Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Three and a Half Stories (In reverse chronological order)

March, 2010.

While eating dinner with Osvaldo and Coca at Chiquilin, we asked them a serious question.

"Can we tell everyone that we are your students?" we asked.

Firstly, we didn't want Osvaldo and Coca to consider us the Chinese (or Japanese? or Korean? Argentinians find it so hard to tell) vaudeville act who've been stealing their steps from Youtube. Secondly, we wanted something deeper - to really learn from them, and to understand what Tango, in their opinion and experience, was all about.

"Yes, of course!" Osvaldo replied. He then proceeded to feed us his papas fritas and milanesa, right from his fork. "Eat this! This is the food of milongueros."

At Confiteria Ideal (of all places, at least it was not Gricel)

February, 2007

We arrive at our first milonga in Buenos Aires, ever. Glorias Argentinas. The stuff of Tango legend.

As the taxi pulled up to the curb, Man Yung recognizes the gentleman standing right at the door of the club, chatting with some other people.

"Alberto! Alberto!" We rushed out of the cab and ambush a surprised Alberto Dassieu. There was so much we wanted to say - like, we think your performance in Milonguisimo is amazing, we are so excited and lucky to see you here, what a coincidence, etc. etc.

Alas, my spanish was limited and the only thing we were able to communicate was a thoroughly geeky enthusiasm. "Alberto! Alberto!" we said.

"And how is the weather in Tokyo?" asked Alberto, a little disconcerted at the sudden appearance of his tango fans and trying to be polite.

Three years later Alberto continues to be troubled by his failure to distinguish that we were not Japanese but Chinese. Paulina is still teasing him by telling everyone the story of our first encounter.

And all we remember from the incident was that we continued say "Alberto! Alberto!" for a full minute - jumping up and down like two giddy schoolgirls.

Paulina's recent remark to us: "Why is it that every photo we have of us together we are always eating or about to eat?"

Sometime in summer of 2006

Back in the days before Youtube, local Toronto instructor Elizabeth Sadowska was holding some kind of special event at her studio, Rhythm and Motion. While the milonga was going on, a video with rare footage of Osvaldo and Coca performing to Canaro's "Duelo Criollo" and "No hay Tierra como la mia" played in the reception area.

Man Yung was standing in the crowd in front of the television set, watching the video while sipping on his complimentary coffee.

"That's so amazing!" said Man Yung. "I wish I could learn how to dance like that!"

A tango senpai* overheard and snidely remarked to Man Yung - "You should study carefully then. IF you can dance like that one day, you will be able to do anything you like."

Man Yung rushed back to tell me what Mr. Tango Senpai said.

"Oh, really," I replied. I was thinking about Wal-Mart.

* Senpai: in karate terms, a senior student. A tango senpai not only has senority and has been dancing tango for longer, he is also thoroughly convinced he knows much, much better than any kohai (junior student) as he has taken more classes. Unfortunately, in some cases, "tango mileage" does not necessarily equate to "tango ability".

March, 2006

Martha and Manolo's first visit to Toronto. They were the guests of honour at Mad for Tango's Saturday night milonga.

Even before Martha and Manolo had arrived Man Yung had been studying Manolo's "Bridge to the Tango" instructional video. He was dancing some of the steps from the video but it seemed that Martha and Manolo did not notice. Everyone was showing off that night because the Maestros were present - who could tell anyway?

"Who cares, let's just dance whatever," Man Yung said, giving up. He started doing his best impression of "Tango Disco Inferno" - his usual crazy a-mile-a-minute stuff.

Then, when Man Yung went past Martha and Manolo's table to refill his drink, Martha stretched out her arm and stopped him in his tracks.

"Who is your teacher?" Martha asked in stern but uncertain English, glaring.

"You are!" Man Yung told me that it didn't even occur to him to hesitate.

Martha and Manolo talked excitedly in spanish between themselves. When did they teach such a strange Japanese/Korean/Chinese student? They were perplexed.

Man Yung demonstrated some of the steps that he had memorized from the video. Then he dragged me off the dance floor so I could help him communicate with Martha and Manolo.

