Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Forging ahead courageously while following the Great Leader (Chairman Mao)

For those of you who follow tango blogs, Sallycat's recent post "When Tango Cultures Meet"* inspired me to make a comment about my own "epiphany" about following - how "willingness" to follow was my way to connecting with my partner in tango and also enjoying the dance:

And today, I came across a post by jetsetting and glamourous tanguera Tina (Argentina and Italy! Can you imagine!) about enhancing your dances by truly embracing your partner with love - which resonates with what I have been feeling:

So, I go and tell Man Yung about this big revelation that I have been having, and being a know-it-all, he calmly remarks:

"I told you so. That's what I've been telling you all along."

You see, Man Yung used to be a pretty hardcore communist back in the 60's and 70's when he was a young lad in Hong Kong. He went to all the communist rallies, sang all the songs in praise of the motherland and the proletariats, chanted all the pro-communist slogans, waved the little red book around and threw rocks at anti-government riots. Really.

And years after, after we started tango, whenever he got frustrated about my "lack of following", he would always tell me to stop arguing with him and love him, adore him, follow him - like he was "The Great Chairman Mao".

At which point I would freak out and try to strangle him.

But thinking about it, I guess there was some truth in what he was saying. Perhaps the key is to follow the leader like he was The Great Leader.

So ladies, if you really want to follow better and become better tango dancers, imagine that your leader is Chairman Mao, and don't do anything to your leader that you wouldn't do to Chairman Mao (if you are a Mao-struck proletariat, that is)!

For example:

1. You would not try to run ahead of Chairman Mao.

2. You would not dance with Chairman Mao and scan the room looking for better leaders to dance with.

3. You would not dance with Chairman Mao and even think/fantasize about dancing with other guys. Or about what you are having for dinner. Or what you are going to wear to work tomorrow.

4. Even though you adore him, you would not try to choke Chairman Mao with your embrace. And you wouldn't hang on his neck and make him feel tired and achy.

5. You would not shine your shoes on Chairman Mao.

6. Even though you may not agree with his policies on agricultural reform, you would not try to obstruct Chairman Mao or try to slow him down.

7. You would not use Chairman Mao as a striptease pole. Or a personal vibration (ahem) device. He shouldn't be standing there while you are twisting around, swirling and tapping your feet and generally adorning excessively for your own pleasure!

8. You would not breathe heavily into Chairman Mao's ear, or play with the hair on the nape of his neck (ewww!)

9. When stepping over in the parada, you will be careful not to let your knee flip Chairman Mao's "little brother".

10. You would not wear backless clothing while dancing with Chairman Mao, because then he would feel like he is holding a naked woman. Because Chairman Mao is pretty old and we all want Chairman Mao to live a long life of at least "ten thousand years".**

* By the way, Sally's blog is my favourite tango blog, her writing is so moving and full of life. She is also humourous, humble, honest, courageous and generous - and all this is reflected in her posts which make her blog a terrific read.

** Unless your Great Leader is actually Fabio and not Chairman Mao. Then, please feel free to be as naked as you like.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Your very own personal "Fabio"

A lot of people in Toronto got a really exciting email today - it confirmed that a very special tango visitor was coming to Toronto within a week! It was so exciting that several of my tanguera friends emailed me all at once to let me know that they had received the email, and that if I really wanted, they could forward the email to me so I could salivate over its every detail (but unfortunately, I hadn't escaped the mass email so I had to forgo that particular pleasure).

So, in celebration of all this excitement, I dedicate this post to all the bad boys of the tango world: the notorious rakes, the charming cads, the "amnesiac philanderers" , the "mad, bad and dangerous to know" - and their fervent, ardent admirers.

Summer's almost here! I don't know what it's like in your tango community, but summer in Toronto means that we are sometimes invaded by errant tall (or short), dark, handsome tango "dancers", "professionals", "instructors", "performers", "gurus" from lands far far away. Like a cloud of shimmering evanescent blackflies on a delicious warm summer breeze they descend on our humble and backward little city, dazzling all with their unspeakable tango prowess, ravishing good looks and infinite charm - and deservingly acquiring a flock of admirers, male and female, along the way. And like the shimmering blackflies, they disappear at the first hint of the cool winds of autumn, leaving the bitten and the bitter in their wake.*

But what is tango without the "Fabios"** of the tango world? Who else can create the air of nervous excitement in the milonga as everyone anticipates his arrival? All those curious and jealous eyes, watching and scrutinizing as he enters the room with his newest swooning belle; the loose lips and wagging tongues dissecting every iota of gossip about what happened between "Fabio" and so-and-so after his last workshop; the pounding hearts of the chosen ones who are so lucky to be invited to dance ... or more.

Without "Fabio", would our followers be motivated to dress in anything more daring than cargo pants and flip flops? Would our leaders ever feel the heat of competition and aspire to sartorial and olfactory measures that go beyond that ratty old polo shirt and Old Spice? "Fabio" brings out the best in everyone - the highest Comme Il Fauts, the shortest skirts, the most transparent risque tops, the most dashing new pinstripe suit and tie, the spiffiest new black and white shoes - and the highest standards of personal hygiene ever experienced on the dance floor.

With "Fabio" around, tango isn't boring old tango anymore, it is TANGO. All the secret intrigue, heightened drama, fedoras and fishnet stockings that make TANGO such a thrill. Leaders, fantasize that you are "Fabio" (and take plenty of lessons with him), and your dancing will hopefully acquire that extra special something that you have been looking for all your life. Followers, fantasize that you are with "Fabio" (and this is a must: take plenty of private lessons with him), and your ordinary life will no longer be ordinary.

Before you take the high moral ground, consider this: THIS IS WHAT GREAT LITERATURE IS ABOUT: The Prodigal Son, the Reformed Rascal, Heathcliff, Lord Byron, Mr. Rochester, James Bond. The last time we checked, Harlequin made $585 million in sales in 2003.

Want a little "Fabio" in your community? Drop us a line and we'll send one to you express DHL. But be careful, he might just want to stay (or come back year after year after year after year).

* But like the harmless bite of the blackfly, proverbially, there's no injury that couldn't be fixed with a good old dose of polisporin and anti-itch cream.

** Haven't heard of Fabio? Have you been living under a rock for the past twenty years? THIS is Fabio:

(If you are wondering, the romance novel cover was ruthlessly misappropriated without permission from

Buenos Aires 2007 - Part VI

Dear Veronica,

We had a really interesting Monday in Bs As, filled with unforgettable moments.

In the morning, after breakfast, we went back to Alberto's house again for another lesson. He is really a very wonderful teacher, he could pinpoint exactly what is wrong with Man Yung's posture and walk. In one hour, we are really dancing vals, and not "tango, but faster!" to vals music (which is what EVERYBODY in Toronto does). It was just too bad that we didn't know Alberto before our trip, all the things he taught us will make a lot of difference in our Tango Salon and Vals and correct some of Man Yung's biggest weak points. Right now, according to Alberto, we have a problem with our dancing because I am dancing Tango Salon and Man Yung is dancing Canyengue! :) Hopefully Man Yung will remember the things he has learned from Alberto and I will finally get to see the posture, frame and walk that for me, are really the most important things for any leader to learn in the Tango.

As for me, just two lessons with Alberto has made me 1) be able to dance close embrace, when I couldn't before, 2) able to do giros in a speed according to the lead (whereas I was just really guessing the speed according to the music before) - with the correct posture - i.e. without my butt sticking out. I've been working on these for AGES but couldn't get them right. Only a few pointers from Alberto and all is fixed.

After the class we wanted to invite Alberto out for lunch but he couldn't go, he had to teach private class to some students from Switzerland. He also gave us more gifts of a DVD of his show and a CD, and offered to take us to the airport the next day (which we had to refused, I mean, that is too much!) We had an emotional farewell in the street. We traveled all the way to Buenos Aires and we didn't expect to meet someone just out of the blue who is not only an outstanding teacher and dancer who will change our tango lives forever, but a real friend too.

We went to El Arranque in the afternoon to meet up with M&M and Osvaldo & Coca. All the students in the festival who wanted to get a copy of the DVD of the festival could drop by and pick up the DVD there, so we got to say hi and bye to a lot of the people who were in the festival with us. We also met friends of M&M - Elena and Ruben Dario Lopez - they run a milonga and he is a DJ, and they were so friendly they asked us to dance.

