Back-saving tips for ballroom dancers starting Argentine Tango

I met a new Argentine Tango dancer this week. She is a ballroom dancer, and I found myself giving her the advice I always give people who start tango with a ballroom background. It occurred to me that it might be helpful for others who are coming over to the tango side of things.

I started teaching ballroom dance in 1986. When I started Argentine Tango in 1995, I had all of the same issues to fix that I work on with other dancers. I have been there myself!

Adjust the pelvis to save the back

Most ballroom dancers come to tango complaining of tight backs and inability to pivot constantly into turns and ochos. The fix: a different hip position to relax and free up the back!

Natural movement at the sacrum

A lot of dancers have been told to hold their hips completely straight. This is not how the body moves! As you shift weight from one foot to the other, the sacrum naturally rocks slightly from side to side, like a seesaw. This allows your head to balance over your feet efficiently.

If you hold your sacrum tight, that extra motion needs to come from somewhere, and other body parts (your back, your feet, your knees) take more pressure and get tired and sore. Let your pelvis move naturally, and you have more graceful movement and less work per step.

Try to find a new natural without exaggeration: with any new movement, you need to be careful not to overdo it.

Build slowly on your body's current abilities

The pelvic motion needed to maintain back health is not extreme. If your body says, "Ow!" pay attention. It may be that you are doing something you THINK is part of tango, but you misunderstood the teacher. Or, it may be that the motion needed is currently not something you can achieve in one leap.

I always encourage dancers coming from ballroom to take at least a few private lessons. A good teacher can evaluate whether or not you might benefit from some myofascial release, or chiropractic adjustment--or maybe just a bit of strength building in muscles that you haven't been using.

Recruit your abdominals for better pivots and less pain

Many people stand with their hips forward and their legs locked. While this may be useful for waiting in line somewhere, it is bad for movement. The back bears the brunt of the weight and the back muscles work a bit too hard.

In tango, it's really important to balance the front and back bodies out, so that pivoting and other movement around the spine is as easy as possible. To get your abdominals in gear, lift your belly button towards your back, adding abdominal tone. Look at some pictures of how your abdominal muscles help you rotate; visualize where they are and how they hug the body.

Make sure that you have a bit of a tip at the hip joint. You need to take pressure off of the ligament at the front of the hip. Yes, that takes more abdominal work than slouching into your hips. However, that little tip onto the point where your hips balance better on the leg, allows your spine and back muscles to get help from the front of the body.

Use these muscles for ballroom too!

By the way (if you haven't guessed already), I am a big fan of using these same muscles for ballroom dancing. I have never had a ballroom dancer come to study with me who did not find that their ballroom dancing also improved from their tango postural work. Once you get used to switching dance styles between ballroom and Argentine Tango, you will find that all the work you are doing in tango will pay off in other dancing.

 

 

Tips for good pivoting in Argentine Tango

Improving your pivots in tango makes a lot of moves easier. Ochos, turns, boleos, . . . the list goes on and on. Pivots are just as important for leading tango, but I have been focusing on making videos for followers to improve their own dance. It seems to me that many classes only focus on how to lead tango, leaving the followers to do the best they can with little information.

Build your body map

If you spend some time working just on the pivots, your moves will improve. Finding what muscles work in your body to make a good pivot, helps you build your own "body map" of how the body works. Then, if something is not working, YOU can detect and fix the problems. Having a good teacher is very important, but that person cannot follow your around the dance floor, pointing out when you have successfully done a move, or when you have made a mistake.

Take the time to work SLOWLY on your pivots. Feel how they work in your body. Focus on your feet, or your hips, or your abs, or whatever part you are working on. Once you have a good feel for that part, add it into your body map until you can see/feel how all the parts work together. For me, when it is working, I feel as if there is a fiber optic cable running through the focus points, lit up like a Christmas tree. When something is not working, one of those connect-the-dot spots fails to light up.

After many years of working on my body map, I can tune into it pretty easily, but it took a lot of work to get to this spot. Don't give up!

Video time!

Turn technique for followers: practice drills

Here is a short video on turn drills to help improve your tango turns. My FUNdamentals class asked me to video some of the exercises that I do, so that they can remember them outside of class :-) Sorry about the sound: I was fighting a cold and sounded horrible the day I shot the footage for the drills, so I gave up talking and just typed the information on the video.

It is much harder to practice by yourself than with a partner. First, it's easier to practice when someone else says, "OK, put on your shoes now and let's go!" Also, when you have a partner, you can hold onto them, and that makes getting around the corners easier than on your own. Lastly, I tend to practice longer when I have someone to talk to; it's hard to make yourself do more than a few songs.

Making the video made me do a lot more practice that day! I kept shooting video, looking at it, and then going back to do it again. I think I did turn drills for almost an hour before I got interrupted by my family! So maybe we should all just turn on the camera and go for it! It never looks good, by the way. I can see every one of the mistakes I made here. I hope that, by leaving them in, you can see that it's not about perfect, it's about practice.

Is dancing tango like speaking a foreign language?

