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.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
I've always been a fan of the surreal. (Maybe my life has seemed surreal to me, even before I knew the meaning of the word.) My earliest art memories (late 1950's) are of dreamlike paintings in the halls of the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles; my mother and I would always go there for lunch after a concert at the Philharmonic Auditorium across the street, and soon I became quite adept at spotting a Robert Watson painting from afar and among all of the landscapes, portraits, and still-lifes displayed for sale. The paintings' lonely mood touched and moved me. I fantasized about saving up my allowance and buying one, which at that time was around $200.
Years later I went to a Salvador Dali exhibit at Hollywood's Barnsdall Gallery, and by then the art of the surreal had hooked me. And I had yet to discover René Magritte!
So, as a tango dancer, I too was attracted to Jack Vettriano's painting of The Singing Butler before it became kitsch and on the walls of every dance studio in the world. He also paints other dance scenes that are lesser known, but tangueros are especially drawn to The Singing Butler because the mirrored leg position shows it's a tango on the beach, and not a waltz or a foxtrot.
Dance to the End of Love
Billy Boys, who sure look like a group of tangueros on their way either to or from a milonga.
But the most well-known is The Singing Butler. The dancers here are not lonely, but in their own private world of the tango embrace, while sheltered by paid help who modestly look away. Perhaps the butler is singing "Por Una Cabeza?"
People have been inspired by this painting to do take-offs and photo recreations, but what most don't know is that Vettriano himself was inspired by the depictions of dancers in an art textbook! Didn't you wonder why the dancers are portrayed backwards?
C.Dedeene designed the choreography for this Vettriano take off and the photo is by Greta Colpaert
Vettriano in Devon photo by Steve Morrall
Works by Jack Vettriano, Scotland's most famous artist have fetched record prices at auction. But his paintings may owe a lot to teach-yourself manuals. Some of his works show strong similarities to an artist's teaching manual. His most famous work, the Singing Butler, was last year sold for almost £750,000. It was revealed that its characters, and many others, can be found in The Illustrator's Figure Reference Manual, published in 1987.
Another article on Vettriano's inspirations here.
Here are some other works which may have inspired The Singing Butler, or were rather inspired by Magritte. What is it about black umbrellas, water, and raining men?
The Wolverine Magritte
Photo by Joseph Hancock
Golconda by Rene Magritte
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Girl in Red Dress painting by Roderic O'Conor
Seated man photo, Emily Spencer Hayden collection
The Tango Tourist High Season is now upon us. I'd like to remind those who are recent arrivals in Buenos Aires or those who will soon be here, the answer to the ever-popular question, "How can I dance more in the milongas?"
Painting of seated woman by Pablo Picasso
The best and easiest way to get dances is to look happy, friendly, and ready to get onto the floor. If we sit with arms and legs crossed, contemplating our navels, nobody will even see us. We have to actively cabeco. I know this takes energy, confidence, hope, and some "cojones." In order to dance a lot in the milonga, both men and women have to put on their party faces. Don't be a pollo mojado (wet chicken.)
Smiles help too!
Photo of Margret Li by Jim Jardine
Saturday, October 17, 2009
I’ve been dancing tango for a long time, and in many venues around the world, and in Buenos Aires since 1997, where I now live and teach. Looking back, it seems I’ve danced everywhere—from outdoor plazas and bandstands to vacant factories and shopping malls to castles.
Where do I enjoy dancing most? Which salons are most appealing? What are the requirements of a great milonga?
First and most importantly, Ruben and I like to go where our friends are.
But then there is the space itself-- salons can be elegant traditional, modern, or funky. (I do tend to like antique salons, maybe recycled from a previous era--old theaters, restaurants, shops.) The personality of the surroundings adds something to--or takes away from-- the ambiance.
Every night here in Buenos Aires there are around 20 milongas to choose from; how to pick where to go?
What are our considerations? (Probably everyone has their own requirements.)
First of all, the floor is important. We like “soft” wood floors (Region Leonesa, Gricel) as opposed to hard tile (La Ideal, La Milonguita, Viejo Correo) and our knees and legs thank us for it. Centro Konex is large and funky, but the dance floor is cement--no thank you.
We also like space. We dance large when we can, and we are tall. We feel cramped when the floor is small and the ceiling is low (Maipu 444, El Beso). But other folks may feel cozy in intimate spaces.
We enjoy watching the dancers, and so we like the salon to be well-lit. We are traditional, and only use the cabeceo; for that, you have to be able to see across the room. Because we like to watch, milongas that are divided up spatially or with lots of columns in the middle of the floor, aren’t appealing (Boedo Tango, Dandi.)
The placement and size of the tables contributes to the ambiance. Small cozy tables, with tablecloths, scattered around the floor are ideal, as opposed to clustered all in one area, or large banquet tables.
Because of the importance of the music, the sound system should be good and the DJ the best. Just putting on iTunes playlists and letting them run doesn’t cut it.
