Friday, December 30, 2011

How much space does a close embrace dancer need?

...Lots, apparently.

We were dancing merrily along one night at one of Toronto's popular milongas when I realized that instead of flowing with the music, Man Yung was screeching to a halt every 30 seconds. At first I thought it was some fancy new jerky Tango Nuevo movement he had stolen from Youtube (Ha! As if!)  However, after about two tandas filled with unpleasant stops and starts, I realized it wasn't a was traffic.

"Is someone getting into your way?" I asked Man Yung.

"Yes, it's the same guy - look out, he is stepping back this-a-way again!"  We swerved to evade.

When we finally got off the dance floor, we got a chance to take a good look.  The guy was dancing close embrace.  In fact, he and his partner were clamped together for dear life. He wasn't even slinging his partner around dangerously in the slightest. And yet, everyone on the dance floor was mysteriously giving the guy a wide berth...

"Wow, the other dancers are giving this guy a good seven meter radius clearance! There's thirty of them all huddled up in one corner trying to complete the ronda while trying to avoid getting close to him.  He must have some magical power or something, because I can't see him do any voleos, ganchos - not even half a giro. I'm also positive that it's nothing to do with strange smells - I can't smell anything and my nose isn't stuffed up.  Could he have bribed the the other people to give him a circle of safety?" I offered helpfully.

Man Yung rolled his eyes because once again, Irene has failed to understand. "You don't have to stick out an appendage to be a threat on the dance floor.  It is evident that he dances close embrace in the most boring way possible - but instead of getting in the way with a leg, a foot, an elbow or a knee, he uses his whole body to disrupt the dance floor.  Look at him switch from inside to outside, outside to inside, left to right, right to left, forward to backwards, backwards to forwards - north, south, east, west and all points in between!  It is well nigh impossible to predict which way he will be going, even with a sophisticated computer algorithm.  In fact, I'm pretty sure that he doesn't know which way he will be bouncing into he is clearly dancing with his eyes closed."*

* Oh, so that's how he does it!  And I thought he was just being inconsiderate.

 It's not only close embrace Tangueros with their eyes closed - 
low-density housing in suburbia also takes up lots of space.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Adela Galeazzi and Ricardo Suarez - Milonga Vieja Milonga at Centro Region Leonesa

A lovely video of Adela performing a milonga traspie with Ricardo Suarez at Centro Region Leonesa - on the occasion of Ricardo's birthday!

We are mesmerized by Ricardo's musicality, Adela's soft, relaxed footwork...and Adela's flowing white skirt!

"Flowing skirts and dresses look the best on dancing ladies," said Man Yung.  "The fabric twirls around and enhances the movement of the dance.  This skirt looks gorgeous on Adela when she is dancing milonga!  The skirt is very classic, makes the figure look great, and moves so well."

Then Man Yung started to reminisce excitedly about skirts and kept on talking about "bubbles" patterns ("Not checkered, not stripes!") and even drew me a picture!

A quick Google search and I finally found out what he meant was the vintage 50's polka dot circle skirts:

"Imagine walking into Sin Rumbo, with its black and white tile floors, wearing one of  these beautiful polka dot skirts - all eyes will be on you!  And you must dance to Di Sarli, not Pugliese!  All milongueros will be asking you to dance because you remind them of the good old days.  However, one thing you have to be careful about - your tanguero partner can't wear a hat.  If the tanguero is wearing a hat, it would look like he is trying too hard.  Can you imagine Portalea in Sin Rumbo dancing with a hat on?  No way!"

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mean Girls

Make no mistake...some truly mean girls in Tango make this clique of croquet club-wielding, back-stabbing popular girls named "Heather" look like a bunch of wimps

Recently, we welcomed back to town a dear Tango friend whom we haven't seen in about six years.  We are so happy to see her in the milongas!  We have been reminiscing about the past, when we were young and carefree, taking our first baby steps in Tango.  Those were the days - we went adventurously to all the milongas, stayed up until 4 a.m. in some of them (and got parking tickets when we parked our cars where we shouldn't park), and danced with all sorts of Tangueros - good, bad and ugly. Oh, the fun we had!

Our beautiful Tanguera friend learned how to tango when she lived in Buenos Aires. She was an amazing dancer back then, and still an amazing dancer now - just a little rusty from not dancing at all for six years.  It only took a few dances to bring her back up to speed (she's a natural at Tango) - and of course, my Toronto milonguera friend and I made sure to inform her about the Creeps, the Monkeys, the Road Ragers, the Tangueros that you shouldn't ever, for the sake of your own sanity and bodily integrity, be "Nice" to...

"Oh my God!" our Tanguera friend said suddenly at midnight at the milonga last night. 

