Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Old Friends

We were enjoying Martha and Manolo's delicious asado at their pretty little white house in the barrio of Jose Ingeniero when the conversation turned to steps.  Whenever Man Yung is around Manolo, that's where the conversation always leads - no matter whether we are at having dinner at their house, resting in between classes at the Camicando festival, or walking to our car after having buffet at the Mandarin!    Man Yung always wants to learn more from Manolo's own personal style of Milonga and Tango Salon of the 50's, as well as the distinctive styles of dancers who have passed on into history like Manolo's best friends Juan Bruno and Rodolfo Cieri. Manolo is a living encyclopedia of tango.

So there they were, gesturing away and pointing here and there to locations on the floor where they could put their feet (Don't ask me, the only things I know how to do is translate or follow) when they came across a complex series of corriditas.  Manolo's face lighted up.  "It reminds me... this is a lovely corridita to do - I always do this when I dance to Milonga Brava!"

Man Yung has encountered this phenomenon too.  Whenever we are dancing to a tango that we have a particularly strong feeling for, I get this sense of deja vu - because Man Yung is doing the same things that he always does for the same tango/vals/milonga, to the same phrase or accent in the music!  It's like he is hypnotized - or perhaps the music is telling him to do this?

In Tango, sometimes the music, the body, the mind and the soul merges.  It's the memories and associations we have that makes tango like a time machine, carrying us back to the scents, sights, sounds and emotions we had the first time - or the hundredth time - we had danced to the music.

That's why the porteños could keep on at it, dancing and performing to the same beautiful nostalgic melodies for half a century, or more.  The more we dance to our favourite tangos, the richer the feeling becomes, and the greater the pleasure.  Volver...they say.  Tango is an old friend, who understands us and knows our secrets and desires.  It's there for us to come back to, to become again as we once were. The people we have loved, the places that we have lost, the times that have gone by - magically appear again to us in the embrace.

Why wouldn't we want to return?  Why should we always be on the hunt for the trendy and new, reinvent ourselves, and bid goodbye to everything that made us who we are?  There's something that Martha and Manolo always say when it is time for us to part again.  "Hasta mañana, hasta mañana!" they say as we hold on to each other in tears - see you tomorrow!  It is never a farewell - because we will always see each other again.

Here is Martha and Manolo, performing to Donato's "El Adíos" at La Baldosa last Friday. Manolo will be turning seventy-nine next Tuesday. We wish them both good health and much happiness, and may they always dance together whenever their favourite music plays:

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Wow, congratulations...After three years of Cosmotango, they have all graduated and become "Tango Pros"

We were changing into our shoes in the change room at a local Toronto milonga one weekend when an unfamiliar Toronto Tanguero piped up and asked us a question.

"How long have you guys been dancing Tango?" he asked.

"Oh, we are entering into our eighth year," was our remarkably snark-free reply.  We thought it would be polite and friendly to ask him back.  "How long have you been dancing?"

"Five years."  He paused for a moment.  "You guys must be pros by now."

"Absolutely  not!" we said.  "We are definitely not 'pros'.  We are dancing only to enjoy ourselves."

How shocking.

Indeed, in most gringo tango communities, there seems to be an unspoken assumption that the longer you have been dancing, the better you must be - and by golly you should put those skills to good use! If you are persistent, put in long hours, accumulate an impressive resume of workshops and classes  - you will definitely 'graduate' some day and become a 'Tango Pro'.  Four years and automatically you have a Bachelor's... Give it another year and a half, and you'll have a Master's.... a few more years (and you don't even need a dissertation) and you are practically a "Doctor of Tango!"

In fact, when observing particularly obscene dancers gyrating on the dance floors of Toronto, I have been known to say reassuringly to the disgusted onlookers: "Just give them enough time - with a couple of decades under their belt, anyone can become a Milonguero!" 

Well, I was joking.  It's not true.  Time is guarantee of neither quality nor "Pro-worthiness" in Tango. We have persons entering into their first or second decade of Tango here in this city - and getting to be worse tango dancers every day.  Conversely, we have terrific dancers who have been only dancing for a year, two years, three years.  Then, there's the strange phenomenon of dancers who learn so rapidly they seem like "Tango Geniuses" at nine months - but unfortunately never progress any further than that initial growth spurt.  Or those who are fine dancers at year five - but have gone completely downhill by year seven.
So, what to do, what to do?  What good is Tango if you can't wave your years of experience around like a big stack of diplomas, opening doors to Tango fame and fortune?

