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.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Gran Milonga Nacional 2009

Busy Saturday night? Ruben and I will be at the Milonga de Los Consagrados as usual, but there'll be a huge party downtown on the Avenida de Mayo and everyone's invited!

Originally planned to celebrate the National Day of Tango (December 11--which is actually Carlos Gardel's birthday), to continue the tradition of changing holidays to weekends, the Gran Milonga is now on the Saturday night before.

If you Google it, you'll find that as of today, 4 days before the event, the sites promoting the celebration are travel agencies and tourist organizations. The government site includes the information from 2008. This indicates the nature of the event--tourism, PR, free entertainment for locals, but not a high-level dance experience. The serious milongueros are dancing in their usual milongas on good floors to Golden Age recordings, because that's what they like. Dancing in the street can be exhilarating, but it's a completely different thing than a milonga in a traditional salon. But listening to hours of live music can be worth the stress of battling crowds.

The following is thanks to Sandra at My Buenos Aires Travel Guide:

La Gran Milonga Nacional, an open air event with live orchestras and street tango dancing on Avenida de Mayo, will take place this year on Saturday, December 5th. The celebration, which every year occupies that traditional Avenue from Plaza de Mayo to 9 de Julio is organized by the National Tango Academy and the Association of Promoters of Tourism, Hotel Business and Gastronomy (APTHGRA).

La Gran Milonga Nacional will start at 8 pm, with three central stages in the corners of Avenida de Mayo and Bernardo de Irigoyen, Piedras and Perú, and other smaller ones along the avenue, and the audience will be able to dance on the street to the music of live orchestras.

Among the popular orchestras performing at this event are Orquesta de Tango de Buenos Aires (dirijida por los maestros Raúl Garello, Néstor Marconi y Juan Carlos Cuacci, canta Marcelo Tomassi), Los Reyes del Tango, Gente de Tango, Sexteto Milonguero con la voz de Javier Di Ciriaco, Las Rositas, Orquesta Típica “La Otra Vereda”, Trío Cuellas, El Nacional Tango Atípico, Cuarteto Sin Vento, Malo Conocido, Yunta Brava, Tango a Cuerda, Sueño de Bandoneón, Juan Carlos Copes, Johana Copes y Orquesta de la Armada de la República Argentina.

Quite a line-up my friends. Just wear comfortable shoes (leave your CIFs at home) and don't drink too many liquids. And watch your wallets.

Feliz Cumple a Carlitos!

Nuevo Chiqué

NOTE: As of December 1, Chiqué will also be open on Tuesday afternoons as well as Thursdays.

With the organizers Ruben y Marcela.

Posing with Guillermo Thorpe of Diostango magazine.

It was quite a while ago since Ruben and I last danced in Chiqué on Thursdays. When we returned a couple of weeks ago, it was as if time had stood still. The salon at Casa Galicia was jammed with the same old friends we hadn't seen in forever. We're going to try to make it there more often.

Santiago Major keeps watch over the dancers.

Nuevo Chiqué in the Casa Galicia, San Jose 224 (near Alsina)
Thursdays 4-11 p.m.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Learning By Looking: Suavecito Por Favor!

Alex Long wrote after my two previous posts on Learning By Looking,

Hola Cheri...when I was at the 1 yr mark, I set up my camera on a tripod and set it to take about 8 frames per second (video is 30 frames per second) and then I started dancing with my partner. After looking at the photos, there were some very glaring things I needed to seriously work on and rein in. I remember saying to myself "what is my foot doing way out there!?" can be a very helpful tool...

Alex's photo series for auto-correction sounds fabulous. Unfortunately we all don't have that kind of equipment. Maybe video in slo-mo?

So let's see some more pictures and what we can learn from them.

What the heck is happening here? Both people have equal weight between two bent knees--is it tango? Looks more like the lambada. But it also looks like they are stuck. I wonder how they got out of this?

Another guy firmly planted on two bent legs. What's he trying to get her to do? And why is her foot so far into him?

Ooh, don't twist my back like that, you're hurting me!

Don't you know you're supposed to do an ocho here?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Harvest Festival Remembered 2009

A republishing of my annual Thanksgiving post. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, even if this coming 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.

I am very thankful that this is my #545 post on tangocherie. Time does fly!
Springtime in Buenos Aires is not turkey time, but still, on Thanksgiving Day and every day, I am thankful for you, dear readers!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Call Me Multipatriate!