I read the BBC online while drinking my morning tea. Today, there was a story about a study published by the University of Maastricht. The study found that you can speak a second language better with some alcohol in your system! According to the BBC, even though "alcohol diminishes concentration, cognitive skills and motor skills," the levels of anxiety are reduced because of the alcohol. Too much alcohol, and your new-found ability to speak that language again diminishes.

I found myself thinking about Las Naifas, the monthly milonga that Luisa Zini and I organize in Portland, Oregon. Despite having a lot of work to do to set up, run, and clean up from the milonga, I get the feeling that a lot of people have more fun and dance more at this milonga than at some of the bigger venues. The entrance price includes food and a drink, so many people have a glass of wine or another drink, as they arrive and start to dance.

Many of my beginner students have told me they danced better than they thought they would dance, especially given the small space we use. I have noticed that newer dancers tend to flee the scene after a short time at some milongas, but often stay for most of the milonga at Las Naifas. I wonder if tango learners, like language learners, lose some of their inhibitions with that glass of wine? Just something to ponder for today.

I personally do not dance better with half a drink in my system, but this article has raised some questions for me to think about as a teacher and dance organizer. What is your experience/opinion?

A month of vals: Tete, Ricardo, Pepito et al.

This month, my classes will focus on the vals.

I have studied with many people, but I spent the most time on vals with Tete Rusconi. He was not the best teacher; I don't think swearing at your students is a real motivator. However, if you could withstand the teasing, ridicule and boisterousness, you would come out the other end of classes with new ideas to try on the dance floor. His ability to swirl right and left, spin on a dime, and keep the fluidity of vals going, were all inspiring.

Pepito was reknowned for his mastery of milonga, but his moves work very nicely for vals as well. His students, who taught me, emphasized the ease of his movement; the way he played with syncopation; and his groundedness. We'll pick a few of his moves to add into Tete's.

Although I have studied very little with him, Ricardo Viqueira gave me some lessons a few years ago when I was shopping for a new teacher. We will work on some of the moves he taught me as well. "If you don't teach anything else to your students, you MUST teach them to use contrabody!!" he told me. It will come as no surprise that the secret to these moves is good contrabody. What's funny, is that I learned these from Tete as well, but had forgotten them!

So, groove, spin, syncopate and swirl over to the Om Studio, 14 NE 10h, PDX, for classes on Thursdays this November! The drawing for a free private lesson for this month will happen at 8 PM.

Learning tango the efficient way

The creative, the restless, and the driven are not content with the status quo, and they look for ways to move forward, to do things that others have not. And once a pathfinder shows how something can be done, others can learn the technique and follow.
— p. 206, Peak

I keep up with learning theory to help me learn to teach better. I recently read Anders Ericsson's and Robert Pool's book, Peak: Secrets from the new science of expertise, Mariner Books, 2017. Their aim is to share research that shows efficient ways to get to a higher level of expertise, without wasting time.  To save you time, I have summarized the book. All the information below is from the book (quotes as noted).

The reason that most people don’t possess . . .extraordinary physical capabilities isn’t because they don’t have the capacity for them, but rather because they’re satisfied to live in the comfortable rut of homeostasis and never do the work that is required to get out of it. They live in the world of “good enough.” The same thing is true for all the mental activities we engage in.
— p. 47, Peak

Deliberate practice vs. traditional learning

Traditional learning assumes you have a limit and trains you to (maybe) reach that potential. If you are trying to get "good enough" you don't need to push for peak excellence. You can take a few classes, go to practicas, and eventually feel competent on the dance floor. At that point, your dance is automatic and you don't have to think hard to dance. The only problem with automatic practice, is that it deteriorates over time. Once you reach a level, if you don't maintain it, you will actually get worse at it!

Deliberate practice assumes there is no limit: you can shape your own potential if you have the drive to go beyond good enough. If you apply the ideas in this book to your practice, you will continue to get better and better. The only stopping you, is yourself!

The elements of deliberate practice

Defined goals

Deliberate practice includes having defined goals. What skills do you need to master to become good at tango? What are the steps to building those skills? How can you incorporate practice into your daily life to save time and increase the time you practice?

Pursuing defined goals is not fun. It's difficult to stay focused. Make your list of skills you need in order to become a good tango dancer. Highly focused sessions where you are tuned into your body and focusing on exactly what you need to do to improve, will be exhausting, but they are still the fastest way to get better. You can't space out and just go through the motions if you want to improve.

Feedback

You will not improve without feedback about what you are doing. The most efficient way to get that, is to work with a good teacher, one-on-one. That person already knows what skills you need in order to reach the top. They have already gone through the same process, and have reached a high skill level themselves. They can help you develop a plan for building your skills.

Why does it matter if your teacher is good or not? A good teacher will teach YOU how to provide your own feedback. As you understand your practice and your goals, you can monitor yourself and adjust your practice to achieve those goals. Once you understand the mental representations of what you are doing, you get coached not only when your teacher is around, but when you also can correct your practice.

How to find a good teacher

How do you get a good teacher? Find out who the teacher has taught: are those dancers good? Find out if the teacher is a good dancer; most teachers can only teach you up to their level of dance. Find out if s/he is a good TEACHER: a lot of people are good at performing in their field of expertise, but they haven't learned to teach. Can they get you to reach specific goals, provide good mental representations for you to use for practice, and help you over roadblocks? Then that's the right teacher.

