Saturday, May 25, 2013


 We are like...Salt and Pepper/Peanut Butter and Jelly/Fish and Chips/Tweedledum and Tweedledee/The Owl and the Pussycat/Starsky and Hutch!

A while back, a Toronto Tanguero asked me, "Irene, you have danced with so many milongueros, and you say that they dance so wonderfully.  Do you prefer dancing more with the milongueros (and which milonguero would it be?) or with Man Yung?"

I was surprised at the question.

"I prefer dancing with Man Yung!"  I said.

Toronto Tanguero was surprised at my response.  I think he was expecting that I would say that I preferred dancing with Osvaldo, or with Tete, or with Alberto, or with Roberto, etc. etc. etc.....

Dancing with the milongueros may be fascinating, eye-opening, educational and totally awesome but why on earth would I prefer dancing with them over Man Yung?  I don't understand!

You could ask Man Yung the same question.

"Don't be silly.  The milongueras and tangueras I have danced with are really great too, but - come on!  Irene is my one and only!"

We of course prefer to dance with each other and it has nothing to do with how many years we have danced together or how much tango practice we have had or how much tango skill we have accumulated.  In fact, if we turn back time to 2004 when we were stepping all over each other's feet and this close to strangling each other over Tango, we would still be each other's Number One choice.

Man Yung and I met a decade before we took up Tango. We first became friends and the more we talked and spent time together, the more we found out that we had lots in common.  "How lucky I am to have this really special girl/guy in my life," we thought.  And how amazing it was, that day when we realized - "He/she loves me! This great girl/guy has chosen me!"

There may be thousands of Tango dancers out there giving their partners more thrilling "Tango experiences" but what's that to us?  I can be a Wal-Mart thinking rabid adornista and Man Yung could be a You-tubing whirling dervish (In fact, weren't we exactly that not that long ago?) but we would continue to choose each other every day.

I think that people may love each other differently.  Some couples come to the milonga and they'd dance only one or two obligatory tandas together all night.   The guy looks like he is more interested in dancing with all the other women than with his partner.  If his partner has the same mindset, she's just as ecstatic dancing with all the other gentlemen.  That's great, they are both having fun.  The only downside is if the lady is not a desirable follower, she'll be glued to her seat for the next three hours.

Not everyone is like us.  Maybe we are the looney-tunes.  One Toronto Tanguero who has been dancing since the beginning of Toronto Tango Time once proclaimed, "Tango is a marvelous thing, because in Tango, having a partner is not important!"  Go to a Buenos Aires milonga and sit apart so that other dancers will cabeceo you. Go and have your ten minute romance with different people several times a night. Tango gives you that freedom.

Manolo once said to us, "Partners are the most important thing - in life and in Tango."

We can't tell you whether what Manolo said is true or not.  We just know that for either of us, the best of tango isn't to be found in some stranger's embrace.  Whether we are gliding on the smooth parquet floor in the grandest milongas in the world, or just hugging and swaying to the compas barefoot in our living room, the best of anything is always to be found between the two of us. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Some desires should really just be...Gone with the Wind

I'm telling you from experience - if you want to dance tango really well, you can't be preoccupied with your desires.

For example, right now I desire - a Emile Henry 3.4 quart braiser in red.  The indestructible ceramic cooking surface would be really handy to cook some Big Horse Stand, because the sharp bones from the crispy BBQ pork ribs would leave our teflon wok a big scratched up mess. 

I also desire... the newest iPhone!  It looks so shiny and sleek.  OK, I know the one I have still works, but...

These are only tiny weeny desires compared with some of the big ambitious desires out there.  One of my acquaintances lusts for a completely renovated backyard (a $75,000.00 price tag) with all new patio, interlock, professionally designed landscaping, top-notch outdoor furniture and a state-of-the-art BBQ that does magic tricks, dances the lambada and sings opera while it cooks. Another acquaintance is razing a perfectly good, recently renovated three bedroom house - just so that he could build the McMansion of his dreams on the bulldozed lot for $1.5 million dollars.

My acquaintances noted above in fact won't be dancing tango anytime soon.  They will be too preoccupied with 1) doing their utmost to achieve their desires, including getting that big loan/mortgage necessary and 2) expending all their time and energies into making money whichever way possible to cover all those payments they have committed themselves to for the next 5 - 30 years. As for me, I'm lucky that my desires are small, because my chances of stabbing my own big toe with the stiletto of my Comme Il Fauts increase exponentially with each thing I covet.  Frankly,  I don't know what kind of tango injury I would do to myself if I want all the latest Louis Vuitton handbags in every colour under the sun, or a Lamborghini.

