An expat Californian building a new life via the tango in Buenos Aires since 2003, including information on learning the tango and where to dance it in Buenos Aires.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Tango Universal




Although there are many ethnicities making up the population of Argentina (Italian, German, Spanish, among others), the people, especially the men, often have the “look” that marks them as portenos. Handsome and elegant, nevertheless there are dark circles under the eyes and lines of sadness in the faces. They are nostalgic for places they’ve never been, for lives not lived, for love not experienced, for people lost or never known—this is the tango.

Tango lyrics cover a gamut of subjects, but primarily the songs tell of loss. A typical tango is Margarita Gauthier by Nelson (Rossofsky)-Mora:

What do I want life for if my soul is ruined? ..
Today, on bended knee in the grave
Where your body rests.
I have given the tribute that your soul whispered…


And Abandono by Homero Manzi:

The wind of memory approaches
that corner of my abandonment
and amid the dead dust of yesterday,
your love also returned.
I don't know if you will live happily
or if you the world has defeated you...
If living without wanting to live,
you seek the peace of dying.


Human beings everywhere can identify with that sense of longing and loneliness. Even if the rationale is different, the emotions are universal. God knows, as an expat in Buenos Aires, I feel like a portena. Don't get me started on loss and loneliness.

In the United States we sing the blues and old cowboy songs, in Spain the gypsies cry flamenco with their hearts, in Portugal it’s fado. And even though we may not understand the words we recognize the feelings. We all want to go home again. When people respond to tango, no matter what culture they are from, it’s to an absolute, a spiritual connection to being human.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Tango Gringo Part III -- The Music

Many beginning Argentine tango students in the U.S. complain, But there is no beat! American dancers are used to drums and percussion telling them how to move their bodies. There are no drums in tango, only the wail of the bandoneon and the cry of the strings. But the rhythm is strong -— one only has to listen for it. Beginners learn to hear the pulse of the bandoneon, and when they become more sophisticated to the tango sound, they dance to the melody, perhaps of the violin or the piano.

I grew up with the tango, only I never understood what it was, only that it spoke to me. When I was very young there were a few popular songs which I loved that almost were played as parodies—Hernando’s Hideaway, Jealousy, Kiss of Fire, La Cumparsita. The pianist at my ballet school chose to play tangos for the grand battements at the barre, inspiring me to kick higher and with more passion.

I love all kinds of music but prefer to dance differently to each genre -- blues, latin, rock, classical, country, zydeco, and Arabic music. I have no interest in dancing tango to “alternative” music, other than as a lark. But if others want to, fine with me. I'll just carry on boogying to the boogie-woogie. And dance the tango to tango music.

Buenos Aires DJ’s take their job seriously; the dancers know the music and what they want. The music spinners become stars in their own right, as without the proper music, there can be no perfect tango. (That's Damian Boggio to the left.)

People in the U.S. don’t know it’s bad luck to dance to Adios Muchachos and they certainly don’t grab their crotches or breasts when it is played to ward off the yeta. Dancers in the U.S. don’t know (or care) that other Carlos Gardel songs aren’t danced to either at milongas, or women singers, or Piazzola. At American milongas the DJ’s don’t usually play tandas or cortinas.

There is no strict American Code of Tango where we know the rules and follow them. We’re like energetic kids, throwing ourselves into whatever we try, without a clue as to the history, culture, code of conduct, whys or wherefores of something with a past, with tradition. All over the world, wherever we go and whatever we do, Americans feel they can do what they want.

Several years ago, I saw Margaret Spore in Denver performing a one-woman tango show, TangoNova, and there is a company of women in New York who perform Tango Mujer. Why do these women do it, perform tango without men? Is it because they don’t want to follow, or because there aren’t enough men?




They do it because they can. This is America.

Tango Gringo Part II -- Cultural Style






Just like Russian ballet, Cuban salsa, Egyptian belly dance, Viennese waltz, and Argentine tango, there’s an American way to dance --not better or worse, just different.

The American style denotes more formal classroom study, more athleticism, less sensuality. It’s the way we do things in the United States. We don’t grow up with music and dance, unless we happen to have an ethnic family like Mexican or Armenian whose weddings are dance marathons. There’s little dance education in the schools, theater tickets are expensive, and dance on television is dry and distant.

