Friday, April 30, 2010

Distinctive Styles - Part 2

Most foreigners stick to the popular milongas in the downtown core, or, if they dare venture out further, only to "famous" milongas like Sunderland and Sin Rumbo - which, to be quite honest, are already victims (beneficiaries?) of their own fame and have been invaded by hordes of gringo dancers. It seems that even El Chino has gone into hiding - we never got a chance to see him during any of our four trips to Buenos Aires even though we went to the big Villa Urquiza milongas like Sin Rumbo and Sunderland. When we did see him, he was at "Caricias" - where there were no tourists!

What can we usually find in the milongas where the gringos go? Some places are a big melting pot of tourists upon tourists dancing with yet other tourists. Some places have more of the older argentino dancers - but you are likely to find more or less homogeneous styles of dancing - either the ubiquitous downtown "close embrace" or "milonguero style", or something that looks loosely "tango salonish" in the Villa Urquiza/Campeonato sense.

Those who have not experienced anything other than the "downtown" or "Villa Urquiza" styles would be inclined to think that this, and only this was the "real deal". Maybe it's a gringo, north american/european thing, but there's this big urge for foreign tango dancers to put things into "categories". It's one way to understand and conceptualize this dance that we love, but it is also extremely restrictive. It breeds a certain kind of narrow thinking: If this dancer can fit into this category, he/she must be good; if that dancer doesn't belong to any category, one doesn't know what to think.

Many dancers therefore fail to appreciate what is distinctive and original anymore. A dancer can't be admired for his or her own style - you are only good according to how you well you conform to "A Style". Tango is a dance, but the way dancers are judged these days, the qualities of "dancing well" - musicality, musicality, musicality, and expression of that musicality with physical and emotive movement - are thrown by the wayside. Instead, dancers debate endlessly about who is the most "authentic", who has the best "apilado", who has the best "embrace", who is the most "elegant", etc. etc.

Let's take "Villa Urquiza" for example. What does it mean nowadays? I see "Elegant!!!!" young couples treading cautious and stork-like, in suits and bias cut dresses, campeonato style. Or "Social" "Villa Urquiza" dancers doing their best impression of Javier Rodriguez and Andrea Misse - butts sticking ever so rotundly, subtly out (guys and gals together now!), concentrating on making "LOOK MA!!!! AMAZZZZZING!!!! EMBRACESSSSS!!!!" and doing a-mile-a-minute adornments (guys and gals, oh-so-alike).

What would people think if I told them that these videos were taken in a milonga in Villa Urquiza?:

Social dancing (Vals) at Circulo Apolo: Ignore the chinese people and just enjoy the dancing!

Would people be upset that there is no-one dancing remotely like anyone's idea of Fino Rivera or Portalea*? Would they feel like rioting in the streets because there isn't anyone who could even qualify for the Campeonato in sight? Of course they would. "No, you must be joking, this can't possibly be "Villa Urquiza"", many may say.

Would anybody care that most of the local leaders of Circulo Apolo dance with amazing calm and musicality, and that the average local follower can follow better than any gringo professional/instructor? Probably not.

Alas, but can they even begin to understand? "Villa Urquiza", "Tango Salon", "Milonguero Style" etc. are just brands, conveniently slapped on and heavily marketed. If one is willing to dig deep and not follow the crowd, tango is more amazing than one can ever envision.

Martha and Manolo, Osvaldo and Coca, Alberto and Paulina - what a thrill it is for us to have these teachers, all of whom have their own distinctive style of dancing. They are all great - because they are all unique. And they have never, ever dictated conformity to their styles to us (even though we steal their steps all the time). That's because our teachers have lived in the golden age of tango and they have seen the best dancers, ever. Osvaldo has said somewhere, when he was young, EVERYONE he saw at the milonga were gods and goddesses of tango. And Manolo has said from his experience, "You better be really good before you stepped foot into a milonga those days!" Everyone was unique back then - and everyone was great. That's why our teachers are so humble. They teach us this: Musicality is King - and your personal expression is your own.

Sometimes you have to go to the barrio milongas to get a glimpse of what they were talking about. You have tiny old ladies in their nineties dancing like they used to dance in the days of Carmencita Calderon and El Cachafaz. You have mysterious couples dancing nonchalantly with steps and figures that you could only find in rare archival footage of tango decades past. You have Oscar Omar Denico, for example, dancing "Tango of the 40's". "Tango de la cuarenta?" an onlooker asked, to which he replied, "Si."

Oscar Omar Denico dances to Biagi at Glorias Argentinas

Oscar and his wife Ana have been sitting at the same, central table at Glorias Argentinas for longer than I have been alive (probably). They too have seen more than we can possibly imagine in the history of tango. But they have been friendly to us from the very start - from our very first visit to Buenos Aires, when my spanish was so bad I couldn't understand a thing they said! When we were too scared to dance because Martha and Manolo were at Glorias Argentinas with us, Oscar said, "Why should you be scared that Martha and Manolo are here? Who is Manolo anyway? I have known him for decades!" You know what, Manolo would say exactly the same kind of thing. Understand that we are all insignificant, but in the same breath, understand that we are all great. Dance, dance!

