After eleven years living, dancing, teaching tango, and writing in Buenos Aires, I came home to L.A. in 2014, where I'm reconstructing my life.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Last Dance in Havana, Part 1

The love I have for you I cannot deny My mouth is watering I just can’t help myself.
--”Chan Chan” by Compay Segundo

Am I dreaming or on the moon? Havana at night is surreal. I’m not prepared for the darkness, the decay lit only by florescent lights casting an eerie gray glow over the crumbling arcades and torn up sidewalks. There is no neon, no advertising save for the dim Viva la Revolucion! billboards, no commercial signs, few streetlights, only the occasional low watt gray porch light. Havana is the darkest city I’ve ever been in.

The ghostly figures I see moving among the shadowy ruins might be waltzing to Prokovief in Disney’s Haunted Mansion. But going about their business in the dark are the colorful, vibrant, infinitely practical Cuban people moving to the Cuban rhythms heard everywhere in the streets and in their daily lives. If Fidel is the father of modern Cuba, music is the mother of its people.

Being in Havana now feels like I’ve journeyed back through the decades to not only another place, but another time, an island Brigadoon, an eroded Atlantis found.

This is the land of pirates and buccaneers, of Conquistadors and Castro, of castles and kings and exotic Communism. A tropical paradise that some thought to be the Garden of Eden, with a bloody history that includes American presidents, the Mafia, and the search for the Fountain of Youth. And all of this is in a five-hundred-year-old country only ninety miles from the U.S.!
But I didn’t come to get involved in history or politics. I came here for the timeless pleasures of music and dance.

I knew when I saw “The Buena Vista Social Club” that I had to come to Cuba. The old American cars cruising under the spray from the waves crashing against the Malecon to the song “Chan Chan.” That scene made me cry, and travel all this way to explore why I was affected so much by a piece of popular music.

The basis for my trip is with a group to teach the Cubans Argentine tango and for them to teach us to dance salsa. Rather ironic for a native Californian of mixed European ancestry to teach Latinos a Latin dance. But for Cubans, Argentine tango is as foreign as West-Coast Swing.

I stay at the Hotel Sevilla in Habana Vieja, the heart of the tourist center. Built in 1908 and now owned jointly by Cuba and France and recently restored, its large public spaces and guest rooms are plain but comfortable and the Roof Garden on the ninth floor is absolutely stunning with old world grandeur. Although Havana is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s only the tourist hotels that are currently being restored with foreign money.

Like other world capitals, with the Coliseum, Westminster Abbey, the Empire State Building, or the Eiffel Tower, Havana, too, is its architecture. But the general disintegration of it’s once-grand Spanish Colonial mansions, now with flags of colorful laundry on the rusted baroque balconies, only adds interest to the history-starved Norte Americano’s vacation with the plus of lots of photo ops. We can go to Europe if we want to see the golden arches nestled among ancient edifices.

Havana satisfies our nostalgia for days gone by, for what we’ve lost. Here we are young forever, here we can see the world that perhaps our parents inhabited. And so very much better than a trip to Main Street U.S.A., Havana is real, a romantic, mysterious, two-faced and forbidden time-warp. We visitors murmur to each other, looking at pastel palaces turned into tenements, imagine what it was like before!

Our group of American, Canadian, Argentinian and Cuban dancers meet daily either in the hotel or at the Union Arabe across the street on the Prado, where giant loudspeakers constantly blast salsa, the blanket term for son, mambo, Afro-Cuban, timba, chachacha, rumba and other forms of Cuban music. At first the dance exchange is a struggle for everyone; the visitors can’t move their hips sufficiently in the salsa classes, and the Cubans can’t not move their hips as the tango requires.

to be continued...

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

TopBlogMag's writing theme for this week is colors, and so I'm posting...


It’s the end of May and the weather is perfect, but the traffic out of Paris is terrible. The bus passes fields that are rivers of green, of light and dark green undulating like flowing water under the sun, the wind blowing the fields to and fro like ripples of emerald waves. How many colors of green can there be? Certainly a greater palette than the box of crayolas that first taught me the names of colors. (When at last I visited Italy and saw the Tuscan city at sunset, I said, Ah, so that’s Burnt Sienna!)

But the ambient greens outside the windows of the bus range from yellow, blue, gray, gold, brown, and black in the depths of the trees, silver white in the glittering leaves under the sun.
So refreshing to my eyes after dry, dusty L.A., where there is little natural green apart from the color of money.

How to be an Expert

Most of us want to practice the things we're already good at, and avoid the things we suck at. We stay average or intermediate amateurs forever.

Look at this great diagram from Creating Passionate Users. It pertains to any endeavor we attempt, but especially to tango, where putting in your Time is as important as your Ability. How many dancers do we know who have reached the Kicking Ass Threshold?
Alas, alack, not enough!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

El Cabeceo

Because of my post on The Dark Side, and perhaps because of some of my Tanguera Tales, and some other bloggers posting of some realistic dangers to consider on trips to BuenosAires, some of my readers are freaking out. "Where is the beauty, the soul-lifting, the transport that most people write about tango in Buenos Aires?"

Well it's there. You just have to have both eyes open, even when they are closed in bliss while you're dancing, and accept the dark along with the bright. Don't be naive, but look for the joy, because it is definitely there. And perhaps more so because of the underlying dark side.

The Cabeceo is when you need to keep both eyes open, even putting on your long-distance glasses to search across the room for your next partner. You are sitting alone with your same-sex on one side of the salon, and your future partners are together across the dance floor. You both, man and woman, havc to first choose each other with your eyes. What this means to the woman, is that she stares at the man she wants to dance with, not always easy for a North American because it feels so aggressive. But you have to do it if you want to dance with the best.

