Walking in tango: a look at the possibilities

I spend a LOT of time in my classes trying to explain how to walk naturally. I teach what my tango teachers in Buenos Aires call "normal" tango embrace/walk (follower slightly offset, each person on their own axis, with each person walking their own straight line) that is foreign to students of other teachers in my town (who teach open embrace, leaning-styles of close embrace, and various other things).

When I go to Buenos Aires, I almost never have to argue about "how" I am going to dance with another person. We agree by cabeceo, we adjust to each other's styles, and it works most of the time. What part of this system is not working in the United States?

The right way?

I think that most people here think there is only one right way to dance tango. They listen to their first teacher, and then argue with anyone who suggests alterations to their dance. In Buenos Aires, everyone knows that there are tons of different styles, and there is more of an attempt to find your own dance, rather than "the right dance."

I have chosen the style that I teach because I believe it is the easiest style of tango in terms of body wear and tear. I want to dance tango until I die, not until I need back surgery. I want to dance all night, not until my feet hurt. As a student of anatomy, I constantly try to find the best ways to help people find their own body, feel how it works, and then use that knowledge to make their own dance. It's about ease of movement and body health; if you want to then go do a style that is hard on the body, that is an educated decision that you are free to make.

What village are you from?

As a folk dancer, we have a joke when we learn a new variation of a dance: "What village are you from?!?" We all know that there are tons of variation in the folk tradition, and we accept that for the most part.

In tango, it's a question of what neighborhood your teacher came from; or what teacher formed their dance. I have danced all over Buenos Aires and studied with people from a lot of different neighborhoods. According to reactions from elderly men in Buenos Aires, I appear to have learned styling that places me anywhere from Villa Devoto to Belgrano to Villa Urquiza.

For most of us who did not grow up in Buenos Aires, we have taken what we know of Argentine Tango from whatever sources we could. I am lucky that I spent a lot of time dancing with the old guys twenty years ago, and got the feeling of their dance into my body. What village am I from? From the one where you get a master's in dance and study anatomy and kinesiology AND hang out with old guys in milongas.

My maestros

Here are some of the people I have studied with to give YOU inspiration and help you see how I have built my own dance.

Omar Vega--milonga

Omar was one of my main milonga teachers in Buenos Aires. He was never one to follow the rules, so you will see some crazy things on his videos, but getting to be his assistant in milonga class formed my milonga. I would follow him as he showed moves, and then switch to leading in the class. The guys in class were very open to me leading, and provided a lot of encouragement. The women were willing to dance with another woman and the chance to study weekly gave me homework for going dancing.

 

Jose Garofalo--milonga

I learned a lot about milonga from Jose Garofalo. His classes were relaxed and enjoyable. Private lessons with him were the best: because he is such a fabulous follower, he would take what I did wrong and expand upon it in a hilarious manner--until I fixed it. Because he is an inventive leader, I have to be super-focused when dancing with him: he doesn't just follow a fixed pattern, and I never know what will come out of that incredible 30-year-tango memory! I couldn't find a video of him doing milonga except with me, so here it is:

Tete Rusconi--vals and tango

Tete was my main vals teacher. He gave me a lot of flack for leading in his classes, but I learned a lot from him. Skip the first 1:30 or so of this video where they introduce him if you don't speak Spanish. I like this dance because it is very sweet and balanced, with a lot of poetry in the musicality--and because it shows his tango, not his vals. I enjoyed dancing with him.

Oscar Mandagaran--milonga, tango and vals

Oscar was the teacher of my Argentine boyfriend, who dragged me to a class in an apartment where I was the only foreigner. I studied with him on and off for many years. Watch this video of us dancing on a crowded plywood stage out on the street in Buenos Aires. You can see a lot of what I try to teach people to do! Just skip ahead past all the stuff about the photographer!

 

Julio Balmaceda and Corina de la Rosa--tango and vals

Julio and Corina taught classes in La Galeria where I went to take classes. They are no longer together, but Corina is a powerhouse of a follower who I hope to emulate someday. Check out their vals here, which is one of my favorites to watch and rewatch. Notice they almost never walk in front of each other: when he does step in front of her, he does not invade her space, but is using it to prepare for another movement.

 

OK, there are a BUNCH more people who have inspired and taught me, but that's enough for this week!

Falling in love with Buenos Aires

As Al told me when I met with him pre-tour to get a sense of what kind of experience he wanted from my tour: "I probably won't ever go there a second time, so I want to see some sights. I don't care if I dance a lot." Right from the start, part of his tour fell through when another member of the group decided not to go to Iguazu Falls, and that got cancelled. But Al persevered, and found plenty to do! Here you have his own words:

Notes from the tour

Buenos Aires. There was so much more to my visit than tango and milongas. I can start with saying I fell in love with Bs As. Don't ever think of it as a third world place. It's definitely different from here. Especially NOW with this freezing weather. The climate is subtropical and was just approaching summer south of the equator. I don't know about anyone else, but I didn't have any experience with mosquitos and I didn't use any repellants. And humidity wasn't a problem for me even in the Tigre delta. Or out in the pampas at the estancia. The weather was perfect, sunny and warm.

The Palermo barrio where we stayed was a great neighborhood, akin to the Pearl in Portland. I had most of my meals outdoors at sidewalk cafes and restaurants. The food was great and the portions were not skimpy. I had a difficult time finding a lite meal.

As for the milongas, I need to practice my cabeceo. It's nothing like in Portland where everybody is mixed together. Men on one side of the dance floor and women on the other side. Not being prepared, I didn't get to dance as much as I would have liked. And watching the Argentines tango was eye opening. It seemed as natural to them as breathing. Or walking down the street. And milongas seemed to be available everyday from afternoon to late night. I particularly enjoyed the outdoor milongas: la Glorieta in Belgrano, and La Milonga Gran Nacional in Avenida de Mayo.

Transportation was no problem. I even managed to learn how to get around on the subway (yes, they have a subway system) by myself. Cabs are plentiful and not hard at all to get. However, their sidewalks could use more maintenance. They are uneven and broken up in places. I walked a lot and there were street fairs all over the place, it seemed in every neighborhood, every few blocks.

