Sunday, November 29, 2015

Osvaldo



I was working when Man Yung called me to tell me that Osvaldo had passed away.  He had received a message on Facebook from his daughter with the news.

"Man Yung, Papa won't suffer anymore....we have another angel who will care for us."

After the call, I sat in my office facing the window so that no one can see my expression, willing myself not to cry because absurdly, ludicrously, farcically, I had difficult clients coming in at 4:30 p.m. sharp and I had to deal with them.  Time was still marching forward, the world was still turning...

When Osvaldo died, I felt that Tango died.  Sure, people are still dancing tango, and on any given night there will be cabeceo and entrega and abrazo and passion and heartbreak.... Yes, Tango still exists but -

We were dazed with shock and grief but we went dancing that night.  It seemed the only thing we could do, after sending our condolences to Coca and her family.  It seemed the right thing to do, to honour Osvaldo by dancing for him, with thoughts of him in our hearts. 

But when we were at the milonga, underneath all that hustle and bustle and the smiles and chatting and movement, same people, same faces, same places and the music playing and playing like it was a goddamn broken record on repeat.... there was silence.  And a hole in our hearts with nothing inside it.


Who would show us now, "Asi se baila el Tango"?  Who will tell them, Tango is from your heart and soul, it is from love?  No, not that aggressive theatrical show-off stage spectacle with the flying feet and vicious kicks demonstrating "Love and Hate and everything in between" (Osvaldo and Coca really laughed at that one when we described it to them).  No, Tango's love is in being gentle - no, even more gentle, more gentle!  Cariño, like caressing your lover's face with your hands.  No Irene!  Don't mash Man Yung's face!  That's too much.  Like a baby, like holding a baby, like this... Osvaldo and Coca would demonstrate again and again, cradling an imaginary baby. 

And there's that other thing he'd say to us.  "Don't listen to them!"  He would wave his arms violently in passion when he heard about tango professionals giving us advice contrary to what he and Coca had told us.  Osvaldo may be from a humble background, but there were a couple of things he knew he was an absolute authority.  One of then was Tango.  "Don't listen to their bullshit.  You are dancing Tango!  Ask me.  I KNOW." 

He didn't have to worry about Man Yung.  Osvaldo would tell everyone who would listen with surprise and pride, "Man Yung has stolen all my steps!  I don't even have to teach him!"  And he didn't have to worry about Irene either.  "You dance like mami - like Coca. You dance like us."  He'd slap his hand on top of mine and squeeze while nodding to Coca in emphasis.

He had so much confidence in us, and he wasn't afraid to show the world how proud he was of us.  Every time we were in Buenos Aires, he'd take us to all the milongas.  Arrange for us to perform even when we didn't want to!   

Look!  Irene and Man Yung - they are my students.  My friends.  My family.

God, we will miss you Osvaldo.












Sunday, September 27, 2015

Waste

This question came up recently.  Have we wasted our lives on Tango?

Let's see, just in dollar terms.  We started dancing 2004.  We didn't go to milongas right away, and we went to more classes and workshops than milongas for the first year, but in ballpark terms for the 12 years (give or take) that we have been dancing, we have spent perhaps the following:

1 year of weekly classes $10 x 2 x 52 weeks = $1,040.00

3 milongas a week 3 x $10 x 2 x 52 weeks x 12 years = $37,440.00

Workshops, festivals, special events etc: $4,000.00 (approximate)

10 trips to Buenos Aires (all expenses including airfare) averaging $7,500.00 per trip = $75,000.00

Clothes, CDs, shoes, Instructional DVDs or videos = $5,000.00

plus 10% transportation, meals, first aid from getting kicked in the shins etc: A GAZILLION BILLION DOLLARS (or approximately $134,728.00)

That's a nice downpayment on an income producing condo!  Factor in the lost opportunity costs of spending time kissing ass or networking for a better job, getting a profitable side gig for even more income (well, you can always use Tango as side gig, but we didn't), doing paid freelancing work instead of writing unfiltered unpopular crap on this blog and we are out like, A GAZILLION BILLION DOLLARS and must work until we are 85 years old before we can retire.

Oh crap.

Not to mention instead of spending quality time with family and friends outside of Tango "building strong interpersonal relationships", we are spending time with you guys.  We don't even know your full names or what you do - although we may know what your favourite orchestra is and that you are also annoyed when the organizer makes speeches that are cutting in on your dance time.

All this for a chance to hug the same (or different) strangers every week?  As my Mom and Dad would exclaim: "Ridiculous!" and "Sunken Costs!"*

*This is also the term they use to refer to Irene, as in "After all the $$$ I've spent on your education I think it would be more worth it to give birth to a piece of BBQ pork than to give birth to you!  At least I can eat the BBQ pork."  Ha ha, nice try folks I know that deep deep deep down you might like me just a little.

Mom and Dad are too polite to say anything to the Tango crazy daughter and son-in-law but if they dared they may say something like this:

"Look at your sister and brother.  They've been working hard all this time and not only do they have important jobs, big houses and fancy cars, they have babies!  Aunt Edna's son is now the Vice-President of ____________ (Big Powerful Association).  And what's more, our neighbour Doug and Tammy's kid is like, the Archbishop of Canterbury!  What have you done these past twelve years?  All you have to show for all that Tango is a bunch of videos of you dancing on Youtube that people have to wash their eyes out after watching and a closet full of worn out Tango shoes!"

Maybe it's time to contemplate a little on the disastrous wastage that is the Tango life of Irene and Man Yung.....

....OK, finished contemplating!  No worries.  So long we can still put food on the table and have a roof over our heads (and tango shoes on our feet), what are we going to do with the fancy cars, big houses, and babies?  Important job = more stress, more wrinkles and gray hair and maybe even heart attack, don't need more of that and would rather keep my health, thanks.

However, being the Archbishop of Canterbury is tempting, I must say.

 If we didn't waste all that time dancing Tango, we could possibly aspire to be 
The Archbishop of Canterbury.  Yum.

And why not do something every week that means something to us, that gives us pleasure, that makes us feel alive?  Why not light up at the sight of all you fellow Tango time and money-wasters, week after week? You are kind of even more like family than our real family now, and we probably love you a great deal more.

Tango:  A dance with you is worth A GAZILLION BILLION TRILLION DOLLARS AND it's all love, no regrets.  Except that Archbishopy thing.








Saturday, September 19, 2015

"Sudden Consciousness" Hamburger


With the right state of mind, even this hamburger made of cloth and stuffing can be the most delicious meal you've ever had in your life

Man Yung didn't used to be a fan of hamburgers.

