Saturday, November 29, 2008

Elba Biscay

As it is getting pretty close to term end and due to the bias of the course towards "Marx-hugging" (I should have known when I walked first walked into class and noticed that 90% of the male students were wearing different versions of Marx-beards - is it a trend? Or does it really improve your ability to comprehend Marx? Unfortunately, I've tried but I still can't grow one so I can't confirm this for myself), I am now attempting to do my utmost to write an essay about how Marx's whole philosophical oeuvre does not make me want to run screaming to the hills (and failing miserably - sorry, I'm not a "Marx-hugger").

This means much less time to blog. But still, I can always make time admire one of the most wonderful milongueras we know - the beautiful and talented Elba Biscay!

The first time I really saw how a real tango vals should be danced was a video that Alberto Dassieu gave to us of his exhibition with Elba at Glorias Argentinas. I've posted it before, but I'm posting it again now:

Here's a more recent video of Elba, this time dancing to the same vals (D'Arienzo's "Valsecito Criollo") with her campeonato partner Antonio Juffre:

And here is a video of Elba Biscay, Adela Galeazzi, Rueben Harymbat (a.k.a. Ruben de Pompeya) and Antonio Juffre doing a little "Milonguero humor" sketch for the crowd at La Milonguita:

Not only is Elba Biscay one of the best followers we've ever encountered (I wish I could dance like her! She is all musicality and entrega with out-of-this-world skills as a follower) she is just about the nicest person ever. I'm embarrassed to say, we crashed her birthday party back in March at Glorias Argentinas but she was totally cool about it and made us feel at home. Further proof that goodness and great tango dancing are part and parcel of the same package.

Dear Elba: Thanks for all your hospitality, and thank you for being a great example for this follower and all followers on how to really, really dance tango!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ancient Chinese Wisdom Part II

Confucius says:

In a pond without fish...

... the shrimp is king!

Apparently all you need to build up your local personal private tango community is to take these tiny little egos (ooops, I mean eggs), add water, and PRESTO!

You'll have lots and lots and lots of shrimps that will have a lot springy tango shrimp action

Alas, despite all your good intentions, your shrimps may not be able to dance to the music or navigate on the dance floor. But you know what, do not fret - every one of those shrimps will feel extra-special about their own tango prowesses because there's nothing for them to compare themselves to except other shrimp.

Look ma! Those shrimps are not only not doing the cabaceo,
they aren't even following the line of dance!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The TALLEST of the Seven Dwarves

Group photo of the MOST "illustrious" Toronto Tango Instructors!

I've been pondering this question posed by Johanna as a response to my previous post:

Blogger Johanna said...

Irene, do you think common sense and Tango are mutually exclusive?

Which leads me to ponder: what comes first, the chicken or the egg? Does tango tend to attract and congregate the worst egoistic, nonsensical, self-deluding types, or is the tango community just a reflection of what humanity really is?

Of course, it is true that there are good, honest, honorable, kind, wise people in tango (otherwise, participation in tango would be completely unbearable), but let me just spend a couple of seconds bitching about the bad ones.

Toronto tango has been having an incredible influx of "new tango teachers" lately, as if we didn't already have one to one tango teacher/tango student parity. Of these newly minted instructors, there are good dancers, mediocre dancers and abysmal dancers - unfortunately more of the later than the former. In fact, many MORE of the later two than the first.

What makes all these mediocre/abysmal (or even so-called "good") dancers think that they are qualified to teach? How do they justify to themselves that they really have sufficient talent in dancing and teaching to produce students that will not add to the already quite large cesspool of mediocrity (or worse) that is World and Toronto Tango?

Over the years, many people have suggested to Man Yung and I that we should start teaching, (or have invited us to perform at the Toronto Tangofest, or the CNE etc.) but we have refused. Thanks but no thanks - we have a pretty lucid understanding of our abilities, and what it is that we want (and should be getting) out of tango. We are not DELUSIONAL.

However, many people are DELUSIONAL. If you are clearly a mediocre/abysmal dancer (I mean that you are clearly lacking in some basic skills of tango, i.e. you cannot do more than one rotation in a giro, you can't really execute moves that are not semi-choreographed, you can't tell the difference between dancing to the beat and dancing to the music, you can't navigate on the dance floor, you can't dance milonga or vals properly as you dance them as tango but faster and - let's face it - you walk like any of the scarecrow, tinman or the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz) why are you teaching? What is going on in that little head of yours?

Let me do a little mind reading and come up with some of YOUR justifications, ok?

1. EVERYONE knows that Toronto is a backwater town when it comes to tango. Since I am Argentinian/Latin/American/European/Spanish-speaking/French-speaking/German-speaking etc. etc. and I come from a way more traditional/sophisticated/trendy/innovative culture and I've spent a great deal of time in Buenos Aires "The CAPITAL OF TANGO" you toque-wearing hockey-playing ignoramus Torontonians should learn from me!

2. I have "worked with" (oops, what I mean is "taken the classes of" - no harm in a little resume padding) the GREATS of Tango and I have a resume with a list of workshops I have taken (but that I remember nothing from) so long that to print it out will literally cause a destruction of a small forest.