However, I have to say the best thing was that I got to dance with Osvaldo (twice!) and Man Yung got some of it on video, just talking about it makes me excited, because really, dancing with him was so fantastic that there are just no words, he is one of the tango gods and he fully deserved to win the Mundial 2004. Osvaldo once said in an interview that when he steps onto the dance floor, it is like he is stepping on a floor covered with fragile rosy glass hearts,
and he has to dance in such a way so that the hearts won't break, and thatis exactly what I felt when I got to experience his dancing. Nothing is going to be the same when I get back in Toronto, even with the best dancers you sometimes either experience brutish rough and tumble music-less leading, or "let's see if she could do this!" pop quiz dances. Man Yung got to dance with Coca, but that was very difficult for him because she is so short she only came up to his knees (just kidding!) Actually Man Yung was a little freaked out because she was a maestra and he felt totally unworthy to dance with her. We also bumped into Oscar Casas and MaryAnn at El Arranque, as well as Mariana from Club Milonga.

After the milonga we all went out for dinner at a Tenedor Libre. I had to continually pinch myself to believe that I was there having dinner with two of the greatest dance couples in the world like we've known each other forever! Dinner was good but simple - the restaurant had chinese owners and it had a buffet and a parillada. We have had asado in several different restaurants, from the expensive, to the middle-range, to the inexpensive (at the Tenedor Libre, the bill came out to be slightly over 100 pesos for six people with beer and wine) but the asado is always good.

After dinner we had a walk around the block with M&M and O&C because Martha wanted to look for a Heladeria. Martha and Osvaldo and Coca walked in front, busy chatting about O & C's upcoming trip to Europe, while we walked slowly behind with Manolo. We passed by a guy carrying a large boombox playing reggae - before you know it, Osvaldo was caught up in the music and he was dancing to reggae in the street! He has this amazing ability to "be" the music whenever he hears it - it must be some kind of superpower.

During the walk we bumped into people passing out flyers for a touristy "Tango Show" at a nearby restaurant. I said "vamos" and Osvaldo thought that was very funny :) When the flyers person gave a flyer to Manolo, he asked them "Who's dancing at the show? Pablo, Pedro, Juan?" and the flyers person didn't even know. Manolo is so funny, he pointed to Man Yung and me and said to the flyers person, "do you know who these two are? They are really famous and expert tango dancers." ;)

It was just surreal, here we were, walking around Lavalle on our last night in Buenos Aires with four of the most famous and experienced tango dancers in the world (over 200 years of dancing between them!) Who knew that our journey in tango would take us here?

We never managed to find the heladeria because M&M decided to drive to find one, and Man Yung felt it was better to say goodbye to them in the parking lot, you know how he feels about Martha and Manolo and of course there were plenty of tears.

We have been amazingly lucky to find the teachers that we have found. One thing about learning from Alberto, M&M and O&C is that they know EXACTLY what you are doing wrong. And Man Yung said that when they show you something, maybe a step or a way to do a step, it's like being given "keys" to unlock a complete area of understanding about tango. Alberto takes 20 seconds to demonstrate to us how a corridita is done to vals compas - before you know it, we are finally dancing vals. At El Arranque, Osvaldo tells us to "look, look!" and shows us this apparently very very simple step - a side step, with a rock backwards, then a side step, with a rock backwards again. Most people in Toronto would have died of boredom and ran for the next Chicho workshop - but what was it? Man Yung said the way that Osvaldo did that particular step is the "key" to about half of all the steps that Osvaldo does!

The way that these masters teach and the way that they know what they are doing is certainly a lot different from the "I guess this should be what's wrong", or "talking at great lengths about what's wrong but never getting to the point", or "deliberately not telling you the point because then you have to return to take more private classes", or "tearing every little thing about the student apart so that he/she will completely lose confidence and you can milk him/her of more money" styles of teaching that you sometimes find in Toronto.

Our flight didn't leave until late evening on Tuesday (that's when all the flights to North America seem to leave from Buenos Aires) so we spent a whole day not having quite left Buenos Aires and yet with our minds looking forward to seeing the kitties again. After having such an amazing time, when would we return? Could we even imagine returning when all our dreams and more have come true on this trip?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Alberto Dassieu and Paulina Spinoso perform to Pugliese's "Seguime si Podes"

Alberto and Paulina was going to send us the DVD of their performance at La Milonguita back in February, but I'm glad they got their friend to post it onto the internet so we can see it today:

We took one look at this video and our jaws dropped to the floor. My goodness! What incredible musicality, what elegance! And just look at the way that Paulina follows - she matches Alberto perfectly in style and timing. All the pauses and silences, every lyrical phrase, every explosive acceleration in Pugliese's tango - perfectly expressed in Alberto's leading and Paulina's following. And all of this done without excess or any "tricks" - the technique is so perfect it can be laid completely bare and still be purely, incredibly beautiful.

Alberto's performances with Paulina have that kind of effect on us. This one we watched on the edge of our seats with bated breath. And their vals to Donato's "La Tapera" in New York made Man Yung cry.*

* Could you say that of anything you've seen on Cosmotango lately? No, wait a moment - of course some of the performances in Cosmotango made us cry. It made us cry about what the world is coming to - to have crap like that pass itself off as tango!

Laughter. But mostly tears.

Many dancers in Toronto are gradually becoming aware of the existence of this blog. The people who have come up to us so far have had mostly positive comments - but it's only time before someone will come up to us and tell us that they feel offended by what we have posted.

Dear offended: I don't blame you for feeling hurt, because yes, if you feel that we are laughing at or criticizing you, your feelings are justified because we are. And we aren't sparing your feelings.

Not that it would make any difference to you, but let me explain. I don't write about you out of any sense of malice, vendetta or grudge, or because I want a target when I write something funny.

I write to you from a place of sadness. Sadness that you, and others like you, can say you love tango and yet be so self-unaware to be still doing the awful things that you do on the dance floor and in our dance community. Sadness that the way you think and the way you act are destroying that tango that we love.

I don't think I am the only tango blogger or dancer who has looked out on the dance floor or has read the latest tango news and have felt a chill take over my heart. The milongas in Buenos Aires are now densely populated with tourists who either can't dance or are too busy showing off to respect the line of dance or the codigos of the milonga. All over the world, the tango scene is filled with the arrogant and ignorant - the brand new teacher who has only been dancing for six months and who can't even walk properly, the mediocre instructors who are trying to find a teaching niche for themselves by combining tango with their other totally unrelated hobbies, and the so-called tango gurus who abuse tango and take advantage of the ignorance of other dancers to make money or gain power. I see followers being man-handled by leaders with poor personal hygiene who charge around on the dance floor doing every dangerous high-kicking nuevo or show tango step they know. I see followers not following but doing every ugly adornment in the book and making strange fake faces that have nothing to do with what they really feel but what they think they should be emoting. Tango music is beautiful, heart-wrenching, emotional, transcendental - people are moving around on the dance floor but they aren't dancing to it - either because no-one is listening, or no-one has learned how to dance it.

The milongueros and old masters, with their vast dancing experience and knowledge of tango, try to go to foreign countries to teach foreigners how to feel and dance their music. But no-one is taking their classes because they are not interested in "50's/40's/30's style tango" or whatever "old-fashioned thing" they are teaching - while people flock to nuevo workshops or workshops with the trendiest label or most peculiar flavour. People are not learning how to listen to the music or to connect with the music or each other - instead of learning to love the dance and dancing it for itself, people are conditioned to seek the biggest egotistical, physical or intellectual thrill - the fanciest, showiest and most challenging new step; the most complicated, arcane, far-fetched theories of tango. And when the thrill is gone - they move on to the next thing.

I see the milongas emptying out because people just can't connect to tango - they have become too misdirected in their tango path by the charlatan teachers and marketing geniuses of tango to have fallen in love with the dance for what it is, and to stick with it because of the emotion and beauty it creates in their hearts.

Tango is dying. The milongueros are dying. Who will show us the way when they are gone?

I have no aspirations that my writing can change the world or the way that you act and think. But if I have made you know that somewhere, someone's watching you and has your number, then I've fulfilled the purpose in writing this blog.

I relish the day when the muse for my writing will no longer be the ridiculous, the ugly, or the destructive - when it will no longer be YOU. I look forward to the day when I shall write only about the beautiful music I heard last night at the milonga, the happiness and tranquility in the faces of my friends when they have danced the perfect tanda, and the warmth, love and sincerity in the embraces of our argentinian friends when we see them again.

Until that day, there'll always be a spot on this blog for you.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


Man Yung and I started to rent studio space to dance by ourselves over a year ago - we weren't completely satisfied with the music that we were hearing at the milongas and renting a studio and playing our own music was one way (short of opening our own milonga) that we can enjoy dancing to some tracks that were rarely played elsewhere.