[A good teacher] is particularly important . . . where the training is cumulative, with the successful performance of one skill often depending on having previously mastered other skills. A knowledgeable instructor can lead the student to develop a good foundation and then gradually build on that foundation to create the skills . . . no student, no matter how motivated, can expect to figure out such things on his or her own.
— p. 108, Peak

Where there is no teacher

If you can't afford one-on-one lessons, there are things you can do on your own to learn. However, you aren't going to learn as fast. You need to push yourself a little bit further, constantly. You need to stay focused on your goals. You need to give yourself feedback, keeping in mind that often only one or two things are wrong: look for the one thing you need to fix. You need to address that problem, adjust your mental representation, and keep going. You have to stay motivated.

Get out of your comfort zone

You won't improve if you just practice at the same level, but it's hard to make yourself leave your comfort zone. It's not fun! This is one place where having a teacher helps. One of the teacher's jobs is to ask questions/set tasks for the student that are not always easy to complete. They should be just outside the comfort zone of the student so that they are not a huge step forward that looks impossible; just baby steps up the ladder to improvement.

Motivation

The biggest factor that determines how good you will get at something, is your motivation. You can find ways and reasons to keep going; or make it harder to quit :-) It's hard to stay motivated as you pursue a goal. Most of the time, it's a long slog of practicing, and practicing is often not fun. You are pushing out of your comfort zone, trying things that are a bit too hard, and working on improving your technique. SO...figure out what kind of reward makes you keep going, and give yourself little rewards when you accomplish small goals towards your big goal.

Make it harder to quit by putting a time into your schedule where you practice. Don't just say, "oh, I will practice sometime today" and let it slide. Make the sessions short, do the work, and stop. Believe in your ability to reach your goals. Look at someone successful: that's a great example of someone who didn't give up! You can do the same thing.

Get your friends involved

One of the best ways to stay motivated, is to do your practice in a group. You can get feedback from the other people, borrow their training tips, watch them for new ideas, and stay focused on your goals.

Find ways to get through barriers

Everyone hits roadblocks in their training. When you get stuck, look at the problem a different way. Try a different exercise, dance with a different partner, go to a different event, take a private lesson--whatever you need to do to get back on track. There will always be barriers, and it's just a question of overcoming it.

Let your motivation get you through being stuck. Pick what motivates you, and use to so that you don't give up when you hit a roadblock on the way to your goal. For example, if I meet my running goal for the week, I get to buy a gluten-free pastry at the bakery. It keeps me running, and my overall health improves.

Mental representation

This is what I am implementing even more than I did before I read this book. According to the book, "A mental representation is a mental structure that corresponds to an object, a collection of information, or anything else, concrete or abstract, that the brain is thinking about" (p. 58). Mental representations hold a lot of information, but in chunks of data. This helps your brain process/apply information more quickly.

As your skills improve, you refine your mental representation. You try things, fail at them, redraw your mental representation, and try again. You get better at evaluating your performance, comparing it to your representation and giving yourself feedback and corrections.

One of the last things the authors note in their book: we don't know enough about mental representation in training, and that studying how top performers in a field work through their mental representations might allow coaches, researchers and learners, to tailor training to include how to improve these mental models. Verbally building these representations, explaining what you understand, should help your teachers guide the construction of your mental representation, and speed up your learning.

The big take-aways

Talent only helps the process get started

Ericsson's research shows that natural talent is not the THE key to becoming one of the best in the world at something. It helps in the beginning, as kids who seem talented at something may be steered into a path, but that doesn't mean they will be better in the long run: ". . . there is no evidence that any genetically determined abilities play a role in deciding who will be among the best." (p. 235)

Everyone has potential

Hard work, good coaching and focused, deliberate practice make the difference, not talent. The ones who get to the top work harder that other people and have more motivation. They didn't quit when they hit a plateau.

For me, I have always said that everyone is a dancer; some people just don't know it yet. Look for potential, not limits! The only person who won't be good at something, is the one who has given up. That means ALL OF US could be amazing tango dancers, top in the world. Even if we don't aspire to that, we can up our game through deliberate practice. Get inspired!!

Inspired by Pepito: a month of milonga classes

It's time for more Pepito infusions into our milonga here in Portland! Three years ago when I first taught a Pepito milonga class, I really enjoyed getting back to my milonga roots. I didn't get to study with the maestro directly, as he died in early 1996 and I started tango in late 1995. However, I studied milonga with students of Pepito, and danced with other former students of his--and shamelessly stole their moves. Ah, the joy of leading and following!

For me, what I see in Pepito's dancing--and felt in his students--was a groove, an organic flow of energy. It felt very in control, but never wooden or artificial. I end up talking about "VROOM" when I teach his steps. When you watch him, his body and feet are very precise, but the dance is not about that: they only serve his purpose of playing with the music and his partner. He zips around the dance floor at top speed, looking calm, collected and in control of his dance.

So, MORE Pepito moves! And more technique work, so that YOU can leave your technique at the table when you step out on the dance floor, and experience joy and VROOM!