"Ha ha ha!  You are a fool to desire material things at all because all material things are transitory and illusory," says some would-be Zen Master and I say "HA HA HA!  Not only material desires but ALL desires will impact your Tango ability!"  For example, consulting the magic tango 8-ball:

Do you desire more beautiful Tango shoes?  More glittering Tango costumes?

Do you desire to draw more attention to yourself when you Tango?  Do you desire being the star of your own Tango Show?

Do you desire a better Tango Resumé?  Do you desire taking classes with/dancing with/"working with" more Tango luminaries?  Do you desire more and better professional Tango opportunities?

Do you desire Fabio? Or do you desire getting better, or more, or more variety of Tango Partners to give you better Tango experiences?  And/Or do you just want to get more sexual partners through Tango?

Do you desire Tango importance?  Or Tango Power?

Do you desire Tango fame? And/or Tango fortune (good luck with that)?

Do you desire having Tango authenticity?

Do you desire being a Milonguero/Milonguera or cutting-edge Tango Nuevoist/a or being recognized as such?

Do you desire being a Tango championship winner?

Don't tell me that these desires are not just as vain and illusory as desire for the hottest fashion accessories, a monster home, or a posh car.

And get this - you can't even desire to dance Tango really well.  The more you want it, the further away it will be. 

The more you are consumed by your desires, the more likely you will do yourself physical, emotional and spiritual injury, and the less likely you will dance tango well, because your body, mind, heart and soul will be elsewhere.  Your tango needs you to be here!  Right here in this step, in this breath, in this moment, in this second of the embrace.  And then, strangely enough, when you have no more desire, you will finally have all that your heart desires.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Seeing with your Heart

There was a time in my life when I practically lived in a Karate Dojo.  By my calculations, I spent more time training in Karate than sleeping or going to school.

Of course, now I'm just another lazy couch potato. But that didn't stop me from getting all excited watching this new TVB series regarding Muay Thai called "Gloves Come Off".
When we are not dancing Tango, we spend our time talking about the history of philosophy and debating the economic theories of Karl Marx.  
Just kidding!  We are consumed by shallow popcorn Hong Kong TV series!

It really brought back memories of those days.  Punching bags and kicking drills.  Martial Arts etiquette - being tested on Japanese Karate terminology.  Grueling belt gradings.  Sparring and Self-Defense.  Cute guys! (That may mean Man Yung) Cute girls!  ("Nope, that doesn't sound like an accurate description of Irene, sorry," said Man Yung)

There's this scene in Episode 5 in which the Hero of "Gloves Come Off" has to fight with the son of a competitor he accidentally killed in an underground match ten years ago.  The Avenging Son is a formidable opponent because he fights with the ferocity of hatred and vengence.

"You see that?"  said the Master to the Hero as they were watching a video of the Avenging Son fighting in a competition.  "Remember what I taught you?"

The Hero replied, "Yes - Muay Thai is to strengthen your body, to improve your technique - it is the art of hand battle." 

"The Avenging Son treats all his opponents like enemies, using his vengefulness as his source of power to destroy his opponent.  However, this is the wrong path - he will also destroy himself.  This is not the proper way to box.  You have to box with happiness, without burden.  In order to make the Avenging Son understand this, you must reconcile his hatred.  You know what to do."

So the Hero fought the Avenging Son (while a epic whiny guitar solo played in the background) and he fought with peace and compassion and happiness and restrained himself from executing many killing blows, stopping just short.  The Avenging Son realized what Muay Thai should be about. He found the power to forgive his father's killer and became at peace himself.

Now, a Novice student was watching this match with the Master.  "What are they doing?  Why isn't the Hero hitting back?  He is wasting all his opportunities!"

"You aren't experienced enough to see," said the Master.  "Don't look with your eyes - see with your HEART."


"Haha!  That's exactly the kind of stuff (I mean baloney!) you keep saying in Tango,"  I said to Man Yung.  "What kind of technique is that, looking with your heart?  You've got to explain to me, because I don't get it!"

