Tag Archives: Classes

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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What Makes a Good (Tango) Student?

Taking Gabriel Missé’s workshops allowed us to make some observations about ourselves in the role of student.  We compared these observations to our own students, as well as to students we’ve seen in other teachers’ classes. This is what we realized:

When we take someone’s class, it means we’re there to respect the teacher. We become blank slates, we believe the teacher knows best, and we do as we’re asked. We push ourselves hard. We listen while the teacher speaks. And we ONLY work on what a teacher has asked us to work on. Perhaps this is one of the major reasons why after almost 4 hours of lessons with Gabriel Missé and Analía Centurión, we were (more or less) dancing in their style and using their technique. That’s not a pat on our backs. Rather, it’s a thought to you, the reader, to ask yourself what you do to better your dance when:

A) You struggle with body awareness

This isn’t an insult.  This is a fact for many people. You are struggling with body awareness when you are constantly being given the same corrections from every teacher you take a lesson from (or even from one single teacher). In the same way you might work on technique, body awareness is a skill that needs to be developed and (re)learned.

B) You learn from many different teachers

There is an issue when specific techniques you use come from different teachers and you are not working on only one specific set of techniques. Mixing and matching is dangerous in Tango. Every teacher you take a class from will try to correct the other teacher’s technique you have (unless their focus in on figures/sequences or they have a complete lack of desire to see your dance improve). With that said, we have observed teachers who choose to avoid “wasting” their energy on a student until they see that the student has a genuine interest in learning from them.

C) You believe you are the best judge of your Tango.

Do you argue with the teacher?  When a teacher asks you to do something, do you say, “I am doing that!” or “I can’t!”? Do you claim to prefer doing something a certain way? If you answer “yes” to any of these, then you believe you know best and we believe this will hinder your ability to improve.


Gabriel Who? Gabriel Missé!?

We’ll be perfectly honest.  We were undecided about taking the workshops. Our technique in Tango couldn’t be any more different. That’s why, to help us make up our minds, we decided to email our friends in Seoul to get their opinion. Their opinion was that although our styles are completely different, taking lessons with Gabriel Missé is like taking a little trip to a Tango Museum.

That little piece of info combined with the fact that when Miguel Zotto was flown in for the same event* last year, we noticed (in pictures) that not many people had attended the workshops.  And so, we thought, why not?! We registered for three workshops on one night – each of which was an hour and 15 minutes long with 15 minute breaks in between.

*See below for more information about the whole Toronto Tango Summit event.

Small Class Size – What Up Toronto?!

We couldn’t have been happier that only a few other Toronto tangueros came out for the workshops on Friday.  It meant that we received a ton of individual instruction.  However, it was mind-blowing to NOT see anyone else there.  We couldn’t understand how people who have specifically said they love Gabriel’s dancing weren’t there.  We couldn’t understand how people who normally flock to any visiting instructor weren’t there.  We couldn’t understand why Toronto tangueros who have been learning from other “V-embrace” teachers weren’t there.  We just couldn’t understand… but we kind of did.

Why Missing The Workshops Made Sense (For Us and/or You)

TECHNIQUE

As we already mentioned, the difference in technical style was a big deterrent for us. EVERYTHING was different from what we’ve learned and from what we teach. From walking toe first, to leading 90% with the right hand/arm, to an embrace that barely touches… It just couldn’t get any more different. That’s why this was more of an academic and let’s-try-it experience than a let’s-change-our-dance experience. As teachers, we can’t be wishy-washy with our technique/style or our students will be confused – and we’ve been on that side of the coin as students! We’ve made up our minds about how we dance Tango, but that doesn’t mean we can’t expand our knowledge.

STAGE vs SALON

Aside from technique, it seems that every youtube performance we’ve seen of Gabriel is a choreography. We have not been interested in learning from dancers whose priority is Stage Tango. We truly believe that if you want to learn how to dance socially, you should learn from teachers who primarily dance socially.  Analogy: It’s like taking photography lessons from someone who shoots with film when you want to learn how to shoot digital.

BODY AWARENESS

The general tanguero with very little previous dance or body movement background often lacks a necessary sense of body awareness to learn from various teachers with differing technical styles. And yet it has almost become a cliche for people to say and believe they have the ability to pick and choose the essential points/technique from each Tango teacher. Given our extensive background in dance, body awareness is not a major issue for us and we are able to understand what our bodies are doing when we try different techniques.

However, body awareness is only one factor. The other factor is the idea of the “complete package”. We cannot use only one or two technical aspects of Gabriel’s dance and make it work within our technical style. When you learn the technique of one teacher, you need to learn it all.* These two factors are legitimate reasons why tangueros learning a different technique were probably better off missing these workshops.

*We would say that many people incorrectly believe that by learning every aspect of one teacher’s technique, it will make you a clone. It’s possible to look very different and have the same technique.  In fact, most people wrongly assume that our main and most influential teacher is Javier Rodriguez (due to Jorge’s similar body-type more than any other reason) when in fact it is Andres Laza Moreno.

