Sunday, December 24, 2006

Angst.

Recently, I haven't been writing much, and a lot of it is because tango is a very insular community - the more friends I make, the less comfortable I am using them in the blog. It's annoying, as I'm a writer by nature and hopefully, eventually, by trade, and the narrative flow of my tango pogress has been hindered by the fact that the people I know might not want to see themselves on this blog, especially if it's not glowing. And often it's not - I've made no secret of the fact that I'm a bastard, and just because *you* think you're good doesn't mean *I* do.

Even when it is glowing, it's awkward. Recently I've become friends with a few really great people, which has been great for my dancing and for life in general since there is always a friendly face at the milonga. However, once you're friends with someone you're in their camp, like tango is an exercise in feudalism. You swear your troth to the saloners or the nuevoists or the milongueros and must remain their vassal thereafter.

Some of the people I'd love to talk about on the blog might, if they found themselves, take it out on my tango friends rather than just on me. This is revoltingly juvenile, but it's the way of things. Insult someone, and no one at your table gets a dance from him again. That's not fair to my friends; many of them are much more accepting than I am and should not be punished for my opinion. Doesn't mean it hasn't happened. Doesn't mean I'm not still worried.

I will try to post more about my lessons, maybe, or technique in general, or the history of tango - things that are less volatile subjects. But of course, the real comedy and the real tragedy of tango is closer to home, and I struggle daily with the balance between a peaceful milonga and a true story. It's a new struggle for me - in my real life I take the opinion that no one can make an ass of you unless you've already made an ass of yourself. The issue now is whether I can take that opinion into the milonga and survive.

Okay, now it sounds all adventurey and exciting. A better take, at least.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Not the video of the week, but hysterical.

The next time someone tells you, "All tangos sound the same!" show them this.



Friday, December 15, 2006

Scary.

Sometimes I go to a lesson taught by a visiting or guest dancer, because I love learning new styles and flourishes. You'd never know it to look at me, because my personal style is becoming more and more austere, but that's just because I look best that way until I can get good enough to add embellishments without falling over my own feet. In the meantime, I love watching how other people have interpreted the tango for themselves. It's like the moment in art class where everyone turns their canvas to face the circle and you can see how they interpreted the vase and the four oranges that are sitting on a cardboard box in the middle of the room because your teacher is too cheap to hire a nude model.

That metaphor sort of got away from me. Short version: I like watching guest teachers.

It was not good, and as I watched in horror I realized that if this had been my first lesson I would never have come back to tango. This is a scary thought, but typical of me; this is the same mindset that has convinced me I will never ski again.

Except, seriously? Skiiing is evil.

Anyway. Point being: if you've had a bad first experience with tango, please don't think it's all bad. Find a different teacher and try one lesson with them, just to see if it's a teacher thing. It might bring you back to tango - the warm, parasitic arms of tango - and it's important to learn as much as you can, anyway, just so you can pick out a style that is not evil.

Like skiiing is.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Tango Video of the Week 12 - Beginner Class

This is an awesome video, because it just is.

The stern faces on some of the students; the tiny microdrama playing out in every partnership; the girl/girl twosome walking ever forward while other couples get in a mash. You'll either cringe or laugh, and if you recognize yourself in these beginners, you'll do both.

Check out the toddler at the 52-second mark as she bolts from the couches to the edge of the dance floor before changing her mind. You can do it, kiddo!



Monday, December 11, 2006

This Weekend in Tango.

This weekend in tango! Imagine that in a nice newsreel voice. "This WEEKEEEEEND...in TAAAANGOOOOOO."

No, really, here's a rundown of a few tango events recently. Enjoy my shame! And my squee.


1. Had a fantastic dance with an excellent lead; I'd danced with him once or twice before, clearly pity dances. This time, he seemed pleased with my overall performance, which I only figured out when he asked me for a second tanda later in the evening. OH HAAAAAAY.

2. Then he stepped on my pants.

3. Nothing happened, though! We didn't fall over, and he didn't even need to adjust the step.

4. I just need to maybe hem my pants some.

5. Awkward.

6. Saw the guy who claimed to have taught me ocho cortaaaaado. He tried to give me the come-on, and I shot him the kind of glare you only see in Lauren Bacall movies. He didn't ask after that.

7. I hope he wasn't watching when the pants thing happened.

8. Near the end of the night, I led Vasquez. I've been leading my teacher, but Vasquez is a whole different animal. I couldn't breathe, and twice I led her in giros and couldn't figure out what foot she was on coming out of it and had to walk to the cross to get back in place, and basically thought I would die.

9. She let me lead her nearly two whole songs before she left to queue up the tanda. I think this is praise, only because I believe that if I were truly terrible she would not have hesitated to slap me in the face and tell me never to dance again.

