Tuesday, 30 August 2011

& for a change...

...something I definitely haven't seen in BsAs.

(From Ken Russell's Valentino, with Anthony Dowell as Nijinsky, and Nureyev as Valentino.)

Sylvia 4

Re-reading my earlier posts I realise I've made classes with Sylvia sound a bit grim. They are intense, but there's a lot of laughter too. But she takes tango seriously, as do many people who dance it in BsAs, and she takes teaching it seriously and gives a lot, as did Tete.

Some notes: she says I'm too bouncy on my feet, the feet should make straightforward contact with the floor. She talks about the importance of keeping the feet together ('collecting') so the point of balance is clear. Much more complicated: the weight should shift and the leg should move before the foot makes contact(?) This is such a fundamental change that it's not easy. & the close embrace is even closer than I ever imagined. 'Don't be nervous on crowded floors: a couple dancing close don't take up much more space than an individual. If you can walk through a space, a couple can get through too.' (So long as the people on each side of the space don't suddenly make big movements, I think to myself. Which of course they wouldn't - in BsAs.)

She insists on the same two things as Pedro: 'With the body!', and 'Listen to the music!' 'Every movement that you make you have to make with precision to the music'. But I always listen to the music! Not really: there's hearing the music, and there's really listening/responding to it. She pulls me up whenever I start leading in auto pilot. 'Listen to the music!' & she adds something like 'Tango is in the pauses'. And says that the lead should always finish with feet together; no dramatic, stagy, splayed-leg poses.

'That's better: now you are pausing. But you are thinking: I can hear your thoughts! It's your time. I know how much time you need; it's the time you need to put in order your body with the music, with your partner, going to the next movement. For every person it is different... But the most important thing is the way that you feel, you as a person. It's the way that you dance.'

'Walk... No! You are too much to the earth. The idea is; you are going over the earth, but your intention is to go to the sky!'

'Be calm. Enjoy the music. If you are thinking, you know, you lose the best part. The best is not for thinking; it's just to enjoy, you know. Feel your body free, be comfortable; especially be comfortable. If you are listening to the music, everything is fine.'

I get from her a full copy of Un vals para Tete, a short film made early in 2008. The makers put about half of it on YouTube a year or so ago. It's good to have the full version, with all the dance from La Calesita, the outdoor milonga in Nuñez that Tete and Sylvia used to run in the summers, 'bajo un cielo de estrellas'. & she also gives me a copy of a short film she's put together of Tete teaching tango to Pina Bausch and the Tanztheater Wuppertal company in 1996, which is rare and wonderful. It concludes with a few ecstatic moments of Tete improvising a dance with Pina herself. Play and laughter: how happy they look! She tells me she may release this film if the company agrees.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Martha and Manolo 2

Martha and Manolo always seem to start with a class mostly of beginners, and at the end everyone is dancing a bit of canyengue. Martha teaches the 'basic' to a group of women who've not danced canyegue before, then brings one of them over to me; 'Dance the basic with her!' So we dance the basic, and again, and again. She seems quite confident, so I sneak in ochos, canyengue-style and her face lights up. She dances tango, and ochos are familiar. More! More! Bit by bit I start remembering everything I've learned; walking turns, cunitas, rock steps, various walks... Not a huge amount, but enough to make life interesting, and we just keep dancing and dancing. Fantastic practice for me, listening to that steady rhythmic beat and remembering what I've been learning, and she's not complaining. We stop to ask Martha about the posture, Manolo intervenes to make some corrections, and has a dance with her, then we continue: she doesn't want to stop, and neither do I. Then, end of class; her boyfriend arrives and takes her away, and I walk slowly back to Barrio Norte, reflecting that I've had at least one memorable dance every day. Worth coming all the way from the UK for that..

A young Brazilian woman, here to dance tango for a few weeks, probably for the milogueando. & I guessed she had classical dance training. She obviously enjoyed canyengue, and commented on how she liked the heavy, down-on-the-floor feel of it, and how it's a sort of proto-tango. True, and it's fun, too.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

The city

The city's a struggle as ever, but I notice how it's being improved. There are new buses on the streets, new 'bendy buses' too. The 'subte' (underground) is being extended. Cycle lanes are being marked, and there's a bright yellow cycle hire system: maybe I just didn't notice this last time. I notice more vegetarian restaurants and take-aways too: apparently meat has got very expensive. Smartphones aren't as common here, but you do see them. The Teatro Colon, the huge opera house, has been renovated and is now back in use. & there seem to be more milongas than ever, and more people dancing.

When I first came here more than three years ago my impression was of a very run-down city, but it looks better now - or perhaps I'm just used to it. The pavements still need work, although I did see a pavement under repair. My impression is that there's a very extensive and reasonably well-off area of society that could be called 'middle class', perhaps not wealthy by European standards, but confident and self-assured. Shops are full of good-looking consumer goods. I've heard it said that Latin America in general has weathered the 'global' downturn much better than Europe and the US. I've heard that there's less personal debt here, and maybe the banks couldn't afford to scoop up 'toxic assets', or were just smart. It looks like a stable and reasonably prosperous capital city.