It was just supposed to be a pleasant way to spend time together dancing for an hour or two hours, but Man Yung had to turn it into a weekly tango boot camp! Well, that's another story, but one good thing that came out of it was that I got plenty of practice making up my own playlists of tracks that we wanted to hear and dance (or practice) to.

There's some pretty good DJ's in Toronto - DJs who either have a natural ear for the music, and who are able to gage the feeling of the crowd and adjust the intensity of the music accordingly (for example Michael at Mad for Tango on Saturdays), or who are expert dancers with great musicality and who can tell instinctively what music would be just be perfect for dancing to (for example Victor at Milonga Sentimental on Sundays).* There's a lot I've learned from listening to the DJ's here and in Buenos Aires - in terms of what to play and when to play it, and for what kind of crowd. There's one very important lesson that I always keep in mind, which is that you have to change your music all the time every time. No matter how much you love playing that particular set of D'Arienzo and how much the people seem to really like it the "nth" time you have played it, behind your back you are being cursed by your patrons who are saying "Goddammit, ________ is playing that same playlist AGAIN! I can predict what's coming for the next ten tandas!"

These days we rent studio space for one hour before the milonga at Mad for Dance studios - it's just the two of us, and whoever wants to show up can practice for free during our time slot if they want to (hi Jani and Kristina!) - and I play different music every week. The following is a list of loose guidelines I have made for myself for making the playlist for the one hour practica:

1. The playlist lasts approximately one hour: two tandas of four tracks each of tango, followed by a tanda of three tracks of either vals or milonga, then two tandas of four tracks each of tango, and ending with a tanda of three tracks of vals or milonga

2. There must be at least one tanda of Di Sarli tango, but no more than two (we are working on pausing and tango salon steps right now, and Di Sarli is perfect for this kind of practice. Another reason is that Man Yung really loves Di Sarli). If there are two tandas of Di Sarli, one must be intense - a late Di Sarli instrumental, or Di Sarli with later singers like Jorge Duran or Roberto Florio. The other can be either an earlier rhythmic Di Sarli or Di Sarli with Alberto Podesta or Roberto Rufino.

3. If there is only one tanda of Di Sarli, there should also be another intense tango tanda - Pugliese, Gobbi, later Troilo, or Color Tango for example. Again, perfect for practicing pausing and tango salon.

4. The rest of the tango tandas have to be rhythmic and "milonguero" - Laurenz, D'Arienzo, Biagi, Rodriguez, Tanturi etc. so we can dance a little fun close embrace milonguero style in between tandas of tango salon. It also gives us a fresh perspective when we are dancing - I played only Di Sarli for an entire hour once and it was agony on my feet and bad for anger management having Man Yung practice the same extra long salon steps again and again for the whole hour.

This is what we are playing tonight:

Osvaldo Fresedo with Ricardo Ruiz:
Vida querida
Y no puede ser
Despues de carnival

I'm in love with Ricardo Ruiz's voice right now - he has a light and fragile tenor, full of vulnerability, but perfect for creating a dreamy lyrical feeling with Fresedo's orchestra. The way his voice caresses the words when he sings "Vida, vida querida" or "Una plegaria" brings shivers down my spine. And "Despues de carnival" is a personal favourite - it's one of the theme songs in "Milonguisimo" and it brings back memories of all our favourite milongueros dancing in the show.

Carlos Di Sarli with Jorge Duran
Vieja Luna
Para que te quiero tanto

I chose a lighter-hearted Di Sarli tango to start, so that there wouldn't be too much of a contrast from the floating, dreamy Fresedo that went before it. "Vieja Luna" continues with similar beginning and mood as "Yo", but with more rhythmic intensity. "Gracias" amplifies the rhythm from "Vieja Luna" and adds a element of passion. The last track in the tanda is more lyrical, and brings everything down a notch so that we can progress to the vals in the next tanda.

Vals - Edgardo Donato
Una luz en tus ojos
Estrellita mia
La Tapera

Donato really knows his vals - you can fly on the compas, and his melodies are so sweet, it's like heaven. The first track has a longer intro to gradually introduce us into the compas and mood of vals after the more intense Di Sarli. "Estrellita mia" is charming. And "La Tapera" is beautiful beyond words - especially if you have seen it danced with emotion and elegance by Alberto Dassieu and Paulina Spinoso or Osvaldo and Coca Cartery on YouTube.

Alfredo De Angelis Instrumentals
Sin Aliento
Mi Dolor

This tanda brings us back to business - practicing steps. I'm not a big fan of De Angelis, I find his music a tad commercial sometimes, but the great fidelity of these instrumentals and the mood that the tracks convey (a little show tango anyone?) makes this tanda a great bridge to Pugliese (OK, I admit it, I think "Pavadita" and "Mi Dolor" are pretty great).

Osvaldo Pugliese Instrumentals
El Arranque
El Refran
Si sos brujo
De Floreo

Why do DJs just play "Chique", "Nochero Soy", "Gallo Ciego" etc., milonga after milonga? Pugliese has such a rich recording legacy and danceable sound, for god's sake, please venture out of the top ten sometimes! I have started this tanda with the contemplative and lyrical "El Arranque" - it's got all the great Pugliese elements, but it's less heart-poundingly dramatic than some of his more well known tracks. The melodic quality of "El Arranque" continues with "El Refran" - which has this moody "refrain" that makes me think of a young Alain Delon in a trenchcoat driving to some secret rendevous at midnight in the rain. Anyway. "Si sos brujo" turns it all up a notch, but is still similar to the tracks before in that you have to be patient and listen hard to uncover the beautiful melody and refrains - but it's worth it once you feel it. I ended the tanda with "De Floreo" - driving compas from the bandoneon, high drama, soaring violin melodies that tug at your heart, and didn't Milena Plebs and Ezequiel Farfaro perform to it in Cosmotango 2004? Nothing like a little cosmotango association to intensify your dancing pleasure ;)

Milonga - Angel D'Agostino with Angel Vargas
Asi me gusta a mi
Senores, yo soy del centro
En lo de Laura

I think Angel Vargas is a great singer, one of our absolute top favourites - I once made a wish I would like to dance like the way he sings. His voice is so "tango tango". But I don't think the way he sings is well-suited for vals or milonga - I don't know how to explain it, is it because of the "storytelling" style of his singing? His milongas with D'Agostino are all pleasant and smooth - as Keith Elshaw once said "hot in a cool way" - but I prefer the more primitive rhythmic drive of milongas by Canaro and D'Arienzo. Still, it's good to dance to D'Agostino/Vargas milongas once in a while.

*There are also DJs who are too preoccupied with showing off their superior encyclopedic knowledge and vast music collection to care about playing music for dancers, DJs who aren't really listening to what the @$#@%!!! they are playing because they would rather turn down the music to chat, and DJs who play undanceable "international/alternative tango" tracks tanda after tanda to drive all the dancers off the dance floor and into the street, but that's a topic for another post.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Do you have a favourite hobby that you are pretty good at? Are you pretty good at Tango too but not good enough in either hobby or Tango to make people stand up and recognize you for the talent/guru that your mom thinks you are?

Merge your hobby with Tango, give it a catchy new "fusion" name, and unleash yourself on the masses! (Because no-one can really tell the difference, can they?).

Let's give you a well-known example to start:



Following this example, you could consider:



May we also suggest:



What about:




Last but not least:



(Ooops - sorry but you can't take the last one. Someone's beat you to it and already doing workshops for that this weekend in Toronto.)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

STOP IT. I mean NOW. Seriously.

Is it just me, but am I the only one who gets the heebie-jeebies whenever I see this kind of expression on the dance floor?

A famous scene with Meg Ryan from "When Harry Met Sally"

The gaping mouth might be a little more closed (with the lips only slightly, moistly parted), the eyes might be slightly more open (with a sparkly glistening moistness), maybe there's no screaming and panting but I'm sure heavy breathing is optional - no matter what the slight variations may be I think we all recognize what this expression is all about! (See my post about "The Forbidden Dance" if you want a point of reference)

Can I say "Eeeewwwwwwwwwwwwww"?

Luckily, Toronto isn't a big town for this specific kind of "Face-dancing"* for followers (Congratulations! Less than 1% of the community! That's because we are too busy doing complicated "steps" from Cosmotango and getting stepped on or kicked in the shins by our partners and by other followers to feign ecstasy**), but we sure saw a lot of it in Buenos Aires.

