Watered-Down

A recent comment on “How We Teach and Promote Argentine Tango” and a recent email seeking to organize a milonga (in the “Nuevo” style) brought us to the realization that far too many people want to water-down or dumb-down Argentine Tango. Tango is perfect the way it is! Why must it be radically changed?

We treat our students like mature and evolved beings. We trust that they will love Argentine Tango music (the Golden Era stuff). We trust that they will love the dance without all the showy moves. We trust that they will love a chest-to-chest embrace and will not be embarrassed by it. We trust that Argentine Tango is special enough without all the fluffy extras.

It is our job as teachers to educate our students. And so, we educate our students about the codes, the music, and the dance. It frustrates us when people feel the need to organize fusion events or play alternative music so the “young people” will like it and have a “fun” time. There is an assumption made that young people can’t possibly appreciate the complex music of the Golden Era Tango orchestras. We don’t make that assumption and we teach a predominantly young student base at the University of Toronto Argentine Tango Club. They don’t ask for alternative music or salsa intermissions because we have guided our students to love Tango the way it is. This is comparable to avoiding bringing your children to McDonald’s for the first time. Although they may like it, it doesn’t mean it’s good for them or that they should have it.

McDonald’s Water Tower

As an aside, we also find it quite frustrating that many dancers try to segregate among age-groups in Tango. We have been rallied numerous times to give our support to events that our youth-focused (which will end up excluding the “older” crowd). Why would we do this when the majority of our favourite dancers are among that crowd? This is another way we educate our students; we inspire them to seek the best embrace among all ages and not their BFF among their age-group.


Perfection

We wrote this a while back when there seemed to be a shared Tango consciousness regarding great teachers having or lacking the ability to be star dancers and star dancers having or lacking the ability to be great teachers…

Mark at Tango Beat wrote, “Great performers in every art discipline are not necessarily the best teachers. Is tango the exception?” He makes a valid point and we have had the experience of learning tango from dancers who seemed to dance well, but couldn’t teach to save their lives. However, we have also been fortunate enough to have as our maestro, Andres Laza Moreno, who has the “wide spectrum of talent” that Mark speaks of. Andres is both an incredible teacher and a phenomenal dancer.

Meanwhile, Bora wrote, “People’s tolerance for your mistakes goes down when you enter the ‘experts’ circle.’ After all, who will want to learn from you or see you dance if you fail to live up to the occasion, even if it’s during a social dance at a milonga?” Although we understand and partially agree with this comment, it depresses us tremendously. We’ve witnessed performers flexing almost every muscle in their body in order to avoid making a single mistake. Yet those with an eye for it, can see all the “mistakes” happening underneath this guise. They’re only fooling those very people who don’t want to learn from people who aren’t “perfect”! It is satisfying and oh-so-real to see the Tango greats make mistakes and own them! THAT is real Tango; as is understanding that there are no mistakes in Tango; there are only miscommunications.

Thankfully, there are those who understand and have said that a good dancer does not necessarily make a good teacher, and a good teacher does not necessarily make a good dancer. Nor does that need to be the case. THANK YOU. The old adage “do as I say and not as I do” fits nicely here.

The two of us do not need to dance like Sebastian Achaval or Ricardo Vidort in order to be great teachers. And at least we have the wherewithal to know that we are not even in the same realm as some of those great dancers (although that doesn’t seem to be the case with most teachers)!  We can, however, still be excellent and lovely dancers with an ability to teach the most “advanced” dancers in our community… without being perfect or being perfect technicians. In fact, we have been told and reminded that Tango should NOT be perfect and it is during those times of “imperfection” that Tango can enter your dance (Gracias, Javier). That little comment is a Tango-jewel. It’s something we treasure and pass on whenever we get the chance.

Finally, back in our ballroom days, our teacher and coach (a National champion) told us that you don’t need to be a champion or among the best dancers to be an incredible teacher. Some people need to seriously reconsider why they think they need to learn from the “best” dancer who teaches in the world when they’re unlikely to ever dance better than the “worst” dancer who teaches in their community. We’re not saying this to limit anyone’s potential, but rather to encourage students to seek out the best teachers (especially in their own hometown) instead of only those they THINK are the best dancers.


The Honeymoon Phase is Over When:

Honeymoon Bliss?

…you don’t feel the need to dance every “tanda”.

…you actually enjoy sitting and listening to the music at a milonga.