"Yes, the Master's words apply to Tango too.  When people are looking, they don't understand what they are looking at.  They are like the Novice student who can't see what is happening in the ring.  They see the kicking and speed and the fancy moves - and they think that if something looks like it's winning, then it must be something good."

I'm having difficulty picturing blinking, teary eyeballs peering out from that lumpy muscle we call the heart.  "What are we supposed to be looking at if we are looking with our hearts?"

"Osvaldo and Coca are one of the best examples of this.  When you go on Youtube and check out their videos, there's bound to be some people who don't like their way of dancing.  They complain that their dancing is not exciting enough - not enough going on visibly outside to interest them."

"I remember one time I saw a comment from someone who was criticizing Coca.  That person was saying the nastiest things about her legs being dumpy and not lifting them high enough.  And complaining that Coca was not doing enough adornments. How ridiculous is that?"

"That's right - The Muay Thai Novice could only see fists and feet and whether a strike landed or not. Novices at Tango can only see the surface as well.  If you don't see with your heart, you won't see the whole story. If you look at Osvaldo and Coca's dancing with your heart, you see the story of their love, the story of the music they are dancing to (no-one can express music like they can with their Tango), and the story of Tango itself."

"No wonder it is so soothing and peaceful when I look at them dance!  When I look at many other professional couples dancing, they seem to be doing all this stuff to be creative with the music and to make people applaud - I used to be impressed with that too, but once I gained more experience in Tango, their performances just made me feel uncomfortable, like it was full of artifice and jagged edges.  They don't seem to be dancing with each other, dancing to music, or even dancing Tango!"

Kitty was looking at us intently.  "Raaarrraaaaw!" he said.

Now, what's all this about? "Man Yung, what does Kitty want?"

"He wants to play chase with the paper bookmark.  As for the kitty next to him (who was not even saying anything) - he wants a saucer of milk. And the other kitty (on the other side of the room, minding his own business) - he wants me to scratch him with a back-scratcher!"

"That's incredible, Man Yung.  No wonder it is easy for you to see with your heart.  The Kitties have been secretly training you to be Cat Zen Master!" 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Interview with Martha

Porteña Linda!  Our friend Martha

Does a Porteño have an advantage over non-Porteños when it comes to learning to dance Tango?

Unfortunately for all those who were not born and raised in Buenos Aires – yes, Porteños have the advantage!  You cannot hide from Tango in Buenos Aires.  Either you have seen it on television, or danced in the street.  And you still hear Tango played everywhere – on the radio, in taxis, in your house.  You can’t help it, Tango seeps into your soul…

Our friend Martha is a Porteña who lives in Toronto.  Martha didn’t start dancing until 2008, when she was living here in Toronto.  She took classes from Toronto Tango teachers and attended milongas in the city – but as Man Yung can tell you, the quality of her dancing is different, much more “Buenos Aires” compared to the dancing of non-Porteña dancers.  As to exactly what, well, Man Yung can’t say, as he is always blissed out after dancing and can give no instructive description!

Luckily Martha agreed to be interviewed for our blog.  Maybe I can finally stop dancing Hong Kong-style tango after learning some of her secrets?


What is your earliest memory of Tango? Do you have any recollection of having grown up with Tango?

Hmmmmm, I can’t really pinpoint it.  Tango was what my mother and my aunt listened to, along with boleros, American jazz and folklore.

Every Saturday morning my two sisters and I had to help with cleaning of our condo while music was blasting from the record player – first 78’s, later LP’s and 45’s.  And of course, every day Tango and folklore was on the radio.

So, you evidently heard a lot more Tango during your youth than we would, as people from a non-Tango culture!  Were there any dancers or musicians of Tango in your circle of friends and family?

On our floor, lived a couple with no kids, Ruben Pesce and Marita Battaglia.  She was an actress and a singer, and he was a TV writer/ producer, and the director of the theatre “Florencio Sanchez”, (a landmark in Buenos Aires, no longer there, now just a piece of bronze where the theatre once stood). Another neighbour on our floor, Cacho Bustamante, was also an actor and part of the Florencio Sanchez crew. Their plays were about Tango and folklore. When Ruben had a play opening, we all went, and more times than not, the whole crew would come back to our home to dance Tango and boleros and have a good time.