Maestro Carlos Anzuate dances his signature Candombe at Glorias Argentinas

Martha and Manolo pointed out Carlos Anzuate as someone to watch on the dance floor the first time we went to Glorias Argentinas with them. "He's an incredible dancer - muy pasito," Manolo said. Carlos dances everything - Tango, Vals, Milonga, Candombe, Canyengue, Jazz, Salsa, Cumbia, Rock n' Roll. When he takes the floor - with the ladies at his table or with his dear wife and partner Porota, everyone stops to watch.

We gradually learned over our many visits just how revered he is by the other argentinians of the older generation. Carlos and Porota have taught and performed for as long as anyone can remember, and their students include Facundo Posadas, now famous in his own right for his Candombe.

We are doubly lucky to have Martha and Manolo as our teachers - they are so respected, when we hang around them, people think we are ok too! So was the case with Carlos, who has offered us friendly advice every year. This year, I finally got the opportunity to dance with Carlos - he asked me to dance and agreed to let us film him. It's too bad that there isn't footage of his dancing with Porota available. Osvaldo and Coca whispered to us when we were at Glorias Argentinas with them this year, "Do you know who Carlos is? FIFTY YEARS AGO Carlos and his senora were already legends in tango - they gave astounding exhibitions!"

We are so very fortunate to have the opportunity to watch and meet with some very amazing and unique dancers on our trips, and to be able to show some of their dancing to you. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Who knows what other incredible dancers, what other incredible stories have been lost in time or hidden in the crowds on the dance floor?

To be continued....

* By the way, Fino Rivera and Gerardo Portalea were much more complex than any one thinks.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Adela Galeazzi and Rino Biondi dance CANYENGUE

We just had to share this with you....

Adela Galeazzi and Rino Biondi dance to Canaro's "El Chamuyo" at Salon Canning, January, 2010

Looks like Adela wasn't even thinking that Rino was going to dance Canyengue-style. It just shows that a world-class follower like Adela can follow anything, even improvised Canyengue. This is nothing short of amazing!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Distinctive Styles - Part 1

Finding videos of great tango dancing by the older generation of dancers on the internet is never easy.

Firstly, there's this whole mish-mash of stuff that a search phrase will turn up. Type in "Milonguero" on Youtube and your search will spew out thousands of clips. Some of them may be of older dancers, but some of them are not. Ever come across the term "So-and-so is from the younger generation of Milongueros?" Marketing gimmick. The videos in question are usually of some young couple bopping half close embrace/half nuevo in sneakers, leggings and untucked shirts. Horrendous and misleading.

Secondly, even if you find your video, there's issues of quality. Some are dark, some are grainy; some extreme close ups of heads with no feet, some are extreme close ups of feet and no heads; in some you glimpse the great, older generation dancers for two seconds - and then they are obscured by a sea of bodies of all the other dancers at the milonga.

Thirdly, not all older generation dancers are great. Some of them can be downright mediocre - or at least not terribly instructive. Sometimes when I show a video of a dancer that someone has labeled "Milonguero" or "Maestro" to Man Yung, he ends up rolling his eyes. One such video made him physically sick - the "Maestro Milonguero" was so adamantly, persistently off the music it made Man Yung's head ache and his stomach churn.

Lastly, you've got to beware of agendas. Some "tango gurus" only post videos of certain styles of dancing for self-promotional purposes. For example, you will have sites only with "Milonguero style" dancing, and other sites with only "Villa Urquiza style" dancing (just an example - these being the styles currently in vogue and in competition with each other). Watching these sites and reading the articles posted on these sites, you would think that only such-and-such a style was authentic - and that all the other stuff was heretical and should go to hell. The self-promoters can sometimes be good dancers, but sometimes they are not good dancers. Nevertheless, their proclamations about the "authenticity" of dancers whom they aspire to dance like (with video proof to boot) have an effect of earning the self-promoters extra "tango world credibility points" for whatever ends they choose - whether it is in order to get more students, get more business, get more attention, increasing their "tango guru" status, etc.

I think we have quoted it here on this blog somewhere, but Maria Nieves once said, "No one owns the truth in Tango." If one cares to look without being blinded by personal "authenticity" agendas, one will find there is an incredible amount of variation and complexity in the styles that exist in Tango. We are lucky to have teachers who all have their own distinct styles - Martha and Manolo, Alberto and Paulina and Osvaldo and Coca definitely do not dance alike! The dancers we met through them all have their own distinct styles too.

(It's interesting: we have been thinking about this post and how to present this material for a couple of weeks now, and just today Tangocommuter has written a post about how difficult it is to find many many good videos of great dancing by the older generation of dancers. Hey Tangocommuter, once again we are thinking about the same thing! Maybe it's something in the (Tango) air...)