This trip was planned and carried out very fast. I wanted to return this year and it had to be summer or late October, then I found a good deal on a Lufthansa return flight which I couldn't resist, and six days later I was flying. Getting an apartment at such short notice wasn't so easy, but there was availability, and I took this one in Barrio Norte, a 12-minute walk into El Beso and the centre, and on the way out to Canning. The agency (Buenos Aires Travel Rent) were very helpful and got the deal sorted out fast. There's a good supermarket round the corner, with fresh vegetables and fruit too. The apartment is above an arcade and row of shops catering to the local goth/skateboard/tattoo community so there are usually some curiously-dressed kids around. The apartment is a bit more expensive than I'd like, but what the hell: I'm off to El Beso again tonight...


Just some notes: sadly, I'm not going to get to meet her this time around either. She has a website with videos and a biography, which says she learned in the traditional way, and that's how she teaches.

Sadly, again, there are few videos of her on YouTube. Jantango filmed her in Lo de Celia, but it's during a milonga, so not always clear. There are several demonstration milongas. I posted about her before here and Ampster, who was lucky enough to take classes with her, records her advice on posture here. The best milonga ever filmed (but perhaps not the best film of a milonga) is on Jantango's blog: there's a link to it in this post. Muma dancing with Ricardo Vidort... and Gavito also on the floor.

After Maria Plazaola teaching in boots, here's Muma teaching bare-foot in Vancouver... But I think the best is this video with 'El Flaco' Dany. Unfortunately, the pixelation is eye-watering. Despite El Flaco running all around her she seems completely unhurried, completely cool. I think it also shows the grounded quality of local dance, which continues to remind me of canyengue: the weight comes down firmly, it's a beautiful, down-to-earth dance, and yet her feet are wonderfully fast and accurate. There's something of a dream-like quality in her dance. Beautiful.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Lujos again

Thursday, Lujos again: Alberto and Paulina are there, and I'm seated with Pedro. I get some great dances. It's crowded, but there's still room to move a bit. The partners I meet at El Beso all speak some English, so we chat briefly in Spanish and English. One tells me she'll be in London for a wedding in November and I invite her to a London milonga: I tell her the London milongas are definitely the best, and we fall about laughing. (Apologies to all London milongas wherever you may be.)

It's great to watch Muma on the floor. I met her briefly in Maipu 444 last time, but never saw her dance. Here she dances occasionally with a few of the older guys, who lead her completely smoothly, with turns effortlessly changing direction. It's so quiet you'd hardly notice, but once I notice, I can't take my eyes off them, it's so intimate, effortless and musical. Muma has her own way of dancing which is quite distinctive: her movements can be quick, but with an emphatic weight on the pauses. It's very unhurried, very beautiful to watch. She teaches but doesn't seem to make much of a fuss of it, and seems content to sit quietly in the milonga. She gave me her card last time I was here but it was just a few days before I left, and I still haven't got in touch with her this time. More unfinished business...

Walking home from El Beso, thinking about style, and trying to remember what Picasso said about it. People thought he learned an African style from African sculpture. No, he said: African sculpture showed him a way of working from the heart, with emotional force, out of fear and love. Otherwise, he said, having a style just means having a cake tin and turning out identical cookies. (It's a reported conversation in La tête d'obsidienne by Malraux. There's an English translation, where I first read it, but I can't remember the title.)

Learning to dance like a porteño

Means what? I read it in a blog somewhere.(Apologies: I can't remember where.) Does it mean learning a style? & like which porteño? They aren't alike in the least, even if they are all recognisably tangueros. Even in a wire-frame animation you could tell Ricardo Vidort from Tete from Alberto Dassieu from Osvaldo Centano. They have distinctive ways of standing and moving, as well as characteristic preferences for certain steps, which must come from having learned in a less organised way, and from having danced so much longer. Younger local dancers are much more alike, and also much more like recent learners from the rest of the world, too. I wonder if they'll go on to become more individual.

But the more I thought about it the more sense it made, because the point of learning in BsAs isn't to copy an individual style but to absorb something much more fundamental. To me it makes sense to learn from those with the greatest experience, people who've been doing it since they were young and are still dancing; or, failing that, from people who have spent a lot of time dancing with those who learned when they were young. Who better to learn from?

'Learn' isn't the best word since it suggests school work, a one-off process: like a school task, you learn it and it's done. 'Absorb' is better, as it suggests something slower, more a kind of 'growing into'.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Sylvia 3

Sylvia's classes are tough. Having your tango picked apart, that dance you've so laboriously put together out of what you've learned, watched, struggled through, discovered, blundered into, misunderstood, isn't pretty. Of course it's the details, how and when you put your feet to the floor, just where you put your feet, all of which can mislead your partner and prevent her from relaxing totally, but it's also the bad habits, like the feet moving through a sequence, more or less in time to the music but without regard to the feel of the music... Here, I'm beginning to realise that anything less than total attention to the music isn't acceptable, it's faking it, and I wonder what I'm left with for real. Well, perhaps it's not that bad, although it might seem so after class on a dull, cold afternoon in BsAs, far outside my comfort zone.

You can know more 'moves', become more technically accomplished, be faster or able to make beautifully elegant gestures but at the end of the day (or the night!) perhaps it's harder to dance every moment with real heart, real feeling, total commitment to your partner and the music, and more satisfying too. That's the rough sense what I'm being made to realise.

