wicked tongue

2012, March 20

“- Shall I say something not nice about someone? You’re sworn to secrecy of course.
“- Guess so…”

This lady had come to me to report one of the dancers on the floor. “He sat there waiting for the prettiest girl around to be available, and now look he’s dancing with her. Me, he never invites me… ” and so on.

As she had spoken softly, I failed to understand the name of the said dancer, and as she kept looking deliberately at the wall I could not lock him either. The prettiest girl… None of the women on the floor was in position, to my mind, to claim the title hands down.

Short-listing the leaders whom I know are given to inviting sometimes cheesecakes rather than technicians, I reduced the possibilities to four.

J. who was multiplying the corte-quebradas with a nothing-special-but-under-25 chubby beginner
K., fond of deep, static ganchos, who had invited a teen doted with this kind of deceptive innocence found in pictures by David Hamilton.
N. whose massive partner would have delighted the readers of Crumb comics.
G. tight-glued to a young tango beginner, but proficient in salsa and already making good use of her legs flexibility.

I tried to get clues to identify the girl, the first name, maybe something about her clothes or shoes or hair color …

“- The most beautiful, really, you’re sure?
– Yes, by his own standards at least.”

And with this said she returned to her table. As none of those leaders invited her afterwards either, the mystery remains unsolved.

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personal best

2009, June 30

Two milongas yesterday, my personal best. Usually I would need one season to attend so many milongas. But, “Go to the milonga, that’s how you’ll get good“, they all say.

So I spent two hours at El Arranque in the afternoon, reading in the Clarin newspaper why, what and how Kirchner lost this Sunday. And later I spent one hour at Villa Malcolm’s El Motivo, eating a Milanese with french fries.

Hopefully my tango has improved a lot in the process.

JK knows best

2009, June 25

The milonguera-formerly-known-as-Pichi stated in a comment that the Wednesday practica a cargo de El Indio in Palermo would be just fine for me. And a statement by JK is something that you may disagree with, or even criticize, but certainly not ignore.  So, despite my flu (hopefully the regular one), yesterday I walked my way to Palermo Soho (29 cuadras). After the huge disappointment with La Catedral my expectations were not too high and I did not even rehearse beforehand any sequence to practise.

Stupid me. The place is perfect to practise. First it is a normal place with normal tables and chairs, not the collapsing variety of La Catedral. There is heating too. Too much of it maybe. Same for the volume of the music. Much, much too powerful. Next time I will come with ear plugs.  The not-too-high entrance fee is a plus too, though I was irritated to see two teachers “paying” with just a hola and a smile, while I had to use a banknote. Also at this TangoLab practica I could watch a species that I thought was extinct,  the lone ladies.  I invited the nearest one for the last piece of a tanda, to check the floor, which when touching it with my hand seemed very slippery. But it wasn’t. I was concerned because almost all the leaders were wearing sport shoes instead of tango ones, and sometimes it does not mean that they are emulating the Chicho, sometimes it is really because of the floor.

A demo was announced but with the 29 cuadras  to walk back home I left without waiting for it. Sorin was here too, if the demo was worth  mentioning then he will, well, mention it in his blog.

explicit lyrics

2009, April 28

A former tango place has re-opened tonight. We all thought it was lost forever after the owners raised the rent. After all this time it’s not exactly the same. Different paintings on the walls, not South-America-related as before, a different host. And a different teacher for the pre-milonga class, one whom I did not know. That’s why I came by the way. Not much to say about the class, usual sequence with pauses here and double times there, usual shortage of followers.

Being there I attended the beginning of the milonga too, watching a group of old (aren’t they all) argentine guys. One of them had brought his Geraldine-alike grand-daughter or niece and they were taking turns to dance with her. Then they made a pause and the girl came back to the table where she had left her drink. My table.

“You don’t dance?”

Now that’s a silly question. What are my options? No, I don’t. or alternatively, yes, you’re right, I don’t dance. It’s a dead end already. We won’t share a tanda.

“I am watching.”
“But practice is necessary too”, she insisted, “Watching is not enough, don’t you want and try the sequence that you learned in the class?”

And here again, what can I answer? Oh yes I want, accepting a verbal invitation, trying an unfamiliar sequence with an unknown partner during a milonga, and with half of the small audience being argentines… Not likely. Yet instead of something like “Are you asking me to break all the rules of the milonga in one shot?” I came up with a more diplomatical

“Precisely I am not doing too well with this sequence. But why not waiting until next week, maybe I will have mastered it.”