Why Taking the Workshops Made Sense (For Us and/or You)

BECAUSE IT WAS GABRIEL MISSÉ!?

Gabriel is from Buenos Aires and learned from the Milongueros starting when he was a small boy. Many of the Milongueros he learned from have passed away and are considered icons in Tango.  He enjoys teaching specific movements that he learned from these Milongueros and he is very clear to tell the class that he teaches social tango and what he does in a performance is different.

Gabriel does not apologize for telling you bluntly that REAL and AUTHENTIC Argentine Tango is this, this, and this.  He also has no problem mocking current techniques and styles of dancing Tango or saying that many of the old dancers currently being called Milongueros are NOT Milongueros. He told the class to learn Spanish and respect Tango because it’s a dance from HIS culture. All things which would cause many North American tangueros to have a conniption fit.  We, on the other hand, found it honourable and respected him for it.

All this to say, we really enjoyed the workshops.

THE EVENT

Let us add that this event, the Toronto Tango Summit, entailed more than just workshops. In fact, the main event was the Grand Ball on the Saturday night which included dance exhibitions by Gabriel Missé & Analía Centurión and Roxana & Fabian Belmonte (the organizers of this event), and music by a live Tango orchestra. This year’s and last year’s Grand Ball were both very successful and were a good time for many dancers and non-dancers alike.


Sitting In

A comment on a post at My Tango Diaries got us thinking… The comment was in regards to Mari’s review of a teaching couple and it said: “I figured that I’ll watch this class, and decide whether I want to take the next one. But a few minutes later the other teacher returned to the room, and informed me that “If you don’t pay, you have to leave the room”.”  The commenter was not happy about this and felt the teachers had an “emphasis on payment”.

"All ears" while seated comfortably

As teachers, we understand that students want to test the waters before they commit.  That’s what drop-ins are for.  It’s rare that a teacher would not offer a drop-in option. Pay the $15 or $20 and then you can find out if you like the class. We often have students who come to the first class of the session and decide at the end of the class if they want to register for a whole session or only pay for that class.  This makes sense and is fair to everyone involved.  That said, it’s quite difficult to judge a class and a teacher in one lesson.  As an example – and in reverse to the obvious  “I didn’t like it in the beginning, but now I like it” idea… We initially really enjoyed the private lessons we were receiving from a couple in Buenos Aires.  It was only after the 3rd or 4th lesson that we realized that the teachers weren’t giving us what we needed or wanted, and were in fact doing very little for our dance.

This is NOT about the money.  This is about the principle of it all.  This is about being fair and not being cheap. Do you go to the movies and say, “I’m just going to sit in and see if I like the movie before I pay?” Do you try foods in the grocery store before deciding to buy them?  In this commenter’s case, she was listening in to see if she would take the next class.  Does this mean if she had liked the class enough to take the next class, she would have also paid for the class she was sitting in on?  Not likely. Maybe her excuse would have been that she had only sat in for 15 minutes.

We do not have an emphasis on money and agree with the comments that money can’t be the driving force in a Tango business.  Tango must be a labour of love and if it’s not, it shows (at least if one chooses to be observant). That said, we DO have an emphasis on payment.  What does this mean?  It means we need to constantly chase after people to pay us for classes.  We offer student rates and so we have had individuals who claim to be students when they’re not.  We’ve had a request for a 10-minute private lesson in order to get a feel for us… for free!?  This is our business (although not our primary source of income).  This is a service we offer.  This is something we ourselves have spent a lot of money on in order to be in this position.

Finally, the idea that listening to, and watching a teacher teach is not worth anything is absurd.  We’ve written a post in the past to attest that, more or less, there’s no such thing as too much talking in a class.  In fact, we are even planning to sit in on some beginner classes in order to pick up some new teaching strategies and evolve as teachers.  Should we tell those teachers that since we’re sitting and not actively participating, we don’t need to pay for the class?


Too Much Talking

The most important aspects of Tango were learned while listening, not while dancing.

A common complaint from Tango students around the world seems to be this: “There was too much talking and not enough dancing.”  During group lessons and private lessons, people just want to dance.  We get it.  However, we also think it’s safe to say that the same people who complain about too much talking are also the same people who are fixated on steps.

The most important aspects of Tango were learned while listening, not while dancing.

Graciela Gonzalez teaches an incredible workshop for LEADERS.  She is well known for her workshop for followers, but the one for leaders is quite special.  There are opportunities to practice the concepts taught, but it is the explanation of these concepts (hence a lot of talking) that are the most important.

Our most dramatic Tango-changing moments happened when teachers in Buenos Aires were TALKING and explaining the concepts, history, or culture of Tango to us.  That’s not to say changes didn’t occur while dancing and practicing, but the biggest changes… those happened while LISTENING. Unfortunately, people see classes as the only place to practice.  Instead students should learn/understand the concepts (listening), try the concepts (a bit of practicing), practice the concepts (in a practica), and finally embody those concepts (in a milonga).