Perhaps it's good to think of a tanda in terms of a brief relationship or conversation. Absorb yourself in the music and give your partner everything. 'When you dance, put everything into it', as both Ricardo Vidort and Alberto Dassieu said. I've always thought of this as physical, but I'm beginning to think it means emotionally too. If your whole heart and intention isn't in it, better not do it. In relationships, big gestures sometime reveal not only a lack of heart and commitment, but also the will to conceal that lack. But then, maybe involvement, even temporary, isn't what you're after when you go out dancing.

Tete said: 'Enough of lies. Don't buy repetitive forms. If you want to buy tango, buy tango. For the sake of tango, and for the sake of all of us and with my heart in my hand I say to you: Dance the music. Because the music is the tango.'

(I hope 'Dance the music' is a good translation. Not, 'dance to the music' but simply 'dance the music'.)

'Repetitive forms' I assume means patterns of steps that are learned and repeated. Sylvie tells me that Tete also used to say that he didn't care about the steps. 'The steps don't matter. What matters is how you walk, how you listen to the music, the way you embrace your partner: this is tango. Tango is not steps.'

How you walk, how you listen to the music, the way you embrace your partner...

(& it's somehow odd to write all this because in writing the body is obscured completely.)

Walking and dancing

After I'd worked in India for a while, someone told me they'd thought I was Indian, a Kashmiri from the north, and therefore paler-skinned; and besides, they said, 'You walk like an Indian', which really struck me. I hadn't realised that there might be national characteristics in walking, or that unconsciously I'd adopted the walking of another country. But walking isn't the same everywhere: for instance, there's a walk that is characteristic of many Jamaicans, and Juan Carlos Copes talks on film about the characteristic walk of BsAs. (Not that I've ever spotted it.)

A friend says she likes to dance with Argentines and Italians, and in general the English are way down her list. According to Wikipedia, 60% of Argentines are Italian in origin, so you can't really make a distinction. So what have the Italians got that we haven't? It's possible they walk differently, perhaps a walk with a bit more swagger, i.e., dissociation. & certainly they use their arms and shoulders more expressively in ordinary conversation, as part of ordinary dialogue, and this must be part of the background to tango. It's not an exaggerated movement, but all the classes I've taken on this visit stress how much the upper body needs to move, and it's what I've noticed in milongas, too, although it's not particularly obvious in videos, particularly on a small screen.

& climate doesn't help: human bodies stiffen up in the cold north. Even here, a cold wind has been blowing and I'm dreaming of a long summer holiday in the south of Italy, sitting at cafe tables watching people walking, strolling in the streets and feeling physically at home, relaxed and more sensual in movement...

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Pedro 2

Before we begin, he launches out on the orchestration - 'orquestación' is the word he uses - of the 30s and 40s. 'It's the music that I love, it's my soul, my heart. There's nothing better than to hold a woman close to you, and dance to that music.' How can I disagree? He's not that keen on dancing later music: even early Pugliese doesn't give him the warmth he likes.

In this class, Pedro goes into detail about the ups and downs of leading. For instance, when taking the step to the left, the first step of a standard salida, there's a dip in the middle, followed by a lift as the two feet come together, and he says this should feel more pronounced. It gives a stronger dynamic, and also allows you to express the music more clearly. A friend from London who's taking the class with me, approves; 'It feels good', she says. It's something I've been discovering over the past year as it feels right, so it's great to get help with it. He offers a few simple steps, and insists on how they should be danced, with upper body movement giving an energy and a dynamic that can make the basic, simple footwork come alive. It's not really an exaggerated movement, you'd hardly notice it if you're watching, but it's pronounced enough for the partner to feel it, and it certainly gives a new energy to the dance and (I'm told) makes a lead feel less wooden. 'Con el cuerpo', Pedro keeps insisting; dance with the body.

So this is Pedro's secret, a secret he's only too willing to explain to anyone who'll listen. It's why women enjoy dancing with him, and why they look so good, although he never obviously does much. 'Con el cuerpo' has been the theme of this visit, something I noticed when I watched Alberto and Paulina dancing soon after I arrived, and something that both Pedro and Sylvia have insisted on.

Here's a brief clip from El Beso, with a succession of partners passing by. I think this kind of movement is visible, if you look for it.

Media Lunas

Croissants – but they disappointed me: they never have the crisp lightness of the originals. After a while I began to wonder if they were made with animal fat instead of butter; a bit heavy, and over-sweetened too. Then recently, when I asked reluctantly for a media luna to go with a coffee I was asked if I wanted a 'media luna de manteca' – a butter croissant! I tried asking for a media luna de manteca at another cafe and was told they had only 'media lunas de grasse' – fat. So it seems you can choose between media lunas made with butter, or with fat. Take your pick.

I've never seen this mentioned anywhere. Media lunas de manteca still hardly resemble French croissants, but I find them more digestible and less sugary.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Sylvia 2

I'm beginning to realise how much I habitually dance without total attention to the music: in time to the music, that is, but not totally aware of it. I'm having to get hold of material I haven't used before, and do it with unwavering attention to the music, too. I'm also expected to lead much more clearly and expressively with the torso and shoulders. It's a great experience, and hard work. Added to which: 'Stop thinking! I can hear you thinking!' She won't guess at what I'm leading. If she isn't led clearly, she won't do anything. 'When I danced with Tete I never knew what he was going to do next. No one ever knew what he was going to do next.'