Classes will be at 8 PM at the Om Studio, 14 NE 10th in PDX. $14 drop in or $45 for the month.

For inspiration, skip through this video and watch Pepito. If you also speak Spanish, there are some nice parts where dancers talk about Pepito and how he was special and what he contributed to the Buenos Aires tango community.

You can also read an interview conducted with him (although I'd have to say the translation seems to be done by a machine, not a human).

Come dance!

Adorno mini-workshop #1 8/28/17

Many of you have approached me and asked me about doing adornos. What movements "should" you do? How many? When? How do you get comfortable waving your feet around? Since I've taken a break from my Body Dynamics class (which started as a follower technique class), I have not taught an adornos class for a while, so....

I will be teaching several adorno workshops over the course of the fall. Each one will be stand-alone, but together, they will cover ALL of the adornos I have learned, tips for practicing, tips for using them, etc. Using adornos well is an art, and the best compliment I have ever received in Buenos Aires was from another teacher who told me after our first dance that I adorned not just with my feet, but with my soul! Oh yeah!

  • Please sign up and pay ahead of time on my website registration page.
  • Cost: $25. Pay & pre-register by cash or check before August 21st: $20.
  • Duration: 1.5 hours
  • Time: 7-8:30 PM
  • Limit: 10 participants (first ten to pay are in the class)
  • Location: 4315 NE Garfield Ave.
  • Bring socks & your dance heels, and dress for stretching/drills on floor :-)

 

Bodyfulness: my new favorite word

Why do we always use the phrase "mindfulness" when talking about being aware of our bodies? Biking home from tennis, I came up with BODYFULNESS as my new word of the day.

With the help of my chiropractor, I have mostly solved my shoulder issues in tango. I need to keep my shoulder blades anchored into my spine, and avoid letting my partners pull my shoulder forward when I lead. I have been working on doing correct planks, pushups and other exercises to build my muscles to keep everything in the right place. I try to keep aware of my body, and get my shoulder blades into the correct position as soon as I feel them sliding forward. I am being BODYFUL as much as possible.

Now, I am struggling with mapping new neural pathways in my body for bicycling, working out and learning tennis.

For bicycling, I have found that I refocus on my correct form each time that I have a moment to let the bike glide downhill. Luckily, my regular routes around NE Portland have a lot of up and down variation. I find I am biking a bit faster with my shoulders anchored.

When I work out, I try to picture how my deep core connects to my legs and my shoulder girdle. If there is a move that does not allow me to do that, I slow down. If that doesn't work, I simplify the move to just arms or legs and center of the body. I try to only attend class where I know the instructor is very well trained so that s/he can further tweak my form. I went to class today, and feel that I kept my shoulders anchored the whole time! That's a new level of BODYFULNESS for me, and it shows I am getting stronger.

For tennis, this is going to be a longer-term goal. I have almost no distance judgment, and I find that I was making up for that by reaching too far to get the ball. Last week, the guys at the next court helpfully gave me pointers ("You look like a ballerina! Get BOTH feet on the ground to hit the ball! Follow through!" etc.). I find that I miss a lot of balls when on both feet because my eyes think the ball is closer than it really is. To compensate, I stand on one foot and I let my shoulder drift out towards the ball. Now that I can feel that, I am working on re-calibrating my eyes, and keeping feet and shoulders anchored.

It's going to take some time to apply my new neural pathways to all of my activities. I am happy to find out how much stronger my upper body is when I use it correctly. I enjoy being in my body, having BODYFULNESS, and I try to stay there as much as possible. It gives me a sense of wellbeing that I don't have when I just stay stuck in my mind.

Performance anxiety and a good partner

Scared but still performing

I have been performing since the age of five. Until college, that involved singing in choirs and attending a capella singing competitions. I started performing dance three months after I began to dance in college. I performed dance throughout my master's degree in dance. I also continued performing as a singer.

I have been terrified of performing most of that time. I know all of the tricks to calm the body: deep breathing, pretending that everyone not on stage is in their underwear, ignoring the audience, etc. None of them work for me. I get through performing, and then I retreat to a corner and shake for a while.

I try to avoid performing.

Peak experience

I recently performed twice in one week: five dances. That is the first time I have performed in several years, and I was even more nervous than before.

AND...

It was a peak experience. I danced the best I have ever danced in my life one of those nights. Even in video, which takes away something from the real experience, it looks pretty good. Even to me, the perfectionist. It was better than perfect: it was fun.

What made it work for me?

Jose Garofalo

What made me survive performing? A good partner. A partner who said, "Look at me, you are dancing for ME!" and didn't give me time to think about whether people were watching.

I have know Jose for almost 20 years. He was one of my first teachers. When I visit Buenos Aires, we always have a coffee together and chat for a few hours. I trust him. I knew he would not sacrifice me to looking good, to showing off, or to showboating for himself. He took care of me, just as a good leader does on the social dance floor.

100% improvisation

Jose was so busy before we performed that we didn't practice. I didn't get a private lesson fitted in or anything. In other words, I had to wing it 100%.