Was it her curfew?  Was she going to do a Cinderella and turn into a pumpkin?

"I really don't want to dance with that guy and I'm afraid he's going to ask me to dance!  Should I just get going?"  She was ready to leap out of her shoes and dash to the door, and the night was still young!
She had been away from Tango too long and has forgotten about "The Power of NO".  We, as her friends, gently reminded her. 

What's that I'm hearing?  Little tiny voices of dissent?  "Oh Irene, you're so mean!  It's one thing to say "No" yourself... but to encourage this barbaric behaviour in others as well!  You are meaner than the mean girls in "Mean Girls" and "Heathers" combined!"

In Tango, "No" is nothing to do with being "Mean".  We all have the right to say "No" when we dance the Tango - if anyone tells you otherwise, they are either wrong or they are not dancing Argentine Tango.  When we dance the Tango, we give it our All.  It's never a matter of "It's only twelve minutes, how bad could it be?", because when we give our All, even a step together encompasses eternity - and imagine spending eternity with someone you want to kick out the window.  When we dance with someone we don't want to spend even a second with, we as dancers cannot give our "All", and that is a betrayal of both ourselves and the dance.   Some people may argue that "It's not right" to "humiliate" potential dance partners by refusing them - well, the Argentines invented the "Cabeceo" for a reason.  Don't want to be humiliated when you are rejected in public?  Then stop coming right up to the table to ask for dances and learn how to "cabecear" instead!

I'll tell you what's truly mean in Tango - and it's not "The ladies who say No".  It's "The ladies who hoard their men and won't let them dance with anyone else"!

One reason why our friend did not dance the Tango during all these years away from Toronto was precisely because of this problem.  She moved to a city with a large and vibrant Tango community - milongas and events every night of the week.  She even attended some of these milongas - but sat uninvited all night everywhere she went.

It wasn't that people were attending the milongas were all in couples and there were no available men to dance.  There were lots of men.  Unfortunately, they happen to be in little cliques with very possessive and jealous women - if their men dared ask anyone outside their circle to dance, they'd get the "evil eye"!  And these weren't men who were old and tired and only had one or two more dances left in them - they were ones that could dance all night.  Their "clique friends" would rather have them sit than let them dance with the other women in the milonga.

We used to get a bit of that in Toronto too.  No so much cliques (although we have them too), but women who would scratch the eyes out of their partners if they even dared look in another direction.    One woman became so famous for her jealous rages - other women would turn her husband down when he went to ask them for a dance just to avoid triggering her nuclear meltdown.

A friend of mine used to dance quite happily with one particular Toronto Tanguero - one of those "dance all night" types - that is, until he hooked up with a dance partner who decided otherwise.  He abruptly stopped dancing with my friend.  One night we found out why. 

Toronto Tanguero, pleading with his partner: "Could I dance with _________ tonight?  I haven't danced with her for ages!"

Dramatic response from his dance partner (and not even wife, or girlfriend!), Ms. Hoard: "Excuse me?  I want to dance."  She stood up and blocked his way.  My friend and I looked at each other incredulously - we were sitting next to Ms. Hoard and her partner and of course we overheard everything!*

* Ms. Hoard and her dance partner has long since split up, but Ms. Hoard has not ceased her exhibitions of meanness - she's the one still kicking up her pointy four inch stiletto heels in high kicks and boleos in crowded milongas, jeopardizing of the safety of the Tangueros and Tangueras around her.  Has she hurt anyone?  Of course she has!  Does this stop her?  Of course not!

Luckily in Toronto the above is the exception and not the rule - our Tangueras are warm-hearted and generous and are quite happy to let their partners (husbands, boyfriends, dance partners) dance with others if they so wish. This generosity is one of things that builds the community - and not the misguided notion that one should never say "No" when asked to dance. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Mountain

I chose to use this famous painting of "The Mountain" by Balthus as an illustration for this post because I like it and not for any particular or other reason.  Or maybe... ok, imagine what it would look like if the whole Balthus mountain landscape was bathed in fog.  Pretty scary, huh?  Or perhaps it was scarier without the fog?  You decide!

Back when Man Yung was young and energetic, many many many many (did I say many?) years ago, he liked to go on hiking trips with his friends on the mountain trails of Hong Kong.*

* For such a small place, Hong Kong is surprisingly hilly/mountainous.

Once, during one of their hiking excursions, a thick, dense (creepy? alienesque?) fog descended all over the mountain.  The hikers could hardly see more than two steps ahead of them.

No-one panicked.  They continued slowly and cautiously on their way, stepping carefully on the visible tracks of the trail.  They were making their way off the mountain when they encountered a group of Boy Scouts.