The man, for his part, is doing the same thing, and if your eyes lock, and he gives a nod, well then the woman nods back and doesn't take her eyes from his as he crosses the dance floor toward her table. She stays seated until he is in front of her. This avoids the common confusion of a mistake in the object of the invitation; perhaps it's the woman in front or behind you. So like so often in tango, you wait. And be sure before you stand up and meet him on the dance floor.

It was almost two years ago that I began staring at Ruben, in Lo De Celia, Club Espanol, and Los Consegrados. I stared and stared at him dancing, and I knew I just had to dance with that man, that he danced the way I wanted to dance. So I kept staring; when he was seated, when he was dancing. And he stared back, but didn't give me the Cabeceo. So I waited. I waited for two months!! And then in March of 2005, he gave me the Cabeceo, and the rest is history.

Here's what I wrote on Tango-L two years ago:

I am a foreign woman living in BsAs. I learned to dance tango here 8 years ago. When I lived in L.A. and danced around the U.S., I found the custom of inviting people to dance absolutely barbaric compared to the Codigo [social codes] here. In the U.S. men may come to you to ask you to dance and even if you don't want to, you usually accept, because we are trained not to be rude. I used to give many "mercy" dances during any given milonga. And it's true, if a man walks all the way across the floor to offer himself to you for 7 minutes, it's very embarrassing for him to walk back, rejected. Also in the States and in Europe, it is very common for the woman to run around the room, inviting men to dance. I find it difficult and distasteful to be aggressive in making a man lead me, in fact, I find it impossible.

I LOVE the Codigos here! I feel so empowered. Nobody knows if I refuse someone. I give no mercy dances. I dance with whom I want to, to the music I want to. I feel in control: no man can approach my table without permission. There is none of the sitting down with you and monopolizing that often occurs in the U.S. I LOVE IT!

Of course I'm speaking about the traditional formal milongas here. There are many places for young people which have no codigo—and where I feel vulnerable and with less control. Practicas and milongas like La Viruta, for example, are informal and anyone can grab anyone else. For me, in these situations, it's a free-for-all and I feel invaded.

And as we all know here, and explain to newcomers, if a man comes to your table to invite you and you don't know him, say, Gracias, and nothing more, turning your head away. For sure, he is a bad dancer who hopes to get a new tourist who doesn't know 1) the cabeceo; and, 2) that he is a bad dancer and can't get a partner with the cabeceo. Don't feel bad to just say no, gracias.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Noche Flamenca

I just got back from a night in Little Madrid, or that's what it would probably be called if the Avenida de Mayo were in L.A. instead of Buenos Aires. It's the "Gallego District" where wonderful Spanish restaurants can be found alongside of flamenco bars. There are also theaters where touring flamenco troupes from Spain perform for the enthusiastic Spanish Argentines who live nearby.

This week, direct from their tour in New York, Soledad Barrio and her Noche Flamenca from Madrid, appear in the lovely jewelbox, Teatro Avenida. Run, do not walk to get a ticket! It's an amazing night of anguish, despair, loneliness, passion. physical strength and prowess. It's a show mostly about sorrow, but what beautiful sorrow! And you think tango has emotion?

After the show, we walked across the street to the Plaza Asturias for a Spanish seafood dinner, but we made the mistake of not ordering the mariscos casserole, which all of the other diners in the know were slurping up from the impressive steaming presentation in a red clay bowl. Great flan as well.

Don't let this pass you by; Soledad performs with her troupe of dancers, musicians and singers at the Teatro Avenida through next weekend (September 2.)

Tango: The Dark Side

Warning: Dark! Read if you dare!

The Tango Tourist should expect tears in Argentina. One’s own. It’s a given that before the trip is over, there will be sobs in the restrooms, or in the late night dark of a hotel, or choked back and swallowed in public. The passion of the music, the dance of close embrace and tangled legs and pheromones, as well as the Latin culture from which tango springs, make feelings and normally suppressed emotions and longings rise to the surface.

At a milonga in Buenos Aires, I may be invited to dance or not. And I may never know if it’s because of how I look, where I sit, with whom I sit, my age, my clothes, if I’ve been seen before--and yes, also how I dance.

The importance of outward appearance is one reason Argentina is the plastic surgery capital of the world. (And perhaps why it’s the psychoanalyst capital as well—one shrink for every eight Argentines.)

Possibly the best women dancers are the ones I see sitting alone at their tables with a glass of wine and a cigarette, but are partnerless and are now too old to receive many invitations.

On the other hand, the bright side, people come to dance in the milongas with disabilities, arms in casts, patches on eyes. Remember Al Pacino’s blind tango in “Scent of a Woman?” Not unlikely at all. One of my favorite partners is an old, fat, bald man a head shorter than I am. I love to dance with him because of his feeling and sensitivity to the music, his secure balance, his musicality, his pure joy of the dance--he is not at all a part of the Dark Side (as far as I can tell).

The scene can be very hot, very sensual, and very dangerous.
Like a viper, it can pierce your soul and spirit.
–Edie Espinoza

In Buenos Aires where most serious tango dancers end up at least once, the dark side of the milongas isn’t apparent at first. Just like me on my first visit in 1997, the female tango tourist looks around at the many good dancers who are eying her as fresh meat, and feels like she’s died and already in paradise. But I’ve learned how many are either buying or selling, and several are doing both. At first glance, it is all so wonderful and artful and everyone is there because they love to dance. Observing and participating in the Romance of Tango in Buenos Aires, the Real Empanada. Wow.