Finally they understood.

"CINCO," Manolo said, putting up five fingers. "CINCO," Manolo repeated gravely.

Because in truth, Man Yung had got the corridita all wrong.

Forever then on (and apparently even before we had even met) Martha and Manolo have always been our teachers.

Do not be deceived, we were not drinking coffee. It was actually Wild Turkey's Rare Breed bourbon (one of the best whiskeys on the face of the planet). This is, after all, Tango.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Adela Galeazzi and Santiago Cantenys - Exhibition at Kamel, March 21, 2010

Adela Galeazzi and Elba Biscay [click here to see our previous post on Elba with examples of her incredible dancing] invited us to see Adela's exhibition with Santiago Cantenys at Kamel on the last night of our stay in Buenos Aires. Here's some of the video footage we took:

Adela and Santiago - Milonga Traspie

Adela and Santiago - Vals

We've seen videos of Adela's exhibitions on Youtube and we've seen her dance on the dance floor in the milongas, but to finally be able to see her perform was a real treat. Just observe at how Adela's upper body stays quiet and still while the movement of her legs and feet are completely and utterly tango. Adela's following is soft and effortless even while she is doing the most intricate and musical adornments ever seen on the dance floor.

A word to all us gringa followers out there: YOU WILL NEVER EVEN IMAGINE THE SCOPE OF THE MAD SKILLS THAT ADELA AND ELBA HAVE AS FOLLOWERS. Think of the best tango following in the universe. And then multiply it by like a million.

Now, for all those who have read some of my previous posts, I shudder at the sight of gratuitous adorning on the dance floor - many followers robotically ape everything they see on Youtube and end up destroying their following and disrupting the music and their partner's enjoyment of the dance with a flurry of foot tapping, leg flapping and knee lifting. Followers, please restrain yourself to only a few little "dibujos" - as Alberto Dassieu has once said to me, "Where and when the music and the lead permits" - until you can really, really, follow!

Or, until you can follow and dance like Adela or Elba. If there's a list of the top followers out there in the milongas of Buenos Aires, Adela and Elba will be there, right on top of that list.

By the way, Adela and Elba (and Santiago as well - what a dancer of milonga traspie!) are not only amazing dancers - they are also really cool, and nice, and kind, and friendly. They didn't even mind Man Yung's weird Toronto-esque leading at all!

Here's a big hug and kiss for Adela, Elba, Santiago and all their friends for letting us spend time with them and to experience their beautiful dancing.

With the beautiful and talented Adela Galeazzi at Kamel

Friday, March 26, 2010

Cherie and Ruben - and Chacarera!

With Cherie at Los Consagrados
Cherie and Ruben very generously invited us to visit them at their table at Los Consagrados during our trip this year. We were honestly so milonga'd out the preceding week, we had no idea that it was a special anniversary night and that there was the mega-power live orchestra of Maestro Ernesto Franco performing! You can read all about it here on Cherie's blog.

We also had the opportunity to meet and talk with Sallycat, who is so lovely in person that the first thing that came out of Man Yung's mouth when we met her was "You are so pretty!"

Among one of the most amazing things in among all the amazing things that night at Los Consagrados was Ruben and Cherie's chacarera. It's too bad that they haven't uploaded a video of their chacarera on youtube, because trust me, it was beyond fabulous. As I had wrote to Cherie afterwards once we returned to Toronto:

We are still talking today over lunch about the amazing chacarera that you danced with Ruben at Los Consagrados. We've seen more acrobatic chacereras performed but they were nothing compared to yours. We have never seen a chacerera danced with so much spirit - Ruben was the incarnation of machismo and strength and you were all grace and coquetry. The two of you have so much chemistry.

Cherie and Ruben, please upload a video of your chacarera so everyone can enjoy it! Until then here's a video of Ruben dancing Chacarera with Victoria, a well-known portena folklore dancer and teacher:

Unfortunately we had to leave to go to Glorias Argentinas - our teacher Alberto Dassieu was picking us up at 10 p.m. - but even though we had go, we could not resist Cherie and Ruben's invitation to dance with them before we left. Although we only had time to dance two tangos, dancing with Cherie and Ruben was a wonderful experience. Cherie and Ruben are indeed, muy, muy milonguero.