When the dance bug bites us as adults, we sign up for classes and conferences maybe at the Y or the local community college, and often get the dance virus. More classes, maybe competitions, it’s usually too late to turn professional even if we wanted to. But we learn to turn faster, jump higher, master more and more complicated, heart-stopping steps. If we perform ballroom, ballet, belly dance, we try to be technically superior to all other contenders—-Americans are competitive. Ballroom tango especially appeals to the combative, as the purpose in learning and training is to win trophies and be “Gold Medalists.” Even in formalized ballroom dancing there are two tango styles: International and American.



Americans on the dance floor worry little about artistic interpretation and sensuality, and few observers would notice anyway. Besides, in our Puritan culture, sensuality in public is akin to “exotic” dancing—and “nasty.” Even salsa dancers in brief and sexy costumes performing the most suggestive of erotic moves are usually just doing the steps, not conveying connection with their partners. It’s “Watch me!”, not “I’m expressing the music with my body, my relationship to my partner, and the person I am,”—the point of Argentine tango. Because Argentine tango has no proscribed right and wrong way to dance, no syllabus, there’s only good and bad dancing.


Americans dance big and expansive and are reserved with the opposite sex unless there is another agenda, a sexual one. We take big steps and turn fast and sometimes have a hard time with the subtleties. Men aren’t used to taking command of a woman in our politically correct world, and so are hesitant to use their male energy to lead strongly. Women are accustomed to going after what they want and so run around the dance halls yanking men onto the floor, afraid to use their female energy to wait and follow. In the strict Argentine Code of Tango, a woman never invites a man to dance other than with her eyes from across the room.


When I go to U.S. milongas, I may make the same kind of dramatic entrance as I do in Argentina, but potential partners are too busy reacting to or fending off other women’s advances to notice my theatrics. From my table with my girlfriends in Los Angeles, Denver, San Francisco, New York, I see women chasing men to the snack bar and even to the bathroom; they often never even sit down. One man I know admits that many men hide in the bathroom when they don’t want to dance.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Tango Gringo Part I -- Estilo Americano





All over the United States in spacious milongas from San Diego to Atlanta to Boston, in dance studios, American Legions, banquet halls, and sometimes restaurants, dance enthusiasts are dancing the American way of Argentine tango.

Scary in our Anglo-Saxon culture, the close embrace of estilo milonguero is only with spouses and potential lovers (with a lot of measuring the distance between dance partners and commenting when too little). In classes there’s a preference for showy moves like ganchos (kicks between the legs of your partner) and fast and flashy stage steps that traveling tango shows have made popular. There’s little tango danced in an intimate space in the line of dance, la ronda. Little tango that shows the dancers’ emotions and connection such as is danced in the salons of Buenos Aires. Usually only the people who have danced in Argentina know that this is the stuff tango is made of and why it’s a latin dance.

In the U.S., Argentine tango attracts people with a certain profile: educated, intelligent, professional, single, childless; or divorced; intellectual, or artist; passionate, romantic in their dreams and desires but often with personalities that make it difficult to express these feelings.

An informal survey some years ago on the internet Tango-L --email: tango-l@mit.edu -- showed that most U.S. tango dancers are engineers, teachers, doctors, psychologists, scientists, computer technologists. The sensuality and close embrace of the tango lures people who miss those qualities in their lives.

The online Tango-L, with hundreds of subscribers in its heyday, has been a major outlet for people practicing “desk tango” (Gavito’s expression) and theorizing about the dance. In English, with most members subscribing from the United States, the internet Tango List has been a strong influence on American tango for more than ten years. People opine from their computers about all aspects of tango, sometimes at great length, as well as get practical information about tango in all parts of the world. The tango universe is small, everyone knows or has heard of everyone else across the globe, and the internet has made it easier. The strange—or not so strange—thing is that the people who know the most online are not necessarily the ones who dance the best. As a popular bumper sticker claims, I'd rather be dancing tango!

Only a very few tango dancers from any part of the world ever perform; tango is a social dance, one that’s recreated anew with each partner, each mood, each piece of music. It is also a serious dance with emotional complexities, and so people’s faces sometimes look reflective or even grim as all their energies turn inward. The American style of whatever dance form is happy, smiling and outgoing and we look and feel at home in a cheerful swing, foxtrot, or cha cha. We can even converse with our partners, too, something that is never done in Argentine tango while dancing.


Americans don't have a monopoly on the American style of tango. People dance it in Japan, England, and Sweden--and yes, also in Buenos Aires.

At right, the Buenos Aires milonga, Nino Bien.

(Click on the underlined link ("LINK") below to see a slideshow of gorgeous photos showing the emotions of Argentine tango, taken in Club Espanol by Jingzi. This photo is a sample.)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

CARNIVAL IN VENICE!



A tango friend went to Venice for Carnival and just sent me these photos!
They show a whole other side to Carnival than the Murgas, Comparsas, and Carnivales of Argentina. But then down here below the Equator, we are getting ready to celebrate Easter in the autumn, and south is up on the map, the stars in the sky are upside down, and water runs down the drain in the opposite direction--or so they say.
And there up north, Carnival is in the middle of wintertime.
Carnival in Venice, especially in a snowfall, must seem truly like another mystical world.


Sure would be hard to dance the samba though in these outfits!





Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Look Ma, I'm a Blogger!

I never would have believed a year ago when I started my own blog at the urging of my good friend Neil (http://milongas.blogspot.com/) that blogging would take such a chunk out of my day. OK, so I’m not writing posts all day long, but I’m thinking of things, and of course reading other blogs that turn out to be so fascinating!

I started tangocherie last March, so we’re blogging for almost one year now. But I was haphazard and a bit reluctant — maybe because I knew it might take over my life. And since my accident in Pilates class (2 broken ribs), it more or less has.

I was already checking out other blogs on Buenos Aires, tango, Argentina, but now I have my favorites which I read like the morning paper.

I do have some suggestions, though, for the blogosphere out there, albeit they are little ones: black background with white letters just kill my eyes and discourage me from reading more — especially early in the morning with my coffee at hand. I beg for light backgrounds and large letters.

#2 is that some blogs go on and on with lots of text, and interesting as it is, I would love to see the text broken up with some photos, or at least some white space. I don’t have a camera myself, but I try to use photos my friends take or that I steal from the net. What do you think?

I am fascinated with this whole phenomenon of online diaries, as if anybody gives a shit. But maybe we do.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Murga in Buenos Aires

Or Why Am I Covered in Foam?


Cordoned-off streets all over Buenos Aires pulse with drumbeats weekend nights for a local phenomenon--the Murgas. Not related to Carnival, there are no religious overtones to the carryingson of the Murgas, although sometimes there are political. The idea is to have fun, and old and young flock out in the streets of their neighborhoods to do precisely that on the season's hot summer nights. Whole families participate in the club-like Murgas.

The Comparsas are practicing for Carnival city-wide at the same time. The rhythms of the comparsas are different, and there are floats and almost-naked girls adorned with feathers--what people tend to think of as Carnival, or Mardi Gras.

Aside from enjoying the cavorting and costumes of the murgueros, people arm themselves with cans of spray foam and attack everybody, coming or going!


Here's what I learned from wikipedia.org:

The condombe and murga are both typical dances of the villages along the nearby Río de la Plata. These dances were created in the 18th century, born from the mixture of cultures that resulted during the period of slavery in Uruguay; the dances soon migrated to the neighboring countries of Argentina and Brazil. [In Buenos Aires the candombe formed the basis of tango as well.]

There are more than 180 murgas belonging to "Centro Murga" and "Agrupación Murguera." The Centros Murga are the ones that observe the traditions of the '40s and '50s of Buenos Aires carnivals, using unique instruments like the bombo con platillo (bass drum with small cymbals on top), the silbato (“pito”) or whistle, and a solo singer. On the other hand, the Agrupaciones Murgueras use a modern style, including a chorus of more than 2 voices, choreography and other instruments like the guitar, snare drum, samba drum and other latin american rhythm instruments.





The style of the Murga in Buenos Aires is unique, different from the murgas of other cities. The dancing is perhaps the most important feature. Inspired by the rhythm of the bombo and of the platillo, the murguero jumps and kicks with strong and agile contortions, and touches the ground with each beat of the drum.

I'm looking forward again to this weekend when I can walk a block to Avenida Boedo and take in the Murga; only this time I will arrive early enough to buy a spray can of foam! The best defense is a good offense!!.










Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Cancer Dancer


CANCER DANCER


Maybe now it’s time to explain the glittery pink ribbon at the top of my blog:
I am a two-time cancer survivor. I first had breast cancer in 1993 and underwent surgery, radiation and heavy-dose chemo. I lost every hair on my body, and was very sick. The docs threw all their big guns at me as the cancer was advanced when it was discovered. But I got through it. I survived.

Then in 2002 in a routine checkup in Los Angeles, after I had lived in Mexico for a year, another, unrelated cancer was found in my other breast. This time they caught it early and so I didn’t have to have chemo, just surgery and radiation. I stayed with my son Jason for the two months of treatment in L.A., but worried a lot about Phoebe the Cat who was with a friend in Mexico.

I was the first in my group of friends to have cancer. My husband, Jack, died of cancer in 1991 but he was several years older. However after I completed my treatment, many other friends were diagnosed. Since I entered the world of tango nine years ago, I’ve met lots more tangueras who are members of the Pink Ribbon Club.

And so the pink ribbon above is to honor all survivors, their family members and friends,-- and so that we know we are not alone.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Miss Cherie's Advice to Ladies On How To Present Yourself at a Milonga



SI! to the pretty pose on the left, NO! NO!! to the photo at the right

Tina Tangos' blog has some do and don't photos that are worth a hundred words: http://tinatangos.wordpress.com/

And now that we know how to sit when we get there, here's Miss Cherie's advice on how to successfully crash a milonga in Buenos Aires;

I enter the dance hall alone. Wearing a simple black dress, I pull out all the stops for a dramatic arrival, sweeping through the crowd behind the maitre d’ to a table on the edge of the dance floor. I walk tall and straight as if I were the headliner on stage at the Follies Bergeres. I make sure everyone sees me. If I had a full length fur, I’d drag it on the floor behind me. Then I cross my legs (see photos) being careful to show my thighs, and fan myself with a red Spanish fan.

I look around the room for partners with expectation and animation, seeking the eyes of men I would like to dance with. I’ve already changed into my tango shoes in the lobby or the taxi. I’m ready to dance and it shows. The only time I leave my table is to accept an invitation to dance or to go to the ladies’ room. Waiters bring my drinks, and there is no table hopping. When a stranger asks me to dance, I immediately am enclosed in his intimate embrace as if we were exchanging a loving hug, my arm around his neck, his breath on my cheek. Where am I?

You can be sure it’s not in the United States.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Fiesta! Fiesta!












Becka and Carlo from Los Angeles invited us and all of our tango friends to their fabulously restored tango house in El Centro to celebrate. They served incredible Armenian food, what a treat! There are many options for places to stay in Buenos Aires, and many tango tourists choose to stay in a "tango house" instead of an impersonal hotel.
Here are a few photos:















Sunday, February 04, 2007

Valentine's Day





VALENTINE'S DAY IS FEBRUARY 14! In Argentina it's called EL DIA DE LOS ENAMORADOS.
Whatever you call it, have a good one!

Every relationship can be a romance novel!











(Thanks, glassgiant.com!)

Friday, February 02, 2007

Tango Classes--You Get What You Pay For?



Here is a recent discussion on the Tango-L regarding where to take tango lessons in Buenos Aires:

Tanguera writes:

I am leaving very soon to B.A., Feb.5 and desperately need names and addresses for great tango teachers
(intermediate level) for private lessons.

I know the top name teachers but they are getting top
prices in B.A. as well.

If anyone knows of good teachers, for private lessons,
would so appreciate this information.

Someone once mentioned to me of a school where private
lessons with very good teachers run around $10-15 US.

I don't know where this is or if this is still the
case, but if so, PLEASE ADVISE ASAP.
Thanks so much.


Dani answers:

$10-15 US...???!!!
Just to say that in this life, generally, you get what you pay for. Watch out.
What "very good teacher" (in anything) will charge peanuts for their wealth of
knowledge and experience?

If someone charges you $2, take it that they value themselves and their
'expertise' at $2...
So-o-o-o-, either:
i. they perhaps know they're not very good, and are insecure and embarrassed
about charging a suitable amount. Watch out!
or...
ii. Perhaps they're fantastic and charge so little because they have some kind
of a social conscience. Hmmm...
or...
iii. They've read this posting and have learned that basic human nature dictates
that people believe - deep down - that they get what they pay for. i.e. If you
pay more, you get better goods (in this case, tango instruction). However, 'it
ain't necessarily so' (cue for a song...).

However, similarly, you can get a crap dancer and/or teacher who charges a lot
because that's what they value themselves at... i.e. they have an inflated view
of their ability. Watch out!

Tanguera, go with reputation. Reputation from independent sources speaks for
itself. Paying for a lot of lessons from (let's say) 'lesser-able' teachers
would most likely work out as a false-economy. One lesson at £100 from a great
private teacher could be worth considerably more than countless lessons from a
numpty teacher...
the latter from whom you may have either learned nothing or
indeed bad technique and perhaps have spent £1000 over a course of lessons.

Private tango lessons? Great, but believe me it's worth paying for the best
possible instruction.


And Megan replies:

y, let's not forget that $15 USD is the approximate equivalent of
$45 in Argentina. Of course there are hot (and not so hot) shots who
charge US prices even when they are teaching in B'aires. But the
"very good teachers" may be exactly that (or not), and simply
charging local rates even to tourists. Bless 'em!


And here's my 2 centavos:

Whoo boy, I imagine you are getting a million responses to this one, am I right?

The thing is, everyone is a tango teacher here in Buenos Aires. As a newby to the milongas, every guy you dance with will hand you a card that says, "Profesor."

The problem is that you need to already be a good dancer to see who is a good teacher. For that reason,
unscrupulous men (and a few women, too) try to take advantage of the tango tourist and their dollars.

As for prices, those people who have traveled outside the country to teach at tango festivals or perform in tango shows are the most popular, because their names are known, and they are also the most expensive. But what people don't always realize is that in a group class with someone like that, you never get to dance, or even touch, the famous teacher. He uses teaching assistants, if you are lucky, or you just have to make the best of it with some dweeb student who knows less than you do.

Another point is these people usually teach stage tango or choreography and figures. This will do you absolutely no good at the milongas.

The milongueros who teach elegance, music, improvisation, connection to your partner, the embrace, aren't famous and don't teach in the fancy schools. You have to look for them. Their prices are less than the world-famous couples. A private with me and Ruben Aybar, for example, is the standard price: $50 US for 90 minutes.

If you take a private with someone for $15 US--well, take just one and you'll see. But don't forget to try a good teacher as well to see the difference.

If you're not sure what style you want to learn, remember that most of the milongas here are estilo milonguero.

The very BEST way to find a teacher you like, is to ask people whose dancing you admire who their teacher was.

Good luck. And if you'd like to sit with us at our table in Club Espanol or Los Consegrados, Ruben can start you out with a tango. Anyway, it'd be fun to meet you at a milonga.
Un beso,
Cherie

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Buenos Aires Newspaper Writes ABout Bloggers





Last Sunday, Dec. 28, Clarin wrote about the blogging Buenos Aires trend,
"Buenos Aires tiene quien le escriba: el boom de los blogs sobre la Ciudad."
(It was very nice to see tangocherie on their list of both English and Spanish blogs.)
You can read the article here:

http://www.clarin.com/diario/2007/01/28/laciudad/h-05415.htm

Mafalda in Germany offers a brief summary of the article in English on her blog,
"My Way to the Other End of the World":
:
http://destino-argentina.blogspot.com/2007/01/clarn-about-blogs-inabout-buenos-aires.html

Then on the other hand, Yahoo reports that

"Calgary author says bloggers a lonely bunch unlikely to change the world"

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/s/capress/070130/entertainment/lonely_bloggers

So maybe bloggers are taking over the internet in their/our own lonely way?
What do you think?