The biggest drawback was the economy. I wasn't prepared for that. The inflation rate is 40% and some places wanted to be paid in US dollars and not Argentine pesos. However, I had no problems using my credit card or debit card for making withdrawals from ATMs once I figured it out. But once I got back to the US, I couldn't get my leftover pesos exchanged. They wouldn't take Argentine pesos because of the volatile exchange rate. So if you go, spend all of your pesos before you leave.

Prices there are reasonable. As I told everyone, should I ever hit the lotto or Publisher's Clearing House (LMAO), I would definitely have a winter home there. I don't imagine that would be a problem for rich people. I could go on and on, but I have things to do. So, hasta luego, todos.

Milonga reviews, Buenos Aires 2016

This is a collection of short reviews by the different members of the group. I did not attend all of the milongas with them, so I asked the dancers to send me short bits I could post as a collage of our experiences. All in all, we covered quite a bit of turf, especially among the afternoon milongas and practicas.

El Abrazo Tango Club

  • Location: El Beso, Riobamba 416
  • Fridays, 2:30-8 PM (lesson 1 PM)
  • Entrada: 80 pesos
  • FB page

This is a low-key venue with a nice intimate feel. The level of dancing is modest. I arrived early and was seated by the friendly hosts in an auspicious corner with good sight-lines. But really, the venue is so small, it would have been pretty easy to make eye contact from any table (at least with my glasses on). The mix seemed to be about 60% porteñosand 40% foreign tango tourists. This is a good place to get your feet wet, as it has a more casual feel than the bigger traditional milongas. (Stevyn)

Milonga After Office

  • Location: El Beso, Riobamba 416
  • Mondays, 3-8 PM (lesson 1:30-3 PM)
  • Entrada: 100 pesos for class and milonga (water 30 pesos)
  • FB page

This was my favorite milonga overall. I went there twice. I liked the instruction at the lessons. The place was tourist friendly. The seating arrangements were made with the intention of getting people to dance. I danced with ladies from all over the globe: Germany, Switzerland, Russia, Japan, Brazil and of course, several porteñas. The teacher, who acted as hostess during the milonga, was active in getting people dancing. At one point she suggested that I dance with a porteña who was not getting asked. I did and it was a good dance. Hopefully, some of the other gents saw her dance and kept her busy the rest of the milonga. As I had to leave for the airport to go home, I don't know how that went for her. (Larry)

Milonga de los Consagrados

  • Location: Centro Región Leonesa, Humberto Primo 1462
  • Saturdays, 4:30-11:30 PM (lesson 3:30-4:30 PM)
  • Entrada: 80 pesos for milonga
  • FB page

This is my favorite milonga to attend in Buenos Aires because I have been going to this venue since 1999, and dancing with some of the same guys for that long, too! For me, it's more of a social event than other milongas because I know so many people. I had my best tanda here both this year and last year (with the same guy). Last year, I had a blockbuster 6 hours of dancing without stopping evening here; this year, because I was with a group, I left a lot earlier. I enjoy having folklore, tropical and swing sets during the evening, so this is a good venue for me. (Elizabeth)

The ceiling fans were quite loud. It was a problem for the lesson, making it hard to hear the instructor, but not for the milonga. The class was good and the teacher invited the students to sit at her table. She was even kind enough to dance a tanda with me at one point in the evening. At the end of the second song, she deemed me to be a milonguero! I got so flustered that I completely screwed up the third song. I found it relatively easy to get dances with cabeceo and had several very good partners during the milonga. It was good that I've learned to dance in small spaces. (Larry)

I was uncomfortable in this venue and did not dance much. The music was too loud for my sensitive hearing, and the "air conditioning" (fans) was uncomfortably strong. The lighting was initially so low that I could not make eye contact. It got better later, but by then I was out of energy. (Stevyn)

Nuevo Chique

  • Location: San José 224, Casa Galicia
  • Tuesdays and Thursday, lesson 2-4 PM, dancing 4-11 PM
  • Entrada: 80 or 85 pesos (I have forgotten!)
  • FB page

This was my first experience dancing in Argentina. I was a little disappointed in that many of the dancers were tourists. However, that led to connections that made dancing at other venues easier. The length of the hall was a little hard to work. I mostly danced with the ladies directly across from me that I could make eye contact with. It was hard to connect with the women in the back seating area unless I got up and was "passing through the area." It was a good get-your-feet-wet dance. (Stevyn)

I often suggest Nuevo Chique as a place to dance for new dancers or people new to Buenos Aires. The level is definitely not super-high, but that means that intermediate dancers will be able to get dances. Also, the average age for afternoon milongas is a bit higher, so it's a good venue for older dancers as well. I had wanted to dance with my husband, but we were not in each other's sight lines. I had worried that he would not get dances, but he danced a lot; so I didn't need to worry about it. (Elizabeth)

La Viruta

  • Address: Armenia 1366
  • Days: Larry went Thursday night, but dancing most nights
  • Thursdays: 6:30-midnight classes, practica midnight- 4 am
  • Cost: includes class and practica

The first place I went was a late night practica at La Viruta. It was a total bust. I couldn't get anyone to dance with me. I was quite concerned that this would be the norm in Argentina. Happy to say this was not the case. (Larry)

El bailongo de la Glorieta

  • Location: Echeverría 1800, in the park at the bandstand
  • Time: Class from 7-8:15, dancing 8-11:30 PM
  • Days: Dancing happens here a lot, but we went on a Wednesday
  • Cost: seemed to be by donation

I had not been to La Glorieta since 1999. It is mostly the same, but I enjoyed the warm summer weather, as I used to go in the winter, all bundled up! They put everyone's belongings in the center of the floor and danced around them; a good way to avoid theft! (Elizabeth)

This is a beautiful outdoor venue. It is like the one in the Peninsula Park Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon, but much larger. The sound was good, the floor was good and the dancers were willing to dance. I had probably the best dance of the trip with a lovely dancer from Buenos Aires. She tried to say I had a good ear for the music, but she couldn't think of the word in English (haha). (Larry)

