What I will show them is still obscure but at least the playlist is ready. 70% comes from my “Di Sarli instrumental, 20 temas” CD. It was a very easy choice. Di Sarli helped me immensely when I started. All my teachers were using his pieces in their beginner classes and for me it was a big incentive to reach the intermediate level. Years later I’m still hating his music. And not only because it’s associated with beginnerhood. It does have intrinsic qualities of monotony, predictability, sameness. Poor pupils.

A la gran muneca
Al compas del corazon
Champagne tango
Comme il faut
Don Juan
El amanecer
El cabure
El ingeniero
El once
El once (Firpo)
Germaine
Ojos negros
Ojos negros (Firpo)
Organito de la tarde
Rodriguez Pena
Vida mia (Fresedo)
Asi se baila el tango (Tanturi)

Not 100% Di Sarli, because it’s a drop-in class. Some people might come for their first time, if all they hear is Di Sarli then we will never see them again.

And the last piece is for the recap at the end of the class. Showing them how it’s done. Muhahaha. With me as a teacher it will be better for their tango if they do the opposite of what they see.

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My turn.
But it’s not my fault, they asked me to do it. And it’s only for a couple of classes. Substitute for the beginner class. And not exactly the teacher’s subtitute. One year ago the teacher asked a pupil to take care of the class, and I’ll be replacing this new guy.  So I’m merely a substitute’s substitute.I tried to save my skin by explaining that I was certainly not up to the task – if only for my inability to grasp concepts such as Ipod, playlist, sound system’s remote control – but it failed. “At the end of the day you can just bring CDs”, they replied.

Ok, then.

No idea what to teach them. I know they’ve learned the 8CB, I once saw the end of the class, they were shifting weight and then counting up to eight. What comes after the 8CB?  Ochos, that’s what I  learned after the basics when I was a newcomer.  But I can’t teach them ochos, that’s too much responsibility, ochos are the backbone of A.T’s vocabulary, if I fail then all their tango life is ruined. Ok I’ll show them variations on the 8CB’s theme. Not that I know many of them. Hey what if they’re better than me? Maybe I’ll bring some music they’re unfamiliar with, searching for the beat will keep them busy. Oh and warm-up tangos. Warm-ups are the teacher’s best friend. Changing the shoes, dancing the warm-up(s), and twenty minutes are gone already.  Also I’ll have to find a trick to skip the summary at the end when they’re all filming with their cells.

Or maybe I should not worry too much. Hey, sort of all the lads who started when I started are teachers now. Last month I discovered yet another one. I saw him lecturing his partner on the dance floor.  “I can see you’ve become a teacher, congrats!”. I thought I was teasing him for talking while dancing, but my joke backfired: “Great, you noticed my website… Yes, twice a week now plus a few privates, all the levels, feel free to join in but pm me first.”

Don’t steal the show

2008, November 24

In my younger days I used to spend my spare time in a chess club, a mixed place where you could find retired people playing regular chess, noisy students playing quick games, and one pro, very aware of his best-player-around status, who was never playing with us except for a stake. For my birthday though, he came to me, had one piece of the pie and announced that as a gift he would offer me two five-minute games against him. He took it easy, too easy maybe and I won the second one. Cheers, applauses around. The chess master hurried to announce that he was willing to offer me three more games, that he played at full strength and duly won, making the overall result 4-1, much more presentable.

Two weeks ago at the Monday tango class there was another birthday, not mine, one of the girls had turned 25. The teacher announced that all the guys would share a vals with her. There were only five of us, so one vals was enough. He began of course, and after dancing for half a minute he brought the girl to another guy, and so on. I was the fourth. When I finished there were some applauses. Then the girl danced with the fifth leader and when it was over we pupils began to move closer to the table where the birthday cake was waiting. But the teacher announced that another vals was necessary because everybody had enjoyed it so much. He danced most of it, turned the birthday dance into a little performance. And we applauded him.

Browsing the list (over 60 names) of our local teachers I noticed a new one and started to Google around to learn a bit more. I soon found the site. They were one teacher and two assistants. Their motto was, “Want to lose weight? Come onboard! [The class was taking place on a houseboat] We’ll use non-tango music to teach you tango nuevo. Free drinks.”