One Dance for Another

Many tangueros speak of all they have given up in order to dance tango and how everything revolves around the dance – more than any other. Overall, it was the opposite for us. Having been competitive ballroom dancers, we actually spent more time dancing and practicing, spent more money (memberships, competitive outfits, private lessons, practices, competitions), and we were all-consumed by it. We didn’t read tango blogs – instead we researched our competitors, looked at competition photos, and shined our trophies (kidding ;) We traveled around the country competing and had we continued to live and compete in Finland, we would have begun traveling throughout Europe to compete. For us, dancing tango meant we had more free time than we’d ever had and more money … well in the beginning anyway.   Then the privates started.  -We are still aghast and disgusted by the fact that Tango teachers charge more for privates than National Ballroom Champions who are experts in FIVE or TEN dances rather than ONE and have generally danced far less time (not including any milongueros).-  Then the shoe fetish began.  Then the extra group classes we wanted to attend.  Then all the milongas and practicas… and finally, the plan for a pilgrimage to the Tango mother land.

Now, we breath and live Tango.  We listen to the music almost all the time (there wasn’t a chance we would have listened to Ballroom music all the time), we watch youtube videos, we read blogs, and  generally have Tango on the brain.  Whereas some people have difficulty adjusting their lives (friendships, etc) to this new love, it was something we were both used to doing with other dances.  We LOVE dancing and dancing has always been a passion for us.  Now that we have Tango, the passion has deepened and we feel the culture of Tango within us.

We couldn’t be happier that it all turned out the way it did.


The Tango Plague

There exists a plague within Tango, found in Tango communities around the world, and perpetuated in blogs and by many tangueros alike.  It feeds on the very notion that Tango, unlike every other dance, is more special, more elusive, and more unique.  Death is slow and painful.

Symptoms of The Tango Plague

Those afflicted with the Tango Plague show signs of confusion.  They begin to believe that they do not need to practice or take lessons.  They believe that the best place to better their craft is on the dance floor of the milonga dancing with the best “Milongueros” (although there are no actual milongueros in their community).  They don’t believe that there are dancers that range from beginner to more advanced even though it is often plain to see which dancers are better and which are worse (one only needs to look at the dancer’s musicality, embrace, posture, and movement).   Finally, the infected are often the first to say, “You never stop learning.”

Treatment

The Tango Plague can be remedied very simply.  First, the infected must realize that like ANY hobby, sport, or interest, one must learn and practice in order to maintain and better oneself.  They must remember some people are good at their chosen interests and exhibit a talent for it, while others struggle to acquire the basics.  The aftermath of this plague leaves us with communities full of dancers who stopped learning after taking one 8-week Tango session; dancers whose dance is infected with little more than bad habits.

We were traumatically reminded of this topic when we went to a neighbourhood matinee Milonga here in Buenos Aires.  The dancers were respectful when navigating the floor and were quite musical.  However, most men shuffled along the floor even though there was space and their bodies were able (EVERY teacher here from the young to the Milonguero has instructed us to take bigger steps when there is the space), and most had embraces that were visibly of the death-grip variety.  K danced with six men, two of which repeated the EXACT SAME PATTERN for FOUR WHOLE SONGS!?  Jorge danced four tandas with three different women, two of which decided the steps for him (if these women danced with the men K danced with, it’s no wonder they anticipated/decided the movement before it was lead).  These women, although appearing to be average dancers, could not maintain their own axis or even follow at the most basic level.  Why?  Because they dance with the men of this milonga who lead by force rather than by invitation and have a non-existent vocabulary of movement.  K would have preferred to walk to the beat for four songs than repeat “Ocho Cortados” the whole time.  That said, we have come to the realization that a large number of men here cannot walk and that the walk is one of the most difficult concepts in Tango.  It is far easier to lead and follow variations of ochos than walk.

We are not suggesting that these Porteños start taking lessons.  Our point is only to open people’s eyes to the MYTH that dancing in the milonga (even and especially the milongas of Buenos Aires) will in itself (or at all) a better dancer make.  Those outside of Argentina with the financial means have no excuse to stop learning and/or practicing.  The whole point of taking classes (learning technique) and practicing in practicas (applying technique) is to SET YOU FREE.  When the embrace, musicality, leading/following, maintaining your axis, and maintaining your posture, are no longer challenges, you are able to experience Tango in the realm of absolute FREEDOM.

Our plea to the Tango Universe: Stop telling people that they don’t need to take classes, that they don’t need to practice outside of the milonga, and that they will learn everything by dancing in a milonga.  Tango is no different from any other dance or skill.  The ability deteriorates without proper use and practice, and updating one’s skill is necessary to maintain even a stagnate level.