In Buenos Aires, "Face-dancing" seems to be used as some kind of "advanced" adornment by "advanced" followers to attract "advanced leaders", preferably milongueros, in the milongas. After surveying all the milongas where "Face-dancing" is a prevailing trend - "classy" places like Nino Bien, El Beso and Maipu 444 all have their fair share, but it is surprisingly absent from places like Confiteria Ideal or Dandi (because they have dancers who are probably having too many problems navigating and staying on their feet) - I am ashamed to admit (or should I feel some sort of patriotic pride??? Eeewwwwww again), that my fellow countrywomen and other asian ladies appear to "the top performers" in this field. Quite a few non-asian gringa followers of a certain "advanced" level do it too, but it seems that the Chinese (whether from HK, Singapore, China, Taiwan etc.), Koreans and Japanese are the real experts. At Maipu 444, we saw one fairly famous chica china (who is also a dj and a well-known instructor in her home country(s)) exhibit an expression that was so restrainedly, yearningly pre-orgasmic while she was dancing with Cacho Dante I am sure she must have practiced it for HOURS in front of the mirror.

I guess in the cut-throat Buenos Aires milonga scene, you've just got to do all you have to do to get your dances. If it means means dressing really, really "arrest me now" sexy (we've seen some chica wearing transparent yellow cotton daisy dukes with apparently no underwear get a dance with Tete), a little "Face-dancing", or putting your $3,000.00 LV bag on the table in full sight of the room next to your big bottle of chilled Dom Perignon, go ahead, it's your perogative. And who knows, perhaps all these faces that all these "advanced followers" are making are genuine - perhaps there's nothing like a little tango to bring that kind of thing out?

Excuse me while I (politely) retch into this bucket.

* What is "Face-dancing"?: Just in case you were wondering, have you watched "Dancing with the Stars" on tv? Each type of dance is supposed to have a different expression, i.e. Swing is "Happy"! Waltz is "Romantic!" and Ballroom Tango is "Hatred"! Well, for really advanced Argentine Tango it is apparently "Polite Orgasm". In case you are curious, for beginners Argentine Tango it is sometimes "TEETH GRINDINGLY SEXY AND PASSIONATE".

**We have only a couple of followers who do this in Toronto, and strangely enough they all seem to like dancing with the same old guy who is doing a little "Face-dancing" of his own - the "I'm feeling so much ecstasy in tango and I'm such an expert dancer I'm going to dance with my eyes closed" guy. Who is REALLY dancing with his eyes closed. We know because he bumps into us ALL the time.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Our dear fellow countrymen....

To our dear fellow countrymen:

Man Yung and I are chinese, and we like being chinese. We are all for freedom of fashion. And we are all for celebration of our "chinese-ness".

We see certain fellow countrymen in the milonga wearing "chinese fashions" like the lovely silk shirt pictured here. Nothing wrong with that. But don't you think dressing like a chinese waiter from the 50's is just a tad too conservative? If you want to make a statement celebrates your chinese-ness, you should make it loud and clear. Can we make some recommendations?

How about dressing like Bruce Lee?

There's nothing that says "Hong Kong" and "Kung Fu" louder than
fashion inspired by Bruce Lee!

Perhaps you want to be known as a "lover" and not a "fighter". Can we recommend a full set of traditional chinese bridegroom wear, complete with heavily veiled bride/tanguera and attendants in tow? Not only do you look very amorous, with all that red, "double happiness" and other symbols of prosperity and good fortune, your outfit is also very lucky as well as fashionable!

If your ultimate goal is to look like the tango guru (chinese flavour) you think you are (don't be shy, you can't deny it!), I don't think our previous recommendations would quite fit the bill for you.

Here's one wise chap, and he had lots of followers. There's nothing like dressing like a chinese sage to attract a devoted and adoring following - it worked for Confucius, it'll work for you!

Buenos Aires: Fact and Fiction Part I - 2007

Everyone I've talked to who have gone to Buenos Aires has their own "expert" opinion on what it is really like. Things that we have heard from others and read on the internet influenced the way we prepared for our trip and predisposed us to view the city and our experiences in certain ways. This is something I wrote right after our first trip to Buenos Aires in 2007 to dispell or confirm some of the things we had heard prior to our trip:

Man Yung and I have been thinking a lot about our experiences in Bs As and what we had read or found out from people about the city and about tango before our trip, and we are trying to sort out what is fiction and what turned out to be fact. This is an interesting preliminary list, maybe we'll have it published one day for the edification of the public?

1. Fiction?: You won't get invited to dance if you go to a milonga as couple.

Fact: Not entirely true if you go to milongas that are more couple-oriented and traditional. In a lot of the downtown milongas where singles from all over the world flock, or other some other downtown milongas like El Arranque on certain days and times where as Martha Anton puts it: "Man Looking for Woman, Woman Looking for Man", people in couples will usually not get invited and will usually be presented the worst tables behind the singles by the host. However, in the traditional milongas on the outskirts of town where there are less tourists and more local neighbourhood couples, if you fit into the culture of that particular milonga: i.e. you are not showing off the latest nuevo tango moves, you are dancing to the music rather than in the cosmic "show tango" non-groove, and you act friendly to the locals - there is a high chance you will be asked by the other local couples to dance. Conversely, it may be very hard for singles to get dances at these places.

2. Fiction?: Argentinians are never on time.

Fact: We have met Argentinians that were not on time: One guy said he may meet us on Monday at the Camicando festival and he didn't show up. We had totally given up on him, and then he showed up on Friday at the closing milonga of Camicando with a copy of the DVD of the documentary "Susana Pial Tango" that we wanted to get from him. That makes him FOUR days late.

However, some Argentinians are on time. In a scary way. Martha and Manolo said they would meet us at our hotel at 6 p.m., then Martha called and said she may be 30 minutes late, and then M&M showed up right at 6 p.m. which sent us scrambling to get dressed and ready to meet her in the lobby. And they were at every class and seminar at least 10 to 15 minutes early. And when Alberto asked me to call him on Tuesday at noon, I called him at 12:05 and he picked up the phone after merely one ring, which made me think the horrifying thought: "He is waiting right by the phone for my call" (Thank GOD I didn't listen to Man Yung who said "Oh, he's argentinian and it'll be perfectly fine if we called him at 12:20 or 12:30") And when we said we'll meet him for dinner on Thursday at 11 p.m., he shows up at 10:50 p.m.

Some argentinians are late, and some are on time or even early, but that's the same for the chinese and probably for other cultures too. So it really depends on which Argentinian.

3. Fiction?: Argentinian men don't kiss each other and/or Argentinians will only kiss you on one cheek.

Fact: We were told the first fiction by an Argentinian who lives in Toronto. What we found out was Argentinian men do kiss each other in greeting, it's just that the Argentinian in Toronto that misinformed us didn't want random men to kiss him!

We were told the second part of the fiction by a Toronto "instructor" who has travelled to Buenos Aires each year for years. What we found out was usually Argentinians who don't know you well or don't like you too much yet will kiss you on one cheek for a greeting, but if they really really like you, they will kiss you on both cheeks and if you are really special those kisses will be pretty WET. :P

I guess this instructor only got one kiss because he didn't really hang around people who particularly liked him?

4. Fiction?: The standard of dancing in Bs As is not very high (Can you believe someone actually said this? We heard this from Toronto instructors who travelled there around the same time we were there).

Fact: The standard of dancing in Bs As is very high. The standard is only not high if you go to the places with a large percentage of tourists (most of the downtown nighttime milongas), in which case you will get a fluctuating level that varies from "Montreal" level of dancing to "Jerk and Spasm" level of dancing. The last time we checked Buenos Aires still has the best tango dancers in the world!

5. Fiction?: Is this Villa Urquiza, or not?

Fact: Apparently these are NOT Villa Urquiza: Any of the Misse Family. Geraldine and Javier are pretty much straying from the style too [In late 2007 Geraldine actually comes out to state that tango is tango and there's no particular Villa Urquiza or whatever style in Chicago's Tango Noticias magazine], although that doesn't mean that they aren't terrific dancers. Roberto Herrera is not Villa Urquiza, and I would say that the Zottos are more influenced by Antonio Todaro. Who is "Villa Urquiza": El Chino Perico, Portalea, Fino Rivero, Alberto Dassieu, and others of the same generation. Anyway, the name of "Villa Urquiza" has been so misappropriated by various foreign tango professionals and by YouTube that when Alberto said he danced Villa Urquiza style my response was "??!!!?" I've got to engage in a longer conversation with Alberto to really understand what the style is, but from what I have learned from him, the style connotes a certain elegance of walking and moving and a way of being "bien parado", and also dancing with sentiment in the music that goes beyond steps or adornments. Right now Villa Urquiza seems to be mean the man dances with his back really straight with lots of giros and enrosques and the woman dances with lots of adornments and her butt sticking out - look at any video of Fabian Peralta and his partners, or Javier and Andrea, or Jennifer Bratt and Ney Melo - in some dictionaries that's "Villa Urquiza" but that's not what the older generation perceives it to be!