A while back it occurred to me that 'just dancing around' might be a good way to introduce the feel of tango music to beginners, and I wrote a post about it. & now it's turned back on me: 'Just dance around, let me see you enjoy the music!' Suddenly I'm on my own with the music in a practice room, and with someone watching, and it's not so easy...

Lo de Celia, Sunday night

Lo de Celia is warm and intimate, very appealing. Great sound quality, rather a varied selection of music. A long tanda of Chacarera then Paso Doble and another Spanish-sounding dance, followed by a tanda of mostly early Pugliese, four tracks of achingly tender music, so breath-taking that the soft sound of leather soles on a tiled floor can be clearly heard, like hushed breathing. Plenty of people dancing to it. Then a tanda of milonga/candombe followed by De Angelis. And then New Orleans. This was late-ish, perhaps the part of the evening when music gets varied. I like the dancing here: there's room for it, and the sound and the room are excellent. Great social tango.

But when you're in the packed second row of the senior members of BsAs tango society, flanked on all sides by more of the same, unless you know the glancer well it's hard to interpret a glance with any certainty, and since this seems to be a large group of people who know each other well an outsider isn't likely to get much of a chance here. After they've all picked themselves partners and got onto the floor the space opens out a bit, and then it begins to be possible to look around at who is left seated, but nearly everyone is on the floor. I drink up my 'agua sin gas' and stumble out into the raw night.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Cacho Dante

I try to get in touch with Cacho Dante to find out about classes, as his name doesn't appear in any recent listings and I don't see him in the milongas: he always used to be at Cachirulo. His website has an email address, and I quickly get a reply: Cacho isn't well, and his main student is taking the class. Sad news. One of my reasons for being here is to meet up with him again, as I found his classes so useful last time. He was the one teacher I found who watched basic walking really carefully, and he was extremely observant. I was also hoping for a chance to film him, as I find it really unbelievable that there's just one clip of him on YouTube and it's from 2004, and is a rather basic classroom demo. Like all the other group classes I go to here, his classes are for two hours, feature a lot of walking exercises, a simple choreography (for want of a better word) and a lot of dancing in which we are encouraged to play around with the class material. You could call it a 'practiclass'. This seems to be the format of choice for group classes here, and I find the emphasis on dance really useful.

I ask around and find that Cacho isn't seriously ill, and still gives private classes. I'm looking around for a partner for his private classes, and I should take the classes with the student, which I'm sure would be valuable. But without Cacho there, I don't feel so enthusiastic.

Cachirulo at Villa Malcolm

After the much-loved Maipu 444 location had to close down, the Saturday-night Cachirulo moved out to Villa Malcolm.

There's doesn't seem to be any big effort by organisers in BsAs to make the lighting 'romantic'. Just whatever lighting is there seems to be acceptable. Maipu 444 always used to have good, clear light, but that was unusual. At Canning some units that look like big LEDs have been installed and give some coloured light, but otherwise don't make a lot of difference: Canning was always on the murky side. The lighting at Villa Malcolm is drab, and it's a fair-sized drab hall. But the sound is great: a lot of big speaker units give a big, well-balanced and powerful sound that doesn't interfere too much with conversation, if you have to talk. The Villa Malcolm hall is spacious, and probably a comfortable place in summer, but it's draughty when a cold wind blows in winter.

I've watched a lot of dancing since I arrived, and it's a wonderful sight, people deeply and intently involved in the music and each other. A few dance for display, to impress, but most dance with tenderness, energy and easy skill, and it's great to watch.

Saturday, 20 August 2011


The lunch was very amiable, warm and friendly, with a lot of laughter, but what sticks in my mind was how it ended. I have a slight dread of the moment when the bill arrives, since disputes about how much each should pay have sometimes ended great meals. 'Let's just split it between four.' 'That's not fair: you had wine and I didn't drink.' 'But you had a steak'...

But the end of this lunch was really memorable. The elderly tanguero picked up the bill and just glanced at it. 'Let's see: M, you had polenta and a glass of wine and if we add a tip that comes to 47.60 pesos. N, yours was the most expensive as you had salmon, which comes to 74.40 pesos with the bottle of water and the tip.' & so on. It was so immediate and authoritative that we unhesitatingly laid down our 5, 10 and twenty pesos notes on the table, which he picked up and neatly arranged in an efficient-looking wallet, taking out several crisp new one hundred pesos notes to hand to the waiter with the bill. Changing one hundred pesos notes can be a problem in Buenos Aires, but he'd ensured himself enough small bills to last for a while, and the waiter brought him more as the change.

I happened to know that his literary skills weren't great: I'd been surprised to find that I could spell basic Spanish better than he did. But his numeracy was first-class. This had been the survival skill of his youth; anyone buying or selling goods or services, which means everyone, needed to be fast and accurate at mental arithmetic. There might have been calculators of some kind in offices, but when he grew up mental arithmetic was absolutely vital. From giving or receiving change to any business transaction whatever, not being fast and accurate meant you could be cheated, and if you got it wrong you could be regarded as dishonest, a bad reputation in business. It had never occurred to me that being numerate could ever be more basically important than being literate.