On the way to the performance, Jose played a song on his phone and asked if I liked it. I asked to perform to it the next performance, as I had never heard that version before. He played a few more, and we agreed on a tango. Three blocks from the venue, he said, "What about this milonga?" and played Azabache. "Fine," I said. That was it except for one tanda to warm up.

Not having a plan and not having practiced (and not having danced together for about ten years at all) meant that I needed to pay attention. I didn't have extra brain space to really freak out about performing.

Twenty-one years of tango training kicked in and. . . it was wonderful.

Tango Berretin, Portland, OR on 1 April 2017
Milonga performance at Tango Berretin, Portland, OR on 1 April 2017

What's the best tango embrace?

Over the 20+ years I have danced tango, I have been taught LOTS of different "best" ways to embrace my partner in tango. Many students have come to me with sore arms, shoulders and backs "caused" by their partners. "What's the best way to dance so I don't get hurt?"

I see a lot of room for improvement in how we dance and how we teach the embrace. For myself, I have found that learning to stabilize my shoulders and arms has helped me dance better with more people, and with fewer injuries. As long as I am using my body correctly, I can do several different styles of tango embrace.

So what is best? Body-based choices. You knew I was going to say that, didn't you?

Anchor your shoulder girdle

You have several layers of muscles at work in your back. You want to make sure that the deepest levels of muscles are strong and aligned, and then stack the outer layers on from there. If you use too much neck and shoulder work for your embrace, you are stressing ALL the layers.

Since it is hard to feel the layers of muscle in your back (for most people), focus on one area: the lower tip of your shoulder blade, and the muscles that help anchor it into the center of your body.

back shot for shoulder girdle video with words.jpg

 

Exercises

Here are the exercises that I am currently for MY shoulder girdle strength!

1. Table top: Get your arms and shoulder girdle in the right position to use as a stable area.

2. Plank: Build your strength and stability by placing more demand on that area.

3. Negative pushups: After your can stabilize, continue to improve by increasing the demand on those muscles.

4. Pushups (and yes, I can't do these yet!). For those of you out there who do pushups: MAKE SURE you are doing them using these muscles, or you won't be training the correct muscles. Have someone watch you to make sure that the focus is back muscles. Yes, there are other muscles being used, but those muscles may not help your tango embrace as much.

 

Want more info?

For more in-depth info, I recommend two fabulous books that I use all the time to show my students how the body works:

  • The Anatomy of Exercise & Movement by Jo Ann Saugaard-Jones
  • Anatomy of Movement by Blandine Calais-Germain (and there is a related Exercises book)

Imagery to help you

Words get in the way. For many people, pictures work better (especially for my visual learners). However I can't transmit the picture in my head to yours without words and the pictures I draw while teaching. Here are some pictures that work for me or some of my students. If they don't work for you, throw them out!

  • Wine corkscrew: Think about opening a bottle of win. Your shoulder blades are the wings that pull down and in. Your neck and spine are the cork sliding straight up!
  • Hanger: Imagine that the back of your neck is the hanger handle, and that your shoulders and arms are following gravity, like a heavy coat drapes on the hanger. The coat does not need to hold itself up.
  • Tree: Your legs and torso are the main strength to hold up the branches. Imagine your head is the top of the tree and that you are REALLY tall. Relax your shoulders: the roots are holding you up. The tree on the right of the picture is the one I think about: it's on my college campus, and I spent a lot of time under it, playing guitar. Don't laugh too hard.
  • Fountain: Water shoots up and out of your head, falls to the basin of the fountain, and comes up the middle again. The shoulders are out of the picture! This can help with breathing as well as energy circulation.

Practice time = all the time you aren't dancing!

I definitely try to "forget" all of my technique and just dance when I am out dancing. In order to do that, my technique needs to be hard-wired into my brain so that it just happens. How do you get to that level as fast as possible? Do your tango homework all the time!

Practicing all the time does not mean carving out an hour or two a day to practice. I certainly do not manage that, and I am a dance teacher. Instead, I try to stay aware of how I move my body whenever I have spare brainpower.

I suggest:

  • Find good posture for your shoulders and middle back when you start work.
  • Set your computer timer so that it gives you a reminder every 30 minutes to find your center back, relax your shoulders, and restart your work with better posture.
  • Standing in line waiting for something? Use those extra brain cells for finding your perfect alignment so that you can use it in tango without thinking!
  • If you have a job where they don't stare if you do stretches, take 5 minutes of your break time and do the exercises above.
  • When you walk the dog, carry groceries, cart your kid around, etc., check in: are you working "smart" or cheating? Fix it!

 

Revisiting the "heels up vs. down" debate: walking backwards

A reader asked me to be more specific about how I have changed my tango walk to remove foot and back pain from following tango. Rather than write a comment on a three-year-old blog entry, I decided to have a fresh look at my technique and why I have chosen the tango style that I dance and teach.

Razan, thank you for the question: "Can you say more about walking backwards, i mean what exactly did u change?"

The short answer: video

More detail: body-based is best

The foot

The foot has a lot of moving parts. For tango, there are two main components: being on balance over your arches when not traveling; and rolling through your feet as you travel. Both take a bit of work to perfect.