But why should we use Tango as a means to an end?  The only thing we need to do is to enjoy Tango. This does not mean "enjoyment" from learning how to execute fancier steps, or how to gain admiration or attention by putting on a show either on stage on on the dance floor.  It does not mean the "enjoyment" of boasting or bragging or feeling superior because your tango is more sophisticated/athletic/authentic/more like this style and less like another.  It doesn't even mean the "enjoyment" of making a tidy profit from teaching dazzling but impractical moves or forming your own tango cult using psychological manipulation and new-agey mumbo-jumbo.

Enjoy by dancing for no-one but yourself.  Enjoy by going where the music takes you. Enjoy by protecting yourself and your partner on the dance floor - and by respecting and showing consideration for the other dancers sharing the same space.  Enjoy by dancing lightly and gently, without being weighed down by any burden.  Enjoy by making every dance and every embrace meaningful.

Then, with each passing year, Tango friends will become more beloved.  The sensation of Tango in your heart will be sweeter.  Tango music will be a life force.  Your body and your soul will be younger and stronger and more exuberant every day.  That's the moment when we graduate - but we will all be too busy dancing to care.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


My Japanese hair stylist recently moved her salon downtown.  Since she is the only one who could make my bowl cut more like Mia Wallace and less like Edmund, Duke of Edinburgh (or, at the very least, an acceptable compromise between the two - I have tragic hair), I followed. 

I have been with the same hair stylist for so long that we have run out of things to talk about.  Or so I thought.  Traffic that day had been messed up by the heavy rain - but Man Yung still got me to the hair salon on time.  I was one of the only two customers that morning who didn't miss their hair appointment.

"Did you drive?" asked my hair stylist.

"No, Man Yung did," I replied.  And added: "I would drive, but Man Yung won't let me!  He claims that the way I drive scares his pants off!"

"Oh my god, my husband is exactly the same way!"  She mimed gripping the dash with both hands and mimicked the stretchy long Munchavian face of pure terror.  "Whenever he is in the passenger's seat he is constantly going berserk and screaming, 'You're going too fast!  You're going too fast!"

"Tell me about it!  I never go above 10 over the speed limit, and yet Man Yung keeps on thinking I've floored it.  How about this one: Does your husband also think you are following too close?"

"Yeah, the other thing he screeches while I'm driving is, 'We're going to crash!  We're going to crash!'"


I think men like to complain about the way women drive.  Man Yung likes to point out that one friend of ours goes from zero to sixty in two seconds - within school zones.  Another drives at exactly the speed limit in the fast lane (regardless of the honking and hollering of the drivers behind her) because the lane next to the curb 'is too bumpy'.  Yet another languorously waits for all left-traveling traffic to pass when turning left out of a private lane - with the back half of her car blocking all oncoming right-traveling traffic.  Road Rage? Everyone hates the 'Grey Power' lady.  And Tailgating?  Apparently the new international pastime of Womenkind.

Sorry to break the news to all you guys - statistics disprove all your "anecdotal evidence".  Women are actually safer drivers compared to men!  And don't women get lower car insurance premiums? (Yes they do)

But here again, the chorus of frightened men: "I saw your bad driving with my own two eyes!" 

Women are wonderful drivers - until that is, they are bombarded with the negative energy (and distracted by the high-pitched shrieks) of the freaked out men scrunched down next to them in the passenger's seat gnawing fretfully on all their nails.  I tell you, that kind of fear is contagious.  When Man Yung gets that way, it makes me so nervous he's lucky I don't wrap the car around the nearest stop sign. 

So chill out!  Give us women some trust.  Don't buy the stereotype.  After all, when you are driving - whether it's on the road or on the dance floor - WE trust YOU.  When we are dancing, we sometimes even close our eyes and hand ourselves over to your lead, body and soul. 

You have our trust - there is therefore no excuse for being an idiot driver.  This means that leaders should be extra careful to treat followers well on the dance floor.  No driving under the influence.  No going at a hundred above the speed limit.  No sudden braking or cutting into lanes.  No bumping into or elbowing other couples to shove them out of the way.  And for the acrobats among you - no wheelies, no burnouts, no bar-tricks, no hyperspins, no switchbacks... 

 No! No! No! No! No!
And everyone please, no tailgating!  You must leave sufficient space in between yourself and the next couple.  If the floor is uncrowded, this means lots and lots of space. The last thing you want to do is be all over the couple in front - when there are only two couples in the whole room.*

* That happened recently at one of the milongas we were at - we danced a whole tanda with this couple right on our tail.  It was midnight, and there were only two couples left, total, on the dance floor.  So annoying!  Then Man Yung had an idea.  He accelerated right around the room and started tailgating the guy who had been tailgating him.  Otherwise how else would that guy ever get it?

