Saturday, May 31, 2008

Public Displays we are always THRILLED to See...






* "Wow, Fabio's soooooooooooooooo amazing - look how the all the people dancing around him give way so that he would have more space to do that triple colgada triple enganche combo! Talk about Moses parting the Red Sea! Can we dance a little bit closer so we can see the whole Fabio show? I know I'm going to get my head sliced open by his partner's stilletto - but it's going to be totally worth it!!!!"

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Remember The Borg? The ultimate villains of the Star Trek universe, subject of multitudinous episodes of The Next Generation, spinoff movies and books - who can forget them?

Just in case you forgot, this is a handy overview from a trekky website:

The Borg's need for new technological advancements, and their obsession with the perfection of the 'body', has ultimately cost them their humanity. They now lack any emotional responses or individuality, which is why they are easily the most feared species in the Star Trek universe. The Borg's dependence on technology serves as a warning to humanity not to sacrifice our individuality and our emotions--in essence our humanity--for perfection through inorganic enhancements.

You know what? Seems like the Tango universe has been invaded by the Borg these days. Did everyone start taking lessons from the Academy of Borg?

There's Show Tango Borg:

Note: "My hair is greasy and slicked back - check. My suit is tight and just right - check. No expression on my face - check. Am I doing moves that induce LSD flashbacks to Tangox2 and every single other Tango show ever known to humankind? - check."

Villa Urquiza Tango Borg:

Note: "Look, we may be upright but we are just so not 'Show Tango' - we don't jump around or do back sacadas, you know! Don't tell us how to dance in a 'Salon' - of course we can, since we are very sensible and we keep our feet on the floor and do lots of giros. We are the TRUE authentic Villa Urquiza - can't you tell by our constant adorning? Oh yes, we take our perfection very seriously, and we don't need to smile because we are PERFECT."

And believe it or not, there's even Milonguero-style Tango Borg!!!:

Note: "We must be dancing Milonguero Style because we are dancing so very very close, you can't wedge a toothpick between us. And we are doing the same three steps over and over again! Can't crack a smile - must look dead serious, perfection is a serious matter and not to be joked about! Because if we deviate the Borg-meister will tear out our entrails and feed them to a pack of wild dogs. Mommy, I'm scared!"

And last and not least, hasn't the Camponeato Mundial become "El Carnival de Borg"?:

Only a mere 20 years ago, people danced like this:

So what if your posture isn't perfect? So what if your arms in the embrace are not exactly "just so"? So what if you are smiling and enjoying yourselves and doing funny little moves and separations not codified by the Academy of Borg? So what if everyone is dancing totally differently from everyone else? Isn't tango about savoring the music with your partner in the dance?

Apparently not, tango nowadays is all about adhering PERFECTLY to THE CODE OF BORG, Chapter XVIII, Section 4.2, paragraph A subsection d.

(What? You don't own a copy of THE CODE OF BORG? Shame on you. You are't allowed to dance tango unless you have memorized it from cover to cover and back again.)

If the Academy of Borg catches anyone these days dancing like the people in this videoclip, chances are the Borg-meister will start cracking the whip and yelling - WHAT YOU ARE DOING IS WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!!! And then you will have to take thousands of dollars worth of private classes to get in line with THE CODE OF BORG, because we don't want to dance all WRONG, do we?

I'm guessing at the rate we are going, by 2015, we will all be assimilated by The Borg and we will have to dance tango like this:


Monday, May 26, 2008

Pointing Fingers, Passing the Buck...

I once took an undergraduate course in psychology (decades ago!) in which one of the topics was theories of personality.

I don't quite remember who the theorist was, and I can't be bothered to dig up all my old psychology textbooks to find out - but I remember vaguely that there is a theory in which people's personalities are formed by various "constructs" of what they believe themselves to be. People will interact with others and the world around them accordingly according to this personality "construct" - and the reactions that the person receives from the "outside" will normally reinforce this "construct" as it is something that usually self-perpetuates. It's what gives a person a consistent "personality".

The trouble starts when events and things on the "outside" happen to challenge the reality of this person's personality "construct", for example: Do you believe you are God's gift to men/women? Then why haven't you been getting any dates? When there is a discrepancy between the "construct" and "reality", it will disturb a person's sense of self. "Normal" individuals can usually adapt to this discrepancy by a number of tactics, i.e. revising the "construct" to make it consistent with "reality", or by denial and avoiding encounters with the cause of the discrepancy, etc.

Denial is an easy tactic to adopt - and blame is one of the consequences. Didn't dance so well tonight with that leader? Well, it's because he has no chest lead and he's doing too many steps. Couldn't do the triple enganche triple colgada combo with that follower? She must be a lousy follow because she hasn't taken enough women's technique classes.

I used to blame Man Yung a lot for the frustrating things that happen in the dance. I too have concluded that I couldn't follow because "He has no lead in his right arm" or "His left arm is too stiff/too forward/too high" or "He's doing too many steps" or "He is not dancing in the right style for me". There were other things to blame too: "My shoes are no good" or "My feet hurt" or "The music is not right". Anything to blame except myself for not being able to follow.

The big change for me came when Elina Roldan came to town. She could obviously follow EVERYTHING. She danced with some dancers who were quite challenging, or whom I knew had less than perfect leads, but she never faltered, she never blamed. She never stopped a man in the middle of the tanda because his hand was too high/too forward/too stiff or his embrace was not ideal to give him a little lecture on what she considered the right lead/embrace for her so that she can follow it.

That was quite an example for me. Yes, it is true that some leads out there are less than perfect, in much need of correction - but I find that blaming the lead has the effect of inhibiting my own progress as a follower. Instead of working on being able to follow, I was making excuses why I can't and blaming the leader. It was a waste of my effort and time to engage in denial activities, when I could use that energy in practicing and learning how to follow. Even those leads that were not perfect, even those leads that were ridiculous.

I found that the less I engaged in blaming, the more I grew as a follower.

Leaders too should take heed: one of the most heinous activities in tango is "teaching on the dance floor". If the leader can't lead what they want to lead, and have to resort to stopping the dance and giving detailed verbal instructions to the follower on what the follower "should be doing in the move", you are not only doing the follower a disservice, you are also doing yourself a disservice. You are dealing with choreography and no longer improvising, which is one of the cornerstones of tango. You will never be able to lead what you want to lead because you are training the follower to do the moves automatically irrespective of lead - and you will never be able to gauge what is wrong with your lead.

So, if you want to become a better dancer, don't waste time and energy and stop blaming! Work on yourself instead.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Los 100 Barrios Portenos

Publicity photograph of singer Alberto Castillo

Another busy weekend here for Tango in Toronto - Susana Miller will be teaching workshops here in Toronto throughout the weekend.

Man Yung and I are planning to go to some of the special events, but that doesn't mean we're not going to have our practica! The playlist for tomorrow is as follows (even though we might not have any energy to dance to it after all the excitement):

Enrique Rodriguez with Alberto Moreno
Que Lo Sepa El Mundo Entero
Aquel Silbido
El Encopao

Dear DJs: Enrique Rodriguez is your friend. His music is really consistent, and a large proportion of his tangos sound nice and are suitable for dancing. His music is spooky and tango-y. Use him and get instant dance ambiance.

One thing about Rodriguez's very consistent, always sounding the same music is that many of the tracks are inter-changeable in a tanda. You can never go too wrong. Mix it up! Try different tracks! Be bold! BECAUSE: if you play the SAME tracks of "very consistent, always sounding the same" Rodriguez in the SAME order again and again milonga after milonga - you will bore your poor patrons to tears.

Carlos Di Sarli with Roberto Rufino
Necesito Olvidar
En un Beso la Vida
Manana zarpa un Barco

I ended the Rodriguez tanda with "El Encopao" - I think it's really terrific, one of the more nuanced and emotional Rodriguez tracks. It brings out the lyrical quality of Alberto Moreno's voice, which is sometimes pushed into the background in other Rodriguez's tracks because of the very consistent, regular orchestration.

"Necesito Olvidar" continues the emotion and lyricism of "El Encopao", notice that neither are gut-wrenchingly dramatic, but both are wistful. "Necesito Olvidar" was one of the songs used in the National Geographic documentary on tango - my post about this is here.

During the rest of this Di Sarli tanda I am playing with the tempo. I find that a lot of Roberto Rufino's Di Sarli tracks are on the fast side - sometimes unskilled placement of his songs in a tanda results in a jarring, confused feel to the tanda. The dancer will find it hard to find his/her bearing if a fast tango and a slow tango (or vice versa) are placed side-by-side.

I am trying to get around this by putting the faster track "En un Beso la Vida" in second. It doesn't seem out of place for this track to follow "Necesito Olvidar" although it is slower, because of the similar souring melodies on both tracks. I progress to "Todo" which has similar urgent "staccato" singing as in "En un Beso la Vida", but slower, and end with the slow and lyrical "Manana zarpa un Barco".