10. Maybe she just liked my pants.

11. I just like them better than skirts, though! Less risk of pantiness!

12. Yes, pantiness is a word. You hush.




Thursday, December 07, 2006

Video of the Week 11 - Close Embrace

No, seriously, you guys. This is one of the best examples of close-embrace tango I've ever seen, and sort of throws a broom under anyone who thinks that close embrace is boring. Her FEET! His tiny, tiny turns!

And this serves as a reminder to any leader (myself included) that it's not about having a bunch of fancy figures. The last thirty seconds or so of this vid is more or less the 8-count basic, and it's still stunning because of the precision of the frame, the length of the step, the attention to the music. Who needs more?






Tuesday, December 05, 2006

New Year's Eve Milongas

This is intended to be a nice reference post of New Year's Eve milongas. (It's easier to do it here than in a sidebar.) I'll add to this post as I hear of things; please feel free to drop me an email or a comment and let me know of any New Year's milongas in your town!


UNITED STATES

Berkeley, CA:
All-Nighter Milonga, The BEAT

Denver, CO: New Year's Eve Milonga, Mercury Cafe

Chicago, IL: First Night Evanston, Northshore Retirement Hotel

Boston, MA: First Night Tango, Hynes Convention Center

St. Louis, MO: New Year's Eve Gala, Ballwin Club

New York, NY: Cheap & Chic New Year's Eve Milonga, Dance Manhattan

New York, NY: Tango Party 2007, Stepping Out Studios

Portland, OR: New Year's All-Nighter, Tango Berretin

Providence, RI: New Year's Celebration, weekend event

Seattle, WA: 9th Annual New Year's Eve Tango Ball, Ballard Odd Fellows' Lodge



CANADA

Toronto: New Year's Eve Milonga, Rhythm and Motion Studios

Toronto: Black and White Ball, Dovercourt House

Montreal: New Year's Eve Milonga, Al Sur Tango







When Animals Attack.

I sometimes wonder if people understand why ugly dresses bother me. I'm not some kind of crazy "everyone must dress like a schoolteacher" antifeminist, I promise. It's just...it's just easier to find something that looks decent. Stunning or showstopping are harder to come by, but decent is everywhere. There's no reason to look as if you've spent a week wandering the forest in a prom dress.

Here. I'll walk you through a dress concept executed three ways, from Attacked by a Wild Animal (AWA) to Decent to Stunner. Let's say the concept is "show off my back".

Let's begin!



It is telling that even the model looks ashamed to be wearing this, and she's getting PAID to do it. Her poses are also unfortunate, as it makes clear that your arms must be positioned across your chest at all times so that people don't get a floor show they weren't expecting. This is neither stunning nor showstopping unless she does a flying boleo and the world sees her underpants. (I desperately hope she's wearing underpants. Nobody disillusion me.)

So, let's shield out eyes from the AWA and take refuge in a dress that makes allowances for bra straps, underpants, and ability to actually use one's arms for something other than protection. Is it a showstopping, New Year's Eve party dress? Maybe not. But it's comfortable jersey, it's flattering on a lot of people, and you don't look like you've been ravaged by pumas. What's not to like?





But Dora, you say, I'm not content to be one of the decent masses. Don't you see? When I walk into a room, I want them to turn and stare. I want them to say, "There is a dancer."

Well, why didn't you say so?






What, you can't ocho en pointe? *sigh* Beginners. Fine, try this instead.



Now this is a stunner. The front hem comes to the knees, the back hem fishtails beautifully; imagine what that skirt looks like on long backwards steps. The back is bare, to be sure, but you did want showstopping.

Admit it, you love it.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Things you have learned in tango class.

1. You should be thinner than you are now.

2. Your center of gravity cannot remain in your pelvic area. Instead, cut it in half. Drop half to your knees, shove the other half up to your shoulders. This will feel a little funny. Ignore it!

3. Hopefully that bad smell is your partner. Best to be safe, though; by spritzing yourself with 8 oz of Pearberry Body Spray before you come to class, you can be sure that everyone will know exactly what you smell like. No awkward misunderstandings for you! (This is not recommended for application without industrial-strength ventilation.)

4. No, seriously. Thinner. It's the only way this move is possible.

5. Gentlemen, please remember that there's nothing a woman loves more than a compliment. Bad lead? No problem. Skillfully share the experience by pointing out that she's "almost doing it right". No girl can resist a charmer!

6. You should get more balance. Maybe you could mug someone on the street for their balance.

7. Everyone remembers the move from last week, right?

8. Right?

9. Okay, so it looked like this. Now do you remember?

10. ...oh. Well, maybe we should work on some technique.

11. Your technique is also terrible. Is there some kind of balance exchange program available to you? You qualify.

12. Leather pants during a class? Of course! Every day's a runway, baby! Double points if you're over 40; triple points if you're a man. If you're a man over 40 in kicky leather pants, write me for a cash prize!

