Monday, September 28, 2009

Finding the Perfect Dream House


I have an acquaintance who just bought a new house. He's a smart, successful, shrewd guy, and there's no way that he's going to buy a house that is any bit less of a reflection of his smart successful shrewdness - so he made his agent show him about seventy different houses over the course of one month. None of them made the grade - too narrow, too wide; too old, too new; too much landscaping, too little; the location is no good, it's too expensive, the decor is outdated, the layout is too weird, the investment potential isn't good enough, the seller smells strange etc., etc., etc. It's a wonder that the agent didn't kill him.

Finally he settled on his "dream house" and made his offer - but now that his offer was accepted he hasn't had a day of peace. He's been calling his lawyer about three times a hour freaking out about the inspection, the survey, whether there's going to be some misrepresentation by the sellers, would he be cheated when it comes to the assumption of the utilities and adjustment of property taxes etc. etc.

Because god forbid that he made the wrong choice and that he wasn't as smart and as shrewd as he thought he was. It hasn't even occurred to him how absurd it is for him to buy a huge house with five bathrooms and a four car garage when only two people are going to live there. And they aren't the type to waste any money on household help.

I have another acquaintance who bought a little two-bedroom condo next to a hydro field. It's not close to all the shops and restaurants, it's way out in the suburbs, and the view - well, there's the hydro field, there's the road, and there's quite a bit of industrial area. The unit's not even going to appreciate that much.

He shrugs when you point out all the defects. "It's my slice of heaven," he says. "It's a place I can call HOME".

Guy #1 doesn't really need as much house as he bought. But he's under the thrall of a very powerful psychological force - the need NOT TO LOOK LIKE A LOSER. He needs something to show to his friends and family how much of a winner he is and how perfect his choice - do you think that all those house tours he is going to conduct and the house-warming barbeques he's going to throw are for his own benefit? How soon the novelty will wear off when reality settles in.

Just as a "Dream House" is not the equivalent of a "Dream Home" - great pedigree, fancy technique, elegant walks and impressive resume does not "Tango" make.

Man Yung has been telling me for years that I need to learn how to "Lose". It's hard to deprogram - my upbringing has instilled in me a very strong urge to be perfect and to succeed. They told me: Winning is everything, without it, your family would disown you and your friends would stop calling.

What a huge burden it is - to exhibit flawless technique, to follow perfectly, to never commit a milonga or cultural faux pas, to always choose to dance to the best music and with the best partner to build our Tango credentials. To be top five rather than bottom five. To be a Winner and never a Loser.

But tonight, thinking about what Man Yung has always told me about learning to "Lose" and the story of "Mr. Dream House", I think I have finally realized something. Tango is not about being perfect, and it is not about being a winner. Our dancing is not about him being better than me, or me being better than him, or us being better than anyone else, or even caring what other people think. If we make mistakes, or we dance like a couple of goofs - or even a couple of losers, it's ok because it's honest. It's an old cliche - "Dance like no-one is watching" - but how many people really know how to do that?

I dance with Man Yung, and he dances with me, because the Tango is in him, and the Tango is in me. To really dance Tango - we don't need to aspire to some kind of Tango Dream House. The most important thing is to have a space where we can laugh, live, play, be honest with each other, share our secrets, joys and sufferings, be each other's consolation, and above all - Love - "Be it ever so humble", there's no place like our Tango Home.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Milonga Paranormale

We came across this intriguing announcement in the local Tango resource on Sunday afternoon:

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Outdoor Milonga-all of September There is an outdoor Milonga at the Aurora Town Park Bandshell every Sunday evening from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm (or later), until the end of September. The Milonga is free of charge and everyone is welcome. The floor is concrete and easy to dance on. The Town Park is 2 blocks east of Yonge St. and 1 block south of Wellington St. in Aurora, Ontario. The bandshell provides shelter in a light rain only, and the Milonga will be cancelled if there's heavy rain or thunderstorms. Time: 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm Address: Aurora Park Bandshell Wells St. ,Aurora Email: auroramilonga@bell.net
*****************************************************
An outdoor milonga in the 905 area! Well, it sounds like an adventure and something we should check out - especially since it seems to be organized by "anonymous" and we were just dying to know who that could be!