La Marshall

  • Location: Riobamba 416 (El Beso)
  • Fridays, class 10:30, dancing 11:30
  • Cost: 90 or 100 pesos (can't remember!)
  • FB page

This is a wonderful late night venue, mostly queer, with a surprisingly good mix of both gay men and lesbian women, but obviously welcoming to all comers.  The level of dance was high and a bit intimidating, but I really enjoyed myself and look forward to going again. (Jessica)

I went to the lesson with Jessica, and stayed for the milonga. There were only five women, and I danced with all but one of them. Last year, there was a lot of dancing between the men and the women, but not this year. Because no one is entirely sure who is dancing with whom, cabeceo is really difficult at this venue (Are you leading? Following? Both? confusing). The lesson was good: there were total beginners up to advanced dancers, and Augusto managed to provide a two-level lesson, with additional things to try for those of us who were advanced; I know as a teacher how challenging that is, so good work! (Elizabeth)

Muñecas Bravas (Laboratorio femenino de tango)

  • Address: Tucumán 3428 (La Maleva)
  • Mondays, 5-8 PM
  • FB page

This is a very special fun event and hands down my favorite. It is a very small afternoon venue, 10-15 women, with a focus on exchanging lead and follow. It was very friendly, with shared mate during brief rests in between lots of dancing and a ton of fun. (Jessica)

 

Canal Rojo Tango (Salon Canning)

  • Address: Av Raúl Scalabrini Ortiz 1331
  • Wednesdays, 4 PM - 1 am
  • Entrada: I forget :-) I think it was 80 pesos

I went to Salon Canning twice. The second time I went to Canal Rojo with my wife and I was able to get dances after she left to go to the opera. (Larry)

I went to Canal Rojo after a few friends reminded me that they had not seen me at Canning yet this year. Although we left early to go to another venue, it was fun to go and dance for a few hours. The level is definitely lower than it used to be, but I think it's because the guys I know are aging and have less mobility than before. One guy I had met at Los Consagrados this year, came and grabbed me for a few tandas of really nice music and those were my best dances of the afternoon. The woman sitting next to me wanted to talk about the political situation in Argentina to the extent that I finally left, because I couldn't cabeceo and hold a conversation at that speed and complexity in Spanish, at the same time. (Elizabeth)

 

La Gran Milonga Nacional

  • Location: on Avenida de Mayo, between Avenida 9 de Julio and the Casa Rosada
  • Cost: free!
  • Three stages of live music, tango performances, etc.

We went over later in the evening. The venues were far enough apart to keep the sound separate. The dance floor space was very limited, but I did get a dance with Elizabeth on the asphalt. There is video so it did happen. LOL. I really enjoyed some of the orchestras, but it was the kind of place that you probably had to bring your own partner if you wanted to dance. (Larry)

I went over to the festival earlier in the evening with my husband. We listened at the various stages, and danced in the street together. I returned later in the evening with some of the other dancers and did some more dancing. Unlike other years, I didn't go up on the stage to dance; because the other women didn't want to dance, I couldn't dance with all the guys at once ;-) (Elizabeth)

Parakultural (Salon Canning)

  • Location: Av Raúl Scalabrini Ortiz 1331.
  • Tuesdays, 7-9 & 9-11 PM, classes; dancing 11 PM - 4 AM.

I went by myself and I couldn't get a dance, but the class was good. (Larry)

I went to a very cliquey milonga yesterday at Salon Canning. It was still fun. The women and the dresses were gorgeous, the skill level was very high. I took the class prior for intermediate and advanced dancers and it was tough but fun! I only danced with [the friend of a friend who took me there]. I certainly tried to cabeceo others, but guys were avoiding prolonged eye contact with me. I still enjoyed the people watching. (Felicita)

 

 

Buenos Aires Tango Tour: designed for YOU!

Not your normal tango tour!

This is not your normal group tango tour! This tour is designed for people who don’t want to go to Buenos Aires alone, but don’t want to be shackled to a group 24-7. As folks are signing up, I am incorporating their requests into my plan. If you want to go everywhere together in a group, this is probably not the right choice for you. If you are more adventurous, or looking for something really special, this is for you.

This tour will be limited to twelve people. I feel that you deserve quality work from me, and that means individual attention and help. One spot has already been reserved. There is no minimum number of people: we are going!!

What do YOU want to do in Buenos Aires?

I have been going to Buenos Aires since 1999. Those visits have provided me with a lot of local information, friends, contacts, knowledge of the dance scene, and love for the city. I am putting all of that experience to work for YOU!

This is a tour tailored to your personal goals for Buenos Aires:

·        Do you want to dance every day/night? I can help you choose the best places for you to dance, based on your level, your dance goals, etc., and help you make reservations to get decent seating.

·        Do you want to find group or private tango lessons? I will help you make appropriate choices, get you there, and even help you locate a practice partner/dance partner if you want one.

·        Do you want a “taxi dancer” (Buenos Aires dancer who accompanies you to milongas)? I have several good sources for great folks who won’t cheat you on prices.

·        Do you want to see the sights? I will organize daily excursions to fun places that you can choose to do, or do your own thing. I will also be organizing trips to folk dancing, museums, Teatro Colon, and other cool places you don't want to miss!

·        Do you want a Spanish tutor? I will find one for you!

·        Do you want to a cultural exchange? My friend (who is an English professor) is coordinating with me to give her students chances to practice English, while YOU get a native tour guide around the city.

·        Do you want to shop until you drop? I can aim you in the right direction, go to shoe stores with you and translate for you, etc. The “outlet mall” area and wholesale district are nearby!

The dates: Dec. 2-12

I am timing the tour to coincide with the National Day of Tango is December 11 (Carlos Gardel’s birthday). To celebrate, they hold a huge street party between the Congress building and the Casa Rosada (the president’s house), with live bands, dancing in the street and performances. I went in 2012 and 2015, and had fun both times. As it occurs right before summer solstice, everyone is out celebrating the start of summer as well. If you want to come a day early, or stay after the tour, etc., that is up to you; the dates can be semi-flexible.