Here a reasonable, no-harm-done conclusion would have been, ok, see you, good luck with the sequence. Instead:

“But next week there will be much more dancers here, everybody will know it is open again. Come on, let’s dance.”

Well, time for explicit lyrics then.

“No. Thank you.”

Strange, really, this you-don’t-dance approach. Perhaps it works well with argentine males though. Kindda making them feel that their abilities are being challenged.

You find yourself with

6 musicians

1 singer

4 (stage) dancers

1 guy for the sound and lights

and… 14 customers only. Such a big effort for such a small reward.

One hour later when the orchestra left, some customers did as well and the milonga switched from quite empty to very very empty. There remained an old couple, a younger one (tourists) and a local tanguero who duly stole the female tourist. With only two couples on the floor it was easy to notice the style differences. The older couple was doing short, rythmic steps, sometimes moving backwards, doing funny things when the music was funny, pauses etc. With a powerful comp it would have been possible to recalculate the partitura from their dancing. On the other side, and to remain in the world of comps, it was more like

While {there is music} do

walk

walk

walk

walk

move the woman around you

repeat loop

No pauses, no changes whatsoever, same length of the steps, same speed. Nice posture admittedly, walking perfectly on the beat, always staying on the outer edge of the floor. A teacher wouldn’t find anything to criticize. As on onlooker though I couldn’t help thinking that there was not much life here. Maybe a tango robot. Insert coin. Or maybe he was preparing for some Dance-on-DiSarli contest.

After one last dance, in cayengue style, the old couple left too. Sometimes your lead is confusing, she told him, with this new hip prosthesis that you have.

By the way this was my last milonga in BsAs, with a perfectly round and clean grand total of zero dances. The closest I ever came remains  Villa Malcolm, last year.

Jupiter

2009, March 24

The Dandi milonga’s hostess added a chair for me around a table where a gentleman was already seated. He was from New-York, and the second thing he told me was:

“It will be very hard for you to get invites here.”

Because we are so badly placed cabeceo-wise, I thought. Against the wall again. But no. It was going to be difficult for me because of him. As Jupiter intercepts the asteroids that otherwise may hit the Earth, he intercepted all the women´s glances coming from the other tables. When sitting he kept making some wind with a large fan, hiding me in the process. When no glance was coming then he stood up (right in front of me, just in case) and when it was not enough then he walked to some lady and nodded.  During the tandas he  lectured me about the ancient art of the cabeceo.

Stupid me, I used to think that the idea of the cabeceo was to make the invites unnoticeable to anyone around. How wrong I was. When this gentleman stands up, his point is precisely to get noticed. And when he puts himself right in front of a lady and nods, he does not give her  much choice, she has to nod back and dance, period.

Dancing queen

2009, March 22

Los Consagrados, a.k.a la mejor milonga de Buenos Aires. It’s what they said in their ad and surely you should not always believe ads but on the other end there is no other milonga in my El Tangauta magazine which also claimed to be the best, so maybe it was true, maybe Los Consagrados had the best floor, the best music, the best followers, the quickest waiters and the tastiest licuados.

But if I was here it was mainly to say “Hi” to Cherie and Ruben. That`s why I came only two hours before the end, at first sight this seemed technically more than enough for a “Hi, I am a bad leader, obscure blogger and sometimes you post a comment”.

Not so. Finding their table was easy, telling their name was like casting a magic spell on the girl at the entrance, it brought a broad smile on her face and soon a waiter guided me to a table behind theirs. They were dancing. I identified Ruben first.

Hey whazzup? What’s this abrazo? Is Cherie  leading him? Ten seconds later I can see them again and the abrazo is back to normal. I must have hallucinated.  They keep dancing. They dance the chacarera. They dance on New York, New York. Well if NY is the city that never sleeps, Cherie is the lady who never rests. Will there finally be one whole minute when she’s not dancing, chatting, getting invited, welcoming a friend?

There won’t. Now the speaker is calling her to receive a bouquet, she’s applauded by the whole milonga and after that they all line up to reach  Ruben & Cherie’s table for congratulations,  pictures etc.  Even one cameraman is there and seems to be filming only them. Probably Time Magazine and CNN are waiting in the stairs for an interview. Not my day then. No problem, maybe next year.

