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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Only Champion is the Tango!

Ruben and I Dancing Final Round at La Rural in 2006
Two days ago the World Champions of Salon Tango 2011 were chosen at the huge venue of Luna Park in Buenos Aires.

The premier five winners are:
1st Place: Diego Julian Nenavidez Hernandez and Natasha Agudelo Arboleda -- Colombia

2nd Place : John Erban and Clarissa Sanchez -- Venezuela

3rd Place : Brian Nguyen and Yuliana Basmajyan -- USA

4th Place: Mauro Zompa and Sara Masi -- Italia

5th Place: Cristian Andres Lopez and Naoko Tsutsumizaki -- Japon
Unprecedentedly a tie between first and second place caused an exciting Dance-Off to pick the Champions. Here the two couples from Colombia and Venezuela dance three extra tangos at the end of the competition:

Also for the first time in the history of the Campeonato Mundial del Tango del Salon, no Argentine was among the first five.

The judges for the Tango Salon Finals were Maria Nieves, Miguel Angel Zotto, Eduardo Arquimbau, Julio Duplaa (organizer of the milonga Sin Rumbo), Carlos Borquez, Guillermina Quiroga and Jorge Torres. All but Julio Duplaa are known for performing on stage, choreographing, and touring. In fact, Eduardo Arquimbau was in the first tango show I ever saw, Tango Argentino, in the Pantages Theater in Hollywood in the '80s. And then on my first trip here in '97, I saw him perform at the Michelangelo in San Telmo with his wife, Gloria, and also took group classes with them at La Ideal. Maria Nieves, ex-wife and partner of Juan Carlos Copes, is a tango superstar. Guillermina is famous for her work on stage and in film.
The tango championships were created in 2002 to bring more attention to the art form and to bring money and business and more tango to Buenos Aires. It was only in 2001 that the country suffered a debilitating and traumatic economic crisis. "What shall we do to get the country out of the doldrums? I know, we'll have a big fiesta about what we know and do best--along with beef and red wine (and sometimes football.)" An influx of business and tango tourism could only help. And it did.

It began small and standards were lower and fewer. Dance rules were posted but not insisted on. Fewer pesos were awarded. Winners were older.

Then Argentine associations in several countries began to sponsor competitions on their home ground, the winners to get free travel to Buenos Aires to compete in the Mundial. Competitors figured out that it was "good" for them to come early and study with the judges on the panel. Beautiful young women figured out that flirting with the judges while wearing scanty clothing couldn't hurt either. Judges awarded prizes to students, favorites, and sometimes even family members (Maxi Copello the year we competed in the Metropolitano.) Everyone knew that the judging was prejudiced.

Soon the government realized what a great marketing and PR jewel they had in the tango contests, and advertized for participants around the world to come to Buenos Aires to compete. A Tango Festival was added, with free concerts, milongas, lectures, and classes to sweeten the pot. Venders paid to show their wares. It was a win-win situation for everyone. Tango tourism bloomed in August, and local citizens got free entertainment.

This year the pot turned a little sour for some. There was a big fracas in May over whether or not foreigners could compete in the Metropolitano, previously only open to residents of Buenos Aires, a law suit was brought by disgruntled Americans, and the whole city championship nullified. I didn't understand the problem as anyone could compete in the World's in August no matter where they came from.

And then out of 40 finalistas, of which 18 were Argentine, no Argentines finished in the first five of the traditional Tango Salon championship! While all the finalists were beautiful dancers and did a great job on the stage at Luna Park, it's very hard to believe that none of the competing Argentine dancers couldn't do as well. Salon tango has to be improvised, but certainly the three tangos danced in the above video--to popular recordings of famous tangos by Di Sarli, Fresedo, and Rodriguez--were practiced and choreographed, not led. Sorry. Take a closer look.

Diego Hernandez, the Colombian First Place winner, was overheard in an interview saying (smugly) it's as if an Argentine won the Cumbia Competition in Colombia. "Like there's no way in hell that's ever going to happen."

Some of the tangueros and milongueros of Buenos Aires felt like he gave them the finger. (Colombia is famous for its variety of musical styles and high-quality of dancing. Colombia music genres)

And many Argentine dancers feel that the government is giving away their tango. Or rather, selling it.