We don't have a research grant but we have had the good fortune to have the opportunity to spend some time with some really great, distinctive dancers in Buenos Aires. In 2009, we met Roberto Segarra and his partner Olga:

Roberto Segarra and Olga dance to Di Sarli at Club Fulgor de Villa Crespo, March 2009

Robert is 88 but dances with the energy and enthusiasm of someone half his age. He always has a mischievous twinkle in his eye and a cheeky desire to dance with all the other ladies, even though his partner Olga (who has a beautiful way of stepping when she dances - we told her that her feet looked like flying doves) watches over him with eagle eyes! We first met him during our 2009 trip at Lo de Celia. We told him we admired his dancing and we exchanged a few words - and that could have been the end of that, except that a few days later we bumped into him and Olga at the barrio club, Club Fulgor de Villa Crespo, of all places! There's nothing like a happy coincidence to feel like getting to know a person was just meant to be. We've stayed in touch ever since, Roberto and Olga even gave us a DVD with footage of their performances at the 2009 Milongueando festival when we met this year.

Roberto and Olga dance an energetic, peppy style - but can adapt this to the music no matter whether it is a tango by Troilo, D'Arienzo, Di Sarli or a vals. Styles may vary but musicality is a must for great dancing. Our friends Ruben Dario Lopez and his partner Elena, for example, have this great musicality, but a completely different style:

Ruben Dario Lopez and Elena dancing to Calo at Lo de Celia, March 2009

If you want to look for a definition of "great tango posture", this is it. Ruben and Elena are elegant, calm, playful, musical - but never stiff or tense. Their elegance is a natural, relaxed elegance, and not at all forced or exaggerated like in so-called competition "Tango Salon" styles that is common these days. And Elena's exquisite footwork - que lindo! What is interesting about this video is that Roberto Segarra (in the blue/gray shirt) is dancing just ahead of them on the floor throughout the video. Two completely different styles - but still great examples of Tango.

Here's another video from the same tanda:

Ruben Dario Lopez and Elena dancing to Calo at Lo de Celia, March 2009

We met Ruben and Elena through Martha and Manolo during our first trip to Buenos Aires. They were so friendly and welcoming from the very first instant - we kind of sucked then but they still invited us to dance! We have met them during our trips every year since then. They have this great aura of tranquility, humility and class. They are VIPs wherever they go - Ruben is a DJ and has been a milonga organizer dating way back to the time when Manolo was organizing milonga with some of his best friends Rodolfo and Maria Cieri - but you would never know it because Ruben and Elena never go around promoting themselves. In fact, we didn't even know that Ruben was the first DJ of Lo de Celia (and that's a long time ago) and that he had trained DJ Dany Borelli until someone else who knew him mentioned it to us this year.

Everywhere Ruben and Elena go they are recognized and respected, but they never make a big hoopla about their status. Watching them is educational, because you learn how a gentleman and a lady should behave in a milonga. Perhaps that was part of the reason why they were asked to be the padrinos, or godparents, of the milonga Caricias - having them as padrinos sets the tone for the quality of the milonga. We are quite unruly and we are always joking around - but around Ruben and Elena we sometimes feel that we better restrain ourselves! This year Ruben and Elena became grandparents of their first grandchild - and seeing them so happy and carefree we took a chance and told some jokes (and if you have been around us you know that we have some pretty ridiculous jokes). We shouldn't have been worried - Ruben and Elena have a great sense of humour.

Talking to Ruben and Elena and exchanging emails with them, we learn a lot about tango, tango music and we get all the latest news. We just received an email from them yesterday - they were at Caricias with Martha and Manolo just this week. They were passing around the photos we took when we were at Caricias with them to all their friends. They told us that they were all talking about us (Hopefully positive things! Just kidding.) and they even told us El Chino was very happy when they gave him the photo that we took of us together. We wish would could be there with them, enjoying the joyful and familiar atmosphere of the milonga and dancing to the wonderful music selections of DJ Charli.

More videos to follow....

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Yet another Tristram Shandy-ish diversion

To Shandy Hall!

I imagine many of you must be asking by now: “When are you ever going to go back to the main story – that being the account of your travels in Buenos Aires in 2008? My goodness, we are in 2010 already and you are not quite half-way done! What happened in Sin Rumbo? Did you ever get to see Osvaldo Centeno again? What about the drink that you promised to buy for Tete? Why is the frustrating process of reading your blog a full-on encounter with the concept of the non-sequitur (or whatever they call these kinds of interruptions)?”

Dear Reader(s): I sincerely apologize for the frustration you must be experiencing, but I am afraid that I am doomed, Tristram Shandy-ish, to constant diversions upon diversions, interruptions upon interruptions, of this "story". I promise to get back on track very soon.... only after (and please be patient) a couple more posts with the video footage we took this year in Buenos Aires…

....But before I get to that, I launch into two more, tiny (and unrelated) little diversions:


A Toronto Tanguero friend of ours told us last Sunday that he has been reading our blog recently. He also paid us a lovely compliment. “I don’t expect to be able to make a trip to Buenos Aires,” he said, “but when I read your blog, you make me feel like I’m there with you!”

We have received a few comments in the past to this effect - and thank you to everyone who have enjoyed our accounts. Our posts, especially our "Buenos Aires" series, were all initially written as a set of emails to a very dear Toronto milonguera friend of ours. She had traveled to Buenos Aires even before we had - and Buenos Aires forever since then has had a hold on her heart. However, due to work, life, family and other commitments, she has not been able to return to the beautiful city as often as we have. Our accounts were born out of our desire to take our friend along with us - so that she could see the wide crystal blue skies that we saw, laugh and dance with the people we met, hear the enchanting music we heard and of course, feel the embrace of tango in Buenos Aires all over again.