While the love and skill of tango permeates the tango salon, now I know that under the facade are ambition, desperation, insecurity, frustration, poverty, buying and selling of favors and dancing, jealousy, backstabbing, deceit, lying, people using people, manipulation, self-centeredness, --and greed for both money and attention. For many dancers in Argentina, their bodies, their dance skills, and talent for charm are all that they own in this world. Who can blame them for marketing and selling what they have in a country where jobs are few and economic disaster is a fact of recent history?

For tourists who have saved up and traveled so far to spend their entire year's vacation of two weeks in the milongas of Buenos Aires, they just want to have some fun, gosh darn it, and dance. Who can blame them for what they do? Female tourists learn that they have to dress as short, tight, and low as possible in order to dance, and to smile, smile, smile. And that in addition to selling themselves, they can also buy partners by hiring taxi dancers, taking high priced private lessons, inviting them for meals, giving them presents and perhaps a ticket to the U.S. or Stockholm, as well as cold cash.

Sex is also a commodity which is bartered, bought and sold by both genders. The local tangueras hate the women tango tourists because their men rush after them. The local men think the foreigners are rich, sex-starved, and at the very least, they are only staying a few weeks and then will be gone, a real plus to their popularity.

Male tourists are not immune either, to the charms of local dancers who have ulterior motives. And even if they don’t have something larger in mind than a nice dinner in a good restaurant, the porteñas welcome the tango male tourist with open arms, especially in the recent hard times. Everyone is a teacher. Many of the traveling teachers are making a living teaching Argentine Tango to the starry-eyed in far away places. Besides Argentine beef, tango is the one thing foreigners are buying.

To imagine that tango isn't commercialized, that Waikiki Beach is just like it was before the war, and that you never see beer cans and fast food wrappers in the canals of Venice, is to not be in the real world. Buenos Aires isn't Disneyland. Just because the Confiteria Ideal has been in all the tango movies doesn't mean it's a stage set. At the milongas are real people, with all the attributes of anyone else, good and bad. Relationships of ALL kinds form and break apart here to the music of Tanturi and D'Arienzo.

Life isn't a cabaret, my friends, it's a milonga.

For another perspective, check out The Tango Goddess' posts on Learning the Milonga Codes the Hard Way, and Of Milongueros y Milongueras.

Tango Cheri in Bhutan!!

No, unfortunately I'm not on vacation in Tibet. But look what I found browsing the internet! It's amazing that there is a monastery in Bhutan named Tango, but even more amazing to me is the nearby Monastery Cheri!!

About 15 kms from Thimphu to the north are two famous monasteries, Cheri to the left of the river and Tango to the right. Dueling monasteries across the river. Wow!

And on most tours they are both visited on the same day, a total tangocheri experience!

Here's the excerpt from one itinerary:


After our breakfast, we will drive to Tango/Cheri. From the road point we have to walk almost 1 hour 30 minutes to reach Tango.
After lunch, meditate in pursuing ones own spiritual goal.
Dinner and overnight stay in the camp, Tango.

In the morning meditate and around 11 am we will walk back.
Lunch will be served as picnic near road point.
After lunch we will hike up to visit Cheri Monastery.

Is there something cosmic for me in this? Maybe I should meditate more.
Or maybe I should hie myself to the Cheri Monastery. Do you think they'd accept me?

I already know well the Temple of Tango; it's the milonga where I can always be found.
usually having a spiritual experience. That's why I named my memoir, The Church of Tango.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Expat Interviews

EXPAT INTERVIEWS is an informative site of just that. You can read interviews from people from all over the world who talk about why, where, how they went to other countries to live. It's interesting that there is no apparent advertising, as these types of sites normally do.

Lots of us bloggers from Argentina are represented: Alan, Deby, Coog, Maya, Laura, Matt, Robert, and Adam. We Buenos Aires expats seem to weigh heavily in the South American section. Interesting.

Here's my interview.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Waiting Southern Style

Imagine the DMV line from Hell!

I was a freezing, hurting, nervous wreck standing in the long line yesterday outside of the Federal Police building. The Argentines were patient, as usual. But I was exhausted standing there in the super-cold (4 degrees C.) without moving for more than two hours.

What was I doing there? I was trying to pick up my police report for purposes of my long-term visa application. I had applied weeks ago (waiting in several long lines, but at least they were inside the building), given a number to call when my paper was supposed to be ready. Nobody ever answered that number! So I went back a little after the designated time and waited in a long line to find out that my paper wasn't ready yet. This week for sure it had to be ready.

When the line finally turned left into the building, we jammed the doorway and there was no way people leaving with their documents could exit without shoving, pushing, and many "con permisos." Ahead of me I saw several people, who had waited just as long and uncomfortably as I, whose documents weren't ready yet. Instead of screaming and yelling, inciting riots, they, beaten down by the cold waiting hours, numbly said, "gracias," and left the window, clutching their scraps of paper they would have to bring back on another day.

My flimsy document testifying that I'm not wanted in Argentina by the Federal Police was ready, and I ran joyfully into the main hall (FREEZING) to find Ruben who was applying for his passport. He was the one who noticed there was an expiration date of next week.

Normally there is a 30 day expiration period, but because I didn't/couldn't get my document sooner, now I have just a few days to present it to Imigracion.

So yesterday Ruben ran me over there. But it closed at 1:00 p.m. and we arrived at 1:10. He sweet-talked the guard into letting us enter the hall, but I was rejected from presenting any papers. "Come back tomorrow between 7:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m."

But next Monday I'm having minor surgery (a biopsy), and so the rest of this week is full of pre-op tests, etc., plus teaching students here for the Campeonato. There's a magazine that wants to interview me because I was the only foreigner last year in the Campeonato Finals and it's timely. God, I need to get to the hairdresser.

