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.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Why Do Some People Bother to Come to Buenos Aires to Dance?

The springtime tango tourist season is drawing to a close here in Buenos Aires. Dancers come year round, but most people prefer November and March, perhaps because of the weather, and also perhaps because of the various festivals and events designed to attract tourists that are programed for these months.

Recently a friend wrote to me,
Sometimes I wonder why foreigners go to Buenos Aires, some repeatedly, and they go home and they still don't understand the dancing or the culture.

I wonder some of the same things about how foreigners can return home from BsAs without a clue. It's like they brought their tango with them from their home town and protected it from all Argentine influence while here. It's possibly due to the syndrome that one acquaintance of mine loudly asserted at a milonga, I'm an American, I'm on vacation, and I'm going to do what I want!

Or it's the desire for instant, safe learning, or a quick fix, that encourages people to attend hermetically sealed events like Milongueando and Pulpo and CITA, etc. They dance with foreigners like themselves, they take classes in English from teachers who spend most of their time teaching the very same students in workshops and festivals back home in their own countries, the teachers who have made names for themselves outside of Argentina.

Often the demand for the steps and figures students have seen on stage or TV slants the classes away from social tango as it's danced here. After years of these classes, some people go into shock when they go to a "normal" Buenos Aires milonga for the first time; they don't see anything that they've learned, and they have no idea how to navigate a packed floor. They know even less about how to dance to the different orchestras, and how to actually find someone to dance with. Women sometimes cause confusion by doing flashy "moves" they've learned that here have other connotations (i.e., lifting their legs high off the floor.)

My friend continued,
I think some people are hesitant to come to Buenos Aires and tough out the milongas if they don't have a partner or don't know people already. Being able to speak Spanish is helpful, fluency is even more helpful. So I shouldn't be so impatient with people who flock to tourist festivals and tourist milongas.

But I don't agree with him that it's necessary to have a partner here to dance a lot, or that speaking Spanish is absolutely necessary. I came here alone for years not knowing any Spanish. I also remember taking a wonderful class many years ago from Olga Besio in Spanish; at that time I didn't understand many of her words, but still I learned a whale of a lot.

There are other ways to manage a tango trip if one is alone and doesn't speak Spanish. No need to attend an "incestuous" event for foreigners where the only locals are paid employees. For example:
* Staying in a so-called Tango House, which I did several times in the late '90s.
* Or traveling with one or two friends and mixing with the regulars at milongas.
* Searching out the best local teachers who perhaps have never traveled outside of Argentina.
*Possibly hiring milonga accompaniment in the beginning.
*Learning the codigos and observing them.
*Being patient.
*Putting in the time.

Tango is worth it.

If people come here just for the festivals and the big classes with big names, why not just attend festivals in their own countries? It's certainly cheaper than coming down here where they might as well be at a festival in Altuna, PA, or Sydney, AU.

As my friend wrote:

Unless you mix with the locals in the milongas, you're wasting your money coming to Buenos Aires for tango.

To read more about Tango Gringo, go here, here, and here,

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Harvest Festival Remembered

A republishing of my Thanksgiving post from last year. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, even if Thursday isn't your traditional day. We all have much to be grateful for.

Each autumn when the harvest is brought in, the people of the world throw a party. Here in Argentina the grape harvest is celebrated in March in Mendoza. But at any time during the year, somewhere in the world people are giving thanks for their blessings.

The biggest holiday in the U.S. is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, and is also a harvest festival. Bigger than Christmas or the 4th of July, it is Thanksgiving Day. No matter the culture, race, or religion, on this day the salad bowl of American people are united by one tradition: a family feast of traditional foods (with ethnic specialities often added), and then football on TV.

Did you know that eight nations of the world have official Thanksgiving Days? -- Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Japan, Korea, Liberia, Switzerland and the United States. (But try as I might, I could find no information on Thanksgiving in Argentina.)

The ancient tradition of declaring a special day or period for giving thanks goes back to the time when our ancestors hoped that an ostentatious display of gratitude would placate their capricious gods - thus ensuring continued bounty. But these days of thanksgiving were also occasions for celebrating the year's plenty with feasts and joyful gatherings.

Proclaiming days of Thanksgiving for various reasons - success in war, a bounteous harvest, the recovery of a king from illness - was part of European tradition for centuries.

