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.”

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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.

Not so clear

2008, July 24

With male teachers it’s usually all very clear. They show and explain something, I understand perfectly well and I can’t do it. It can be Nito Garcia showing a 720° enrosque, or Gabriel Angio a 1080° pivot, or Chicho leading a back lifted piernazo just by shifting his weight from his heels to his toes.

Now with female teachers. From time to time when I ask something the answer only brings more confusion.
For instance:

Question: How do I lead this part of the sequence?
“Like a volcada but without the out-of-axis”. (Corina de la R.)

Question: What is the title of this song?
“Go ask Mario [Consiglieri]. He will like it. He will feel he’s important.” (Cecilia de M.)

Question: Why do Nito and Elba always go to Gricel?
“There used to be a milonga named Almagro, where all the best dancers and teachers were going, and where no one was trying to impress the audience with fancy moves.” (Cecilia de M.)

Question: In this sequence I take a backward step, are you sure I won’t bump into another couple?
“L’uomo controlla lo spazio intorno alla coppia, ma non ha occhi dietro la testa se non quelli di lei, quindi occhi aperti entrambi e si evitano incidenti.” (Alejandra H.)
[We were in Spain, and the class was in english. Why in italian then?]

Of course, they can be very clear, when they want:

My taxi-dancer, calling the teacher:
“The guy wants you to check his lead. Kill him kill him kill him!” [The last part was in spanish.]

Another pupil who attends the same weekly class:
“Yes there are good leaders here, but you on the other hand, you have a distinctive style.”

An ex partner of mine, about a festival that we both attended.
“I guessed which classes you would choose, and signed for different ones.”

long long legs

2008, July 8

“Of course everybody has physical limitations and you can’t go beyond them”, the teacher explained during today’s private.

“I once saw in a video a nice leg wrap, all around the leader’s waist, I tried again and again to emulate it with my partner for a show, and got upset because I could not make it, until someone told me that this woman’s legs are 70 inches long. Mines are only 39 inches long, end of the story.”

I’d like to see this video too, because up to now the woman with whom I’ve danced and who had the longest legs is probably Lorena Ermocida and within 70 inches you have the whole Lorena, not only her legs.

Sitges forecast

2008, July 7

 

No, not the weather. The forecast is about the general level. It’s the last week to register and the site of the festival displays the classes that are full: beginners course, four classes, none is full ! medium level, 14 classes and 3 are full, medium-advanced level 15 full classes out of 21, advanced level 18 classes, 8 of them are full.

From this we can estimate the average level of people attending the 2008 edition of the Sitges tango festival:

Beginners 0%

medium 11%

medium-advanced 58%

advanced 31%

Impressive, isn’t it? That’s a very promising festival, with almost 90% of somehow advanced pupils. The not-advanced ones will have a difficult time. Maybe I should launch a club or something. The Clumsies. The not-so-goods. The ten percents. The so-so leaders.

 

 

 

 

…but sometimes he gets some help.
So here I was last month, walking and walking along the edge of a dance-floor during the first exercize of a series of workshops given by local teachers and with a local partner, pretty, half my age (and she wants to become a model). Sounds fine, except I was not local at all, I had come especially in this sea-shore resort for the tango workshop, and everything was unfamiliar.

Soon the female teacher came to me.

-) You’re using the V-shape abrazo, aren’t you?  [Later she made a loud announcement, girls, see this guy, he’s learned another abrazo, correct him if you lose the chest contact.]

-) Yep

-) Ok. Here we’re using the true, authentic, BsAs abrazo with chest contact. It gives a better connection, the lady feels everything you do. Your abrazo is valid too, but try ours, take it as an exercize.

-) Yep.

I said Yep but I thought “Ok these people don’t know that their abrazo is in fact the antithesis of a connection, nailing the lady by the tits to my chest is just denying all her abilities to follow me. And more important, now that I have to use their abrazo I have lost any peripheral vision of my partner’s charming little feet, and she’s not used to me, we’re not sync yet, she has not decided whether she follows the beat or she follows me. I certainly don’t want to step on her toes, let’s be extra careful.”

Then the male teacher came to me.

-) you learned the walk with the projection-of-the-leg, toe-first, right?

-) Yep

-) Stop it and land directly with all your weight, heel first. don’t do this preparatory move of the feet without the weight.