In the States, this legal document stuff is all done by mail. Imagine that!

Buenos Aires Milonga Reviews

The first in tangocherie's series of Buenos Aires Milonga Reviews--on Chiqué--came out today on Buenos Aires Argentina Guide.

You can also get an overview of Tango in Buenos Aires on this comprehensive site. Check it out! Tango Salons in Buenos Aires.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Last Tango in Argentina?

Here's an example of what we've been talking about ever since I started this blog. How will tango be affected (some say "infected") by the young and foreign? One of my favorite dance critics seems to think that tango will become only music for easy listening. Read below excerpts from his review of tanghetto's concert in L.A.


losing its sense of identity in a rocked-up second half, the program dazzles with old-fashioned virtuosity.

By Lewis Segal, L.A. Times

As traditional forms of music adapt to the social and technological changes of a new century, dance either stays nostalgic and backdated (classical ballet in America, for example) or struggles to keep up. That struggle informed the uneven but intriguing Fiesta Argentina 2007, a program of satisfying old and problematic new tango at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre on Saturday...

After intermission came a set by Tanghetto, a popular, skillful six-member Argentine group that experiments with what it calls electrotango but that added so much contemporary rock to its sound Saturday that it sometimes lost any sense of tango identity...

Sometimes just the wheeze of the bandoneón reminded you that you were on tango turf, and that was clearly the point of the song "Alexanderplatz": evoking the scraps of connection to the home culture that help sustain Argentines abroad. But it wasn't enough for the dancers, who seemed to find the lack of a deep rhythmic pulse in Tanghetto's music troublesome...

Certainly everyone looked either arbitrary in movement choices or downright uncomfortable ...

But maybe
this music doesn't need or invite any dancing. That would be something new in the history of tango, something inevitable, perhaps, though it's unlikely that even the young revolutionaries of Tanghetto look forward to the last dance in Buenos Aires with anything but regret.

What do you think? Is it inevitable that people will stop dancing tango when traditional music is no longer played?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Ron y Susana en Buenos Aires

Dear Cherie,

Susana and I really enjoyed meeting you and Ruben during our trip to
Buenos Aires. In fact, I would say that our experiences with the two
of you were one of the highlights of our trip! Not only are the two of you
great teachers, but you are really nice people and a lot of fun to
spend time with. We really hope you can come to the US to teach. You
will be welcome in our town. In any case, we look forward to seeing
you again on our next trip to BA.

Ron y Susana

Super Blogfest 2007

Be there or be square!

Do you want to get to know and meet other bloggers in Buenos Aires? If so, join us on September 1st at the Obelisco at 13:00 (gosh I hope it doesn't rain!) and be part of the Super Blogfest 2007, organized by Todo por 2 Clicks. I’m really looking forward to this gathering, as it’ll give me the chance to get to know other Argentines bloggers a little better. I sure enjoyed the Sugar & Spice cookiefest, and meeting fellow bloggers at my house over Empanadas Tucumanas (hand-crafted by Ruben.) If you’re interested in coming, click on the image above, that will direct you to the info page of the event. Hope to see you there!

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Campeonato Mundial 2007 As Seen By The World Press

Here are some excerpts of articles appearing in foreign newspapers about the Campeonato Mundial (I put in the bold and italics.)

World Tango Championship opens in Buenos Aires

By Jeannette Neumann (AP)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Kicking and dipping in rakish suits and slinky dresses, dancers from as far away as Japan and New Zealand launched the fifth World Tango Championship on Friday in Buenos Aires.

The 10-day showcase of Argentina's famously mournful dance features 479 pairs – nearly double the number that took part in the first competition in 2003.

Aleida and her dance partner, 27-year-old Daniel Martinez, banged out sharp, staccato dance steps and leaped across an exhibition center floor in the Stage Tango category, which is characterized by balletic, acrobatic choreography.

Diego Ortega, 18, slicked his hair back with gel and donned a black suit for a look that evoked the era of Carlos Gardel ...

... pairs from more than 150 world cities are competing as the dance gains popularity overseas...

Here's an article from Japan Today (ABS&CBN News), that also appeared in France Presse, in Australia and around the world. Probably created by Buenos Aires government press agents:

BUENOS AIRES — Tango enthusiasts from Japan, Australia, Russia and beyond are polishing their dancing shoes for the world championship in the sexy dance that they say knows no boundaries.

In all, 149 couples from 154 cities around the world have entered the contest with the hope of wooing the judges with a combination of steamy sensuality and swaying dance moves.
Around 90 couples from abroad and 30 from Colombia have signed up for the Salon Tango contest, the most common form of Argentine tango which arose from the"milongas," or traditional ballrooms.

Fifty couples have signed up for the Stage Tango category, which uses more complex choreography, sophisticated make-up and is better known on the dance floors of Europe, the United States and Japan.

Competitors will also lead free tango classes for those who want to learn more during the 10-day tournament...

As I previous posted here, here, and here what's all this youth and international influence going to do to social tango here in Buenos Aires?

The BBC posted a video on their site and, while castanets were playing, the announcer talked about a Global Tango Boom.

Now what I want to know is, is that a good thing?
I would have to say the more people who dance tango, the better. But I feel a little protective about milonguero style here in Buenos Aires. I guess I don't want a plethora of foreign stage dancers teaching free classes to locals during the Campeonato. I don't want half of my favorite milongas full of foreigners doing ganchos and volcadas. I don't want future milongueros thinking that high boleos, sentadas, and trabadas in crowded milongas are welcome. I guess I don't want my beloved tango to change. And it almost seems inevitable.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Tanguera Tales: Mario El Magnifico Part 2

After the milonga that night, a group of dancers, all Argentine except for Elizabeth, went to a brightly lit coffee shop down by the Wharf, one of the few places to eat still open.

Mario sat at the head of the table and without preamble, began to recite a long poem in Castellano. A very long poem. Everyone could speak English, but it was only Francisco who turned to Elizabeth and translated the gist of it. It seemed funny, and people were laughing.

Then Mario stood up and began another recitation or oration while the food arrived, and in total, he spoke for about an hour. There was no conversation or give and take, it was a monologue from start to finish, and after fifteen minutes even the Argentines were bored. Elizabeth thought she would die from fatigue; it was three in the morning and she had worked all day.

“Francisco, would you mind bringing Mario home? I’m exhausted and I want to leave now and it looks like he is just getting going.” Francisco lived in her neighborhood.

She didn’t mean to make any point by it, but Francisco and Elizabeth used to date and he now put on an Argentine macho face of rage as if she were trying to make him jealous, “You want me to take him to your house? But who knows how late it will be?” he asked, softening.

“It doesn’t matter—he has a key.”

“He does?” He lifted his eyebrows.

“Sure, I can’t have a houseguest I don’t trust.”

So Elizabeth drove home, thankful to sink into her bed alone at 4 a.m. She was asleep when Mario got back, but he came into her room smelling strongly of liquor. He was all over her before she was even awake, and then stumbled back to his bed in the guest room.

He kept the door to his room closed the next day. There was no more singing to her piano playing, no more, “I waited to eat with you so we could be together,” no more washing the dishes, no more little gifts as in the past couple of days. No more playing house. They barely spoke. His manner had changed 180 degrees.

She drove him to teach his workshop, but was appalled at his sloppy and scruffy appearance, so un-Argentinean. Twice as many women as men were congregated inside the dance studio as they walked in, and Mario began the class by talking. He talked and talked about tango theory with arrogance. He approached tango intellectually, and told everyone they had to forget all they knew, that his way was the only right way. And the women salivated waiting for him to choose one of them to demonstrate with. He was finished with Elizabeth.

Not only did he drink to excess, she was noticing he also used drugs. She knew he had diabetes and took medicine for that, but something else was going on. Maybe he needed all of that to cope with the adulation and stress of teaching, even though he should have been used to it. “Tango: The Motion Picture” had been out for several years by now.

On Saturday he was out all night, and when he came back, tried to force her locked bedroom door. He was obviously extremely high on something.

Sunday morning she woke him up. “Mario, you are no longer welcome here. I refuse to be treated this way in my own home. When I get back from church, I want you and your six bags to be gone.”

“Huh? But what about the workshop this afternoon? Are you crazy or what?”

“I’m sure you will find a way to get there. And there are lots of good hotels. Here’s the phone book—pick one.” She threw it at him, hard.

They screamed at each other then like a married couple. It was bizarre to get wildly angry at someone she hardly knew and didn’t care about. All the passion that should have been expressed on the dance floor and in bed erupted from them both in hot lava of hate. She yelled and cried as if it were the end of a long relationship, and he called her every filthy name he could think of in English and Castellano. She cried so much she got a sinus infection and was sick for a week. It was so Tango.

Elizabeth didn’t go to any more of his classes, and she didn’t see him again in San Francisco. She remained stunned and stupefied over the bad ending to what might have been, she thought, an enjoyable nine days.

It was just like dancing a tango—the beginning to the end of a relationship with all the associated emotions in a very short period of time.


Monday, August 13, 2007

Tanguera Tales: Mario El Magnifico Part 1

Dance first. Think later. It's the natural order. ~Samuel Beckett

Mario Gonzalez, the Argentine tango star, was coming to San Francisco on his first visit to California. He needed a place to stay--nine days’ lodging in exchange for three hours of private lessons.

Elizabeth was a dancer; she moved. She had never met Mario although she had seen him in Buenos Aires, and of course everyone knew him from his role in “Tango: The Motion Picture.” Her apartment was comfortable and lovely, and it was always nice to have guests, such a change from living alone. During those happy years with her husband in their big house a mile away, they constantly entertained. And a tango luminary giving her free lessons in exchange? She didn’t have to think about it.

Jeffrey, the promoter, picked up Mario at the airport and dropped him and his six pieces of expensive luggage at Elizabeth's apartment, saying only, “Good luck!” with a wave as he strode back down the sidewalk to his car. She had hoped they’d all sit around over iced tea or something and talk for a few minutes, easing her through the awkward moments of having an unknown man stay in her house.

But Mario did it himself; he was charming and all smiles, remarking about seeing Elizabeth around the milongas of Buenos Aires and remembering how well she danced. Her apartment was walking distance to whatever one needed, a huge plus for visitors without a car. She thought he could be independent during the time she was working. Part of the arrangement was for her to drive Mario to the milongas and his group classes, which was no problem as she would be going anyway. Women’s offers to take him to the beach, Sausalito, on tours of Napa Valley, were lining up and since she had to work most days, that took some of the pressure off.

After he got settled, they walked the neighborhood and he bought some takeout for lunch, insisting on washing the dishes after they ate. While he was checking his email on her computer, she played some tangos on the piano downstairs and he sang along. He had a good voice, and of course knew all the words.

No one before had ever sung to the tangos she loved to play, and it made her feel whole, a real communion. She used to feel that way accompanying her kids on their instruments during recitals and auditions, and it also reminded her of playing duets with her father so many years ago. For thirty minutes there at the piano Elizabeth experienced her favorite thing—communication through music.