If this was an alternative reality and I had superpowers, I bet that my superpowers would be "making lame incomprehensible jokes" and "playing match-3 games for hours" – and not “the ability to write extremely evocative travel writing”. All we have is our sincere desire to share our experiences. So, if we have succeeded in taking some of you to Buenos Aires with us, we are more than happy.


Something weird - it appears that someone here in Toronto is videotaping us and trying to copy our steps! They say "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery", so I guess we are really flattered.

Now, we do plenty of this "copying" stuff ourselves - but the dancers we are watching and copying are people like Martha and Manolo and Osvaldo and Coca - I mean, dancers with REAL talent! Why anyone would want to copy our steps when so much great material is on Youtube is beyond us. We fear that the poor tanguero in question (… que pobrecito, as they say…) may be greatly misled. Having one set of “Man Yung and Irene” is already more “dance pollution” than one tango community can stand – do we really want another “copy” of it? And we all know how wonky photocopies can come out sometimes.

Now, as you know, we don’t teach - and as the pobrecito has been dancing for almost twice as long as we have, he may never want to lose face and ask us for advice. But advice we do have – and here it is!:

A. Yes, copy, by all means copy!

Copying is good. That’s how the Argentinian leaders learned – by watching each other on the dance floor, and by practicing and copying each other's steps in practicas. But please, copy the best material available - Youtube has made it so easy, and a ticket to Buenos Aires is within reach of most people.

The only thing standing in your way of "tango copy heaven" is your ability to distinguish between what is “good” dancing, and what is “bad” dancing. Unfortunately, and this is the difficult part - most people still can’t tell.

B. Yes, copy! But know what to copy, and what not to copy.

The Toronto pobrecito has got it all wrong. We have observed him over the years, and he has made the same mistake over and over again.

He copies what he can “see”, and what catches his eye. When he was entranced with Tango Nuevo, he went to every milonga in baggy flappy pants and loose shirts. When he was captivated by Tango Milonguero, he went to every milonga in suit. Perhaps he thought his costumes were going to give him “Tango cred”. But costumes do not “Tango” make.

C. Yes, copy! But know what to copy, and what not to copy. (Part 2)

As we said, the Toronto pobrecito copies what he can “see”, and what catches his eye. Many do the same – and fail to get to the heart of the matter.

Along these lines, leaders just tend to copy the attention-grabbing tricks and the flashy moves. Or they copy the mannerisms of their heroes – constantly tapping toes here, waving elbows there, butts-a-sticking out everywhere! Or – and this is a pet peeve of ours – they copy “elegant walks”. If you look at the so-called “Tango Salon” championships, you will know what we mean – instead of natural “walking”, competitors are stretching out their limbs to the fullest extent possible doing this floaty/giraffy/ostrichy/stick-insecty stride. And then each succeeding copy of a copy exaggerates this movement until all the copycats can apply for jobs at the “Ministry of Funny Walks”.

As a result, you may see this at a typical north america milonga:


- Couples are doing the floaty/giraffy/ostrichy/stick-insecty walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, giro, walk, walk, walk…

- Couples are doing the floaty/giraffy/ostrichy/stick-insecty walk, walk, walk, walk – and then BANG! FLASHY MOVE! And then the floaty/giraffy/ostrichy/stick-insecty walk, walk, walk, walk – and then BANG! FLASHY MOVE!

We’ll let you in on a secret. Sure, copy the tricks, copy the flashy moves. They are part and parcel of the legacy of inventiveness and improvisation in tango, and it’s worth preserving this tradition and replicating “steps” – but only when space and crowd conditions allow on the dance floor. But when you copy the walk, don’t copy the “mannerisms” of the walk. Each person has their own idiosyncratic gait – but the idiosyncrasies are not what makes the walk.

Really copying a “walk” is about copying how a great leader gets from point A to point B. That means how and when the leader pauses and on what step, how the leader double or triple steps and changes weight, how the leader enters and exits a turn, how different leaders execute a “salida”, etc.

Osvaldo’s classes are all about this – the “quality” of movement in getting from point A to point B. Many people have no patience to quietly learn this – either in classes or when copying from a video. “I already know how to walk!” they say. But if you copy, don’t miss out - this is the true essence of a leader’s “style”.

D. Yes, copy! But copy to understand – and not to be clever.

Many people feel a thrill when they successfully copy a step (or a mannerism, or a floaty/ostrichy walk). “I did it!” they say, and merrily execute the said stuff at the milonga.

It’s not always easy to copy someone’s steps, but don’t let it turn into an acquisition game. Copy to understand and not to exhibit your clever ability to acquire steps. We've copied a lot from our teachers, but we have always tried to also learn from them, to understand the why? of their tango whenever possible.

This means spending time with our teachers, observing how they interact with the world and treat others, talking to them and asking questions. The older dancers put all their experience, their entire lives - inside and outside of Tango - into their dance. That's where the genius of their tango comes from.

