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, January 31, 2009

Guillermina's Historias Breves

Years and years ago, I happened to ask Gavito who he thought was the best female tango dancer in the world at that time, and he replied, Guillermina!

I first met her at Norah's Tango Week when she was teaching with her then husband, Roberto Reis. I've followed her career since, and she is an amazing dancer, a gorgeous woman, who can do many things, and does.

Her latest endeavor is Tango: Historias Breves which opened recently in New York. The New York Times gave Guillermina a good review, but didn't like the show, calling it Tango for Lady and Macho Tramp.

The clip below looks right out of a Ballet Theater piece by Twyla Tharp, or something by Julio Bocca. It's not tango, but adagio, and to the same old Piazzola that all "balletic" tango is danced to on stage. Don't get me wrong, but sometimes I wonder, without Piazzola, would there even be tango escenario?

However, the reviewer went ballistic because the first part of the show was set to music by Rachmaninov.

As I always say, if the music isn't tango, is the dance?

But who cares in the case of a stage show? What's important is the artistry, technique, vision, and entertainment value. And I'm guessing this show has all of that.

It's on tour, UCLA soon. Catch it if you ... want to!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Kaamos Tango

While we in the land of tango have a blazing hot summer, Finland has a dark Arctic winter--Kaamos--when the sun does not rise at all. This film by Hannu Nieminen has been shot in Super-8.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


The first time I saw this game was one night over at the Paisley Chick's for dinner. Beatrice had it out on the table, and Ruben, who loves games, started to play right away. It's sort of like pick-up-sticks but more architectural. Skill and fun!

So that's what I took to L.A. for Christmas to give my son Jason. Unbeknownst to me, he had been playing Jenga for a few weeks already with his half-brother, and was hooked.

So New Year's Eve, we sat around the Jenga table at Jason's house waiting for 2009. Not quite sure if all the champagne we were drinking helped very much.

So here's my little home movie. It's a bit like watching grass grow.

But if you'd really like to know more about the game, check out the Jenga wiki.

Monday, January 26, 2009

La Cumparsita: Murgas and Carnivals in Argentina

It's the party time of year again: summer, vacations, heat--and Carnival!

An article in the English Guardian highlights the fun of Carnival in Gualeguaychu, a small rivertown about 3 hours from Buenos Aires.

Ruben and I took a turn-around van trip up there a few years ago (not recommended; better to stay the night) . It was fun and very impressive. We hope to go back again one day to enjoy the amazing Carnival del Pais.
Meanwhile, here in town we enjoy the murga in Bodeo.
(photo: Reuters)

Buenos Aires Travel Rent has written a couple of nice articles on this fascinating and entertaining murga phenomenon.

The Carnival Puts Color on the Porteño Night

The city of Buenos Aires gets dressed with rhythm and color to receive, during every weekend of February, over a hundred “murgas” that will participate in forty corsos in different neighborhoods of the city. It is a popular party that takes place on the streets and where “murgas” are the main stars of the night.
The porteño murgas are characterized by the mix of humor, street music, color, dance and joy. To the traditional bass drums, cymbals and whistles, they add percussion and melodic instruments.
Most murgas have a presentation song, a critical song, as well as homage songs.
The name of the murgas vary depending on the neighborhood they come from.
The style of the Buenos Aires murga is unique. Maybe it’s the dancing that sets them apart. Guided by the rhythm of bass drums and cymbals, the porteño murgero jumps around, kicking and contorting, showing great skills, strength and agility.
The corsos will take place in the most well-known corners of Belgrano, Lugano, Núñez, Parque Avellaneda, Parque Patricios, Pompeya, Saavedra, Villa Ortúzar, Villa Urquiza, Costanera Sur, Boedo and San Telmo neighborhoods.

And here's another one:


In its 2009 edition, the Porteño Carnaval will offer music, joy and the color of hundreds of “murgas” that will perform in different porteño neighborhoods for the enjoyment of neighbors and visitors.
The first “corso” done in Buenos Aires dates from 1869, with “comparsas” of blacks and black and whites, contributing their costumes and rhythm, while their singing and crazy dancing shoot arms and legs up in the air.

The lyrics of the “murgas” are called “critiques” and unite denunciation with laughter, color and dance. What differenciates the Argentine murga from others, besides their clothes (frock coat, gloves, top hat and baton), are the bass drum with cymbals and different rhythms, and traditions which are used to differentiate each neighborhood.

The “murgas,” declared a Cultural Heritage of Buenos Aires since 1997, are an artistic expression of each neighborhood.

Cherie speaking now:
The most famous tango in the world? La Cumparsita! And now you know where it comes from!
By the way, I have a double CD album of nothing but La Cumparsita, beginning around 1916. It's a fascinating way to study the history of tango as well as the changes made in the same orchestras over the years. And you know what? After hours of listening to La Cumparsita I am not ever tired of it, nor can I sit out the last tango of the night, which is always La Cumparsita!