-) Yep

I said Yep but I thought “Hopefully they will end this exercize soon because now my follower’s feet are in serious trouble. I can feel her weight but I have no way to know where her free foot is, if she collects a bit too late then I may land with my heel and all my weight.”

Then the female teacher came again, but talked to my little sweet partner.

-) You’re collecting too quickly. Forget it, just think about the leg which is stepping. It’s not fluid if you hurry to collect.

-) Understood.

I thought “Nothing can save her now.”

The impact took place 30 seconds later.

 

 

 

 

It happened years ago,  December 30th, an accident linked with a life-long illness. All the friends and relatives with whom we had just celebrated Christmas, we had to phone them again, not for New Year wishes but for the funerals. His death was very painful, he remained four hours lying down on the ground, trying to make it despite fourteen fractures, before an ambulance finally came. Later in the night after the surgery his heart stopped beating and someone came with a defibrillator. One more hour, the heart stopped again but this time nobody came and at 5:00 in the morning a neighbour rang at the door, saying we had to call the hospital. Daddy is dead, my brother told me. He was 57. Somehow he knew he would leave at this age, because his own father had the same illness and died after the same time.

Without any doubt he was by far the person I loved the most. Physically I inherited very little from him. Unlike me he was very athletic and strong, we did some arm-wrestling once and it lasted only half a second. As a junior he broke many records in long jump. He was able to walk on the hands, while I, as tango has proven, sometimes can’t even walk on my feet. Also he was very seductive, in his younger days looking like James Dean and later like Mel Gibson. A grand-aunt told me that when a student he came one day at noon at her office to say hello, by then there were tens of secretaries there in one big room, frantically hammering their typewriters. When he entered my aunt -a secretary herself- remembers there was a moment of complete silence, all the girls had frozen.

He never wasted anything, and especially not time. Out of neccessity first, because being poor he could not afford much and had to do many things by himself. He made half of the furniture in the house. Another feature that I did not inherit at all by the way, at best I can replace a bulb. But more important he did not like to waste because he acknowledged the value of every thing or person or being. I remember a tired and lost bee, carried by the wind above the ocean, landing on our sailboat. He considered the little fellow for a while, then entered the cabin and soon came back with a drop of honey. A bee does not need much, he said.

With people he never wanted to be intrusive, and in practise it means he talked very little. I remember a certain exam, the kind of exam that does make a difference in your career, in his twenties he had failed, and following his path I made an attempt too when my turn came. After the exam I did not phone and they had to wait until the next Saturday when my dad would bring me home. So he was driving and the trip to the house was a 30-minute one, and I was remaining silent. He did not ask either, not even an eyebrow or anything, he just kept driving the car through the traffic. There were not many people in the class this morning, I finally muttered after ten minutes, the ones who failed yesterday did not bother to come. And you?  I was in the class, I replied. Good. And that was it.

Cartesian-minded, he was sometimes able of certainly non-reasonable things, such as taking care of two orphan hares, bottle-feeding them, later giving them green beans and finally releasing them, to the great despair of his mother who had hoped that a good rabbit-stew would compensate for her now bean-less garden. Gifted for music, he was fond of jazz and used to play the clarinet in a band, until he got a child (yours truly) and had to sell the intrument to pay the bills.

And tango? Well as a matter of fact he could dance it. Tango, paso, nothing else. That’s how he met my mom. I saw him only one time on a dance-floor, it was during a holiday, there was a big party in the hotel, the DJ was playing any kind of music, one set of disco, one set of slow numbers… I was invited by a cute blonde on “Angie” and had to decline despite her insistence, because I had not learned the steps. With hindsight this evening may have been influential on my decision to take dance classes, years later. When some ballroom music was played my dad duly invited my mom and I was stunned to see how sync they were, stepping at the same time and moving with ease. Walks, amagues, open embrace, neither big stuff nor dramatic pauses but definitely some dynamic sensuality.

Darker sides… well he was a bad loser. he liked to play with us, table tennis, chess, whatever, but after losing once he would never play again. Not that he was easy to beat. Like anybody I had my bridge period, and attended bridge tournaments organized by world champions but only when playing against him did I get this feeling of unavoidable doom, however strong my cards were he would find a way to make me play them in the wrong order.

He did not wish to leave anything. After his death my brother moved to another town, my mom bought an appartment and I found a new job. Memories, that’s all what remains. The picture shows him walking along the sea shore of the island that he liked from his childhood, and where his ashes have been scattered.