Dear Cherie and Ruben: Thank you for your hospitality and for letting us share your table at Los Consagrados! It's the best table in the house.

Back in Toronto (again)


Back home again on Tuesday.... and this is what greets us. Big clumps of snow. Our taxi driver from the airport said that it was hot and sunny all last week in Toronto, and now that we have returned it is winter again. It makes our memories of Buenos Aires seem so much more warmer in comparison.

Every trip we have made to Buenos Aires has been an eye-opener, and this trip is no exception. We had the chance to watch and dance with amazing dancers. We met new friends and became even closer to old friends. We experienced new milongas. We learnt new things and refined our technique. And even though Comme Il Faut was always crowded and Artesanal has closed it's Riobamba location, we still got shoes!

A picture is worth a thousand words, so I guess a video will be worth a million... we're busy sorting through and uploading our videos right now. More to come very shortly!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Buenos Aires 2010

Glorias Argentinas

Instead of watching our cat hacking out hairballs, we are in Buenos Aires. The skies are blue, the humidity is just fine, the portenos are lovely and gracious, and we have eaten asado almost every single day. I myself am being eaten alive by the mosquitoes (they have a bit of a mosquito problem this year because there was so much rain a few weeks ago) but who cares, we are in tango heaven!

I thought that I would be able to gather a lot of material for the blog but alas, this has not been the case. So far we have been to Nuevo Chique, Lo de Celia, Los Consagrados (unfortunately we were not able to bump into Cherie and Ruben - we didn't know that they were still in Brasil), Glorias Argentinas, Sin Rumbo, El Beso, Milonga del Centenario in Viejo Correo - yes, we have been keeping more than busy. But guess what? No face dancing. No shoulder shrugging. No gratuitous adorning. In fact, the level of dancing has improved this year for locals and for foreigners. In addition, the attendance at the milongas we went to has been higher than what we have seen previously.
The extranjeros in the more extranjero milongas still cannot control their desire to "mostrar" (as some locals have termed it) their bountiful tango talents, but at least they are "showing off" by dancing as "authentically and tastefully" as possible and not as "large and spiky" as possible. If only we could banish all the nincompoop leaders with the dangerously flailing elbows (apparently it is apex of "new trendiness", popularized by such as Pablo and Noelia and others - I couldn't even bear to look at some of the videos on youtube) to La Viruta, everything would be just dandy and there would be nothing to write about!

Our stay won't be long, but I'm dutifully writing down what has happened every day... so that I can bore you with the details, oh, three years down the road....

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Vanity (Tango) Fair

Someone booked the most extravagant, glittering hotel ballroom as the venue for the grandest and most important tango festival ever to be held in Toronto.

Opening night. A throng of people were milling about and chatting,waiting for the festival milonga to start. However, only six people showed up for the pre-milonga class. The dozen or so local and foreign teachers converged on the six and busily occupied themselves with teaching.

The organizer had decided that the general public should have an opportunity to see the whole spectacle and had therefore set up railings in the ballroom behind which passersby could observe. It was like a sports event. Some people stood, some people squatted, and some people sat, sprawled out with their tango shoes and coffee cups. There was quite a din as the participants continued to laugh and socialize at the edge of the dance floor.

Finally, the music started - but no, this was no ordinary milonga. The organizer paired up the dancers and made them stand in line to enter the dance floor one pair at a time. It was a pageant, it was a parade; you were there to see and be seen - to judge and be judged.

The organizer paired me up with a little girl of about eight or nine. Despite the ridiculous arrangement I was determined to enjoy myself at the milonga and I didn't care. It was our turn to take the floor and we started to dance.

So we had our little stumbles and missteps - so what? For me it was a lark. But for the little girl it was catastrophe. Every time something went wrong her frown deepened and her frame went slack. After a few minutes of this she just plonked herself down on the floor and refused to move.