If Buenos Aires becomes no longer the Mecca of tango, if people can study in Bogota or Los Angeles or Tokyo with world tango champions, why should tango tourism continue to rise along with the high inflation?

From my point of view, Argentina never thinks or plans long-term; get it while you can seems to be the prevailing philosophy of everyone from the lowest to the highest. Planning and saving has never helped them in the past. So they go for the gusto.

'The good news is that this is growing fantastically year after year," a delighted Mayor Mauricio Macri said. Maybe he should think ahead a few more years?

In 2009, tango was declared by UNESCO to be a World's Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the United Nations.

From the Huff Post:

The 24 members of UNESCO's Intergovernmental Committee of Intangible Heritage granted the tango dance and its music protected cultural status at its meeting in Abu Dhabi.

The designation may make Argentina and Uruguay, which both claim to be tango's birthplace, eligible to receive financial assistance from a specialized fund for safeguarding cultural traditions. It will also help both governments justify using public funds to preserve their most famous export after beef.

This article is illustrated by this one photo only--stage tango, or Tango Gringo. Is this the dance and music (Gotan Project, Piazzolla) that UNESCO aims to preserve as the cultural heritage of Uruguay and Argentina?

I'm wondering what "protected status" means. Here's what Tito Palumbo thinks.

He writes about the UNESCO designation in Patrimonio Cultural Inmaterial, in B.A.Tango, November 2009:   

Money seems to be the reason.

It was considered that Tango is seen as extravagant and exotic
The Minister of touristic culture of the City of Buenos Aires must have lobbied.
A Tango Dance School is mixed up with the milongas.

 The tango phenomenon is very widespread. Luckily, its extinction is not expected in the short or medium term. What appears in this declaration is an interweaving of interests among politicians, individuals with privileges and tango merchants with the intention of increasing their power and filling their pockets at the expense of not only local tax payers but also the entire world's population. The following step will be asking the United Nations for funds. It's none of our business; tango exists and remains despite their ploys to live on its fame!

In a wrap-up article today, La Nacion wrote, that the only champion is the tango:

...the final feeling was that, judging by the criteria of the jury, no 
Argentine fell short of the most important category of this competition,
the Salon Tango category, which is the style (along with the "milonguero")
that locals dance with passion, frequency, and some skill in the vernacular milongas. 
How is it that no one has won anything?, Ask the most outraged... and... no.
Of course, the Colombians deserve the prize, but that does not mean that
 the level of local dance has declined or that we are losing the throne.
 What hurts a bit, I think, is that two strangers will see the world
 with "our" flag, because, tango, despite of being a world heritage
 possession, Argentines still feel entitled to maintain custody of
 this beautiful creature which is leaving large dividends for those
 involved, directly and indirectly with it.

As a friend told me, perhaps it is a feeling a bit childish, but
 is something like an "I lend it to you, but do not break it." 
As for my personal opinion, I quote these Argentine sources because I'm a little uneasy to criticize the country of which I am a guest, and the field in which I and my milonguero partner make our living. I am an outsider in Argentina but after so many years and so much attention paid, I must offer my point of view on this huge endeavor, the Campeonato Mundial. ( This post only refers to salon tango. Tango to me is about improvisation, emotion, connection, the embrace--ingredients of traditional social tango de salon, or tango milonguero.)

Money does seem to be the reason. But in the long run, yes, the only champion is the tango!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Everything's Beautiful at the Tango Club

On Fridays when I lived in Los Angeles, as I wrote in the previous Tangofoot, my friends knew that if I'm not out dancing, they should check the morgue. The year before I had a shot of cortisone directly into the ball of my foot at the podiatrist's on Friday afternoon. So painful. I had been suffering from "dancer's foot," the official diagnosis.

By the time I hobbled into my apartment with my left foot in thick fat bandages, the painkillers had kicked in, and actually I felt pretty good. The pain in my foot was gone for the first time in months. I went next door and borrowed some heels from my friend Marita whose shoe size was larger than mine, stuffed my bandaged foot into the left one and wore two socks on the right and I went to dance.

Nuevo Chiqué
Later that night at the milonga, I looked around and saw many familiar people, the same ones I see at all the clubs and dances in L.A. They all had smiles on their faces. Especially when they were dancing. Because I had known these folks for years, I was acquainted with their backstories: the private hurts, anguishes, jealousy, rejections, liaisons, gossip, and backstabbing.

