as to what I was doing.

My mother had effectively "not-taught" me how to knit.

Can you blame me for dropping the needles and not picking them up again until a good two decades later? And when I finally did, I got myself a "Knitting for Dummies" book out of the library, spent about half an hour figuring out how to cast on - and within weeks I made a sweater!

OK, that sweater was knitted top to bottom completely "wrong" - I twisted every single stitch I was supposed to knit - but the important thing was that I did it all myself. I simply learned by doing, without being held back by nagging doubt or disparaging voices of doom.

And guess what? I found that knitting is EASY. There was absolutely no basis for any belief that I was "fiber-craft challenged".

After this life-lesson, I found that a lot of other things were easy if I put my mind to it (without shortening anybody's life). But with my kind of childhood (you can only imagine) occasionally I can slip up and start wallowing down The Memory Lane of the Pits of Despair in the Slough of Despond.

Tango for instance. How many times have I looked at some dancer, teacher, performer executing some seemingly impossibly skillful elegant move and said "I'll never be able to do that!!!" All too often. And there are dancers and teachers out there who will smirk and tell you precisely that you would never be able to do what they can do. That is, unless you take plenty of private classes with them - because they hold the secret to all of Tango-verse and you will never, ever get it unless you shell out the big bucks, perhaps even sell...your...soul.

When we first began learning Tango, there was a very dedicated middle-aged lady who was "not-taught" Tango by a local teacher. Every week she would pay $100 for one hour of private class, and her teacher will proceed to criticize every aspect of her posture and dance until she was bathed in a cold sweat and too terrified to even move.

She was dancing just ok when we first got to know her - she could follow a bit. But after paying all that money to the local teacher and all that working over in a year of private classes, she was so embroiled in the nightmare of her own inadequacies she couldn't dance at all. No-one wanted to dance with her, not even the worst leaders, because she would be so paralytically unresponsive. She soon dropped out of sight.

How refreshing it was then for us to encounter wonderful teachers like Martha and Manolo. Whenever we would say that something they were teaching us was "difficult", they would tell us no, not at all. Emphatically, they would say - "Es facil!!!". Yes, learning Tango is (and should be) Easy.

When they taught, they really taught. And if we didn't "get it", they encouraged us to try, try, try again. They never made it seem like learning Tango was some big mystery. Just practice, repeat the moves, let your body get accustomed to what you are doing - and you'll eventually get it. And if we were still encountering difficulties, they'd steer us back on the right path with a simple explanation.

In our experience, the best Tango teachers won't be spending half the class talking and sprouting incomprehensible mumble-jumble about Tango history/philosophy/spirituality, and the other half of the class criticizing and belittling every move you make until you are paralyzed with fear. Whenever you encounter any teacher using such methods to step on you and elevate themselves to some kind of "private-class worthy" pedestal - beware.

Man Yung was never too impressed with the naysayers. His favourite saying: "They have two arms and two legs, I have two arms and two legs - what's the big deal?" It's a good thing to keep this in mind and also this little tip from Martha and Manolo - "Es Facil!!!" Don't let anyone tell you anything different.

Alberto Dassieu

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