Vals - Alberto Castillo
La Vieja Serenata
Pulpera de Santa Lucia

I didn't used to like Alberto Castillo during the first two years of our "tango life". My attitude then could be summed up in the comment of a fellow dancer, who once remarked to me "I don't like the older scratchy tangos with really nasal singing."

As we danced more, I have learned to really love some of Alberto Castillo's tracks - either with Ricardo Tanturi, or with his own orchestra. His tangos I find ok. But where he really excels for me are his valses, milongas and candombes - his method of singing totally compliments the type of music he is making in this respect.

I don't know how to analysis vals compas, and I don't have any complicated theory about STRONG beats and WEAK beats and when you should walk, run or not run (Sorry, I think it is kind of ridiculous to dwell on these things, our teachers taught us the principles of how to dance vals in three minutes without a single sentence of theory) - but I know that when Alberto Castillo sings a vals, his voice BECOMES THE VALS. Is it the way he moderates his voice, one moment assertive, the other moment imploring? Is it the way his voice swoops from low note to high note and back again? I just know that when I dance to an Alberto Castillo vals with Man Yung, we soar and swoon on the sound of his voice.

Here's a video of Alberto Castillo singing the vals "Los 100 Barrios Portenos". So beautiful, and all he is doing in this song is listing all the names of the Barrios or neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires, and how much he loves them:

Alberto Castillo is one of those singers who can be singing from a phone book - and still create a vals cadence so compelling and so enchanting you wouldn't even care.

Carlos Di Sarli - Instrumentals
El Abrojo
Champagne Tango
Bar Exposicion
Indio Manso

I confess I have a big weakness when it comes to making a tanda of Di Sarli Instrumentals. They inevitably end up including "El Abrojo", "Champagne Tango" and "Indio Manso". I just really enjoy dancing to these tangos!

All of these tracks have superb fidelity. Man Yung says that when he hears the opening notes of "El Abrojo", it feels like his heart opens up, there are endless vistas on a sublime plain - so carefree. "Champagne Tango" - starry nights, high society. And "Indio Manso" - innately peaceful. There is a superb video I've seen of Portalea dancing to "Indio Manso" on Youtube - hearing the track immediately reminds me of Portalea's elegant expression of the cadence of this music.

Angel Vargas
Rie Payaso
La Mariposa
Noche de Locura
El Adios

There's so much I want to say about Angel Vargas, I'll have to save it for some other time.

It is absolutely necessary to maintain the intensity of late Di Sarli instrumentals in the music if it is followed by a tanda of tango. One way is with a tanda of mid to late Pugliese, or a tanda of Pugliese style orchestras like Color Tango or Alfredo Gobbi, or really late D'Arienzo (but so far I don't like really late D'Arienzo as a rule - way too brassy). Tangos by Angel Vargas and his orchestra is also a nice choice. In most of his tracks, there is rich orchestration, good fidelity, and of course - magnificent and emotional singing. Vargas sings without much vocal fireworks, but his voice touches your soul.

I first heard "Noche de Locura" in a video of Geraldine Rojas dancing with her husband Ezequiel Paludi at their performance at Porteno y Bailarin. They sometimes have quite unconventional choices for performance music, but the impression I got from their performance was that it was a very personal, romantic tango for them. I love it. I ended this tanda with Vargas' version of "El Adios" - I love this version as much as I love the version by Edgardo Donato. The link to Alberto Dassieu's performance of this tango with Eva Garlez at the Milongueando festival is here.

Milonga - Edgardo Donato
Papas Calientes
Sacale Punta
Ella es Asi

After all that intensity, what could be better than a tanda of Donato's milongas? They are playful, and catchy, and they make you want to dance milonga. And they are not insanely fast!

DJ Keith Elshaw's comments on Donato's music and especially "Ella es Asi" are here.

Monday, May 19, 2008

What Toronto can learn from Detroit

We were at Martha and Manolo's workshops this past weekend in Lori Burton's studio in Utica, Michigan. We had a wonderful time. I will post about our experiences a little later, but for now, here's what we observed about tango dancing in Utica that Toronto dancers would be advised to pay attention to:

1. In Utica, the majority of the dancers dance to the music.

In fact, Lori has taught her students to distinguish between merely "dancing to the beat" and "dancing to the music". I found that out from a comment made by one of Lori's female students who was leading me in class - she said "Oops, I was just dancing to the beat just now - I wasn't dancing to the music!"

Yes, there is a difference between dancing just "to the beat" and dancing "to the music". In Toronto, quite a lot of dancers can't even dance to the beat, let alone the music - they are too busy trying to complete figures or show off movements. Leaders who could dance to the beat here are considered "Advanced Leaders"!

We noticed that Lori only plays traditional music at her milongas, and it is important to her for her students to know how to dance traditional tango to traditional music. I danced with several of the leaders in Utica, and they were a pleasure to dance with because the music was in their dance. Coincidence? To all of you tango gurus and milonga organizers in Toronto who think there's no harm in a big dose of alternative music for newbies and intermediates in Tango - did you ever notice that your events have the worst non-musical dancing per capita?

2. In Utica, the followers actually follow.

Yes, we saw that the followers in Utica were not anticipating, not in their own little fantasy world of "adornment making", not face-dancing, not listening and interpreting the music themselves instead of listening to the man's lead and interpretation of the music! Yes, they were actually FOLLOWING! In Toronto, except for the "face-dancing" (that's more a Buenos Aires phenomenon as far as I know), we have followers who are not really following because they have fallen into all of the aforementioned traps. We even have followers who are so used to "Standard Argentine Tango" leading (did you ever notice that a lot of dancers outside of Buenos Aires lead and follow a certain standard way - looks like improvisation, but it is not really improvisation because you know exactly what is coming next) - that they would look absolutely fabulous dancing with other "Standard Argentine Tango" dancers, but then trip all over their feet when they are dancing with a "non-Standard" leader.

In Utica, the majority of the followers are not getting ahead of the leaders, and they have good posture and frames to be able to follow right and/or left handed and chest leading from the leaders. Sorry Toronto - most of the followers here are still working on not anticipating. Don't even get me started on posture and frames and the mega-adorning.

3. In Utica, dancers actually respect each other on the dance floor.

Except for one couple who were channeling the essence of the entire cast of Cosmotango at once (They weren't Lori's students. And there's a Toronto connection - I don't know where the man came from but the woman said she used to live in Toronto) and bumped into us not once but twice during the Friday night milonga (and didn't even stop to apologize) - the dancers in Utica actually respect the other dancers on the dance floor. They were all mostly dancing open embrace too, but we didn't see or experience the same kind of ridiculous collisions we have sometimes here in Toronto.

Pay attention, all you wannabe "Forever Tango" auditionee leaders - you are not the only person on the dance floor, and you are quite deluded if you think you have the god-given right to complete the fancy step combination you appropriated from Youtube while you are on a crowded dance floor. Especially if it means that you are going to decapitate all the people within a 2 metre radius with your partner's stiletto.

Close embrace leaders - don't think that you aren't guilty of dance floor atrocities just because you are hugging your partner real tight and you are making yourself as teeny-tiny as possible. If you love to surprise the people behind and next to you with unexpected "Crazy Ivans" (anyone who has watched "The Hunt for Red October" will know what I'm talking about), or if you are not looking where you are going because you have closed your eyes to better "become one with the music" - you too are a hazard. No matter if you are in a boa-constrictor embrace, there's still enough of you left to feel like a Mack truck upon collision. Please, please learn how to navigate - trust me, navigation is a much more handy skill than learning how to apologize every twenty seconds.

4. In Utica, people can actually learn something new in tango

We've gone to Martha and Manolo's workshops here when they were in Toronto in 2006. We saw lots of struggling here by Toronto dancers to learn what Martha and Manolo were teaching - and that included us - simply because the level of basics here is not the greatest. For example, most of the leaders here can't lead more than one rotation for a giro, let along do sacadas during the said rotation. Changing directions during a giro? Forget about it.

Utica dancers were learning the same steps from Martha and Manolo at least twice or three times as fast as Toronto dancers - and why? Because they are really leading and really following for one, and because they have the basics to be able do and absorb more. This has a lot to do with what Lori has taught her students, and with the quality of teachers she has been able to bring to Detroit over the past decade - Osvaldo Zotto, Rudolfo and Maria Cieri, Facundo and Kelly Posadas, Fabian Salas, etc. etc. Yes, the types of teachers and guest teachers we can get here is a question of economics - however, whether a student can actually learn something also goes to a question of attitude.

The students taking Martha and Manolo's workshops in Utica were respectful, patient, and willing to learn and practice the steps. There were beginners, intermediates and advanced dancers in the classes, but none of them thought it was beneath them to learn how to do a 50's style salida. Yes, Utica dancers may have studied with the "greats" like Zotto, Cieri, Posadas, but that doesn't mean that they approach learning with a super-sized ego.

A lot of Toronto dancers would be asking for their money back if the guest instructors taught anything that looked or smelled like a "basic" - e.g. lots of leaders in Toronto can't walk but they feel they are too good for walking because obviously, Tango should be all about flashy moves and dramatic posing.

One other thing - I'm usually not a big fan of women leading, but in Utica, lots of women can actually lead. That double turn giro with sacada combination that would tie most leaders here in knots? For the women leaders in Utica - NOT A PROBLEM.

5. In Utica, they dance Tango.

I'm not saying that Utica has the best tango dancers in the tango universe, but what we observed is that most of the dancers in Utica are actually dancing Tango - that means leading, following, connecting with the music and each other during the dance, dancing for yourself and your partner and dancing for the pleasure of dancing. Simple things.

Dear Toronto dancers, if you are: Trolling for compliments with your fancy steps and adornments while in a milonga/Trying to prove that you exist by doing attention-grabbing moves/Obsessing over doing everything ABSOLUTELY CORRECTLY while you are dancing because you want to prove that you are the proponent of the "true" Tango - please ask yourself, what are you dancing for? If you are dancing mainly so that people will look at you, admire you, believe you - I don't know what you think you are "dancing", but in our books, you are no longer dancing Tango.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Why one does not dance to "Gardel"

Man Yung and I know next to nothing about Carlos Gardel. We got into tango because of the allure of the dance - I know that it is kind of restrictive but we haven't preoccupied ourselves so far with tango that is not danced, i.e. the music of Carlos Gardel.

I know that Carlos Gardel is a legendary, iconic figure - it is said that without him, there would be no tango as we know it. Those who love him say that "Gardel sings better every day", even though he died in a plane crash in 1935. And this, a quote by Alfonso Laso Bermeo in an article on the website of Todotango:

Gardel is tango and tango is Argentina.

I was listening to some tangos that are not danced the other night - Ignacio Corsini (Angel Vargas sings many of the same songs and in the same style), Augustin Magaldi - and trying to get Man Yung to dance to them even though they don't have a regular danceable compas, just to see what he can dance to. Nothing difficult really, except both of us had to be very in tune with each other to manage the changes in tempo and the pauses. And while going through the tracks, I started playing some Carlos Gardel.

The last time we had listened to tangos by Carlos Gardel was two years ago, in the car on a Thursday night on our way to a practica. At that time, perhaps because of the distracted situation we were in, or perhaps because we were still very much novices at tango, or perhaps because we had not yet traveled to Buenos Aires - we didn't think much about the music we were listening to, except that Gardel had a nice voice, and it was a pity because the fidelity of the music was very poor. In any case that was the last time we listened to Gardel.

So, returning back to the other night, I was playing some tangos by Gardel and Man Yung happened to pass by. He was stunned.

Man Yung was immediately enraptured with the texture and feeling of Gardel's voice.

Although I told Man Yung about the "prohibition" that the Argentinians have about dancing to Gardel, Man Yung felt inspired by the music and wanted to try dancing to it. We danced to "Rosas de Otono", "Bailarin Compadrito", "Volver", "Por una Cabeza" and "Mi Buenos Aires Querido" - and each one felt more glorious than the last.

Dancing to Gardel is truly a beautiful thing. Although we shuffling around on carpet at home to music that was being transmitted (poorly) through a computer speaker, Man Yung really felt the music. And, as Man Yung put it, "It's music that teaches you how to feel and listen to tango".

So why is there a prohibition about dancing to Gardel? These are some of the conclusions we have reached, as of today, four years and five months into our tango journey:

1. You don't dance to Gardel because it is really difficult to dance to.

Well, for one thing, it's really hard to dance to Gardel's music. It's not created for dancing, and it doesn't have a regular danceable compas. Most people would fall over their feet trying to dance to this.

2. It is an insult to Gardel, Tango and Argentinian culture to dance badly to Gardel.

If the dancers are not up to par, if they don't know how to listen to the music and dance to it, it would be an insult to Gardel and to Argentina to let them dance to this music. Can you imagine people doing flashy attention grabbing moves to Gardel? Combinations from Cosmotango? Way too many adornments? As Alberto Dassieu would say, and it's one of his pet peeves - "People on the dance floor trying to show things they do not feel." Because Gardel's music is so much about the feeling it conveys.

3. Not even the best dancers in the world would want to mess with Gardel.

We started talking about the dancers we felt had sufficient musicality and skill to deal with the emotion and difficulty of dancing to Gardel.

"Osvaldo Cartery could dance to this," Man Yung said. And then he thought for a minute, and retracted, "No, Osvaldo Cartery wouldn't dance to this."

For Man Yung, the way that Gardel sings makes all the art and artifice of singing disappear. Gardel is not singing, but speaking right to your heart as if he was an beloved friend. It is voice that takes you right into tango - or is it, as Bermeo had said, "Gardel is Tango"?

"It's a dangerous thing. As I dance this, I am glad that I don't understand Spanish and that I am not Argentinian. My ignorance of the language and the culture insulates me from the core of Gardel's music - it is an intense fire that would consume me if I put my heart and soul into the dance. If I understood the lyrics, if I was born in the culture, if I was completely naked and exposed to the full effect of the music, I wouldn't be able to dance to it - any attempt would make me break down into tears."

4. You can get seriously injured dancing to Gardel.

We started watching some old videos of Gardel performing to "Mano and Mano" and "Yira, Yira" on youtube. They featured Gardel playing guitar and singing, flanked by members of his trio.

I'm not a sensitive person - watching Gardel and having an image of him to place with the music does not much effect on me.

However, Man Yung is. Man Yung only got half way through "Yira, Yira" and he didn't want to watch anymore - "Let's dance instead."

We danced for fifteen seconds and Man Yung had to stop. For some reason he just couldn't lead and I just couldn't follow. He had to sit down because he had started getting a headache and a pain in his chest.

Thankfully, it wasn't a heart attack. But the incident illustrates one thing. I have watched a movie at one time in which an artist goes mad. The artist had the ability to appreciate infinite beauty - but not enough talent to capture it. The discrepancy between the inspiration and the ability was too much for his spirit to bear.

We don't know whether it was the melancholy of the music in "Mano a Mano" and "Yira, Yira", or the culmulative effect of being exposed too much Gardel in one evening - but it's a warning.

Gardel is a genius. Gardel is Tango. If you slip while trying to express his music, it would cut your heart and soul into little pieces for sorrow that you have let him down.

I don't think we will be dancing to Gardel again for a while.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

No, it's not cool to be called "El Nabo Gigante"

It seems like all the big important milongueros have nicknames. Tete. Pocho. El Flaco. El Nene. El Pibe. Pepito. El Chino. There's nothing like a nickname in castellano (or some other foreign language) to give a good tango dancer an air of importance and mystery - and a feeling that he is approachable, down to earth and "one of the good guys!" The nickname may even say something about a dancer's style of dancing, personality, how he looks like, where he comes from - no matter how you put it, nicknames in tango are crucial.

But we're talking about really good dancers and Argentina here. For all the rest of us in "gringotangoland" - before we run to the nearest Larousse Diccionario Enciclopedico to look for a super-cool moniker for that special instant cache - maybe a word of warning is appropriate.

So, without further ado, we present this edition of

"Irene and Man Yung's Pocket Guide for the wannabe Milonguero:
Tango Nicknames You Just Don't Want"

1. "El Payaso" (the clown), "Cirque du Soleil"

Yes, now the circus is a real career option for athletes and would-be entertainers - seems like everyone is going to clown school or circus training these days. However, we doubt that people are calling you by these nicknames because they admire your acrobatic grace on the dance floor and are assessing your suitability as candidates for the Varekai or Draglion world tours. They probably don't even think that your triple enganche triple colgada combinations on a crowded milonga floor are all that funny.

What they are probably thinking is that they would like to get a hold of you and fourteen other dancers like you and stuff you in a little teeny-tiny car that apparently can accommodate at least ten to fifteen clowns - and hope that you and your merry crew will drive off the Scarborough Bluffs right into Lake Ontario.

2. "El Cangrejo" (the crab), "Los Camarones" (the shrimps), "El Arenque" (the herring)

I know that many people think "El Pulpo" is kind of cool and "rock n' roll" and he's developed his own style of dancing that is very attractive to the participants of CITA and tango festivals worldwide. I also know that a lot of you out there love to enjoy a tasty seafood dinner with a little horseradish or butter sauce on the side.

But what are they actually talking about when you, as dancer, actually become the seafood? Could it be the way that you are walking that makes people compare you to well, the "catch" in "The Deadliest Catch"? Do you have a little roll-y spring-y action going on in your dancing that makes onlookers feel a little seasick? Or could it be the smell coming from your socks?

Tip: Any tango nickname with a whiff of the sea - NOT GOOD.

3. "El Contable" (the accountant)

My accountant is a very respectable, upright citizen. He has his own office and employs a staff of seven, and he's been in the same location for the past twenty years. He helps people with their tax problems, and his audits are strictly in accordance with the standards of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario. Tax times are busy for him. He drives a Volvo. He has had the same haircut since Michael Jackson's Thriller album came out and he has a wardrobe filled with jackets and pants in the same colour, cut and pattern. He works really hard, even on Saturdays, and I haven't ever heard him say he has gone on a holiday. On Sundays, without fail, he will go shopping with his wife, and then either play a round of golf with friends he has known for thirty years or if the weather is bad, he will stay home and watch tv. For Sunday dinner with the family he will have either homemade roast chicken or meatloaf.

Sure, he makes a lot of money. But are you sure you want people to say that you dance like an accountant?

4. "El Trapo Sucio" (the dirty towel)

This could be either a reference to the effect that you have on people's party mood (i.e. wet blanket), or maybe the fact that apparently you haven't washed that rag you call "a towel" you use to mop your sweaty head for a few weeks now.

Or could it be that enticing and pervasive odor of slimy mildew that you find in the basement of houses that have been condemned due to infestation by poisonous mold spores that seems to envelope you and everyone around you within a two metre radius?

5. "El Capon" (the capon), "La Princesita" (the little princess), "La Duquesa" (the duchess)

These are just another way to say, as they would say in my 'hood - "Excuse me, your panties are showing." Even if you are dancing like you've never gone further than first base despite all your fifty years of existence, or if you find that plenty of women are more of a "man" than you are - any of these nicknames are an obvious insult to your manhood. AVOID. I repeat, AVOID.

6. "Baila como Nabo/Berenjena/Espinacas etc" (Dances like Turnip/Eggplant/Spinach etc.)

Kevin Costner was once in an epic movie of the Civil War era in which he played the "great white savior" for a Sioux tribe. For his great strength of character and heroic actions (not to mention really magnificent hair and makeup), and a little scene in which he well, "Dances with Wolves", he is named by the tribe as Shu-mani-tu-tonka Ob' Wa-chi , or "Dances with Wolves".

If a tribal elder solemnly decides that you should be granted the name of "He Dances like Turnip", maybe you should do a little mind-merge with said turnips with the whole of your body, mind and spirit and reflect deeply this question:

What is it about my dancing that invites comparison with the mystical old soul of the good and honorable turnip?

7. "Fabio"

"You must be joking. Who doesn't want to be "Fabio"? Everyone coverts him, adores him, wants to be him. I'm a guy and I still want to have his babies."

Friday, May 9, 2008

Cantor de Barrio

Orquesta Ricardo Tanturi

I've been hearing a lot of Tanturi lately, at home and elsewhere. Last Wednesday at Elizabeth's practica we heard no less than TWO tandas of Tanturi (the first with Campos, and the second with Castillo AND Campos - although personally I wouldn't mix tracks with the two singers together in the same tanda because they have entirely different "feels" to them even though the orchestra remains the same) even though the practica lasts only two hours. Elizabeth's practica was really crowded, the levels were very mixed, people were doing "whatever" (but I have to say, the people at her practica are a lot calmer than they used to be a year ago) and collision opportunities were high, but we were still able to lose ourselves in one or two tracks of Tanturi. It's the kind of music that is so "tango-tango" that sometimes the whole world can fall away.

I feel like dancing to some Tanturi with Campos this Saturday for our "practica" - what I want to do this week is to create a playlist that complements and expands on the themes set out in the the Tanturi tanda. The following is the tracks I've selected and my commentary:

Ricardo Tanturi with Enrique Campos
Cantor de Barrio
Calor de Hogar
Discos de Gardel
Jiron de Suburbio

I don't know why, but every recording I have of Tanturi with Campos has a little bit of reverberation - making the music sound like it was being played in a very echo-y tunnel somewhere. Strange as it seems, it's a very suitable sound for the theme in this music - nostalgia - and Enrique Campos' voice is like a voice from the past recalling an even more distant past.

All of this music has lyrics that recall the life of the common folk - the streetscapes, sitting in a cafe or by a vitrola listening to a tango singer or recordings by Gardel, the "guys" and "girls" from the barrio, coming home from work to your humble abode - Campos is saying, in his very plain, commonplace recitative singing, "all these ordinary things, with our memories of them, interwoven with the emotion of music - this is Tango."

I have placed "Cantor de Barrio" and "Jiron de Surburbio" at the beginning and end of this tanda as they both have a very strong melancholic sound that makes you want to dance and makes you lose yourself on the dance floor. "Calor de Hogar" has a similar sound, but because has a more joyful turn, it is a little weaker than the other tracks. "Discos de Gardel" has this quality makes it immediately familiar, even if you have never heard it before.

Imagine you have stopped dancing tango. Ten years, twenty years may pass, but if you find yourself standing outside a milonga with Tanturi music playing and the voice of Campos evoking the past - all your memories of tango and everything you have ever felt about tango will come flooding back.

Rick McGarrey has a very informative and interesting analysis of Tanturi and Campos here.

Anibal Troilo with Francisco Fiorentino

Los Mareados
De Barro
Por Las Calles de la Vida

I just love this version of "Los Mareados" - it has a melody that is both epic and intimate, and has a lot of the elements that I like about Troilo - the muscular sound of the bandoneons, always balanced with the grandeur of the sound of the rest of the orchestra, and the smooth, refined voice of Francisco Fiorentino. I find that Fior's voice doesn't seem to have a lot of emotional range - he manages to convey the same feeling in a lot of tangos no matter what the lyrics - but with the right track, he is perfect.

This tanda of Troilo complements the Tanturi in sound - a little reverb, anyone? - and it also develops on the theme of the commonplace, except that instead of talking about the commonplace as commonplace, the tangos lift what is common to the realm of the dramatic. The sad stories of the barrio are here - of "guy loses girl", or "loss of innocence" - but Fior inhabits the characters and their dramas are re-enacted and blown up bigger than real life on the stage of tango.

Once again, I have used the same structure in this tanda as I have used in the tanda of Tanturi - strong beginning, strong ending, with similar sounding tracks in between.

Vals - Rodolfo Biagi with Andre Falgas
El Ultimo Adios
Dichas que Vivi
Dejame amarte aunque sea un dia

All those orchestras that are sometimes perceived as playing "simplistic" or "primitive" rhythms - D'Arienzo, Donato, Canaro, and of course Biagi - REALLY knew their vals compas. The more "orchestral" orchestras sometimes have a lovelier sound, but they can lose track of what a vals is, making their vals less of a pleasure to dance to.

This tanda may not be the most beautiful, flowery and lyrical valses you have ever heard, but they are really catchy and if you can catch the compas, you will FLY.

Carlos Di Sarli with Oscar Serpa
Sin Ella
Por que se llaman amor
Tus palabras y la noche

Since I don't anticipate anyone showing up for the practica tonight (just Man Yung and me!), I decided to put in some really challenging music to practice to after the "break" we have with the vals.

These are all Di Sarli tracks from the 50's - thank the heavens for Di Sarli who was so strict he kept his music danceable even after the golden age. I started this tanda with the very popular and recognizable "Verdemar" just to keep us in the dancing mood. The rest are less well known tracks, but with beautiful melodies - as Man Yung says, "Di Sarli keeps it pretty consistent - almost all his tangos are really danceable." I chose these tracks more because of Di Sarli's lush sound - the voice of Oscar Serpa is not the big draw here. Serpa used to sing with Osvaldo Fresedo's orchestra, and even here he sounds like he is singing for the rich young playboys of Recoleta - superficially dramatic, but never over the top and never too emotional, pleasant enough so not to upset any "copas de champagne". Luckily, it's a voice that doesn't interfere with Di Sarli's sound - which makes this tanda great for practicing tango salon.

Osvaldo Pugliese - Instrumentals
Marron y Azul
Don Agustin Bardi

All of these tracks are very strong - late to very late Pugliese. "Marron y Azul" is slightly more toned down to ease the transition from Di Sarli to Pugliese, but it still has that wonderful drama and heavy compas. "Bordona", composed by Emilio Balcarce (he also composed "Si Sos Brujo" which I used in the last practica) keeps up the drama - this tango sounds a bit like he was trying to stuff "War and Peace" into a 3 minute tango! I like the way that Michael of Mad for Tango used this track when he plays Pugliese - unexpected, but it just sounds right.

I really love "Don Agustin Bardi", ever since I saw Carlos Gavito demonstrate to it with Marcela Duran in his video "Un Tal Gavito". I'm not a big fan of Gavito, but the way he shows the pauses and silences of the music and Marcela Duran's strong and emotional footwork (just look at the way she caresses the floor folks!) really impressed this tango in my mind.

I ended this tanda with a version of "Recuerdo" from the eighties! I don't like the older version that you can get on the CDs "Auscencia" or "Instrumentales Inolvidables Vol. 1" - maybe I keep expecting something with better fidelity after having watched Juan Carlos Copes dance to the version by Lalo Schifrin in "Tango" the movie, oh, about a hundred times ;) Well, this version has all the fidelity, all the drama - and it's really difficult to dance to! I would never play this at a milonga in Toronto - I have had veteran dancers tell me they "can't find the beat" to "A Evaristo Carriego", how the hell would they be able to dance to this track!

Pugliese and "Recuerdo" also ties up the story I have started with Tanturi and Campos. This playlist is all about nostalgia and memories, and "Recuerdo" has all the elements of that. Pugliese's music is so dramatic, it always seems to me that it is an emotional scream for the past - a scream of the dying so that tango will not die. Listen to late Pugliese late at night and you will see what I mean.

Meanwhile, here's a video of a performance by Pugliese and his orchestra of "Recuerdo" in 1985. The version is very close to the version I am using on the playlist:

Milonga - Francisco Canaro

La milonga de mis tiempos
Historia Sentimental
Reliquias Portenas

A nice tanda of milongas - you can never be disappointed with Canaro in this regard. Just make sure you choose tracks with the same fidelity, and similar tempo - instant danceability.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Where it all began

Everyone has a story about how they began dancing tango. For us, it all started with the December 2003 National Geographic feature on Tango.

Among the many riches that that particular feature has given to the Tango world, there is a mini-documentary called "Buenos Aires Tango" by Pablo Corral Vega, the photographer for that feature, in which Pablo follows milonguero Pocho Alvarez around to his favourite tango haunts one rainy night in Buenos Aires.

Back in 2003/2004, we couldn't see the video for the documentary on National Geographic's website because our computer really sucked - we didn't have the graphic capabilities to view the video.

We were finally able to see the documentary in 2006 with a better computer (but the download and replay times were still excruciatingly slow, and about 50% of the frames were lost on viewing). We thought the documentary was "nice" but we didn't think much of it, because we were looking for steps to steal and the footage didn't show anyone dancing steps! (Damn it!)

Ah, the miracle of technology, the passage of time and of YouTube! This year, we got to see a complete version of the documentary:

It's been more than four years since we have started dancing, but only recently we are beginning to understand what this documentary is all about. It's not about steps, it's not about the glamour, it's not about tragedy or drama or aspirations or any of the tango misconceptions and ideals you find floating out there in the tango universe - this is a documentary about tango as a part of life.

It's totally unexpected - we didn't think that something from National Geographic would be anything but quite superficial - but we have realized that this documentary actually reflects very much the Buenos Aires and Tango that we have gotten to know.

We too have been in a taxi hurtling down the rainy streets at night in Buenos Aires - far, far away from home, but full of anticipation for the places that we will see, the music that we would hear, the people that we would meet.

Life is lonely, we are all anxious, waiting, uncertain... and then suddenly there is the glorious voice of Roberto Rufino singing "Necesito Olvidar" (I need to forget) - the music and lyrics commiserates with us in our loneliness and pain, but the music soars and envelopes our souls and tells us that there is also beauty, love, pleasure, joy, and warmth in the company of friends and loved ones.

Tango brings us together: it is a secret, a code, a culture, a language shared not only between you and your partner but among all tango dancers who dare to live. We watch as Pocho revels with his friends at a private tango party - we share in the goofiness and giddiness, the impromptu singing and the laughter - and isn't one of the best things about tango the great times you have with the friends you meet on your journey?* We watch Pocho as he crosses the black and white tiled floor into a glorious tango salon and the world is transformed - have we not also danced, like Pocho, at Nino Bien?

There are a million little moments in this documentary that are so true. It only took us time and real love for the music, the dance and the people to realize it. What else will we discover dancing tango, or watching this documentary again a year from now, or ten years from now?

The link to the National Geographic December 2003 feature on Tango is here.

* we realize now, after two trips to Buenos Aires and getting to know the people there, that some of Pocho's friends at the party are actually our friends and acquaintances in Buenos Aires - Miguel Angel Balbi is the person who is singing a cappella, Elba Biscay is the woman who joins him, and Rueben de Pompeya is sitting in between two other people watching the whole show!

Monday, May 5, 2008

"Are we dancing to Di Sarli?"...

... asked Man Yung while he was dancing with me at last night's milonga.

I replied, "No, actually, this is a tanda of Pugliese."

Man Yung can't usually tell what orchestra he is dancing to, or what singer is singing. He certainly has no idea about the titles to the songs, what the lyrics say, or whether the particular track is from the 30's, 40's or 50's. Sometimes he even thinks the milonga or vals that is being played is tango.

I on the other hand, can usually play "Name that orchestra" or "Name that singer" pretty darn well (I was extremely deadly at Trivial Pursuit and Jeopardy in my youth). I even know enough Spanish to understand some tango lyrics and impress non-spanish speakers with my translations!

I used to feel it necessary to yell out to Man Yung whenever he would head out onto the dance floor to invite some other lady to dance that it was a "Vals!" or "Milonga!" or "Canyengue!" - because sometimes he would actually dance milonga like a tango or a tango like a milonga etc. - and when he came back to our table he would be quite perplexed if I told him that that he was dancing "wrong" to the music. I thought it was kind of bizarre that he could make these "errors" in recognizing the music, because he is one of the very few people I know who can dance D'Arienzo like it is D'Arienzo, Di Sarli like it is Di Sarli, and vals like a vals and not a "tango but faster". On top of this, we practically lived at the milonga on the weekends hearing the same music week after week. Couldn't he just make an effort to remember?

But then, as Man Yung and I talked about this more, I realized that something else was going on. He would listen to a tango, and without knowing a single word of Spanish, he could tell me quite accurately what the lyrics were saying just by the way the music FELT. I would put two tangos by Carlos Di Sarli with Jorge Duran singing on my playlist together because it seemed to me on cursory listen that they were similar in mood and the feeling they want to convey - and Man Yung would tell me that no, in fact while the first one was about a tragic romance, the second one was just about hard living. And when I checked the lyrics out he would be right.

And there were other things too. That vals that he danced to like it was tango? Well, if I listened to it closely, wasn't Armando Moreno not really swooning and reeling in the compas? How about that milonga? Didn't it sound like Angel Vargas was taking a nice leisurely walk on Corrientes rather than an all-out foot stomping jaunt to the conventillos?

So, Man Yung can recite entire passages from "The Dream of the Red Chamber" and Ming Dynasty lyrical poetry by heart, and remember how to do all of the Okinawa Goju-ryu katas including Suparimpei (I've forgotten all of them already except the first three) although it's been six years since he has stepped foot in a dojo - but why doesn't Man Yung remember the names of the orchestras or which tune is a vals?

He doesn't remember because he simply doesn't care. For him, Tango is completely, utterly wonderful. It isn't important for him to "know" because it isn't necessary for him to make any distinctions - ALL of Tango music is pleasure, and he wants to dance to ALL of it.

Not that I would suggest that people stop learning about the details of the music right now and just do what they feel - because in order to dance tango well, you have to go out there and learn as much as you can about the music. But at a certain point, knowledge can become a liability - when our pleasure in the music becomes contained or "boxed-in" by concerns about what we must do or should do like "Lomuto is danced by only the milonguero-style crowd but not by us tango salon people" or "Pugliese is only danced by wanna-be show dancers and not us milonguero devotees" or "Biagi's music is flat and shallow and people in-the-know will think less of me for dancing it".

How do you choose which tanda to dance to? How much of your dancing is dictated by your prejudices and preconceptions of what you think you should or should not do? Does your extensive tango education interfere with your pleasure and enjoyment in the music? I know it affects me - I've been known to turn my nose up at Fresedo and to sit resolutely through a tanda of De Angelis purely because it was Fresedo and De Angelis. But it shouldn't. I envy Man Yung.

While I was writing this post, I said to Man Yung, "So, your secret is that you allow the music to touch you."

To which he replied, "No. It's my heart that reaches out... to touch the music."

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Imagine for a moment....

...that this is not a traffic cop from Mumbai...

...and you will get an idea of some of the leading we saw Tuesday night in Toronto!*

* Overheard: "That was supposed to be salida to cruzada, front ocho into a left giro with two rotations, barrida with enganche followed by a boleo and directly into a lean, drag, left and right colgadas into enganche again, giro to the right into linear back boleo! What? You didn't get it? What kind of follower are you??!??"

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Quiet Saturday OR: How does Man Yung get all that energy to dance five hours non-stop at every Milonga?

Usually, weekends are a tango marathon for us - milongas on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. However, since our favourite traditional milonga has decided to switch to hosting a "Latin Night" every first Saturday of the month (as everyone has decided over the past four months to go to the "Alternative" Milonga on the same nights instead) - we are tango orphans today.

So, in anticipation of our quiet Saturday, we danced until the bitter end on Friday night (including dances with no less than several members of the creme de la creme a.k.a. Royalty of Toronto Tango), and spent Saturday doing what normal non-tango folks shopping, watching Tottenham vs. Reading on tv in the morning, taking a nap, meeting up with a friend for dinner and conversation, and watching a chinese mafia movie on tv at night. We even made soup!

Blood strengthening Oxtail soup with Chinese Herbs


One pound oxtail, trimmed and cut into pieces

Half a beef tendon

(one skinless stewing old chicken or half a black silkie chicken can be used as substitute for the above oxtail and tendon)

Five pieces of Astragalus (called huang qi in chinese, this herb is a root that promotes blood circulation, alleviates vasodilation, reduces blood pressure and may be also effective in treating diabetes)

Five pieces of Codonopsis root (called dang shen in chinese, it promotes digestion, reduces nausea and weakness from anemia, activates metabolism and improves blood circulation, and counters extreme mental and physical fatigue)

Ten Red Dates (called hong zao in chinese and also known as the jujube, it contains Vitamins B, C, E, P, phosphorus, calcium, iron and more. It improves immunity and strengthens the body)

Five pieces of Chinese Yam (called huai shan in chinese, it enhances vigour, promotes muscle growth and tissue repair, and alleviates bodily weakness)

Three tablespoons of Chinese Wolfberries (also called goji berries or kei chi in chinese, it improves eyesight and is beneficial for the liver)

Salt to taste.

We parboiled the oxtail and tendon to remove grease and impurities, and then placed them in a five litre Slow Cooker with the herbs and enough water to fill the Slow Cooker, leaving a half-inch space between the water and the brim of the crock. After covering the crock with the lid, we turned the Slow Cooker on high setting, reducing it to low setting when the water came to a boil. Eight to ten hours should be enough to bring all the flavours out into the soup.

Man Yung's review: "I like this soup. The soup's aroma is of oxtail, not of herbs. It has a nice soothing taste balancing the oxtail flavours with the herbs, which give the beef broth depth and a tingly aftertaste in the back of your tongue and throat. The sweetness of the red dates adds flavour without being overpowering. Because the beef and the herbs together have a pronounced blood and body strengthening effect, I highly recommend it for men, especially those who manifest listlessness, bodily weakness, inability to hold a correct tango posture due to reduced spiritual and physical strength and impaired endurance on the dance floor and elsewhere in their lives."

Thank you, dear readers, for reading this edition of Irene and Man Yung's "Excruciating Minutiae." More editions to follow in the event of further closures of traditional milongas - some of the fascinating topics will include: Irene's fair-isle knitting with photos of work-in-progress and steek cutting, How to clean your bathroom using ingredients from your refrigerator, and Man Yung's chinese first aid tips, including a pictorial demonstration on how to stop a nosebleed with fresh chives. Hasta pronto!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Alberto Dassieu's take on Pugliese

We emailed Alberto Dassieu and his wife Paulina Spinoso this week to congratulate them on their performances at La Milonguita and also to ask him about his thoughts about dancing Pugliese. This is what he wrote back:

Para mí bailar Pugliese es como un nacer en ese instante. Siento las miradas de las personas que están sentadas alrededor y digo: esto es mío, se los doy. Es lo que siento adentro. Disfrútenlo, guárdenlo y si es posible distribúyanlo. De esa forma este estilo no morirá.

Translated: For me, to dance Pugliese is like to be born at that moment. I feel the looks of the people who are sitting all around and say: this is mine, and I give it to them. It is what I feel inside. Enjoy it, keep it and if possible, distribute it. In this form this style will not die.

For more on Alberto Dassieu's fascinating philosophy and thoughts on Tango, I have republished the interview I conducted with him for Paradiso's website last year right here on this website. The link for the full interview is here.

Links to their vals to Donato's "La Tapera" and tango to Pugliese's "Segiume si Podes" at La Milonguita are here and here.

(Many thanks to my dear friend Veronica for helping me with the translation!)

Face Dancing, revisited

Came across a lively debate today in the blog of dear fellow blogger Elizabeth that may have been in part caused by my previous post about "Face Dancing" here.

Thanks for posting my comment Elizabeth, and letting me do a little bit of clarification and qualification about my position!

If you still aren't sure what "Face Dancing" looks like, you really have to check out the following video which Elizabeth posted as an example on her blog:

Interview with Alberto Dassieu - originally posted on Paradiso's website

The Essence of Tango: Interview with Alberto Dassieu

Alberto dancing with Elba Biscay to D’Arienzo’s “Valsecito Criollo” at the milonga “Glorias Argentinas” in Buenos Aires:

Interview by Irene Ho, with most sincere thanks to Veronica Roldan for her invaluable assistance with this translation and with the formation of the questions.

In a tango world increasingly filled with charlatans and pretenders, where every week brings us new fads and new tricks – watching Alberto Dassieu dance is a revelation.

Dancers who are easily seduced by the showy acrobatic tricks and figures that seem to pass for tango these days may skip over videos of Alberto’s subtle but powerful performances in favour of videos of flashing legs, flying feet and dramatic poses. Only the sophisticated and passionate dancer would understand Alberto’s monumental achievement through his 55 years of experience in the milongas of Buenos Aires. Alberto’s Tango is Tango’s essence to the core: total intense unity in the close embrace with his partner and the music.

Although the Toronto Tango community did not have the good fortune to experience Alberto’s dancing firsthand when he travelled to North America last year to teach and perform, we are very fortunate that Alberto has graciously granted this Paradiso exclusive: his first North American interview.

En un mundo del tango lleno de charlatanes y de pretendientes, donde cada semana nos traen nuevos caprichos y nuevos trucos, el baile de Alberto Dassieu es una revelación.

Los bailarines que son seducidos fácilmente por los trucos y las figuras acrobáticas y prefieren los videos de piernas que destellan, de pies que vuelan y de actitudes dramaticas pueden faltar los videos sutiles y poderosos de Alberto. Solamente el bailarín sofisticado y apasionado entendería el logro monumental de Alberto con sus 55 años de experiencia en las milongas de Buenos Aires. El Tango de Alberto es La Esencia del Tango: la unidad intensa y total en el abrazo cerrado con su pareja y la música.

Aunque la comunidad de Toronto Tango no tuvo la buena fortuna de conocer a Alberto cuando estuvo en Norteamerica el año pasado para enseñar, somos muy afortunados de que Alberto graciosamente ha concedido a esta exclusiva de Paradiso: su primera entrevista norteamericana.

1. ¿Cuando empesaste a bailar Tango y que te motivo a hacerlo?

When did you start to dance Tango and what motivated you to start?

Empecé a bailar como curiosidad pues de tanto mirar la pista donde se bailaba, que daba a la parte trasera de mi casa yo nunca me perdí esos bailes. Este club se llama "All boys de Saavedra". Cuando venían las orquestas yo me sentaba en el escenario y hacía todos los gestos de los bandoneonistas. Al otro día, cuando en la radio sonaba un tango, yo tomaba un almohadón y hacía todos los gestos que había visto la noche anterior en un bandoneonista. Tenía en ese entonces 9 o 10 años.

Luego, en las fiestas de familia, siempre me gustaba bailar. Mi madre disputaba con mi tía para quién bailaba conmigo.
Ya me gustaba bailar.

I began to dance out of curiosity after much observation of dancing on the dance floor. I never missed those dances that were held in a club near the back of my house – a club called “All boys of Saavedra”. When the orchestras came to play there, I would sit on the stage and imitate all the gestures of the bandoneonistas. On other days, when the radio played a tango, I took a cushion and made all the gestures of the bandoneonistas that I had seen the previous night. I was 9 or 10 years old at that time.

Then, I always loved to dance at family parties. My mother and my aunt argued over who would get to dance with me;I already liked to dance.

2. ¿Como practicaba la gente en ese entonces? ¿Que hacian para mejorar?

How did people practice in those days? What did they do to improve their dancing?

Las prácticas yo las conocí cuando yo ya bailaba en las milongas del centro de Bs. As. Las prácticas era lo que dice la palabra, practicar un paso, un giro. Entonces los chicos tratábamos de copiarnos algunas cosas. Lógico, que eso quedaba en cada uno de nosotros. Los que teníamos ya aún en nuestra juventud un estilo que no sé de dónde habrá salido en mi caso, yo trataba de mejorar algunas cosas.
Eso eran las prácticas.

I was already dancing in the milongas in downtown Buenos Aires when I got to know the practicas. The “practicas” are exactly as defined by the word: to practice a step, a turn. Then, we boys all tried to copy certain things – only what was logical in each one of us. The ones like me, that regardless of our youth, already had a style of their own – for example, in my case, my style, I’m not sure where it came from. I tried to improve on some things; so those were the practicas for me.