"But they are so delicious!" I protested.  "One of the most memorable meals in my life happens to be hamburger.  I had stopped in Aberdeen (on Hong Kong island) on the way home from school - probably to go to the library.  I hadn't had lunch but I didn't have a lot of money, so I went to McDonalds and ordered the cheapest sandwich they had - a plain hamburger with nothing but ketchup, onions and pickles in it.  Eating the hamburger super slowly while watching construction work next to the bus stop and waiting for the bus was a slice of heaven!  It was a taste explosion.  I relished every single bite."

Man Yung scoffed.  "Ah.  But you must have been very hungry."

"A growling, empty stomach added to my pleasure in eating the hamburger but do you understand?  It was one of my life's top culinary moments.  Perhaps even one of my life's top moments, period!"

"You obviously didn't go out much," said Man Yung, still scoffing.  "McDonald's hamburger! Objectively speaking, how could a hamburger taste better than a perfectly grilled t-bone steak?  Or 8 course omakase dinner at Kaji?  Or even stir fried double lobster with ginger and onion sauce?"

Although all experience is in truth subjective, I nevertheless set out to find the most objectively delicious hamburger for Man Yung, just to prove a point.  It wasn't easy.  The ones at the fast-food franchises are yucky and filled with preservatives.  He grumbled at the $15.00 loaded Angus beef hamburger at upscale burger joint M Burger, and found it dry and tasteless.  He refused to have the expensive ones with foie gras, truffle sauce and beef raised on Mozart and shiatsu massages.

I agreed, any burger costing more than $100 (or even $20) was kind of taking it overboard.

Ultimately, I made him a hamburger at home using one of Cook's Illustrated's recipes.

Bingo!  Man Yung had a taste and then looked at me in astonishment.   "Irene, you are right!  Hamburger is one of the most tasty foods around!"

So I kind of won that one...for the moment.  But it was easy for Man Yung to forget how great that burger was.  He starts scoffing after a while, like he couldn't believe that a humble burger could ever beat a plate of deep fried free range chicken marinated in fermented red tofu sauce (for example).  Or he would want to do something fancy with that burger, like put aged grated chenpi (mandarin orange peel) it, or eat it while standing on his head.  Or use a cut of beef of lesser quality.  Or a bread that is different.  Or skip the cheese.  Or pair it with an expensive red wine instead of the cheapo $8 Fuzion Shiraz Malbec we always get at the LCBO.

"Man Yung!  Stop experimenting," I said.  "The hamburger is good in and of itself, and it goes fine with the wine we were having.  It doesn't need to be fancied up."

"But you know I like to push the boundaries.  I cannot be satisfied until all possibilities have been tried and exhausted!" he said.

I don't argue.  I just serve hamburger again.  Man Yung will start eating, refusing to taste it at first due to mental clutter.  And then, in a moment of quiet, when his mind has emptied out....

"Wow Irene!"  He will look at me in surprise.  "How come?  This is one of the best foods I've ever tasted.  Hamburgers are amazing!"*

 * If only his mind would empty out like that when he is dancing!  Then he will realize that any tango he is dancing with me is amazing.  Instead, he gets all grumpy, spazzing out on the new steps he is attempting to replicate from Youtube because I don't get them right away.  And he wonders why dancing with me yesterday was not as great as dancing with me last week, when he hadn't been watching 150 hours of tango on Youtube!  Hurrrrrumph.   

For the curious, here's the recipe we have adapted from the Cook's Illustrated cookbooks for pan-fried hamburger - it's our own lazy version, but the results are good enough for us!

"Sudden Consciousness" Hamburger

Makes 4 Hamburgers

Ingredients:

1 to 1 1/2 lbs of beef (Skirt steak or flap meat is the best, with a good balance between taste, gristle and fat, but is hard to find.  Deboned short rib is also good, rib eye and flank steak also acceptable)

4 Large, soft hamburger buns (we use D'Italiano Brizzolio buns)

Sliced cheese (Real cheese, not processed cheese or spread.  But you don't have to be really fancy - Cracker Barrel or anything like that is good enough.  We use Cracker Barrel sliced mozzarella)

Butter

Method:

1.  Pat the beef dry with clean paper towel.  Mince the beef either using a food processor or preferably manually using a chopping board and meat cleaver.  People familiar with cooking chinese cuisine and a dish called "Yuk beng" or steamed minced pork will know what we mean - you just chop the meat manually until it has the consistency of a a very course grind.

2.  Shape the ground beef into four equal patties.  Don't smoosh them smooth though, the patties should be loose and rough on the edges.

3.  Season the patties on both sides liberally with salt and ground black pepper.

4.  Heat your frying pan to medium low heat.  Put a pat of butter on the pan and once it melts (which it will pretty quickly) spread the butter evenly on bottom of the pan. Put two split hamburger buns  (four pieces total) interior side down onto the pan.  Squash the buns lightly down onto the pan into the hot butter with a fish slice/turner/spatula, checking the side of the bread on the surface of the frying pan after a few seconds to see whether it has become toasted.  Once the bread is toasted a golden brown (around 30 seconds to a minute), remove them to a plate toasted side up.   Add butter to the pan, repeat with with the remaining buns.

5.  Turn the heat up to medium high.  Add a pat of butter, spread on bottom of pan and add the beef patties into the melted butter to start frying the patties.  Do not move the patties once placed in the pan.

6.  After about one minute, when the edge of the patties start to look cooked and gray, turn the patties over with the fish slice to fry them on the other side.  The side that was fried first should be specked with a cooked crust of a light to medium brown colour.

7.  Cover the frying pan for a minute.  Uncover the frying pan, add one slice of cheese on top of each of the patties.  Turn off the heat and cover for 30 seconds more, or until the cheese has melted.

8.  Remove the patties and place them on top of the buns.

The hamburgers using the above method should come out rare or medium-rare, depending on the heat of your stove and the amount of beef in your patty.  Add whatever condiments you like on your burger.  I like to top with sunny side up eggs and bacon with mustard, mayo and ketchup.  Man Yung just eats it plain.   Serve with cheap and cheerful red wine.  Try to eat them with full and sudden consciousness!  They will be the best that you have ever tasted (subjectively speaking).









Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Winners and Losers

Another year, another "Mundial".  Quick, without googling - who won?  In fact (and without googling), who could name all the winners since 2004?  Irene* knows/thinks they are:

2004: Osvaldo and Coca
2005: Fabian Peralta and Natasha Poberaj
2006: Dante Sanchez and Ines Muzzopappa
2007: Daniel Naccuchio(?) and his partner Cristina Sosa (?)
2008: Did the Japanese couple win this one?
2009: Maybe it was the really young couple still in their teens??
2010: Some couple from Columbia???
2011: Didn't care/Don't remember
2012: Didn't care/Don't remember
2013: Didn't care/Don't remember
2014: Didn't care/Don't remember
2015: Didn't care/Don't know/Don't remember

*Man Yung just remembers Osvaldo and Coca and Fabian Peralta, the rest is a big blur of Didn't care/Don't know/Don't remember

Congratulations all the winners!  You must be winners, you won the big prize of being THE BEST TANGO DANCERS IN THE WORLD of __________ (fill in the year). And the rest didn't win, so they must be LOSERS. 


