Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Should've known better (I told you so)


It was already 10:45 p.m. after we had finished practicing at the rental studio space last Thursday.   Still, Man Yung wanted to watch the videos we took of our practice, so here I was near midnight trying to download the videos from the memory card to put on Man Yung's iPad.

There was a glitch in the download.  The happy spinning beach ball of paralysis and death appeared on screen and everything got stuck.

I panicked and forcibly turned off the computer.  Should've known better than to do that - because when the computer came back on, all the videos we took were gone. Kaput!  Erased!

I let out a blood-curdling scream.

"What, you lost all the footage!" exclaimed Man Yung between shrieks of terror.  "That was the best practice we ever had!  If we put those fantastic videos on Youtube, we would get so many hits we would become millionaires!"


The milonga floor was less than desirable - something to do with the combination of ancient warped floorboards and a merry coating of varnish that made the floor look shiny but actually turned it impossibly sticky.

"Don't pivot so much on the floor!  Try to just walk slowly if you can," I hinted strongly to Man Yung.  "If you spin, your foot will be stuck in place while your whole body rotates - and this will be no good for your creaky old joints!"

"Yeah, yeah...I know what I'm doing!" Man Yung replied impatiently.

Ha ha - "Knowing what he was doing" consisted of doing even more turns and spins than usual.  It's been a whole week since Man Yung has danced and there were so many steps from Youtube he wanted to try out!

"Ouch!  My knees are so sore!" Man Yung said the day after.

I told you so.


It was the day of the milonga and we still didn't know who the DJ was going to be for the milonga that night.  We scoured the milonga website and Facebook page to no avail.

"Why couldn't the organizers give sufficient warning about who is playing the music?  There's less than 8 hours to go and still no news!"  said Man Yung grumpily.

We wouldn't normally be so concerned....but we really, really wanted to skip the milonga if a certain DJ was playing.

"I have to admit, I am very impressed by the DJ's vast collection of Canyengue music.  It seems like the DJ has every single piece of recorded Canyengue prior to 1915," I said.  "It's just too bad that the DJ has to use every track in this historic collection - every night, all night, every tanda, all the time!"

The last time we experienced this DJ's music, the music was so monotonous and soul-suckingly boring that not only did we not want to dance, we wanted to kill ourselves.

Man Yung was getting so antsy (he really wanted to dance) I did the unthinkable - I contacted the milonga organizer by phone and by Facebook.

The milonga organizer called back.  "DJ Canyengue will be playing.  See you guys tonight!"

I faithfully reported this to Man Yung.  Man Yung slapped his forehead and rolled his eyes to the heavens.

"Irene, you should've known better than to contact the organizer.  Now the organizer knows we called (Toronto Tango is a small world), they are expecting us to turn up at the milonga.  It would be rude not to go!"

"I have no scruples about not going," I said.  There are benefits to being raised by a pack of wolves.

"Unfortunately, I have," said Man Yung.

The other benefit of being raised by a pack of wolves is that I could spend the entire milonga with my feet up and head thrown back while snoring with my mouth open.  Haven't had such a refreshing nap in a long time!


It was late.  The milonga was almost all cleared out.  I was busy playing Plants and Zombies (the original!) on my phone while waiting for Man Yung to finish dancing.

Suddenly some guy appears in front of me.  "Would you like to dance?" he asked, annoyed.

Too many hours of playing games on my phone had numbed my brain.  Instead of saying "No", I said "Yes."

Big mistake.  He was annoyed that I didn't cabeceo him before and that I wasn't willing to dance.  I was annoyed that I agreed to dance when I wasn't willing to dance.  We spiced up our complete lack of connection by standing tensely between tangos, bristling with passive-aggressive, resentful silence.

"Thanks," we said to each other at the end of the tanda.  What we really meant was "No thanks!"

"I told you so," said Man Yung after I returned to my seat.  "There's a reason why the mirada and cabeceo are so important in Tango.  The dancers have to observe the other dancers to see who they want to dance with - and then try to get the dance with their eyes!  When the mirada and cabeceo are willingly returned, that means both dancers are already willing and happy to dance with each other, and there's going to be much more harmony and accord when they do dance.  It's much more elegant  than this ambush bullshit!"

"Man Yung, are you really giving me this advice about not ambushing people in tango?" I said incredulously.  "Didn't you just recently tell me to be more aggressive with my eyes, and stare at people like they owe me money and if they don't dance with me, I will kill them with the laser beams implanted in my pupils?  And if they by any chance get away, you were going to beat them up when they went to the washroom?"

Man Yung shook his head.  "No, Irene, you totally misunderstood me.   I distinctly recall I advised you to be sweet and gentle in your cabeceo and to smile more and act friendly."

Oh really.  Read our post here and judge for yourself!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Like Love itself

How am I dancing?  I would like to know.  But it's not like I have a sign like those on the back of tractor-trailers, but instead of saying "How's my driving?",  it's "How's my following?" with a phone number on the bottom so I can get some feedback....