One last thing: if you really want to dance the tango well, try to copy something that the older dancers possess that goes beyond technique. Learn how they live their lives as gentlemen. Learn how they lives their lives as real men. Learn how they live their lives - as human beings.

Videos to follow - with plenty to copy and learn from!

Friday, April 16, 2010


Stumbling across new videos of Osvaldo and Coca performing in Buenos Aires, I was led to the Junando's blog on which was written the following:

El simple hecho de verlos emociona... empiezan su exhibición con un beso en los labios que emana ternura, ella le arregla la camisa y se funden en un Abrazo Mágico en el cual el Amor se nota, donde en sus rostros se ven sonrisas y nos regalan ese Tango Sencillo y Compadrito, ese Tango sin acrobacias, donde más que nunca puede observarse que el Tango es un Sentimiento que se baila.

Osvaldo nos llamaba Nenes y Nenas... y nos dió las gracias por prestarle atención e ir a ver bailar a dos "viejos", pero como no ir a ver bailar y compartir ese sentimiento con dos grandes que nos transmiten la esencia del Tango... Osvaldo nos llamó Nenes y Nenas, pero los niños eran ellos... sus sonrisas, su diversión y un final más que increíble con un vals maravilloso... lejos la mejor exhibición que he filmado en este poco tiempo y ojalá puedan ver en sus imagenes ese momento histórico, ese momento único que vivimos cuando unos niños grandes nos llamaron niños.

(Roughly and hastily) Translated:

The simple fact of seeing them moves us... they began their exhibition with a kiss on the lips that emanates tenderness, she fixes his shirt and they are in a magical embrace in which is written love, where in their faces smiles are seen and they give that Tango to us "Sencillo and Campadrito", that Tango without acrobatics, where more than ever it can be observed that Tango is a Feeling that is danced.

Osvaldo calls us his "babies"... and thanked us for paying them attention and for going to see two old ones dance, but why shouldn't we go and see these two great ones dance and share with us this feeling that transmits the essence of Tango... Osvaldo called us his "babies" but they were the children, their smiles, their playfulness and the incredible ending with a wonderful vals... by far the best exhibition that I have filmed in just this short time and hopefully you can see in these images that historical moment, that unique moment that we lived when great children called us children.

Osvaldo and Coca perform to Di Sarli's "El Cielo y Tu" at Milonga 10

All four videos can be found at Junando's Youtube website here.

We couldn't write it better than Junando - the way that Osvaldo and Coca and their dancing makes us feel, we are so overcome that we could not put it down in words. Man Yung is often reduced to tears, watching the "greats" like Osvaldo and Coca, Martha and Manolo, Alberto Dassieu dance with so much feeling, so much love, so much life...

One thing we have observed in Osvaldo and Coca and Martha and Manolo's group classes is that has been a steady increase in attendance at their classes by the younger generation of Argentinian tango dancers (yes, those in the sneakers who go to Villa Malcolm and Practica 8, and Milonga 10). Our teachers and others like them (the "old masters", to borrow a phrase from fellow blogger Tangocommuter's recent post) who are keeping tradition alive are planting the seeds of Tango's future... and it makes us happy, hopeful that the younger generation can sense it, can see and feel and be possessed by their example - and perhaps, despite great adversity, this Tango, this "feeling that is danced", can continue to live on...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A night at Circulo Apolo - March 2010

After class at El Tacuari on Friday night, we piled into Osvaldo and Coca's car to get to yet another milonga. They drove what seemed for miles and miles along la autopista along the banks of the river to arrive at our destination right on the edge of the city - the Circulo Apolo.

It's a barrio milonga, in the heart of "Villa Urquiza". It was filled with locals - there was only one table of tourists who had lost their way and ended up there instead of the much more famous Sin Rumbo a couple of blocks away.

Once again, Osvaldo and Coca knew everyone there, but it was no swanky downtown tango hall. Instead, we got the feeling that we were walking into a neighbourhood block party. At Circulo Apolo, you won't find a long line of single women and men staring hungrily at each other across an empty floor. The people were seated in in groups - couples, friends, families. Everyone had known everyone else for years. They were laughing, chatting, eating, drinking - dancing is only a little part of the fun on Friday nights.

We finished dinner. Osvaldo nonchalantly asked us, "What music do you like to dance to?" I thought a little and said, "Di Sarli..." - then I added, "We also like to dance to Donato's "El Adios"!" I was hoping to score some brownie points - it's Osvaldo and Coca's theme song. Osvaldo and Coca seemed to approve.

Then, half an hour later, Osvaldo told us to write our names on a piece of paper. We obliged. "What's that for?" we asked. "It's for me," Osvaldo said firmly, squirreling the paper away. We didn't ask why. He's the Maestro - you don't ask questions!