Cost

Last year, I spent two weeks in Buenos Aires, researching hotels, locating the best current milongas, trying out teachers, and finding a good neighborhood for us to stay. I will be available 24-7 during your ten days in Buenos Aires, as well as making shoe shopping trips, milonga excursions, etc. available each day for you! It’s a lot of work, but I am excited to share my favorite city and dance with all of you, and I want you to have the best possible experience of Buenos Aires, so that you want to go back on your own!

The cost is $1200/person for my services during the trip, my pre-planning, and any individual scheduling and help that you need before and during the trip. You will pay the hotel, airfare, food, tango shoes etc., on your own.

If cost is an issue, please talk to me before deciding not to go.

Flights

I usually fly through Houston, as that is the fastest flight time. Usually, Economy is fine. However, I suggest that you DO NOT buy Economy on the United Dreamliner: I upgraded to Economy Plus on the way home, which was OK. I know some of the people planning to go have miles saved on various airlines. I willmake sure you get from Ezeiza Airport to the hotel, but it's up to you to get to Argentina :-)

Visa

There is no visa needed to visit Argentina as a tourist for under 90 days, BUT it is now required that you pay a reciprocity fee before leaving the USA. Luckily, this is much easier than it used to be. You can buy it via the Argentine Embassy online. The cost is $160 USD, and it is good for ten years. You will need proof of buying your visa in order to board the plane to Argentina. Lots of information is available from the U.S. government online.

Airport transport

I will make sure you get picked up at the airport by a reliable person. If you can arrange to fly at the same time as someone else, you can split the cost. It cost $45 in 2015, and will probably be about that. You can pay in dollars or pesos.  I will also set up your return trip to the airport when you leave, unless you prefer to do so yourself.

The hotel

I will be staying at 5 Cool Rooms in Palermo. I suggest you also make reservations at 5 Cool Rooms (Honduras 4742, C1414BJV Buenos Aires, Argentina) via Expedia or another travel website. It is air-conditioned, has free breakfast (which can be gluten-free), a Jacuzzi and 24-hr. front desk security. It is near Starbucks for those of you who need your American hit of home (& second free WiFi spot). We can walk to 5-6 milongas in the neighborhood. There is a gluten-free restaurant/bakery nearby, and tons of little restaurants! If you prefer something more exclusive (there are some very lovely, very expensive hotels nearby) or something cheaper (AirBnB), I can help you make good choices about locations.

Next year: come with me to Buenos Aires!

Next December, I will be returning to Buenos Aires, but not by myself. I am organizing a tour.

 

Why a tour?

I have lived in third world countries and traveled by myself to several continents. I am not brave by nature, but I have found that buying a non-refundable ticket prevents me from freaking out and cancelling my trip. I have been lucky to have had many opportunities to step out of my comfort zone.

I studied in Germany during college, and traveled around Europe by myself afterwards. I found that I could survive on my own (even if I mainly ate tangerines, cheese, bread & chocolate as a poor student). Starting off with a group and studying German, gave me a focus and some practice before I headed off alone.

I signed up for Peace Corps on a whim, and spent two beautiful years in Morocco. Again, being with a group, receiving orientation and language training, and knowing that, if anything bad happened, someone would help me get home--helped me on an adventure that I would not have tried alone.

I traveled to Buenos Aires for the first time in 1999. I went alone, but I knew several people who would be there. A friend picked me up at the airport and let me stay overnight until I found a pension. Another friend went to milongas and classes with me until I felt more relaxed.

I returned to Buenos Aires on my own, and then ventured to England and Spain by myself. Now I tend to travel by myself, but going with groups and then with a helping hand, aided my globetrotting.

I learn languages easily, which helps me meet people during my travels: if you like to talk as much as I do, not being able to communicate is way more frustrating than tripping through a new language. It has helped me meet new friends on each trip I have taken.

Many people are hesitant to venture into a new place by themselves. Whether it is a language barrier, a preference to travel with other people, food issues--it can be scary to just into an adventure alone. Going with a group of people can ease the stress of a new place, giving you more time to enjoy your trip.

Why with me?

I love this city! I love these people! I love tango!

I have now been to Buenos Aires seven times. This tour will be my eighth trip to the city.

This city is mine! The first day I spent in Buenos Aires, I just walked around all day, feeling at home. This city runs the same speed that I do. Each time I visit, I try out new milongas, go to new cultural events, walk to new neighborhoods, and have new adventures. There is always something new to do in such a large place. I don't get bored.

Having lived in the third world, when things don't go smoothly in Buenos Aires, I can stay calm. The lights go out in the milonga because too much energy is powering the air conditioners? No problem! Let's go to a different milonga! The bus doesn't come, and then four come in 5 minutes? Yes, that's how it always is, so let's walk! The subway is inexplicably closed? OK, it's taxi time. This is not the first world in some ways, so a sense of humor is needed when things go awry, but I am used to it.

I want to foster a love of the city, of tango, in you. I would love it if you use this as a first step to traveling alone! I am not trying to build a group who will need me to take them every year :-) I hope this will help you explore things that would be too scary on your own (or more fun with me!).

December 2016: put it on the calendar!

For those of you who have been reading my blog, you will know that I just got back from a few weeks in Buenos Aires, which were for the sole purpose of setting up the tour in 2016. I have group classes set up, a hotel, cultural exchange with students who want to practice English, connections to set up Spanish tutors for those who want to polish their language, a list of places to visit, and a bunch of fun milongas to go to, either together or in small groups.

I have helped dozens of people prepare for their first trips to Buenos Aires. Now it's time to TAKE people there myself. If you want to have fun, go somewhere with someone who absolutely loves that place. The enthusiasm rubs off.

I am only taking 8-12 people with me. I am still figuring out the pricing, but I am aiming to make it as cost-effective as possible. I hope this weekend to sit down and hammer out the details more fully, so that you know what to expect. The plan is December 1-14, perhaps leaving the last day of November to make a full two weeks in Argentina.

Come with me!

 

La Gran Milonga Nacional 2015

I missed part of the Gran Milonga because I went . . . to a different milonga first! It looked like rain, and everyone said, "Oh, too bad, the milonga in Avenida de Mayo won't happen this year." So I made a backup plan: go back to Los Consagrados for a few hours, then see if the weather cleared up. The milonga was really empty compared to normal: some people had bet on the weather being better than I expected, and were off dancing outside.