Because it's been several years now since made me Mentor of the Month, and because I'm asked these same excellent questions over and over in my daily life meeting "foreigners" here in Buenos Aires, I'm posting this interview here.

ExpatWomen: Cherie, your biography illustrates snippets from your amazing life. You’ve survived breast cancer, twice, you’ve survived the death of your spouse, and you’ve lived in France, Mexico and Argentina (in addition to the US). Can you please share with us your best memories to date, from each of the countries that you’ve lived in?

Cherie: Some of my best memories of France and Mexico have to do with food! Unfortunately I can’t say the same for Argentina, where I probably couldn’t survive without my ever-present bottle of Lemon Pepper.

I was also enchanted by the history and architecture of France and Mexico. Mexico in addition has a spiritual quotient underlying everything, and which helped me to feel fulfilled.

One Sunday soon after I moved to Buenos Aires from Mexico, I was feeling lonely and was missing the ever-present processions under my balcony in San Miguel de Allende, when I looked out of my window and Lo! If there wasn’t a procession passing by. Small and a bit raggedy—just an image of the virgin, a priest, and parishioners singing as they walked—but it made my day. Platitudes apply here: God is where you find him, happiness is right there, under your balcony, waiting to be discovered, etc.

I have many wonderful memories of Mexico, but one was attending an intensive language school, La Academia, for 2 ½ months. It was five days a week from 8 to 6, and covered not only speaking, writing and grammar, but folklore, literature, history, sociology, and even cooking! I just loved it, and met many wonderful people. Eleven of us even made a fieldtrip to Mexico City one weekend and had a blast. But because I lived there and wasn’t on “vacation” as most of the other students were, it was too hard to keep up the full program of five months. I would collapse every night when I got home, too tired to even eat. But this experience was certainly a highlight of my time in Mexico, and there were many highlights.

And France…well, you know what Ben Franklin said, “Everyone has two countries; the one in which he was born, and France.”

ExpatWomen: What have been some of your biggest challenges in living in France, Mexico and now Argentina?

Cherie: The biggest challenges, always, are the language and culture. If you don’t feel secure in communicating, you might opt to stay home or socialize only with English speakers, thereby missing out on a lot. Expats, even if they know the language well, always risk making faux pas because of not understanding the culture. But if you stay home alone, you risk loneliness and feeling isolated. It’s a conundrum.

This is true for me here in Argentina, where they speak their own special Spanish, Castellano, and my Mexican Spanish hasn’t helped me a whole lot.

In addition, transportation around Buenos Aires is my biggest challenge, even after more than three years of living here. The city is huge, all the streets are one-way, and even though they have an excellent system of public transportation, it’s not easy to figure out how to use it.

I have to say that I didn’t feel that challenged living in France. I felt at home there, except sometimes socially with the language, and I easily got around. Paris can be crossed on foot—not possible in Buenos Aires. At the time I lived there, I remember, the only things I missed, except for my friends and family, were the L.A. Times and Seinfeld!

Since my cancer therapies, I’ve forgotten about being ill. The doctors had done all they could with surgery, heavy dose chemo, and radiation, so they just cut me loose with a pat on the head. The second cancer 6 years later was unrelated to the first, and just bad luck. Nevertheless it remains a fear of mine to be sick and alone in a foreign country. Recently I purchased Argentine health insurance so I’m feeling more secure about that now.

I know many people totally change their eating habits and daily lives after cancer, but what happened to me was that I wanted to enjoy life more and so refused to worry about it. I had always taken care of my body and it hadn’t prevented the cancers, so I decided to squeeze the juice out of what I had left. And that’s one reason why I traveled. It is such a privilege to live in another country and enjoy and learn other languages and cultures, a true growth experience.

ExpatWomen: Do you think the challenges of an expat woman are the same, from country to country? (Please explain your response.)

Cherie: I don’t think as a woman I faced different expat challenges just because of being female, or that the challenges of expat men are any easier or different. What make it different are the conditions under which a person is living in another country. It can be a lot easier if the person is there for work reasons, or is an expat as the spouse of someone who is working there, or if the person has a spouse or companion and is not alone, as I was. It also would be another kind of experience if you knew there was a deadline; like going in, you knew that no matter what, you would be leaving after, say, two years.