You couldn't tell by looking. People were mixing and dancing and chatting and listening to the great band and tapping their feet and laughing. Me too, my cortisone shot and my funny-looking feet were forgotten as I burned the floor.

Maybe some of us have had bad moments with each other over a period of time--bad dance experiences, some not-so-great personal relationships with friends and the opposite sex, slights both real and imagined--but when we all come together under one high ceiling and the gorgeous umbrella of music, we are one. Like family. We are all worshiping at the same church.
Milonga de los Consagrados

We might kick each other around occasionally, both literally and figuratively, but when the music's hot and the dancing's smoking, we are all in love. At least for five minutes.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Lucky 7 Posts

Lucky number 7, baby! Katie at Seashells and Sunflowers tagged tangocherie to participate in My 7 Links, a project organized by Tripbase. This post here fits in nicely because it is my Lucky 700th!

Katie writes: The chronological nature of a blog means that quality posts continually find themselves getting buried deeper and deeper in the archives with the passage of time. The idea behind My 7 Links is to dig up some of those posts at the bottom of the heap so that readers can discover "new" material or get reacquainted with old posts they'd forgotten about.

[1] My Most Beautiful Post
Una Tanda Mas

[2] My Most Popular Posts
The Circle of Tango, but Vettriano and His Secrets surprisingly comes in a close second. And any post about tango shoes is immediately popular. (The classic all-time favorite post is the page about Ruben y Cherie's Tango Lessons.)

[3] My Most Controversial Posts
Woo--ee, I opened a can of worms with this one: Passion, Love, Tango
After this post and my bits on TV's Bailando Por Un Sueno, and  Dancing for Marcelo, I am very careful not to use "those" words that people are Googling at 3 a.m. Call me crazy, but I don't want "those" people to come to my blog for the wrong reasons! (Why do I care, right?)

[4] My Most Helpful Post
Probably my most practical post was Tangofoot, but since I just republished that one, I'll pick another. Actually, looking back through so many posts I think all of the ones on the etiquette and codigos in Buenos Aires have been most helpful, judging by the comments. But I'll list this one as also useful:
Seasons of Tango.

[5] The Post Whose Success Most Surprised Me
What Happens in BsAs Doesn't Stay in BsAs

[6]  Posts I Feel Didn’t Get the Attention They Deserved
Mucho Macho
I Blog Therefore I Am

[7] The Post That You Are Most Proud Of
Hero Worship/False Idols

And here I'm going to add another category: the posts I had the most fun writing. And guess what? They are all about Ruben!
The Face of Pagliacci
El Negro y La Novia
Secrets of a Milonguero 
The Milonguero Way
Timing is Everything! Part I

Excuse me for indulging myself, but then you only have Katie to blame!! Gracias, linda, for giving me a reason to ponder and review so many years of blogging!

And now the part where people hate me for tagging them. I nominate the following bloggers to carry the torch, if they feel like it:


Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Now Why is That, Again?

Now is the beginning of the Tango Tourist Season, and foreigners have swooped into Buenos Aires for the World Championships (now there is even a special category for foreign dancers) and this week is the Milongueando Festival.

 We went to the opening milonga last night where the Orquesta Sans Souci with El Chino Laborde sang. (I loved that the first violinist is a girl!)

The apertura milonga of the Milongueando Week was in the Region Leonesa, my favorite salon in all Buenos Aires. The floor was jammed and still all the tables and chairs were full, very Buenos Aires. But everyone was speaking English, the floorcraft was sketchy with either no movement along the ronda or zig zagging around the floor, adornos and embellishments ruled, no cabeceos, and the dancers were all either foreign or touring teaching "celebrities." At times I thought I was back in the States!

I would have loved to ask some of the attendees why they spent all that money on air fare and were dancing with folks from home instead of at a traditional milonga down the street, like Gricel. But anyway, we all were having a good time, which is what counts. (Except when the top of Ruben's foot was stilettoed.)

But today I thought it might be worthwhile to revisit the posts below that addressed the phenomenon a few years back.

If you have an opinion, I'd love to hear it.

Why Indeed Come to Buenos Aires to Dance?

Why Do Some Dancers Bother to Come to BsAs?

The Buenos Aires Glow