3. You see, I have a really great "angle" to promote myself by - see TA-CHANGO, PING-PANGO, BALL-RANGO, CRAPARANGO, etc.

4. Maybe I can teach only beginners because since they have no tango knowledge they won't know how crappy I really am.

5. Maybe I should only teach beginners in, say Sudbury so there's less chance that my students will come out to Toronto and will be able to see how crappy I am compared to other dancers.

6. I have membership in a great little tango "clique" in which we not only dance with each other, we also flatter each other to the skies - not only is there "strength in numbers", having a lot of like-minded sheep friends (oops, I mean "tangueros and tangueras") telling me that "Mr./Ms. X, you are SUCH a great dancer!" is surely proof that I am really great!

7. I AM THE TALLEST OF THE SEVEN DWARVES, i.e. Sure, I know there are many better dancers/instructors than me, but since there are evidently so many so-called instructors that are worse dancers than me (the little short middle-aged guy with the greasy pony-tail and the pot-belly that keeps on tripping up and dropping his partners onto the floor, for example), I must be a great dancer by comparison and I should definitely get my butt out there and spread my tango DNA!

It's one thing to have the praise-worthy aspiration of "promoting Argentine Tango to the world", but if you are going to act on your well-intentioned impulses, please make sure that you are not deluding yourself and that you have the skills to a) actually dance AND teach tango and that b) you are not just doing this for your ego because you are pathetic in the other areas of your life.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Common Sense

An excerpt from a pretty good post on Tango-L today by Melina Sedo (partner of Detlef Engel, their website is here):
I find it so very important to make everybody understand, that you
need to respect the codes of polite behaviour, when you're in a
Milonga. It's not even about Tango-Codigos, it's just basic
instinct. ;-)

-You do not invite someone to dance, who avoids eye-contact to you.
-You do not sneek up from behind and surprise him or her.
-You do not interrupt a serious conversation.
-You do not assume, that every person will love to dance with you,
even when she has never had the chance to see you on the dance floor.
-And, if you happened to "break" this rules: You do not insult
someone, if this person declines politely to dance with you: nobody
is OBLIGED to spend time hugging you.

Unfortunately all of this happened a lot to me during our recent tour
to the US, even in the "very traditional" Milongas:

I am used to being invited by the Cabezeo/Mirada and I rarely accept
a direct invitation out of several reasons: Very often I am just
tired after a day of classes or I have not seen the person dance yet,
so I avoid eye contact. Or I am doing something else, like resting
between two tandas and drinking a glass of wine or talking to
someone. Or of course, I just don't want to dance with this person.
So, if I get invited in such a case, I decline very politely and
always with a smile. I do not want to hurt anybody.

But: Apart from being forced to decline direct invitations of
stangers so extremely often in the US, I got some real rude
reactions, like an omnious "You made a big mistake", uttered in a
threatening voice.

Sometimes, things like that happened MULTIPLE times at the same
Milonga, once even with the SAME person.

And one man (an Argentine!) did something real strange: I was just
avoiding eye-contact with everybody as I was very tired and this man
came to my table and asked me. As I had declined already declined
three (!) direct invitations during this one Tanda, I told him very
nicely: "Excuse me sir, I'm quite a traditionalist, so I don't accept
invitations at the table. I'm so sorry." He smiled and stepped some
meters away and looked at me in a Cabeceo-like-way. I was so stunnd,
that I accepted his invitation, but later on I was even more surprised.
He told me, that he was an Argentine and uses the Cabeceo on a
regular basis. But: I had not reacted like the argentine women do:
they look, if they want to dance with you! So, I asked him, WHAT DOES

Unbelievable, but true.
Sometimes, truth is stanger than fiction... ;-)
Dear leaders: I am not being shy when I turn my head and look away when you are trying to get my attention. I simply just don't want to dance with you.

If I really, really wanted to dance with you I guarantee I will make you know it. Not only will I fix my unblinking basilisk glare on you in order to elicit the cabaceo, I may even do as some other ladies do to get dances - i.e. offer to take as many private classes with you as possible, plead and whine and grovel and beg for a dance while you are getting a beer at the bar, or perhaps even ambush you right as you are leaving the washroom.

So, until the day you find me waiting to pounce on you on the other side of the washroom door, please just ask my friends (who are not only much nicer than me - they are also not completely tired out by the dance stylings of Man Yung) to dance, ok?


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Dancing with Cats

Only four more weeks until the end of class!

Unfortunately, as a result of way too much Marx, Emerson, Thoreau and now Melville (with a goodly dose of "head scratchin'" "deep thoughts" on how to subject Moby Dick to a Marxist "reading" - blah!) I have been having some truly bizarre escapist dreams lately, including one with "me" dancing "tango" with my cat - which could have been something terminally cute like this...

Except it wasn't.

Because it was more like this:

I thought that our cat's phlegmatic mien and decided elegance and agility in chasing its own tail round and round in giros would make him the ideal tango dancer in the tradition of El Chino, or maybe even Fino.

Alas, not so. The human-sized tango dream version of our cat was a big, hulking, hairy, clumsy, lead-footed, up-and-down shuffler with no musicality.

Which makes me think that the ideal "dream tango" skill to have in cases like this would be the ability to play dead. Running away in slow motion would also be quite acceptable.*

* Also an option when confronted with a surfeit of Marx.

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