That first night they went to the milonga where the San Francisco tangueras went crazy over him. They circled him three deep and literally dragged him onto the dance floor. He appeared to be overwhelmed. He didn’t dance with Elizabeth until the very end, almost like a mercy dance. It was peculiar, as if he and she were connected in an official way and that he “owed” her a dance. She supposed she did feel he should dance with her, his hostess.

Later in the car he complained bitterly about the aggressive women. He was still wound up when they got home to her apartment, and so she left him on the couch reading, and went to kiss his cheek goodnight in a “besito,” but he grabbed her and kissed her strongly on the mouth. She wasn’t particularly attracted to him—he wasn’t a particularly attractive man— still she let him sleep in her room that night. That day had been fun and she felt relaxed and happy.

Playing house that way brought up old memories of contentment. It felt comfortable and natural to share her home and her bed with a congenial man, one with whom she had so much in common. It wasn’t the sex she missed so much, it was the sleeping with someone. She hadn’t planned on being seduced by Mario, just sharing her life with a tango master for nine days as a fun adventure. If that’s the way it was going to be, well she was up for that too—a little mini-affair with a definite time limit, and lots of tango.

In the morning he cooked a large breakfast for them of eggs and ham, and insisted again on cleaning up the kitchen. Then they drove to the suburbs where he was giving a workshop. He used Elizabeth to demonstrate most of the time, and of course, like any other woman in that situation, she felt proud. It’s not logical, it doesn’t mean they are better dancers than anyone else or that the teacher especially likes them, it’s just a thing that happens. Sometimes it’s simply because the instructor doesn’t know any of the other women and how well they dance.

The following day Mario gave Elizabeth a private tango lesson. He had been teaching there in her studio and people had been coming and going all day long. Her lesson was his last one, as she had been at work all day. After dancing with her for two hours, he changed the mood of the moves, and they finished the lesson in her bed. She had enjoyed their previous encounter, but it was fairly ordinary. Pleasant, but no big deal, and it certainly didn’t last long. She was learning that he had deep insecurities, maybe being thrust to the top so quickly after that one movie was part of it, maybe his lack of confidence in his looks was another. He wasn’t unattractive, but nothing special, with a pudgy body, which he always tried to hide by wearing baggy clothing, and a scruffy beard which perhaps he was also hiding behind.

He complained grimly about the dancers of San Francisco, how bad they were, how aggressive and rude the women were, how he had no respect for them, as they drove to the milonga later. She chastised him by saying he should admire the people for paying him, for taking his workshops, for trying to improve their dancing.

“The women take privates only to get to dance with me. I feel like a prostitute,” he said.

“Then why not teach with a partner, like so many do?”

“Because then I would have to share the money!” he admitted.

When she tried to change the subject, he responded with dialogue quotes from “Tango: The Motion Picture,” which she didn’t recognize and he was piqued that he had to explain.

To be continued...

Tango to Health!

HEALTH: A STUDY BY MCGILL UNIVERSITY IN CANADA (article in Diario Clarín, Buenos Aires)

affirmed that dancing tango is as healthy as gymnastics. When doing it, physiological mechanisms are engaged to help prevent cardiac diseases and improve mobility. Not that we need medical studies to make us want the sensual embrace of tango!

A study made last year by the International Society of Cardiology revealed that dancing tango, salsa or merengue helps to diminish arterial pressure and to prevent the appearance of cardiac diseases. The choice was made to study the effects of tango because it is one of the few dances that forces the couple to merge in an embrace. "In former times, even fox-trot was danced embraced; nowadays the new generations do not practice that contact."

You see, yet another reason to dance estilo milonguero!!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The New Astaires?


is the title of the article on this brother (21) and sister (16) in the current La Milonga Argentina magazine. Do you think they have ever been to a milonga?

Anyway, they have a fabulous studio in Caballito where they teach private and group lessons.
And yes, they say they go to La Viruta, Canning and La Ideal.

Will Federico be the new Fred? And what ever did happen to Fred's sister Adele?

2003 World Tango Champions

Gisela Galeassi and Gaspar Godoy are from Cordoba, and won the Campeonato Mundial when they were only 18 and 19 years old.

Since then they've toured the world dancing and teaching and are working on their second instructional DVD.

Now I ask you, how can any teenager
1) Be a world champion of a dance that takes years to perfect and understand;
2) Teach it to normal people who want to dance socially?

Am I missing something here?

Winning the Campeonato Mundial in Buenos Aires in 2003 jump-started their career and suddenly they were all over the international tango festival map. They've made eight teaching tours to Japan alone. They are also the "official image" and tango teachers of the Abasto Plaza Hotel, which is marketing itself to tourists as "The Tango Experience."

You can read all about it in the August issue of La Milonga Argentina magazine.

They are beautiful and young and in love (they married last year). It's a great story. But what does it say about the future of tango? about the international tango present when people want to learn to dance like they do? Will these folks go to Maipu and Gricel expecting to dance like that?

Ruben and I have a private Argentine student (middle-aged) who came to us after taking a class at a large Buenos Aires tango school. Alberto has danced in the milongas for many years but the time had come when he wanted to improve his tango and make it more satisfying and interesting to himself and his partners. So he went to this big group class, and he walked out afterwards, frustrated and angry, never to return. Still in shock about how the class was taught, he told us, "What can a 20 year old kid possibly have to teach me?"

With the whole world dreaming to be stage dancers, what will happen to the embrace? And what will happen to the music? --the soul of tango.

Nancy just commented that she thought from my post that they won the Salon division. No, that might be even worse; yet though they won the Stage division, they are teaching salon!!! So I'm not sure which is worse, actually. What do you think?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Castellano y Cafecitos Con Ester

What better way to study Spanish than sitting in a historic cafe on Av. de Mayo and chatting over cortados with Ester?