It sounds like Tango was very much a part of ordinary life in the neighbourhood for you.  Did you know any other personalities from Tango?
Martha with Maestro Alberto Podesta 

We grew up listening to Tango, but ours was the generation of mainly rock and roll, although my older sister had at one point an older boyfriend that sang Tango.  She was friends with many well known singers of that time, and she always went to listen to them.
For a few years during my childhood, my mother used to have a small clothing store in a neighbourhood nearby where she met her boyfriend “El Tano”. El Tano had a shoe factory in the same neighbourhood and his younger brother used to help at the back, while writing and singing tango - “A Dreamer,” my aunt used to say. He went on to become the famous Tango singer, Cacho Castaña.

** Man Yung wants to add - "I love the music of Cacho Castaña!  One year we were in Buenos Aires at El Ateneo, the theatre that was converted into a big bookstore - and I heard Cacho's voice in a Tango played at the store.  His voice is smoky and full of world-weary emotion, and I immediately bought his CD and I have loved listening to it, and dancing to his Tangos since.  I highly recommend this singer!
When did you start to want to learn how to dance the Tango? Why did you decide to learn it?
I never danced tango in Buenos Aires, until lately. It was during one of my visits to Argentina in 2004, that an old friend of mine told me that she was dancing Tango.
“Really”? I asked, and she said, “Yes, I go five times a week, it changed my life.”
So I told my sisters, “Cristina is dancing Tango,” and they said, “Lots of people embraced Tango lately and folklore.”  It wasn’t until the end of 2008, during one of my sisters’ visits to Toronto, that I started to learn Tango. My sister Sylvia had been taking Tango for a while and had with her the list of all the milongas in Toronto, and the ones that had a class before the milonga.  So before she left she took me to Paradiso, Victor Hugo’s milonga and Club Milonga, and I’ve been dancing since then.  
It’s funny, how your sister from Buenos Aires was the one to introduce you to Tango in Toronto! Do you feel that Porteños have an innate sense of the Tango because of the culture of the city? When Man Yung and I talk about your dancing, we often refer to the notion that you have “Tango DNA” in you because dancing with you feels different than dancing with other non-Porteña Tangueras.
I’ve lived in Toronto for most of my life, but I grew up in Argentina, and Argentina has stronger roots in me than Canada which is my second homeland. Throughout my elementary school years I had to perform at school, for all the patriotic holidays, in plays or dancing folklore.  Those things are forever in my memory i.e. la chacarera and la zamba.  Too bad kids didn’t dance Tango at school performances back then like they do now.
Regarding the tango DNA that you said is in me :-), I believe exposure in any areas of life, what you see and what you learn, becomes a part of  you, especially if is related to your culture in which case the roots are so significant and so strong.
What was it like for you, learning how to Tango?  Was it any different from what you imagined it to be?
Learning Tango was more difficult than what I thought it would be, but we have good teachers in Toronto and they are always bringing great teachers from Argentina for workshops and classes. Good teachers will make the smallest correction on the way you put your feet, that you may think is nothing, but that will totally change the way you dance.
Now that you are a veteran dancer, what makes you love the Tango and keep coming back to dance it?
You might not see me much in all the milongas because of my work, but I don’t think that I’ll ever stop dancing tango, ever, it makes me happy, and it has opened memories of my life that were very concealed until I started dancing, like a new awakening for me. It’s been great.
Have you danced in Buenos Aires?  What is your impression of the milongas in Buenos Aires?
Although I haven’t gone to many places, the milongas in Buenos Aires are pretty crowded, all of them, but you can still dance, they follow the line and etiquette, and there is always one tanguero that will make your night “A Night to Remember” :-)
That’s really beautiful – that’s why we keep on recommending that people visit Buenos Aires at least once!  Finally, do you have any advice for any non-Porteña Tangueras on how to dance better, or enjoy and feel the Tango like a Porteña?
I don’t think I can give any non-Porteña Tangueras advice, I couldn’t.  But what I can say is: Stop looking at everybody else’s feet, embrace your partner, embrace the music and just dance.
Martha with Maestro Rodolfo Mederos at Toronto Harbourfront in 2011

It’s the simplest tips like these that make the biggest difference. Thanks Martha for giving us a glimpse into what it is like to learn Tango as a Porteña, and see you soon on the dance floor, where you will give to all your partners the feeling of Buenos Aires in your embrace!
Martha has a beautiful little place in Buenos Aires that she stays at whenever she travels there to visit family and friends – and to dance!  Martha’s Apartment located in a convenient location downtown and available for rental.  For further information on Martha’s Apartment and contact information, please follow this link:

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