I really can't get enough of teaching at this level: she's perceptive, and expresses herself clearly, even forcefully in English. She's straightforward about what she sees and feels, and it's never flattering. I lead and follow; she's a strong, clear leader. She reinforces in detail what Pedro says about dancing with the body, and she can both show me and tell me directly. She expects a much more intimate, sensual feel for the dance: the embrace is a lot more than a chest-level connection. She starts by demonstrating a gentle roll of the shoulders, asking what it feels like; it's very pleasurable. I've noticed this gentle shaking before she and Tete started to dance, kind of a settling-in even when they were just going to demonstrate something in class. She talks of holding the partner as gently as holding a baby; you don't want it to wake up and start crying. The energy of leading has to be both gentle and totally confident. & she won't accept anything that isn't danced without total attention to the music.

Pedro leaves me feeling confident and cheerful, but I walk out of this class feeling very thoughtful. I dance close embrace in London, but not like this: I'm not sure anyone dances it like this in London. I've never before had the experience of dancing with someone who can both show me and tell me how the embrace and the dance should feel, and I begin to realise how wooden my dance must feel to partners here. & I can't help wondering how a more sensual embrace might go down back in London. I've often felt that I learn the most from comments by partners I'm dancing with, and this is more of the same; much, much more.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Later that evening... Alberto and Paulina

Later that evening, to dinner with Alberto and Paulina. A very relaxed, friendly evening and a great dinner with a couple of friends of theirs from the US. Alberto's been busy in the kitchen: we joke about his 'pollo Ricardo'. 'It must be cooked very slowly' he says.

I get to ask my history-of-tango questions. Did you dance close embrace at home? Yes! When I learned with my mother and my aunts it was always close. & in the barrio milongas? No! The local dance hall was a Spanish association and it had three dance floors, one for paso doble, one for tango and one for the kids. There was this group of guys from Galicia, who used to walk around the tango floor forcing everyone to dance apart in open embrace. But of course the kids could dance how they liked! When did close-embrace tango become popular? It was popular by the late 40s when Alberto began to dance. & who did he dance with? Well, there were a lot of housewives whose husbands were out at work all day, so...

He visited Portugal recently and is very struck by how badly it's doing, how miserable the people have become. All the young people have left, he says, so there are few children around. His trip took in Switzerland too, which he likes because everything works, and there's no problem with money. 'Mind you, we know where the money comes from. If you're an arms dealer, or you deal in drugs, you just take your money to Switzerland and put it in a bank, no questions asked.' & Argentina? Argentina is doing well. They've paid off the IMF and the country is reasonably solvent. (One chart of national debt I've seen shows that Argentina is one of the few large countries with a national debt measured in billions of dollars. Except for Canada, everywhere else the national debt is measured in trillions.)

As he says in the Practimilongueros interview, he won't dance unless the music makes him want to dance. & he finds Pugliese very spiritual. He says that if he's dancing Pugliese with Paulina and someone rushed in to say there's an earthquake or a tsunami, he'd say, go away, can't you see I'm dancing Pugliese...

Pedro again!

Pedro shouts out joyfully across the street as I get out of a taxi. It's been 18 months since we last met, and he looks as sturdy and relaxed as ever. We've arranged a class at a new tango guest house, Tango Angelitos, run by an old friend of his, Alejandro Gée, in a wonderful 1920s apartment with amazing beautiful floors of inlaid wood, and painted glass windows everywhere.

Pedro stresses the joyful physicality of the dance. Tango is about the heart, not the head and the feet! It's the music, it's the movement of the shoulders and the upper chest. 'Con el cuerpo' he keeps saying: dance with body. He dances on his own and it becomes clear just how much his torso moves, not big movements but, up and down, side to side, back and forth, he's never still. He dances with a partner and his dancing looks totally instinctive, as if it's the only activity that's ever belonged to him. He dances on one spot with a partner and keeps her moving and fully engaged. When he moves around the room with her it's effortless and pleasurable, and the music seems to follow them. D'Arienzo plays: he says you need to use a lot of body when you dance D'Arienzo.

Later we all go for coffee, and he talks about the mad world of Argentine politics, about the history of tango, how tango became the rage in Argentina only after it became popular in Paris, how musicians like de Caro, Canaro and Gardel were successful in Paris, about the tango explosion of the 1940s, how he danced night and day for years, about what a huge beautiful country Argentina is with such a variety of folkloric dances and music, about Argentine zamba, how to google for folkloric teachers, about the Iguaza Falls and how it's sadly become a suicide place, about a certain milonga that has become distinctly seedy and some of the things that go on there, how interesting it is that tango gives us this brief love affair that ends with the end of the tanda, how the tango camponeato is coming up and he enjoys watching, how you can't dance to Piazzola, how Argentines listen to tango but few dance it... At first I'm getting about 70% of this, then it drops to 50%, then 40% and at the end I'm just nodding and saying 'Si, si, Pedro, claro' because I'm no longer really sure what we're talking about. 'There I go again,' he says, 'yakyakyak.'