We break out the handy GPS and headed out for the heart of Aurora, that leafy suburb of the suburb of the suburbs (now being gradually taken over by McMansions, big box retailers and gigantic Wal-Mart Superstores).

On the highway, we noticed that the sun was setting pretty darn fast - by 7:15 p.m. this far north of the equator on this clear cool day, it was already getting dark out. "That's kind of funny," said Man Yung. "Who would want to hold an outdoor milonga in the dark?"

After some hair-raising twists and turns down Wellington Street (those brand new street signs are hard to see!) and down some side streets, we finally reach "Aurora Town Park" at 7:45 p.m.

It's not a big park. Standing on one edge of the park, you can see the other edge. But boy, was it dark. Lucky the weather was too cold for the bats to be swooping around - although we did see one or two shadowy people taking their shadowy dogs out for a walk.

Yummy...."Spectral light" issuing forth from the trees at Aurora Town Park

"I don't hear any music," said Man Yung. And indeed, neither did I. We did hear some muffled cackling and guffawing from the innards of the secretive houses crouching at the edges of the park. But no music.

Groping our way through the dark, we arrived at last to the Bandshell... only to find it apparently completely deserted, and so dark you could hardly see your hand in front of your face. Where were the milonga revelers?

"Come out, come out, wherever you are...."
a.k.a "It's sure going to be difficult doing the cabeceo here"

"It's only 7:45! I thought the milonga was supposed to be from 7:00 to 9:00!" exclaimed Man Yung.

We decided to walk around the park - perhaps the milonga wasn't in this bandshell but in another "bandshell" somewhere else on the property? Well, we only came across a kiddie park (deserted), a baseball diamond (deserted), a glowing locked building that probably housed the toilets (or perhaps even the gates of HELL), and an empty ancient armory, rumoured to be the site of sadistic torture in the Golden Age of Tango - for dancers who dared to violate the line of dance (just kidding).

Toilet? Or the GATES OF HELL?

"Fine then," said Man Yung as we returned back to the deserted bandshell. "We can have our own milonga." We set up our mp3 player and gingerly put it on a ledge in a spot that didn't have any gum (or was it ectoplasm!!?) on it. And we danced the entirety of one (1) tango. The shiny concrete floor was not too bad for pivoting even in our street shoes.

It was only marginally fun. "Let's get out of here," I said. Maybe it's just me, but there's something about going to a pre-announced outdoor milonga and finding that not even the organizer has turned up that kind of puts a damper on the mood for dancing.

"If someone is going to organize a milonga, they should really make a commitment to be there from the start to the end - just in case some people show up," said Man Yung.

I remember this kind of thing happened to us once before when we went to the St. Lawrence Market outdoor milonga (the organizer thought no-one would show because of the drizzle and went shopping in the market). That time we spent the entire afternoon stuck in Toronto waiting for one of the evening milongas to start. This time we had to drive for more than an hour to get back downtown. And we never found out who was the organizer.

Or perhaps we were mistaken? We took these two photos of the empty bandshell within seconds of each other. We didn't notice anything odd until we got home and took a look at the photos. If you look closely, it looks like something.... was moving.... right there on the stage.....

Now you see it...

...Now you DON'T!!!!

We should just quit with our bellyaching - maybe the milonga was going on ........ and we just couldn't see it!

SPOOKY!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Regrets

In our tango journey, we've had terrific opportunities that we did not miss (like taking all 52 hours of classes that Martha and Manolo held in Toronto), and "Whew! Close-call" lucky breaks that we took advantage of (like not being fooled into choosing the nice young gentleman who dances badly in sneakers as our first Tango teacher).

But in Tango, as in Life, there are some things we cannot help but regret.