Five hours later, I staggered out of Los Consagrados, having danced more than enough. That place is really good for my ego. On the way out, three men stopped me to ask my why I hadn't looked at them, and wouldn't I like to do one more tanda? Ah, fame.

Kent, Sara and I went to La Continental for a quick dinner because all three of us had just danced for about five hours. Then, we headed out to the milonga in the street around midnight. There were not that many people, but it HAD started four hours before (oops!), and the rain had only sprinkled, so nothing had been cancelled after all.

We listened to a few singers, did silly Rudolph Valentino imitations in the street, and then danced a bit. However, the choice of pavement or plywood stage, after hours of dancing on a really good floor, made us choose to only dance a little bit and to listen more. I joked that my minute of fame up on the stage in 2012 was enough for me!

However...

Next year, Portland, let's go wreck our shoes out there at the street milonga!!! Have I got a tour planned for you, and we will be out there dancing!

My video editing skills are still super-beginner, so please forgive the strange glitches :-)

A nice salesperson makes all the difference

Neotango vs. 4 Corazones

4 Corazones

  • Av. Callao 257 , Piso 3, Dpt. A

I went to 4 Corazones because the ladies at Neotango suggested that it as a place to find tango clothes for us middle-aged, middle-sized people. They seem about my age, and about my size, but I don't think they dance tango. I have since checked with women I know in Buenos Aires who dance tango, and they agree that only tourists would spend as much as the tango stores charge for clothing; they just buy nice things they find in regular stores.

4 Corazones is nicely laid out, with two dressing rooms and a pretty salesgirl. I told her what I was looking for (matching tops and skirts, which I prefer for teaching). No, we don't have that. Well, can I see what you do have? She showed me a few skirts and some tops that were not anything like what I wanted. I picked up a much more conservative, pretty top, and asked to try it on in size 3 or 4. No, we only have size 1 and 2. Nothing "big" in that style.

Well, what DO you have in size 3 or 4? "I don't know." Well, what about in dresses? I picked out a few nice ones. "No, we only have that in small," she told me. She did find one dress that was big enough to fit that was pretty, and I bought it despite her attitude because it fit perfectly.

I wear a size 8 in the USA, so although I am not small, I am not large either. I asked her where tango dancers who are bigger go, because not all the Argentine women are teeny, skinny folk like her. She shrugged and walked off. "You will have to look around." No *^#%. That's what I have been doing.

I am not going back there. Ever.

Neotango

  • Sarmiento 1938
  • 10:30 am - 7 PM Monday-Friday; 11 am - 4 PM Saturday

I went back to Neotango to tell the ladies what had happened. and tried on the clothing that had seemed too small before. I found a lovely dress that I bought. It was a bit over my budget, but I appreciate their smiling, cheerful help. What other store would have suggested other stores? Nice people.

 

More sightseeing in Buenos Aires

Recoleta Cemetary

  • Address: Junin 1760
  • Hours: 8 am to 6 PM (each website said something slightly different, but this is close)

I don't know why I like this place so much, but I tend to go every time I am in Buenos Aires. It was beautiful on Sunday. I went early, so there were almost no people. Just beautiful. It did seem strange to be walking around in 90 degree weather, listening to the churchgoers singing Christmas hymns. I have spent three Decembers in Buenos Aires, and I am still not used to Christmas being in summer.

20151213_125356.jpg

 

Centro Cultural Kirchner

Entrada: Free.

Hours: 2-8 PM Thursday-Sunday.

Tours: Thursdays 3-6 PM, every half hour; Fri-Sun. 2:15-6 PM, every 15 minutes. The tour takes about one hour. There seem to be huge numbers of workers available to direct you to get tickets, find the bathroom, follow the tour, try to answer questions, and lurk in groups in corners.

My friend, Silvana, and I met at the new cultural center. It was the central post office for 90 years, and just opened this year as a cultural center. All the activities are free to the public, so check out the website to plan when you want to go. It's pretty impressive. It was worth going on the guided tour, so I suggest doing that.

 

The building is on the historical buildings register, so they returned it to its former beauty. It reminds me of East Coast train stations: beautiful windows, marble, wood, careful craftsmanship.


The back section, ten floors high, has been gutted, and completely remodeled. Suspended in the center is La Ballena Azul (The Blue Whale), a state-of-the-art concert hall with incredible acoustics. It is so large that I couldn't find a way to photograph all of it from where we were allowed to go.

This next picture shows how large this building really is. The bluish structure at the top is called La Lampera (The Lantern), and houses an art gallery. The large mesh thing below it, is the outside of La Ballena Azul. This inside is the photo above this.

 

You can get free tickets online for concerts, according to our guide. Three disgruntled tour participants told the tour guide that they were unable to do so. Tip from the guide: when you can't get tickets online, come down the day of the concert, stand in line, and pick up tickets that people have not claimed. Apparently, there are always unclaimed tickets.

 

Good restaurant in Puerto Madera: La Parolaccia

 

  • Address: Pierina Dealessi 260
  • Salad with seafood on top (146 pesos), Caesar salad with chicken (125 pesos), 2 coffees & table setting charge: 400ish pesos

We were starving by the time that we finished going through the cultural center, so we headed to nearby Puerto Madero to eat. This is NOT my part of town: our lunch cost what a steak, salad and glass of wine cost in Almagro. However, it was air-conditioned on a very hot day; and although I couldn't eat most of the food because it is an Italian restaurant specializing in pastas, other people's food looked marvelous. The assortment of breads that I couldn't eat looked marvelous, and Silvan said the flatbread was still hot when it came to the table. The waiter was bored, as it was after the usual lunch hour, and chatted with us. He brought us complementary limoncellos, perhaps because we were so friendly? Ah, it's fun to be female in Buenos Aires :-)

Puerto Madero was being built back in the late 90s when I started coming to Buenos Aires. It is so strange to me to see tons of ritzy hotels, huge skyscrapers and restaurants, a yacht club, etc., where it was abandoned land. I agree with Silvana that it's not right that the coast area does not belong to all of the people, but instead is private property.