The Boy Scouts were decked out in their shiny, neat uniforms and were extremely organized and regimental.  No doubt they were prepared for puny little contingencies like a tiny dab of fog!  They were adamant about being quite helpful too.  They sent their leader to talk to Man Yung to see if he and his hikers needed their "assistance".

"Looks like you are in a spot of trouble here," said Scout Leader to Man Yung.  Scout Leader may or may not have stood with his hands on his hips and legs wide apart, superhero-style [I wasn't there, I'm just guessing].  "We can help you poor lost folk make it back to civilization - as you can see (he pointed proudly at his uniform) we are experts at survival skills and wilderness navigation."

Man Yung replied, "Thank you very much - we'll be perfectly all right.  We have a compass and we know the way."

Scout Leader cocked his eyebrow and looked at Man Yung.  "You may have a compass - but do you have a [TA-DAAAA! he presented with a flourish] MAP?  Because WE have a map."

Man Yung cocked his eyebrow and looked at Scout Leader.  "You may have a MAP - but do you have a compass?"

"What would we need a compass for?  Our map is very detailed and precise and it's all that we need," sniffed Scout Leader.

"OK, you can try using your map when you can't even see your hand in front of your face for the fog.  At least with a compass we know which direction we are going in.  Hong Kong isn't so big - so long we are going in the right direction, we will end up in Chuen Wan in half an hour!"**

** Yes, Hong Kong is that small.

Whilst Man Yung and his group of hikers were able to make it off the mountain safe and sound in time for dinner with the use of their compass - the Scouts persisted stubbornly with their map.  Alas, the map was rendered useless as the Scouts could not see any of the landmarks around them and furthermore didn't know which direction they were facing due to the fog.  They eventually got lost and were were devoured mercilessly by a flock of ravenous, Scout-eating squirrels.


1.  Where is the compas?  Would you be able to find it if I draw you a map?

2.  Ha ha - I doubt you will be able to find it with a map - or even a GPS (and remember, you have to keep on paying for map updates with GPS).  Maybe you will get it eventually...but you will have to be going in the right direction.  Unfortunately, the ten-tiered, densely structured, meticulously planned, academically accredited, dance-school affiliated, 100 hour Tango course you are taking will only teach you how to dance around and around yourself in circles with a lot of skill.  Whether you will finally reach your destination - Tango - is doubtful.  I wish you the best of luck - and watch out for the carnivorous squirrels.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Alberto Dassieu and La Flaca Lucia perform to "Sin Rumbo Fijo" at Flor de Milonga

Just found this gem on Youtube - Alberto performing a vals with La Flaca Lucia at the milonga run by La Flaca Lucia and Gerry in San Telmo, "Flor de Milonga":

Good stuff!  It's always a pleasure to watch the Maestro dance vals - with the lovely and talented La Flaca Lucia, no less. By the caption on the video, looks like Alberto is teaching a series of vals seminars there.

You can read more about our experiences at the very bohemian Flor de Milonga here.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Pains and Gains

The Karate school I went to had Jiu-Jitsu classes offered by a guest instructor every Wednesday.  They had an independent grading system, so no matter what your rank was in Karate, you had to earn your belt separately for Jiu-Jitsu.  Nevertheless, skills in self-defense were seen as desirable for advancement in Karate, so my Karate friend and I decided to try the class out.

The class was notorious for being tough - they really beat themselves up in there.  Luckily, although we were both newbies (yellow belts!) we were not wimps.  We could take a couple of bumps and knocks and over-zealous joint locks.  In fact, we were proud to be able to endure some pretty rough treatment - a badge of honour, if you will.

After a few weeks of this class, we noticed something strange.  All of the Jiu-Jitsu sensei's most dedicated students would have red duct tape stuck all over their uniforms.  We asked a senpai why.

"That tape is to show where you have been injured.  Your practice opponent will know to take it easy on your shoulder, for example, if you have taped yourself there."

Hmmmmm....something's not quite right here.

In Jiu-Jitsu class this means: Really, Really injured

Alarm bells should have gone off but we were young and stupid.  It didn't take long before I was put out of commission - a badly twisted elbow from a careless and violent takedown.  My friend, being quite stubborn, lasted a few months more - but she too, ended up with a nasty injury.  Better stick to Karate, we both concluded.*

* Not that Karate is necessarily better - in martial arts, it all depends on whether the Sensei does his or her utmost in ensuring that safety of the student is prioritized over the desire to be or look "tough".

Looking back to that time in my life twenty years ago, there were some pretty dumb things we did for the sake of being "good" in the martial arts.  My friends and I were not training to be bouncers or prize-fighters, we were studying in our real lives to be teachers or doctors or lawyers or engineers - why should we subject ourselves to that kind of treatment that could give us permanent injury?  One black belt was a real firecracker at the age of 20 in the Philippines - but by 50, he could hardly walk and needed extensive surgery on both knees.  Another venerable old black belt moved so slowly they nicknamed him "The Mountain" - you'd think it was because he was calm and all, but in fact, he was just hurting all over.