…you have no desire to dance outside on a concrete floor, in cold weather, or at other locations not meant for Tango.

…you are aware of the Tango music you are amassing – you no longer download/copy any song that is Tango-like in nature.

…you are no longer interested in volcadas/colgadas/ganchos (if you ever were).

…you no longer attempt to put Tango moves to every piece of music (if you ever did).

…you no longer find it acceptable to hear anything but “golden era” Tango music at a milonga (if you ever did).

…you know how to decline a dance… and you do it.

…you no longer think “El Huracan” is a good piece of music to dance to (unless it’s D’Arienzo’s ’44) and you’ve heard “Desde el alma”, “Corazón de oro”, and Poema” (Canaro) played often enough, thank you.

…you think it’s outrageous to hear 3 or more D’Arienzo Tango tandas played at the milonga (especially if it’s less than 4 hours long)… and in fact, you don’t think everything your local DJ plays is good, is in a properly constructed tanda (i.e., what happened to playing songs from the same era?!), or is being played at the appropriate time in the night (because you can actually hear the difference between the songs AND you are actually listening to the music now).

…you do not want to hear Tango tandas by D’Arienzo and DiSarli following one another (too much!).

…you still love Caló with Berón, but you now know that it is like vanilla-flavoured ice cream (flavoured with REAL vanilla) – simple and special, but not the end-all of Tango music. (A friendly poke to some of you out there – you know who you are ;)

…you no longer think that chest contact alone amounts to an embrace – you want more than a feather-light touch.

…you no longer think that any/every teacher brought to your city or seen on YouTube is amazing and you are not impressed or interested in all the tricks and flashy moves they do.

In many ways, it makes us sad to admit that we are no longer in the Tango honeymoon phase. On the flip-side of the coin, we are happy that we are not dancers who are STUCK in the honeymoon phase – and there are many of those.  Once you grow out of the honeymoon phase, that is when you and your dance can begin to mature. We feel that we are now more knowledgeable, our dancing has evolved, and we don’t live in a delusion. We KNOW that Tango in Buenos Aires is so much better.


How We Teach & Promote Argentine Tango

... Tango Awareness, that is.

1. We play only traditional Argentine Tango music AND we only dance to this music.

2. We teach our students to dance counter-clockwise, in one lane, and to not pass other couples (unless absolutely necessary – and NEVER on the right side of a couple) AND we dance with these proper floor skills.

3. We teach our students to keep their feet on the ground as much as possible AND we keep our feet on the ground as much as possible.

4. We do not teach ganchos or other unnecessary movements AND we don’t dance with these kinds of movements.

5. We teach social and improvised Tango that is conducive to dancing on a milonga floor AND we dance a social and improvised Tango.

6. We teach the “cabeceo” (reminding our students that it is done from your seat and not at the corner of the woman’s table) AND we actually use it.

7. As teachers, when we go to Buenos Aires, we go as students ready to learn more. We take classes, we learn more about the music, we dance socially, and we live Tango.

8. We teach our students about the music and the importance of it. We tell them which orchestra/singer/era will be playing during the class. We even remind our students that they should not embrace until the song has begun in order to develop a feeling for what is being played.

9. We teach our students that a “cortina” is a small piece of non-Tango music used to CLEAR the floor between “tandas” and no one should dance to the “cortina” or remain on the floor during this time.

10. We tell our students to go out dancing, to dance with various partners… but we also let our students know that they are allowed to decline dances for whatever reason.

*Although we teach and promote these concepts (and more) with the hope that we’re positively influencing our students, we are often reminded that people will eventually make their own choices – for better or for worse.


La Divina: Andrea Misse

Andrea Misse & Husband

Husband & Wife

Like a warm, gentle, breeze, Andrea caressed our lives and was gone.* We mean our lives – Jani & Kristina.

We first met Andrea Misse briefly in February of 2009 when we were taking a private with Javier Rodriguez. During our first 8-month visit to Buenos Aires, we were particularly interested in learning from male teachers. And in this way, we never thought to take lessons from Andrea. However, when one of our lessons with Javier was just about up, Andrea stopped by. Javier insisted that she dance with Jani. At this time, Andrea was VERY pregnant and it was quite the experience to dance with her. Jani had trouble comprehending what he had just felt with Andrea, but he knew without a doubt that she was the most amazing woman he had ever danced with. Once the lesson was finished and Javier was bringing us downstairs, Jani told Javier that he couldn’t believe how wonderful Andrea felt. Javier’s response was that Andrea not only felt and danced like the old milongueras, but she was a milonguera in a young woman’s body.