Ester Carrizo
has the Spanish Buenos Aires school, with a helpful website of travel tips, photos, accomodation info, a tango page!, and cool photos like this one of body painting:

This native of Salta (Northern Argentina) speaks English and Hebrew as well. If you're in Buenos Aires and want to improve your Castellano, why not have coffee with Ester?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Campeonato For Change

Next weekend begins the Campeonato Metropolitano de Tango which segues into the Campeonato Mundial. More foreigners than ever are coming to Buenos Aires from all over the world to compete in the biggest tango contest of them all. Last year the winning young couple in tango del escenario was from Columbia

Ruben and I aren't competing this year; last year was fun and we did very well--finishing #15 out of more than 500 couples, and me the only foreigner in the Metropolitano to make it even to the semifinals.

Even last year we noticed how things were changing. In all the separate sections of the contest, it was the young and professional who won, never mind if they didn't follow the written rules of the judges on how to dance. If rules are ignored with impunity, the rules will eventually change or be eliminated altogether.

As Tito Palumbo editorialized in his magazine, B.A. Tango, there should be two divisions in the Campeonato: one for professionals and the other for social dancers.

I advocate four divisions--the two categories of professional and social also being divided by age; under 40 and over 40, or at least, the social and the milonga categories. Then the Campeonato might really mean something, with the winners truly representing their divisions. It's ridiculous to have a 60 year old milonguero competing with a 25 year old professional.

A multitude of foreigners come to compete and bring back with them to Buenos Aires the "Tango Para Touristas" that is wildly popular overseas and that is carried around the world by teachers on tour like the plague. Other countries only see tango on TV and in big stage shows, and that's the tango they want to learn. So touring teachers provide athletic choreography, kicks and lifts and spectacular tricks and lots and lots of figures.

But that's not tango as danced by the real people in the salons of Buenos Aires. (At least not yet.) That's probably not the tango that these same youngsters will be dancing when they are old. When their youthful exuberance fades, they will begin to look for the milonguero style of the close embrace, the connection to the music and their partner, the sensuality and improvisation that milongueros have always danced. And I hope it will still exist.

With all this international injection of flashy tango for export, will the dance change? Foreign people by the hundreds from all over the world are enchanted with this form of tango, and since tango tourism has become huge in Argentina, certainly tango as is danced in Buenos Aires will be impacted. It has to. For all that tango is beloved here, it is also a business, and tango businesses go out of their way to attract dancers from the four corners of the globe to Buenos Aires--the big reason for the Mundial.

How ironic that dancers travel so far to the Mecca of tango to see and study the dance in it's pure form in the middle of its culture. But they bring likes and tastes and experiences and styles that, by the sheer number of foreign dancers, pollute what they want to see in its original state. When a milonga is half-full of foreign dancers doing leg-wraps, colgadas, volcadas, and elaborate adornos, won't this make an impression on the Argentines? Certainly some of them will want to do it too.

When the old milongueros are gone, will people be dancing stage-salon tango in dance halls to see who can boleo the highest and gancho the fastest? Just like when tango came back to Argentina from Paris in the 20's, it had become a different dance. So it will change again with all of the cross-pollination of the Campeonato Mundial and the travelling salesman/ tango teachers who sell the buyers what they want.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

I could dance with you 'til the tango come home. On second thought, I'd rather dance with the tango 'til you came home.

Which movie was this quote from?

Tanguera Tales: Maximiliano Superstar

Tango has a flavor of life and a taste of death.
--Attributed to poet Celedonio Flores

He was a world famous tango superstar. He appeared in most of the tango movies, on international TV, and on Broadway. Older than most professional stage dancers, tall and elegantly thin, with thick curly gray hair tamed with gomina, his passionate, sensuous dancing style was her favorite, his workshops always the best.

At all times with the youngest and most beautiful women, everyone knew he was married, or had been married a few times, and that he had a lover in each city he visited on his world tours. He hid nothing, put on no acts offstage. What you saw was what you got. He had tremendous charisma, both onstage and off. When he danced with even a beginner, he made her look—and feel --like a queen.

Kristin had taken many of his classes in her around-the-world tango odyssey and was smitten with his style. He taught with humor, wisdom, personality, and a charming humility. He had the ability to convey how to dance, not just do steps.

One night when he needed a ride, she volunteered to pick him up at his hotel in Beverly Hills. At the dance they sat together at his table of friends and well-known fellow performers, and he was considerate, gracious and generous to her. Kristin was the first person he asked to dance. Of course she knew what everyone was thinking, but she was proud anyway. He always wore the same exquisite Italian cologne, and even the aroma of his French cigarettes didn’t detract. Kristin was happy to go along with the program.
On the way back from the dance, he invited her to dinner at an all-night restaurant on Melrose, a favorite of visiting professional Argentinian dancers. Just the two of them at one in the morning (usually impossible in L.A.), they sat in the patio warmed by heat lamps and plants and flowers, and he ordered Chateau Lafitte Rothschild and the best imported steaks. Kristin knew she was in for it.

He spoke several languages, and was the most sophisticated man Kristin ever had dinner with. Certainly, his stories and conversation were all about him, but they were fascinating stories and interesting conversation. He told her about his childhood, how tango seduced him, how he began his career as a teenager and had been dancing and traveling around the world ever since. She enjoyed every minute of listening. She had nothing to say to him, but everything to hear.

He asked her in when they got to his hotel, as expected. She went, more curious about him than anything. Later she rather wished she hadn’t seen him naked, with his skinny brown legs and small pot belly. The sex was quick, boring and prefunctory, almost obligatory. Many great tango dancers express all of their passion and emotion on the dance floor and there is very little left for the bedroom.