....Ha ha, just kidding, everyone is a winner!   Everyone who participated is a winner.  Everyone who didn't participate is a winner.  Do you dance Tango?  Then you are a winner!

A voice pipes up.  "Your Tango competition sucks.  How can everyone be a winner?  It's like kindergarten where everyone gets a gold star because you don't want to hurt anybody's feelings.  And without clear separation between the chaff and the wheat, how would I know who to take classes with?  Can't just put any ol' bum on the good ol' Tango resumé, I can't impress the chicks/dudes this way."

Alright.  Maybe not everyone is a winner.  Some Tango Dancers aren't winners, they're wieners - especially if:

-  They dance big and aggressive and you have to give them a big leeway on the dance floor to avoid being stabbed in the face by their high kicking stilettos
-  They use Tango as an excuse to grope people
-  They are so hung up on being stylish/elegant/authentic or on showing off they can't hear the music/don't feel the music/won't dance to the music why dance Tango at all please take up ballroom/disco or even line dancing

"Oh yeah, Irene - " says Man Yung "You're a loser too!  You don't know how to cabeceo!  Or maybe you do - it's just no-one in their right mind wants to cabeceo you."

"Loser yourself.  You had chance to make the big bucks as taxi dancer but you give it all for free!" I replied.

"How about loser times two?  Your feet maybe moving but your brain is thinking of zombie apocalypse and WalMart."

"Oh yeah?  Loser times infinity and then some!  How will you ever become a Milonguero if you can't stop trying out all the newest fancy moves from Youtube?"

"Who wants to be a Milonguero?  I like how I dance and all my twenty-million tricky make-you-fall-on your-face-steps perfectly fine!"

BIGGEST LOSERS:  Irene and Man Yung arguing over Tango.  Let's just stick to "If you dance Tango, you are a Winner!"








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



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.
















Sunday, July 12, 2015

Anti-Chamuyo



Danced a tanda with one of our Toronto Tango buddies lately.  Such a blast to chat with.   We spend more time talking and joking than dancing, it is terrible.

After the tanda, our buddy remarked, "Wow, that was a good tanda!  I think you listen to the music exactly the same way that I do!"

I had to correct him.  "No, we don't.  My job as a follower is to follow no matter what you lead.  This includes whatever which way you are interpreting the music.  Now, you were doing a pretty good job with the music in the last 30 seconds....but the rest of it was all crap!"

He wasn't offended at all and we both guffawed heartily.  The man has self-confidence like a rock and could take a little bit of kidding around.

****************************************************************

Asked a local Argentinian follower my favourite question to ask these days.

"Why do Argentinians easily have the "It" in Tango, and how can I develop more of "It" in my dancing?"

My Argentinian friend is so kind.  "But it's not just Argentinians that have the "It".  You for example - when I was watching you dance with Man Yung earlier, I saw you had the "It".  It wasn't just the way you moved your feet, but your expression.  When I saw your face, I could feel that you had the "It" of Tango!"

"Oh really?" I said.  "But during that tanda, I was not happy at all.  I was super annoyed at Man Yung for digging his right hand into my ribs and I kept on shifting around trying to shake off his grip of doom.  After the tanda, we had an argument!"

*****************************************************************

Saw Man Yung dancing with a lady I haven't seen before at the recent festival.  Looked like they were having a great time - laughing and smiling from all the way across the room.  When he was leading her back to her seat, I even distinctly heard, "Wow, you listen to the music exactly the same way that I do!"

I act all cool when Man Yung comes back to our table.  "So, how was dancing with that lady over there?"

Man Yung also acts all cool.  "She is a very nice lady.  Oh - the dancing?  It was pretty good.  Okay."

*****************************************************************

Just finished a tanda with a local leader.  Man Yung acts all cool when I return to the table.

"Oh, there you are.  How was dancing with so-and-so?" he asks.  "Looked like you were really enjoying yourself."

I also act all cool.  "Okay.  Whatever."  I unwrap a chocolate truffle and offer it to Man Yung  "Want one?"


In fact, it was totally amazing.  Shhhhhhhh!





Saturday, June 27, 2015

Tightrope

I've been working on something lately.  How to be even more minimalist in following.  I already don't do much in terms of adornments, it's true.  But can I pare it down even further - do even less?

I explained to Man Yung.  "I imagine that I'm on a tightrope.  I begin in a wire harness with a safety net on a low wire, so I won't hurt myself when I fall.  When I get better, I lose the harness and the safety net.  To balance,  I start with a balancing pole, and then lose that and use my arms, and then when my balance is better, I use nothing.  And I'll walk on tightropes that are higher and higher, and longer and longer."

"So where are you now with the tightrope walking?" asked Man Yung.

"I'm trying to stay completely balanced and not step down until you have led me to do so.  And I can't use any aids.  That means I can't do anything to slow you down or to slow myself down to balance.  I can't use toe taps or foot flicks - no split second adornments to cover-up when I've lost my balance and to time my steps.  I cannot listen to the music myself to time my steps - I have to listen to you.  And I have to disregard technique - no thinking about keeping any type of posture, or embrace, or collecting my feet, or pivoting a certain way.  I focus only on the feeling of balance and timing."

"Is it working out for you?"

"Yes, I suppose.  But it is hard to be completely minimalist in following.  When you suddenly change directions, or change the way you do a step, sometimes my balance is thrown off.  It's also impossible to do this when I'm tired.  And also difficult with different leaders when I'm not used to dancing with them.  However, I think that I'm on the right track," I said, my eyes gleaming with excitement.  "My goal is to get to the point where I'm reduced to nothing but a single point of consciousness when I follow.  Totally without weight, and therefore completely balanced.  Then I'll be able to walk on the tightrope, further and further, without breaks in my balance.  Across a city block.  Across Niagara Falls.  Or even to the Moon and back!"

"Hmmmmm," said Man Yung.  "That sounds like Tango Zen bullshit."

I looked at him in shock.  "What do you mean?"

"The theory sounds pretty, but in reality, sometimes Tango is like Charlie Chaplin at the circus, walking bow-legged on a tightope while monkeys are trying to pull down your pants.  There are no perfect conditions in Tango. There's no one way to follow, no one theory that would work on everything, no one size fits all to the path of nirvana.  The most important thing is for you to follow me with your heart!"