Modern North American Thanksgiving lore is associated with the Pilgrims. In 1621, a year after arriving in the new world on the Mayflower, and following a severe winter in which many of their numbers had succumbed to disease, the colonists celebrated their first successful harvest by organizing a thanksgiving feast to which they invited the neighboring Native Indians. On the menu for that first American Thanksgiving were almost certainly some foods that are staples of the holiday today - turkey and pumpkin - along with other wild fowl, venison, oysters, clams, fish, corn cakes, and wild fruit and nuts.

But enough about history! What's for dinner?

On most North American tables, a turkey still holds pride of place for the annual Thanksgiving feast. In the US alone, over 40 million turkeys are consumed on this holiday weekend each year!

In November 1997 the United Nations General Assembly unanimously declared the year 2000 as the official International Year of Thanksgiving.

That same year, an English writer and director, Gurinder Chadha, came out with the quintessential American Thanksgiving movie, called, WHAT’S COOKIN? In it, four families in Los Angeles, my hometown, celebrate Thanksgiving Day. The families are Mexican, Vietnamese, Jewish, and black, and show the dysfunctions and problems that all families have in common. On Thanksgiving Day, their commonality is also thankfulness.

We all have something to be grateful for, especially we expats, even though it's hard to be far from home and family on this most American of holidays.

On Thanksgiving Day and every day, I am thankful for you, dear readers!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Don't Cry For Free, Argentina

Here's a very interesting article by George Lesser in The Washington Times. I don't agree with all of his points of view, about how Argentina (Buenos Aires) is so different from the U.S.

For example, Argentinians are ethnically similar, but tend to live in "ethnic" barrios where they speak their original languages at home. Excuse me? What about the Little Italys, Mexican and Cuban barrios, Little Tokyos, China Towns, the black ghettos that still exist today, Armenian, Jewish neighborhoods (such as Fairfax in L.A.) etc. that are found in most large U.S. cities?

His points about the increase of crime and the disappearance of the middle class could be about any big city. He talks about two economies--one for the rich and one for the poor. This is new?
About how school teachers and other professionals in Argentina have to work more than one job. Hello? This has been true in the States for quite a while now for corporations and institutions to avoid paying benefits and a standard wage. Everyone is an "independent contractor."

But Lesser is so right about the corruption of Argentine governments, and perhaps that's the reason for all its problems in 2008. No, the people don't plan ahead, no, they really don't care to work very much or hard, no, they have no hope for the future. But is it their fault?

I do agree with Lesser's conclusions. And some of his points are very thought-provoking. It's well worth a read.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Passion of Music and Dance

Recently my tanguera friend from Sweden and I exchanged tango books. I loaned her Long After Midnight at the Nino Bien, and she loaned me The Passion of Music and Dance: Body Gender and Sexuality, a collection of essays edited by William Washabaugh (Oxford, 1998).

While at first glance, it might appear academic and dry, in fact it is extremely interesting to anyone connected to tango and therefore its social/anthropological roots. Or for anyone who dances in a milonga. The book also treats flamenco and rebetika, the "blues" of Greece, which can be considered kin to tango.

The three chapters about tango are:

Carlos Gardel and the Argentine Tango: the Lyric of Social Irresponsibility and Male Inadequacy;

Tango and the Scandal of Homosocial Desire;

From Wallflowers to Femmes Fatales: Tango and the Performance of Passionate Femininity.

Very well-written, thought-provoking and accessible, unfortunately it is out of print, but many used copies are available on the internet.

Here are a couple of my favorite quotes from the book (these from the essay by Jeffrey Tobin):

The primary relation in tango is not between the heterosexual dance partners, but is between the man who dances with a woman and the other men who watch.

...the male lead in tango has the phallus while the female follower is the phallus.

(Oh gosh, am I going to get a million crazy midnight hits now?)

And, another from the essay by Marta E. Savigliano;

...all women who approach the milonga scene must learn, sooner or later, that every time they enter a milonga, they will do so as a wallflower. A woman's wallflower position will be tested every single night at the milonga, no matter how good a dancer she is.

So you see? It's not about you and me at all--it's just sociology!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

He had the gall...

but not any more!