13. Gentlemen, take note: ladies love ganchos!

14. Ladies, take note: Good luck with that.

15. Stop eating your registration slip; that's nothing but carbs!

16. You know, this school has a really good beginner program.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Video of the Week 10 - Tango Competition, Final Round

I love this video. I love this video like a fat kid loves cake.

There's nothing flashy here. It's not a lot of sacadas or colgadas or lifting the girl over your head. Every one of these couples keeps the feet low to the ground at all times; when the woman does embellishments, they're understated, maybe angling the foot a little when waiting for the next step.

What got all these people to the final round is clearly their walking, their impeccable ankles, and their musicality.

If I can lead like this someday, I'll be happy not knowing a bunch of fancy moves.



Sunday, November 26, 2006

Shoe Shopping

We have returned victorious!

Cadencia wanted to buy a pair of proper shoes (I'm adopting the phrase "proper shoes" because it takes less time to say than "shoes that aren't clumpy"), and I was more than happy to support her in this fantastic habit, so off we went to the nearest ballroom store.

I had been concerned that they would have no real tango shoes, but the sight of some NeoTangos reassured me.

'We'll start with the NeoTangos," I told Cadencia.

"They're sold out," said the salesgirl.

"Then we start with these," I said, awash with indecision, and grabbed at the first open-toe I saw. (Closed-toe shoes may look safer, but they pinch your toes and then your feet get all crooked and your pinky toe disappears. Peep-toe, people: think of the pinkies!)

Turns out that brand worked out pretty well, and after only two pairs of shoes, she found The Ones: a pretty high heel that was still stable enough for ochos, black suede, ankle strap, peep-toe with a few slick little cutouts in the front that looked very chichi and helped the shoe mold right to her foot. She stood sideways in the mirror and grinned. Winners.

She swore those were enough for the moment, but she'd come in her suitcases with enough room for two pair, so I know this is the beginning of a slippery slope. I expect at any moment to hear she's scuttled a pair of NeoTangos across the Altantic.


Thursday, November 23, 2006

Candencia Comes to Town

Candencia came to visit friends in town this week, and she called me to let me know she had arrived.

"Hello," she said, and I said, "Tango?!"

She's two months in and hasn't yet been to a milonga, as is the normal way.

"I don't know how I feel about it yet," she said, and I said, "Tomorrow!"

I maintain it's not being pushy if she knew what she was in for.

She gamely appeared for the beginner's class, and I led her around as she looked over the people already assembled a little bemusedly; it was a particularly hopeless class, and I have a feeling a lot of people just got up from dinner to join without ever having had a class before.

"Feel better?" I asked as the class transitioned, and she said, "Well, they're not really dancers, are they?"

You see why I love her.

She begged off the intermediate class until we saw what it was about; it was a pretty cool little step, actually, and if she hadn't come back of her own accord I would have dragged her back anyway. We got it after about five minutes, and her mood improved greatly as she realized she could pick up in five minutes what it took some people an hour to figure out. I could have told her already that she was very good - she was a light follower, and her ochos were the kind of glued-ankle pivots I'm still working on - but I think she would have discounted my opinion a little if she hadn't seen for herself.

One of my favorite partners asked me for the first tanda, and after inquring about Cadencia he returned me to my seat and invited her for the next tanda. Moments like that make me really appreciate the tango chivalry.

We hung out together, danced a little, gossiped a little, and had a blast.

Next: shoe shopping. Cadencia's ready for heels.



Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Video of the Week 9 - Jorge Torres and Mariela Franganillo

I have no big intro to this video, except maybe the trivia alert that it's my first vals on this site. The dreamy, floaty quality of the dancing here is really great, and I love the delayed claps when the audience is so caught up in the dance they forget that there was an amazing move ten seconds earlier.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Begging pardon?

All right, fess up: this is a plant, right? Someone did this as a joke knowing I couldn't resist the pull of a frightful frock labeled "tango dress", right? RIGHT?



...right?

*sigh* Okay, people, here we go: Tango Dress, or Attacked by a Wild Animal? Who can say?

(Seriously, who did this.)


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Video of the Week 8 - Sonja Armisen

This video is an example of Tango Fusion, a style that I'm pretty sure Sonja Armisen herself invented. (I couldn't find evidence to the contrary, but if you're reading this and you totally started Tango Fusion first, let me know!) It's a style of tango designed for electronica, and can be danced either alone or with a partner, as this video demonstrates. Alone, it looks like a pumped-up tangorobics class; with a partner it's Extreme Open Embrace.

Lest you think she's an upstart, take a look at that technique. Her supporting leg is like a steel pipe. Clearly she knows what's up.

(I also love the aggressive style shown here. While it clearly doesn't work in social dance to be attacking your leader, it adds a little rough-and-ready, I think. Yay shoving!)




Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Technique.

I spent last night doing back ochos with my hands planted on a wall. The step begins with a sidestep, say, left to right, and then moves in a figure eight; so, side step left to right, then the left foot steps back right, the right foot steps back left, and so on. Step, pivot, step pivot.