Andrea wouldn’t enter our lives again until our trip to the Seoul Tango Festival in May 2011. Taking all nine of Javier & Andrea’s workshops (12 hours), we were immersed in their Tango world. This time it was Kristina who was truly mesmerized by Andrea. How is she so balanced?! How do her legs do that? How does her embrace feel so soft, strong, and all-encompassing (yes, K asked to feel it)?! In all honesty, it was only at this point that Kristina finally and truly fell in love with Andrea Misse, the Tango Goddess.

During the festival, on the night we had performed, Jani cabeceoed Andrea for a tanda of Biagi Tangos. Feeling calm after a glass or two of wine, Jani felt like he danced in the clouds with La Divina Misse. Immediately following the first Tango, she sincerely told Jani that he danced very well. Common flattery, right? However, she also made a point of telling Kristina at the end of the night how lovely Jani’s dancing was and that he was a very good dancer. It was a very sweet gesture that gave us a glimpse into the lovely person she was.

Now fast forward to our current trip to Buenos Aires. We had previously been in touch with Andrea to let her know we would be here and that Jani wanted to take some lessons with her. The first 2 lessons were with Jani only, but Kristina didn’t miss out on the chance to observe the classes – taking notes for Jani and doing her best to visually absorb some of Andrea’s technique. Those 2 classes were so Tango/Life changing, that we decided that the next private would be 2 hours long – one hour for Jani and one hour for the two of us as a couple. And after those 2 hours, we booked another 2-hour lesson for two days later on Friday, December 30th.

Andrea pushed us both hard and was always quick to show how proud of us she was. After dancing a song with Jani where she had demanded that he not be scared to be more violent and more of a brute, she broke away from the embrace and a huge smile slowly spread across her face. After giving us helpful tips to make a calecita-like lean better and more beautiful, our subsequent attempt yielded a “SI!!!!!” and a “Hermosa!!!” And finally, after our last 2-hour lesson while we were thanking her for everything, she stressed how it had been a pleasure for her to teach us.

We were upset after that lesson because we didn’t know when we would have the chance to learn from her again. The next 2 days were “fiesta” days (New Year’s), she was leaving Monday for a festival in Neuquen and after the festival she had plans to go to the beach with her family. Little did we know that we would be one of the last students she would teach… and that we would never learn from her again.

HOWEVER, we were kindly invited to Javier (Rodriguez’) home for New Year’s Eve celebrations along with many other international Tango friends. What an incredible time we had… A 12-hour affair, from 8pm to 8am. Late in the evening (or early in the morning), Andrea, her husband, and their daughter dropped by for a visit. They were beaming with happiness. The little one was so shy, but once a carnival mask was strapped on, she became a different girl and it was then that Andrea and her performed a little choreography that included the cutest (and most appropriate) gancho and sentada combo we have ever seen. It was also during this night that Jani took what may have been their last family photo.

One day later, the news of Andrea’s death hit us, along with MANY others, hard. We had received a message in the evening of the 2nd to go over to Javier’s, but we thought it was for a get-together. It was only half-an-hour later, while checking Facebook, that we found out that Andrea was dead. It was an unbelievable shock and we hurried to contact others in Buenos Aires and get ourselves over to Javier’s where friends were gathering to comfort one another.

In many ways, we were kicking ourselves for not having taken lessons with Andrea during our last visit to Buenos Aires… but then we reminded ourselves that it obviously hadn’t been the right time then. This was now our time. And in this same way, we try to remind ourselves that Andrea is no longer here because it was her time to move on. We couldn’t be more thankful that she came into our lives.

Thank you Andrea for sharing a part of your life and your Tango with us.

Our thoughts, our prays, and our hearts go out to Andrea’s family and friends. We wish them strength and love during this difficult time.

*For those unaware, Andrea moved on from this world after being in a car accident (involving 4 cars in total) with her husband, her daughter, and her husband’s mother. The other passengers sustained some injuries, but are OK.


Buenos Aires: Week 2

Buenos Aires Street

Although our intention was to blog every few days, we’ve come to realize it’s hard to post often when neither of you actually likes writing or has any real skill for it :)

We’ve definitely been enjoying our time here. It’s been great seeing friends, seeing faces from our last trip, and making new friends. We’ve been thoroughly enjoying our private lessons even though it means we feel like beginners again and there’s a decent amount of frustration involved. We’ve happily gone to new places for Tango and it has helped us to further solidify what Tango means to us.