3. ¿Cómo aprendiaste bailar? ¿Para tomando lecciones con los profesores de baile, aprendaste yendo a los practicas y practicando con otros, o solo mirando otros bailarines en las milongas?

How did you learn to dance? Did you take classes from dance teachers, or did you learn by going to the practicas and practicing with others, or did you learn only by looking at other dancers in the milongas?

Cómo aprendí a bailar, creo habértelo dicho. Desde muy chiquito con mi madre y mis tías, y luego sin prácticas, sí mirando a los bailarines, me largué solo. Tenía 14 años. Mi padrino de bautismo en las milongas se llamó Alfredo Gobbi. Desde aquel día a la fecha, han transcurrido más de 55 años. Y todavía amo bailar.

How I learned to dance; I think I have spoken to you about this. Since I was very small I learned by dancing with my mother and aunts, and then without the practices; and yes looking at dancers, then I tried on my own; I was 14 years old. My godfather of baptism at the milongas was called Alfredo Gobbi [Alberto is referring to the great tango orchestra leader, whom he knew – IH]. From that day to this day, although 55 years have passed, I still love to dance.

¿Cual es la esencia en tu estilo de Tango?

What is the essence of your style of Tango?

La esencia en mi estilo de tango tiene un fundamento primordial y es la música. La música produce en mí una fascinación; nunca bailé, no bailo ni bailará un tango que no me llegue su música, y nunca lo practicaría sin música. No se puede bailar sin eso.

No sería yo bailando un tango si no abrazase bien a la mujer para que ella sepa y pueda recibir todo lo que yo le estoy dando. Es mi baile, es mi estilo, es todo lo que siento por el tango. Muchas veces me piden bailar un tango. A veces lo acepto, otras no.

Bailar para mí no es un capricho, bailar para mí es una entrega de 3 minutos bailando, entonces también me exijo a mí mismo con quién debo bailar para que esta persona sepa interpretar cuál es mi sentimiento.

The essence of my style of tango is firstly and fundamentally the music. The music fascinates me – I never danced, I do not dance nor will I ever dance a tango that its music doesn’t grab me and I would never practice dancing without music. It is not possible to dance without music.

It wouldn’t be me dancing a tango if I do not embrace the woman well, so that she knows and can receive all that I am giving in the dance. It is my dance, it is my style, it is everything I feel for the tango. Often I am requested to dance a tango. Sometimes I accept, sometimes not. For me, to dance is not a whim; to dance for me is to give everything while dancing for 3 minutes. I’m also very strict with myself when I decide
with whom to dance, so that person would be able to interpret the feeling.

5. ¿Que cualidades consideras esenciales para ser un buen bailarin?

What are the qualities that you consider essential to be a good dancer?

Las cualidades son propias. Se puede agregar uno u otro paso, se puede con el tiempo corregir alguna postura, pero la esencia de este baile lo lleva uno adentro, y esa esencia es la que debe tener un bailarín. Después que sea bueno o no, es otra cosa.

The qualities are your own. One or another step can be added, the posture can be corrected in time. But the essence of the dance resides inside you, and that’s the essence that a dancer must have. After [achieving this], whether it is good or not, this is another question.

6. ¿Que no toleras en una pareja bailando Tango?

What annoys you in some dancers when you see them dancing Tango?

Que traten de mostrarme a mí lo que ellos no sienten. Hablamos de un pareja en la pista, pues si están en un espectáculo queda en mí haberlo ido a ver.

Muchas veces se preocupan por las figuras, hechas fuera de tiempo, sin compás, sin ritmo ni silencios, tratando de demostrar una destreza que el tango no exige. El tango es pasional, como tal se debe bailar y lo pasional no se demuestra,se siente.

People on the dance floor trying to show things that they do not feel. Now if they do that in a performance that’s different thing as it was my choice to go there and see it.

Often these dancers are preoccupied with figures – doing them out of time,
without compas, without rhythm and without silences – trying to demonstrate skills that tango does not call for. The tango is passion, and this is the way it should be danced – the passion is not to be demonstrated, but felt.

7. ¿Después de ver tu espectáculo “Milonguisimo” que por cierto lo encuentro fantástico, ver grandes milongueros como Oscar Hector y Teresita Brandon, Pedro Vujovich y Graciela Cano, Juan Esquivel y Susí Tilbe, Jorge Uzunian y Haydé Esther , Miguel Balbi, Horacio Prestamo, Elba Biscay y vos, me pregunta que significa para vos ser un “Milonguero”?

After seeing your fantastic show “Milonguismo” and seeing great “Milongueros” in the show like Oscar Hector and Teresita Brandon, Pedro Vujovich and Graciela Cano, Juan Esquivel and Susi Tilbe, Jorge Uzunian and Hayde Esther, Miguel Balbi, Horacio Prestamo, Elba Biscay and you, I would like to pose a question: what does it mean to you to be a “Milonguero”?

Debo agradecerte el concepto y que te haya gustado ver Milonguísimo. Este espectáculo, al cual he dejado de pertenecer, pues, después de tres años he querido tomarme un descanso. Pero no sería honesto de mi parte decirte qué es Milonguísimo. No es una cuestión económica por la cual estábamos en él ,sino era una cita de lunes y miércoles con nuestro arte, aunque a veces la sala no estuviese llena o hubiesen cinco personas, siempre lo bailamos con el mismo amor y el mismo respeto hacia el público.

En cuanto a lo que significa ser "milonguero", creo habértelo dicho antes, pero te lo voy a volver a decir.

Esta es una palabra que se puso de moda en Bs. As. hará unos 10 años, más o menos. Y que sacaron provecho algunos bailarines que en realidad eran lo que dice la palabra "milongueros", les gustaba ir a la milonga, disfrutar del baile, desde hace muchos años. Eso era, pero ahora ese rótulo de "milonguero" lo han tomado como si fuese un diploma y un estilo. No es ni una cosa ni la otra. El estilo es el que ya venís bailando desde tu juventud y que yo sepa, todavía no apareció el premio al milonguero. Pero también entiendo a las chicas que les guste bailar con estos señores, pues a su regreso dirán "bailé con el milonguero X" y eso les debe producir una gran alegría.

I have to thank you for your perception of the show “Milonguisimo” and for you seeing it. I’m no longer part of the show; after 3 years I decided to take a little break. But honestly I cannot tell you what is “Milonguisimo”. [The Show] was an appointment on Mondays and Wednesdays with our art. Whether the room was full or whether we only had five people, we always danced with the same love and same respect towards the audience.

As for as what it means to be a “milonguero”, I think we have discussed this before, but let’s discuss this again.

It is a word that became fashionable in Buenos Aires these 10 years more or less. It was of benefit to some dancers for whom in fact this word was coined – those who liked to go to the milonga, enjoyed dancing, and did it for many years. Now the label of “milonguero” is taken as if it was a diploma and a style. That is neither of those things. The style is the one you have been dancing since youth and, as far as I know there is no such a thing as
a prize for being a “milonguero”. But I understand that to some ladies who like to dance with these gentlemen, if they can say after they return that “I have danced with milonguero so and so” – this produces in these ladies a great joy.

8. ¿Consideras que alguien puede llegar a ser un verdadero milonguero sin haber bailada por 40 aňos y sin ser Argentino o porteňo?

Can someone be a true “Milonguero” without having danced Tango for 40 years, without being Argentinian or Porteno?

En esta pregunta te contestaré lo siguiente: sí, se puede ser un milonguero. No es necesario bailar 40 años ni ser argentino o porteño. Te tiene que gustar la milonga. Te tiene que gustar el tango. Te tiene que gustar transmitir esa música a todas las parejas con las cuales bailes. Y ahí, en ese instante o a partir de ese instante te darás cuenta de que sos un milonguero pues las chicas harán una pequeña preferencia por bailar contigo. Nada tiene que ver si naciste en el Polo Norte o en el Polo Sur, todo dependerá de cómo tú lo hagas.

I will answer your question as follows: Yes, it is possible to be a milonguero - it is not necessary to either dance 40 years or be Argentinian or Porteno. You need to love the milonga; you need to love the tango; you must love to transmit the music to all your dance partners with whom you dance. [You will realize what it is to be milonguero in that instant when the ladies will have a preference to dance with you.] It has nothing to do with whether you were born in the North Pole or the South Pole, it all depends on how you do it.

9. ¿Como un bailarín y profesor experto de Tango, qué prefieres ser llamado - es apropiado utilizar una o toda de las palabras "Maestro" o "Tanguero" o "Milonguero"?

As a dancer and expert teacher of Tango, what do you prefer to be called – is it appropriate to use one or the following terms “Maestro” or “Tanguero” or “Milonguero”?

No quiero que me llamen maestro, ni tanguero, ni milonguero. Simplemente, Alberto.