"What's the matter? It's only dancing!" I said.

"But everyone's watching! I don't want to look bad!"

I tried to lift her up but she was determined to sink right down to the floor again. It was useless.


"What the hell is that?"

I was back in the darkness of our bedroom. Groggy from the dream, I struggled to comprehend the origin of that infernal racket which continued unabated. Man Yung sprang out of the bed to investigate.

Luckily, it was not a home invasion. It was only Mephistopheles - crouching under the dining table, trying his darndest to cough up a hairball the size of Texas.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Buenos Aires 2008 - Part 12

La Baldosa

From: Irene (---------------@------------.com)
Sent: March 9, 2008 4:13:25 PM
To: V (-------------------@--------------.com)
Dear V,

Hope you have had a nice time dancing last Friday and that you are enjoying your weekend.

I haven´t had much time to write in the past few days - during the day the computers were always occupied, and by the time we came back to the hotel at night - usually at 5 a.m. - I´d be too damn tired to write!

I´ve also spent a lot of time investigating the various public washrooms in Bs As - I got some food poisoning on Friday afternoon and I´m only starting to get back to normal today. So a lot of my time has been spent running for the bathroom. If you are really interested, I can tell you the results of my research - be careful of the stall doors at the Escuela de Tango Argentino, they don´t have locks so you have to jam the door closed, and then it is a real pain to get them open again - unless you really want to start screaming for assistance. The toilets at Glorias Argentinas have no toilet paper, and some of the seats aren´t attached to the toilet, so don´t try to do the jive while you are sitting down ;-) However, wherever I went, all the toilets flush really well – is it the proximity of the city to Iguazu Falls?

We had breakfast on Friday morning, then went back to bed and got up at again around noon because I couldn´t sleep anymore. We went out to a cake store called "Quebec" just steps from the hotel to get a black forest cake. Why? Because we wanted to give a nice cake and a thank you card to the people at Comme Il Faut.

With the cake, card, Man Yung being charming and of course, his superior fashion sense, the girls at Comme Il Faut are our "new best friends". In case you are going there soon without us :) , the slim lady with the long blond hair and the cool hip look is the owner, A. ; the lady with the red curly shoulder length hair is the bookkeeper (and she is also a lawyer, and she lives far out of town and it takes her one hour commute to get in, she doesn´t have much time to dance tango because she lives so far and she is too busy bookkeeping, doing yoga and tai chi - see I have done my homework) and she is called M., and she is in charge when the owner isn´t there. The younger lady with the nosestud and the long blond straight hair is called S. and she lost her expensive french perfume last year, but found it again. We had some very interesting conversations with M.and S. In fact, Man Yung taught M. some Chi Gong while we were there on Friday! Despite all the time we spent buying shoes, chatting and Chi Gong demonstrations, we were in and out of the store in 20 minutes. I know _________ [a self-proclaimed “tango guru” in Toronto] told you some exaggerated bullshit about the prices being three times more this year but Comme Il Faut shoes are the same price, depending on the style they are 290, 300 or 310 pesos per pair.

We always get the best service and we get to look at every single pair in the size and heel height that I requested. And we are really fast and decisive, so the girls are always delighted. I see the other poor customers agonizing over their choices (always poor choices by the way - too conservative usually, in either black or nude colours) and they are always so bewildered why we are getting the best service. Well, I bought another THREE pairs of shoes - a very plain black and red suede pair with three inch heel for practice, a pink and gold sandal pair, and a black and red satin pair with a ribbon design in the front - I seem to be making up for the lack of red shoes I bought last year!

By the way we saw A. at Nino Bien, and if you are curious about what shoes she was wearing, she was wearing a plain black four inch heel pair of CIFs with an elegant black floor length sheath dress.