Farewells on the street corner take another ten minutes.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Maria Plazaola in boots

On my last visit I went to a class at La Academia Tango Milonguero at el Beso, and didn't enjoy it. Susanna Miller taught: she came across as pompous and unfriendly so I didn't think of returning until a recent partner recommended Maria Plazaola, who now takes the classes at El Beso. She is refreshingly straightforward, friendly and helpful. She speaks enough English if you need it, and takes trouble to help when required. The classes start with stretching and warm-up exercises, which are never amiss, then basic walking in rhythms, solo and in embrace to the music, developing into walking ochos. After a quick break, we are taken through a fairly common but always useful pattern of steps. Towards the end I enjoy a few dances with a partner who says, let's just dance, put the 'figura' in somewhere if you can. An irresistible invitation: she clearly enjoys the music, and I enjoy the dance.

The classes are straightforward to the point that almost everyone dances in ordinary shoes, which I found reassuring. In fact, I was slow to recognise that this young woman teaching in fairly substantial boots had actually been the late Gavito's partner...

Here she is, emphatically not in boots, with Gavito at the Welsh Centre in London some years ago.

(Thanks to adagio con brio.)

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Sunday Lujos

After Maipu 444 closed, the Sunday night Lujos relocated to Alsina 2540, which is bigger than Maipu, with a square floor of quite sticky tiles in a rather featureless hall. Talc provided. Not a lot of people there, but after evenings at El Beso it's good to see a floor with open space. It feels a bit empty, but it's unpretentious and extremely friendly: I'm welcomed as if I was an old friend by Lucia and Oscar who run it, and greeted by Alberto and Paulina, who are regulars at the Lujos milongas, by Ana Maria Schapira, even by Oscar Casas whose classes I took nearly three years ago when I first came here. & getting dances is straightforward.

Ricardo Suarez is there: kind of a legend. I believe he's well into his 80s, but I've seen him dance nearly every tanda at every milonga I've been to so far. His tango just could not be more economical, as pared down as only a great many years of practice can make it. I especially enjoy watching his milonga: he doesn't seem to do a lot, but his partners (no shortage of them) look effortlessly elegant.

I miss Maipu 444. Dancing on a very crowded floor there seemed a lot less of a challenge than I expected, and I think the clear, even lighting helped. Even the music seemed clearer there. El Beso is similarly crowded but the lighting isn't good, and it's murky at floor level, which makes it harder to stay aware of the space around. Doesn't bother the locals, I guess, or they'd do something about it.

I'm used to watching Ricardo dancing unperturbed in the middle of a crowd, so when I watch this it feels as if the crowd is there, but has been airbrushed out.

Video from Abretango, or lacuevatango. Five clips of a Transnochando milonga dating from September 2002 were uploaded very recently: a quick glimpse revealed some familiar faces...

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

The UK riots

Several Argentines have mentioned the UK riots in the past few days. They seem really astonished and concerned, as if England, in their minds, is the place of order and cohesion. I point out that many countries, from time to time, have similar problems. Yeeees, is the reply, but the French, a few years ago, burned cars. They didn't burn down buildings with people in them. I'm a bit at a loss: they've watched TV footage, and I've just seen headlines on the BBC website. They hope I can explain, but it's really beyond me, certainly in castellano.

Don't you ever have problems here? I ask. In my mind is the story of how a local football stadium was trashed, completely, a few months ago, after a match. I don't know the details, or how accurate is the story I heard, but I fish unsuccessfully. Yes, there is trouble from time to time, but then I'm told of the trouble in Chile, students protesting against... student fees, I gather.

Much of this from a cab driver, who will vote to the left of Christina (Kirchner) in the upcoming presidential elections. Less corruption, he hopes, and more effort to provide work for the poor to create a more equitable society. 'We've been a democracy for just 24 years.'

(PS. Argentina has been a democracy of some sorts through much of its history: the driver may have been referring to his own lifetime, but probably to the fact that the experience of military abuse of power seems to have resulted in an enthusiastically democratic society.)

Monday, 15 August 2011

Saturday; Martha, Manolo and las morochas

Martha and Manolo: I took just three or four canyengue classes with them 18 months ago, and I'm astonished that Martha spots me across the room immediately, clear, friendly eyes, and greets me like an old friend. Welcome back! Both in their late 70s, if not older, and still happy to be teaching.

They teach dance as if it's something really simple, and they manage to make it seem easy, although canyengue really isn't difficult. It's kind of a proto-tango, and it could be a good starting point for learning tango. It's easier and more basic: there's no place for grand gestures in canyengue, as there is in some forms of tango. At the same time, the dance and music are close to tango, although simpler; the dance is emotionally and physically less complicated than tango, and altogether more cheerful. There are ochos and walking turns, but I've yet to come across the giro structure in canyengue, although I gather it was danced in BsAs in the vals from early in the 19th century. I always find canyengue fun and relaxing.

At night, misled by the listings, I go to Nuevo Salon La Argentina in Bartholemew Mitre, but the listing is about as close as it gets to being a milonga. The El Arranque milonga there in the afternoons is useful if you have a partner and want to stretch your legs, as it's a big floor and hardly crowded. But Saturday night is boogie night for the over-50s, 15 minutes of cumbia, a tanda of d'Arienzo, then salsa... Anyone who is deluded enough to think that everyone in Buenos Aires is a magical tanguero might be sadly in need of a night out at Nuevo Salon... I don't stay to find out how long the salsa continued.

I go up the road to Las Morochas at El Beso to clear my head of over-amplified sound and sloppy dancing. Las Morochas doesn't feel as competitive as Cachirulo earlier in the week, and it's not as crowded, presumably because all the ace dancers are at Cachirulo in Villa Malcolm. But the standard is still high. Lighting isn't great in El Beso, which doesn't seem to be a problem for the locals, but then they know each other, and cabeceo often seems easier between friends.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Friday night at Canning

I always look forwards to walking into that huge room again. Anna Maria Schapira's class: she recognises me, even remembers my name. The usual, useful class: centering exercises, walking rhythms solo then in embrace. Walking develops into a 'figure', and when we're getting fluent at that she shows a kind of 'thinking out loud' of some of the ways we might try to extend or vary it. A few in the class are already into the variations, most are still working on the basic. A lot of dancing, not too much demo. It's very relaxed, a good class/practica environment, and there's help if you need it. I recognise a number of her class from previous visits, it's a friendly group. Previously I've been here in November, and there were more visitors then.

The milonga begins: the usual hiatus. I get up and walk around to find a dance. Surprising how partners can open up when they dance: I ask a woman whether she dances here much – do you come here often? would be just a joke in English – and I'm quite surprised, and pleased, too, to listen to a long sentence of regrets about how little time she can find to dance. & me, I fly 7,000 miles to do nothing else...

Canning very full of memories of Tete. On my last visit in December 2009 he'd arrive during the class and sit making audible comments, and get up to help the dancers; he practically had to be restrained from taking over the class. Alicia Pons was assisting Ana Maria, and it was her birthday. After class a tanda of vals was played for her birthday dance – and Tete, so eager, kept trying to dance the entire tanda with her; she had to keep turning away from him so she could dance with other men. The night before I left he danced a demo here with Sylvia, and he died a week later.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Thursday night, Lujos at El Beso

The moment I walk in I see Alberto and Paulina Dassieu on the floor: so good to see them again. I catch up with Alberto a bit later, a big abrazo with all that wild hair. & an invitation to visit a milonga with them on Saturday, but with all the noise I can't make out where.

There's something of a competitive edge to El Beso: it's the place where everyone wants to be seen at their best. But watching Alberto and Paulina dancing on a crowded floor, rather than giving a demonstration, is very instructive. Alberto dances slowly, and I see the extent to which the dance is upper body movement following the surging phrases of the music, moving into whatever space is open to him. I can't see the feet, and from here it looks as if the feet simply follow the movements of the upper body, rather than to lead it. It occurs to me that this won't be too obvious in ordinary video; it needs 3D to show clearly what is going on, as 3D seems to emphasise the physicality of dance. Watching video of a milonga on a small screen doesn't give the feel of the body movement in the tango I see here.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Tuesday night: Cachirulo at El Beso

I arrive during the rock'n'roll tanda. After Sunday night it's reassuring to notice that all the dancers are well-dressed and wearing high heels or polished shoes. No tee-shirts and jeans! It's all elegant BsAs jive. So life is back to normal; the flood of visitors must have been confined to milongueandoland. There are still quite a few visitors, but that's normal. The dancing is generally great to watch, effortlessly good: anyone who thinks of close-embrace tango as boring and old hasn't been to El Beso. It's just incredible how effortlessly and smoothly many of these people can move with energy to the music, on a crowded floor, without accidents. It's got flair, some flamboyance and attitude, and near-perfect control too. It's endlessly fascinating to watch, but a very different feel to Gricel last night: it feels more competitive.

A woman seated very close to me and a little in front looks very familiar: but of course, it's Myriam Pincen. Wonderful to watch her dance with her chosen partners. I don't try to get to dance, but at least I can reflect that Myriam Pincen spent two years watching. Just another 23 months to go and I might be ready.

El Beso was the first place I visited when I came here for the first time a few years ago, and I remember being mesmerised as soon as I walked in by the turns on the spot, turns so well centred that the dancers give the impression of hanging on a piece of string and rotating – three, four, five full turns, quite fast, but without any impression of effort or stress. & on a very crowded floor.

Music, just an excellent mix. Good to hear a tanda of Julio de Caro, and see how it results in a rather tender, thoughtful dance tanda.

Monday, cont.

I've not been to Gricel before. Everyone looks assured and enthusiastic and well practiced: it's how people dance when they dance a lot. Good ordinary salon, ordinary people, not necessarily expert dancers, enjoying themselves, and very refreshing to watch. The music in general has that strong feel of Buenos Aires tango, two tandas of Tanturi with those wild violins within an hour or so, that kind of sound. & the place, a bit run down, functional but not in the least pretty. A good floor, pine apparently, with pronounced grain but very smooth and well-polished, which looks kind of a homely. Not too crowded, comfortable dancing. Very much a feeling of community.

& on to Salon Canning, late, to meet Silvia. Great music in the cab, clearly tango but recent and a live concert; the tradition renews itself. 'Great music', I say to the driver. 'Si! La dos por quatro! Tango!', he says; the great BsAs tango station. As I get out a news break comes up and I hear a list of English place names: Tottenham, Peckham, Camden, Manchester. An update on the riots in England.