Free drinks, that was more than enough to convince me and two hours later I was walking along the river, scanning the houseboats. Once inside it looked capacious and empty because they were all at the bar. The lose weight part had attracted ten girls and the free drinks part twenty guys; not counting two milonga sharks who had come for the chicks and were now a bit worried by the shortage of them. They watched the class but did not take part.

Finally we had to leave the bar as the new teacher called us for the lesson. He was not an Argentine but at least he had a cool ponytail. He explained what the tango is:
What you can do with small steps, you can do with big steps.
What you can do to the left, you can do to the right.
The music is for your inspiration. Don’t worry about the rythm, there a plenty of instruments, there will always one that will play some note just when you’re taking a step.
Leaders forget your arms, all comes from the torso.
Leaders when taking a step, you can bring the woman with you, or send her into the opposite way.

Then he unveiled the three ways of taking a tango step (the Fluid, the Slow and the Lame), as well as the possible directions (side, forward)

And for the remaining of the hour we experimented these great rules of the tango. I barred all my previous knowledge and followed the teacher’s principles, all his principles, nothing but his principles. With true beginners I had no problems, we trotted forward like lame donkeys and slowly swam sideways like zen crabs. But with the girls who had already attended classes (with a different teacher), and with the two assistants it did not go too well. The things they knew (walking like a metronome, collecting their feet, keeping a vertical posture), prevented them from following my tahitian hip moves, or my quick stationary bouncings. Here the non-tango music did not help much the assistants. Explaining the tango compas on a Jerry Lee Lewis piece is a challenge. “Are you trying to lead a double-time? I can’t follow you! Slow down! Don’t wave your shoulders!” and so on, to which I kindly replied that I was doing what the teacher explicitly told us to do and that it was necessarily valid. And actually he came only once, to correct my abrazo. After he left and until the end of the class I kept holding my arms in the teacher-approved way, the left one bent and flabby (so flabby that the follower had to support the weight) and the right one extended and tense, with an iron grip on the follower’s left shoulder blade.

Forget about Gustavo and Fabian. This guy has worked out a completely new teaching system. He must be a genius. Hopefully he is. I’d like to see how his pupils will do after one year. Let’s hope they won’t get any other influence, won’t take any class with a more conservative teacher and will dance only between themselves.

argentineless tango

2008, October 9

I think I’ve found a class for Mondays after all. The class is gender-balanced and unlike the other classes the people here are younger than myself. That’s because the teacher, a chinese with a ponytail, is mainly working with groups of college students.
He has several groups of beginners and this group is the (comparatively) advanced one that he created this year for the pupils who had been taking his classes for two years or more.
The music he uses is of the everything-but-tango kind, I don’t think he could tell a Fresedo piece from a DiSarli one, and there is no attempt either to introduce us to the culture of the dance. He’s not bringing mate and bombilla. Fine for me, I even find it refreshing to be shown a step without hearing that it was created by Virulazo, and to arrive late at the class without getting lectured about the ancient art of catching a taxi in Corrientes.
We do individual, stationary exercises on balance, like in Karate Kid. As the music is not tango we don’t feel the Pavlovian urge to start walking. By the way the whole class always remains within the boundaries of an exercise, there is neither waiting-for-late-pupils dance at the beginning nor now-dance-like-in-a-milonga-and-insert-the-sequence-whenever-you-feel-like dance at
the end. I would not choose this lesson if it was my only one, but as I’m attending several classes this one is like a warm-up for the others.

Recruitment day

2008, September 8

My (main) dance studio will open only in two weeks, but one of the teachers asked everybody to come and dance in the street, while giving flyers to the passers-by.

And on this windy chilly Sunday morning one dozen of volunteers were there, with their worn-out tango shoes. One half of the pupils were told to dance, and the other half were given flyers. I was put in the dancers group, my partner being one of the assistants.
Granted, sidewalks here aren’t as bad as the BsAs ones, but a sidewalk remains a sidewalk. Despite large amounts of talc on my soles and even with the help of my partner it was clear to me that the elusive audience was not exactly impressed.

It became clear to the teacher too and he soon called me.
“Ok, the people keep asking me if you’re both beginners and it’s a bit embarrassing, let’s make a switch, here are some flyers. Your target will be the ladies.”