Being Tall Sucks

This is nothing new, but of course K is being reminded how her height is such an issue here. With her heels on, she’s over 5″10 and that is taller than the majority of men who tango in Buenos Aires. Many shorter men are keen to dance with K, but she is not interested in having men’s eyes at the level of her bust (even if there really isn’t anything to see there). There are only a handful of men who are within her height range – of those, fewer still are nice dancers. Of those dancers, not all of them necessarily want to dance with K. Although K would enjoy dancing more tandas, she would definitely rather sit, listen, and observe than dancing some mediocre tandas (and she’s also had some of those).

Enjoying The After-Glow

Listening and watching are not the only reasons both of us often choose to sit down during a tanda. After dancing a lovely tanda with someone, we both enjoy taking the time to bask in the after-glow. An easy analogy for foodies like us: After taking a bite of some fabulous foie gras, why would you even consider putting another type of food in your mouth right away? No. You want to give yourself time to savour the taste and let the flavour slowly melt away.

Jorge’s Turn

During our last trip, it was K who danced the most in the milongas. Jorge was (and is) constantly working to improve his self-confidence and he often struggled with the attitude needed to draw the attention of new partners. This time around, he feels better about his dance, he’s accepting that not everyone needs to like his dance, and the organizers or staff remember him and have given him good seats at the milongas.

New Milongas and Practicas

A new friend invited us for our first (and last) visit to “Milonga en Orsay” in San Telmo. Stepping into this place, it felt like we were transported to an underground Tango scene. In all the ways the word “underground” can imply, it was dark, dingy, and rough around the edges. The floor was bumpy, uneven, and small, people chatted loudly, and others danced to music that was being played too quietly. A live band of six young musicians played one set. Aside from the bandoneonist nearing tears when one key of his bandoneon remained stuck playing the same note, they were quite interesting to listen to. The violinist was particularly impressive and we rather enjoyed hearing them play.

Today we made it out to practica “La Maria”. Without knowing it, we headed to the location “La Catedral” milonga is held. What a fantastic space – especially with light seeping in through windows high up near the roof! If Canadian children could see this place, they would think they’ve died and gone to heaven. It’s the epitome of a cool homemade fort. With lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling, an old record player, a double-leveled stage, curtains held by clothespins, a mannequin, many chairs and tables that had no match, soft sofas, and bumpy wooden floors.

The practica is actually held in the room beside the large tavern (aka fort). The floor is flat and smooth, but very sticky. The music consisted of a half-an-hour playlist of Tangos by Fresedo, Calo, and Rodriguez, along with a few milongas of Canaro… on repeat. That was reason enough to never go back.

However, let us share how seeing some of the ugliest Tango we’ve ever seen at both the milonga and the practica made us realize we didn’t belong there. These places may very well be where young dancers are taking their first Tango steps – and for this we’re excited. But why are none of these dancers being taught or learning anything about posture? The majority of dancers weren’t standing straight – from hunched backs, to heads looking down, to overly bent knees – and there was some strange Tango being danced. Although we have seen for ourselves that Tango Nuevo is definitely no longer in style here, there are remnants of it left over in many dancers and being passed on to many new dancers.

Shoes

Finally, some pictures of K’s new Tango shoes purchases… because it makes many of us Tangueras happy. These are the NeoTango shoes. K has since bought a beautiful pair of Soy Porteno shoes (picture to follow in the next post).

Neo Tango Shoes

Neo Tango Shoes

Neo Tango Shoes

Photos by Jorge


Buenos Aires – First Few Days


View from our balcony - Photo by Jorge

The Travel

Ack! It was horrible and it’s starting to become our travel norm. As usual, we left packing (and cleaning) until the day before and this meant that by the time we left home, we were stressed beyond belief. However, passing through American customs (where the custom officers think they are world Gods) went smoothly and quickly, and we were on our way to Miami.  We arrived in Miami to see that our next flight was “on time” and proceeded to wait 3-4 hours for our boarding time. We’re not sure why we didn’t learn from our travels to Seoul in May, but we forgot to keep checking on our flight status. We made the erroneous assumption that “on time” four hours earlier meant the flight was still going to be on time come boarding time. WRONG. Our American Airline flight (going bankrupt anyone?) for 11.20pm was cancelled due to “maintenance issues” and was rescheduled for 7am. After waiting in line for an hour to have our tickets rescheduled, we were given food vouchers and a night’s stay (5 hours) in the Sheraton.