Ruben had his gall bladder removed last Thursday, and just in the nick of time!
There were enough stones to make a necklace AND earrings!

So he's convalescing and it's behind us.

If you ever are in Buenos Aires and need to go to a hospital, I heartedly recommend La Clinica San Camilo in Parque Centenario.

Ruben's sister, Olga, who along with his oldest son and daughter, waited out the surgery with me. Turns out, the sister and the daughter had already had this procedure! Genes or diet?

One of the Hijas de San Camilo at left.

It's a lovely hospital, shiny and sparkly clean, with touches like red embroidery on the edges of all the linens.

The sisters live on the floors above, and are always cheerfully checking on the welfare of their patients. Instead of a chapel, there is a huge, beautiful church within the hospital. Even the food was good! I hope you never have to go there, but if you do, I can't imagine better care anywhere.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cocktails at the Faena Hotel+Universe

Sometimes a girl just needs a cocktail in a pretty glass in a gorgeous setting. I mean I love the delicious Argentine red that I drink every night with dinner, but sometimes only a cocktail will do.

So yesterday I met SallyCat and Tina at the Faena Hotel in the Library Bar.

We all separately took planes, trains, and automobiles to get there in its hidden spot on Dique 2 in Puerto Madero. The hotel blends in perfectly with all the old brick warehouses that have been upscaled into fancy condos and restaurants. I wasn't even sure I had found it because it's so exclusive that it doesn't have a sign, apart from a discreet golden "P" above the entrance.

It was freezing in there, so we soon moved outside to the pool area. Sigh.

It was a kind of scavenger hunt to find the bathroom: down down, not a rabbit hole, but a very long, very dark hallway. Finally I had to ask one of the suits that were everywhere. And he opened that door to the men's room (here's a pic). Now if even the staff is confused as to what the subtle letters "W" and "M" stand for, what's a poor foreigner to do? I realized I was in the wrong place when I saw the sparkling row of urinals, but said what the hell, and used a cubicle anyway. It was a Monday afternoon, and the only people in the hotel were the suits anyway.

I'm glad I got to finally see this famous place, designed by the celebrity architect Phillippe Starck. But the truth is, there we were down by the river on a beautiful day, and even at the pool, we were so enclosed. We could have been in downtown Peoria. It's kind of a strange concept, no big lobby, the long dark halls. It's for trendoids, I suppose. Anyway, it's not for me. But it was fun to visit.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hasta Siempre Amor

Now here's some tango passion!

Check out the gorgeous purple wisteria in the background.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Milonga Codes: Respecting Others

Ruben and I had a great time last night in our favorite milonga, Los Consagrados. There were more than 20 people at our big table, and it was a joy to be with so many good friends.

But. And oh how I hate to write this. There were a couple of problems that made us anxious. What we want most on these Saturday nights, is for everyone to have a wonderful evening. Sometimes, however, it's out of our control, yet we feel responsible.

No biggie. But while we've more or less "trained" our friends to tell us in advance that they would like to come and sit with us so that we can save them space so that everyone is comfortable, and while they've learned to pay for their own drinks and snacks (however much we'd like to treat everybody), still there can be glitches when people aren't aware of the milonga codigos or possible problems. (I realize however that the ones who offend are not likely to read blogs like this one.)

Ruben always calls Enrique, the organizer, the day before to tell him how large our party will be. And then he goes early on Saturday to make sure there are enough of the new chairs at our table, because the old ones snag clothes and stockings. We both want all of our friends to be comfortable and have fun.

Nevertheless, there are things that people need to remember:

It's not possible to sit wherever you wish. If people have made advance reservations, and then friends of friends are invited to join the group at the table at the last minute, then the people who have "reserved" don't have a space.

If you have reserved and come late, then you can't choose your seat. Last night someone just plopped herself down in a friend's seat and refused to move.

Ruben and I feel SO bad if everyone at our table doesn't have a good time. Again, we feel responsible. Most of the time it's foreigners who don't know anything about the milonga codigos. In other countries people can act however they want to in a milonga. But in Buenos Aires it's different. Codes must be respected, at least in the conservative milongas that we like to attend.

Secrets of a Milonguero

It's no secret which milonguero I'm talking about. But please don't reveal that you heard these intimate details from me.