6. BONUS ROUND: Random "Warnings and dangers about Bs As":

A) Driving and particular Taxi driving. Very very scary road conditions with all the cutting in, several vehicles including buses and trucks squeezing in a two vehicle space etc. But we didn't see any accidents, although we saw a lot of cars broken down at the edge of the highway on our way to the airport - about 7 or 8 cars.

B) Dripping water from above, everywhere, all the time. When it's not raining. Is it from air conditioners? Or from high rise septic systems? Don't want to think about it, but certainly I got dripped on at least twice a day.

C) Air Pollution: Weekdays the air is totally disgusting, with a lot of buses belching out thick black smoke.

D) Not so scary: Dog poop. There were some but I think Paris is much worse in terms of "Will I step in one". The dog walkers are really responsible (poop scoop in hand) and the dogs were friendly!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Buenos Aires 2007 Part V

Dear Veronica,

It´s 2 a.m. on Monday morning and we have just got back from the milonga El Beso. Remember that guy with the blog that I had an online "debate" with regarding whether or not Geraldine loves her husband? Well, I finally met him, and to tell you the truth, I had a weird sixth sense that I would get to see him in El Beso. It's just the kind of milonga he'd like to hang out at.

We went to El Beso tonight to meet up with some new friends we had made at Glorias Argentinas last Saturday - Alberto Dassieu and his lovely wife Paulina. Alberto is one of the greatest living milonguero dancers - this is the conclusion that Man Yung and I have made after watching him on YouTube, in the show "Milonguismo" and on the dance floor, and also after taking a class with him on Friday. He really dispelled all that hogwash for us on the internet about the "Villa Urquiza" style - he is one of the very few people (alive) who dance this style, and many of the people who claim to be are actually not. Alberto put it this way: At any given night in Sunderland, which is the principal milonga of Villa Urquiza, out of 200 or 300 people dancing, only 5 will be actually true representatives of that style. Villa Urquiza is not a bunch of steps or adornments, even though it is being heavily marketed that way. It is more for Alberto a way of dancing with sentiment, really close to the music. When we watched on the dance floor at El Beso, he really showed an absolute continual contact with the music, it is really apparent when you compare him with all the adjacent dancers - with the other dancers, there are always breaks, choppiness in the musical expression, while Alberto dances a continuous, unbroken line. He is an amazing dancer, I feel so lucky to have a chance to dance with him not only because I enjoy dancing him him, but just dancing with him is educational. Man Yung got to dance with his wife Paulina and she is amazing too, he has never danced with someone so "grounded" but also so responsive to the lead as well. I am glad that finally Man Yung has danced with a really good dancer so that I can find out what kind of feeling I should be aiming for. I really have to thank Alberto for dancing with me the first night we arrived because after that, I am able to dance close embrace - no amount of watching videos or trying stuff on my own would have helped me as much as those 3 songs we danced.

Alberto is really too good to be true. I think I mentioned that we had dinner with him on Thursday night at a Parillada called “La Taberna” very close to the Congreso - and we had a really great conversation with him and his wife about tango (despite my so-so spanish, but they were very patient). They are very knowledgeable and fun, and gave us copies of DVDs with Alberto´s performances as gifts. After dinner, Alberto told us we have to go to his house, it is an invitation to dance tango, and he will get his assistant Eva to dance with Man Yung and correct him in a couple of things. We asked them about paying but Alberto refused to discuss at all.

Well, we were waiting for the "punchline", you know when something happens that shows you that it is too good to be true? Being cynical, we thought, "Oh no, he´s going to ask us to pay like a thousand bucks!"

Then the following day, we went to his apartment which is on the top floor in the oldest building in Abasto. It is a really lovely building elegant building, over a hundred years old, very close to a big famous mall called the Abasto Shopping Centre. We didn´t know what would be the proper thing to do, because the question of money was still up in the air, so we bought two very nice red Argentinian wines for him as a gift just in case (you know Man Yung likes to be prepared).

Alberto’s apartment is really beautifully decorated with mementos from his and Paulina’s trips, old books, and photos of his family and friends like Carlos Gavito and students. The main room is dedicated for tango classes – the floor is a red polished tile and there’s plenty of space for private classes.

Alberto arranged for his assistant Eva - an incredibly beautiful, young, lovely argentinian girl (!!!!) - to dance with Man Yung to correct his posture and find out what is wrong with his lead. And we got to film him dancing with me as well, and he gave me some really good pointers about technique that has helped me a lot in these few days. He gave us a signed large colour photo of him at an exhibition. After the absolutely outstanding private class, we asked him about how much we owed him and he still refused to discuss the question, in fact I think he was a little bit offended about it, but he realized that we would feel bad taking up his time, so we came to an agreement - 100 pesos, but he insisted that we must not pay for this class. It was the next class we are taking, which is tomorrow, that we pay, but not because he wanted us to pay but only so that everyone would feel comfortable about the situation.

Normally, it would be at least $100.00 US (or 300 pesos) for one hour private class, and Alberto was prepared to teach without payment as he considered us to be his friends! He even invited us to go to an area called Tigre for a fishing trip for the next day, but we can´t, we had to go to M& M´s seminars at the Galerias Pacifico. Well, to be able to meet up with such a well respected, expert dancer of the old school and be treated like friends in such a short time is absolutely astounding and totally not what we expected. We still can´t believe it is true.

Anyway, back to El Beso: It is much better than La Nacional in that the people are a lot more calm when they dance, but still at least 50% tourists. At around midnight to 1 a.m. the floor is really crowded, much more than we have seen in Toronto. I really felt Man Yung navigate the floor well in these conditions, he is really the best person to dance with on a crowded floor, and you know how critical I am of him all the time. Well, even Paulina said that Man Yung "drives" well on the dance floor, and I am pretty proud of him for that!

Alberto and Paulina left at around midnight because Paulina has to work the next day (she is a professor of philosophy and psychology at one of the Universities here) and she has to start work at 8 a.m. After they left, I recognized a short Asian guy on the floor that looked like ________ the blog guy I had the “heated disagreement” with. Anyway, I figured it must be him because of the resemblance with the photo on the blog, and the fact he was dancing exactly like Javier Rodriguez, who is his idol and his current teacher. Well, Man Yung arranged to "bump" into him on the dance floor to get a chance to talk to him and yes, it was him. So we talked to him a little bit and very courteously he asked "short, stocky, middle-aged, non-flaquita with glasses" me to dance (it seemed that he had only been dancing with all the tall, shapely flaquitas with the four inch Comme Il Fauts). He is a good dancer, Javier has taught him well, but I felt he was making too much effort in imitating Javier. From his perfectly rigid stick straight posture with the "ever so slightly" protruding behind, the “feel how soft and dreamy it is!” embrace and the way he moved and executed “these are the absolutely correct, appropriate and proper steps for Buenos Aires Milongas”, he was trying to do no wrong and replicate exactly what he had been taught. Where's the LIFE??? I felt like I was dancing with a Javier clone rather than a real flesh and blood person. From our conversation it seemed that Javier and Andrea (and perhaps once in a blue moon, Javier’s bad blood with Geraldine) are his entire tango world – he hasn’t even heard of Martha and Manolo!

As for what has been happening the rest of the weekend, I have been trying to obey your command to take lots of photos, today we have taking quite a few of the hotel bathroom for your viewing pleasure :) As you know we have been very impressed with the size of the bathroom and have spent many happy hours there (just joking! But actually showers are so absolutely necessary in this humid hot weather). We finished up with the Camicando classes on Thursday (We have photos to prove how gross Man Yung was with sweat after the classes) and on Friday night we went to the closing milonga at Confiteria Ideal, where we performed Canyengue (!) I couldn´t wait to tell Bryant and Faye that the reason we never perform in Toronto because we were waiting for our BIG debut at Confiteria Ideal ;) . It was a very nice closing milonga, there were a lot of tourists but people were slightly less crazy than at La Nacional, and it was really great seeing M& M and Osvaldo and Coca perform to live music by Tubatango. By the way it was Osvaldo´s birthday as well, Man Yung sent over a champagne which he promptly enjoyed by pouring everyone a glass. We really like how happy Osvaldo is, he really appreciates the good fortune that has been his since he won the Tango Salon Mundial, and really, it would be great to live his philosophy of life which is either ¨thumbs up¨or ¨two thumbs up¨, anyway, he is a very positive person.