By the next morning, we were tired and feeling pretty lousy. Our flight left on time and we arrived in Santiago for another 5-hour layover. This meant we arrived in Buenos Aires at 12.35am instead of 9 hours earlier in the afternoon.  Not so bad considering, but it meant we were sleep deprived and arriving in the middle of the night with no plans to have someone meet us at our rented apartment (we were unable to get internet connection when it mattered the most). Luckily, we called the one contact we had been given through BYTArgentina and they were able to meet us at the apartment along with the owners to check us in!!!

Settling In

Our studio apartment is nice but very spartan. It being a new rental, it’s missing a lot of the things we had in our last 2 rentals here.  However, it’s bright, it has air conditioning, the shower is great, there’s a balcony, we’re right beside a subway station, AND there’s a pool with a nice deck.  Unfortunately, this city that usually doesn’t see much rain in the summer has been giving us some rain every day (except today) and it hasn’t been super warm!?

We’ve been out to get groceries, eaten empanadas (K wants to eat them every day!), gotten a SIM card and minutes for our old Nokia phone, and been screwed over by Argentinians. Those who followed our meagre travel blog last time around know that we’re not in love with this city. We love this city that lives and breathes Tango, we love many of the people of this city, but when it comes to safety/security, appearance, and quality… We’re not in love with it at all. So when we bought our first media lunas (croissants) and took them home to eat, we discovered hard, day-old (maybe even 2-day-old) media lunas that were inedible. The jerk purposely gave us the crappy ones instead of the nice fluffy ones on top.

Aside from that, we’ve felt far safer and far more confident this time around. We know where we’re going and we know how to get there. We’ve already taken the subway numerous times and we went to and from the milonga the other night by bus. We’ve also located our nearest laundry and empanada places. Now, we need to find a milonga routine.

Milongas

We’ve been to El Beso twice and to Nino Bien once. The first night at El Beso was Milonga Cachirulo and we had a really nice time.  We caught up with some friends (from Toronto, Buenos Aires, and Seoul) and we got our milonga feet wet. We were both quite nervous and trying to remember how this all works.

Wednesday night at La Bruja (El Beso) was extremely quiet. Jorge was told by a local woman that this year has been very quiet in the milongas and there are far fewer tourists. The level of dancing was lower than the night before, but we still had a good time.

Thursday we headed to Nino Bien, against our better judgment, and discovered a tourist milonga. There are many who complain about people saying they want to avoid “tourist milongas”, but this is what they mean: It’s not just milongas where tourists go, it’s milongas where the dancing resembles what is seen back home in their own country. Within 10 minutes, we already wanted to leave. But being the frugal (cheap) people we are, we decided to stay and suffer.

Lessons

We love learning. We love private lessons. We love our teachers.

We’ve had 3 private lessons so far and this time around we decided we would not only take privates as a couple, but also individually. The first private was Jorge with Andrea Misse and it was a fantastic lesson. Andrea had Jorge work on making his right chest (teta) more present and passing all the leading information through it. In combination with that, adding more of a connection between his left hand and right “teta”. Finally, he was asked to add more colours to his dance… and be more brutal. This is a constant theme for Jorge… and a constant struggle for a calm and gentle man.

Our next 2 lessons were with Andres Laza Moreno. The first of which was only with K. After a first warm-up dance, Andres said, “You’re dancing like a student. Dance like a woman.” K understood perfectly what he meant. Otherwise, Andres wanted K to connect her right hand to his, connect her free leg more to her right hand, stretch more between her chest up and lower body down, and some more focus on ocho technique.

The following lesson with Andres was as a couple. We worked on adding shades to the dance, tuning into each other’s weight changes, K slowing down, and Jorge leading earlier (giving the woman plenty of time to read the next step). Jorge was also told for the first time, something that may seem obvious, that everything the  man does in Tango with his body is to move the woman’s body (aside from disassociated movements like adornments).

Shoes

Of course, we’ve made a purchase of Tango shoes. This time, we put our money on NeoTango. Once Jorge finishes processing the photos, we’ll add them here.

Off we go to enjoy more Tango fun!


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