Thursday, February 18, 2010

Buenos Aires 2008 - Part 11

Tranquility in Buenos Aires: You can find it in one of the many parks
(like Parque Vicente Lopez, above).... or in the mind of the true milonguero


From: Irene (
Sent: March 8, 2008
To: V (
Dear V,

Today was the same as yesterday - wake up for breakfast, sleep again, then off to the festival. We brought a portable cooler bag from Shopper´s Drug Mart [a chain drugstore in Canada] just so we can bring Martha some Heineken at the festival when we were in Buenos Aires. We learned that Martha loved Heineken when she was teaching in Toronto. When we presented her with the bag and asked her to guess what was in it, she was only perplexed for about half a second - and she guessed right! There's no escape - we are the official "bringers of beer" of the Camicando festival!

Today at the festival we saw movies of Martha dancing with Manolo. When they danced tango salon to Donato's "El Adios", Man Yung was very very moved. When can we ever dance tango like that, with so much gravity, with so much feeling?

I didn't managed to reach Susy Tilbe by email about meeting up on Thursday so our Thursday night was free. Our European and Chilean friends from the festival wanted to go to Nino Bien, even though we had originally planned to go to Viejo Correo. Ever since a taxi driver recommended Viejo Correo to us during one of our rides, we have been intrigued about that venue. However, when we left the festival at the end of the day, Martha asked us if we were going out dancing tonight - and when we said we wanted to go to Viejo Correo, both M&M suggested in unison that they highly recommended Nino Bien instead.

So with that kind of recommendation, we decided that we should at least try and check out Nino Bien. It´s about a 20 peso taxi ride from the hotel, around the same distance as Lo de Celia [in fact, within walking distance of each other on the same street]. The tango map listing said it started at 10, but when we got there a little past 10, there was a class going on - and who was teaching but Graciela Gonzalez! She was teaching a "Villa Urquiza" class with this older gentleman (I believe the name is "Pajaro"), and there were about fifteen couples in the class. She came over to say hello, it was a surprise to see her (and have her recognize us!). Man Yung watched the class intently for a little while. It appeared that Graciela and her partner were teaching Pupi´s steps, Man Yung recognized them from the videos of Pupi that we had. They taught very clearly and the students absorbed the lesson at a very high level of comprehension.

The ground floor of Centro Region Leonesa is covered with black and white baldosa tiles - go up the stairs to the second floor and you'll find the grand rectangular hall where Nino Bien is held behind a huge curtain. The hall itself is very bright, big and fancy, with rows and rows of square tables with immaculate tablecloths. We weren´t able to make a reservation - the phone message we got said they weren´t taking any, and so when we arrived were seated at the last row on the side, about four tables from the edge of the polished wooden dance floor. That was fine by us. There´s a very complete menu with wine, champagne, desserts, snacks etc., and the waiters were friendly and professional. We sat quietly for a bit, waiting for the class to end and just absorbing all the grandeur.

It was almost 11 before the actual milonga started. However, we felt very quickly that something was "off" tonight in the milonga. From the beautiful venue, the presence of big name teachers like Graciela Gonzalez and from the huge crowd that appeared, it was certain that Nino Bien was as exactly as Martha and Manolo had recommended - it was the place to "be" on Thursday nights. But unfortunately, on this night, many (apparently tourists?) were showing off instead of dancing for themselves and for the enjoyment of tango.

I saw lots of asian women dressed up to the nines doing the "face dancing" thing. There were also many so-called tango salon "championship" style dancers, walking rigidly in their "salon tango costumes" (yes, there is a costume - look at the campeonato videos on Youtube and you will see it! Something to do with stiff suits for the men, and flow-y, bias cut dresses for the women - very "tasteful" but somewhat artificial) with facial expressions as sour as pickled lemons. Teachers, local and foreign, preyed on the crowd, busily trying to get students and handing out business cards. There was a lot of wheeling and dealing and dancing to get noticed.

Our european friend Ms.___ apparently was not considered as pretty as her friend J (with her big eyes, alabaster skin and va-va-voom figure) so J got invited to dance again and again while Ms. ___ sat through tanda after tanda, invisible.

We were seated next to a bunch of older non-tango tourists who were on a tour of South America. They must have decided to come to Nino Bien from a recommendation in a guidebook like Fodor's. I overheard one of them asking the other: "Why do the people on the dance floor look so grim and snobby?" They laughed and joked - if that´s what tango was all about then they didn´t want to learn it. And we thought that we were just too sensitive, picking up on the odd "vibe" in the milonga tonight - we were surprised that non-dancers could feel it too.