The arches of the foot work like a springboard if your body weight is correctly placed on the foot. Placing your weight too far forward, onto the metatarsal bone heads, or onto the toes, makes your body work a lot harder to maintain good balance. It is not impossible to dance on your toes, but it will hurt your body.

As I say to anyone who points out some famous tango dancer prancing around on her toes: "If you are a trained ballerina, you can maintain your balance like that. On the other hand, what age do ballerinas retire? How long do you want to dance tango?" Not to mention that ballet, while pretty, is not tango.

Find your feet

Gently massage one of your feet. Find the part of your arch that is the softest/highest. That is what I call the MAGIC METATARSAL. That is the center of your foot arches. It is the keystone of your foot. It may not touch the floor, but if you keep your weight balanced over that part of your foot, you will be using your arches correctly.

Now, put your feet on the floor and walk around slowly. Roll through your foot like a cat. Feel how all the bones and muscles and ligaments and tendons GENTLY work together to make a fluid, strong step. Feel how taking front, back and side steps changes how your support foot "launches" you (I am still looking for a good word instead of "launch" or "push off" that makes fewer people tense their foot to move!).

When you stop traveling, your balance is not a static thing: there are micro-adjustments happening all the time to help you maintain balance. Close your eyes and feel how much variation there is in "standing still" and then try it on one foot: harder, isn't it? Let yourself feel/learn what your feet do to balance.

The ankle

The ankle's main movement is that of a hinge joint. Your ankle is happiest moving forward and backward. The bones of the lower leg, the tibia and fibula, help hold everything together. The ankle does have some movement side-to-side in the secondary joint of the ankle, which helps to stabilize the body over the joint.

For more than you probably ever want to know about the ankle, here's a clear video about the ankle.

How do you apply that to walking backwards?

Watch this video of people walking backwards. Look at how their heel is the last part of the foot to leave the ground when they push off (except for some of the girls in backless shoes :-).

If you let the foot and ankle move naturally, you get a much better step, every time. You will cause less wear and tear on your body per step, allowing you to both dance longer AND look more elegant.

What happens when you get tired?

When you stand up on your toes, you are constantly using more muscle work than when more at rest with the heel down against the floor (or against the heel of your shoe, as IT rests on the floor). Any time that you are using more muscle and work to stay upright, you are working harder. When you add that to standing/walking in heels AND backwards, for hours on end, you are talking about tiring out your body.

When you get tired, you begin to make mistakes. Your core gets tired, and you let your back start to take the brunt of your balancing act. You let your ankles roll in or out, as most of do not have perfectly balanced muscles to keep us from doing our favorite bad habit. After my broken toe this year, I have one foot that likes to roll in, and one that likes to roll out; not pretty if I get too tired!

However, if you put your heels down and use your feet naturally, you will have a lot longer you can dance before you are tired AND you can protect your body from injury better as well.

Images to help you change to heels down

1. Imagine that there is a thumbtack on the bottom of your heel, that gently pushes down into the floor as you roll over your heel (just as you would gently push a tack in with your thumb, to pin paper to a cork board). The floor is soft, like a cork board, so you don't need to tighten your body. Just let the heel sink into the ground (or your shoe if you are not barefoot).

2. Elephant feet: Let your foot be soft and imagine that it is HUGE and can easily hold you up. Softening your feet will help normal foot/ankle motion to occur.

3. Pouring sand: Imagine you are a mold, and each time you step, sand gets poured into the mold. First, it flows into the shape of your foot, then your leg, then you body, and finally to your head. The sheer weight of the sand holds you firmly to the floor so that you don't have to grip your feet.

4. What works for YOU? Tell me!!

A final thought: walking backwards is beneficial!

Walking backwards may actually be good for you! Check out this article and tell me what YOU think!

 

 

 

Tango musicality and inspiration

TED Talks do it again!

I watch TED talks while spinning wool and knitting (some of my other non-tango interests). You know how you type something in, and a few TED Talks later, you are down some interesting rabbit hole of thought? Well, I ended up watching a talk with Benjamin Zander, the pianist and conductor, and realized:

HEY! This is one of the things I've been trying to say about musicality in tango! Phrasing and HOW you use the music, makes all the difference in how that dance feels! What do you think? Watch it and tell me!

Take Jose's workshops!

The Oregon connection

I first met Jose in 1999 when I went to Buenos Aires for the first time. My friend, Alejandro Tosi, had mentioned that he studied with Jose, and it turned out Jose's classes were close to my hostel. I took group and private lessons from him AND I interviewed him for my thesis on gender roles in tango. I hosted him in the USA a year or two later, but he has not had a visa since then. We are lucky to have him back!

Jose Garofalo's bio

José Garófalo was born in 1964. Between 1979 and 1983, he studied art with Guillermo Kuitca. At the same time, he participated in plays, speeches and street actions where dance and theater were integral parts of his creations. In 1987, he started taking tango classes in Centro Cultural Rojas and in the same year he joined the Tango Ballet of the University of Buenos Aires.

He has studied with: Milongueros like Miguel Balmaceda and Nelly, Pupi Castello, Tete Rubin and Maria, Carlos Gavito, Gustavo Naveira, Rodolfo Dinzel. He has trained in choreography with Pedro Calveyra, Graciela Gonzalez, Marcela Trappe and in stage arts with Emilio Garcia Wehbi .