Tangocommuter just unearthed and posted a newly discovered video of Ricardo Vidort here (But IMHO, the best example of his best dancing on the web is here). What a great dancer, but now he is gone. Now all we have are snippets of footage and the memories of those who knew him.

Most people miss the opportunity to learn from the greats of the older generation by not traveling to Buenos Aires, or by traveling to Buenos Aires and just taking classes for three weeks with either people with trophies, or people who claim to have learned from the greats and have big long resumes to show for it.

We missed the opportunity to learn from Ricardo Vidort when he was RIGHT HERE IN TORONTO.

Ricardo was in Toronto for the first Toronto International Tango Festival, must be at least four or five years ago. We saw Ricardo demonstrating in the opening night milonga, and also at Club Milonga, and we saw him hang around a few of the local milongas after the festival.

We knew he was giving some classes and some "talks" about the culture of the milongas. But somehow he failed to capture our interest - and indeed, the interest of a lot of other Toronto Tango folk. We didn't understand the concept of milonguero or close-embrace (except that it seemed kind of boring and stuffy), there was no Youtube to educate - and any tango that didn't have at least one or both persons flying in the air was kind of lame to us (and to most of Toronto Tango), so... well, Ricardo fell under our radar. He just didn't register.

In fact, Man Yung knew Ricardo was watching us while we happily and obliviously danced our "Tango Estilo del Centro" in the Toronto milongas. Yes, even in those days we were kind of different and stood out.

It wasn't until years later, when we finally knew who Ricardo was, that Man Yung told me.

"You know, when Ricardo Vidort was in Toronto, he once tried to get my attention while I was on the way to the washroom? He stopped me, and started demonstrating some steps. He seemed friendly. I thought he was just showing off or having a lark. But I didn't speak Spanish so there wasn't any point trying to communicate. So I just smiled and went on my way."

"What do you think he meant?" I asked.

"Now that I have gotten to know some of the older dancers and have some insight on how they think, I understand. Something I was doing on the dance floor reminded him of the way that the older generation danced, but I was probably doing it wrong. He saw potential in me and wanted to correct me, and teach me what was right. But I had no idea. I missed my chance to learn from him and I feel ashamed to think of it."

It was a missed opportunity, but who knows. Given our level of dancing and understanding, our lack of knowledge of Spanish at that time - no, even when I replay the scenario over again in my head, it wouldn't have worked. It may have been the right person, but it was the wrong time. And if we became Ricardo's students, would our history with Martha and Manolo, Alberto, Osvaldo and Coca be the same?

Missing our chance to learn from Ricardo Vidort, from Pedro Vujovich, from Pupi....these are the regrets we have to live with.... But at least we know our regrets. At least we can learn from that.

How many out there don't know enough to KNOW to regret what they have missed?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Daniel Lapadula and the Thirty-Sixth Chamber of the Shaolin Temple

Yesterday, out of the blue, I realized that Man Yung had stopped doing this particular step that he found quite useful dancing in the crowded conditions of the milongas at Centro Region Leonesa back in March this year. Why hasn't he been doing it? Has he forgotten?

I tried to explain to Man Yung what it was, but being a follower, I can't speak in a "step language" that makes sense to a leader. I demonstrated at length what the follower would do in that step. But Man Yung just looked puzzled and scratched his head.

"You know, it's the step that B__________ asked me about when we were at the Sunday milonga at _____________ a couple of years ago!!!" I said in exasperation to Man Yung's blank expression. "The one that Dolores does when Daniel leads her to do back ochos!!!"*

Nevertheless, something clicked in Man Yung's head. "I still don't know what you are talking about, but I have a suggestion - let's watch Daniel's DVD again and you can POINT OUT to me what you are talking about!"