I'd not met Silvia since Tete died; glad to find her as warm and lively as ever. We dance a tanda. I've only danced socially with her once, in Paris, and it's impossible here to forget Tete. Monday is her DJ night, and I'm amazed as ever at her range of music, both in tango and in the cortinas, which are often unexpected and unusual and yet fit effortlessly, creating an excellent 'aural space' between tandas.

Thursday, 11 August 2011


I'm not taking part in the milongueando, but got invited to the showing of a film by French film maker Odile Fillon, called Tete and Silvia: milongueros, which opened the milongueando, as a tribute to Tete. There are several films about Tete, but this stands out because it shows Tete as a lively living person as well as a great tanguero. He did all the bad things one should be too polite to do; making comments to all the women in classes, calling out to attract attention at milongas ('Over here: look over here!'), making comments to dancers as they passed by, sometimes cheerfully breaking all the codigos in order to get a dance. 'I fall in love with all the women and want to dance with them all: is there something wrong with that?'

It was quite an emotional showing because the human being came over very strongly. There were many in the audience who'd known him, and I think the rest were sad they'd never met him. There's a great sequence of class at Maipu 444, with a lot of good advice like, 'Hold your head high when you turn, so you don't get dizzy'.

Not on general release yet (and sadly never will be!) but I'll post if it becomes available.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Sunday night, El Beso.

It seems the milongueando starts tomorrow. I'm used to coming here and seeing the very harmonious world of BsAs tango, where music and movement are beautifully and effortlessly combined in dance, as if in a dream, upper bodies swaying and turning in all directions to follow the phrases of the music. But the milongueandonauts are out in force here tonight. The place is heaving, probably well beyond its safety limit: dancers are still trying to leave the floor when the next tanda starts. Of course, there are plenty of people here whose upper bodies move with the flow of the music, and once in a while I find my breath taken away by a few simple steps that show the music so clearly, which is what I expect here. But then there are also those whose feet, trained in 'tango steps' rather than in following the music, carry them away, and whose upper bodies are sadly lifeless, without music.

Curiously, a similar division is visible in the rock'n'roll tanda. American jive is different from Argentine jive, which is a bit polished and stylised, even a bit ornate too, jive with style. The visitor's jive I see here tonight, is not only more exuberant and totally lacking in polish, but much of it looks as if the visitors have grown up ignorant of any partner dance at all. Wonderful they've found their way to BsAs and tango, and I hope they'll get a lot from their visit.

A friend in London comments that watching London milongas is like watching your clothes in a washing machine! It's true, that agitated up-and-down, back-and-forth movement. Buenos Aires tango just doesn't look like that.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Interlude: Flying southwest

Flying southwest, flying steadily away from dawn and back into the night, the dawn just hangs there: that band of warmth grows no bigger after a half hour, an hour, after ninety minutes. Eventually it starts to spread and the cold land below becomes clearer. Then at long last the river estuary far below, where the water divides itself so often that it fades out into the sea. The vast bay of the Río de la Plata, then the dark mass of the Costanera Sur and the old docks, and beyond them an endless grid of grids of street lights extends, a huge net of topaz and tiny white diamonds stretching out into the distance, and cars like miniature ants, each carrying a speck of light, crawling in line.

Later, back at ground level again, deep below the city skyline, bright sunshine and a cold breeze; it's winter again, and families with well-groomed children are out for Sunday lunch in the quiet streets.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Ricardo Vidort again

In a comment to the previous post, Chris left a link to a video of Ricardo Vidort with Jill Barrett, which I watched again. Then, as I was leaving YouTube, my finger hit a key and this came up.

An amazing find! The first of these tangos with Ricardo Vidort and Myriam Pincen is familiar from the tribute film to Ricardo by Oscar Casas, but the second I've not seen before. It's terrible how rare and precious this kind of footage is; there must be more, and it really needs to be shared.

This seems to be a TV presentation put together from material filmed by Oscar Casas. A little of it also appears on the Practimilongueros interview with Myriam Pincen. It's a performance, but much as would have been improvised any night of the week in any milonga. I rather prefer the footage of Ricardo made during milongas at Lo de Celia, (on Tango and Chaos) as there's the random element of other people on the dance floor, but this is great. More! More!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011


Quite a few of us find tango demos a wearying waste of good dance time. I've no doubt the various organisers know this, and may even sympathise, but they know that a good display brings people in, and this is reflected in the takings. I like to watch choreography, and I've enjoyed many great evenings at Sadlers Wells, but the technique and choreography I enjoy there are usually used creatively, and aren't just displays for the sake of display. I can't see anything much more than self-advertisement in most tango demos, and a dance that's little more than a technical display is just a bit too limited. I prefer the custom of the Cachirulo milonga in BsAs, where the regulars celebrate their birthdays and other events by dancing a tango with a partner of their choice, for everyone to watch. Of course, they are all excellent dancers, and everyone is likely to know them personally, or at least to have danced with them, as there's a feeling of family there, and the dances have heart. & of course it's a long night of dance, so it's no imposition to sit out for a while and watch.

The main reason for linking this video is that I've always enjoyed watching it. It's a choreography performed by technically brilliant dancers, but it feels fresh, while the agility in both high heels and polishing pads is both alarming and funny.