Last night we were back at Glorias Argentinas and for us it is the best milonga we´ve been to on this trip - the people were so friendly to us, recognized us, spent time chatting and joking around with us and I even got invited to dance again by a very old milonguero regular at the milonga.

I felt really honored that he liked us and he would ask me to dance. A big shot famous Villa Urquiza couple were at the milonga with their direct students who were scheduled to perform - consisting of a young argentinian and a young japanese couple. They also had a big posse of some other asian students. For some strange reason the “Maestros” looked sour and grouchy and their direct students had this "nose in the air" attitude that they were much better than the locals and they were doing them a favour by going out to Mataderos to perform, and they couldn’t be bothered to stoop and “mix” with the locals. Our friend the milonguero didn´t even clap for the first couple and looked quite disgusted.

I guess we must be doing something right, because people were so nice to us at Glorias Argentinas. It didn’t matter that we didn’t dance “Villa Urquiza” or “Milonguero style” or whatever other label is trendy these days, or that we weren’t “performers” or “technically perfect” or “direct students of famous maestros” – at Glorias Argentinas we were considered friends and not strangers.

During the day on Saturday and Sunday we went to M&M´s intensive seminar on Canyengue and Milonga Fantasia. Not because we wanted to learn more, or practice more - as you can imagine we are dead tired from going out at night and all the classes at the festival - but because we wanted to spend as much time with them as possible before we leave Bs As. We really didn´t expect to absorb much more but the time spent was very productive and rewarding. The seminars were held at the Escuela de Tango at the Galerias Pacifico (really nice food court, by the way – real food, not just Wendy’s and McDonald’s)

When we knew about the seminar we knew that since we are so close to M&M there was no way getting out of it and we resigned ourselves to going. All in all, we had thought we were going to have a fairly slow paced and relaxing vacation, and instead we have been taking way too many classes and just having too much on our schedule. We were glad to go though, there were only about 5 couples including us and we get the sense M& M loves having us around, not only because we try to take care of them, but also because they are proud to tell everyone that we are their students!

But I did buy more shoes! Three more pairs of Comme Il Faut. The shoe tally: Six pairs of Comme Il Faut for me, with one pair of practice shoes from Tango Brujo, and Man Yung has one practice pair, one Neotango pair, and two PH Tango pairs. We also got some CDs of D Agostino and Rodriguez that I´ll make copies of for you. We haven´t bought much of anything else, the prices I guess are reasonable here but mainly we are focusing on tango things.

We really enjoyed our time so far on this trip, it has been very rewarding in terms of the time we spent with people we like, and the places we have been, and things about tango that we have been able to confirm, and the stuff that we have learned. Man Yung still misses the kitties though, I wonder if he would be able to tear himself away from home to come again next year?

Well, only a couple more days until we are back (please God no more delays or cancelled flights!)

Take care and see you soon,


The Forbidden Dance!

WARNING: If you like to dance Tango like it is the Lambada, you are definitely going to be offended by this post. Close your eyes and cover your ears - DO NOT PROCEED. You have been warned.

I don't know what it's like in your community, but here in Toronto we have some gentlemen who have not quite relinquished the notion that the Tango is some kind of extreme "Forbidden Dance". For them, close embrace is just not quite close enough. Tango isn't tango unless there a lot of whole body rubbing, thrusting, humping...

"Wait a moment," said Man Yung. "What you are saying is that they are dancing Intercourse Style Tango."

Yep, folks, that's exactly what it is.

It has become so bad that one instructor felt that he had to publicly warn his beginner students (because inexperienced beginners - whether leaders OR followers - may be misled by what they see and get the wrong idea) that this is not appropriate. He added a word of advice to his student followers that if any gentleman insists on dancing with them in this way, no matter if the gentlemen in question has been dancing for years, or if he bills himself as a "master" or "instructor" or whatever, it is perfectly OK to say NO.

Unless, that is, you find public "humping" irresistible. And you won't mind telling your children that you conceived them with some "tango master" right on the dance floor in the middle of a milonga!

Monday, April 14, 2008

For the Love of Tango

Last Friday, Paradiso celebrated its 11th anniversary with a big party at Dovercourt House. Bandoneon Master Raul Juarena from New York performed live with his trio, and Nelson Pino sang beautiful renditions of "Malena", "Sur" and other tangos. The hall was packed to the roof; everyone was dressed elegantly and ready to dance; the atmosphere was electric. What a party!

It was a special night not only because it was the 11th anniversary of a truly wonderful milonga, but also because it was a celebration of the spirit of the people who put their hearts into organizing this event, week after week, year after year for the lovers of tango in Toronto. Dearest Patricia and Regina: We cannot thank you enough!

Nowadays, we go to Paradiso every Friday without fail and we love the music there - but believe it or not, we've had our little differences with Patricia and Regina over the years. Like most people in Toronto, we started off our tango education dancing big flashy show tango moves and liking only music from the soundtracks of tango shows, tango movies (and perhaps a little Pugliese and Color Tango, because we didn't want to appear very narrow minded). In fact, one of my first communications with Patricia was to complain that all the music at her and Regina's milonga was Canaro and that they should play more Pugliese! She replied very courteously, by the way, and I didn't get my way about the Pugliese - but as I have told her years afterwards, they were right about keeping their music the way it is.

Patricia and Regina play music the way it is played in the traditional milongas of Buenos Aires. Whether there is a hundred people in the milonga, or only twenty people, they aren't swayed by fads in music or styles of dancing. Some other milongas may pander to the mob and play whatever is trendy or whatever permits the people go hog wild with the big movements. Dancing well to traditional music requires patience, discipline and love for what tango is, and not what we want tango to be. The best dancers in Toronto - the ones who savour the tango's sweetness, who are passionate about the embrace and who are inebriated by the compas -dance at Paradiso. I'm glad Patricia and Regina have stuck to their principals, so we all can have a place to go whenever we want to feel the ghost of tango - and where we can be motivated to become better tango dancers.

I once asked Patricia whether they make any money in this tango organization business. It was quite clear given the size of our tango community that it is impossible in Toronto! So I asked her why she and Regina does it, why do they run these milongas week after week, invite guest teachers from Buenos Aires every year, organize outdoor milongas and involve themselves in promoting tango in every way possible. What was the big reward?

She quoted Paradiso's motto: "FOR THE LOVE OF TANGO" - and she meant it heart and soul.

Feliz Cumpleaños Paradiso. Besos y abrazos.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Junkie Schmunkie

I'm very disturbed about the "Tango as Addiction" idea - especially when people take it too far and start calling themselves "Tango Junkies" like it was a badge of honour. The whole "addiction" bent is already morally and ethically reprehensible - and it is particularly grotesque for otherwise perfectly normal people to misappropriate drug culture go around talking about getting their "fixes" and gesturing like they are shooting themselves up in the arm. MUY FEO.

In Toronto we have an informal association of dancers who call themselves "Tango Junkies" going around like the mafia intimidating milonga organizers into giving their members discounts and their leaders entrances for free. If they don't - it appears that the leaders of the association will ensure that their members will not attend the offending milongas. I get really angry just thinking about it - with our small community, it's not like the organizers are making heaps of money running milongas. It's the kind of reckless, attention-seeking and power-grabbing behavior that divides and destroys our tango community and our milongas.

I could go on and on about the ridiculousness and wrongfulness of the attitude of this group in Toronto, but after thinking about it, I realize that the "Tango Junkie" thing - whether it's groups of people getting together intimidating organizers, or whether it's people acquiring this moniker just because they feel it's cool to belong to an exclusive clique - is really just symptomatic of what is going on in North America, whether it's tango or anything else.

We have too many people in North America craving for MORE - more obscenely huge weddings, bigger and more obnoxious cars, more extreme food and travel experiences, more monstrously big homes, more and wider ranging friends and acquaintances, more intense love affairs - everything geared towards getting bigger and bigger thrills and kicks. Look at the "MORE" factor in Gringo Tango - more strenuous/bizarre technique workshops (Ballet for tango! Yoga for tango! Tai Chi for tango! Philosophy 101 and Tango!), more fancy adornments, more difficult "nuevo" movements, more obscure old/new music, BIGGER festivals, more dance partners, more shoes, more everything etc. Tango isn't really being danced for its sake but either to get "MORE" or enable "MORE" and BIGGER thrills and kicks. That's why people aren't content to be just plain old folk who dance and enjoy tango - they have to be "teachers", "performers", "professionals", "the best dancers in the world" or "part of the coolest tango clique in town/in the world/in the universe". And if that isn't enough (because it never is), you've got to mix Tango up with other things to get a bigger kick. Or you have to promote yourself into being some kind of guru or cult-leader because there's nothing bigger than a Tango power trip.

