Forgotten something

2009, March 15

I knew that I had forgotten something.  But only when walking to DNI and passing in front of the tango shop at Lavalle 3101 did I remember. My half pair of shoes!

That’s what happens when you lack the time for preparing your travel. One week before being here I had no such plan whatsoever. But the boss called me in his office.

-) The crisis is here. No work at the moment. Go to Buenos-Aires. And anyway Mouniah has the same profile and skills than you, we can always send her if some client ever wakes up.

-) But I’m afraid I’ve used all my holidays this year already.

-) You have. I know. I give you the days you need. Now go.


Catch as catch can is possibly not  a good motto in BsAs. Sure it’s cheap and three group classes and two privates in one day yesterday did almost no damage to my wallet. But despite a good night of sleep (a.k.a no milonga) my stamina level is not too high this morning. On the agenda today,  another two privates, two group, and who knows, maybe one milonga.

And now a scoop: classes here are not always a fake for tourists. I did find one where everybody is a local and where, unlike at  EAT (not a well-thought acronym for a tango school if you ask me) or DNI, the teachers did not even ask whether anyone was needing a translation.

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)
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.

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.

The mailman hates me

2008, October 21

Last week I found in my mailbox an envelope containing a refund check for tango shoes that I ordered (very) long ago and waited for months until the vendor admitted that he was unable to deliver them because he never had them in the first place. I almost sued him because it took eight months before my money finally came back. I thought he was intending to keep my 200 bucks forever. But actually it’s the mailman’s fault. The letter with the check was sent on March, and needed seven months to walk 300 miles. Shortage of fresh horses in the Pony-express stations, I suppose.

And yesterday in the box there was a voucher, 15% discount on any tango class, group or private. The studio is not that far from my place, maybe three miles, but the mailman needed twenty days to walk the distance, and the voucher’s deadline was missed by two days. No discount for me.

On the other hand the non-tango-related mail, the bills, the commercials… come in unaffected.

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.

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.

Video test

2008, September 17

(This is not a post not a post not a post)