I don’t want to be called “Maestro”, or “Tanguero”, or “Milonguero”. Simply put; Alberto.

10. ¿Cuanto tiempo bailas con tu pareja y esposa Paulina? ¿Para la expresión más completa de Tango, deseas bailar solamente con tu pareja o eso es no importa? ¿Es importante tener una pareja permanente para ser a un bailarín mejor?

How long have you danced with your partner and wife Paulina? For the fullest expression of Tango, do you wish to dance solely with your partner or does it matter with whom you dance? Is it important to have a permanent partner to be a better dancer?

Con Paulina bailamos hace aproximadamente 11 años. Es una gran bailarina, pues interpreta lo que yo siento. Esa sensación se fue creando entre nosotros dos por el amor que sentimos al bailar.
En cuanto a si es importante bailar siempre con la misma pareja, todo depende de uno, circunstancia. tiempo y lugar. También depende de la situación por la cual atraviese la persona. Si está en pareja o no. Pero sea cual fuese la situación, el bailar bien, no cambia la cosa.
En cuanto a tener una pareja permanente, un bailarín puede ser bueno o mejor, todo depende cómo lo haga.

With Paulina I have danced approximately 11 years. She is a great dancer, and interprets what I feel. That sensation was created between the two of us by the love we feel for the dance.
As to whether it is important to dance with the same partner, it all depends on
certain circumstances; time and place and it also depends on the situation in which a person finds him/herself in, whether you are with someone or alone. But whatever the situation, to dance well -this does not change.
As for having a permanent partner, a dancer can be good or better, it all depends how you do it.

11. ¿Quiénes son los tres bailarines que te gusta mirar y porqué? (no tienen que ser los mejores bailarines – solamente los bailarines que le gusta mirar en el piso de baile)

Which are the three dancers that you love to watch and why? (it doesn’t have to be the best dancers – only the dancers that you like to watch on the dance floor).

Los tres bailarines que más admiro para mirar en la pista -no en el escenario-, uno es Antonio, que baila con los ojos cerrados, pero es un placer verlo bailar.
Teté bailando un vals para mí es el mejor. Como así también Dany bailando la milonga para mí es el mejor.

The three dancers that I admire the most on the dance floor – not on the stage – one is Antonio, who dances with his eyes closed, but it is a pleasure to watch him dance. Tete dancing a vals, which is in my opinion, is the best. Likewise Dany dancing a milonga which in my opinion is the best.

12. ¿Han los diferentes estilos de Tango en el extranjero influenciado el tango en Buenos Aires?

Have foreign styles of Tango from outside of Argentina influenced Tango in Buenos Aires?

No, los estilos extranjeros jamás van a influenciar en el tango de Bs. As. Cuando te digo el tango en Bs. As. Me refiero a nuestras generaciones, no sé qué pasará dentro de 20 o 30 años. Ojala que nosotros los porteños no cambiemos. Y no es por no cambiar. Simplemente que nuestro tango es lindo. Y los extranjeros lo disfrutan. Yo les diría a todos los extranjeros del mundo como se lo digo a todos mis alumnos que vienen de distintos países a mi taller: aprendan a querer nuestro baile, aprendan a sentirlo, hagan todo lo que ustedes quieran hacer pero no pierdan la esencia: abrazo cerrado, escuchar la música, pies al piso. Con todo eso van a ser sin duda, buenos bailarines.

No, the foreign styles are never going to influence the tango of Bs. As – but when I say “Tango in Buenos Aires”, I am talking about our generations. I do not know what will happen within 20 or 30 years. I hope that we Portenos will not change and it is not about not changing for the sake of no change– simply because our tango is pretty and the foreigners enjoy it. I would say to all the foreigners of the world as I say it to all my students who come from different countries to my workshops: learn to love our dance, learn to feel it, do what you love to do but do not lose the essence – the close embrace, listening to the music, feet on the floor. With all this you will be without doubt good dancers.

3. ¿Cual consideras que será el futuro del Tango, se conservará el estilo tradicional (como estilo Milonguero) o seguirá evolucionando?

What do you think is the future of Tango; will we conserve the traditional styles (like Milonguero style) or will Tango continue to evolve?

Yo quisiese, este es mi deseo, que el tango evolucione, sí, porque ha evolucionado desde mi juventud a este tiempo, pero lo que no ha evolucionado porque siempre estuvo instalado es el abrazo cerrado, donde pueda transmitir el uno al otro lo que es bailar un tango.

I would like that and, it is my desire that tango evolves, yes, because it has evolved since my youth until today; but what has not evolved and what has always been is the close embrace; where one can transmit to the other what it is to dance the Tango.

14. ¿Cuales son tus milongas favoritas en Buenos Aires y en el extranjero?

What are your favourite milongas in Buenos Aires and abroad and why?

Canning los miércoles y domingos.

El Beso los domingos y los martes.

Porteño y Bailarín los mismos días pero más tarde.

Y por qué estos bailes? Primero porque hay en ellos un nivel de baile muy bueno. La música es excepcional y sus pisos son inigualables. Estos para mí son los mejores.

En cuanto al extranjero, he quedado fascinado en mi último viaje a NY con la milonga Corazón. Su piso es envidiable. Su música y su organizadora, extraordinarias; como así también la milonga La Nacional, donde el nivel de baile es muy bueno y su organizador un ferviente amante del tango.

Qué decir de La Boca en Il Campanelo. Su organizadora siempre tratando de tener la mejor música como así también su dedicación a cuantos concurren allí. Otra muy buena, llena de calor humano, es Lafayette Grill.

En cuanto a los otros bailes que he conocido, debo remarcar al Salón Rojo en Berlín, Alemania.

Salon Canning on Wednesdays and Sundays, El Beso on Sundays and Tuesdays, and Porteno y Bailarin on the same days but later.

Why these Milongas?

Firstly because they have a good level of dancing, the music is exceptional and the floors are matchless. These are in my opinion the best.

As for outside of Argentina, what fascinated me in my last trip to New York is the milonga called “Corazon”
: the floor is enviable, the music and the organizer are [DJ Yesim who has just DJ-ed the Paradiso pre-new year’s milonga! – IH] extraordinary. As well the milonga “La Nacional”, where the level of the dancing is very good and the organizer is a fervent lover of Tango.

I also have to say that “La Boca”
at Il Campanelo. The organizer is dedicated to putting on the best music and the best atmosphere. Also, very good and full of human warmth, is Lafayette Grill. As for other places to dance that are well known; there is also “Salon Rojo” in Berlin, Germany.

15. ¿Si vos vas a la milonga solo, cual es tu criterio al elegir con quien bailar?

If you go to a milonga alone, how do you decide with whom to dance?

Linda pregunta ésta. Pero no me voy a traicionar a mí mismo. Me gusta bailar con la mejor bailarina. Por qué.

Porque sé que ella va a saber interpretar todo lo que yo siento, sin que las demás tengan el mismo criterio, pero quizá les falte un poquito de esa transmisión que la da el tiempo para que, cuando yo llegue a la milonga, también sea mi elegida.

This one is a lovely question. But I am not going to give myself away! I like to dance with the best dancer. Why? Because I know she is going to know how to interpret everything that I feel -without saying that the others don’t have the same qualities; they may be missing a bit of the interpretation that comes with time and that would make me choose them when I arrive at the milonga.

16. ¿Que recomendarías a los bailarines de Tango en el extranjero para conservar la esencia del Tango Argentino?

What would you recommend to the dancers of Tango outside of Argentina to preserve the essence of Argentine Tango?

Esta pregunta la voy a responder como he respondido todo: con respeto en principio a mí mismo y con respeto a todos los extranjeros del mundo que puedan leer esto. A esos bailarines del extranjero les digo: bailen, bailen. No dejen de bailar. Bailar el tango en una pista no es un concurso de belleza ni de destreza. Bailen los pasos que ustedes quieran, muy bien, bien, regular o mal, no es el caso, pero bailen. Que los días harán que cada vez lo bailen mejor. Es la única forma de poder llegar a ser un buen bailarín, bailando.

Una sola recomendación puedo decirles, respeten los espacios de los demás, que ellos respetarán los suyos, y así todos podremos bailar más armoniosamente en la pista, y todo esto traerá como fin, bailar bien el tango.

This question I will respond to in the same way I have responded to everything: with respect to myself and with respect to all the foreigners of the world that may read this. To the dancers outside of Argentina I say to them: dance, dance. Do not give up dancing. To dance tango on the dance floor is not a beauty contest or a skill test. Dance the steps you want very well, so-so, or badly, whatever is the case, but DANCE. The time itself would make you dance them better. This is the only way to become a good dancer – to dance.

One single recommendation that I want to say to you
; respect the spaces of others and they should respect yours, and thus we will all be able to dance more harmoniously on the floor, and this will also bring you to your goal, to dance Tango well.

More information on Alberto Dassieu can be found on his website.

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