After shopping at Comme Il Faut we decided to go and gawk at the Peter Kent store just steps away on the corner. The displays in the window are so enticing for a ex-handbag addict like me! I was tempted last year to buy one, but they were pretty expensive - 200 to 400 DOLLARS per bag. If you saw those lovely handbags you would weep – buttery smooth leather, with distinctive designs and in bright colours like mandarin orange, acid lime green, metallic dark blue, lipstick red, corvette yellow etc. etc. However, when I do the math and think “one handbag equals three to four pairs of CIFs” – well, I restrain myself just long enough to walk past the store without letting go of my credit card!

We put our stuff back at the hotel then headed out to Alberto´s place near the Abasto shopping mall for our class at 3:30. We were early so we walked around in Abasto shopping mall, and then went to eat at the food court. Man Yung wanted to eat Parrilla, so we had one to share (37 pesos, and one beer for 5 pesos). I think I may have had some grilled intestines or pancreas that didn´t agree with me, or perhaps I was drinking from a bottle of water that I had been carrying since the morning - either were the culprits for my food poisoning.

I was fine during Alberto´s class though. Alberto taught Man Yung figures, and used the dynamics of the figures to pinpoint the problems with the walk, musicality, embrace and leading. Alberto helped Man Yung out a lot on Friday. In particular Alberto found out that Man Yung wasn´t turning his body to complement the woman´s body when he leads - that´s why when he is leading change of direction, some times Man Yung´s body angle of the turn stops short and I have to make extra effort to do the turn. As I said to Alberto (jokingly), "in Man Yung´s style, the woman has to work harder!"

As for me, I have been keeping Alberto’s advice on following in mind since our previous trip - he told me on the Friday that we arrived that for me, "there was nothing to correct". It is always easier for the follower than the leader.

By the time we got back to the hotel, ate something, slept a little bit, it was time to go to the festival milonga at La Baldosa. I started feeling the effects of food poisoning after my nap - combination of heartburn, gas and “montezuma’s revenge” - fun stuff! We thought we were getting to La Baldosa a little late, 10:30 rather than 10 - in fact, most of the people weren´t there and they hadn´t even started playing proper music yet.

So we were seated with all the festival people and our european friends, Martha and Manolo arrived after us, and we were at the same section of table as they were but further back from the floor. We saw a couple that we saw at Nino Bien - the man wants to dance like Zotto but he is really really stiff and they were always in the way with their big steps, big turns and inability to navigate. Turns out that they are argentinians who live abroad and they host M&M so they are their "friends"! Thank god Man Yung didn’t start a fight with them at Nino Bien.

We struck up a conversation with a norteamericana who was at the festival alone. I know, she was nice and all but I have to say she is really negative. She has been in Bs As numerous times but she is always complaining about the prices and bad service and how the Argentinians are out to cheat her. Somehow she is always getting the worst service (“What’s wrong with THEM? THEY ruined my order of custom shoes, I’M getting ripped off at this festival milonga, WHY isn’t the waitress looking this way?”), the worst time, and taxi drivers are out to cheat her of a couple of pesos by taking the scenic route. Why even come to Bs As when you hate the people and hate the place?

I think I pissed her off because I just tell her we always get the best experiences - getting a free pair of shoes at our favourite tango shoe store after a shoe mix-up (and we didn’t even demand or argue or haggle, we were polite, pointed out the problem and asked only for a repair – instead, the store decided to just give us a free pair), for example - that really raised her eyebrows. She was so mired in negativity she probably didn't believe me.

R&E, M&M´s friends whom we met last year, also came, because I had emailed them and they wanted to see M&M and also see whether they could see us. They are so nice, R asked me to dance three times, and E danced with Man Yung. E said Man Yung danced with a lot of feeling and with a very clear lead. I´m glad that the argentinians are enjoying dancing with Man Yung this year - he has improved a lot, and he has improved even more during this trip!

I was really watching the clock, waiting for the performance to be over (M&M and Roxina and Adrian performed at 1:30, one hour later than expected, and then all the festival students performed together. Can´t see much of the performance by the way, there were rows and rows of people blocking the way) and then the live band, a Tubatango-esque outfit, started playing. Man Yung danced with our european friends to the live music, and then we hot footed out of there. Why? Because we want to get to Sin Rumbo in Villa Urquiza!

(to be continued)

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