"Ankles together," my teacher told me. At least it wasn't appended by "Instep!", because I've been standing on my insteps whenever I can, to get used to carrying my weight there. People at Real Job are starting to wonder about me.

I banged my ankles together with every ocho; step, ankles, pivot, step, ankles, pivot.

"Point your toes; your thighs should separate."

Step, point, ankles, pivot. Step, point, ankles, pivot.

"Don't sink when you step! Upper body up, up, up."

Up, step, up, point, up, ankles, pivot.

"With grace, please."

With every ocho the inside of my shoe scrapes the floor, so flat I can feel the wood floor against my foot; from the CD player, the bandoneon wheezes.




Sunday, November 12, 2006

Chemistry 101.

I spent a long while today trying to describe tango to a friend who doesn't dance.

"So, is it sexy?"

"Not really."

"Is it fun?"

"...eventually when I'm better it will be."

"And you do this for ten hours a week, why?"

I expect I will be hearing this a lot in my future. I'm psychic!

I really don't think that tango is a sexy dance, though. There is sexual chemistry sometimes between dancers, and that's always fun to watch, but like co-stars who sleep together and then flop onscreen, it can interfere more than help if you're not careful. My unabated girlcrush on Vasquez aside, I've only really been attracted to one other dancer, a lanky young instructor who has the careless good looks of a movie star, and who moves like a dream. Oh, young instructor, I watched you dance with other beginners and perished!

Well, not "perished" so much as "danced with other people", but you get the idea.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the chemistry of terror one finds when one has accepted a dance with a terrible dancer. Unfortunately, this seems to happen about 30% of the time, and there is a lot of polite "Oh, no, I'm resting" floating around most milongas. I am actually fine with this. I encourage this. It's logic. If I want to dance with hottie instructors then I had better step to it and learn. If one is not good enough yet, then one must learn. Period. One shouldn't expect women (or men) to dance if one hasn't made the effort to improve.

(I speak not to beginners; many beginner guys are awesome and I like dancing with them. I speak to people who are trying to coast after a number of years. Uncool, coasters.)

(Yeah, I'm a snob. What can you do?)

The great majority of the dances have a sort of biology-lab partner chemistry I find reassuring. You can get a little annoyed with someone, they can get a little annoyed with you, but for the most part you're in it together and it's a chance to get a few more inches under you in the 5,000-mile trek to becoming a good dancer. It's this kind of chemistry I go for when I'm leading someone, and it's the chemistry I usually find in people with whom I enjoy dancing. It's nice, because if you make a little mistake they'll still ask you to dance again, because they like you. Everyone wins!

Eventually, if I'm very lucky, I will get one of those dances where it's not about the person, and the partnership is based on surrender to the music. That is a beautiful thing.

That's why I do this ten hours a week. I'm preparing for a day in 2012 when I get asked to dance.

Maybe I won't phrase it to my friend quite that way.



Friday, November 10, 2006

I could have danced all night...

But really I left at 10:30, because I have a job and because it was disappointing.

I went back with my highest heels (4 inches and a smidge) and sat in a place where it was easy to ask me. I chatted with my friends and sipped on a seltzer and radiated dance awesomeness to the world.

A gentleman asked to dance; he had danced with me when I was a wee beginner, and tango etiquette sort of demands that you acknowledge such kindnesses, so I accepted.

It was not so good; he repeated the same series of steps, so I began to anticipate (the last thing I need reinforced right now), and He held me really close - like, pervy close - which threw me off my embryonic axis and shoko me up for the rest of the night. I actually got a great dance a little while later, with a very good dancer who has a great sense of musicality, but it was hard to keep up with him because I spent the whole time trying to find my axis and extension again. Awkward!

Don't know what to do about that. I don't have a problem saying no (I turned down a guy I never wanted to dance with again, because, well, I didn't want to dance with him again, so if he never asks again he just spares me another No), but etiquette sort of demands I dance with this guy because back in the day, he danced with me. I understand it and I think there's a great deal of logic in the arrangement, but it begs the question: how strong is "for old times' sake"?

At least I've danced there now; I've watched the crowd and realized I can hold my own here, given the right partner who has exquisite balance and musicality and wants to dance with me for hours. (HAHAHAHAHAH! Sorry, that cracked me up.)


Thursday, November 09, 2006

This will be hilarious in six hours after the disaster strikes.

I'm going back to that milonga tonight. I've decided. Shame me once, and you...fooling...something...

...whatever, syntax isn't important here! I'm sticking it to the Man, and that's what matters.

Video of the Week 7 - Carlos Gavito in Forever Tango

No, seriously, you guys.

I saw Forever Tango on Broadway the year I moved to New York, and I watched and thought, "That's so beautiful and awesome! Too bad I'll never do that."

