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, March 31, 2011

My Birthday Wishes

Here in Argentina you get three wishes when you blow out your birthday candle, not just one like in the States. So a heck of a lot more rides on your once-a-year puff 'n huff over your birthday cake when you can get three!

My birthday was last week, and even though this year I felt, as we are so busy working and teaching, that I wanted to stay low profile on "my" day, the milonga organizers wouldn't go for that and so I had celebrations in Nuevo Chique and in Los Consagrados, complete with delicious cakes and, yes, birthday candles.

My three wishes were simple;

Hollywood in December, looking east

Rainbows in my hometown for my friends and family to have joy and health;

Double rainbow seen from my terrace in Boedo

Where lies the "Pot O'Gold"

Rainbows in my adopted city of Buenos Aires, and in fact double rainbows sometimes are necessary, to live under and to remind me that God's promises are everywhere;

And someday soon, before we are both too old and broke, Ruben can get a visa to visit my country for a couple of weeks to see where I grew up, what I talk about so often, so he can know my loved ones.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tango Gods Part 2

I too had my idol growing up as a tango dancer during the last 15 years. Living in L.A. and traveling a lot in those days in order to dance, I took classes with many of the "greats" in Los Angeles and at festivals around the world. I even hosted an "idol" in my home for 4 days before I had to ask him to leave because of his behavior -- no respect for me, the tango, or his students.

The only one I really learned from, the one I respected the most, was Carlos Gavito. He danced the way I felt about the music (like Ruben does.) For me, as a dancer he was without equal. Completely dedicated to the tango, he was a marvelous stage performer as well as social dancer. But he didn't put on airs; what you saw was what you got.

Everyone knew that he had a woman, or two, in every city Forever Tango played. He was open about that as well. He used to say he was married to the tango, which is a cliché perhaps, but so true for so many people.

Whenever he was in Los Angeles, I took his group classes and privates. After a point, he told me that I didn't need any more lessons, nor should I bother with attending local milongas; I should just save my money and go as often as possible to Buenos Aires. I really appreciated his honesty, and respected him not only as an elegant dancer, but as a person. He didn't act superior or all-knowing, as well he could have, and his conversation (always in French with me, for some reason) was sophisticated, funny, and interesting.

Even when he was sick near the end of his life, he still went to the milongas although he didn't dance much socially any more. But it was obvious that the milonga was where he felt at home. I saw him in Gricel, El Beso, La Catédral, La Viruta, Nino Bien--always friendly, warm, respectful, nice, a real caballero. I can't imagine him doing any of the gross, stupid things that I've seen other "famosos" do in public.

To me, Carlos Gavito was a "tango god," who I will always respect in my memory as someone who loved the tango above all else (including money), and who taught me and shared that love of tango with me and all the world.

I didn't know him that well, and I'm sure there are all kinds of tales about him. But compared to the "idols" I wrote about in my last post, those famous dancers who have let fame and fortune go to their heads and are not humble in the presence of the tango or the students who pay them, Gavito was The Man, and always will be for me.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Hero Worship/False Idols

In every field there are famous folks who have become cult figures, from rock 'n roll, to fashion, to sports, to science, to TV, etc.

Tango is among the worst, because everyone has his own style/preference/ideas of how to dance. "You dance who you are," means that there is not just one way to dance, thank goodness. But searching for the right way for YOU to dance can be like following the Holy Grail with one wrong turn after another; like trailing after glamour stars of tango, hoping some of the glitter will fall on you by propinquity.

Students and wannabees look often for quick fixes and "Argentine Tango in 10 Easy Lessons." One of our students told us about a "tango boot camp" in their country where you can learn to dance tango "well" in a weekend or even one day!

Well, sorry to disappoint, but this can't happen. Tango takes its time. I don't care who your teachers are or what they promise before you plunk down your money or how many hours you practice in a weekend; you've got to put in your time. Tango has to "cook" within you.

Often because of media fame or cults of personalities, some dancers are worshiped, not so much for what they do (which can be good or bad or several degrees in between) but who they are. Generally these are dancers who tour outside of Argentina, either performing and/or giving workshops.

The great social dancers of Buenos Aires just dance night after night in the milongas; they don't speak English, they have never left Argentina, no one has starred them in a movie, they haven't won or even entered tango contests, and they haven't danced in a stage show.

When hero worship makes cult personalities of tango dancers, it's usually because of marketing; the media and especially YouTube can make a star of anyone. But if all you know of a person is what you are told by advertising, and what you read/see on the internet or at long distance in a huge tango workshop, perhaps that person doesn't deserve the gifts lavished on them when foreigners bribe them to rub elbows during their trips to Buenos Aires from lands far away. And even more to the point, do not deserve adoration.

I guess I'm getting somewhat cynical after so many years of working with tango, and above all, observing what goes on. Foreign dancers wine and dine the objects of their hero affection, and spend a boatload of plata on private lessons and buying drinks in the milongas, and always paying the taxi. That's fine, really; the foreign dancer gets what he wants--a little prestige to hobnob with the famous and an ability to name drop, and the Tango Star gets free meals, gifts, and more hours of private lessons. There's nothing wrong with that; it can be a friendly recognition that the visiting students probably can afford to do those things more than the locals. The problem begins when it turns to hero worship, when the star can do no wrong on or off the pista.

It's always been hard to separate the dancer from the dance. But worshiping false idols by throwing money at them, especially when the person involved is an extremely bad example of how to behave--meaning not following common rules of etiquette and not being a caballero (yes, I'm referring here especially to men), makes everything bad for everyone except the "hero" who is getting rich off of a false reputation of being a fabulous dancer, teacher, and a perfect person.

I have had occasion to know well a couple of famous touring tango dancers/teachers and they both made fun in private conversations of the foreigners they profited from.

We've all heard the story of Pablo Veron's fisticuffs with a woman at a New York milonga.

And the extremely famous contest winner who socked a woman in the eye when she inadvertently nudged him on the dance floor as he was walking to his table. She had to ice her face and leave the milonga. Ruben and I were dancing right next to this incident in Los Consagrados about a year ago. This is the same famous dancer who announced to his table of friends that no foreigner could ever dance like an Argentine--and he makes his living off of teaching foreigners.

I've heard about the really bad attitude of a famous dancing couple while giving workshops in Australia--leaving the room, paying attention only to each other, etc.

And tales of many male tango teachers seducing their hostesses while being housed for workshops.

Is this professional behavior? Is this worthy of adoration? Or is it all part of the Tango Game?

Some dancers haven't a clue how to teach. Some can't handle the fame and fortune that came to them late in life. Some are just "bad" people who can dance well. And some are ego maniacs with no respect for those who respect them.

But there's something a bit "immoral" about worshiping so-called heroes who behave badly. We can admire their talent--the way they play football or golf, or the way they dance. And that is what should be appreciated, not the whole package of a low-down rude, haughty, superior s.o.b.

Famous tango dancers are famous mainly due to good luck and marketing. If you like the way someone dances, by all means study how they dance. But don't waste your adoration on folks who probably would not take you to the E.R. at 2:00 a.m., especially if you were no longer paying them for privates or inviting them to restaurants.

You can have good professional relationships with your tango teachers and you can have good friends. Only rarely are they one and the same (yet it can and does happen.)

In the States, everyone is our "friend." "I'd like to introduce my friend, Bill," you say to Norm, but you've only known Bill a day. We all have many "friends." In Spanish they differentiate between "amigo" and "conocido," which I think is a great thing to do. In English we rarely use "acquaintance," because everyone is our "friend."

Maybe it's time to think who really is our friend and who is our tango teacher and who is such a perfect person he/she is worthy of worship.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Weekend of El Carnaval Porteño in Buenos Aires

For the first time in well over ten years, the two days before Ash Wednesday and Lent are official government holidays this year for Carnaval. Plan accordingly, as this is going to be a BIG four-day weekend!

Bit by bit people's festivals and celebrations are climbing back into Porteño life, after being squashed during the dictatorship. (And that includes, thank goodness, the tango.)

The murgas in local barrios are getting bigger and longer, and now the corsos are also coming back. The above photo is from the corso on Avenida de Mayo in 1931. Last weekend El Carnaval Porteño came back to Avenida de Mayo and will again be there this coming weekend.

Get out your sequin top hats and gloves and prepare to PARTEE!!!

Thanks to  for a great explanatory article by Juan Data (in English) and for highlighting Grupo Dale Murga's video of the famous murga song, El Murguero.