Hurrah for the miracle of modern technology! We rummaged through our extensive Tango collection, found Daniel Lapadula's "Tango Estilo del Centro" instructional DVD box, opened it, and found -

"THE THIRTY-SIXTH CHAMBER OF THE SHAOLIN TEMPLE"

and

"RETURN TO THE THIRTY-SIXTH CHAMBER
OF THE SHAOLIN TEMPLE"

Luckily, in the highly-organized and thoroughly logical home of Irene and Man Yung, this means that Daniel's DVDs are securely lodged in the boxes for the aforementioned "The Thirty-Sixth Chamber of the Shaolin Temple" and "Return to the Thirty-Sixth Chamber of the Shaolin Temple". Which is kind of ironic, because the Tango instruction program in Daniel Lapadula's DVDs is just as comprehensive and effective for a budding Tanguero/Tanguera as the training received from Thirty-Six Chambers of the Shaolin Temple for a Shaolin novitiate.**

Hmmm..... So that's where we're keeping our Tango DVDs

"That seems somewhat high praise," you say. "Are you getting paid to promote this program?"

Let's explain by back-tracking to 2005. We've been learning Tango for about a year from some very elegant, young, energetic and supple local instructors. Since this was in the dark days before Youtube, we had never seen any other "real" Tango dancing except that of Pablo Veron (in Sally Potter's "The Tango Lesson"), Juan Carlos Copes (in Carlos Saura's "Tango"), and Osvaldo Zotto and Mora Godoy (in "Asi se Baila el Tango").

In other words, it was depressing to think that although we had devoted so much of our time and effort to Tango, there was no possible human way that our creaky old bodies would ever duplicate the athletic fanciness embodied by these examples of local and world-reknowned Argentine Tango glory (honestly, we don't think anyone over the age of 35 could). Not to mention that what we had learned so far from the resources available made us a navigational nightmare in the milonga. We were Tango Rejects.

We bought "Tango Estilo del Centro" out of curiosity, because firstly, this was one of the only Tango Instruction DVD choices available (apart from Copes and Zotto, which we already had). Secondly, it was ON SALE! And as everyone knows, anything ON SALE (at 50% off, no less!) is worth a try.

To be honest, we didn't have high hopes that we would be able to find anything useful in the DVDs. What's with the weird and confusing looking cover? The strange mirror image posing? Where were the ram-rod straight postures and eye-popping "Tango" costumes? Who are Daniel and Dolores anyway?

If you break out the magnifying glass, you will realize that the small print says:
"Tango Estilo del Centro" and "Dolores de Amo & Daniel Lapadula"

Ah, what a lesson in "Don't judge a book (or DVD) by it's cover" we got - because we found the DVDs to be priceless. Sure, Daniel and Dolores teach "steps" - but together, the "steps" form a formidable system of tango movement. Got someone blocking your left side? Several different ways to turn to the right. Got someone else blocking your right? Several different ways to turn to the left. Someone charging at you from the front and the rear or perhaps surrounded by bumper-car eight-directional bouncing danger? Several different ways to exit without a major collision.

Some instructors teach beautiful intricate step sequences. Some instructors teach nothing more than how to stand real straight or hug real tight, and some kind of so-called "authentic" "walk" and a few ocho cortados. However, no matter if you were taught to dance "fancy" or to dance "simple", if you are going to react in exactly the same way every time you are confronted with a navigational peril... you will end up colliding in exactly the same way, ad nauseum. So it's not only the fancy dancers, but the simple ones too who are causing total floor chaos. In fact, in Toronto, so-called "close-embrace" people still manage to be floor hazards despite squeezing their partner within an inch of suffocation and taking tiny midget steps.

Let's illustrate it this way: how can you have a real conversation with anyone when all you are doing is sprouting florid quotations from Shakespeare, or only grunting simple words like "a", "and", "the", "but", "yes" and "no"? "Estilo del Centro" by comparison, is language - with enough not only to keep the conversation interesting but also to let you deal with any situation that you can possibly encounter. On the dance floor, you need more than just the ability to execute step sequences or just the ability to walk and stop, marching-style, with your partner. You need the ability to walk, to turn and to combine your walks and turns - intelligently, as the situation demands. This is what Daniel and Dolores' "Tango Estilo del Centro" gave us. And guess what? We didn't need to be young and flexible or even particularly talented to absorb the material taught. We could dance like ourselves - and not look too bad at all!