I frowned.  "Yes, I suppose you are right.  Dancing with you is really like Charlie Chaplin at the circus.  Most days I'm lucky to escape with my life.  Thanks!"


Ta-Dah!








Sunday, June 14, 2015

Practice

Big festival weekend in Toronto.  Went to NONE of it.  Doesn't showcase local talent (except for the high-kicking dancers from the only studio who is hosting it), as if all the dancers and teachers here in Toronto are all backwater hicks who still dance Tango like was still 1999.  Many other dancers we have talked to didn't go either, even though all the other milongas in Toronto closed "in support" of it. As one dancer said sagely, "There is life outside of Tango, you know."

We could easily write a hilarious and unflattering post bitching about "El Festival", but instead, let's talk gratitude.  Thank you for having a festival that holds absolutely zero temptation for us and for closing all the milongas, because no milonga to go to = we can go practice by ourselves.  And I don't have to share Man Yung with any of you gals!*  Instead of once a week, we went three times this week.  Me, my man and the music.  Not only is there "Life outside of Tango," sometimes there's "Tango outside of Tango".

*You know who you are, all fifteen of you, always sitting at our table and/or coming right up to ask Man Yung to dance!  

I know dancers out there sometimes practice.  They go to practicas to practice.  They have hardwood floors at home and practice on that.  Sometimes they go to milongas to practice.  What are they practicing?  I think a lot of people are practicing "moves".  Or 'adornos'.  Some are practicing 'walking'.  Others are practicing 'embrace'.  A newbie friend saw two local dancers dance eyes closed and 'without arms' two Saturdays ago.  She asked me filled with wonder and curiousity, "What are they doing?"

I replied, "They are being assholes."  And then I chuckled.  Because knowing the two dancers in question, they weren't going to go anywhere or get any better practicing armless dancing.  It was just something they were doing in a crowded milonga to show off that they were expert enough to dance armless.  Yeah sure, if you just stand there and shuffle around slowly while grinding your chests together, going 'armless' is just fine and dandy.  Try doing the same with some giros and ganchos, maybe a little corridita... not so easy now, right?

But I digress.  Up to a certain point, you've got to practice your moves.  And adornos, and walking.  Embrace....I hope that you are embracing your partner like you mean it, and not practicing making your embrace more than what you really feel and trying to hoodwink your partner into thinking you have the yummiest embrace in the world to prove you are an excellent dancer...when in fact, you are cold and hollow to the core.

After that comes the nebulous Argentinian concepts.  Cariño.  Pasión.  Entrega.  Can you be gentle?  Good... but be even more gentle.  How much do you love?  Okay, but love more, with even more intensity.   Surrender?  Surrender more, surrender again...surrender always.

And not only in Tango.  There is life outside of Tango, and Tango outside of Tango.  Can you be gentle to your loved one, care for him, listen to him with your fullest attention and not only to his words, but also his heart?  Can you love your loved one, love him with all of your being and all of your soul, with more passion than you could ever think possible?  Can you give him everything, all of you and more?

That's what we practice, in our lives outside of Tango, and in Tango outside of Tango.  Inside and out.   Will it make us better dancers?  Maybe.  Will it make us better people?  We hope so.

Lunch at Osvaldo and Coca's house...is that in or out of Tango?  During our trip to Buenos Aires this May, we didn't take any classes to "learn" anything, we talked very little about Tango, and spent a lot of time with our beloved teachers and friends.  Yet, we feel that we have improved a lot in our dancing, and it has all to do with loving and caring for our friends and being part of their lives. 








Saturday, June 6, 2015

Roberto Segarra at El Rodriguez, May 18, 2015

Roberto Segarra is turning 95 this year!  It is always such a delight to bump into him in the milongas of Buenos Aires.  He is still going strong and sneaking out of the house to dance all night.

I enjoyed a beautiful tanda of vals with Roberto at Marta Fama's Wednesday milonga, El Rodriguez.  Sorry, but sometimes guys half his age don't have the same kind energy when dancing!



After our dance, Roberto said, "You dance so wonderfully, I got lost in the music and I totally forgot what we were dancing."  Milonguero!  Sweet talker! 


Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Milonguero will always break your heart


A word of advice to the ladies: A Milonguero will always break your heart.

Doesn't matter if you just had a great time dancing with him last night, and he had a great time dancing with you.  Doesn't matter if it's the first time you have danced with him, doesn't matter if you had been dancing together for eons.  The heartbreak is inevitable.  It's as bad as those damn Tango Shoes.

You've got to wait for his cabeceo.  Who knows whether he will look your way tonight?  You might have had the most marvelous Di Sarli together on Friday, D'Agostino on Saturday... They'll play those orchestras again tonight and there's another happy lady in his arms.  Or he's gone to some other milonga on the other side of town, even though he knows well enough where you were going to be. 

Oh, but there's always another one I can dance with, you say.  The milonga is filled with willing and talented gentlemen. No-one is irreplaceable.  Yes, no-one is irreplaceable, but if he is a Milonguero, and a true Milonguero, his style is all his own.  Unique.  No one hears and dances and feels and embraces to the music exactly the same way.  If you are looking for the same magic in the arms of another man - good luck, you aren't going to find it.  You may find less magic, or more magic, but the fact is, never will you find the same magic.

Even if he can't wait to dance with you, will never tire of you, has been dancing with you the same favourite tandas for decades as if you had signed and sealed a contract with blood for the next 99 years - he will still break your heart.  What if he moves to another city?  What if he becomes sick and cannot dance any more?  And there's always a chance he will finally find a nice girlfriend who forbids him to dance with other women.  And even if you are that favoured girlfriend of his, even if you marry him and tie him down ball and chain with blinkers so he can never cabeceo another woman ever again - my goodness, there's always a chance that he might die.  And if he dies, he'll take that special unique magic away with him for good. 

Who wants a broken heart?  What is a Tanguera to do?  No, I will not give my heart away, you say, I don't care if he dances like Fred Astaire (or Fino, or Portalea, or Gavito) - I will never give him all of me.  We will dance politely, more of a handshake than an embrace, I will follow as smooth as silk but you'll never going to get more than 50% of me, maybe 60% at the most.

Yes, let's do our 50%, 60% at the most...but then you won't be dancing Tango.

Yes, a Milonguero will always break your heart but that's why we have to give our 100%, 200%, 1000% every dance.  There is no guarantee what will happen the next tanda, or next year.  Tango at it's purest and deepest can only be found in the arms of a Milonguero and all you have in Tango is now.  He may break your heart into a million pieces tomorrow, but now, you will live and dance your savage and passionate Tango as if it is the last Tango on earth - for you will know that this moment, you have truly lived.  Life is sweet and cruel.