La Marshall: relaxed milonga and great performance!

  • Riobamba 416
  • Entrada: 80 pesos (including the lesson)
  • Bottle of water: 28 pesos

"Celebrating 12 years of the milonga. Dance performance by Augusto Balizano & Claudio González."

La Marshall is one of the gay milongas. There is a mix of young gay men, older women in couples, and people who like to switch lead and follow. Note to the Portlanders: the Lumbersexual style has hit Buenos Aires, but I only saw it at La Marshall: full beards, suspenders, work jeans and checked shirts!

The dance performance was FABULOUS! Two excellent dancers, good choreography, and very touching as a theatre piece. Two seemingly old guys, shuffle out on stage, take quite a while to adjust themselves, figure out who is leading, etc., and then dance a tango in the grotesque tradition: moves just slightly out of control or staggering, catching themselves at the last minute from falling, etc. I know how hard it is to dance like stiff old men when you are a good dancer, so this was impressive.

THEN, when I thought it was over, they played a romantic song that several of the guys (the lumbersexuals) next to me sang along to, with a chorus about remembering a year of love. While the music played, the dancers took most of their clothing off, wiped the old-guy makeup off, and put stretchy muscle tees on.

And THEN they danced an incredible, acrobatic duet. WOW. Lifts, boleos, lightening fast turns. WOW. As a dancer, I know how much work went into that choreography. It looked seamless, beautiful, and muscular at the same time. It didn't seem just sewn together like a lot of tango performances do to me. I'll just keep saying WOW.

 

Why are all the Tshirts here in English?

Looking for a shirt in Spanish...

OK, a few shirts I saw today were in Spanish, but most were in English. Some examples:

  1. Love me!
  2. It's only Rock 'N Roll but I like it
  3. Brooklyn
  4. Married to the mob

And the winner is...

And my favorite today? Standing in a bank line a full block long:

IN [blank space] WE TRUST

I think that just about sums up what Argentines have told me about life here. Especially with a change in government coming, there is a gallows humor about the economic situation that makes this the perfect shirt for today.

Perhaps problems are just more open here

Bank Lines

With the four-day weekend/holiday, everyone was out of pesos by today. The banks were out of pesos on the weekend, and everyone was desperate to get cash. There were waiting lines at all the banks and places that changed money. In fact, some places weren't marked as cambios, but the lines outside gave them away.

We don't have an unofficial exchange rate in the USA, so I'm not sure what this could correspond to. It reminds me of the lines at gas stations in the 70s, and only being able to fill our car with gas on odd-numbered days. I was really little, but that memory has stuck in my head.

Police

Last night on the way to the milonga in the rain, I passed a circle of policemen, surrounding an older man who was on his knees on the ground. At first, I wondered if he was ill, It was not clear at all what was going on, but everyone passed the scene as if nothing was happening. It felt really scary to me.

One taxi driver told me that the police just help the mafia, and that he had been threatened at the airport to leave a certain area by the police and the mafia.  He said, "The police are supposed to provide public safety, not mafia safety." As I walked away, I kept worrying about the guy on the ground. You don't need seven policemen to deal with one person.

As is obvious by what has been happening in the United States with the police, perhaps here there is just a wider swath of the population who distrust the motives of "public safety" officers. Here, it's probably going to be a long time before police have car or visor cameras.

Crony-ism

According to a friend, the day that Macri won, the stock in one of his friend's companies rose by 8%, and the other stocks declined about 10%. "Everyone knows who is going to benefit from this government," he said. "The people already knew it on the day Macri won."

But this happens in the USA as well, whether we are willing to admit it. If (goddess forbid) Trump becomes the next president, I could see exactly the same scenario happening all over the place. Of course, I'll be moving to Canada (it's going to be crowded).

 

Food, tango shoes and dancing: who needs more?

Life is GOOD gluten-free

Sintaxis

 

  • Nicaragua 4849
  • Totally gluten-free restaurant, with goodies and bread for carryout

I had scrambled eggs with sundried tomatoes. It came with two (small) slices of bread, and a selection of cheese: swiss, blue, and something else. The breakfast specials are served until noon, and come with a drink. I had a wonderful cafe con leche, my first coffee in over a year. Yum! It didn't look like much food, but I realized after I felt full, that comparing it to traveling in Texas last week was silly: Texas meals were MUCH too large.

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. I have the list of when they are open over the weekend and for the holidays (Monday and Tuesday are holidays), so that I can go back. It's a nice walk from where I am staying, 3-4 km., depending on how lost you get (I took the longer route because I became obsessed with documenting the new bike lanes).

The waiter seemed both surprised and pleased that I wanted his picture, so here he is:

 

El Ateneo

  • Av. Santa Fe 1860
  • Books, books, books!

I love bookstores, but this one takes the cake. You walk in, and you are in an old theatre, and it is FULL OF BOOKS. There are people drinking coffee on the old stage, and guys sipping tea in several of the old boxes near the stage. I love this place. I could have just moved in. Argentines seem to read a lot more than Americans. In seven visits to Buenos Aires, it took me until now to visit, but I plan to go back each visit after this!

 

Comme Il Faut shoes

  • Arenales 1239, staircase 3, Apt. M
  • translation: go all the way down this little street-like area, take the 3rd staircase on left, and go upstairs

I had never visited the store before, as I don't wear Comme Il Faut. However, a few friends asked for shoes, so I went to get shoes for them. It's a beautiful building.

 

 

I would say they were very friendly, but they were very business-like. I gave them my list, they found shoes in the right size, with the right height heel. They didn't have the colors that my friends wanted, but other shoes were suggested and bought. They ARE very Losshoes. If they came in wide enough styles for me, I might even get some; but my heart belongs to Neotango.

 

My feet hurt, but I'm happy

Milonga de los Consagrados

  • Centro Leonesa, Humberto Primo 1462
  • Saturdays at 4:30 PM
  • Entrada 60 pesos (does not include a drink)

I went to Los Consagrados because I agreed to meet people I knew for dinner afterwards. My hostess thought I was crazy to go there (pretty far, and most of the folks are older than I am). I had a great time: I danced for 5 1/2 hours without stopping. Each time I tried to stop, someone came up to my table to cabeceo me. In the end, I had to leave the room, put on my street shoes, and wait for my friends. I was just too tired to keep dancing.

I danced four tandas with a guy who finally confessed to 10 years of training and a certificate from the Dinzel's training school. Fabulous! We did tango, then milonga, then vals, then more milonga: heavenly! He made the entire evening for me. I wish I could remember his name. I hope his girlfriend isn't mad at me for hogging him.

I also got to dance chacarera with a good dancer. It was put in a tanda with paso doble, which I faked my way through. I did the tropical tanda (2 cumbias and a merengue) with a guy who openly told me he was faking it, but we had a blast.

What can I say? Life is good! I need to go to sleep, as it's 1:18 in the morning!

 

 This flowerstand was just beautiful to look at on such a lovely day, so I took a picture of it.   

This flowerstand was just beautiful to look at on such a lovely day, so I took a picture of it.

 


Notes from Gustavo and Giselle Anne's Portland workshop

It's been a long time

I have always respected Gustavo (La computadora) and his amazing ability to break movement down, reverse it, turn it inside out, and find new permutations. However, it has been a LONG time since I studied with him. The last time I studied with Gustavo was back in 2000 or 2001 in Buenos Aires. At the time, I was heavily into "open embrace" and the universe of tango that Gustavo and his group of compatriots were exploring. The feeling in the class was that this was the most extensive system of tango available. This was THE way to dance.

As I have transitioned into preferring close embrace, I left behind the open embrace teachers and moved on. From performance videos, it didn't look like Gustavo and Giselle Anne had changed their style, although they were really, really good at it. Dancing open just didn't excite me anymore.

Why would I return to the fold?

I would not have taken the workshop usually. I get a lot more out of private lessons than group lessons, and I didn't expect to enjoy myself. I took the workshop as a favor to the organizer, who is a friend of mine. I agreed to dance with someone who needed a partner, but not someone I usually dance with. I deeply questioned the expenditure: what would make a weekend worth almost $400?

Not just sitting on their laurels

What I liked best about the workshop, was that Gustavo and Giselle Anne looked at the embrace in a way they would never have done fifteen years ago. They looked at ALL the possibilities available. There was no "one" way to do the dance anymore.

Listening to them, I was impressed at how much their teaching had expanded and improved. As a teacher who constantly tries to get better at what I do, I often feel disappointed when I watch teachers repeat exactly the same lesson, year after year. I was excited to hear how they worked together as a dialogue (not the case back in the day). Here is a world-famous couple who deserve their position at the top.

We looked at open embrace, "regular" embrace (so nice to hear that what I teach would be considered regular!) and close embrace that does not allow the follower's hips to pivot: three kinds of embrace! We looked at how the embrace affects movement that we use in the dance: ochos, turns, sacadas, boleos, etc.

We also explored the other side of the embrace: what happens when you break the embrace? What goes away, but also, what moves are now possible? What if we reverse the embrace? How does that affect both steps and how you lead and follow? Gustavo is not if not exhaustive in his explorations, but that is my way too, so I enjoyed it.

Humor and history teach lessons

It felt great to have world-famous people say, "If you want to win the Mundial, don't take our workshop! The current fad of tango says you should do x, and we have looked at the dance and don't agree that this works best." Full disclosure of disagreement in the community, but with humor, felt really good.

Instead of the politics of Buenos Aires tango, I felt that Gustavo and Giselle Anne were offering 30 years of tango experience, backed up by what Gustavo saw and experienced as a young dancer in the 80's. I loved his stories of the development of tango and its moves, and how it has changed. That is much more valid to me than what one group of people think about "perfect" tango in 2015. The longer view works better, and is better for tango and the community in the long run. I can see how Gustavo and Giselle Anne have relinquished the "right now is best" and has grown into the fabric of the tradition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

To show off is human?

Today, one of my students said that he has urges to show off when folks are watching, and asked me how to stop being aware of others watching him dance. I know that that the tango politically correct answer would be somethinglike, "You should just focus on your partner, and not pay attention to the others in the room, except to navigate." After all, this is a social dance between two persons.

However, my first thought was, "Hmm, I know exactly what you are talking about!" We are all human and imperfect: I feel the urge to show off whenever I am passing one of my teachers at a table at a milonga, or when I know that a really good dancer is watching me. I want to impress that person, so that they want to dance with me, or are proud of my progress, or just to show off--and I am a self-conscious, shy person in general, who prefers to remain more in the background in most situations. Imagine if you are more outgoing!

So why is it a problem that we want to show off? After all, can't we also show our partner off and make them look good to attract other dance partners for them?  This doesn't have to be a purely selfish action. If we acknowledge that most of us can't stay only in the moment, focusing on only one thing/person for even a tanda, why does it matter if we think about a little showing off?

I think that the problem is that, usually, we mess up when we try harder. We get nervous about something, and our bodies tighten up. How many times have you thought, "Oh, [x] is watching, so I'll try something cool/fancy/harder," only to screw it up WHILE that person is watching? How embarrassing! I find myself thinking things like, "OK, just relax! Do NOT try to show off, just be cool. After all, this is about dancing with the partner I have right now and focusing on them. Focus! Do the right thing! Oops, I just messed up..."

Thinking about what my student asked made me realize why I prefer to dance in Buenos Aires instead of in my home community. I like the anonymity: no one knows I am a teacher; no one cares if I have status. I get to dance more than at home, because I am just some tourist. I can blend in, with my dark hair and medium height and clothing bought in Buenos Aires.

What is really silly about this, is that I know folks are watching me dance in Buenos Aires as well.  Women touch me on the shoulder and say, "Pretty feet!" after a good tanda.  Men obviously watch, because new people invite me to dance. But I don't feel the pressure to show off, and I don't feel as self-conscious. This may only be my experience, but I feel more permission both to relax, and to screw up, outside of my home community.