In some countries, of course, foreign women are perceived as easy sexual “targets,” perhaps because of films and TV. But some women appreciate the attention that they never got in their homelands. In any event, I personally have never had any problem whatsoever in this area.

As in everything else in life, sufficient money not to have to worry makes everything easier. It’s not realistic to become an expat with the idea of finding employment fin the new country to support yourself, even more so if you are middle-aged. My advice is expatriate yourself only if you are financially independent. In my case I had early retirement because of my illness.

In many respects, because of dancing and writing, I’ve had an easier time living far from “home.” When I moved to Mexico, I had the goal of finishing the memoir I began when living in France. Last year I accidentally started writing a blog, which helps me feel connected to like-minded people all over the world. And because of the internet, many of my articles written far from home have been published. Next year a piece I wrote will be published in an anthology on San Miguel de Allende.

Basically since my husband died in 1991, I’ve been searching for “home,” like Dorothy in Oz, I suppose. But a few years ago I realized that Home Is Where My Cat Is. Phoebe, I couldn’t have done it without you!

ExpatWomen: In your experience as an Expat Woman, does anyone stand out in your memory, as someone who really helped support you a lot, at a time when you really needed it?

Cherie: I have to say that the people who have been the kindest to me in other countries, were the local people, not my fellow expats who perhaps had enough on their own plates at the time.

When I was recovering from chemo in France, my neighbor told me I must come over for lunch and dinner every day. I said, oh no I couldn’t possibly impose like that. But then pretty soon I just started going over there every day to eat. The whole family was so wonderful to me I can’t express it. They told me that I will always have a home in France, with them, and I know they meant it.

In Mexico after my second breast cancer treatment, I suddenly had a weird side effect and since there was no oncologist in San Miguel de Allende, I went to a dermatologist to have her look at my incision. She recommended an oncologist in another town, and I took what I called the “burro bus” to get there. The bumpy bus stopped at every dusty burro trail and took three hours to travel fifty miles. I had to return several times, and when my Mexican friend Nelly heard about it, she insisted on taking off work and driving me over herself. This made her my friend for life.

Last year in Buenos Aires, I had to move from my rental apartment where I lived for two years as the owner’s daughter needed it. After four months of constant searching, I finally found another one at the right price and which I liked. My friend from Toastmasters brought her husband, a retired accountant, to the contract signing to make sure it was fair and legal, as foreigners are sometimes taken advantage of. Another lifelong friend.

The day after Christmas 2006, I fell at the gym and broke two ribs. One of my classmates went with me to the ER, and brought me home. She called my boyfriend who then came to take care of me for several weeks as I was totally helpless.

I hope I have been as good a friend in my past as these people have been to me.

ExpatWomen: From your experience, Cherie, how do expat newcomers find and develop support networks, so that they have someone to call in the morning at 2am? Do you have any pieces of advice to assist in this process?

Cherie: Every country has its expat network, whether it’s an online mailing list or a club where people actually get together. When you first arrive, I recommend joining everything and meeting as many people—expat and local—as possible. Soon you will figure out what activities, and which people, are your style.

Making friends anywhere isn’t easy, especially as we get older. That’s why it’s important to look for common interest groups. I joined Toastmasters International in Buenos Aires because it has always been a life-long dream of mine to speak well in public, and in so doing I’ve met some wonderful, varied, and interesting people. Looking for groups that you belonged to in your home country, like the Lions, for example, or a tennis club, is a great place to start.

After my first cancer treatment and I was recuperating alone in the French countryside, I joined the “gym” class in the town hall of the village. I met people, but more importantly, my body felt better and stronger. Plus I had the fun of participating in the Mardi Gras parade as a Dalmatian!

I’m lucky in that the world of tango is small, and anywhere I go in the world to dance, I find people I know, or at least recognize.

In San Miguel de Allende, I joined a Cancer Support Group, hosted a writers’ group in my home, was active in my church. I made friends with waitresses, shop owners, volunteered at the orphanage and taught English. It’s true that it was easier in a small town than a huge city, and that’s perhaps why so many gringos retire there.

Wherever I go I have a lot of parties in my home. I love bringing people together.

I think the key to success as a guest in another country is to participate, participate, participate.

ExpatWomen: Can you tell us a little about Buenos Aires – the city, the culture, the people, and why you have chosen to live there?