Sunday, April 5, 2015

Somebody once told us...

Somebody once told us that when you embrace your partner in Tango, you must embrace them like they are a beloved old friend....








Somebody else once told us that when you walk in Tango, you must walk like you are taking a leisurely walk in the neighbourhood, enjoying the afternoon sunshine and the casual conversation and company of your loved ones...





Yet somebody else told us that to dance Tango well, you have to slow down and taste it with all your senses.  Treat it like a meal of exquisitely prepared asado with a rich dark malbec...





...Or even a simple home-cooked lunch of chicken and vegetables, prepared with love...


It's so simple really.  There are so many beautiful moments in our lives, showing us the way to dance Tango.

Happy Easter to everyone!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Should've known better (I told you so)



1.

It was already 10:45 p.m. after we had finished practicing at the rental studio space last Thursday.   Still, Man Yung wanted to watch the videos we took of our practice, so here I was near midnight trying to download the videos from the memory card to put on Man Yung's iPad.

There was a glitch in the download.  The happy spinning beach ball of paralysis and death appeared on screen and everything got stuck.

I panicked and forcibly turned off the computer.  Should've known better than to do that - because when the computer came back on, all the videos we took were gone. Kaput!  Erased!

I let out a blood-curdling scream.

"What, you lost all the footage!" exclaimed Man Yung between shrieks of terror.  "That was the best practice we ever had!  If we put those fantastic videos on Youtube, we would get so many hits we would become millionaires!"

2.

The milonga floor was less than desirable - something to do with the combination of ancient warped floorboards and a merry coating of varnish that made the floor look shiny but actually turned it impossibly sticky.

"Don't pivot so much on the floor!  Try to just walk slowly if you can," I hinted strongly to Man Yung.  "If you spin, your foot will be stuck in place while your whole body rotates - and this will be no good for your creaky old joints!"

"Yeah, yeah...I know what I'm doing!" Man Yung replied impatiently.

Ha ha - "Knowing what he was doing" consisted of doing even more turns and spins than usual.  It's been a whole week since Man Yung has danced and there were so many steps from Youtube he wanted to try out!

"Ouch!  My knees are so sore!" Man Yung said the day after.

I told you so.

3.

It was the day of the milonga and we still didn't know who the DJ was going to be for the milonga that night.  We scoured the milonga website and Facebook page to no avail.

"Why couldn't the organizers give sufficient warning about who is playing the music?  There's less than 8 hours to go and still no news!"  said Man Yung grumpily.

We wouldn't normally be so concerned....but we really, really wanted to skip the milonga if a certain DJ was playing.

"I have to admit, I am very impressed by the DJ's vast collection of Canyengue music.  It seems like the DJ has every single piece of recorded Canyengue prior to 1915," I said.  "It's just too bad that the DJ has to use every track in this historic collection - every night, all night, every tanda, all the time!"

The last time we experienced this DJ's music, the music was so monotonous and soul-suckingly boring that not only did we not want to dance, we wanted to kill ourselves.

Man Yung was getting so antsy (he really wanted to dance) I did the unthinkable - I contacted the milonga organizer by phone and by Facebook.

The milonga organizer called back.  "DJ Canyengue will be playing.  See you guys tonight!"

I faithfully reported this to Man Yung.  Man Yung slapped his forehead and rolled his eyes to the heavens.

"Irene, you should've known better than to contact the organizer.  Now the organizer knows we called (Toronto Tango is a small world), they are expecting us to turn up at the milonga.  It would be rude not to go!"

"I have no scruples about not going," I said.  There are benefits to being raised by a pack of wolves.

"Unfortunately, I have," said Man Yung.

The other benefit of being raised by a pack of wolves is that I could spend the entire milonga with my feet up and head thrown back while snoring with my mouth open.  Haven't had such a refreshing nap in a long time!

4. 

It was late.  The milonga was almost all cleared out.  I was busy playing Plants and Zombies (the original!) on my phone while waiting for Man Yung to finish dancing.

Suddenly some guy appears in front of me.  "Would you like to dance?" he asked, annoyed.

Too many hours of playing games on my phone had numbed my brain.  Instead of saying "No", I said "Yes."

Big mistake.  He was annoyed that I didn't cabeceo him before and that I wasn't willing to dance.  I was annoyed that I agreed to dance when I wasn't willing to dance.  We spiced up our complete lack of connection by standing tensely between tangos, bristling with passive-aggressive, resentful silence.

"Thanks," we said to each other at the end of the tanda.  What we really meant was "No thanks!"

"I told you so," said Man Yung after I returned to my seat.  "There's a reason why the mirada and cabeceo are so important in Tango.  The dancers have to observe the other dancers to see who they want to dance with - and then try to get the dance with their eyes!  When the mirada and cabeceo are willingly returned, that means both dancers are already willing and happy to dance with each other, and there's going to be much more harmony and accord when they do dance.  It's much more elegant  than this ambush bullshit!"

"Man Yung, are you really giving me this advice about not ambushing people in tango?" I said incredulously.  "Didn't you just recently tell me to be more aggressive with my eyes, and stare at people like they owe me money and if they don't dance with me, I will kill them with the laser beams implanted in my pupils?  And if they by any chance get away, you were going to beat them up when they went to the washroom?"

Man Yung shook his head.  "No, Irene, you totally misunderstood me.   I distinctly recall I advised you to be sweet and gentle in your cabeceo and to smile more and act friendly."

Oh really.  Read our post here and judge for yourself!








Thursday, March 19, 2015

Like Love itself

How am I dancing?  I would like to know.  But it's not like I have a sign like those on the back of tractor-trailers, but instead of saying "How's my driving?",  it's "How's my following?" with a phone number on the bottom so I can get some feedback....

Wait a moment.  Apparently I do have a sign with a phone number - just so that Man Yung can call in to complain. "Irene, you are going too fast.  How about doing that figure with a little more feeling?  I would suggest that you relax your left arm a bit more because you are pulling me off axis when we turn!   Why don't you reconfigure your embrace to something more open like a v-shape so we can have more fun with all the steps I've learned this week from Youtube?"

According to Man Yung, all this advice is extremely helpful for my Tango growth.  Yes, Man Yung is my Tango Guru.  But not in the way he expected.  When he opens his mouth to spew out handy nuggets of "Constructive Tango Criticism", I find myself humming a merry tune and thinking about rainbows and unicorns (instead of listening).  I'm all ears though, when he tells me how it feels for him to dance with Milongueras.