We learned that tonight was a special night - the 73rd or 74th (not quite sure, my memory fails me) anniversary party for Circulo Apolo. The festivities began with a long speech by the host, a baby-faced silver-haired man in a dark suit. It was a soft rambling monologue of "thank-you's", and here's my approximation and summary of what I think he said:

"Thank you to the people on each of the tables for celebrating with us on this occasion [he names several individuals among the attendees, including Osvaldo and Coca - polite applause ensues]... thank you to the regular instructor of the class on Monday night... thank you to the instructor of the class before the milonga on Friday night... thank you to Daniel Nacucchio and Cristina Sosa [the 2008 Tango Salon Mundial champions] who are our official instructors... thank you to the guy who takes the entradas at the door... thank you to the gentleman who used to sing for D'Agostino's orchestra [not Angel Vargas, but someone who came later - he has a regular table at the milonga]... thank you to the chef who is in charge of the food at the milonga [and out of the kitchen comes this young chica without her apron to receive the kisses and hugs and hand shakes]... thank you to everyone who has signed the lovely birthday card for the club......................................... and thank you to the visitors we have from the Republic of China, Irene and Man Yung [here we stand up and do a little embarrassed wave]... they are going to perform for us to Donato's "El Adios"........."

Eeeeek! I didn't have time to check whether Osvaldo and Coca were giggling. And as Man Yung didn't understand a single word of the speech he didn't know what was up - it was my urgent job to tell him.

"Man Yung! Put on your jacket NOW!" He saw my wide-eyed expression of horror - and immediately understood. We half-scrambled half-tumbled over our chairs onto the dance floor.

We stand there, probably looking embarrassed. I'm upset that I didn't have my camera ready to film the whole event. The music plays - Donato all right, but it was "El Acomodo".

Interesting. But we were not the captains of our own fate so we just started dancing - for about 15 seconds. Then the track was abruptly cut short.

"Ooops! A mix-up!" somebody said. And while they sorted the music out I rushed back to our table, whipped out my camera, turned it on and passed it to the gentleman on the next table - praying to the tango gods that at least some of this momentous event (to us, at least) would get captured on film!

And this is what we got:

Yay Toronto (and apparently also the "Republic of China")! We perform to Donato's "El Adios".
Osvaldo Cartery not only filmed us - he provided the live(ly) commentary

We felt incredibly lucky, and incredibly loved. Osvaldo and Coca had arranged this - just for us. It reminded us of the time during the first Camicando when Manolo told us to dance for Osvaldo and Coca. We asked Manolo what he wanted us to dance - and he said "Whatever you like." He felt proud to be our teacher and had confidence in us, and he wanted his friends to see us dance to see what he meant when he called us his "amigos".

Osvaldo and Coca's surprise at Circulo Apolo was just like that. They didn't coach us, they didn't prepare us, they didn't want to change a single thing about us. They just arranged everything quietly, on this very important night at Circulo Apolo, and sent us out there just as we were so that everyone could see what they meant when they told them that we were their friends.

We could still feel the warmth of the love in that embrace now, four weeks later and nine thousand kilometres away in Toronto.

Please enjoy the rest of the performances from that night!:

Tango salon performance by a milonguero couple to Di Sarli's "Derrotado"

Canyengue performance to Donato's "El Huracan" by two of Circulo Apolo's resident instructors

Three milonguero couples, friends of the club Circulo Apolo, perform to a Villasboa's vals

Osvaldo and Coca perform to Canaro's "Poema".

Daniel Nacucchio and Cristina Sosa perform to D'Arienzo

The grand finale: Osvaldo and Coca and Daniel and Cristina dance to Di Sarli's "El Cielo y Tu"
- after switching partners!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Heck, a good Milonga is just a really fun party with music and dancing.... and not the tryouts for the Mundial! - March, 2010

Some extranjeros who have not grown up in tango culture have a tendency to put tango up on a pedestal. They reason: Tango is such a transformative, powerful experience... could it be anything other than "sacred"? These grim crusaders consider themselves the last bastion of the "authentic" and cast their travels to Buenos Aires in the light of a "pilgrimage". As for the so-called "codigos" - these are relevations of the "divine" and are therefore inviolate.

For the hard-core tango "authentistas" - the hallowed halls of the "milonga" are no less than the proving-grounds of the "faithful". May the most "authentic" win!

Such specimens of gringo tango can be found throughout the less "turista" milongas (god forbid that they should hang around in "Confiteria Ideal" or "Salon Canning"!) in Buenos Aires, sitting surly and sullen in their tasteful "tango" attire. As I have mentioned before in this blog, the way they frown and sigh and furrow their brow - "they look like someone has killed their goat". They must be extremely disappointed to find that the Portenos do not take tango quite as seriously as they do. In fact, they may be quite upset at the sheer amount of fun and glee that could be found at a Buenos Aires milonga!

Many Portenos - the ones that have grown up with tango as part of their lives - do not go to a milonga to prove their worthiness to the "Tango God up on High". That is just plain ridiculous. They go to the milonga to relax and chat with their friends, to enjoy a drink and a light meal. They go to catch the performance of a live orchestra or singer, to celebrate a birthday or an anniversary. They may even dance a little. And that little dance may not even be tango!

They may dance a little Chacarera:

Oscar and Ana dance a Chacarera at Glorias Argentinas, March 20, 2010

Oscar and Ana are two of the VIP regulars at Glorias Argentinas - they have been sitting at the same reserved table for decades. Oscar happens to be one of the most respected dancers of 40's style tango at Glorias - with such "lady-killing" energy and musicality that I have heard onlookers warn me while I am dancing with him that he is a real "peligro" (danger) on the dance floor. And yet here he is dancing with his wife Ana - one of the sweetest, least pretentious chacereras ever!

They may also dance a little cumbia:

Ruben and Elena dance cumbia at Caricias, March 16, 2010

Ruben and Elena are very close friends of Martha and Manolo and also padrinos (godparents) of the milonga Caricias (Tuesday nights, Ricardo Balbin 4699). Ruben has been involved in the tango scene for decades, both as a DJ (he has been a well-respected DJ at many milongas, had helped train DJ Dany Borelli, and in fact was the first DJ of Lo de Celia) as well as a milonga organizer. We're talking serious tango history here - and of course Ruben and Elena are also beautiful dancers of tango salon.

What is wonderful about Caricias and milongas like Caricias is the totally relaxed atmosphere you will find - as Ruben remarked to me, "This milonga is lindo (pretty) and familiar (could mean familiar, informal, or family)". The level of dancing at Caricias is very high - in fact, the highest we saw at any milonga we attended during our trip in 2010. Even though the floor could get crowded, there was no shoving or bumping, and everyone respected each other on the dance floor. And everyone was dancing for their own enjoyment and not at all to show-off to onlookers.

As you can see in this videoclip and in the videoclip we posted previously of Osvaldo and Coca, even the lighting at Caricias is nothing less than a warm inviting glow. The night we went we saw Ricardo Viqueira, Amanda Lucero, and even El Chino - we know that Ofelia and Adela Galeazzi also go there. We saw El Chino having a wonderful time sweet-talking to two gorgeous blonds (he was so cool, just like the James Bond of tango) and dancing salsa (too bad we couldn't video it). I have a feeling that El Chino would think all that fuss that the gringos were making about "Villa Urquiza world tango domination" was all hooey - why would he care, with two beautiful women on each arm and a bottle of champagne on ice? He was there to enjoy the milonga, and that was that.

I know you must be disappointed that we don't have footage of El Chino or Alberto and Paulina dancing salsa (which they did at Glorias Argentinas), but as a consolation, here's some more cumbia:

Osvaldo and Coca dancing cumbia at Confiteria Ideal, March 18, 2010

You may find this is insanely cute (we do) but don't be fooled - notice that Osvaldo and Coca stay completely in the compas. When Osvaldo and Coca were competing at the Mundial or whenever they are performing, they have the intense focus of top professional athletes. And when Osvaldo teaches, he is a fearsome Maestro. But when Osvaldo and Coca relax at a milonga, they relax and have fun!

This post cannot be complete without mentioning Adela Galeazzi. Whenever we saw her at a milonga, we saw her dance to everything - tango, vals, milonga, rock n' roll, cumbia, salsa, merengue, chacerera - beautifully. Tango is wonderful and the object of our passion, but it's just also another dance among dances - and dancing is to be enjoyed. We sometimes forget that the some of the best dancers of tango are also experts in other dances too - Tete, Facundo Posadas, Oscar Hector are also known as really great rock n' roll dancers. Here's a video of Adela with another such great dancer of rock n' roll and tango, Jorge Garcia:

Adela Galeazzi and Jorge Garcia dance Rock n' Roll at Fulgor

Monday, April 5, 2010

Alberto and Paulina - March, 2010

Our first two days in Buenos Aires are never complete without a visit to see Alberto Dassieu and Paulina Spinoso at their apartment on a leafy residential boulevard near Abasto.

A year has passed... and there's so much to catch up on. We talked about Alberto and Paulina's recent tour of San Diego and San Francisco. There's also their upcoming trip to teach at the Chicago Mini Tango Festival on April 8, 2010. Alberto and Paulina both have very busy schedules. It seems that every single day of Alberto's schedule is filled with classes and other appointments with his students, and during a few of the days of our stay, Paulina had to work until 10 p.m. at night at the University, where she is a Professor of Philosophy.

Every year, Alberto checks our progress. While I never give Alberto anything to worry about (ha ha! as I would say quite humbly, "I'm an excellent student") - there's always something that Man Yung is doing that troubles Alberto. "Still with all those little tiny steps and inability to pause? Man Yung, I love you but you are a very impulsive dancer!"

Summary of a class with Alberto on March 16, 2010

... I'm only joking about Man Yung. In fact he has improved a lot in the past year - but the journey for leaders is much longer than for followers, and we are extremely lucky to have teachers like Alberto in Buenos Aires who could pinpoint exactly what needs correcting and offer us advice on how to improve the quality of our dancing.

We also followed Alberto and Paulina to the milongas. The milonga scene in Buenos Aires is always changing - some days the milongas at a certain venue would be terrific, and on other days (and sometimes other times on the same day) the milongas held at the same location would be terrifying. We didn't like the milonga we went to at Maipu 444 two years ago - but upon Alberto's advice, we went on a different day this year and encountered a milonga filled with the best local milongueros and milongueras (we even bumped into Adela Galeazzi and Roberto Segarra) and excellent music. What a difference a day makes!

On the Saturday before our return to Toronto, Alberto arranged a little get-together for us with Adela Galeazzi, Elba Biscay and other friends at Glorias Argentinas. We were able to capture some amazing footage of Alberto dancing vals with Paulina:

Alberto and Paulina - Vals at Glorias Argentinas

Everywhere we go, Alberto and Paulina always steal the show whenever they take to the dance floor. I've learned a lot by just watching Paulina dance. "Your feet have to caress the dance floor," she once said to me. When Paulina dances, she is always totally at one with the music and the lead - her dancing is so gentle and loving. That's something I have to learn how to do (if I could only stop thinking about Wal-Mart!)

An evening wouldn't be complete without a surprise. The surprise of this particular evening was that Alberto had made arrangements to perform with me at Glorias Argentinas!

Exhibition at Glorias Argentinas with Alberto
(ha ha Man Yung, you will have to wait for your turn next year!)

You know it's a surprise because if I had known beforehand I wouldn't have worn THE SAME LULULEMON TANK TOP AND SKIRT THAT I WORE IN VIDEOS OF ALBERTO I POSTED LAST YEAR. Now the whole world thinks I only own one outfit.

If you are in the Chicago area this week, don't miss the opportunity to learn from Alberto and Paulina at the Chicago Mini Tango Festival!

Friday, April 2, 2010

We spend a lot of time with Osvaldo and Coca - March, 2010

With Martha and Manolo and Osvaldo and Coca at Sunderland, February, 2009

Martha and Manolo are not merely our tango teachers, they are our "Tango Parents". In 2006, we took all the classes that they taught in Toronto - all 52+ hours, equal to a whole year of weekly classes. We had never planned to travel so far from Toronto to Buenos Aires, until Martha and Manolo told us to fly there and visit them at their Camicando festival in 2007. And every year since we have returned to spend time with them. Without their love, guidance and teaching, we would not be where we are today.

The time we spent with Martha and Manolo in Buenos Aires was not all about the Camicando festival, classes and eating out - they would often take us to milongas! We learned a lot about respect and proper behavior in the milonga and in the world of tango just by sitting with Martha and Manolo, talking to them and observing how they interacted with the people of the tango world. There are codes beyond the so-called "codigos" - who would know them better than two of the best and most respected dancers from the older generation? But that's a subject for another post.

Unfortunately this year, we didn't get many opportunities to spend time with Martha and Manolo - their teaching tour to Comodoro Rivadavia in the south of Argentina coincided with most of the dates on our trip, and therefore we were only able to have dinner with them on the day that we arrived, and see them a little during their class at La Salsera on the next day.

We have a sneaking suspicion that Martha and Manolo were probably worried about letting us loose in Buenos Aires without having them around to keep an eye on us! In any case, we have found that on this trip, we spent a lot of time hanging out with Osvaldo and Coca, two of Martha and Manolo's closest friends.

We have been taking classes with Osvaldo and Coca every year since they taught at Camicando 2007. We even spent some time with them at a few milongas last year. But this year, we saw them all the time - even when we didn't make plans to meet! Did Martha and Manolo give Osvaldo and Coca a call before they left to tell them: "Keep an eye on our Tango children! We don't want them to get into any trouble - or to cross over to the dark side and start dancing Tango Nuevo!"

We visited Osvaldo and Coca at their house in Lanus. We visited them there last year too, but this time we were able to actually photograph one of the horse carts that passes their house several times a day:

It's not shocking to see this scene at all in Lanus - it is normal.
How else could you transport your stuff from one place to another?

In addition, we took some of Osvaldo and Coca's excellent classes at El Tacuari. It's a lovely little tango school in San Telmo, run by by a very nice couple called Ruth and Andreas:

Osvaldo and Coca's vals class at El Tacuari in San Telmo

Osvaldo and Coca were planning to go to La Baldosa but went with us to Sin Rumbo anyway just to indulge us. It's just a little ritual we have - to go to Sin Rumbo at least once every trip to say hello to Julio Duplaa:

At Sin Rumbo: Did Osvaldo order the Milanesa?
In fact, no - he ordered the Matambre. And we got to eat some too.

Then, by pure coincidence a few nights later, we bumped into Osvaldo and Coca at Caricias in Villa Urquiza - so far from downtown that two blocks over we would be in "la provincia" (as the taxi driver told us).

Osvaldo and Coca dancing at the Tuesday night milonga Caricias
(we were almost the only tourists in the room!)

We tried to film an entire tango, but it was impossible. Osvaldo and Coca knows everybody every place that they go - they always have to interrupt their dancing to say hello!

Osvaldo and Coca really live their tango life to the full. We asked them how often they go to milongas, and the answer was almost every night. Sometimes they would even go to two milongas in one night. Following them around, we went to milongas that we wouldn't normally go to - like Confiteria Ideal and Circulo Apolo. And they would stay sometimes to the end, 3 or 4 a.m. in the morning. Were they staying up so late just for us or was it their habit? We're not really sure, but what an adventure to spend time with them! We have never experienced such an exciting and multi-faceted view of the tango scene before.

Of course, being around Osvaldo and Coca also meant that we got front row seats to some of the most beautiful tango dancing in the history of tango:

Osvaldo and Coca perform to Francisco Canaro's "Poema"at Confiteria Ideal

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