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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.

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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!


Oh My.

Simply beautiful.  Enjoy.


A Metaphor For Life

Some people are content to walk through life at a shuffle. They are content (although not necessarily happy) to be where they are in life. They see no need to improve themselves or to grow as an individual. In this same way, some people are content to shuffle their way through Tango.

Einstein & Tango

In “real” life, K is a major speed walker; full of energy (read hyper), and constantly on the search for efficiency.  She also likes to take the lead in life.  For this reason, her struggles in Tango (and in life) revolve around slowing down and letting go.

In “real” life, Jorge is easy-going and indecisive.  He’s gentle and has difficulty accepting who he is.  For this reason, his struggles in Tango (and in life) revolve around taking the reigns and being in charge.

Those who want life or tango to be all-positive and all-perfect refuse to accept all that life… and Tango… have to offer.  When you don’t allow yourself to be vulnerable, you are likely to miss all that life… and Tango… have to offer. For some people, denial is a strong motivator and they prefer to live in an “everything-is-fun-all-the-time” delusion.

Tango is Life.  Life is Tango.  Be happy with who you are and be happy with your Tango.  Love all the perfection and the imperfection.  At the same time, strive to be all that you can be and don’t settle for being “content”.


Suggestion #174

Women: Wash your hair before you Tango.

Many women have long hair and that means there’s a lot of hair smelling good… or bad.  If that hair hasn’t been washed the day you are tangoing or if it has been but it’s been at the gym, that’s a lot of hair giving off a lot of nasty fumes right into the nostrils of the men you are dancing with.

Please smell good.  Wear deodorant, wear clean clothes, shower, AND wash your hair. Men, that includes you too.


The Search for “Natural”

There are several unnatural body movements and concepts found in Tango. One of the obvious ones being the woman’s back walk. However, many of the movements are very natural (or can be) and that is how we teach our students to see Tango. It is also the way we believe Tango has evolved – giving women the ability to be stronger and more independent in the dance, and allowing the movement for both dancers to be more natural.  The problem is that many students are taught to dance in countless unnatural ways.

Collecting  Collecting one’s feet (or specifically squeezing the thighs) OBSESSIVELY is not natural (or necessary). Let gravity work its magic and the leg will fall naturally perpendicular to the floor, straight under the pelvis. Having legs that act like pendulums will allow the ankles to come close together or make contact between steps.

Pretty Feet In addition to being taught to collect legs obsessively, many women have also been taught that their feet aren’t pretty enough. In order to “pretty” up the feet, women are taught to pronate their feet. There are many dancers and professional tango teachers that now have completely over-pronated feet.

This is an example of an over-pronated foot in Tango:

This is an example of a more natural line:

Having natural lines mean your feet fall downwards when they are beneath you. When they are to the side, they can relax, but they should NOT be pushed downwards in order to get a more “intense” (pronated) look to the foot.

Some dancers coming from ballet may have developed this pronation in their feet, but it should not be taught and it should not be the expected norm.

Toe first How do most people walk in their daily lives? Do they land toe first? No. Humans walk in a way that has the heel hitting the ground first. Students new to Tango have enough to worry about without having to relearn how to walk.  Although toe-first can add an aesthetic variation to the dance, it is by no means necessary. Plus many who teach the toe-first technique often also teach the idea that the foot should lead (or move first) and then the body. We’re always fascinated by this. How on earth is a woman supposed to feel a man’s foot moving first?

Photo borrowed from  Simba Tango.

**We’ll always remember what one Milonguero told us: Toe first is for dancers; heel first is for Tangueros.**

Hips Forward Tango requires room between the man and woman’s pelvises. Otherwise, women, you are castrating the man. You are taking away his ability and liberty to walk forward freely. We will admit that at first glance, having your hips back is unnatural. However, if you want to hug, create space, and not lean on your partner (or have all your weight on the balls of your feet), then your hips will need to be pulled back so that your centre of gravity will be over your own feet. Having your hips back mean that your legs will be perpendicular with the ground. Leaning forward with the weight all in the balls of your feet is unnatural and painful…  and if you are not leaning forward, you are touching one another’s groins… and that is unnecessary in Tango and brings us back to the point that the man is being “castrated”.

One or Two Tracks Very few people naturally walk in one track (this being the equivalent to walking on a tightrope). Why? Because just like walking on a tightrope, it’s difficult?! We stand on two legs that are under us in such a way as to give us good, natural balance.

Over-Disassociation or No Disassociation We’ve seen students who have been taught to disassociate exaggeratedly when walking – especially when walking outside of a partner. The disassociation is so extreme that when these students dance with anyone who has not learned from their teacher, the entire balance of the couple is thrown off. On the flip side of the coin, we have (more often) seen students who have never learned to disassociate – in general or as part of the lead. These people move like cement pillars and wonder why they can’t lead any of the more demanding movements (without tension).

Overly-Relaxed or Full of Tension It is fundamentally important that dancers be relaxed in Tango. Teachers who ask their students to have firm (read stiff) arms and embraces, clearly don’t understand that Tango consists of an “abrazo” (hug). But again, there’s a natural way to be relaxed when dancing and it requires a little more muscle activation than what is needed when lying down. When it comes to being “relaxed”, here are two phrases to remember:

Hug your partner. Don’t turn your embrace into a frame.

Relaxing does NOT  equal collapsing