Friday, January 23, 2009


One of my favorite TV shows (when I can get it down here) is Les Stroud's Survivorman. This guy goes out into any kind of wilderness alone with nothing but a couple of video cameras and maybe a piece of string, and makes the best of it--surviving--for a week. He knows how to get blood from a turnip, as it were.

Ruben and I went off camping to the isla of Puerto la Pista this week in the Delta of Tigre to escape the tremendous heat of Buenos Aires--a feat of survival in itself.

While we did take a cooler of food and drink, still, for a cityslicker like myself, it was sort of an exercise in survival. Luckily I had Ruben along, who created fire (and kept it going for 3 days on a single match--Survivorman-style), caught food in the river, taught me how to paddle a kayack, and urged me to wash the dishes in cold water with a tiny bar of soap (I'm so NOT a girlscout!)

Check out this moth we found! Nature is amazing!

We survived very well in Tigre. But then after returning to BsAs last night, Ruben's car was stolen from in front of my building. There went six months of investing everything he had, including sanding and painting the old Falcon by hand. This car was to be a means of surviving for him. Sometimes surviving is more difficult in the city.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Running in Circles

It's a New Year and time to update my "progress" or lack of same in the Paper Chase from Hell. (If you're not up to speed, read the last installment here.)

Thursday evening I went again down to 25 de Mayo and the Registro Nacional de Personas Extranjeras to ask for an appointment, the next step in my application for a long-term visa (2 years.) I began this process exactly 5 years ago when I first moved here.

Oh what luck! I had to hardly wait at all to speak to the young girl at the desk in this giant Fascist-style building that seemed straight out of the movie, Brazil. She and a security guard appeared to be the only workers in this depressing megalith. Never mind, I was hopeful because so few were there waiting. And even though it was a trauma when I had come here in November, I was positive that now in 2009 (and Obama winning) things were going to look up.

When my turn came, she asked to see my apostilled and translated birth certificate, but no problem, as I had brought my complete 5 lb file with me--I'm learning. (I had only been instructed to bring my latest "paper" and my passport, but then I had also been told to go between 8-10 a.m., when all the "turnos" for the day had already been given out.)

So I got my appointment--for December 21, almost a year from now. I explained that I have plans to spend Christmas with my family in Los Angeles, and she didn't even blink. Take it or leave it.

Oh yes, and my current "paper," the one that lets me stay here during the tramite process, it expires in August.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tango Toilet

Talk about dancing on a baldosa!!

From the movie, Dos Ambientes

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Inauguration of New Friday Milonga at Boedo Tango

Well who knew when Ruben told me we were invited to the inauguration of Beto Rusconi's new milonga last night that there would be a surprise for me? I certainly didn't know that we were supposed to dance an exhibition of milonga traspie, the only performance of the evening! So we did, and I was very thankful I had worn my Comme Il Fauts! (Here I am with the organizer, Beto, in the Caminito restaurant inside the salon.)

This milonga in the gorgeous space above the Carrefour supermarket on San Juan, near Boedo, is in addition to the datenight dance there on Saturday, and Julia's mega hit on Wednesday, Sueño Porteño. It begins late, 10:30, so it's an option for those who go to Gricel. Since they are close, one could easily hit both of them. And it's ony 3 blocks from my house!

Unfortunately, last night it was more of a "baile" than a "milonga," in that they played a lot of "otros ritmos" -- cumbia, jazz, folklore, paso doble. We spoke to Beto about it and explained that tourists only want tandas of tangos, although they can bear up under the occasional tropical. He's hoping that groups of tourists will come, as the setting--with its 3 dance floors and attractive "Caminito" restaurant--is spectacular. Last night there were only a couple of foreigners amongst the large throng of revelers. Oh by the way, while we were performing, Beto announced over the microphone, "She's an American, ladies and gentlemen!"

Time will tell. I'll keep you posted.

For a previous post on Boedo Tango, go here.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Club Danés

It is summertime in Buenos Aires, and what better luncheon escape than to pretend we are in cool Copenhagen?

Accordingly my friend and I yesterday lunched at the Club Danés in Retiro.

I just couldn't face a heavy meaty Argentine meal in the heat, so up we went to the 12th floor of the Danish Building, gazed at the Buquebus coming into port, and ate smoked salmon openfaced sandwiches under the portraits of the Danish King and Queen.

It was a refreshing change, but while the smoked salmon was good, everything else was mediocre--nothing like the food I had in Copenhagen in a January long ago during a weekend of tango.

Av. Leandro N. Alem 1074 piso 12
Open only for lunch, M-F

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Feeling the Tango

When I first journeyed to Buenos Aires to dance in 1997, tango tourism was fairly new. Still, a lot of the local men I danced with handed me hastily made up cards declaring themselves, Profesor de Tango.

I collected those cards as a joke--not that I didn't need classes in those days, but from the absurdity of every Juan, Ricardo y Horacio being great tango teachers. I knew that even then.