I turned around and struck up a conversation with them - turned out that one of their party was originally from Burlington, Ontario! They were friendly and curious about this whole "tango" thing, and asked me the same question about the "grim" dancers that they posed to each other. I explained to them that tango isn´t like that - you are supposed to be natural, and your facial expression should match what you feel and not what you think is appropriate to feel. And the music is so beautiful - it makes you feel so many things. In other words, I agreed with the non-tango tourists that all those put-on dramatic "tango faces" and the "elitist aura" were a bunch of baloney. We pointed out to them the dancers on the floor who were dancing for themselves and their partners and for the love of tango, and not in order to impress onlookers or to get business. I don't know if they got it, but we told them emphatically: "This is what tango is really like. Don't let the others mislead you by their appearance! You should learn the tango - you will feel transformed by it!". Hopefully they weren't too put off by the bizarre show and they would still consider taking up tango - even if they were getting back on the cruise ship the very next day.

After dancing two tandas with Man Yung and after Man Yung danced three tandas with Ms. ___ (because no one was asking her!), suddenly Man Yung and I came to the same conclusion - it just wasn't the right night for us at Nino Bien. The place was beautiful and there was quality dancing, but there was too much pretension - we should return another night. We looked at each other and nodded: Let´s get out of there and go to Viejo Correo! We hopped out of there fast.

And when we got outside we saw Tete at the door by himself, smoking. He recognized us and seemed very kind and sweet as we kissed hello. It was so peaceful outside, with the light from the doors and windows flooding into the street while Tete calmly smoked his cigarette. Tango music drifted out without bringing the hustle and bustle of the milonga into the night air. We explained to Tete that we had wanted to buy him a drink on Monday, but he had left. He said next time. There's always a next time, right? We said goodbye, we hopped into a taxi and went all the way to Abasto to Viejo Correo.

What a contrast! Nino Bien was packed to the roof with more people coming in - the milonga at Viejo Correo was only a third full, with only locals. Centro Region Leonesa is a grand hall - while Viejo Correo is a humble place, with tiled floor, where we could only order a one litre bottle of Stella Artois because they were out of all the other beers and they forgot to refrigerate the Quilmes (we had an awkward five minute conversation with the waitress before we figured out that that was what she was going on and on about). Nino Bien was filled with famous names and elegant dancers with just the "right" tango clothes (nothing that screamed "SHOW! BABY!") and expensive shoes, who had taken private classes with all the big names and were now putting everything they learnt on show to the public - Viejo Correo had dancers wearing clumsy looking shoes and sparkles and spandex, and yes, they were dancing a little bit of show tango, and most of them weren´t what anyone would consider good dancers at all. But we immediately felt at ease - perhaps because we too, are a little strange and odd-looking and goofy and silly. We had never met the hostess before but she welcomed us into her milonga with a hug and a kiss.

The music at Viejo Correo was not very intellectual - they just played what they liked to dance to. We danced some very nice tandas that weren´t very "chic" - Pugliese, Di Sarli, De Angelis, DÁrienzo, all the common tunes, even Bahia Blanca and Nochero Soy, for god's sake! There was lots of space so Man Yung had a blast just doing whatever he wanted - all the big steps he likes to do in Toronto, even a little milonga al reves (I told you we are total nerds)!

By the time we left we had fully entertained the locals and they gave us lots of smiles and thumbs up. The hostess was so kind - as we were leaving, she ran up to us to tell us that we were "more argentinian than the argentinians", which kind of shocked us. I have a feeling that it was not so much our dancing but the fact that we managed to make a good impression with our friendliness and style of dancing as untrendy as the one danced by the majority of the patrons in this milonga! The hostess introduced herself as Nina, and I immediately recalled that there´s a couple of videos of her dancing with the American Anton Gazonbeek on youtube. According to the information from Anton, Nina is Antonio Todaro´s student and no stranger to a little tango al reves and big movements herself (Antonio Todaro is Miguel and Osvaldo Zotto´s teacher, and is the father of modern show tango). I asked her about that and I was right, it really broke the ice even more and we got a lot more kisses and hugs from her before we left.

There´s one thing I have come to realize more and more on this trip, and I know that M&M know it too - that is that Man Yung has his own path in tango. It´s not about trying to emulate a certain style, or being able to copy a master´s steps. That´s why M&M doesn´t really care whether Man Yung can do all that they teach him. They see what he dances and they know that he is developing as a dancer, and that so long he retains their most important lesson, to dance with feeling and with the music, and to dance genuinely, without pretension, he will be fine. We are planning to take M&M´s regular canyengue class on Saturday at the Escuela and then we can go out to eat. They didn´t even care about whether we were going to take private class with them on not, the most important thing to them was having the opportunity for us to spend time together.

Tomorrow we have private class with Alberto. It´s the weekend soon, have fun dancing!



Margo Romero said...

I'll say it again, thank you for posting these tales from your BA trip...

Whenever I get frustrated at class, I read your blog and am reminded of the beauty of tango, the milongas, the music and learning. Your stories make me want to persevere! Thank you!!

Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Margo,

Thank you for enjoying our posts on Buenos Aires, we've been lucky to have some pretty amazing experiences in tango. The portenos we've met have been so kind, so friendly, so generous... they make our trips to Buenos Aires incredible.

Looking forward to reading more about your tango journey! We've all been in your shoes at one time or another - as you say, "persevere", and it's all worth it in the end!

Irene and Man Yung

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