Cherie: Basically two words: Tango and Cheap, although with prices rising every day here, who knows how much longer it will be cheaper than Mexico or my home town of Hollywood, California.

But tango was born in Buenos Aires, and it will always be the Mecca for dancers from around the world.

I’ve always been a dancer, and now have danced Argentine tango for ten years. I’ve been lucky enough to work as a teacher and Tango Tour guide with my partner, Ruben Aybar, an Argentine. I’ve been able to slowly build a good life here in Buenos Aires, but it hasn’t been easy.

The people of Buenos Aires, or portenos, are generally ethnically European and feel strong ties to Spain, or Italy, or Germany, or England, or wherever. They’re self-conscious imitators at times such as in their architecture of a hundred years ago and wide boulevards, sidewalk cafes, and outdoor newsstands. And I think they have very strong subconscious feelings about being so far geographically from that world, especially nowadays when few can afford to tour Europe on vacation. Argentinians feel a bit forgotten by the rest of the world, and so their culture is somewhat nostalgic and sad. That’s where the tango comes from. I identify with these emotions as I’ve lost so much in my own life.

I thought when I moved here over three years ago, that I needed a big city, full of theater and concerts and galleries, but I find now that my life is full with friends, my reading and writing, and my tango work.

ExpatWomen: What would be your top 5 tips for women moving to Buenos Aires?

Cherie’s Top Tips:

1. Bring your pet and as many of your treasured books, linens, paintings and photos as possible;

2. Don’t expect it will be easy to make close friends in another language, and don’t expect your friends back home will remember you forever;

3. Have high-speed internet hook-up in your foreign home;

4. Bring your favorite salsas, packaged foods, spices, condiments, peanut butter;

5. Expect to spend a whole lot more money than you plan on; and

6. Volunteering is a great way to meet people, learn the culture, and to feel good about yourself.

ExpatWomen: And lastly Cherie, do you have any words of wisdom for our Expat Women?

As a dancer, I can’t say enough about the importance of exercise. Wherever you live, you will be healthier and happier if you exercise. I personally love to dance, but there are many other ways to keep moving. Just do it!

P.S. Three years later
I'm still blessed to be in a wonderful love relationship and to work with him in performing and teaching the tango that we both love so much. Who knew?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


A new tango show opened on Corrientes this past weekend, and your tangocherie was there to scope it out for you.

Tramatango is the new vehicle of Milena Plebs, formally of Tango x2 and Miguel Angel Zotto; this time out she is the director, choreographer, general chief and star.

Here's what the program says:

The show: Three landscapes, three points of view, three styles of dancing. "Sintonías"(Dance tunings), a look into contemporary urban life, "Pugliese Yumba", a tribute to the great Master of the piano Osvaldo Pugliese and his orchestra, "Tango Congo," tackles the afro origin of tango.

Fourteen talented dancers knocked themselves out, the young people very well-trained in contemporary dance and ballet--more So You Think You Can Dance theatrical than Dancing With the Stars ballroom.

However the first applause of the evening erupted after Alfredo y Silvia Alonso danced a smooth and elegant traditional tango to Ninguna. Their milonguero style was such a relief after all those lifts, leaps and arabesques.

If you wish to see the Milena Plebs of antes, though, you will be disappointed. She and her partner Roberto Reis just went through the motions--at least until the milonga, when they seemed finally to relax and enjoy themselves somewhat.

Judicious cuts could have been made to the 75 minute program--the first half of the "Congo" section, for example, as the piece didn't get going until the "red shoes" pas de deux, which was lovely. (And by the way, all the women's shoes were supplied by Comme Il Faut.)

Otherwise, my only complaint is as a tango dancer who values the music above all else. The artists of the recorded music used in the show were not identified; just the composers and lyricists. (Be forewarned: much of the music is modern and non-tango.)

The minimal sets and lighting were perfect.

Not a "tourist tango show" exactly, but a theatrical evening of dance. I congratulate the company and Ms Plebs for attempting to create an original and artistic work. And the price is right--$40 pesos.

Tramatango is playing at the Teatro Alvear until December 13.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Club Español: The Good News and the Bad

Last Saturday Club Español had its first milonga in years! That's the good news.