The organizer should make attendees feel welcome and at home. It’s nice if out of towners are introduced during announcements.
The dancers hopefully are at all levels, but the majority advanced, with a flowing ronda and no crashes on the floor or high-boleo stabbings by stilettos.
People are not there to get drunk or to buy drugs. They come to dance and are clean and well-dressed.
We like to have good table service by a friendly waiter/waitress.
Good ventilation is important, as well as fans and air conditioning in the summer.We are most comfortable where the codigos are known and observed: cortinas, cabeceo, good manners.
If we can have all this in a historic ballroom with ornate chandeliers and gilt, even better. An elegant setting, elegantly dressed dancers, make for elegant tango. Traditional salons in Buenos Aires are like this. But there are funky venues as well: La Catédral, Peru 571, Independencia 572. The floors are bad, the music may be alternative, people are dressed casually in athletic shoes. Folks go there for other reasons than to dance the best tango possible.
Practicas are of course less formal, but still a good floor is necessary—dance studios if large enough can work well as practicas. There should be enough room that dancers can really practice without worrying about injuring someone else.
Tango classes can be held anywhere on a good floor with a good sound system. Mirrors are nice, but not necessary.
What about Festivals? I’ve been to plenty of those too, all around the world. I like it when everything is in one place—like a hotel or convention center. I wasted so much time, for example, in Amsterdam trying to find my way around to various studios/clubs/salons. I used to attend Norah’s Tango Week outside of San Francisco, and while perhaps it wasn’t the most gorgeous of venues, I liked that my room, the classes, and the nightly shows and milongas were all at one place—in this case, the Holiday Inn.
Many factors make up a good tango venue, and when they all are there, the effect can be magical and keep dancers returning time and time again. It’s worth it to think about the ambiance, because when it all comes together and makes magic, the dancing does too.
What do you think makes a good venue? Where do you like to dance?
Thursday, October 15, 2009
A head's up to those folks in Buenos Aires who love flamenco, dance, or just a night of passionate and firey music-- the world-famous Soledad Barrio and her Noche Flamenca are returning to Teatro Avenida next week for 5 performances only of her fantastic show, La Dama del Mar, recently premiered in the United States to rave reviews.
I'll be there next Friday in the 11th row on the aisle. See you then!
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
I'm a big folklore fan, and a Chaqueño Palavecino groupie. Ruben and I always watch Argentinisima on TV and plan to one day attend the big festival in Cosquin.
Meanwhile, we were lucky enough to go to his concert at the Teatro Broadway last week. He was incredible! He sang all his popular repertoire, real crowd pleasers, joked and conversed with the audience, kissing babies and besotted grandmothers in good humor, and welcomed young dancers to the stage for Las Chacareras and Zambas. He had all ten of his musical group who I recognized from TV.
Ruben videoed almost the whole thing on our little FlipVideo, but folks were openly using big camcorders and nobody seemed to mind. The audience waved panuelos (handkerchiefs) at every opportunity, and I was glad I had bought one with El Chaqueno's picture on it with the Argentine flag. I can't wait to take it to the Feria de Mataderos the next time.
The crowd went crazy at the end, climbing on stage and all over Chaqueño, who posed, still singing, good naturedly with them for photos.
Here's the view from our seats:
I had never attended the Teatro Broadway, and expected it to be more like the others along Corrientes, but it was a converted movie house and small and dingy, unlike the Opera or Nacional. But the seats were comfortable and just right for three hours of enjoying a wonderful show.
That guy has the voice of an angel!
While Chaqueño finished his participation last weekend, Argentinisima continues until October 25 with other great stars of Argentine folklore, such as Soledad and Los Nocheros.
Tanguera, the "tango Broadway show," finally opens tonight in New York--one week only!
I'm not a big fan of tango shows, even though, like most of us drawn to tango, my introduction to Argentine tango was the appearance of Tango Argentino in Los Angeles in the '80s. Since moving to Buenos Aires in 2004, I've only bothered to go to a few "tango shows" and didn't especially like any of them.
But Tanguera is not your usual tango show, and is not danced by "tango dancers" (except for the fabulous Maria Nieves) but by people trained in ballet, jazz, contemporary, and for the stage. It has a plot, characterizations, pathos, great live music and great performances. I went to see it twice, which for me is saying a lot.
Read more about it here.
This is a show you can take your non-tango loving friends and spouses, because they too will love it!
So go if you can. You won't be sorry.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
There's still time to be a Tango Champion in 2009!
On the heels (as it were) of the Mundial and the InterMilonga, here's a week-long tango championship that anyone may enter if they are over 15 years of age. Whatever your nationality and tango status--professional or amateur--you are eligible to compete.
Started last night and goes until next Saturday night, October 17, at
El Social Buenos Aires
Alsina 2764, Balvanera
The first prize is $6000 pesos AR, and a tour.
Read all about it here.
There will be live orchestras and performances every night:
Go on, grab your partner and go for it!
Saturday, October 10, 2009
One of the stresses of travel is souvenir shopping. The fastest way to lose friends and alienate people is to cut them out of the perfunctory gift giving that has become a mandatory post-travel practice. So when you wake up on your last day of vacation, in a cold sweat, remembering you forgot to pick up something for your sister’s kids you don’t have to settle for the cheesy key chain emblazoned with their name at the airport gift shop. In fact, here are some alternative ideas so that you never have to set foot in another soul crushing souvenir shop ever again.
Souvenir shops like the one pictured above are for the unimaginative and lazy. Just because something is found in a souvenir shop does not always mean that it is truly representative of the country you’re in. For instance, thongs emblazoned with the country’s name in gold are generally a no-no. For something that’s going to be truly reminiscent of your host country, in this case Argentina, go where the locals go.
For something unusual and quirky take a trip to Palermo’s Mercado de Las Pulgas (Niceto Vega block 200 between Dorrego and Concepcion Arenales) where many antique shop proprietors head to in search of inventory. From reclaimed furniture to taxidermy there’s something for everyone here and best of all, haggling is a must.
Argentines are a creative group of people and having largely descended from Italian immigrants, aesthetic means a lot to them. Everywhere you look design has been integrated into daily life and two home-good shops that whole-heartedly embody this ethos are Calma Chicha (Honduras 4909, Palermo SoHo) and NoBrand (Gorriti 5876). There are three hallmarks of Argentine culture: leather, mate gourds, and penguin shaped jugs, all of which have been updated from their traditional, pueblo form into modern and stylistic pieces. On any given day you can find these shops swarmed with young, fashionable Argentines looking to capture their culture in the most updated forms.
The San Telmo antique market (Plaza Dorrego, every Sunday) is one of the most popular weekend activities in the city. Located in the oldest part of the city, San Telmo is characterized by its abundance of antique shops running the gamut from low to high-end. It’s the only neighborhood in the city that is completely devoted to selling its past, so it makes for perfect souvenir hunting grounds. The market sets up in the main square around 10 in the morning and snakes its way through the neighborhood north and south through cobble-stoned streets. Get there early to battle the crowds because by 1 the streets have usually been turned into a sea of bodies.
The Grocery Stores
If you ever spend a single day in Argentina you will inevitably eat dulce de leche at some point. Dulce de leche is to Argentines what peanut butter is to Americans and Nutella is to Europeans. Similar to caramel it’s an addictive treat that the Argentines put on almost everything; toast, yogurt, ice cream and donuts for example. The best thing about dulce de leche is that a 1-kilo tin of it (2.2 pounds) will cost you about $4.00 US and will last you long enough to get back home.
The very best gifts from Argentina are tango shoes and leather jackets, but if you're looking for something smaller and/or cheaper, you can not go wrong at the Feria de Mataderos (Sundays). The choices are many and the craftmanship high, prices are reasonable and the selection varied. The Feria is a fabulous place to buy something "horsey," either used for riding or things with horse motifs, but there are hand tooled mates, clothing, toys, jewelry, etc. Also there are food booths featuring delicacies from all around Argentina. There are also lots of gauchos, horses, music, and folklore. You can read past posts on my blog here. Just remember that Mataderos is closed from the middle of December to the middle of April.
If you have any friends back home who are Boca Junior fans, there is a museum next to the stadium in La Boca which sells "official" souvenirs sure to please (not cheap though.)
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
Two awesome tango documentaries came out recently that celebrate the old guard, la guardia vieja, of tango. More than a trend following the huge success of The Buena Vista Social Club, these movies also attempt to preserve the magic of music made by artists who will not be around for too much longer. Already several of the Cuban and Argentinian musicians from these films have passed on. Thank goodness we have them on film for posterity, to learn from and enjoy. (And to counterbalance the influence of tango electronico.)
In my dreams I imagine Buenos Aires in the old days, when one could go out any night of the week to hear these fabulous musicians play in great orchestras for the listening and dancing pleasure of tangueros. Truly, a golden age.
Here are some snippets to whet your appetite to find and watch the complete documentaries--well worth the time and effort if you love tango, if you love music, if you love history and culture.
Si Sos Brujo
Cafe de los Maestros
Sunday, October 04, 2009
Here's a video of last night's performance of Juan Carlos Godoy, taken by Guillermo Thorpe for Diostango.
What a shame that when we returned to Boedo after the milonga last night, everything was over. We expected the dancing in the streets to continue until dawn. But then we said, well, there's tomorrow.
Friday, October 02, 2009
As most of my readers know, I am a two-time survivor of breast cancer. You can read my brief story in previous posts here and here.
I'm also the widow of a man who died way too young of prostrate cancer.
Neither one of us had the famous risk factors that can lead folks into a false sense of security.
As our oncologist reminded us with each diagnosis, shit happens.
So during this month when we are admonished at every turn about the dangers of cancer, let's get a checkup! Estamos?
And let's walk, run, donate, write, talk, and tango to find a cure!