As a result, I have more memorable tandas in Buenos Aires; tandas that I will always remember, even if I can't remember the guy's name. Last year, there was that tanda with Hector (who I have only met once) at Sala Siranoush. The year before, it was a tango tanda (and a rocking chacarera) with Guillermo, my tango crush of the year. There was the great tanda with Juan the year before that, when we talked about life and how there are rocks in the road, in between sweet dances.

What does that say about showing off? When I am more relaxed, I show off less.  When I show off less, I invest more in my tandas. When I invest more in my tandas, I get more memorable tandas. Focusing on my partner, instead of showing off, makes for better tangos. If I dance for my partner, instead of for the tables, I will have a good time, and dance better. Showing off is human, but resisting the urge makes for stellar tango.

 

What is this "marca" thing?

When I started Argentine Tango in 1995, my first teacher told us that we didn't need to use our arms and hands to lead, just the chest.  He demonstrated by dancing around without using an embrace. We took this to heart, and copied him.

When I first went to Argentina in 1999, I noticed that a lot of the older milongueros DID use their hands and arms to lead me. When I asked some of the nuevo tango folks with whom I was studying whether this was right, they said the older guys didn't have good technique--and that's why they used their hands to help lead. I enjoyed following the older guys, and switched to going to afternoon milongas on my third visit to Buenos Aires, in order to dance with the older generation, but I didn't change much about how I led. It's funny that I didn't make any connection between the ease of following them and their technique!

I started studying with Oscar Mandagaran in 2000 while in Buenos Aires. He advocated an embrace that used chest, arms and hands as a unit, the "marca," to lead ("la marca" means "the lead"). However, it wasn't until 2008 that I converted to teaching people how to use the entire body to lead, not just the chest. When I organized for him and Georgina Vargas in the USA, he took me aside and demonstrated how much easier it was to follow complex moves if he helped me with a clear marca, rather than just moving his chest. The difference was so clear that I had to start relearning tango to dance better.

As a follower, I am sold on this precision that allows me to "let myself be led" rather than trying to figure out what the leader MIGHT want me to do.  As a leader, I like having the ability to help the follower arrive at the same place I do, with less work. To quote Oscar, "You don't want to use your hands and arms? Fine! Keep doing your four or five moves! If you want to do more, you need to help the woman understand what you want her to do!" There is a delicacy and a sublety about this way of leading that appeals to me, because it allows the fine details of tango music to come out, along with the improved connection between the dancers.

While new leaders (or leaders new to using this method of leading) can sometimes feel like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, pointing several directions at once, the end result is worth waiting for! It takes a while to figure out how to use the hands and arms to HELP the torso lead, rather than to have them take over, which is NOT a good marca. For those of you who are sure I am wrong, don't knock it until you give it a fair trial!

Food for thought: how can we improve the tango dance experience in our communities?

My last two nights of dancing in Buenos Aires are not happening: I caught a cold, and stayed home last night and tonight. I decided it was more important to try to get well than to squeeze more dance time out of my visit; especially as I don't like to give colds to other people!

Most people take vacations to relax. I usually come home from Buenos Aires more exhausted than when I left. Perhaps this time, I will be ready to jump back into life.

I always come home with a list of things that I want to change about my teaching, about my practica, and about the Portland tango community. As I have a young son, I don't travel much in the U.S. tango community, so I don't know whether these problems exist in other communities or not.

 

1.  Guys, let's dance with the women who aren't getting dances!

Maybe they are shy, or new, or lack the confidence to really accept a cabeceo (or don't know how to cabeceo!). What I've noticed this time in Buenos Aires that I never noticed before: There are nice guys here who dance with people who have been sitting down a long time. They are good dancers, but more importantly, they are GENTLEMEN. These guys don't just dance with their favorites, and they don't peacock around, showing off. They quietly make the milonga experience better, just by being nice. We could use more of this in our community.

 

2.  Ladies, let's accept at least one cabeceo from someone below our dance level every time we go dancing.

Although the foreigners I met were obsessed with getting good dances, the Argentine women with whom I sat, danced with their friends, no matter what level they were, and they had a lot more fun. I would like to see more of this friendliness towards the men in Portland, rather than the snooty attitude that occurs when women try to demonstrate how good they are by rejecting lower-level male dancers.

 

3. Let's get to know each other as people!

There was less of a feeling of competition between women when I sat at tables of Argentine women. Instead of trying to intercept cabeceos (and yes, I sat at a table of competitive foreigners who would lean in front of others to cut off their view of the men), Argentine women chatted with me. They directed my attention to better dancers with whom I might like to dance, and my best tanda of the entire visit came out of my table partner digging me in the ribs and saying, "Hey! Look! That guy who is a really good dancer, is looking at you! Look at him!!" I am happy to see that the women in my community are starting to meet outside of tango, and to make friendships, so that there is more camaraderie at the milongas. This is a good start.

 

4.  Let's introduce new people to our friends and ask our friends to dance with them!

As a teacher, I feel this is part of my duty to my students, but shouldn't everyone try to expand the feeling of community by including the new people more? That person might not dance well now, but maybe they will in the future. Or, perhaps they will never dance well, but they are a wonderful person who we want to stay in our community. Or, perhaps that person will become your best friend! Someone recently told me about a very difficult time in their live, when coworkers were unsupportive, but their tango community reached out to them. 

 

I guess my main point is: let's spread that tango love! We have a choice as to how we act, so let's start the New Year with a resolution to be better community members!

 

La Gran Milonga Nacional 2012

I took my dance class today, spent two hours doing a photo shoot, and then ate a LOT of home-cooked meat and a glass of wine: no milonga tonight!

However, instead of a milonga review, I have the first of the videos from the Gran Milonga Nacional ready! I danced with Santiago Asencio, another student of my teachers, Oscar Mandagaran and Georgina Vargas. Considering this is the first time we ever danced with each other (or met, for that matter), we did pretty well on a plywood stage where pivoting was difficult!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ppcq5lbMrLU?fs=1&feature=oembed] 

Stay tuned (someday) for the video that was taken of me dancing with Oscar!

 

Tomorrow, I am thinking of visiting the Feria de Mataderos with a friend. I promise lots of pictures if the weather is good and we go!