Dancing with the clowns

2007, November 12

There is an unknown, remote practise in town, where beginners go. I have many memories of this place, going there with a book, being greeted by a “Hey you’re still here, how comes you haven’t given up yet“, reading my book and sipping tea while the beginners with a partner were exercizing their steps, and even sometimes practising with some follower whose leader was a bit late.
I’ve read so many books there! War and peace, Cities in the plain…
Also during all these months I’ve improved my musicality a lot. It’s much easier to focus on music when you’re seated and you don’t have to make/lead steps.

This room where we were practising A.T is not in a dance studio but is part of an unknown, remote theater where no public ever attends but which is used intensively as a school for aspiring comedians and clowns, or for rehearsals. Once, a comedian playing a beggar, unshaved and holding a half-empty bottle of beer, entered the room and began commenting out loud about our dance and mimicking our steps. Nobody answered him and finally he left, grabbing some cookies on his way out. Oops, was a real beggar.

One day the practise ended.

Last Saturday it reopened, in a somewhat different form. The aspiring clowns/comedians now have monthly A.T discovery sessions as part of their training. Then there is the practise, open to anyone, where I went for the memories, the tea and the cookies.

“They’re all absolute beginners“, the teacher explained me. “But also they’re not ordinary people, they can juggle and walk on a string.
While the comedians were very similar to regular beginners, leading the clowns was not a piece of cake. Even without their big shoes, they walk like ducks when moving forwards. They escape from the abrazo whenever they can. They never stand still, forget about making a pause.
Even leading anything at all is not that easy, they can improvize and will find their own way to follow your lead. They get bored quickly, you have to keep them interested. They like very much the playful parts of A.T, like the barridas, but first you have to catch their shoe. Doing steps the simple way is an unknown concept, they’ll do the CW front ochos on the left foot.

At the end I was mainly leading them into quick giros, at least it kept them busy.

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Rank Xerox

2007, October 26


When there is a performance my mind usually wanders along the lines of “I wish I could do it” or “I wish I could do it that well” or “nice underpants”.

However when I saw Pablo Villaraza and Dana Fregoli performing at Sitges, the only thought who came was “Chicho and Eugenia should get royalties”.
It’s like lab rats, there are the ones who swim to reach the food at the other side
of the glass cage and the ones who just do nothing and rob the swimmers when they come back.

Wow

2007, October 19

With the group having a free afternoon before our scheduled trip to Colonia (Uruguay), the Confiteria La Ideal was the default option, being (first) open and (second) near to our hotel. We all sat around three tables near the edge of the dance floor and after a while all the guys were having their fun at me because they had all cabeceoed successfully and not me. The truth is they all had cheated, inviting the one and same argentine, a lady who was mainly interested (as my fellows reported) by honing her mastery of foreign languages and therefore was accepting any invite by any tourist.
After two hours or so we had exhausted all the possibilities we had within our group, almost each woman dancing with almost each leader, and all the cabeceo-able portenas being cabeceoed.

What now, we thought, nothing more will happen here, the afternoon is ending, maybe we go back and prepare for the evening. We more or less began to search our street shoes in our bags. This is when the mate at the other side of the table, who was facing the milonga entrance, froze. His hand, head and all body stopped moving except the lips. And still, no actual sound even came out of his mouth but I was able to read.

Wow!

What he had seen was a most uncommon species in Milongas. A lone woman, more elegantly dressed than any other lady here (ok, not too difficult for a tourist in Bs-As), and younger too (ok, not too difficult at La Ideal). A pretty, thin creature with a job good enough to buy nice clothes and with a body good enough to wear them. Red hair, green dress.

My fellow’s city shoes went immediately back in their bag of course and he started to arrange his shirt and hair and tie and everything.

I had a quick glance and knew that my revenge for the cabeceo episode was there. The creature approached our group, came in my back, put her hands on my eyes. “Guess who?“. I gently took her wrists, we kissed and she promised she would come back to dance with me once she’ll have her tanda with a local teacher she had recognized while coming to us. This gave me the time to explain to the baffled group that she was one of my regular partners, from another class given by another teacher, not the one who was in charge of our group. I have a regular partner for this teacher too but she wasn’t with us in Buenos-Aires. This one is not rich. But young yes, and thin too, and definitely playful too. “You sure know to choose’em“, a lady added, as if reading my thoughts.

When the group finally left I went to my partner for a goodbye. She was staying a little more at La Ideal as she had been invited by each and every porteno and had hardly completed half of the task.

“- By the way“, I asked her, “why did you come at this Milonga?

“- It’s a place for older people, I knew I would find you here!

Gender imbalance, a theory

2007, October 16

 The theory goes: “when women outnumber men in a class, it’s because they hope to dance with the teacher.”

So I tried yet  another class yesterday, given by an argentine emigrate. He teaches without a partner, picking  a random follower to demonstrate the patterns. Not always the same follower. One point for him by the way. I bet it’s flattering but still unpleasant as a leader to see your partner kidnapped by the teacher. Also when the pupils exercize he partners the lone follower, if any.