Wait a moment.  Apparently I do have a sign with a phone number - just so that Man Yung can call in to complain. "Irene, you are going too fast.  How about doing that figure with a little more feeling?  I would suggest that you relax your left arm a bit more because you are pulling me off axis when we turn!   Why don't you reconfigure your embrace to something more open like a v-shape so we can have more fun with all the steps I've learned this week from Youtube?"

According to Man Yung, all this advice is extremely helpful for my Tango growth.  Yes, Man Yung is my Tango Guru.  But not in the way he expected.  When he opens his mouth to spew out handy nuggets of "Constructive Tango Criticism", I find myself humming a merry tune and thinking about rainbows and unicorns (instead of listening).  I'm all ears though, when he tells me how it feels for him to dance with Milongueras.

Man Yung's danced with some of the best, if not the best Milongueras in Buenos Aires.   Ladies who walk, talk and breathe Tango, with unbelievable following skills, astounding musicality, incredible footwork.  They dance like nothing on this earth.  Could Man Yung let me in on some of their secrets?

"Yes, Porteña Milongueras do feel different to dance with than even the best followers outside of Buenos Aires!" said Man Yung happily.  "They can follow anything, that goes without saying.  I know, lots of great followers who aren't from Buenos Aires can follow just as or almost as well, but when the Milongueras dance with me, it feels very special." 

Man Yung paused.

A minute passed.  And another minute.

I got impatient.  "Well?  How are they dancing that feels different?"

Man Yung must have forgotten the question.  He wandered off without answering.

I tried to corner him a few days later.

"Hey Man Yung - we were talking about how it feels like for you to dance with Milongueras just the other day.  Can you elaborate a little?  For example, do you remember that lady in blue who smelled like cigarette smoke at Plaza Bohemia who you couldn't stop asking to dance tanda after tanda?"

Man Yung smiled.  "Yes, I remember her."

"How does she dance?"

"She had really great musicality..."

Uh-oh - the dreaded pause.  I better prompt him before he drifted off into a cloud of blissful memories of dancing with Milongueras.

"So, does anyone in Toronto dance like that?  For example __________?"  I named a tanguera in Toronto considered to be extremely good at following.

"No, I wouldn't say that _________________ danced like that," said Man Yung.

"How about ___________________ then?"  This was a friend of ours who went to Buenos Aires very often.

"Oh, ___________________?  Yeah....I guess a little bit."

"How about __________________ and __________________?"  Both happened to be from South America.

"Now you mention it - yes, both _____________________ and _____________________ have a lot of that kind of feeling when then dance."

I went through a list of names and then tried to see what was in common among the ladies who Man Yung said had a bit of the same feeling as the Milongueras when they danced.  It wasn't age.  It wasn't where they were from - although it helped if they understood Spanish and perhaps the lyrics of the Tangos.  It also helped if they went to Buenos Aires to dance often - although there were ladies on the list who had never been to Buenos Aires and were just content to dance in Toronto.

In the end, the analysis was meaningless for someone looking for some answers.  I had to try to ask a different way.

The next time, I tried to ambush Man Yung over a plate of spicy deep fried chicken wings and a tall glass of bourbon on the rocks during dinner at our favourite Chinese Restaurant.

"Man Yung, you know about dancing with the Milongueras.  How could I change my dancing so I could dance more like a Milonguera?"

Man Yung put down his bourbon and gave me a look. "Irene, why are you asking?"

"I think I would dance better if I knew."

"I'll tell you something about Milongueras.  It's true, some of them are really skillful.  In fact, I get the feeling when I am dancing with them that they are thinking, 'Is that the best you can do?  Ha ha.  I can follow anything you throw at me.'  Some of them have reputations to uphold and they don't like to lose.  They can follow everything but they do it so cautiously, so carefully, it is more like we are playing chess than dancing.  And some others, they are only dancing with me to be polite because we know their Milonguero/Milonguera friends."

"What about the Milongueras you have enjoyed dancing with?  Surely not every Milonguera you have danced with have danced with you just to be nice."

"The best Tango dances I have ever had were with ladies who really enjoyed dancing with me.  They weren't thinking about their footwork, they were thinking about following everything I lead 100%, they weren't burdened by their reputations, they didn't care if they made mistakes.  If they had the abilities and depth of Tango feeling like the Milongueras, that's a bonus, but the most important part was their enjoyment of the music - and enjoyment in dancing with me!"

"What about me then?  Do you feel that I enjoy dancing with you?"

Man Yung smirked.  "Sometimes I think you try too hard to follow.  And sometimes - I think you aren't even here.  Like you are thinking of Wal-Mart."

I puffed angrily.  "I will have you know that I am not thinking of Wal-Mart.  Not recently anyway.  What I'm thinking now is whether I should get the Thrunite Archer 1A v.2 flashlight, or the Thrunite Archer 1C v.2 flashlight.  It's a really difficult decision.  The Thrunite Archer 1A takes AA batteries, which are cheap and easy to find, but the light only goes to 180 lumens max.  The Thrunite Archer 1C, on the other hand, goes all the way to 500 lumens and will surely blind any assailant who comes after you - but then, it takes CR123 batteries which are more expensive and not easily found, especially in apocalyptic situations like in The Walking Dead when the whole world has been overtaken by zombies..."