In a weird way, it's flattering to older foreign women to have so many men begging you to call. Also you get more attention at the milongas during the time the "profesores" are trying to whip up some business by dancing with prospective students.

I did take a couple of group classes years ago with men I met in the milonga because I liked them and how they danced and I wanted to show my support. It was obvious that they were living hand to mouth. And I did learn something--about tango.

Teachers immediately have a personal advantage over their students: the advantage of power and perceived knowledge. It's been forever thus. How many students have fallen in love with their teachers? (Me too, but in my case it was my French teacher.) And in tango it's even easier because of all the body contact. But if a teacher--like a psychologist or doctor--uses that power in trying to seduce, he or she is really taking unfair advantage. (In fact, in the U.S. there have been law suits over this; not brought by the families of underaged students, but by mature adults. Students of all ages and both sexes are vulnerable.)

It's not only the wannabes who try to seduce their paying students, but many well-known big name traveling tango superstars are infamous for more than dancing. They probably seduce because they easily can. But if they do so while taking money from a student who wants to improve his tango, shame on them.

To be honest, sometimes the tango student wants to be seduced. A sexy good-looking teacher attracts students for lots of reasons, one being the desire to be embraced by the teacher for the length of a private lesson. But a truly professional instructor will not mix the personal with the professional during the class.

Recently it came to my attention that an old milonguero friend of mine tried to cop a feel during a private lesson with a foreign woman. (Age is no security that this won't happen.) I'm sure it wasn't the first time, and I know that he isn't the only one who does that. Because I've known this person for many years and always thought of him highly, I am very dismayed, and just so sorry and disappointed in his behavior. I gave him more credit. It just goes to show that sometimes people aren't what they should be.

It's up to the student, unfortunately, to set the limits of student/teacher "affection," whereas it should be the professional who takes care to act "professionally."

Painting by Aline Bureau.

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Violinist

My tanguera friend Lynn sent me this true story from The Washington Post:

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule. A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk. A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats average $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of an social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be:

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?

And we can certainly segue to tango; if we are not in the tango moment--with the music and our partner, what are we missing?

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Musical Notations for 2009

Here are some new musical terms to help you play your way through 2009!

Adagio formaggio -- to play in a slow and cheesy manner
Al dente con tableau -- in opera, chew the scenery
AnDante -- a musical composition that is infernally slow
Angus Dei -- a divine, beefy tone
Antiphonal -- referring to the prohibition of cell phones in the concert hall
A patella-- unaccompanied knee-slapping
Appologgiatura -- an ornament you regret after playing it
Approximatura -- a series of notes played by a performer and not intended by the composer, especially when disguised with an air of "I meant to do that."
Approximento -- a musical entrance that is somewhat close to the correct pitch
Bar line -- what musicians form after a concert
Basso continuo -- the act of game fishing after the legal season has ended
Basso profundo -- an opera about deep sea fishing
Brake drum -- the instrument most used to slow the tempo in an orchestra
Concerto grosso -- a really bad performance
DC al capone -- you betta go back to the beginning, capiche?
Dill piccolo -- a wind instrument that plays only sour notes
Diminuendo -- the process of quieting a rumor in the orchestra pit
Eardrum -- a teeny, tina tympani
Fermantra -- a note that is held over and over and over and...
Fiddler crabs -- grumpy string players
Flute files -- gnat-like bugs that bother musicians playing out of doors
Fog horn -- a brass instrument that plays when the conductor's intentions are not clear
Frugalhorn -- a sensible, inexpensive brass instrument
Gaul blatter -- a French horn player
Good conductor -- a person who can give an electrifying performance
Gregorian champ -- monk who can hold a note the longest
Kvetchendo -- gradually getting annoyingly louder
Mallade -- a romantic song that's pretty awful
Molto bolto
-- head straight for the ending, but don't make it seemed rushed
Opera buffa -- musical stage production at a nudist camp
Pipe smoker -- an extremely virtuosic organist
Poochini -- when singing, to beaccompanied by your dog
Pre-Classical Conservatism -- school of thought which fostered the idea, "if it ain't baroque, don't fix it."
Pre-lude -- a cue, found in some of the earlier oratorios, instructing those singing the roles of the wicked to sing in an offensive or profane manner
(The) Rights of Strings -- manifesto of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Bowed Instruments
Spinet -- politician's order
Spritzicato -- plucking of a stringed instrumentto produce a bright, bubbly sound, usually accompanied by sparkling water with lemon (wine optional)
Status cymbal -- an instrument to be played at inaugurations and socialite balls
Tempo tantrum -- what a young orchestra is having when it's not keeping time with the conductoer
Timpani alley -- a row of kettledrums
Tincanabutation -- the annoying or irritating sounds made by an unmusical person using extremely cheap bells
Vesuvioso -- a gradual buildup to a fiery conclusion