El Club Español (Bernardo Yrigoyen 172) is one of the most beautiful buildings in Buenos Aires, and, unlike so many others, it still is perfectly preserved. As my secret correspondent related to me after attending the milonga on Saturday, "it made La Ideal look the inside of a biscuit tin." In the good old days, which were just a couple of years ago, the salon was packed every Thursday afternoon with dancers as well as gawkers who just wanted to see the famous place. The building's security does not let anyone in just to look. Many tourists would buy a ticket to the milonga just to have a drink and enjoy the ambiance of the elegant room. There is also a beautiful restaurant on the ground floor level, but diners are not allowed to wander around the building.

The milonga became especially important in 2005 after the Cromagnon tragic fire caused the closure of other dance venues in the city. But Club Español escaped by virtue of being a private club, and as it was the only milonga available, everyone tried to get in. Dancers crammed into the anteroom waiting for someone to leave so they could enter. In those times, people were desperate to dance, and folks who never normally attended this milonga went. It was like a feeding frenzy for all the tango-aholics who were used to dancing every night, or whenever they wanted to. Other nights they went far outside of the city limits to dance where the closures were not in effect: La Glorieta, Banco Provincia, Circulo Trovador, and there were lots of tango house parties.

Here we are after qualifying in the preliminaries of the Campeonato in 2006.

Because the building is so elegant, dancers tended to dress up more there. It was wonderful just to be in that salon, and DJ Dany's music is always the best.

So we were all crushed that when the rent was raised, the organizer moved the milonga to Casa Galicia (San Jose 224), where the Neuvo Chiqué milonga continues with new organizers every Thursday afternoon

And so the memory of the glory days of "the old Español" lives on in our hearts. Thus the news that once again there is a milonga there was greeted with joy, albeit that Saturday is the worse possible day, because of the competition with Los Consagrados and Cachirulu.

But, and here comes the bad news: the new milonga is not held in the second floor ballroom, but in the first floor theatre (shown above for another event) one Saturday afternoon per month "by invitation only." The theatre is much smaller, as there is a stage at one end and the floor very uneven for dancing. My correspondent reported that he couldn't pivot at all, nor could anybody else, so they mostly sat.

Here's a video taken on my birthday in 2006, where you can see the Club Español milonga in all of its heyday glory.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Milonguero Holiday

Background reading for this post is
The Dark Side, and Of Milongueros y Milongueras on The Tango Jungle.

Tango pastel by Vera Berv

When dancers contact us about planning their tango time in Buenos Aires, I often ask them about their goals for this particular trip. Is it to improve their tango, work on something special such as milonga con traspie or leading skills, dance as much as possible, or just have fun dancing?

I'm quite often surprised that the person doesn't know or has to think about it for a while. Or sometimes they don't want to say.

For serious tango students, working with a teaching couple such as Ruben and myself is a huge advantage for lots of reasons, but also because it's all professional and a safe environment for learning. There are no dreams of hanky panky or cases of misunderstanding the intimate embrace or hope for a vacation romance on either side, and the tango classes go forward "strickly dancing."

Other types of students, perhaps unbeknownst even to themselves, prefer to take private lessons with one person of the opposite sex (preferably "attractive.") Whether or not the teacher gives good instruction is less important than being in their arms alone in a studio where fantasy can flourish. I know of many teachers who take advantage of the student-teacher relationship for their own reasons: sex, money, nights on the town, a trip. Male and female instructors can be guilty of this hidden agenda. If these extras are also what the student is looking to pay for, then everyone is happy.

Such relationships can occur in any country with any discipline from tennis to physical training to piano to ballet. But the tango is particularly vulnerable because of the embrace. For those of us not used to it, it can knock our socks off. Our fantasies flow freely. We can even imagine we are in love.

Sometimes our students talk to us about men and women they've met in the milongas, and all we ever say is, just have fun but don't make any long-range plans.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"The Empanada Brotherhood"

Let's go back to Greenwich Village in the early sixties and take a seat at a tacky empanada stand on the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal Streets. Let's eaves-drop on a bunch of kooky Argentinians as they expound and moan about La Vida. When writer John Nichols did just that, it was long before I had ever thought of Argentina or ever imagined that one day I'd be living here.

I've been a fan of writer John Nichols ever since I read The Sterile Cuckoo (1965) while in college, and then saw the 1969 movie with Liza Minelli. He of course became famous as the "Faulkner of the American Southwest" with such great works as The Milagro Beanfield War, and his Taos trilogy--If Mountains Die, The Last Great Days of Autumn, On the Mesa and many other celebrated works of fiction and non-fiction.

