An expat Californian building a new life via the tango in Buenos Aires since 2003, including information on learning the tango and where to dance it in Buenos Aires.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Pet Peeve

I already did a series on the embrace:  Holds and Embraces
and Learn by Looking where the woman's left arm is discussed.
The above photo is a recent one of the ever-increasing trend for the woman to grip the man's back like there's no tomorrow, with fingers spread and her shoulder raised. I think it looks hideous--either like she's trying to touch his ass or control him. I see it more and more in the milongas, especially by foreigners and young dancers. When our students ask about it, I say it's just a fad, while hoping it's nothing more than an affected passing fancy.

The milongueros don't like it, and it looks ugly. Why do more and more women adopt this death grip?

The other night I saw a tall woman dancing with a shorter man, and I swear she could have picked his back pocket had she wanted to. Kind of a reverse take on the canyengue posture, which legend has it was used to prevent the woman from lifting the man's wallet.

Canyengue-style embrace
I know styles change in everything. When I began dancing tango in 1997, it was the custom for the woman to look to her right instead of straight ahead as now.

When Ruben dances with someone who tries to "grab his ass" (just kidding), he doesn't let her; he flexes his right shoulder until her arm rises. A woman's left arm should be soft and feminine as it rests without weight or pressure on the man's shoulders.

When teaching the embrace to beginners, I tell them to embrace each other as if they were in love. To me and to most traditional dancers, this is the tango embrace. It doesn't matter if you know the person or not, if you like them or not--it is the position to dance tango.

John y Tania

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Tango Lover's Guide to Buenos Aires

Buy on Amazon
Tango tourism is a relatively new phenomenon in Buenos Aires. When I first came in 1997, it was a rarity. We 35 or so Americans were looked on as exotic, and many milongas and milongueros didn't know what to do with us. Luckily we had an expert guide (Daniel Trenner), and for many of us on the tour, it was a life-changing experience.

Since then foreigners from the four corners of the earth have flocked to Buenos Aires to experience the "real" tango in its birth place. Every serious tanguero eventually makes the pilgrimage.

But the milongas are a hidden world. You have to know where they are, which night of the week, what time. There are no neon signs outside saying, "Tango Here Tonight!" That's part of the charm.

But sometimes foreign tangueros get lost. They don't know where, when, what milongas to attend, even if they have a list of them, even if they have all of the free tango magazines in hand.

Because it's important to know what style is danced, the age group, the ambiance, I'm surprised that more tango guides for foreign dancers have not been written. No matter what anyone claims, we all need help to figure out how to spend our time and our pesos when we visit Buenos Aires.

Migdalia Romero has written the Tango Lover's Guide to Buenos Aires: Insights and Recommendations to help the tango tourist make the most of their vacation. One thing I especially like about her book is the Table of Contents, but more importantly the Index, so helpful in finding the information you need that is buried in the middle of the book.

To help keep the information current, she publishes monthly an online guide to changes and special tango events.

Also included is information on tango shows, cultural centers, shopping, restaurants.

Another resource to add to Sally Blake's Happy Tango.

Thursday, September 01, 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!