We can't say that Daniel and Dolores are the best dancers in the world, or the best teachers, or that "Tango Estilo del Centro" is the best Tango instructional system. We can't even say that it would definitely work for you. All we can say, from our personal experience, is this:

- Learning this stuff took our dancing to a whole new level. We were dancing tango rather than regurgitating it.
- Watching Daniel and Dolores demonstrate on the DVDs, it was the first time we were confronted with the example of a Leader actually LEADING, and a Follower actually FOLLOWING. "I can't believe it, Dolores is following what Daniel is leading! So that's how it works," said Man Yung.
- After learning about half the material on the DVDs, not only were we navigating well in the Toronto milongas, someone actually remarked to us - "What have the two of you been up to? In just a few weeks, you have improved so much! It's like the Phoenix rising from the flames!"**


Daniel and Dolores dancing to D'Arienzo's "Mandria"

It's now 2009, and a lot of things we found fascinating and admirable in 2005 have kind of lost their appeal. However, we find that Daniel and Dolores' dancing is still groovy. No matter what kind of flaws you can point out, we can see and feel that they are DANCING - which is much more than you can say about some of the other examples you can find on Youtube or on the Tango teaching circuit these days.

Whenever we hear "Mandria" or "Raza Criolla" or "Lejos de Buenos Aires" or any of the other tangos that Daniel and Dolores demonstrate to in the DVDs, we look at each other, exclaim "Daniel!" and say a silent prayer of thanks to the help that "Tango Estilo del Centro" gave us in our Tango journey.

Daniel Lapadula's website "Tango Estilo del Centro" can be found here.

*Dear Reader: Unfortunately, many of our Tango conversations go something like this.

** A Coincidence? Daniel Lapadula used to be a professional wrestler!

***I kid you not, someone actually said this to us. Which unfortunately meant that before "Tango Estilo del Centro", we were kind of a "Crash and Burn" kind of couple.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Cabeceo at "La Cachila"


By the location, the venue, the music, the quality of dancing and high level of attendance, Lorena and Berenice’s brand new milonga “La Cachila” located on the white-hot Ossington strip (100A Ossington Avenue, Sundays 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.) is “THE” place to be for tangueros and tangueras in Toronto on Sunday night.

We had a little bit of free time to spare from our gansey-knitting and buffet-eating to attend La Cachila over the past two Sundays and had a great time. Lorena is a most gracious and charming hostess, and the music of DJ Berenice was very danceable, with the music on the second night we went surpassing the music of the first night – none of the usual monotonous repetitiveness or lack of variety that we have been finding recently in some of the other venues in Toronto.

But what was really special about La Cachila’s Labour Day weekend milonga was Lorena’s little experiment with the attendees - namely, with the “Cabeceo”.

The cabeceo may be de rigeur in Buenos Aires, but here in Toronto, it’s usually a mad frenzied free-for-all when it comes to soliciting potential dance partners. I myself have been quite annoyed when asked to dance by leaders I have absolutely no desire to dance with despite being visibly occupied with eating, talking to my neighbour, surfing the internet on my smartphone, taking a nap, or deliberately looking in another direction, running for the washroom, wearing no shoes, etc. etc. Man Yung doesn’t mind so much about being ambushed because he loves to dance with everybody - but after six tandas of tango whirling dervishing with “Dancing Dynamo” Man Yung, the last thing I want is a tanda with anyone else. Thank God someone is trying to introduce the cabeceo to Toronto Tango ... at last!

For a few tandas last Sunday, Lorena gently directed the leaders to take their seats on one side of the room, and the followers on the other. Couples sat on the third side. And although some of the dancers unfamiliar with the cabeceo were hesitant at first and there were a few awkward moments of misunderstanding between some of the cabeceo rookies, within seconds people had found their match and the dance floor was filled with dancers for every single tanda.