He is currently President of the Civil Cambalache Association (since 2007). He directs the annual Cambalache Festival in Buenos Aires (since 2004). He works as a Tango teacher at the Faculty of Natural Sciences of the University of Buenos Aires (since 1998). He participates in Troesmas research group dedicated to transmitting knowledge of teachers who are no longer dancing in the milongas. He directs the Companía Tragicomica Tanguera (since 2011). He is an artist of Vasari Gallery (since 2007). 

He lives and works in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Jose's class schedule

All the details are here! I have scheduled workshops at different price points and different levels of tango, in the hopes that everyone gets a chance to at least try Jose out. I think he's great, and I think a lot of your will think the same thing after a lesson or two or ten!

Build your base for ongoing work!

For those of you who (rightly) feel that an hour of a workshop without review or followup is useless, take heart! First, I plan to bring Jose for the next two years, so you can continue to study with him and build on what you learn this year. Second, I will be teaching classes during the year specifically exploring the material from these classes and building on them, so that you come into next year's workshops at a higher level, ready to absorb more!

The knees in tango: how much flexion should I have?

A lot of tango technique is focused on the foot and ankle, as well as on the hip joints. The knees have a much smaller role in tango, but it is still important to have good technique all the way up the leg!

Bend zee knees!

When I was a sweet young thing in Omar Vega's milonga classes at Torcuato Tasso, he used me to show moves. Between my bad Spanish and (apparently) bad technique, he could get really frustrated with me. "Bend your knees! More! More! Too much! Straighten your knees!!" I heard that every week until I figured out what he meant.

Knee Structure

Let's look at the structure of the knee. Notice that nice, rounded surface where the bones meet? They are meant to roll/flex in a front-to-back movement with very little lateral motion.

The muscles that attach to the knee or run across the joint, move the knee. For efficiency, the muscles at the front and back of the knee must have some sort of balance of power. You can see that the hamstrings (back) and quadriceps (front) are the big muscles groups of the upper leg that need to be balanced.

The problem: weak knees

Most of us have weak hamstrings and gluteal muscles from sitting too much, so we rely more on our quads, and hold the flexion in our knees with too much muscle work. When that happens, the leader cannot feel the follower's feet very well (and vice versa): there is no connection to the ground energetically, and so the power of the move is reduced. In high heels, that pulls your forward onto your toes, and adds extra work and possible discomfort to your tango.

Fixes to the knee problem

Leg strengtheners

Any exercises that build your gluteal muscles and your hamstrings will benefit you for tango. Check our your local trainers, physical therapists, exercise classes, etc. I have learned a lot of exercises from my chiropractor (who is also a physical trainer). I use my information to make sure that I am working correctly when I go to my Barre 3 classes.

Mobile alignment

Build your hamstrings and gluteal muscles, but in the meantime, try to balance your knee bones so that the BONES hold you up, and the muscles simply help. Not too flexed, not too straight, and constantly adjusting: that is the secret! It's not a "position" but a "range of motion" approach. Let there be some variation in your move. After all, the proprioceptors in your ankles are constantly adjusting for balance, and that needs to travel up through your knees and hips to your body. You can't hold a static shape that is right: everything constantly adjusts.

Extend your legs?

So the answer is: yes and no. A good tango step is a balance between too straight and too bent a knee and allows for efficient muscle use and balance. Too many dancers reach their legs out behind them as they take backward steps. This might look pretty, but it has no power, and the leader does not know where your feet went. Check out my videos if you'd like more about how I think you should move.

 

 

 

Savoring tango

If you are eating a great meal, do you shovel your food into your mouth? NO! The cook at music and dance camp saw my son (a favorite allowed into the kitchen to help) shoving his food in, and told him, "Jamie! Respect the food!"

If you were drinking an expensive glass of wine, would you gulp it down? No, you would slowly sip it, rolling it around your mouth to enjoy the flavor, taking your time to experience each taste; to savor it.

If you are experiencing a wonderful tango song, let each step roll off your feet, pause between movements, enjoy being in your body, in this embrace, in this tango. Don't shove moves into your dance! Respect it! Savor it, like a fine meal.

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)

 

 

Running, opera and bikes: a first trip to Buenos Aires

Thanks to Jim, another tour member, who is guest-writing today's blog entry!

Running in Buenos Aires

After a half-century of being an avid runner/cyclist/hiker, it was with great excitement that I hit the pavement in Buenos Aires. This effort is made a little easier in Buenos Aires than at home, because just prior to sunrise, one hears the most strange (and beautiful) bird call, awaking me at the proper time to suit up and get going.

My first run was a several kilometers around Palermo, the neighborhood in which we were lodged. First reaction: Estoy contento porque estoy corriendo en Buenos Aires! (I am happy to be running in Buenos Aires!) Not knowing the lay of the land, I stayed close to the hotel. Given that it was about 5 am, I was astounded by the number of people still on the street! Most seemed to be party-goers who were heading home.