१) He never had a dance lesson in his life.

2) He's very macho in all things, and sometimes it's difficult for him to say I'm sorry. But when we're dancing, I can feel the exact moment when he says it to me with his dance.

3) He doesn't like to dance to Pugliese, although he dances it beautifully, and recently I figured out why: he gets too emotional.

4) He has ten grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. (Update 2011: 13 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren)

5) He needs to have surgery on both knees, but refuses because then he couldn't dance for two years.

6) He worked for more than 20 years for Telefe, the TV station, as chofer and multi-tasker. He climbed radio towers to install antennas all over Argentina, sometimes worked as sound man, and he just loved it. He has a scrapbook of photos taken with all the major stars. He was laid off in the crisis of 2001, and he still misses that job.

7) When he was young, he won several championships in Rock 'n Roll.

8) He's very, very smart and knows an amazing amount of information, but has never read a book. He's also honest and wise and kind.

9) He used to be a nochero, dancing till dawn, and then going to work. But now he prefers the afternoon milongas. He dances with tremendous energy, and he gets tired.

10) He's shy.

11) It's no secret that he's a fabulous asador and cook!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Dreams Wet and Cold on Showmatch

I don't have a fixation with this TV show, honestly, but it is interesting from a dance viewpoint and cultural differences. Furthermore, I have to hand it to them that they are always searching for new forms of dance entertainment (and ways to show the women's c--o's.) Marcelo Tenelli's Showmatch (Telefe) appears to be of national importance, if you consider the amount of space dedicated to it on TV news/talk shows, magazines, and the internet. The hashing and rehashing of the jury's points, what everyone said, how they looked, errors made, etc., complete with lots of replays ad nausaum.

First breaking ground never imagined by Dancing With the Stars with the hit show, Bailando Por un Sueno, Showmatch presented Patinando Por un Sueno (Skating for a Dream), and this year, Aquadance in big crystal tubs of water, and Bailando Abajo Lluvia (Dancing in the Rain.)

Here's an example of one of the best "Rain" dances.

The same folks who bring us  Showmatch also do Talento Argentino. The following video of a tango solo by dancer Juan Francisco Segui shows that there is amazing Argentine talent out there that doesn't depend on naked female flesh and/or plastic surgery.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tango & Relationships Survey

Clay Nelson, of Portland, Oregon, has completed his Tango & Relationships Survey, and sent out the following letter:

Tango Dancers,
A few months ago, I wrote and asked for your suggestions of questions to be included in a survey on the topic of tango and relationships. Over forty of you wrote back with your ideas. As much as possible I've tried to include your thoughts and have ended up with a 34-question survey that is now complete. So...if you're ready and willing, jump in and take this survey.

I took it this morning, and it's fun to compare one's answers to the statistics. However, much of it doesn't fit Buenos Aires. There are opportunities however to write in your opinions if there's no check box for your own experience.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Paper Chase Conundrum

Yesterday we got up really early to go downtown to the Registro Nacional de Personas Extranjeras to make an appointment, which is my next step in obtaining a long-term visa. The document from Imigracion said to be there yesterday between 8-10 a.m. (Read the preceding installment on the paper chase from hell here.)

We went on the Subte and crossed Plaza de Mayo where there was a huge gathering, with tents and police and the media, for a demonstration. There was also a huge gathering of folks outside of the Registry office on 25 de Mayo 145, a pushy-shovey crowd all trying, like I was, to just make an appointment. There was one official in attendance who was telling everybody quite rudely that all the turns were gone, and that you have to line up (there was no line but a stampede) before 6 a.m. to ask for an appointment. One man was exiting the building after getting his appointment which was for next August, 2009.

I wasn't feeling well but used all my strength to make this effort, which was for nothing.

When we returned home, Ruben tried to call, as I insisted, because surely one only needs to telephone to get an appointment. There was no number on the form, but he got one from information. And nobody ever answered.

As far as I'm concerned, at least for today, I don't care to ever try that again. I will NOT go down there at 6 a.m. and wait for 4 hours to get an appointment for next year. I am disgusted. Maybe they'll send the police to my house to arrest me and toss me out of Argentina, and at this moment, I couldn't care less.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Tango Tourist Season

Tango Tourist Season is in full bloom in Buenos Aires. It
s springtime and the milongas are swamped with people who have come half-way around the world to dance, preferably with locals.