As for really crowded conditions - that is not an excuse to jam yourself right up against the people around you either (no matter how strong your urge to hump everyone around you).  At least one step's space in all directions around each couple (make this a half step in hyper-crowded Buenos Aires milongas) - left, right, forwards AND backwards* - is sacred space.   Don't step into it unless in a case of emergency.  Just like cars in a traffic jam, everyone should have a little wiggle room of safety. On the dance floor, it's in order so that couples could turn and do giros on the spot to wait for space to open up in front of them in the line of dance.  In traffic, it's just enough room to turn out and change lanes and perhaps even exit - especially if the traffic is backed up on the 401 from Mississauga until Windsor!

* Another dumb thing we've seen on the dance floor is when clueless leaders, having read some half-baked tango rulebook somewhere, dance right up behind another couple - and then look outraged when the other couple crashes into them when turning.  "You were stepping back!" they glare indignantly.  No silly, that was a turn.  And guess what?  You were tailgating. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tango Fear: A Pictorial Journey

I was going to send a sketch on a 3 x 5 inch piece of paper to Kerstein Klein for consideration for her "What are you afraid of" project. 

But then, I discovered I had way too much to be afraid of.  O wonderful, beautiful, magical tango...O spinning, soul-sucking maelstrom of paralyzing fear.  Many a time I have woken up in the middle of the night, terrified and screaming, in the midst of a dream of a milonga with horrible dancers, bad music, and couples dancing exactly like one another...and I couldn't for the life of me find the exit!

So, without further ado, I present to you:


I'm afraid that once the milongueros have all gone to heaven, the only way women can experience tango is by dancing with nutty underage taxi dancers who only want to dance Nuevo.

I'm afraid that my parents will take up tango and then I will have to find other milongas to go to so I won't be embarrassed by their fishnet stockinged, rose biting, sequined fringed, high-kicking low-dipping disco ball ballroom bopping antics.  Yes, my mom has dyed her hair purple.  No, she doesn't look like Dame Edna - it would be a lot funnier and less excruciating if she did.

I'm afraid that Man Yung will accidentally get his limbs bitten off by a swarm of rabid kittens and then, until eternity on weekends, instead of dancing, we will be watching every "Die Hard" movie in existence.  Over and over and over again.

 I'm afraid that all the Tango DJs will stop playing popular and danceable music just because they want to be clever and "different from the rest".  They will make us listen to tanda after tanda of either Canyengues or "Alternative".  This makes me want to kill myself.

I'm afraid that Man Yung will find Fabio so alluring, he will run off with him on a horse into the setting sun or something.

A cameo appearance

Sally Potter, director and star of "The Tango Lesson", posted on her blog about watching three couples dance an exhibition at Nino Bien one night:

At a milonga called ‘Nino Bien’ that we visited on our last night, three couples performed at 2am (normal timing for such things in Buenos Aires, the most night-oriented city I know). The first couple performed with all the rapid fire athletic skill we have come to expect from ‘Nuevo tango’ or in most of the virtuoso tango shows. It was impressive but kept one at a distance, the distance of admiration. Then a tall, thin, older man affectionately known as ‘Flacco’ (the thin one) performed his speciality, an agile milonga, fast rhythmic and old school. It was touching and impressive in a different way.

Finally an elderly couple slowly walked out onto the floor. The stooped man began by bending down and gently kissing his short plump wife on the lips. Then they began a delicate, subtle, un-showy tango together, saturated with tenderness, with pauses and silences full of ‘waiting’ (a compliment by older dancers in the tango world where frantic activity is frowned on as an inability to truly listen to the phrasing in the music.) Tears streamed down my face as I watched their tiny, delicate steps, the gentle flow of their movement, the embodiment of the sad beauty of age and experience, a life shared, bodies that have suffered in nameless ways and now transcend their difficulties with beauty.

When they finished the crowded hall erupted in applause, a collective roar of approval. As the couple left the floor I could see that the man was struggling for breath, a longstanding condition of some kind.

Nights like these induce the love for Buenos Aires that tango lyrics express. The city somehow feels like a long-lost companion, an ageing lover…yes, my darling Buenos Aires, you feel like singing, I may leave you but |I will surely return.

Great piece of evocative, nostalgic writing....I wonder who was the elderly couple who made the cameo appearance (and made Sally cry)?  And when can we expect the movie to come out?

Here they are performing at Glorias Argentinas last weekend:

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