I'll still never do this, or anything remotely resembling this (hello, it's GAVITO). At least there's clips of the show, though!

List of dancers: Claudio Villagra, Carlos Gavito & Marcela DurĂ¡n, Jorge Torres & Karina Piazza, Hector Mayoral & Elsa Maria Borquez,Hugo Patyn & Carolina Garcia, Luis Castro & Claudia Mendoza. I know, right?! No, seriously.






Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Ask not for whom the insoles. Insoles for me!

Before leading class this week I had to put insoles in my orthopedic sneakers to provide enough arch support. My feet are melting, meeeelting!

Ahem.

Leading class was very useful, again; however, it has done nothing to increase my patience for bad leaders, as I am of the opinion that if I can do it, anyone can do it. (By this rule, Jackson Pollack is not an artist, but a crazy drunk person with too much paint on his hands. Once in college I took a picture of a Jackson Pollack poster and a picture of something I made with craft paint and asked the class to distinguish the two; no one could. This is basically my proof for the rule, because seriously. )

So class was a lot of work on ochos and molinetes and changes of weight and the leader keeping balance. I especially needed the last two, because it's one thing to know you're sending her for three steps and quite another to send her, keep balance, turn, hold frame, collect her, collect yourself, and walk out. There's no way to calculate what foot she's on by keeping track; her body is your only real hint where she is. When it works, it's amazing, because even if she messes up of you lead her a step too far, if you can feel in her body what foot she's on, you can fix the step and make something out of it - an ocho or a rockstep or a walk to the cross, whatever. That's the nice thing about a dance that's all improvisation. When it doesn't work, somebody stumbles.

I didn't stumble much, but by the end of class when we were working on big spinny turns and superpivots, I checked out, because there is no way that I will ever have the space to fling someone around in a circle like that. My goal is to learn how to navigate a dance floor while being marginally musical; my favorite step is just the forward walk, maybe some ochos, walk some more, one or two molienetes, walk some more. If I'm feeling the music she shouldn't get too bored, and the style leaves plenty of time for embellishments on her part, and hopefully that should be enough.

I am still running into a bit of a problem with the whole "being a woman" thing. I am very careful to always dance open embrace, and I am really the least sexually threatening person in the whole world, so a lot of the women are as happy to dance with me as they are any of the other leaders. However, one or two women have "accidentally" skipped me in rotation, and one woman is just absolutely loathe to dance with me, for whatever reason, and it's almost comical to watch her go for her lipstick or get a drink of water or walk over and examine the announcements table so that when we rotate she's already past me in line and doesn't have to dance with me. She plans better than Napoleon, I'm telling you.

I have to work on not shifting my hips in the lead; after finally, finally relaxing my hips in following, I have to wind them right back up. Flat feet, solid shoulders, still hips.

Doesn't matter, though, since I'm more than happy to work on it. I love leading; I love moving to the music and convincing the person I'm holding to move with me.


Sunday, November 05, 2006

Better.

I was feeling discouraged as of Thursday night; I forced myself to go dancing Friday.

The evening began with me catching my heel on my pants and nearly toppling both myself and my partner, and proceeded from there for everal hours, with a lot of sitting interrupted by frustrating tandas. I anticipated, I second-guessed, and once when I messed up I tried to change weight to correct. Not my finest hour(s). I went home upset, aching, and worried, and fell asleep wondering what the matter was.

On Saturday I got up and spent the morning listening to techno music, working on a short story, and cleaning the first few layers of clean laundry off the blob in my living room that might once have been a couch, and heavily debated not going to the milonga. There's a red circle on my leg where my stiletto pierced my pants, and all day I cast accusing glances at that little stamp of my inadequacy and wondered if it was worth it to go again.

Out of stubbornness more than anything, I went to the milonga - skirt and all. It's not like I was planning to quit tango, and if I was going to suck for the next X then I shouldn't wait for it to be X+1. (Math is my friend.)

When I walked into the milonga the music was playing, and it was one of my absolute favorites; the couples on the dance floor were moving in time, as if choreographed; the lights were low. Across the floor a woman sank into a low boleo, her silver shoe glittering.

I danced a lot, and it was much better, but that hardly matters. I hadn't realized until last night how much tango has become a part of my life, and that just being at a milonga is often enough.

It was encouraging.




Friday, November 03, 2006

Twentieth Lesson

Not a class. A lesson.

I went to a milonga last night. I hadn't been there since the first time I went, my very first week dancing; I didn't like the vibe and I could immediately tell I was outclassed on the dance floor in a way I couldn't fudge. A lot of milongas tolerate beginners. This one clearly did not.

Came back tonight after dancing for four months, knowing I'm still a beginner but having danced enough that when a friend said she was going, I said, "I'll meet you there!", thinking I could come and dance a while.

This is because I am a moron.