In the past, we have suggested to other organizers about introducing the cabaceo to their traditional milongas. The organizers we have spoken to have generally concurred that the cabeceo is a great idea, but no one has ever followed through with this. There’s this general fear among organizers that people in Toronto won’t get it, or they won’t like it, and they’d go someplace else to dance. In fact, we heard dire predictions that the cabeceo will result in nothing less than Tango Calamity - the dance floor would become a wasteland and it would get so quiet as people would either be too confused or too embarrassed to dance that you’d be able to hear the crickets chirp and the pins drop.

But surprise, surprise, this was not the case last Sunday at the La Cachila. In fact, most people (with a show of hands after the experiment) liked the using the cabeceo. We observed that people were dancing as much and as intensely, or even more so, than when they were not using the cabeceo.

We have our own theory about this. Despite what some trendy (or clueless) extranos may think, the cabeceo is not just some silly old outdated ritual that they follow in Buenos Aires for no particular reason. The cabeceo actually works to bring two people who want to dance with each other together - but there's more to cabeceo than just functionality. The embrace begins before the dancers hit the dance floor, with the meeting of the gaze, the nod of the head. The poetry that is communicated by the cabeceo does not require words. The cabeceo is magic: without it you lose a bit of Tango's heart and soul.

It is fascinating to watch our Toronto milonguera friend use the cabeceo. She is a pro, having honed the skill in the milongas of Buenos Aires. When we are at the milonga together, she'd be talking to us one moment, and then, without us knowing what had happened, she would be drawn to the dance floor by some mysterious force, right into the arms of her favourite dancer. After the tanda she would return to her seat, perfectly nonchalant and completely composed, keeping her calm and regal bearing even as she assesses the dancing skills of the leaders on the floor and scans the room for her next dance partner. She never looks desperate and never breaks a sweat. It's amazing.

I wish Toronto Tango could be so dignified - the practice of the cabeceo would certainly help. Instead we see dancers begging and bullying: coaxing, whining, pleading, threatening, shadowing, giving the evil eye when rejected, you name it, you got it. Sure it looks "lively" and "friendly" and "jolly" and "noisy" to have so much commotion and wheeling and dealing going on, but somehow all this contributes less to the atmosphere of Tango and more to the sights and sounds of ... a Fun Fair, or perhaps a Barnyard.

Not every milonga in Buenos Aires is arranged strictly with women in one row on one side and men in one row on the other side - some of the barrio milongas, like Glorias Argentinas or Sin Rumbo are frequented mostly by couples and they have a different seating arrangement and different dynamic. But many of the downtown ones, like the ones at Maipu 444, Lo de Celia, El Beso and Centro Region Leonesa, have similar layouts for seating as the one at La Cachila during the cabeceo experiment. Others, like the ones at El Arranque, Viejo Correo, Saraza and Fulgor de Villa Crespo, will have "sections" of tables in groups in which men and women sit apart. But no matter where you go in Buenos Aires for serious dancing, the cabeceo is important - as it should be.

It is a fine idea for the cabeceo to be imposed in Toronto Tango and we are so happy to see it being introduced at La Cachila. Not only can Toronto dancers practice this integral part of Tango right in their hometown, the consistent use of the cabeceo can also bring a little of the tradition, quality, decorum - and yes, magic - of dancing Tango in Buenos Aires back to Toronto.*

* Having said all that, please make no mistake, neither Irene nor Man Yung are experts at using the cabeceo. In fact, do not do as Irene did at El Beso in February of 2008 - in which she was not only totally oblivious that Tete wanted to cabeceo her, Tete actually had to cross the dance floor from the opposite side of the room, disrupt a whole row of people and finally get Alberto Dassieu to get Man Yung's attention to get Irene's attention that Tete wanted to dance with her.

Alberto Dassieu

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