The “Hi” being postponed, my focus switched on the milonga itself. They don’t have licuados, so IMHO they cannot claim the title of “best milonga”  but maybe something like “Nino Bien, minus the crowd” or “best milonga except for licuados” would be appropriate. Men and women were on opposite sides, which made the cabeceo efficient (very few people were sitting during the tandas) and easy. That is, unless you’re just against the wall as I was, with two series of tables between you and the ladies. But I guess we can’t be all at the front row, someone has to be at the distant tables, out of cabeceo´s reach.

Genuine

2009, March 15

Yesterday I noticed a sign on an old building near my guesthouse.

Saturday milonga at 23.00.

I checked in El tangauta and BA-tango and found nothing about it. There was no class on my agenda at 23.00 and  I could walk home in five minutes if I disliked the place. Why not then.

No door at the entrance. A corridor, stairs (wooden, narrow, creaky, dark…) and at the last floor a desk and a lady. Yes, she says, there is a milonga here, I can have a look and come back to pay if I want.

Several rooms to traverse before getting there. Large, empty, unmaintained. White wall hangings flapping in the draught. It reminded me of the castle´s closed down rooms in the Leopard movie by Visconti.

And then the milonga. No tourists here, but not many locals either. Twenty tables, most of them unoccupied. Lots of pictures at the walls, many  tango-related but the biggest one shows a blond woman. Who is this singer, I wonder, before recognizing Eva Peron. Oops. But who knows, maybe in her younger days she used to sing.

Everything is old, or broken, or missing. I like it here. Much, much space to dance but the regulars need a lot of rest after each dance and there are at best three couples at a time on the floor. Maybe there has been a time when they were good. Maybe thirty years earlier this kneel’s touch on the leader’s ankle would have been a gancho. Now I can see a gentleman at the next table stand up and come to me, five minutes later he’s here, granting me the permission to invite all the girls who are at his table. I thank him, he turns back, another five minutes  and  he reaches his table and his friends.

Todas las chicas. He does not see them the way I do. Any of them may have known Eva Peron.

From our man on the spot

2008, September 18

Lately in a tango forum a lady expressed the idea that, given the choice between a young beginner and an old advanced dancer, the leaders will always leave the older follower on her chair and dance with the beginner.

To me it can’t be true, if only because
– There is no such thing as a young beginner. Providing the instructor is good enough, twenty minutes are suficient to turn any woman into a decent follower (source: Miles )
– There is no such thing as an old advanced follower either. Either they were advanced in their younger days and lost their advanced-ness when they reached 40, or they were never advanced in the first place, they plateau-ed at intermediate level and then the years added to the years but not to the technique.

On the other hand, the lady’s opinion can be met very often in forums. So many people cannot be wrong, logic is a beautiful thing but real life is… well, real. So I decided to attend an actual milonga, equipped with a pen and a notepad (the paper one). Here are the figures at the beginning of the milonga, later more people came but I cannot count higher than ten.

There were five followers and five leaders, including me.

About technique and age:
The oldest one had the poorest technique (terrible pivots during the ochos).
Among the four who were dancing the youngest had the best technique.

About the follower’s choice by the men:
Four women were dancing. One wasn’t, she was the youngest, thinnest and prettiest.
The two oldest women were dancing.
The youngest follower had a better technique than her leader.
The remaining leaders had a better technique than their followers.

Now who am I to give marks for technique? In this case no sharp eye was required. Hanging or not on the partner to avoid falling, stepping on the beat or not, that was enough to calculate the rankings.

All in all, from what I saw this night, inviting the best followers meant inviting the younger ones, and inviting a woman despite her lack of tango skills meant inviting an older one.

Much later when I was still there with my pen and paper, this time using them to write down the names of the pieces I liked (e.g Biagi’s El Recodo) I couldn’t help noticing a fantastic dancer. I’d say Eugenia Parilla is her role-model. Same haircut, young, blonde, a weight-less free leg, and the same smile that says “Oh, you want to lead me that? You know, there were so many
other possibilities, much nicer, but ok, I’ll do what you want, don’t be sad, your choice is not that bad.”

Of course I was allowed to watch but not to touch, she came with her own stable of leaders.

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.