I sat for two hours and never even made eye contact with any men; I think one or two tried, but I was purposely sitting as far in the corner as possible and was prepared at any time to rummage in my bag to avoid looking interested. There was absolutely no way I could have danced out there. Not like the cast of Tango Para Dos was suddenly flooding the dance floor or anything, but the general caliber of dancers was much higher than I'm used to, and I wasn't about to go out there. Maybe I wouldn't even have been the worst on the floor, but "not the worst" is not enough. If I'm not good enough, I'm not dancing. Just have to work harder.

It was...discouraging.

I'm forcing myself to go dancing tonight.


I can't believe I'm still finding these.

I thought that with my narrow criteria for an entrant this category -- dresses must be A) expressly described as tango dresses and B) hysterically bad -- I would have one, maybe two weeks of entrants. There's no way, I thought, no way that tango dresses can continue to be so frightening. No one would keep making such awful dresses and styling them like something out of Mad Max. Impossible.

I'm beginning to worry.


On the other hand, it's nice that at least this victim fought back and was able to take the beast's mane as a trophy.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Week Six - Jorge Dispari and Samantha Dispari

This week's video is a demonstration of the tango walk; I wouldn't have chosen this particular song, but dude, it's the Disparis, and they can do whatever they want.

I think the walk is the second most beautiful thing in tango (the first being the embrace, when done correctly), and this video demonstrates very adeptly why most women would rather dance simply with a musical lead than be led in complicated steps by someone else.





p.s. This video is courtesy of the amazing Tango Video Project; I've uploaded it here just so you don't have to click around before you get to see it. I cannot recommend this site highly enough: since most great tango performances aren't in shows, but are just improvisations from milongas around the world, these little handhelds are the best record we have. Go there, donate to their bandwidth, click around, turn green with envy and blue with delight, eat a cookie. That kind of thing.

p.p.s. I really can't get over her pants. The little dangly things are captivating... has she narrowly escaped an incident of "Tango Dress or Attacked by a Wild Animal"? I think she has.



Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The thrill of victory, the agony of my feet.

Because my feet hurt! Get it?

Actually, it's not so much my feet -- they went numb after my third week and now I just don't worry about them anymore. My ankles, however, are killing me, because I'm trying to step correctly on four-inch stilettos all the time. What a great idea!

It actually was a great idea, because my pivots are much better, and nothing teaches you balance faster than standing atop an insole with a nail attached. This is not an endorsement of stilettos, since most people can dance better without them and also they are the world's most painful shoe, but it is remarkable the difference it makes in my dancing. Then again, it also means that I'm going to have to be careful not to slice my own feet, or dance so much my hamstrings wither, so I really think the stiletto advice should be taken with a pound of salt. Gorgeous, slippery, painful little beasts.

This last week has been a ton of dancing with absolutely no lessons or preparation, so I spent the whole weekend petrified every time I got an invitation, absolutely certain I was going to mess up an ocho cortado, slice my own foot in half, fall over, snap my hip, dislocate my arm, and burst into flames.

I'm a worrier. Don't know if you've noticed.

That did not happen, surprisingly, but I really can't get over that I've never danced a tango without a mistake. Not huge mistakes, maybe, but it gnaws at me every time, for days afterwards, and I do the move perfectly sixty times in my house like it will erase the mistake I made two nights ago. I know that social dance inherently has a lot of mistakes: it's improvisational and not the product of hours of choreography; there are no prescribed moves like in swing, where one can recognize the beginning of the lead and execute the move even if the lead is confusing, so you have to rely on tangolepathy to figure out where he moves the instant he moves there; when you dance with someone the first time you can never be sure if it will work out, so you take the embrace and take your chances.

Still drives me nuts.

Now, victory! I have a friend in England, Cadencia, who has recently taken up Argentine tango (I win at recruitment!). However, she has run into her first plateau and finds her wimpy beginner leaders more of a hindrance than a help. From the classes I took, I definitely agree that beginner leaders are Teh Suck (and the ones in my leading class graduated with honors from Tehsuck University), but when I was a follower I took the classes in the restaurants right before the milongas and not a course, so if I ever had a really crappy leader I could avoid him for an hour and chances were I'd never see him again. And of course, as a leader, other bad leaders are only a problem when it comes to the line of dance. So, basically, I've turned into a jerk.

As much as she can be a delightful, withering woman, when it comes to tango she has to be nicer, since the community is small and the classes recurring. Poor thing. She comes to visit next month and I've promised to take her out to as many milongas as her feet can take, just so she can get a feel for other leaders. (She's not at a point where she wants to go to milongas at home, but she subscribes to my travel theory of Better to Make a Fool of Yourself on Foreign Soil Where People Might Forget You Eventually. It's a long theory, but it works.)

Expect a flurry of posts in the next few days as I strenulously avoid dance classes!



Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Video of the Week 5- Sally Potter et al, from "The Tango Lesson"

This video has nothing revolutionary, nothing astounding, nothing particularly beautiful; I just love watching this video because it looks like what a milonga should look like. Solid social dancing, no one jamming up the floor, teeny-tiny boleos against the floor. Plus, I think this is Confiteria Ideal in Buenos Aires, which is a really pretty place. (Clearly.)

The only thing that surprises me about this clip when I watch it is that so little attention is paid to the feet; when I watch people at a milonga, a do a cursory glance at the frame and then it's laser-vision on the feet, and if the feet look good I never look back up at the frame, because in my experience if the feet are good, the frame is good. Your mileage may vary.



Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Technique Classes.

A few weeks back, I went to my first-ever Dance Class proper. As I am constantly reminded by my teacher when she complains about my technique, I began this whole process backwards, by stumbling onto a pre-milonga dance class. Being a cheap jerk, I decided that to get my money's worth I was damn well going to stay the whole night. Danced all night, messed up a lot, figured it out.

My tango MO seems to have been set that first night: mess up a lot, figure it out.

This has been good in a lot of respects, but my technique has suffered, since I learn a move through the "don't fall down" method rather than any sort of, you know...learning.

(Someone was very nice once and said that's how it used to be in the brothels of Buenos Aires when the women came from outside the city and had to learn by doing. There is no response for this, because I had no idea what she was even trying to tell me except that maybe I should watch how low my necklines are.)

So I find myself in my first real dance class, intermediate level vals and milonga. Sounds good; I'm better at milonga than anything else, since balance there is constantly shifting rather than standing swanlike on a four-inch stiletto, and I could definitely stand to learn a little more about vals.

It was a disappointment. There was not a single milonga traspie step in the class - in fact, I should say that the single step we did learn was not traspie, since the leaders never mastered the first step and so we had to stay on it the whole class. It was slightly faster tango, not milonga, and even worse, it was a move I knew - back ochos into a molinete with sacada - so I couldn't even summon any sympathy for the leaders, because it was something an intermediate leader should be able to do. (Hell, I've been leading three weeks and I can take a woman from ochos to a milonete. The close isn't pretty, but I can do it.)

The teacher got increasingly frustrated; at one point, he nearly sent a guy out of the room, saying, "This is an intermediate class. You should be proficient at the beginner level." The guy stayed, but he sat down after that, and I had been so frustrated having him as my partner that I didn't feel any sympathy for him.

Example: at the start of class, when told to begin the ochos after the cross, he raised his hand and asked, "And what's the cross?"

Yeah. No pity for that guy.

I am a terrible student. I refuse to do a move if it isn't noticeably led, so twice I got partners who didn't know how to begin the sacada. I did molinetes and then just hung out while they toed the ground in various places near the geographic region my foot could theoretically occupy. Good times!

Two hours later, I knew how to do three-quarters of a tango move.

Go me?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Leading. And following. And my pants.

No, seriously, my pants. I'll get to them later.

Had my second leading class this week. I'm just going to come out and say it: these men suck. From what I've heard/read/inferred through the laws of the universe, all beginner leaders are terrible, but I think that maybe the guys in my leading class went through a special Suck Training Program to make sure that they would really, truly, put the terror back in terrorible.

As it happens, I put the 'tear' back in terrible, but that's the pants portion of the evening and that comes later.

Anyway, I went to class and we learned the basic. I didn't think I was doing it right at first - I felt my embrace was too stiff, and she was having trouble finding the cross - so I asked her, "How does this feel? Should I loosen the embrace? What's easier for you to feel?"

She looked at me like I was speaking Turkish, but after a moment she thought about it, and said, "Turn your upper body a little more, and give me a little more room for my feet."

Apparently, the guys don't usually ask for advice, since it was such a surprise. However, she gave me that very helpful advice, and after that we totally had it. When partner switch came, the girl who was my new follower looked happy to see me, and as soon as we started I could see why - the guy ahead of us (her previous partner) was HURLING his follower into the cross. It looked physically painful.

"Geez," I said, watching him, "that guy sucks."

My follower laughed, and I laughed, and I totally forgot to walk her out of the cross and that was totally not awesome. WAY TO GO, DORA.

I have found that the best way to soothe a follower (and a lot of them need soothing, they don't like the idea of a woman leader) is to approach them like you've just been assigned her freshman roomie - nonthreatening, we're-in-this-together attitude, smile and dip your head a little, as if coaxing a timid wilderness creature into your embrace!

It works. Usually. I had one partner in class who looked horrified the whole time we were dancing, and I literally couldn't get her to move; I gave the same intent, the same embrace, the same shift of weight, all the warning I possibly could, and she just stood there and let me walk right into her feet. I really really am still upset about this, because as a leader it's my job to correctly telegraph what I intend to do, and I am clearly not stepping up to the plate here. Next week we'll see.)

We went around and around the room, switching really often, which was nice. When I came back to the first lady (who had given me all the good advice) she saw it was me and said under her breath, "About time. You're much nicer than most of these guys. You don't choke me!"