I hear a lot of table talk, as well as see tears in the bathroom.
Tango can take us to heaven, but sometimes we feel earth-bound.

Middle-aged foreign women flock to Buenos Aires to dance, maybe because in their own countries they are overlooked as sexual beings and ignored in life as well as in the milongas of their hometowns.

Here they (we) are welcomed and made to feel like queens, and it can be addictive. Is addictive. And many women come here twice a year, spring and fall, every year because in Buenos Aires they feel desirable once again.

Perhaps in their home countries they are invisible. Past the time of the construction workers' whistles, past being the new girl in town at their local milongas, where there are always younger newbies ready to make a man feel like Pablo Veron.

Here they are desirable women to be courted by the locals because:
they will leave soon (very sexy);
they are better dancers than the Argentinas (sometimes);
they might be up for paying for private lessons or restaurant dinners (often);
they might invite a milonguero to their home countries (does happen);
they might be hot to trot so far from home and don't have the time to waste on slow seduction;
and, just perhaps, they are sexy sensuous women unappreciated at home.

For more, check my previous post on Tango: The Dark Side.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Buenos Aires Baila Tango

Browsing in the Yenny bookstore today, I came across a little book by Gabriela Kogan, Buenos Aires Baila Tango Milonga Guide, (29 pesos, Sept. 2008). I picked it up with skepticism because normally these kinds of guides are out of date and useless before they hit the printer. Milongas in Buenos Aires open and close every week, and even websites devoted to keeping track of them are usually not updated regularly

But this handy little bilingual paperback has phone numbers, names, addresses, is well organized, and offers lots of useful information. There's even a section on tango shoe stores.

So if you'll be in town fairly soon, it might be something you want to look for. I can't vouch for how useful it might be next year. Of course all of this information is available in the free magazines passed out in the milongas--Diostango, La Tanguata, B.A. Tango. Tango magazines also seem to come and go, but these have been around for quite sometime.

Of course you can always download and print Howard's Buenos Aires Tango Map.

Gabriela Kogan also has a matching book on Buenos Aires Walks, which looks good. too

I'm a librarian...there's nothing I like more than a couple of books in my bag. Well except maybe for recommending them.


There's an old saying: in order to love your country, you have to leave it. I left my country in 2001, not for political dissatisfaction, although it was there, but to live an artistic life closer to my heart. But the more I saw, living in France, Mexico, and Argentina, the more I appreciated the United States. And the more I missed the things that most U.S. denizens take for granted.

I was up all night watching the election on CNN Espanol (I don't get CNN in English.) No giant screen election beer parties for me; I watched alone with Mirasol the cat, who pretty much chased her mousie through the whole thing.

I've seen many, many Presidential elections, but none moved me like this one. I was so hopeful, so prayerful, so PROUD that the American people rallied to change the world.

Today the internet almost crashed for the zillions of cyber-messages flying around the globe acknowledging change for the future. I don't want to, or can't, add anything more to the lyrical writings of those more on the cusp than I.

I just want to say how happy I am today to be American!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Our Students Are the Nicest People on Earth!

We meet the nicest people in our work! Ruben likes to say that our students arrive as strangers and they leave as friends. We are very lucky indeed.

We just received a note from Dawn Scarrow from Canada, forwarded by Sandra of My BA Travel Guide:

Ruben was a fantastic partner! Both my friend and I enjoyed dancing with him immensely! I called Cherie after to let her know how happy we were and she was lovely to speak to as well and offer us other fabulous tango opportunities that we were unable to take advantage of (I didn't arrive back to BA from the estancia in time) but they would have been great.

Last night Ruben did milonga accompaniment at Canning with five ladies!
Not a bad job he has!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Omar Vega 1959-2008

Today, November 1, is the Feast of All Saints, when we honor those of us who have gone before. It's only fitting to remember Omar Vega today, as well as other great souls who departed in the past year. I used to dance with him at Club Almagro and when we ran into each other in the States. He was truly un typo macanudo, and everybody liked him. He is missed.

Click on the photo to see a slide show by Woodstock Tango showing him doing his thing.

And here's how we remember him most: