Thursday, August 26, 2010

Buenos Aires 2008 - Part 14

Chacarera at Glorias Argentinas

From: Irene
Sent: March 10, 2008 3:32:32 PM
To: V (


Dear V,

OMG that's tragic, to lose any Comme Il Faut shoe - are you sure you didn't leave it at your boyfriend's house? If you really did leave it in the taxi then I'm 99% sure that's a "game over" - goodbye shoes. You have been kind of absent minded - well, that's only to be expected with all the tango trances that you have been in lately, dancing with all the best leaders in Toronto!

On Saturday we went to Martha and Manolo´s class at Galerias Pacifico. I was not feeling well (the food poisoning from Friday was still bothering me), so I sat out most of the class. Even though I tried to hide in a corner, I had to practice with this guy who couldn't even lead a back ocho. Remember that guy that looked like Kramer from Seinfeld who used to take beginner's class with us back when we just started? Yes, that guy who instead of leading, asked me "Do you know this really aggressive movement that women do? Can you do it?" (What on earth could that be? Let me see... hit you over the head with my handbag?) Well, this guy was just like that - the evil twin of the Toronto guy, except that... well, is there ever a good twin in these cases? I think he was Argentinian, so naturally by DNA alone he thought he was miles ahead of everyone else - but instead of leading, he would tell me what he wanted me to do. You should do this! You should do that! After one song I had about enough - I said I'm feeling sick, I'm going to sit down, thanks a million.

After the class we didn't go out for lunch, because Martha and Manolo can't eat too much salt because of blood pressure. We sat down for a chat over coffee at the cafe next to the mall.

Osvaldo is still in hospital, so we asked Martha and Manolo whether they had any news. In addition, we asked them again for their opinion whether it would be good to visit Osvaldo in hospital - we didn't know how sick he was or whether he was in intensive care.

Since Martha and Manolo were in constant contact with Coca on the phone, they had a good idea of Osvaldo's condition - and they said they thought it would be ok, even a good idea to give Osvaldo and Coca a nice surprise and some company. Osvaldo was resting at the "sanitorio" [I think it is a kind of rehabilitation centre] and stable. However, Martha had forgotten to bring the address of the "sanatorio" so we had to call them for the address once we got back to the hotel. They left to go home first - they needed rest after all the grueling hours they put in for CaMiCando.

We walked a little on Calle Florida so to give Martha and Manolo time to get home before we called them. A few steps from the Gallerias we caught a street tango show in which the performers were tangoing their darndest for export. The troupe consisted of a tough-looking woman and her "team" - a couple of young boys and a girl in their teens. They were all dolled up to approximate "glamourous" dancers of every tango cliche on earth, but the girl didn't even look like she had lost her baby fat - her face was rounded and pouty but staying out in the street like this day after day had robbed it of the freshness that it should have had.

Their leader wore a big lipstick grin but a hard look, trying her utmost to drum up interest in their show from the shoppers on the street. The dancers leaped and jumped and strutted their wobbly bow-legged walks on the tiled floor to a thumping tango soundtrack blasting out of portable speakers. Nevertheless, the "tango glam" was only a facade - in the daylight, you could see the holes in the fishnet stockings, the threadbare and dusty clothes, and the harsh and heavy makeup.

It started raining. The leader, street smart, stopped the show and started to pass out the hat to collect the change before all the onlookers dispersed to seek cover. What a way to earn a living.

We got the address from Martha once we went back to the hotel, and then we headed out to Avellaneda to visit Osvaldo and Coca. It's quite far, all the way across the big bridge to the south - the big nebulous unknown outside the confines of our Tango Map.

Luckily, we flagged down a taxi with a sympathetic driver - and older man with grey hair and a moustache and who was kind and easy-going. Obviously he had been driving for a long time, but even he had to radio to HQ for directions. We went along the Nueve de Julio to its limit and then on the highway for about ten more minutes... then we crossed this bridge amongst this nest of highway ramps and bridges - and we were in Avellaneda with its low buildings, big run-down boxy mall and gritty, down-to-earth neighbourhoods.

We arranged for our driver to wait for us next to the sanatorio because I figured that we were venturing to an unfamiliar area and it might not be easy to get a taxi back.

Osvaldo is in the "Sanitorio Itoiz", he couldn't go anywhere while he is waiting for the results of his tests. His room is on the second floor. We had to sign in at the nurse's station and were sternly warned that we couldn't go into his room without donning double masks. The corridors of the Sanatorio were narrow but brightly lit - claustrophobic considering the spacious, faux-cheery atmosphere of most the Toronto hospitals I've seen.

When we got to Osvaldo's room, Coca was there too. They were resting, and they were surprised but very happy to see us. It had been very stressful for them, and very boring too. Osvaldo looked energetic as ever - I think I've mentioned how animated he always is. He probably hates being cooped up in hospital and wants to be out and about - but we saw that he was also frail and had difficulty breathing.

There was so much we wanted to say to them and ask them, we had been studying their dancing on Youtube videos all year, and Man Yung had made a lot of progress in understanding Osvaldo's style - but obviously this was not the right time to be talking about steps! Osvaldo asked us about the festival (which we summarized as best as we could with all the positive words in Spanish that we could remember!), and we gave him fruit and a get well card. I had a video of Osvaldo and Coca dancing to the vals "Con Tu Mirar" on my phone and I wanted to show them that - but the video didn't work, only the audio, and Osvaldo took my phone and listened to that a little. We could see him getting immediately into the heart of the music like he always does.

We asked him about his condition. Osvaldo declared he can eat everything - except not drink whiskey! He remarked to Coca that Man Yung danced really well with the short little steps on his toes...remember that Alberto criticized Man Yung for this? That's because Man Yung was dancing Osvaldo steps!

We asked him if there was anything he wanted to eat, we could bring him some and he said it was fine, all we have to bring for him was a kiss. We promised to visit him again on his birthday, which is Monday. When we left Coca gave us big hugs. It is a very stressful situation for both of them, we hope that Osvaldo will feel better soon.

That night we went to Glorias Argentinas with Martha and Manolo. We were more popular than they were with the locals! That's because we come back to the milonga every Saturday that we are in Buenos Aires - and also because we are chinese and goofy-looking (just joking). Actually, people have a pretty good impression of us. We said hello to Oscar Hector, to Carlitos [Anzuate].

Carlo's little blond milonguera friend took a liking to Man Yung - and since we were friendly with Carlos, she asked Man Yung to dance. After that, she kept on coming back to ask for more dances! Martha was a little shocked at her contraventions of the codigos (and the way that she danced - as Martha said, "Ella baila sola" - the little lady was dancing a solo no matter what Man Yung tried to lead). Martha told Man Yung he didn't have to dance with her - but Man Yung was too much a gentleman to refuse.

So she kept on coming back - Pugliese, Calo, Milonga, etc etc. you name it, she was game for every tanda. She was really having a blast, and I didn't want to spoil her fun (I thought it was nice that someone liked dancing with Man Yung that much), and if I remember and understand correctly, Carlitos did ask us last week whether Man Yung will dance with his friend.

With respect to the continuous dancing with the little blond milonguera - the funny thing was, instead of sneering at the chino gringos and their lack of knowledge of the codigos, the locals thought it was great! Nobody but people from Carlo's table and Oscar Hector danced with this lady, perhaps precisely because of the "enthusiastic" way that she danced - but she was one of their own, and everyone wanted to see her happy and have a good time. They smiled and nodded approvingly and even stopped to joke and talk with the milonguera and with Man Yung when they encountered them on the dance floor. Man Yung didn't understand what they said to him but it was probably to the tune of "Hey there, take it easy... don't break your new boyfriend so quickly with your crazy dancing now!"

Martha danced a swing with Oscar Hector (a really great swing dancer - as Martha said,"he leads with his whole body"), Martha and Manolo danced quite a bit too. It was lovely spending time with them, watching them dance tango and milonga and even some tropical (salsa and cumbia). Martha can dance anything, she is a dancer through and through. However, they had to work the next day and couldn't stay long, and they bid us goodbye while we stayed.

Martha and Manolo loves us but having to dance when they are around is very nerve-wracking! They are our teachers after all and they always have an eye on our progress, so we have this immense self-created pressure to "do better" - even though they are always encouraging and never critical, especially at the milonga. When they left... we were actually relieved! Without them watching us, our psychological burden to "be good" was gone!

When you dance for nobody but yourself, you can dance ten times better - and we did, especially the vals. As we whizzed by one of the tables, I actually heard someone say "Go little chinese people, go!!!!" And someone else remarked "I don't know why, but I like it!" People were giving us thumbs up and spontaneous applause again, like in Sin Rumbo.*

* I think the appreciation doesn't come from the fact that we were "amazing dancers" (because we are not) but really from the fact that they liked us, the way we respected the milonga and the people in it, and that we danced more or less to the music without kicking other people in the shins all the time. The Portenos also like to see people enjoying the dance - seems simple enough but many tango tourists don't, they dance in Buenos Aires for such ulterior motives such as to add to their teaching resume, show off their movement repertoire or to prove their tango authenticity. To be accepted by the locals, your dance has to come from the same place as the locals. Man Yung doesn't speak Spanish but he always says that he understands the older generation Portenos and they understand him - they "speak the same language".

We told the guy who always sits in the middle table of the front wall that we couldn't dance well when Martha and Manolo were here watching us, and he said "You shouldn't give yourselves pressure. Who is Manolo anyway? I've known him for thirty years, it's not anything to get worked up about." I got to dance with him again, like I did last year, to a tanda of D'Arienzo.

Every year we see a bunch of ______________ tourists come of the milonga - dressed like they were going to compete in the Mundial.* They put everyone off with these sour faces and superior attitude, as if they were the true disciples of tango because they stood straighter and walked longer. What's with that? I'm sure that they are very serious about tango, so serious... that they were in some kind of elitist stratosphere of a exceedingly refined and greatly sanitized "championship tango salon" dance, nothing to do with the energy and the compas of the barrio. They kept to themselves, except the times they took to the dance floor to "teach" the Argentinians a thing or two about "Elegance in Tango". The Portenos observed them coolly, and you could see the barriers go up.

They don't realize that even the lowliest Porteno tanguero with an unremarkable shuffle but a glorious feel for the music and emotion in his heart is more "Tango" than they could ever hope to be, with their prize-winning postures and plethora of standardized "walks" and steps. But that's the way tango seems to going these days, back to the ballroom all over again.

* I'm not going to say from exactly where, but they're from Asia and they like to compete a lot in the tango competitions. Which means competing every single year after year.... until they win (or die). That's some teeth-grinding, fist-clenching determination there.

We were such a contrast to them, and we loved everybody and everybody loved us back - such silly fools aren't we? Even the waiter Oscarcito came out from the back room especially just to say goodbye to us with a hug and a kiss.

[to be continued]...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Heartbreak in my Tango Shoes

“NO!” Man Yung said, firmly.

“But I must get more shoes the next time we are at Comme Il Faut!” The whine in my voice crept one octave higher.

“Just look at all the tango shoes you have! Twenty pairs? Thirty pairs? Some of them I haven’t seen you wear in ages! You go to the milongas wearing the same two pairs all the time! What is it with women and their shoes? (Or, Tangueras and their Tango Shoes?)”

I sighed. “My dearest Man Yung, this goes much deeper than “women and their shoe obsessions”, or even notions swirling around “retail therapy” or “shoe retail therapy”.” I stared imploringly into Man Yung’s eyes and grasped his hands in my hands - eyes welling up, anime-style. “How can I expect you to understand? Every since we have been together, we have been living in bliss. An endlessly ecstatic “Happy Ever After”. How can you possibly understand then, that the story of every tango shoe romance inevitably ends in tragedy – or at the very least, a tragi-comedy?”

Cue to the weepy violins (or, twangy country and western guitar noises) as we launch into Irene’s presentation of

Heartbreak... in my Tango Shoes


To all the Tango Shoes I’ve Loved Before

“The Never Meant to Be”

I was already thinking about you before I stepped foot into Comme Il Faut, March 2008. A perfect pair of low black stilettos – for those times I wanted to look elegant and yet be taken seriously. The little black dress of the milonga… for my feet -

And there you were! Smoothest, whispery midnight black satin… sparkling rhinestone buckle… you would glitter mischievously while I danced and yet add gravity to every step.

But alas, you were too small. The saleslady insisted that you will stretch out, no worries.

Lies! all lies! You came home with me but every step in you was agony. A second more and I would need an emergency bunion operation.

We were never meant to be.

“The One Who Got Away”

No self-respecting tanguera would have missed any of Jennifer Bratt’s adornment videos. Perhaps it was the flagrant adornation that mesmerized some – but for me, it was the shoes.

Love at first sight – the purple, green and violet iridescence sandal straps were like the colours of the shimmering wings of a dragonfly flittering oh so briefly above a secret pond in secluded garden in a crumbling Italian Villa once owned for centuries by the descendants of the Borgias (the ones who did not poison anyone or try to put a transvestite Pope on the papal throne, but rather, lived off the fat of the plunder accumulated through the treachery of their ancestors, and pretended to be English and sat around languidly philosophizing about the works of Henry James while drinking high tea and eating cucumber sandwiches)… but I digress.

I emailed Comme Il Faut. “Do you have THESE shoes?” I sent a screen capture.

The Reply: “So sorry, this model is a limited edition and we sold our last pair just this afternoon. However, you may be interested in this other pair… it’s neon lime and fuschia!”

I let out a scream that was more blood-curdling and more echo-ey than the one in Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.”

Because it wasn’t just a scream. It was a “Shoe Scream”.

“You are swell, but I’m on the rebound. Let me introduce you to my best friend”

Once upon a time the only tango shoes I got were made-to-measure. They measured my feet – and the first pair of shoes appeared to be made with those measurements.

But the second, third and fourth pair were increasingly made “not to measure”, or perhaps to some fantasy measurements more suitable for Tinkerbell than a normal sized Toronto Tanguera. Ouch!

When Comme Il Faut finally came to town they were my salvation. However, I was on extreme rebound from all those circulation constricting “made to measure” shoes – I wanted plenty of space in my new shoes. Or perhaps my feet were just swelling horribly on a semi-permanent basis. In any event, instead of buying a pair of seven’s… I got a pair of eight’s. In four-inch heels.

They were so pretty! Alternating gold and pale blue metallic sandals... hello there, did you just step out of a Grecian Urn?

Happiness only lasted long enough for the cheque to clear. When my feet de-swelled to normal size I looked like a ten year old kid trying to walk around wearing her mother’s high heels.

It was too late to return them. But my best friend came to the rescue.

“Those don’t fit you huh? I’m an ‘eight’. This way I can wear them and put them to good use… and you will still be able to see them when I wear them at the milonga! And you’ll have my eternal gratitude. What do you think?”

I smiled sweetly and handed them over.

And secretly plotted to push her down the stairs.

“It’s Not You… It’s Me”

When the ladies of Comme Il Faut bring forth stacks and stacks of boxes of their most exquisite designs, I stand in great peril of “shoe beauty overload”.

I regress to the mental level of King Kong. WANT. ALL. OOHHHH…. SPARKLY. SHINY!

I end up buying a sparkly, shiny pair in sapphire blue. With butterfly peephole fronts. Narrow. Pointy!

It was a recipe for disaster as I, like King Kong, was born with gi-normously wide feet. The narrow bits squeezed. The peepholes pinched! This butterfly bit!

Not too long ago a little way up the evolutionary ladder, my great-great-great-great-great-great-great to the nth degree grandparents were very dexterous and swung from tree to tree, gripping branches and hanging vines with meaty, muscular hands and feet while thumping their chests and hollering jungle calls. Accordingly, the physiological makeup of my feet required above-average toe wiggle space… to allow me to grip the floor in a similar fashion to execute a pivot.

As I relegated my butterflies to the back of my closet, I could only wistfully regret… that it was not you… it was me.

“I Really Like You… But I Wish You Were More Attractive”

If you dance three to four nights a week with a partner who does a hundred times more steps than the average tanguero, the number of steps taken within a three year period is tantamount to walking from the earth to the moon and back again… twenty-two times!*

* At least that’s what it feels like to me!

I went through a period where I refused to dance in any heel higher than three inches. In fact, I went through a shoe buying phase in which I cruelly rejected any shoe offered tantalizingly by the ladies at Comme Il Faut unless it fit precisely into my height criteria.

On one desperate buying spree, I ended up with:


"A perfect blend of Comme Il Faut beauty with comfort!" I proclaimed.

The problem was that the heel height and styles made my ankles look thick… stocky… abominabley… turnipy. With Comme Il Boats at the end of them.

After recovering from the speechless shock of seeing myself wearing these shoes in the mirror at a weekend milonga, I made up my mind. “The only way I’m going to wear these shoes again is if someone turns out all the lights and it’s so dark that no one could see my feet,” I said.

"The Out of My League"

Although my fairy godmother left me a series of pumpkins rather than ball gowns, glass coaches and a stab at Prince Charming, she was never at a loss for advice about dating.

"Don't ever date anyone who is more than a head taller than you. Or Alain Delon."

I was resistant at first. Why should the dating elite be barred to me? I may not be a looker - or even all that intelligent or interesting - but what about "The Truth About Cats and Dogs"? Didn't the homey girl get the guy in the end?

"Honey, I know you're smart enough to know that you ain't no Uma Thurman - but you've got to realize that you ain't no Janeane Garofolo either."

Still unconvinced, I marched into Comme Il Faut and demanded the highest, most extravagantly beautiful pairs of shoes that they could find.

I got these:

And these:

I was determined to look fabulous with you on my feet. And fabulous I did look - not only did men whistle, women whistled too as I strutted across the floor in your four-inch heels...

They don't know that we have a pact. "Fairy Godmother was right. You
are way too high for me to dance in! Let's go out once or twice a year and we could pretend to dance a tanda or two so that we can see and be seen. I realize that the 363 other days of the year you are cruising on your private yacht in the sunny Mediterranean, sipping champagne with a supermodel on each arm - but no-one has to know."

“We would love each other… if you weren’t already in love with someone else”

I really loved these shoes. Man Yung took one look at the satin quilting and the red and black grosgrain ribbon and instantly thought... Chanel!

Audrey Tatou could wear these in the Chanel commercial and they’d look fabulous!” he said.

I wore them to Sunderland. To El Beso. Danced with the milongueros! We made a delightful duo.

Returned to Toronto and found... someone else was wearing the EXACT SAME PAIR. AT EXACTLY THE SAME MILONGAS THAT I WENT TO.

She also happened to be younger, prettier, thinner... and looked even more incredibly wonderful in the shoes than I could ever, ever, in a million years...

"Where could I find a flight of stairs at this milonga steep enough for someone to fly off - by accident?" I asked innocently.

"You are hot...but you give me no sense of security"

Whenever I wear my blue disco-ball metallic snake skin and suede strappy sandals, I get nothing but compliments - and also strange questions from fellow Toronto Tangueras.