Why should we make tango the subject of our cravings for higher highs and bigger thrills? Why should our pleasure in tango be caught up in this this North American all-encompassing cycle of addiction in which one can never be satisfied? Can't we just enjoy tango for what it is?

In the milongas de barrio in Buenos Aires, the local people go to enjoy the music, to enjoy dancing and to enjoy seeing their friends every week. For them, Tango is not a fad or a label or something to use or abuse. When the people dance, they are calm and serene because they dance for the pleasure of dancing and for themselves. They do not dance to impress anybody, to get more power, to get more attention or to prove a point. They are the best tango dancers in the world. We can't begin to dance the way that they do (not matter how many workshops you've taken with Chicho or Tete or any other big name) until we change the way we think.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Nina Balbuena: THIS is how to FOLLOW!

Most people in Toronto (and in North America) don't usually understand what Man Yung and I are talking about when we try to tell them what we consider to be really really good dancing. This is one of the examples:


Man Yung has a lot of respect for Anton Gazonbeek, and I am not going to comment on his dancing - please ignore him for the purposes of this post. But look at HER. Look at what he is leading, and how she is following it - she follows so serenely, so calmly and so perfectly, it is like a walk in the park for her.

Notice also that she NEVER gets ahead of Anton.

She is Nina Balbuena, one of the organizers of the Thursday milonga at Viejo Correo. She used to be an assistant to Antonio Todaro. We had the opportunity to go to her milonga and meet her during our trip to Buenos Aires in March 2008. She is such a sweet, wonderful person - we were strangers but she immediately made us feel welcome with a hug and a kiss.

As I said, most people in Toronto and North America wouldn't understand how wonderful Nina's dancing is. I can even predict what people will say (depending on what kind of dancer they are) if I told them that this was great following:

The extremely ignorant, ballroom argentine tango dancers will say, "How can she be good - I don't remember her being in Tango Argentino/Forever Tango/The Tango Lesson."

The slightly less ignorant dancers will say, "She wasn't in Cosmotango/she isn't Mora/Alejandra/Corina/Milena/[insert your own big name dancer here]."

The Nuevolistas will say, "Where's the colgadas and volcadas?"

The Villa Urquiza wannabees will definitely say, "She doesn't do enough adornments - I can adorn every single step twice over and back again and she doesn't do anything."

The Milonguero emulators will say, "That's not close embrace, it's not worthy of my attention."

Funny isn't it, that most North American follower's notion of good following rarely includes the idea of actually FOLLOWING.

I asked Nina what was her secret to following. This is what she said:

Te cuento que bailar el secreto esta en no adelantarse a el pedido del compañero y no levantar del piso los pies tratar la pista de baile como si fuera un dulce caballero acariciarlo todo el tiempo posible sin por eso dejar de adornar tu danzar con las coreografías a que te lleve la musica.

Translated: The secret to dancing is not to let yourself get ahead of your partner and never to lift your feet from the ground. Your feet must treat the dance floor as if it were a sweet gentleman who you are caressing are much of the time as possible while at the same time continuing to adorn your dancing with the choreography that the music inspires you to do. (Thanks to my friend JoAnne for the translation!)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Buenos Aires 2007 Part IV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Buenos Aires 2007 Part III

Dear Veronica,
We are finally in Bs As after all those delays! We were supposed to leave on Thursday but due to the big winter storm our flight got cancelled and we were booked for a flight on the following day. Our flight finally left on Friday, although it was a lot of suspense and anxiety and a further delay of 4 hours until the plane finally took off. It was a hassle getting to the airport too because of the freezing rain and all the traffic lights out in Scarborough.

Our flight was pretty awful, and because we had to get the last seats on both our connecting flight to Houston and to Bs As, we were stuck in the middle seat of the middle aisle for both flights. We had to wait ten hours for our flight from Houston, the airport is like a small city but there wasn´t much to do there except go to the washroom several times, eat airport fast food and buy lots of liquor (you know Man Yung) If you haven´t been there it´s quite an ugly airport, like a huge freaking warehouse where every store is selling Tommy Bahamas clothes and Native American/Texan souvenirs.

I was really tired by the time we got to Bs As (can´t really sleep well sandwiched by two unknown guys on the plane, with lots of strange smells and sounds, if you know what I mean). We arrived close to noon. It was exciting finally being in Argentina - the humidity, the warm tropical temperature and the tropical foliage we saw once we got out of the airport immediately reminded me of Hong Kong. I was also surprised at how much the buildings along the highway reminded me of Hong Kong when I lived there in the 80's - lots of dirty 60's highrise apartments with decrepid rusty balconies and impromptu shanty towns. The streets of Buenos Aires themselves are nothing like those in Toronto - everywhere there's people, and the streets are so busy, there's no area that's "more" busy than the others, because the whole city appears to be open for business.

Hotel Wilton was smaller than we had expected (it is in a very narrow building in the intersection of Callao and Santa Fe) but it is clean and has a nice lobby. You have to speak in Spanish to the staff though! I was totally exhausted when we finally checked in, but we got plenty of stuff done after taking a short nap. I already bought shoes! Three pairs of Comme Il Faut tango shoes - the store is located about 1 km from our hotel on Arenales. We were in and out in 15 minutes, you know how fast Man Yung is with shoe selection. The saleslady was very pleased, because a) we selected some really beautiful and colourful shoes and b) we knew immediately what we wanted and what we didn´t want. The store was full of ladies who were debating and struggling with which shade of black shoe or beige shoes they wanted to buy, not very exciting at all, and some of them looked like they had been agonizing over their decisions for hours. What we read on the internet about snobby service at Comme Il Faut is totally untrue - the staff was friendly and forthcoming with the shoe selection.

We had lunch in Chinatown in Belgrano, which is about a 20 minute taxi ride from our hotel along the Avenido Libertador, and got some chinese groceries. China town was really great, it has a lot of packed supermarkets selling almost the same selection of stuff as in Toronto. However, there were no accupressure slippers to be found anywhere, and actually, we didn´t even find any suitable slippers at all. Hmmmm, when we were packing I remember distinctly that Man Yung was saying, "no, don´t pack the slippers, they are taking too much space, of course we´ll be able to buy some in Bs As" But he was wrong. Now I have no slippers and my feet have not been properly massaged and they hurt :P And when we get back to the hotel Man Yung is either sleeping or in the washroom or I´m sleeping so my feet will have huge bunions when we get back :( We could have bought accupressure slippers from Crocs in the Houston airport but they cost $30 US!) How are you enjoying your slippers! Are they making the dancing aftermath better? I am really feeling the difference now I don´t have them around, god knows how my feet will survive the Canyengue festival.

We got to see a lot of the city by taxi, which is really great, but the distances between points can be very far. The driving is crazy, there is a lot of cutting in, rushing around and squeezing three cars to one lane. So far we have been able to get taxis right off the street, it´s very convenient. And we haven´t taken the subte at all.

As it was Saturday when we arrived, we called the milonga ¨Glorias Argentinas¨to reserve a table and managed to speak to Oscar Hector, the organizer. We are a big fan of his tango show Milonguisimo because we saw some video clips on YouTube. Man Yung has learned some pretty serious stuff from the few seconds he saw of the milongueros dancing in the show, the first time he saw those dancers in the show his eyes nearly popped out, they were so amazing. Anyway, the show had closed and we thought we wouldn´t have the opportunity to see the show in Bs As, but as I was talking to Oscar Hector, he told me that he was doing the show that night at Glorias Argentinas! What incredible coincidence! Needless to say we were really excited to go there.
The milonga is really far from downtown in Mataderos. The taxi driver luckily was a milonguero himself (thirty years dancing experience) and although he didn´t know the way really well, he called dispatch and we managed to find it after like a 40 minute taxi ride, in which he had to circle around some dodgy looking inner streets for the last 10 minutes of the trip. Finally, in the middle of nowhere, we found the place lighted up like a marquee in the middle of nowhere, and who was waiting at the door but Alberto Dassieu, a milonguero from the show! So the first thing I did was ask him if he was Alberto from the show and we got a warm welcome.

Glorias Argentinas is located in a "club de barrio" - it's in the room with the stage and the black and white tiled floors. There's no air conditioning but there are huge fans in every corner of the room blowing everybody's hairdo to pieces. The local people, couples frequent the milonga - it's just an ordinary night out for them to dance a little and talk and socialize with their friends. Many of them ordered dinner - sandwiches, pizzas, plates of heaping cold cuts and other fare were available from the menu. We were the only tourists there that night.