Luckily we had good Sensei who knew that some of the macho, "I am man enough to take it" stuff out there in the martial arts world was bullshit.  He always told us this: "No matter what your interests are, or what you want to learn, make sure you don't injure yourself while doing it!"

So why are we hurting ourselves dancing Tango?

When we first started Tango, one of my first questions to my potential "Tango Sensei" on the phone was - what kind of shoes should I wear?

The answer:  "Oh, whatever." 

Even I knew then that the answer should not be "Whatever" - it should be "Shoes that have smooth soles, to ensure there is no traction when you pivot."  However, that "Whatever" was much in vogue in Toronto at that time - thus quite a number of trendy-uns wearing running shoes to dance.  Luckily, it's not that common anymore.

Alas, Man Yung didn't catch on too quickly - he wore loafers which had horizontal grids running across the bottom for the first eight months.  "Wow, my knees are sore!" he'd say after every class.  He thought it was because of the exertion.  In fact, it was the damn shoes.

He finally bought real, Buenos Aires, custom-fit Tango shoes from our Tango Sensei.  They arrived...way too tight.  Should they be this uncomfortable? we asked our Tango Guru.  "You want them to be tight - they'll stretch out," was the response.

One night after the milonga (and crazy non-stop dancing by Man Yung), we arrived home tired but happy.  Man Yung took off his shoes and walked across the carpet.  I casually looked over his direction - and saw ominous red stains following in his direction.

"What's that?  Hey, Man Yung, wait a's BLOOD!  Stop moving!  You are ruining the carpet!"  I attacked the stains frantically with a wet paper towel - thank God for Stainguard.

It was the chafing from the too-tight shoes.

"Ha ha!  That's just ridiculous!" you say - but self-abuse in the name of Tango could happen to you too.

One lovely Toronto Tanguera we know used to take classes with a toppity-top traveling Tango Professional some decades ago.  He was REALLY STRONG and his trademark was making his partner do REALLY FAST OCHOS.  "Faster!  Faster!" he would urge.  The poor Toronto Tanguera cracked a bone in her wrist from being "led" (shoved? hurtled?) by this genius.  Yet another ancient Toronto Tanguera was just too nice, she didn't say no to the nascent "Nuevo" instructor when he asked her to dance. We all jumped in our skins when we heard the loud "thud" - he really defied death when she didn't break her neck from being tripped and dropped.  And last but not least, one Toronto Instructor plotted his triumphant return to Tango for months - but when he appeared at his first milonga in many moons, his over-enthusiastic back sacadas*  landed another unsuspecting Toronto Tanguera flat on her back on the floor.

* Funny how many professionals think that big, dangerous movements in a crowded spaces means - "I'm a really great dancer! Look at me!  Look at me!"

We've mentioned some of the wild Tangueros and their hapless Tanguera victims - however, the Tangueras sometimes have to share in the responsibility too.  Some are taught to dance "heavy" (which is not a synonym for "grounded", despite what most think) so their partners can really notice that they exist (and also so they could "slow the man down", if necessary).  Watch out for dislocated necks and shoulders wherever they go.  Others have decided to embrace the "frantic embellishment" movement - slashing their glittering stiletto heels rapidly to-and-fro in the Tango version of the Knife Game.  It's one problem when they gore the people around them, and another problem... when they stab themselves in the toes.**  Good luck to the poor gentlemen risking injury for a dance with these talented Tangueras.

** I, too, was a rabid adornista: "Been there, done that," said Irene.

And heck, just ask your local Tango Professional.  How many of them have injured themselves jumping, lifting and spinning, or dancing with heavy ladies and crazed gentleman?  Is it eight out of ten, or ten out of ten?  Ouch, ouch, ouch!

"I had no idea that Tango could be so dangerous!" said Man Yung.  "In Buenos Aires you can see all manner of old folk dancing Tango and they all look intact!"

It should be common sense - don't injure yourself dancing the Tango!  I don't think that "No Pain, No Gain" should be the rule here.  But still many subject themselves to injury - and for what?  OK, so you really dying to go pro - but how about the rest of us who consider Tango just a pastime? Don't tell me that people are sacrificing life and limb for a shot of Tango Glory!*** At this rate and in this fashion, looks like lots of us will be dancing Tango in our old age with red duct tape all over our bodies....hmmmm, I guess it's a more, ahem, interesting fashion statement than fringes, sequins and fishnet stockings.

*** What Glory is that, exactly?  Tango Championship?  Worldwide Tango Fame and Fortune?  Better stick to your day job!

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