Man Yung's danced with some of the best, if not the best Milongueras in Buenos Aires.   Ladies who walk, talk and breathe Tango, with unbelievable following skills, astounding musicality, incredible footwork.  They dance like nothing on this earth.  Could Man Yung let me in on some of their secrets?

"Yes, Porteña Milongueras do feel different to dance with than even the best followers outside of Buenos Aires!" said Man Yung happily.  "They can follow anything, that goes without saying.  I know, lots of great followers who aren't from Buenos Aires can follow just as or almost as well, but when the Milongueras dance with me, it feels very special." 

Man Yung paused.

A minute passed.  And another minute.

I got impatient.  "Well?  How are they dancing that feels different?"

Man Yung must have forgotten the question.  He wandered off without answering.

I tried to corner him a few days later.

"Hey Man Yung - we were talking about how it feels like for you to dance with Milongueras just the other day.  Can you elaborate a little?  For example, do you remember that lady in blue who smelled like cigarette smoke at Plaza Bohemia who you couldn't stop asking to dance tanda after tanda?"

Man Yung smiled.  "Yes, I remember her."

"How does she dance?"

"She had really great musicality..."

Uh-oh - the dreaded pause.  I better prompt him before he drifted off into a cloud of blissful memories of dancing with Milongueras.

"So, does anyone in Toronto dance like that?  For example __________?"  I named a tanguera in Toronto considered to be extremely good at following.

"No, I wouldn't say that _________________ danced like that," said Man Yung.

"How about ___________________ then?"  This was a friend of ours who went to Buenos Aires very often.

"Oh, ___________________?  Yeah....I guess a little bit."

"How about __________________ and __________________?"  Both happened to be from South America.

"Now you mention it - yes, both _____________________ and _____________________ have a lot of that kind of feeling when then dance."

I went through a list of names and then tried to see what was in common among the ladies who Man Yung said had a bit of the same feeling as the Milongueras when they danced.  It wasn't age.  It wasn't where they were from - although it helped if they understood Spanish and perhaps the lyrics of the Tangos.  It also helped if they went to Buenos Aires to dance often - although there were ladies on the list who had never been to Buenos Aires and were just content to dance in Toronto.

In the end, the analysis was meaningless for someone looking for some answers.  I had to try to ask a different way.

The next time, I tried to ambush Man Yung over a plate of spicy deep fried chicken wings and a tall glass of bourbon on the rocks during dinner at our favourite Chinese Restaurant.

"Man Yung, you know about dancing with the Milongueras.  How could I change my dancing so I could dance more like a Milonguera?"

Man Yung put down his bourbon and gave me a look. "Irene, why are you asking?"

"I think I would dance better if I knew."

"I'll tell you something about Milongueras.  It's true, some of them are really skillful.  In fact, I get the feeling when I am dancing with them that they are thinking, 'Is that the best you can do?  Ha ha.  I can follow anything you throw at me.'  Some of them have reputations to uphold and they don't like to lose.  They can follow everything but they do it so cautiously, so carefully, it is more like we are playing chess than dancing.  And some others, they are only dancing with me to be polite because we know their Milonguero/Milonguera friends."

"What about the Milongueras you have enjoyed dancing with?  Surely not every Milonguera you have danced with have danced with you just to be nice."

"The best Tango dances I have ever had were with ladies who really enjoyed dancing with me.  They weren't thinking about their footwork, they were thinking about following everything I lead 100%, they weren't burdened by their reputations, they didn't care if they made mistakes.  If they had the abilities and depth of Tango feeling like the Milongueras, that's a bonus, but the most important part was their enjoyment of the music - and enjoyment in dancing with me!"

"What about me then?  Do you feel that I enjoy dancing with you?"

Man Yung smirked.  "Sometimes I think you try too hard to follow.  And sometimes - I think you aren't even here.  Like you are thinking of Wal-Mart."

I puffed angrily.  "I will have you know that I am not thinking of Wal-Mart.  Not recently anyway.  What I'm thinking now is whether I should get the Thrunite Archer 1A v.2 flashlight, or the Thrunite Archer 1C v.2 flashlight.  It's a really difficult decision.  The Thrunite Archer 1A takes AA batteries, which are cheap and easy to find, but the light only goes to 180 lumens max.  The Thrunite Archer 1C, on the other hand, goes all the way to 500 lumens and will surely blind any assailant who comes after you - but then, it takes CR123 batteries which are more expensive and not easily found, especially in apocalyptic situations like in The Walking Dead when the whole world has been overtaken by zombies..."

Maybe Man Yung has a point...and I should focus more when I dance on dancing instead of fending off hordes of the undead?

Notwithstanding, I had to ask about The Girl.  I've always wanted to know about her.

"Remember Man Yung, that year when we were at the end of festival party for Camicando in Buenos Aires, and you asked the instructor's girlfriend to dance?  All the men who danced with her were over the moon after dancing with her.  What was so special about her?"

"She was a great dancer.  When she danced it was so sweet, it felt like honey."

"What do you mean, like honey? How does that translate into Tango?"

"It was smooth, but not like gliding.  She was light, but there was weight as well.  Her movement was fluid, but continuous.  Even her pauses were filled with motion.  And she was such a joy to dance with, because she was overjoyed with dancing with everyone."

"What was it that Manolo said again?  Something about love?"

"Ah, yes, I recall what he said.  Manolo said that she danced 'Like Love itself'."

WHO THE HECK ARE THESE WOMEN DANCING 'LIKE LOVE ITSELF' AND WHY DO THEY HAVE BETTER SHOES THAN ME?

After Man Yung snapped out of his reverie, he offered some more words of wisdom.  "If you listen to my advice about dancing instead of thinking about zombies, maybe one day you can dance like that too!"

I laughed.  "Ha ha - not likely.  I was born with the supernatural ability to tune you out!"  Then I sighed.  "Man Yung wouldn't you be happier having a partner who would be a lot more obedient than me?  Who will actually listen to you - and perhaps even be thrilled at your triple enganche double gancho leg-wrap combos?"

Man Yung patted me reassuringly.  "Don't worry Irene.  Every lady dances differently.  It's a reflection of their character.  You definitely dance like yourself.  It's OK.  Cheers!" *

* Was that a compliment, or a diss?




Thursday, March 12, 2015

Children of Tango

"Hasta mañana," Martha and Manolo used to say to us every time we had to leave Buenos Aires.   "See you tomorrow, we'll see you tomorrow - " was their promise, supposedly to spare us the pain of leaving our beloved teachers and friends again.  It didn't stop us from crying like babies though, our faces wet with tears, not caring when the random Porteños we passed on the street were looking oddly at us and shaking their heads at the crazy sobbing Chinos.

We've been crying ever since we got to know Martha and Manolo the first time they were in Toronto.  We knew that whatever time we had together was precious, and when we had to say goodbye it was far too soon.  But there was nothing we could do - they lived in Argentina, we lived in Toronto.  And always, lurking in the back of our minds was the terrible thought: would this be the final goodbye? 

Every year we send birthday cards, call with birthday greetings.  There's another photo on Facebook - another birthday party, another birthday celebration.  One more candle on the cake - one more year has passed.  Time to celebrate - and yet we know, we all know that it's all one step closer to the end. 

When people become such integral part of your life, it is easy to take it all for granted that they will be there forever.  We cried a little less at "See you tomorrow" each passing year.  We'll see you six months later, one year later.  We will get together for asado, for Canyengue, for coffee at the corner café from Galerias Pacifico.  We'll hold hands and catch up with the latest news, like old times. 

We didn't expect that Martha would die so soon.  Out of all our maestros, she was the toughest, the strongest, most full of life.  Her mother lived until well into her nineties.  We fully expected her to dance on, filled with laughter and vitality, with a quick smile and even quicker feet at one hundred, one hundred and ten..."I am Martha Anton," she once said to us, and she was not only Martha to us but also The Martha Anton, a colossal figure in the history of Tango, the Icon, the Goddess..."All the women at the milonga would watch Martha, watch her feet whenever she danced, you thought Geraldine was great but it was Martha who was the greatest," we were told by so many who knew Martha from the golden age and it was true.

After Martha died we felt guilt.  She wanted more for us - more from us.  She wanted us to teach, she wanted us to perform.  But we never taught, and performed only reluctantly, basically only at gunpoint.  Nevertheless, Martha was proud of us - but puzzled.  "Why, Irene, are you dancing so plainly?  You have to show what you have learned.  Man Yung is giving you plenty of time to show your footwork - you must enrich your dance with your embellishments."  She would demonstrate to me an exquisite adorno.  I would try and copy it dutifully under her watchful eye in class... and then rebel when out of her sight by going back to the plainness that she found so odd.  

It wasn't odd.  It was just me. 

When Martha called me "Hija" I did not feel that I was good enough to be her daughter at all.  Or maybe, I knew what she wanted from me, but I couldn't give it to her.  I cannot dance like Martha Anton - not in a million years.  She wanted us to be more than what we were willing to be, like all good parents, who wouldn't want their children to make something of themselves? 

She had hoped that we would teach her Canyengue in Toronto, her Milonga Fantasia, her Tango Salon of the 50's... but our personalities and abilities would not allow us to achieve her wishes.  We failed her.

The last time we talked, Martha didn't call me "Hija" anymore.  But not because she had stopped loving me.  No, Martha was not like that.  Her heart was bigger than the whole world.

In the end, we think Martha realized we were who we were, and she did not blame us for not wanting what she wanted for us.  When I called her "Maestra", or "Amiga" -

"No," Martha said.  "Sisters.  Hermanas." 

Manolo agreed.  "Hermanos."

No matter what we called each other, the most important was the love we had for each other.  Martha and Manolo will forever be our respected teachers, dearer to us than even family.








Sunday, February 8, 2015

Farewell, Martha Anton


We wanted to talk to Martha and Manolo today.  Even though we keep updated with their news on Facebook, we hadn't spoken to them on the phone since December.  We called this morning, but couldn't reach them...we left a voice message.

It was only until this afternoon that we saw the posts on Facebook with the sad news that Martha had passed away today. 

It is such a shock.  We just saw Martha and Manolo in Buenos Aires last May. 


It feels like just yesterday when Martha and Manolo invited us to their house and Martha treated us with asado using her special secret recipe, and showed us a huge album filled with photos of all the cakes that she made for friends and loved ones in Tango.


It feels like just yesterday when we were at Sunderland together.


It feels like just yesterday when Martha and Manolo were in Toronto and we had the opportunity of a lifetime to learn from these great Maestros, who became like family to us.


Dear Martha:  You are our mama of Tango, the Queen of Canyengue... we will never forget what you have taught us, what you have shared with us, and we will always cherish your friendship and your love.  We love you and we miss you. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Alice Starmore's Fulmar x 2

Just finished another Alice Starmore sweater - it's Fulmar again, but in white (Aran, natural) using yarns from our favourite guernsey yarn supplier Frangipani:


I think Fulmar (from Alice Starmore's book "Aran Knitting") is one of Alice Starmore's most timeless designs.  Man Yung already has the same sweater in Herring Girl Pink and he requested that I make him another one in white because he likes the design so much. 

Here are the two Fulmars we have photographed together.  Apparently Fulmar is some kind of seabird, but it wasn't exactly flying off my needles.  It took me two years to knit this one:


And here's Man Yung modeling the sweater:


I think knitting someone a sweater and having him/her wear it all the time so you can admire your own handiwork is even better than knitting a sweater for yourself!

Man Yung wanted a white sweater for a long time, since I knit Alice Starmore's Inishmore for myself using Jaeger Alpaca yarn.  I made Inishmore eons ago - it's still my cosy and classic choice for winter wear every year:

Alice Starmore's Inishmore from her book "Fishermen's Sweaters", 
paired with the pink Fulmar again... Can anyone spot the two mistakes in the cables? 

Haven't gone anything lined up yet for my next knitting project.  It feels weird not to have anything on the knitting needles!  We're just enjoying the sweaters we have for the time being - a good feeling to have, not wanting anything or rushing towards any goal in particular.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Cabeceo Fail

Man Yung may be an expert at the cabeceo, but I am not. 

We started dancing in Toronto (in 2004!) in the era of "everything goes".  The cabeceo was only used by, like, three people in Toronto and they wisely stuck to dancing with each other because dancing with anyone else would likely land them in the emergency room.  Ah.... the good ol' days when dancers in Toronto were all staging on their own personal Tango Extravaganzas on the dance floor and no-one had the foresight to get together beforehand to synchronize their choreography.  Yes, we had to protect ourselves with shin guards and padded body armor but at least I didn't have to worry about being tempted to ask anyone to dance.

Years passed.  Tango evolved - even in Toronto.   People danced better, or at least less recklessly and following the line of dance.  Tango culture of Buenos Aires seeped in...cabeceo became the norm instead of the exception...

EXCEPT - I never learned to cabeceo.  I was sidelined by a decade-long series of Tango mishaps which made me not want to dance very much, including but not limited to the following:

1.  There was an exponential increase in the number of steps I had to dance in any given Tango night, thanks to the ingenuity of my wonderful partner Man Yung.  This made me too tired to even think about dancing with anyone else.