Cool. One minute later I was in the middle of the road chatting with a mother and her daughter, answering their questions, saying to the latter that no, most probably there would not be teens in the class, only (very) mature guys, and to the former that yes, it was true that many people danced chest-to-chest, even with a stranger. For some reason they gave me back my flyers.

The teacher called me once again. “Forget the young people, and remember we’re trying to recruit pupils.” Well then, one nice thing with older passers-by is, even at full speed they’re easy to catch, they can’t walk very fast.
“No, no, young man, this is not for me.”
“Yes ma’am, it is, age or weight is not important for tango, take this flyer, see, we have classes every night and…”
“But look, young man, I have a peg leg!”

Oops.

The teacher confiscated my flyers. “Can you see the CD player? Good. You will remain over there, you sit and you replace the CD each time it ends.”

Monday partner

2008, September 2

I had tried this Monday class two years ago, and the conclusion was that there was no need to attend it on a regular basis because it looked very much like my Tuesday class (by another teacher). Both would present some material (e.g. sacada de la mujer) and then let us explore the possibilities; sacada on our side step, on our forward step, changing the introductory step, changing the end, doing the sacada with the other foot, and so on. But the Tuesday teacher was a better dancer, gave more material, and his class was cheaper. If there had not been this Tuesday class then yes I would have attended the Monday one, but as there was a Tuesday class… No need to buy a Hummer when you already own a Sherman tank.

But this year the Tuesday teacher has retired. That’s why yesterday I put my shoes, towel and mints in a bag and tried my luck. Luck is what provides a nice partner to the lone leader. Nice and lasting, if you are very lucky.

Yesterday it all started quite well, the teacher introduced me to a little brunette for the warm-up. The room was large, wooden floor, mirrors, fans. Three other couples walking around. This supposedly was an intermediate-advanced class, but they were not looking so intermediate really. Intermediate is when clumsiness is gone, and here even a system switch (parallel/crossed) was a complex protocol for them, involving half a dozen preparatory steps and the loss of the beat as well.

One leader particularly, a young thin tall guy with a peroxide blonde for partner, was struggling and stumbling. His face relaxed only when the teacher asked for a general trade of partners. I thanked the brunette, not knowing I was seeing her for the last time. She went to the tall guy and the peroxide came to me.

And the nice class was history.

I received from her the same flow of instruction – in quantity, that is – than when I take a private in BsAs (you know, the first 10 minutes, when all you do is wrong).

“Take more care of my axis when you turn around me!”. Sure, if only you could stop leaning forward with all the weight of your 140 pounds. “More dissociation! Turn to me! More! More!”. If a human being could dissociate that much then he would be signed by a Hollywood producer to perform the 360° head spin in the Exorcist. “Now that’s a gancho! Did you like it?” Oh it happened too fast, I didn’t even know I was leading something at all. “Pull your left hand backward to lead my back sacada. Much more!” Excuse me but this is the only left arm that I have, once dismantled it cannot be fixed. “Oh excuse me for taking this step, *I* was listening to the music.” I’m glad you can hear something, my own ears have a system failure/stack overflow.

Of course there were subsequent partner trades but the other leaders carefully changed between themselves, leaving me with the pterodactyl, err sorry the peroxide.

Cursed?

2008, August 7

– Sorry for missing the rendez-vous, she said on the phone, I walked for almost an hour and could not find the street you said. I hope you found a partner.

– There is another dance class next Friday, I replied, look at a map this time, it’s really not far from the subway… Oh my, you’re coughing.

– It’s your fault, you made me walk under the rain in November. Ok, see you next week.

Four days later she left a message on my answering machine. The last time that I heard her voice.

– It’s V. here. Errr it was not a cold, I saw a doctor, it’s pneumonia, I’m entering the hospital tomorrow.

But then It happened maybe ten years ago, one time is nothing, it does not count.

This week I got a mail from another former dance partner. Spine is ruined again, sciatic nerve pinched somewhere, can’t feel my foot, won’t be dancing for…

And another today. China girl. We attended classes for a while, three years ago. Boy, was she beautiful. Not a paragon of technique, though. I was in Shangai and I had an accident. My eyes and part of my cheeks were burnt. Now I’m having a hard time. The next surgery is in four months. Til then, will you go out with me in milongas a couple of times? My face is not frightening.