 Well there were no less than three more ladies in this class. And when the  “change partners!” was yelled I could see the women swiftly getting away from their current leader and moving one step backwards, to the wall, pretending they’re some invisible ninja, manoeuvring to avoid the leaders, trying to remain alone.  And once the couples were set, the three followers would move one step forward in the direction of the teacher.

Ok I did not attend this class only to check my theory. I did not know the teacher but I did know the dance studio beforehand, and especially I remembered that years ago  they used to keep a box full of free candies.

The box was still there.

Tango über alles

2007, October 8

This Friday practise is not a well-known one. It’s organized by our Thursday teachers and nobody outside their pupils
ever comes here. Maybe because it starts and ends early. Maybe because there are other places in town with better dancers.

I had come with the hope to maybe find my partner but she wasn’t there, so I just sat on the first chair I saw, waiting for the predictable assault of undesirable followers, the ones who know that if you’re not inviting them then you’re probably not wanting to dance with them but who still come to you because it’s either that or not dancing at all. Three of them came so I had my three bad tandas.
It’s not only the lack of balance or dissociation, it’s also the unability to process the data flow. Like connecting the comp to a printer without enough buffer. You want to lead something but they’re not receptive because they’re still trying to figure out what was the #n-1 thing you led.

The practise was a two-hour one, I had come late, all in all after dancing with the three ladies and having a few drinks at the bar the end was already near. I had a look at the people. There is a discovery class just before, so unsurprisingly one half of the attendance are beginners, the other half being people like me – and like the three ladies who had invited me – from the Thursday intermediate class.

And I saw two unknown girls. Assuming that they were from the beginner
class I decided to bring my evening of bad tandas to completion by inviting one of them. Her embrace was cautious but not tense. I began with a square box. Fine. A pause. Ok. Let’s try a cross then. Can do. Barrida, amague, nice. Linear back boleo? Sure. The heel did not venture too high, not trying to hit the moon but she acknowledged the lead. Ok, this one is not a beginner, the perspicacious me thought. Obviously she wasn’t summoning all her skills to follow. Keeping her energy for one milonga or two after this practise.

The tanda ended, the practise too and the mystery as well when I heard the girl chatting with her friend. Two german Frauleins.

This is one big difference with our town and Buenos-aires. when a foreigner comes here we can safely assume that his/her tango is better than ours.

Gender balance stats

2007, October 3

Autumn is here, and my followers have chosen the classes that I will attend. But the respective teachers are still on holiday/tour so I took advantage of the free time to explore the classes given by the other teachers in town, or at least by the ones who were still unknown to me.

This included discovery classes. Clapping my hands on the beat, walking alone, being skipped by the ladies when the teacher asked to trade partners, it all felt exactly like when I actually started.
While I was there I took note of the gender balance, to check whether my theory (leaders vastly outnumber followers in classes) was any better than the mainstream theory (followers vastly outnumber leaders in classes). So in roughly 15 days I attended as many classes with as many teachers, except one day when I thought there would be a class because it was organized by an A.T teacher and some people were dancing but it turned out that it was just a warm-up before an orchestra made a live performance.

Here are the figures:

Monday: four lone followers
Tuesday: balanced
Wednesday: three lone leaders
Friday: balanced
Saturday: balanced (but well, it was a couple-only class)
Sunday: one lone leader
Monday: my mistake, I thought it was an A.T class but a live concert (two guitars, one bass) took place instead
Tuesday: seven lone followers
Wednesday: balanced
Thursday: two lone followers
Friday: four lone leaders
Saturday: one lone follower
Sunday: balanced (but it was a couple-only workshop)
Tuesday: balanced (but it was a couple-only class)

The grand total shows a lack of leaders, but it’s mainly because of the tuesday class with seven more girls, and a teacher who recruits in milongas. “You liked dancing with me? You will love my classes!”

Pre-requisites

2007, September 29

I can think of only one situation where I will invite someone 100% of the time during a milonga:

– The current tanda played by the DJ suits me.

– The girl with whom I’m wanting to dance is chatting with another girl.

– Another leader invites this other girl.

The first condition is easily met, almost anything but Di Sarli will do. The second condition is already much less frequently fulfilled; the lady tends to be in a larger group, or with a male. Same for the last condition, I have standard tastes so if a follower pleases me she will please the other leaders too.

HQ

2007, September 24


This is my i-pod, except it’s not an i-pod but a Creative Zen touch. All the tangos that I like ended up here, and as there remained Gigabytes of disk I’ve also copied one part of my pop-music, classic and ballroom CDs.

And here I was, last Friday, climbing up to 4th floor where the A.T class was due. From the moment I had left my flat I was listening to a Piazzolla selection, trying to emulate Chicho (It’s common knowledge that in his younger days he used to walk in the streets for hours, with a Piazzolla-filled walkman tm ). The mp3 machine was playing Invierno porteno in a live version, and for some reason I failed to decide whether it was the Milan or the Vienna concert. Shame on me. I realized I would have to look at the screen. My right hand began to extirpate the i-pod from its carrying case…

And like a soap in the tub the i-pod escaped from its protective shell and fell on the floor, leaving me with an empty case in the hand. Worse, the wooden stairs of this old building being slightly sloping, the i-pod kept going down, bouncing from one step to another. Then of course it fell right into the inner void in the inside of the stairs, bouncing not from step to step any more but from one floor to another.