2.  For a couple of years in the beginning, my shoes didn't fit and my feet hurt (and they were made to measure shoes too).  I didn't even want to sit down in my shoes, let alone dance in them.

3.  My shoes improved (Comme Il Fauts!) but my feet still hurt.  I think Man Yung was watching a lot of YouTube Tango, and presto!  MORE steps.

4.  My feet hurt, my knees hurt.  Must have hit middle age (or maybe it was a mysterious old karate injury).  Didn't even want to dance with Man Yung.

Thanks to a very good course of massage therapy by Man Yung (Thank you Dr. Chang Chao-Han, your origin point therapy really works) my knees are better. I'm also starting to dance better, lighter!  I've joked about other Tangueras dancing like a truck with square wheels - I must have been doing a little of that too to have my feet hurt that much.

Anyway, after years and years of practicing anti-cabeceo (consisting of playing Plants vs. Zombies or Angry Birds on my phone and looking at no-one and saying no to any Tanguero who came over to ask me to dance - really works, trust me), I found myself not being able to cabeceo anyone when I actually wanted to dance with them!

Tried to use the cabeceo in Buenos Aires.  No-one understood what I was doing.  The Milongueras might have thought I was doing the cabeceo for Man Yung - he got plenty of dances with the lovely ladies, while I just danced with Roberto Segarra...a lot.  And that was because he was sitting at our table.

Tried to use the cabeceo in Toronto.  Total cabeceo failure!   The first time, the mirada didn't work so I ran onto the dance floor and jumped up and down in front of the gentleman until he realized I wanted to dance with him.  Being an gentleman, he actually agreed to dance the remaining one Tango of the tanda with me.  That Tango was awkward because in my excitement to dance with him...I had forgotten that I had taken off my shoes.

The second time, the gentleman I was cabeceo-ing thought Man Yung was asking the lady behind him to dance (my cabeceo was so vague and puny, Man Yung had to help). After a lot of gesticulating and yelling on our part and pointing by the said gentleman to the person behind him, beside him, and finally to himself, we finally got the point across.

The third time, the gentleman from across the floor looked at the ceiling, the wall, the floor, the table, his drink - anywhere except in my direction.  It was as if my years of anti-cabeceo had turned into a superpower that creates a negative force field around me (like the Nothing in The Neverending Story) and no-one wants to look at it for fear of going blind.  Or perhaps he just didn't want to dance with me.

I reluctantly had to ask Man Yung for advice.

"Next time you use the cabeceo, you have to be more aggressive with your EYES!" he said.  He gave me a look with his brows bristling like he wanted to kill someone.  "In Hong Kong, the triads use this look to make innocent shopkeepers give them extortion money!  Loan sharks also use it to make their debtors pay up!"

"I'm not going to stare at people as if they owe me money," I said.  "What if they find it frightening?"

"Don't worry, you are only using your forceful stare to get their attention.  All the Buenos Aires Milongueras do it - like Myriam Pincen, for example, if she looks at you, she twists her head in your direction and her eyes are like laser beams.  You really know she is looking at you!  When you finally get their attention, you have to smile sweetly like this - "


I scratched my head.  "Eh....like I don't have a mouth?"

"Whoops, wrong example.  More like this:"

Everyone at my table celebrates when my cabeceo finally works!  
But honestly, what was more frightening - my staring or my grinning 
like a japanese anime nightmare cat monster that followed afterwards?












Sunday, January 11, 2015

Don Juan


Apparently, I'm Don Giovanni and Man Yung is the Commandatore.  If I don't repent now, he's going to drag me straight to the depths of hell (of forgotten and cast off past loves)!

Man Yung and I have different perspectives on love - especially "Old Loves".  The "Love" we are talking about in this sense could be for people, places, things, activities...

Man Yung says that whatever he has loved, he will love forever. This goes for artworks by Picasso and Modigliani, music by Beethoven, Martial Arts of any type (he still practices at every opportunity), Scotch (and some Bourbons), films with Alain Delon in them, etc. 

Man Yung even claims that he loves all his ex-girlfriends.  And all the sweaters they knitted for him. 

"But you aren't with them anymore," I said. 

"Ah...but that hasn't stopped me from loving them until now," said Man Yung.

While I pondered that strange notion of still loving everything (including ex-girlfriends you are no longer with), I thought about my own "Old Loves".

I certainly don't love my exes anymore.  I used to be a Martial Arts fanatic, but no longer.  I still love the opera, but I don't listen to it more than a few times a year.  I still knit, but instead of producing one sweater a month, I've slowed down to a sweater every 1.5 to 2 years...

"The problem you have is that you latch onto something - and then you become completely obsessed with it.  You think about it night and day, you devote time, money, energy into it...and then you run out of steam and eventually cast it aside for the next obsession," said Man Yung.  

I protested.  "But my method is extremely productive.*  I got my black belt within like, three years.  I knew everything there is to know about opera and opera singers and even learned the lyrics to some arias and duets by heart.  I produced ten to twelve sweaters a year.  Even with Tango - I learned how to dance, I found out lots of information about Argentinian culture and history - I even learned Spanish and made loads of Argentinian friends.  Every time I fall in love, I achieve something!"

* About ex-boyfriends - I was just relieved to have a boyfriend!  Doesn't matter that we didn't really like each other and we were completely incompatible, at least I was dating!  How's that for cynicism?

"Love shouldn't be about achievement.  You are like Don Juan and his conquests - you conquer something that takes your fancy, put a notch in your bedpost (or a mark in your notebook), and then move onto the next one.  You leave a trail of broken hearts behind you.  The sad neglected karate uniform at the bottom of your closet. Opera CDs and librettos that have not been enjoyed in years.  A half-finished knitting project languishing on its needles.  Sooner or later, you may even stop loving Tango (and/or me).  Are we going to have to donate your mountain of Tango shoes (and your poor husband) to Goodwill?"

Man Yung has been nagging me for years about this one.  He believes that I shouldn't take a journey just to get at the big shiny goal at the end of it. 

"What you have to love and enjoy is the process, and not do something just for the reward.  You have to reach a state where you don't care if you will win, you don't care if you will lose, you don't care what people think.  That's how you find enduring love in what you do.  And that's how you gain real expertise in something - it becomes part of you, and you don't have to prove it to anyone."

Thanks Man Yung for that fascinating piece of philosophy - but I'll stick to my flings.  What's wrong with chasing after bright shiny new things?  Everybody does it.  I love me some carrots on a stick - if something isn't being dangled in front of me, I won't be moving forward at all but sitting on my couch, eating chips and watching Seinfeld re-runs!






Alberto Dassieu

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