On the teachers front the news are hardly brighter. Lorena of course. Also my BsAs taxi-dancer’s flat was flooded. Sorry to cancel our last practise, I have to stay here in the dark, dunno for how long, waiting for a plumber.

And the local teacher with whom I booked some privates in July phoned me yesterday: Maybe you’re wondering why I was not at the studio. I was just sacked by R. [the studio’s owner, and her former boyfriend as well ] after we had an argument.

– Sorry about that. He did not mention that, he just said you were not here this month and I took the private with him instead. He was assisted by a girl whom I had never seen before. Carol is her name I think.

– Carol? Oooooh the son of a b…! Thin, tall, brunette, large breasts, 25 give or take?

– Errrr… can’t remember but the breasts, yes, large. Yes.

– Ok gimme your mail I’m faxing you a picture of her. Go back tomorrow and tell me.

Well well well… One more month of holidays, and then begins yet another season of tango classes. New teachers. New partners.

A volunteer? Anyone?

Separate ways

2008, August 5

“Hola Queridos Amigos :
Para los que no lo saben aun , queria avisarles que a pesar del carinio y respeto mutuo que sentimos con Osvaldo hemos decidido separarnos.
Carinios
Lorena”

Hey! How will I do next time? With whom will I book privates?

It had quickly become a very recurrent process: I went to their studio, they were both there waiting for me, plus the assistant and the little dog. Osvaldo worked out something and danced it with Lorena, then with the assistant while Lorena explained me the concept. Then I failed two or three times, Osvaldo danced once again with the assistant to be sure it wasn’t her fault (it was mine all the time) while Lorena tried with me, hoping to understand how I could get wrong with such basic stuff. Then the three of them discussed the matter, the dog growled at me and finally Osvaldo found something even simpler.

As pedantic people say, death is the beginning of a journey to immortality. Well then, as a couple they were famous, now they will become legendary.

There is nobody here

2008, July 29


There were five milongas during the Sitges festival, I attended them all and danced slightly less than I did last year (3 tandas last year, 2 tandas this time), lightheartedly declining when invited.

Sometimes I feel a bit sorry when declining but not at Sitges where the festival milongas are invaded by enough full-time tangueros to keep all the ladies busy. This is another species of leaders, very different from me. They come for the festival but don’t attend any workshop. Before and after the festival milonga (from 22:00 to 2:00 this year) they find some place along the beach (in front of hotel Subur this year) and they keep dancing.

While they’re vastly superior to me on a dancefloor (who isn’t?) they also have their own limitations of course but the most experienced of them deal with it perfectly. “He leads nothing really but he stays around me and gives me all the freedom to do my stuff. If I go for out-of-axis he will hold me.”, a follower classmate explained me once about such a self-made tanguero, very popular here, who has been following this path for 25 years, “and once you get used to his way it is very enjoyable.” Leading less gives him plenty of time for adornos, piropos and so on.

When they are less experimented the limitations are more apparent of course. My friend Paul, once a classmate of mine, became attracted too, some years ago, by the Dark side of the Force. I saw him one week before Sitges, there was a workshop followed by a milonga, I came for the workshop, he came for the milonga and as he was quicker to put on his tango attire than I was to leave mine, I had a few minutes to watch him dancing. It was not really convincing yet. Side step, side step again (the other way), forward, one step around the lady, stop, one step around the lady (the other way), forward, side, stop, side, forward, around, stop and so on. The one fancy/choreographic/stage-only elementI saw was a parada during the stops.
It was not either the kind of simple steps for which the old, fat gentlemen of BsAs are praised by estilo-milonguero teachers, no, it was more more like manoeuvring your caddy when the supermarket’s alley is jammed with wooden pallets.

And he was at the festival too, I met him the second night. After the handshake he had a look at the dancefloor.
“There is nobody here.”
For me it was ok. Enough space to take one step (but not two) in any direction. But he was definitely worried.
“I hope more people will come dancing.”
He kept sitting as long as there weren’t enough dancers to justify his (lack of) vocabulary.
One hour later he was happy, inviting one lady after the other on the packed floor (packed by Sitges standard, not as Nino Bien can be; say, enough room for one step in two possible directions).

Well it’s a kind of modus tollens of the “no fancy stuff when there is no room” principle: no simple stuff where is room.