There is no question that Kristin preferred dancing with him to making love with him. She would rather dance with him than anyone else in the world, and then she ruined it by going to bed with him.

Now she feels uncomfortable when she sees him, even though he always treats her special in public, calling her Corazon and other endearments, as he does with all of his women. To be fair, it was Kristin who “rejected” him afterwards. He never did the latino conquistador thing with her of bedding and then casting aside, she never gave him the chance. He was always a gentleman. But Kristin lost her fantasy that night, and it left a small hole in her life.

She saw him by accident at La Catédral in Buenos Aires. He asked her to hold his drink while he took a hit of cocaine in the men’s room, and couldn’t seem to understand why she didn’t want to go back to his hotel. When she refused, he looked at her for a long time, seemingly unable to process the information through the alcohol and drugs. His professional partner had just left town to visit her family in the north, and she guessed he didn’t like to be without a woman. Any woman, even Kristin.

Now she avoids him and so has lost her favorite teacher, and favorite dance partner, as well as her flight of the imagination, which always took her to Tango Heaven,

Taking the "A" Train in Buenos Aires Redux

I ran a link to this article as one of my very first blog posts. Here I'm posting
the entire essay, inspired by a new Buenos Aires blog,
Coogling Buenos Aires.

Originally published February 2006 in
We all love trains--the waiting, the leaving, the whistles. Who can hear the distant “woo-woo” of a train without feeling something…a longing, nostalgia, the urge to hop on and leave your old life behind? Literature abounds with romantic train symbols: The Polar Express, Streetcar Named Desire, Train to Nowhere, The Last Train Home.The same for tunnels, which can be passages to somewhere mysterious and unknown. Aren’t the words, “secret tunnel” exciting? Tunnels are a metaphor of life and death? Mystery and secrets? The birth experience, with light and life at the end?

And when there are trains in tunnels, well, in the old movies Hollywood movies during the moral censorship days of the Hayes Code, when a train went into a tunnel, the audience knew the stars were having sex.

Most people don’t find the subway so romantic. But taking the A line of the Buenos Aires subway is usually an opportunity for me to be transported to realms other than the stations of Peru, Piedras and Pasco.

The “A” line is the oldest in the Buenos Aires subway system, or Supte. Construction began in 1911 and opened to the public in 1913. It’s a short line of only 13 stations, beginning from the Plaza de Mayo. There the President’s Pink House and the Cathedral sit at right angles around a plaza full of history, monuments, protests, and souvenir stands hawking blue and white Argentine flags.

A couple of cars have been replaced, but generally when I ride to my Castellano class or to church, I take one of the original wooden cars. At times it’s almost a mystical ride, especially early in the morning or late at night. As I sit on the wooden slat benches, the train rocks me from side to side, the rings hanging from the ceiling swing hypnotically. The original incandescent lighting is still in use in old-fashioned glass shades, and the light glows on the wood, brass and beveled mirrors. These original cars have windows at both ends so you can see right through to the next car or to the black tunnel you have just left or into the one you are entering. The world up top seems so far away.During the day, cars passing over the grills on the street above, make daylight come and go as the train rumbles along in the dark tunnel.

Light in tunnels is a strong metaphor. During a series of site-specific dance performances in Los Angeles by Collage Dance Theater in the year 2000, abandoned subway tunnels from the 20’s were used in the work, SubVersions. A brilliant idea full of symbolism, dancers dug through rubble for lost hope, and waltzed as phantoms through the elegant art deco Terminal building. Finally they built a makeshift boat full of happy passengers waving goodbye, which was borne on shoulders, down the dark tunnel until its light disappeared.

Because tunnels are so appealing, wise businessmen around the world put the lure of exploring history underground to good use. In Seattle, Washington, a popular tourist attraction is a walking tour of the subterranean tunnels under Pioneer Square, once the main roadways and ground-floor storefronts of old downtown.

The abandoned silver mine shaft in Zacatecas, Mexico, was turned into an amusement park-type of attraction with an underground disco. Patrons take the old mine train from the entrance and pass the centuries old chapel with flowers and burning candles still honoring the miners who lost there lives there underground.

In Paris, tourists line up to explore the Catacombs, and not too long ago they also went on underground sewer tours.

Here in Buenos Aires are forgotten old tunnels as well. El Zanjón de Granados, on Defensa in San Telmo, is 150 meters of tunnels, 4 meters wide, dating from the beginning of the 19th century. And under the Manzana de las Luces are Jesuit tunnels even older.

I’m not a spelunker, or cave explorer. I don’t belong to any narrow gauge or steam train club. I don’t search out the roller coasters of the world. I’m not about to climb into an old well or abandoned mineshaft.

I’m just going to keep on taking the A Train. It’s not hard to imagine, as the train appears from nowhere in the station, that the next stop is somewhere ethereal and strange. I take my seat and vanish into history.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Practical Fashion

One of my favorite blogs, Random Good Stuff, highlighted a fashion show at the Reproductive Health and Technologies expo in China this year which showed the latest dresses made entirely out of condoms.

Now I delight in over-the-top fancies of this sort, because I so firmly believe in the importance of women taking charge of their own sexual health. (In fact to that end, some years ago I started a women's sexual health company in Los Angeles called, vive la difference! But that's a whole other blog!)

The thing is down here in Buenos Aires, I see a lot. I've been going to the milongas for more than ten years, and when I don't dance, I watch. I also listen to my women friends. And I see various problems making their rounds in the milongas.

For foreign women coming here to dance (and often leaving all reason at home), wearing one of these dresses might be a good reminder to all of us to take care with our bodies.