I dropped the heavy bag (with my shoes, shirts, book, towels, all the stuff I need for tango) I had in my left hand and climbed down, not even in a hurry or worried, sure as I was to find only fragments of what used to be my i-pod. My thoughts were more on the lines of how much does it cost nowadays, maybe they sell smaller ones with more memory, how long will it take to once again listen to all my CDs and pick the pieces…

Well at ground zero I found the little fellow unharmed, still playing the Piazzolla song. It was the Milan version.

No regrets

2007, September 2

The summer break is ending, the golondrinas are back from their festivals abroad and classes will begin again soon. These are the last days for my going to milongas. Classes are the alpha and omega of tango of course, milongas being a mere substitute.

It was packed yesterday. An orchestra and a demo, this sure brings lots of people. And here I was, stuck with a follower who had invited me and was unable to deal with the crowd. It’s not that difficult, it was possible to take large steps, the only thing she had to do was to keep moving around me, keeping her feet next mine. But this requires that you can dissociate hips and torso. She couln’t. Her back steps were behind her and not around me. She kept kicking people and doing unwanted weight shifts. I wasn’t feeling that I was dancing but merely moving her on the floor, counter-clockwise. It wouldn’t have mattered that much on a DI Sarli tanda because I don’t like his way; but the DJ was playing a Donato tanda. At the fourth song I recognized the first notes of El Adios, a piece that I like very much and decided that I would not spoil it with a bad follower so I excused myself.

I had a look around and found only one lady who could have followed properly, unfortunately she had been invited already and I felt jealous of her leader. Not because he was dancing with her and not me, but because he was dancing El adios and not me.

Later, after the demo, the DJ played a Color Tango tanda. Another favourite of mine. Once again I looked around and once again the only suitable follower was in another leader’s arms. Can’t blame her, why would she save dances for me when there are good leaders here? I blamed it on the 99% remaining ladies. Damnit, why do the follower stop taking classes once they’re “good enough”? Sometimes good enough is not enough. Color Tango is not an easy orchestra, the instruments aren’t all playing the same thing at the same time, you have choose to follow this one or this one. And you can even lead on one instrument and step and another. If you’re Gavito, that is.

Losing any hope of finding a follower who could dance Color Tango on a packed floor I took my coat and began to move out. I was at the doorstep when I felt a hand on my arm. I turned, a young lady was smiling to me. She looked vaguely familiar. In the darkness I hadn’t noticed she was there.

“May I have this dance?” she asked, “We danced here last year and it was nice.”
“I’m leaving” I replied, “I changed my shoes already. Maybe next year.”

Legacy

2007, August 21

It’s a common game in a community with many teachers, to try and guess, seeing someone dancing, who his instructor is.

In my case the guesses are always wrong. Sure I took classes with all the big names but only one guy was really influential and he wasn’t a big name at all, not even an A.T teacher. A mere social ballroom teacher, and it’s during my years with him that I built my style.

The lead. Not just doing my half of the dance. Always wait to be sure that the woman is on the right track for her next step before stepping myself. “I’ll never pretend I can dance”, he liked to say, “but I guarantee you that I can lead”.

The appearance, good look, hair, attire. Pffft, couldn’t care less. He wasn’t interested in elegance or having your foot here and not there, unless it was detrimental to the lead/follow process. He taught social ballroom, not comp or show.

The long steps I like to take. It all comes from the Viennese Waltz. But natural long steps, not exaggerated. He liked to caricature the ballroom competitors, he would cruise the room in only three giant steps, making faces. “In competition, this is called a smile!” he joked.

Versatility. According my mood to the music. He taught us that. Rumba is sexy, cha-cha is fun, fox-trot is… well to his great despair we did not like fox-trot too much.

Generous. He gave me a pair of his dance shoes when he saw I had none. Well I’ve never been that generous but more than once I attended newborn, predictably empty milongas to support somehow the hosts.

Navigation. In ballroom it’s easier as everybody moves the same way. On the other side the general movement is much faster and when a collision does happen it’s at high speed. Plus, his classes were well attended and leaders had to grow a third eye to avoid collisions.

Efficiency. I still remember my first group class with him, paso-doble and cha-cha. Couldn’t get anything, wasn’t a born dancer at all, two left feet and a blank brain. A couple of years later in another studio the pupils would think I was the new teacher. Obviously, judging from my current (and low-level) skills in the milongas, none of the big A.T names was even half as efficient.

After switching to A.T I saw him less and less frequently, the last time was after my first trip to Bs-As. But I was still on his e-mail list, and every year in August when receiving his flyers I would consider going back to social ballroom. Alas I guess I won’t. Included in the envelope with the last-week flyer was a little piece of paper with just a few words, signed by his assistants.

“Jean-Jacques is gone, very far and high, with his dance shoes. He asked us to continue his task here below. The classes will be taught by…”

When someone dies he still lives in the memories, when a teacher dies he still lives in the dance of his pupils.