His latest, The Empanada Brotherhood, is a novel like a memoir--New York's Greenwich Village, a young writer just out of college with a completed manuscript on his hands, and a host of colorful Argentine characters who meet daily at the empanada stand to commiserate and celebrate. "Blondie," the narrator (certainly the author himself) is seen as a novelty at first but then unlikely bonds form between them all in this rite of passage story. Quiet Blondie listens and learns as the cast of odd-ball characters converse with personality and wit over their empanadas each day. He even meets an Argentine flamenco dancer and becomes enamored both of her and the art form. The sparkling dialogue brings to life a moment in time and place that now just lives in memory. And we are privileged to listen in.

The author and I became friends in the late '90s when I took a writing seminar in Taos, and we occasionally visited back and forth before I moved to Mexico. Mostly we wrote letters and telephoned. John is handsome, funny, tough-talking, nature-loving, a quirky and good wise-guy who it's been my honor to know and call a friend. (He also wrote my "epitaph" but you won't get to read that yet.)

He took me hiking above the Rio Grande and showed me these ancient petroglyphs.

Here's a photo of us when I dragged him to his first, and probably last, milonga in Santa Fe.

We kept in touch when I was in Mexico, but unfortunately distance and South American mail put an end to our correspondence. Reading his latest book, I loved going back in time to the empanada stand of his youth and becoming once again, for a brief moment, a part of his colorful brotherhood.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Learning By Looking II

Here are some more examples of how we can learn by looking at photos, in our goal to become self-correcting.

The guy above has got that right leg far outside the "couple," making him vulnerable to losing his balance and/or tripping someone beside him on the floor. But just look at how he's torquing his body, using way too much force on his poor partner.

No comment here, and not any elegance either.

Another guy stepping far outside of his partner. Legs wide apart can work vertically, in long steps, for example, but can be disastrous when horizontally out to the side.

Weight on only one leg: check.
One straight leg and one bent knee: check.
But this type of pose looks affected and fake. And somebody could trip on that toe pointed so nicely outside of the couple's space.

Tango isn't hard, but it's not simple either. No es dificil, pero tampoco no es facil.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Learning By Looking--First in a Series

One of the goals of Ruben's and my classes is to help students become self-correcting. Once they have a basic technique and a knowledge of what to do and how to do it, then they will know when they make a mistake and can work on it. For this reason we usually video the class for them for personal study. This approach also helps them become better dancers faster, and so need fewer classes. One might say, good for them but bad for us. We don't agree, as the more self-aware, good dancers out there who learned from us, the better for us and for Tango in general: a win-win situation.

When Ruben and I are filmed dancing, I always critique our performance and think how it could have been better. Believe me, I am my own worse critic! In the same way, I study still photos of tango dancers, and it's amazing how obvious technique shows up in snapshots (I'm referring to candid shots, not posed photographs.) You can learn a great deal by paying attention to these captured moments--surprisingly more than by watching YouTube videos.

I love watching the parade of dancers passing by my table in the milongas. Time spent not dancing can be used well by observing and listening. That's also part of the tango process--immersion of all the senses. And it's lovely to know that there is not only one correct way to dance tango, that there is room for who you are.

Gavito used to say, "In a milonga, don't watch the good dancers, but the bad ones so you can see what not to do!"

Take this photo below: (I've smudged out the faces because I don't want to embarrass anybody. I'm sure there are awkward pictures of Ruben and me out there too, as ungraceful moments can happen to anybody. And if you see any like that of us, I hope you learn something.)

Look at the couple on the left. He has planted himself firmly with his weight between his two feet, his right knee super-bent, his posture and his hyper-extended back as sturdy and unmoving as a tree trunk, while trying to lead his partner into a gancho. He's not so much dancing as growing roots. The poor lady has no space for her left foot and the right one is sickled, so she's pigeon-toed trying to keep her balance. There is little connection between them. (However I do like her left arm and his right.)

The couple on the right, however, have a relaxed posture, are connected, each has their weight on one side and they are prepared to continue with the next step of the dance using their free feet. The lady's left arm could be higher, the embrace less wimpy, but they look like they are moving and dancing together, not growing branches and leaves.

There is always something to be learned. What do you look for in tango photographs?

For more on photo study for self-correction go here.