"I was just looking at your beautiful shoes," a Tanguera said one fine starry night at the most popular Toronto Friday milonga. "It looks like they are hanging to your feet by just a thread. Instead of a heel cage, there's just air! How could you even dance in them?"

"Oh, these old things?" I said. "It's not that difficult really, it just takes getting used to."

Yeah. Really. Man Yung claims that when I'm wobbling along in these beauties, it feels like he's dancing with someone else!

Or perhaps even dancing someplace else.

As usual, Man Yung was helpful and encouraging. "You list side to side so much when you dance in those shoes, it's like I'm in a barrel on the high seas during a hurricane. Look at the bright side - all the money we save by not going on a Tango Cruise will always be better spent on whiskey and cat kibble."

"We used to be so good together. Now all the marriage counseling in the world won't fix us"

My first pair of Comme Il Faut that actually fit! I know you were modest - in colour, design and heel height - but we still always managed to turn heads.

Together we experienced some of our greatest joys, and helped each other through the lowest lows - like the time you flew off my foot while I was dancing a milonga. I barely felt the embarrassment, we were in it together, you and I - and, as they say, "Love means never having to say you're sorry". I slipped you back on like nothing happened. How we laughed about it afterwards!

Looking back, it was the beginning of the end. You became loose. Bits of you started to fray. Our togetherness became a strain - you started to wear down. Even though you never so much as looked at another woman, I could tell we were drifting apart.

We tried, in vain. The shoe guy redid your insole, your outsole, your heel. "It would be like brand new!" he promised.

You were never yourself anymore. But every time I go to Comme Il Faut, I think of you and "The Way We Were". And end up with boxes and boxes of blue shoes... just because they reminded me of you.


"And that's the end of my story," I said, three days later.

"GOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAL!!!!!!!" Man Yung jumped up in the air and yelled a whoop-de-doo while pumping his fist. "Arsenal won the the game 6-0!!!!!!!"

"Are you even listening?"

Man Yung paused, looked at me, and blinked. "Oh, sorry..... you kind of lost me 72 hours ago."

I had a vision of impaling him through the forehead with the stiletto heel of my least favourite Comme Il Faut and then running off fugitive-style with all my shoes to Canada (Whoops, wait, aren't I already in Canada?) But I kept my cool.

"Can I buy more shoes the next time I go to Comme Il Faut?"

"Of course you can, my dear - just grab me a beer from the fridge, will you? The Chelsea versus Wigan game is going to start in fifteen minutes!"

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


From the Toronto Star's gallery of photos around the world of the August, 2010 Perseid Meteor Shower

Thursday night rolls around with no plans for Tango. Man Yung was looking forward to an evening of home cooking and Chinese television.

My announcement disrupts his plans. "The Toronto Star says that there's going to be a spectacular meteor shower tonight. Let's go to the David Dunlap Observatory to catch the show!"

The cats all stare at us with sullen, yellow-eyed resentment. Mrs. P pipes up. "It's bad enough that the two of you are out three to four nights a week for Tango. Now you are going out on your off night too! Humans!" With a hiss and a salty Cantonese expletive, she dashed into the closet, unappeased by our offer of kitty treats.

Although the state of the sky that night appeared discouraging– a hazy humid gray tinged with light pollution – we set off for the Observatory. It was 10:30 p.m. and there seemed to be more cars than usual on the road - the red rear lights of the cars in front filled up the usually lonely stretch of road north to Richmond Hill.

I joked. "Perhaps they are all going meteor watching at the Observatory?"

When we turned into Hillsview Drive, we realized that my joke was not far from the truth. Parked cars were piled up tail to nose on lawns and curbs on both sides of the street. Volunteers waving LED flashlights stopped the incoming cars from advancing closer to the Observatory - and a young woman with a ponytail wearing a reflective vest flagged us down.

"You'll have to turn into one of the side streets and make your way on foot," she said. "It's jam-packed up there."

We squeezed the car into the last available parking spot next to the curb and joined the procession strolling towards the Observatory under the orange glow of the streetlights. People who bought the million dollar houses in the Observatory area for peace and quiet should contemplate suing their real estate agents. Astronomical "events" are not as rare as you would think - only two weeks ago there was a big viewing party for the "Northern Lights" extravaganza. On that evening as on this evening, eager sky-watchers filed past the darkened homes carrying lawn chairs, blankets, cameras and telescopes, talking and laughing and looking forward to seeing the spectacle. It was late at night but there were lots of kids - and lots of authoritative parents giving lectures in different languages about the composition of the universe.

Fifteen minutes later we turned off the municipal road into an unlighted path wending its way through the dense close trees to the Observatory grounds. It was really dark, but I don’t think anyone got scared – there were so many people around that the even the blackest night felt safe. No moon – only the silhouette of the trees and the milky gray sky in the middle, speckled with weakly winking starlight.

As usual, I was never at a loss for grammatically incorrect phrases and spelling errors. “I think this is the funnest ever!!” I exclaimed, gripping Man Yung’s hand as we walked on.

The trees thinned – the Observatory came to view. Small. Observatory-like. You have squint and fantasize real hard to romanticize it. What I was glad to see was that it had washrooms! With at least two thousand people congregating in the area, your first priority would be to have sufficient space for people to lie down and look up – and your second would be to have a place where people could relieve themselves.

With the number of bodies lying down on the wide lawn in front of the Observatory, it looked we were in the middle of a lovefest (minus the groping). We had to tread carefully around to avoid stepping on people’s heads. When we found our spot, what did we do? Normally I would think, “Ewww. Bugs”. Or “Doggie-do-do”. But it was a half hour walk back to the car, and we were there anyway (didn’t I suggest the whole thing in the first place?)… so I sprayed my ankles and my ears with bug repellent and lay down flat and awkward on the damp grass.

When you lie down, your perspective changes. Sometimes we do a little star-gazing coming out from the milongas in the middle of the night and we are enchanted by what we see, especially in cold clear Canadian winter skies – but that’s done on the run, we’ve always got to think about getting home soon. Here in front of the Observatory, we can’t move around (because of the bugs and the lumpy ground) so we have nothing to do but be still and look up.

The view of the sky was huge – yet intimate at the same time. There was the whole universe before your eyes, all the constellations, the planets in alignment. All of us there shared it – lived and breathed the cool night air, the sound of the breeze through the leaves, the shrill concert of the crickets.

Man Yung sighed. At peace. I thought: would it be inappropriate and disruptive if I whipped out my iPhone to check out the constellation map on Pocket Universe? I decided against it.

Then, the stars started falling - very faintly. You had to be quiet and have quick eyes to catch them all. Whenever one streaked across the sky, a line of chalky brightness burning itself into nothingness as soon you saw it - we heard gasps, followed by embarrassed, awed laughter; sometimes clapping.

In all we saw about ten meteors within the space of an hour. Then it became too chilly to stay. We slowly straightened out our cramped bodies off the ground and ambled out of the clearing among the trees. A stream of people were still heading in.

“Makes you really forget about all the worldly things that you thought was significant, looking at the sky like that,” Man Yung said as we headed back to the car. “Falling stars… they’re so mystical, so rare… it’s like those instances of exquisite harmony and pure brilliance when Martha and Manolo and Osvaldo and Coca performed to “El Adios”. Or that time when Alberto and Paulina danced to “La Tapera” in New York.

The most radiant meteors can be seen, even on a hazy night as this… but what of the thousands, millions that you can’t? Seventeen years ago, on a bright calm night in a village called Ossun in the south of France, I stared into the sky while sitting with a group of friends on a hillside. The surrounding towns glowed in the far distance. And the Perseids – they were out in full force, falling stars like rain, too numerous to count.

That magical, transformative light is there for you - so long you make it to an open space and look up. It’s there for you, even when the sky is overcast... so long you can still see clearly to the heavens with your heart -

- just as the light of tango is there for everyone, not just the maestros and the experts. It’s for everyone who casts away their worries once they step into the milonga. It’s for everyone who has surrendered breathless to the embrace. It’s for everyone who has been moved to the core by the cry of the bandoneon.

Be still; and let it in. Don’t obscure it’s brightness with arrogance – ego, if you will - and scheming; toil for profit and for fame. If you let yourself exist and let tango exist in you, without the trappings of all those other things, you will no longer be just dull dust.

You will be the light that shines, that burns, that blazes - like meteors in the night sky…

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Alberto and Paulina in North America - Fall 2010

We just spoke to Alberto and Paulina yesterday on the phone. Alberto's very busy teaching and performing at Susana Miller's Milongueando festival in Buenos Aires right now! They have plans to visit several different cities in North America, starting from the end of August.

Now, my spanish isn't perfect, but I believe these are some of the cities on the list:

Cleveland, Chicago, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, New York

Dear organizers: Thanks so much for arranging for Alberto to come and teach in our part of the world and please let us know if we've missed any cities!

There should be more announcements on Tango-A or your local tango network upcoming.

For information on Alberto's classes in Toronto, please visit the websites of the organizers, Paradiso and Viva Tango.

Alberto and Paulina performing at La Baldosa in Buenos Aires this past February

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


There has been some interesting posts and discussions lately on Arlene's and Tangocommuter's blogs on choreography and learning Tango - that, and Man Yung's perpetual interest in appropriating "steps" from Youtube videos - has led me to think about the topic of "Skill" in Tango.

Man Yung can get pretty excited about things that some Tango Professionals can do in a “Tango Performance.” Dazzled at the videos especially of the young “up-and-coming” athletic ones, Man Yung often laments our lack of ‘Skill’.

“Look at these guys – they are amazing! We should learn from this. We need to work on our skills!” he says.

Faster than a fire-fighting helicopter unloading water over a forest fire, I rain scorn on Man Yung’s parade.

“What exactly should we be learning from this?” I ask. “How to jump higher? Spin faster? Walk straighter? Or is this just another manifestation your mid-life crisis?”

Instead of drawing our pistols and trying to shoot each other High-Noon style, Man Yung and I started to brainstorm about the topic of Skills and Tango – and their Subsets.

Skills – Subset 1.0

I think most people get fixated on this one: “Skill” as the ability to execute movements – with or without a partner.

Part of it comes from nature – being naturally strong and limber, having bodies that move attractively and gracefully (and that looks good in dancewear, being it leotards or suits), having a good memory for choreography and sequences, being able to hear the beat and/or music and to move to it in a meaningful way.

The other part comes from nurture – practicing really hard in order to master “moves”, or listening to music repetitively to remember and recognize “cues” for movement, in order to “dance to the beat” or “dance to the music using preset choreography”, etc.

Skill points in this section will enable one to literally “Jump higher”, “Spin faster”, “Walk straighter”, and “Explode during the intense fugue-like sections of Pugliese”. Or even “perform tango-like dancing while dribbling a football”.

"What is THAT???!!!??"

"I don't know, but it sure took a lot of SKILL to make!"

Strangely enough, having these “Skills” alone will not a great Tango dancer make – although many will be very impressed.

Skills – Subset 2.0

The wonderful older dancers whom I’ve danced with – I’ll term them as the “Milongueros” for the sake of convenience – always led what they wanted the follower to do.

Seems a simple enough concept. However, I have also danced with other, non-Milonguero Tango Dancers of High Repute (professional or non-professional) anticipating a wonderful tanda…. only to fall into a Tango Abyss.

Let me explain. Everything would be going along smoothly… and then comes... a moment of “nothing”. My partner waits, expecting me to do something… for which he has utterly and absolutely no lead.

His leading is full of holes! Bottomless ones! How embarrassing and awkward. The Leader may continue to wait, or start to shove – or even open his mouth and start to explain the choreography that I was supposed to do is response to his unled cue!

Sigh. It’s too bad, because the said “Tango Dancers of High Repute”, having oodles of Skill Subset 1.0, always looked so great – whether on stage, or on the dance floor dancing with his partner or other ladies. These Leaders are like a genetically engineered apples – looking so dewy, so shiny, so juicy, so yummy, you just couldn’t help but want to take a bite… only end up with a mouthful of “apple particleboard.”

While these Leaders reveal their lack, Followers in the same category usually exhibit a surfeit. Instead of following, they are doing too much. Twisting, tapping, leg lifting, “jumping ochos” (don’t ask, but someone was teaching them in their Women’s Technique workshops), dreaded double and triple-step “traspies”…

“Look, she’s doing a tap-dancing solo around her partner!” one might be moved to exclaim.

This only proves that Skill Subset 1.0 may make you a mightly fine soloist – but that alone cannot guarantee that you’d be an enjoyable tango partner to dance with. Unless you also have a good dose of Skill Subset 2.0.

So what is Skill Subset 2.0?

I believe it is the skill to be able to lead what you want to lead (for a Leader), and to follow what is being led (for a Follower). I’ve read somewhere mention “micro leading” somewhere – but that term is not even sufficient to describe what is happening. Dancing with some of the Milongueros, I got the impression that they led with more than arm movements, body positioning and muscle spasms. There was never any guesswork on my part as to what they wanted to lead because their entire being “communicated” and “sang”.

As for the Milongueras, they have this superhuman sensitivity to “hearing” whatever Man Yung was trying to lead – in fact, their whole bodies seemed to be listening intently for the lead. They would not move if there was no leading – but what was led, they immediately understood and followed.

During our class with them, Osvaldo and Coca Cartery emphasized that we should dance with gentleness and tenderness – love, if we could manage it. Partners in the dance shouldn’t impose on each other by force or stratagem. Our gentleness facilitated our communication in the leading and following. Any video of Osvaldo and Coca would show the sweet, passionate duet that is taking place between them.

Skill subset 2.0 involves the ability to communicate with our partners – and the ability to keep the channels of communication free from clutter. Now, that’s some awesome Skill – even though it’s something that you could only feel and not actually see.

Skill – Subset 3.0

We don’t live in a perfect world – and no matter what our level of Skill (Subsets 1.0 or 2.0) misunderstanding and obstacles arise. Skill Subset 3.0 steps in to save the day – and it’s none other but the ability to improvise within the context of Tango.

What if the follower mis-steps or misunderstands? Leaders without the necessary skill to save the situation will either have to stop and start again – or continue in the rut of his choreography and somehow manhandle and shoe-horn the follower into the step sequence. Conversely, Leaders with Skill Subset 3.0 will smoothly accommodate and assimilate the Follower’s misstep and do something else. Sometimes this is done so seamlessly the Follower would not even know that there was ever any problem.

Likewise, the Skilled Follower will “cover” for the Leader’s missteps - because Leaders can get distracted or confused and end up with a gap in their lead. This has to be done discretely and judiciously though – covering up can go too far for a smart Follower and end up as a"tap dancing solo".

Skill Subset 3.0 also provides the Leader with the ability to deal with obstacles on the dance floor. If a space opens up or closes, or if bodies suddenly cut into the line of dance in front, a Leader with Skill Subset 3.0 will not have to stop moving, return to the corner and start his dance routine again – something we have seen in Chinese Ballroom dance halls! A skilled Leader will keep on going and keep on expressing the music, unperturbed.

In fact, a non-skilled Leader may even use his body and his partner’s bodies as weapons, charging and slashing and bumping through the crowd to make space for his step sequences, thus imposing his “will” and flagrantly obnoxious choreography onto the other dancers on the dance floor.

Imagine if a gaggle of such geeses (or crash of such hippopotami) appear at the same time at the same milonga! Such is the damage that could be done to a milonga and a dance community when Leaders lack Skill Subset 3.0!*

* Back in the “Good Old Days” the geese and the hippos would get tossed out of the Buenos Aires milongas when they were being disruptive on the dance floor. These days they could stay and continue to be recipients of the "evil eye" by everyone around them - just by the virtue of having paid to get in.


There must be other “Skills” out there, but we perversely focused on the above three Subsets to keep this post under 1500 words!

An ideal Tango Dancer will have all the Skills above, but unfortunately, many go out and perform and teach only by the strength of what they have in Subset 1.0.

As I have said, “Many will be very impressed”. We’ve seen local dancers of Buenos Aires milongas looking very amused at foreign tango dancers doing their best in exhibiting their talents at Skill Subset 1.0. All that flapping about can be very entertaining! And lucrative, in tango communities where the gold standard for Tango can be found in episodes of “Dancing with the Stars”.

For those who may not have a whole lot of Skill Subset 1.0 – don’t be disheartened. Rest assured that you don’t have to dance flashy, you don’t even have to dance complicated to be a good dancer if you have sufficient amounts of Skill Subsets 2.0 and 3.0.

You may not be "Entertaining" in all the wrong ways - but what you will get when the Buenos Aires locals see you at their milongas is RESPECT.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Osvaldo and Coca in Italy - Summer 2010

We are always searching on Youtube for the newest videos of Martha and Manolo, Osvaldo and Coca and Alberto and Paulina. Osvaldo and Coca told us they would be in Italy for 40 days this past June/July - so we checked Youtube every few days to see if someone will post some videos of their performances there.

No such luck. Osvaldo and Coca are teaching in Sweden now, but there still aren't very many videos of their tour of Italy. Notwithstanding - there are two very nice ones of their performances at the Todi Tango Festival - dancing to Di Sarli's Ensuenos, and Canaro's Tormenta:

Osvaldo and Coca dance to Di Sarli's "Ensuenos" at the Todi Tango Festival, 2010

Osvaldo and Coca dancing to Canaro's "Tormenta" at the Todi Tango Festival, 2010

Man Yung was staring intensely at the beginning of Osvaldo and Coca's "Tormenta" performance - making me rewind and re-rewind it again and again. "I haven't seen Osvaldo make a start like that before!" he said. "Could you see it? Could you see it?"

Then he mumbled something about the way that Osvaldo has been dancing recently, it reminds him of the old Chinese saying "The Lion pouncing on the Rabbit".*

But of course I didn't understand what the hell he was trying to point out. One step, two steps, a thousand steps - forward, backward, left, right... to a follower with enough mileage on the dance floor, it starts to look pretty similar!

One other, major problem - I was distracted and mesmerized by Coca's shiny silver shoes.

Comme Il Fauts! You'd be wrong to think that Coca goes out dancing in clogs or orthopedic footwear - or even the "old school" pointy shoes that milongueras seem to be wearing in tango footage from the 70's and 80's. I was shocked when I saw Coca wearing Comme Il Fauts every time I saw her at a milonga back in March...

But why should I be surprised? I may not exactly know what a "Lion pouncing on the Rabbit" is, tango-wise - but the Lions of the tango world better watch out! Coca as the "Prowling Tango Tigress in sexy heels" - that's something that most tangueras can relate to!

*Hmmm, I don't think Man Yung means "Carnivore Carnage on the dance floor"... I asked him today and he told me that it means putting more effort than what is required into doing something right. He explained: "To catch the rabbit, you don't need the ferocity and power of a lion - it may be enough to exert the power of the wolf, or even a fox. The best Tango dancers always put in everything that they have in their dancing, even though they could create quite an "acceptable" performance using only half their ability."**

** Oh, that's what he means - ENTREGA.***

*** OMG!!! Shoes! [Whoops, distracted again!]

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