The following days, my runs took me farther afield, and with even a little uphill; going uphill is the runner's friend. During the daytime, I noticed many runners, even during the hottest parts of the day. This was very encouraging, because when I come back, I'd like to have a partner or two and take a running tour of the town.

Speaking of tours, let's switch gears and talk about tours en bicicleta.

Biking in Buenos Aires

First, let me digress for a few sentences. I am not a "tour" type of person, but I was indeed fortunate that Elizabeth ran this tour, because she designed the tour so that I was able to be myself and do things my own way: 1. stay physical; and 2. be independent.

A bike tour for me means a 50-km ride at a pretty good clip. However, the tour that Elizabeth found for us did not conform to this expectation. Instead it was at a very leisurely pace. Guess what? Did I ever find this relaxing! I was able to talk with my fellow riders, including Megan and Anna, our tour guides. I was actually able to "see" things that I would otherwise have missed. I learned a lot about the history of Buenos Aires. So, here we learn again the important life lesson: eschewing "my" way and following another's way, often leads to delightful results!

Teatro Colón

OK, I admit it: I love the opera. As mentioned before on these blog pages, the opera house in Buenos Aires, is rated the third best opera house in the world. With this in mind, I was more than excited to attend an opera here. Gershwin's Porgy and Bess was playing. Having seen operas in Portland, Seattle and San Francisco, I had some previous data about opera halls, with which to compare Teatro Colón.

First, the actual structure, both inside and out, is stunning. The paintings on the ceiling inside Teatro Colón reminded me of the Sistine Chapel. Second, the acoustics were very good. I felt as if I were almost right next to the singers. Some of the other venues occasionally had a “washed out” sound. Not so here.

The actually performance was outstanding and made me happy, thinking about this good advice: I got plenty of nothin’ and nothin’ is plenty for me. I thought that the opera troupe, from South Africa, was excellent. Excellent singers in an outstanding venue make for a great experience.

Overall Tour Impression

I came back from Buenos Aires, hoping to return as soon as possible. This old Puritan came away utterly charmed. (In more colorful terms, as I tell my friends, the December 2016 Puritan Siege of Buenos Aires was a massive failure – thank goodness). I have to give a lot of credit to Elizabeth for designing a tour that took into account my many idiosyncrasies. She went way out of her way to make the tour a memorable experience. I doubt if any other tour would have been as successful for me, and for this, I am thankful.

Isla Macondo

Bed and Breakfast place in the Tigre delta

Susana and her husband are friends of Argentine friends of mine. The last time I visited their house out on the Tigre delta, they were still building it. That was in 1999 or 2000 (Silvana and I can't remember exactly when we went there, and neither of us took pictures). When members of my tour group asked what else there was to do in Argentina besides tango, I thought of Isla Macondo, and wrote to them.

The Caraguata River is not a happening place: this is the place to go in order to do nothing! Think the opposite of the bustle that is Buenos Aires. Think RELAX! This is where people go to just hang out for a few days. You can swim in the river, take a canoe out and paddle around, or use the river taxi to check out the various restaurants and bars that dot these waterways; but that's about it.

We took the local train to Tigre, about an hour away from where we were staying in Palermo. Unlike my last trip, you can now just use your Sube card (subway/bus pass) and get on the train! It think it was 12 pesos for the ride. It was a holiday weekend, and the train was packed to the gills with folks escaping the city for a few days.

In Tigre, we only had time for lunch before boarding a river taxi. We ate at Vivanco Restaurant (General Bartolomé Mitre 74, Tigre). The flan was magnificent, especially as I had not yet had flan during this visit, and it is my favorite dessert! Connie had some sort of prawn dish.

To take the river taxi (lancha colectiva), you have to know the address for your destination. "Caraguata 1098" got us the right tickets and they put us on boats depending on our destination. Then, as we went up the river, the guys on the boat made sure that they had a list of where everyone needed to go, and stopped at each place on the way. They managed to snag each dock, pull the boat close, off- or on-load people, and off we went, with barely a pause.

Susana met us at the dock for Isla Macondo. She was surprised to see us an hour early: apparently, they had added extra launches because of the holiday weekend, and we could have had a bit more time in town. She offered us tea and mate, and homemade fruit bread, fresh from the oven. The group settled into their rooms, and the island had its inevitable effect: people kept dozing off in comfy chairs!

From what I hear, dinner and breakfast the next morning were very yummy. My memories from 1999 are of a scrumptious outdoor barbeque, good wine, and excellent coffee and breakfast the next day. Susana is lovely and eager to please. Her husband is building another house for vacation rentals nearby, to add to their capacity.

My husband and I were going home that evening, to make sure that the other tour participants in Buenos Aires were OK. It was quite a journey for one day: almost 3 hours on the boat total, plus 2 hours back and forth to Buenos Aires on the train. Plus it was so relaxing out on the river! I wish I had stayed overnight, too! They have three bedrooms available, great food, and very good hosts.

To book at Isla Macondo, you can contact them at susana@islamacondo.com.ar and ask for details. They do not speak much English, but I do, so that was not a problem for the group. I appreciate that they were very flexible with the changing travel plans of my group in a way that a larger business would not have been. They are open December to May for the summer season.