Maybe Man Yung has a point...and I should focus more when I dance on dancing instead of fending off hordes of the undead?

Notwithstanding, I had to ask about The Girl.  I've always wanted to know about her.

"Remember Man Yung, that year when we were at the end of festival party for Camicando in Buenos Aires, and you asked the instructor's girlfriend to dance?  All the men who danced with her were over the moon after dancing with her.  What was so special about her?"

"She was a great dancer.  When she danced it was so sweet, it felt like honey."

"What do you mean, like honey? How does that translate into Tango?"

"It was smooth, but not like gliding.  She was light, but there was weight as well.  Her movement was fluid, but continuous.  Even her pauses were filled with motion.  And she was such a joy to dance with, because she was overjoyed with dancing with everyone."

"What was it that Manolo said again?  Something about love?"

"Ah, yes, I recall what he said.  Manolo said that she danced 'Like Love itself'."


After Man Yung snapped out of his reverie, he offered some more words of wisdom.  "If you listen to my advice about dancing instead of thinking about zombies, maybe one day you can dance like that too!"

I laughed.  "Ha ha - not likely.  I was born with the supernatural ability to tune you out!"  Then I sighed.  "Man Yung wouldn't you be happier having a partner who would be a lot more obedient than me?  Who will actually listen to you - and perhaps even be thrilled at your triple enganche double gancho leg-wrap combos?"

Man Yung patted me reassuringly.  "Don't worry Irene.  Every lady dances differently.  It's a reflection of their character.  You definitely dance like yourself.  It's OK.  Cheers!" *

* Was that a compliment, or a diss?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Children of Tango

"Hasta mañana," Martha and Manolo used to say to us every time we had to leave Buenos Aires.   "See you tomorrow, we'll see you tomorrow - " was their promise, supposedly to spare us the pain of leaving our beloved teachers and friends again.  It didn't stop us from crying like babies though, our faces wet with tears, not caring when the random Porteños we passed on the street were looking oddly at us and shaking their heads at the crazy sobbing Chinos.

We've been crying ever since we got to know Martha and Manolo the first time they were in Toronto.  We knew that whatever time we had together was precious, and when we had to say goodbye it was far too soon.  But there was nothing we could do - they lived in Argentina, we lived in Toronto.  And always, lurking in the back of our minds was the terrible thought: would this be the final goodbye? 

Every year we send birthday cards, call with birthday greetings.  There's another photo on Facebook - another birthday party, another birthday celebration.  One more candle on the cake - one more year has passed.  Time to celebrate - and yet we know, we all know that it's all one step closer to the end. 

When people become such integral part of your life, it is easy to take it all for granted that they will be there forever.  We cried a little less at "See you tomorrow" each passing year.  We'll see you six months later, one year later.  We will get together for asado, for Canyengue, for coffee at the corner café from Galerias Pacifico.  We'll hold hands and catch up with the latest news, like old times. 

We didn't expect that Martha would die so soon.  Out of all our maestros, she was the toughest, the strongest, most full of life.  Her mother lived until well into her nineties.  We fully expected her to dance on, filled with laughter and vitality, with a quick smile and even quicker feet at one hundred, one hundred and ten..."I am Martha Anton," she once said to us, and she was not only Martha to us but also The Martha Anton, a colossal figure in the history of Tango, the Icon, the Goddess..."All the women at the milonga would watch Martha, watch her feet whenever she danced, you thought Geraldine was great but it was Martha who was the greatest," we were told by so many who knew Martha from the golden age and it was true.

After Martha died we felt guilt.  She wanted more for us - more from us.  She wanted us to teach, she wanted us to perform.  But we never taught, and performed only reluctantly, basically only at gunpoint.  Nevertheless, Martha was proud of us - but puzzled.  "Why, Irene, are you dancing so plainly?  You have to show what you have learned.  Man Yung is giving you plenty of time to show your footwork - you must enrich your dance with your embellishments."  She would demonstrate to me an exquisite adorno.  I would try and copy it dutifully under her watchful eye in class... and then rebel when out of her sight by going back to the plainness that she found so odd.  

It wasn't odd.  It was just me. 

When Martha called me "Hija" I did not feel that I was good enough to be her daughter at all.  Or maybe, I knew what she wanted from me, but I couldn't give it to her.  I cannot dance like Martha Anton - not in a million years.  She wanted us to be more than what we were willing to be, like all good parents, who wouldn't want their children to make something of themselves? 

She had hoped that we would teach her Canyengue in Toronto, her Milonga Fantasia, her Tango Salon of the 50's... but our personalities and abilities would not allow us to achieve her wishes.  We failed her.

The last time we talked, Martha didn't call me "Hija" anymore.  But not because she had stopped loving me.  No, Martha was not like that.  Her heart was bigger than the whole world.

In the end, we think Martha realized we were who we were, and she did not blame us for not wanting what she wanted for us.  When I called her "Maestra", or "Amiga" -

"No," Martha said.  "Sisters.  Hermanas." 

Manolo agreed.  "Hermanos."

No matter what we called each other, the most important was the love we had for each other.  Martha and Manolo will forever be our respected teachers, dearer to us than even family.

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