We also said hi to Oscar Hector and told him how much we loved the show and how lucky it was that we were able to catch it. What a fantastic show - Alberto Dassieu danced with Elba Biscay, Susi Tilbe danced with Horacio Prestamo (Juan Esquivel, her regular partner had to have surgery and missed this performance), Jorge Uzunian danced with Haydee Malagrino, and Oscar Hector danced with Teresita Brandon. The show consists of performances framed by the history of tango and Miguel Balbi also sang. The dancing was just fantastic, no-one in Toronto has seen anything like this (or if they did they wouldn't appreciate it anyway! Where's the smouldering looks, the flashing legs, the outfits that scream "TANGO!"???) Man Yung was so excited about it, and we had the opportunity to tape the whole show which was everything that Man Yung had dreamed and hoped. He´s going to learn a whole lot from watching the show when we get back to Toronto.

After the show we danced a little (our first dance in Argentina! Very scary, I was really nervous and didn't want to open my eyes to see all the locals giving me looks of disgust and disapproval!) and said hello to some of the dancers from the show. I got invited to dance by Alberto and Horacio from the show, and Man Yung was invited by Susi Tilbe. I am really glad I have been practicing how to dance close embrace (as much as I can anyway with Man Yung, as you know he moves a lot and he is always doing something that makes it impossible to dance close) because it was ok with the milongueros. They were both really impressed, but Man Yung lost the opportunity to tape us dancing because for one tanda he couldn´t get the camera lens to open, and the other two tandas he was dancing with Susi. people at the milonga were very nice and tolerant of the "chinese people dancing" and we got a lot of smiling faces and "Muy biens" and thumbs up from the people at the tables. And with Man Yung and his exuberant personality, he was making friends even though he wasn´t speaking the language.

Dancing with Alberto was incredible, he is really grounded and leads with his whole body. Horacio is more like Man Yung with more separation and lots of turns, but dancing with them was really great. I am still excited about it because its really a big deal to be invited to dance with them, they are well respected milongueros from a very well know traditional show and I was happy that all that crazy dancing a million steps method of Man Yung paid off when I was able to follow just about everything they were leading. I've read on the internet that couples never get invited to dance by other people if they sit together - well, that isn't true, we still got invited to dance, it was so cool.

When we left Alberto was actually so kind, he gave us a lift downtown and told us to call him on Tuesday, we are going to buy videos from him and perhaps talk to him some more. We also met his lovely wife Paulina and his partner from Milonguisimo, Elba Biscay.

Sunday is today, and we finally had a opportunity to rest up from our flight. Since we have been in Bs As it has been really tough for me, I am in full survival mode, first with anxiety about safety (in fact so far the city feels quite safe, except for the crazy driving and lack of working seatbelts in almost every taxi we have taken), and then with the trying to communicate in Spanish thing. I am getting the hang of it but then Man Yung is driving me crazy with the jokes he wants me to translate to everyone who talks to me. I am tearing my hair out just trying to remember how to say ¨where´s the bathroom¨ and he wants me to flirt with the taxi drivers in Spanish!!! So I was a nervous wreck, hopefully it will be better as I get more rested and used to speaking in Spanish.

We should tell you about our hotel. It´s pretty nice and in a really great location near Recoleta. Santa Fe Av. is really busy, with lots of great stores, and the side streets remind us a lot of the newer parts of Paris, with really great fashion stores (Of course, all closed saturday and sunday for some reason) The style is quite like rK, sexy fun and sophisticated, but I don´t know whether we´ll have any time to shop for clothes these few days. The hotel room we got is bigger than anything we´ve had in Paris or Hong Kong, and the bathroom is huge, like a cavern really - I bet you can fit twenty milonguero couples in there for a milonga :)

Oh, and we notice that our hotel room fixtures have a lot of Argentinian personality too. Everything goes with a ¨bang¨ here and acts quite temperamentally. All the faucets don´t seem to give out any water until you turn it a certain degree, and then you get the ¨Niagara Falls¨ of water which splashes so hard that the whole counter and your clothes get soaked. The toilet is another Niagara Falls, but somehow it doesn´t flush everything down after all that noise and thunder (But Man Yung just told me he´s got the hang of it, you have to press down longer and harder and create the Igazu Falls first before everything is gone hee hee!) All the wardrobe doors slam really hard when you touch them, I was always thinking while I was in the bathroom that Man Yung was throwing a temper tantrum when he was trying to close the door, and he thought that there was a hotel room invasion when I was closing the door.

Sunday morning we walked around Santa Fe avenue, looked at all the closed store windows, ate really nice pasta in a restaurant nearby (Man Yung has been really impressed with the food here so far, in the Chinese restaurant Todo Contento on saturday and in the restaurant today), bought bottled water and napkins at the supermarket and ice cream at Una Alta Volta right at the corner (Man Yung says that the ice cream at Berthillon in Paris is better, I think that the standard here is good but also agree with Man Yung). Eating ice cream here is quite a battle, I think that they deliberately put it in the cone in such a way that it melts immediately (think water fall again) and your hands are completely covered with sticky mess within the first 2 minutes.

The afternoon we spent touring around San Telmo. Very nice, although touristy, looks a lot like Montmartre, right down to the cobbled streets and street signs, except everyone speaking in Spanish. Lots of street shows, and we got to "help" with one of the tango street shows - I don´t know what it is but the performer grabbed me to dance, realized that we were good dancers and then made us perform while he went around collecting money! So that was our foray into show business in tango. We noticed that there was a lot of mate cups, hats and knives for sale at the fair, but we didn´t buy anything, maybe we will go buy some souvenirs when we have more time.

Sunday evening we met up with Martha and Manolo - we were so pleased to meet them and we had missed them so much we were kind of crying. It has been nearly a year since we spent a whole month learning from them in Toronto. They came to our hotel to pick us up and Manolo drove us to the restaurant ¨La Reina de las Empanadas¨ on Callao and B. Mitre for dinner. Manolo by the way drives very safe, he is completely different from all the crazy taxi driving we´ve experienced, all the cars are always rushing past his car in the street as he drives at 20 km/hour (Just kidding, Man Yung is sitting next to me and he says, no way, at least 40 km/hour!). Anyway, the restaurant is supposed to have the best empanadas in town, and we had some tasty Criolla style empanadas (Man Yung loves the olive surprise inside) followed by a argentine style pizza with anchovies and cheese, very delicious. The coffee and the millefeuille pastry dessert afterwards was also very good, and we got to catch up a little with M & M.
We are so happy that they are taking time from their really busy schedules to meet up with us. The Camicando festival is tomorrow and Martha was still getting last minute calls all night from people wanting to sign up last minute.

We went to the milonga Ël Pial in Flores, which is another really off the beaten path neighbourhood milonga held on Sunday. On Friday there is a more famous milonga called La Baldosa, with more tourists mainly because of YouTube, we have seen Samantha Dispari (Geraldine´s sister) and Osvaldo y Coca demonstrate there in some videoclips. Well, M & M were there last Friday and saw Bryant and Faye there. They said hello and M & M seemed quite impressed with their dancing, and Bryant had told them that we were coming to Bs As.
Like in Glorias Argentinas, we were also the only tourists and chinese people there at El Pial, and in both places I think that 99% of the people were over 45. Anyway, it was really nice to have M & M there because they were well known to the organizers. It was also really nice because some people recognized us from Glorias Argentinas and said hi to us, hee hee, and some people who complimented our dancing didn´t know M & M so it was like a funny popularity context (just joking). It was really hot there, and lots of couples dancing, it would be impossible for any people from Club Milonga to navigate the floor at either this milonga or at Glorias. The floor is quite a disaster too, really sticky wax floor on which it was impossible to pivot, I almost fell over a few places when suddenly encountering Man Yung´s foot in a parada. :P

It was so hot that the people started protesting by refusing to dance. A fight almost broke out when someone who wanted to dance was stopped by someone who wanted to protest. Susana, the organizer, had to explain to everyone that nothing can be done about the air con, it was already at maximum, so many people got fed up and left by 10 p.m. We also left quite early, we were concerned about M & M not getting enough rest for the next morning, but not before winning a bottle of Sidra (sparkling cider) at the lucky draw! Two lucky nights, we are on a winning streak!

We are preparing to go to Neo Tango to buy more shoes just before the festival tomorrow (it opens at 11 a.m.), and it´s going to be more survival tactics for me with the long long hours of classes at the festival.

This is a pretty long email, hopefully you find it entertaining and a good snapshot of what is happening. If I get another chance when the computer is free you´ll get to hear more about what is happening over the next couple of days.

Take care and we'll talk soon,

Toronto Weather

Buenos Aires Weather