You heard that right - I don't choke my follower! OH HAAAAAAY!

(You see why I worry about the guys in my class. How horrible must they be? Why don't they ask for help? Why don't the women demand they improve? Don't let them get away with it, ladies! Seriously.)

At one point a follower had to leave class for another appointment, so there were too many leaders and someone had to sit out every rotation. Interestingly, none of the guys were willing to sit, so I figured, okay, I'll sit out. No hardship.

The teacher sees me walking over to sit, puts on a truly gorgeous Di Sarli, and motions for me to my fat ass up out of the chair and dance with her. HAHAAH, no pressure!

Needless to say that was awesome, except the part where I didn't know at first she was doing embellishements and I stepped without her being ready and I was immediately worried about what I did wrong until she explained that she was embellishing and should have been ready. I don't think this is true, but you can be damn sure I was careful to pay attention to her weight after that.

All the guys in class totally hated me afterwards, too. Oops.

IMPORTANT PANTS UPDATE: I stepped on them funny and they ripped at the ankle. Very stylin'. Also, nothing like leading with a cuff flapping behind you.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Tango Video of the Week #4 - Ney Melo and Jennifer Bratt

Well, another week of slaving through several, nay DOZENS, of tango videos in order to bring you a video I have selected arbitrarily and inflicted on all of you.

This week's tango video is a demonstration of tango in a small space. And by "small space", I mean "a circle of chairs that leaves about two feet to dance in."

The dancers are Ney Melo and Jennifer Bratt; they're subscribers to the Villa Urquiza style of tango (the style favored by Geraldine Rojas and Javier Rodriguez from Week 1), and you can see how the emphasis on embrace and on beautiful walking works to keep the dance interesting and vivid even in cramped quarters. Watch especially for their tiny side steps that still manage to drag on for two full beats. Lovely.

(I am still not sold on this particular embrace, but that might be because I'm a little taller than most women and this embrace just makes my elbow stick out to the side like some kind of crabdancer, which isn't very alluring. My physical oddities aside, though, this is a very popular and pedigreed stye of tango, so if it works for you, dance till you drop!)



They clearly love the dance, and it's infectious, which is how it should be; no point in watching dancers who don't feel anything.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Tango Dress, or Attacked by a Wild Animal?

Welcome to another edition of "Tango Dress, or Attacked by a Wild Animal?". I'm your host, La Planchadora, and here with us today is this unfortunate contestant:



Is she the victim of a terrible knitting accident, or has the camera caught her in a vulnerable moment as she reaches, still disbelieving, for the puma that has clawed her dress to ribbons?

You make the call.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The First Lesson. Yes, again! You shut up in the back!

There are a few things from the past week that I would eventually like to blog about: tango music, technique classes, and another edition of Tango Dress, or Attacked by an Animal? Today, though, it's leading class.

I decided that I hadn't suffered enough tango humiliation yet this month and signed up for a class. This would be my second class in an actual classroom (and I've been dancing four months; there's a statistic for you). The first class was milonga class, but I'm talking about this class first, because...that's what happened. I'm a rebel. I live by no man's timeline!

Ahem.

So I walk into the class on the first day not sure what to expect; while women leaders are becoming more common, in some circles there's still a stigma to it, and whether or not women leaders are welcome is on an individual basis. Luckily, the teacher was awesome, and after explaining some basic concepts of tango for the newbies, she said, "Okay, so we need to pair up. Leaders, followers, doesn't matter if you're a boy or a girl, everyone should learn both parts eventually."

Works for me. I jump in the line. My first follower is wearing those ridiculous sandals that don't even exist, they're just little leather flaps with ribbons on them. I have nightmareish visions of stepping on her and sending her to the hospital.

"Okay, so, let's start with open embrace," the teacher calls out, and I lean forward as far as humanly possible, until I am standing like so:


Planchadora leading. Feet to scale.


I manage not to step on her toes, but my back is killing me by the time we switch.

My next partner's been dancing a month or two, so that's easier, and the class progresses.

What I Learned in Leading Class:

* People don't understand the line of dance. I don't know how this is possible, but it is. WALK, people. That's all I ask.

* Leading is hard. Good grief, I had no idea how hard it is to convince another person to do what you want if she doesn't already know how to look for it. I think the biggest disadvantage of the lesson was that once the girl knew how to do it, she did it whether or not my lead was convincing, which doesn't help me become a better leader.

* Do not have a conversation in the middle of the line of dance! Nothing is that important! If you have to stop and fight loudly about who is wrong, step out of the line of dance and do it. Also, what are you arguing about? We're walking. It's one foot in front of the other. You've been doing it since you were teeny. Come on.

* I have to stop looking like the drinky-bird. That's not really attractive.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Tango Video of the Week #3: Various Dancers, "Now We Are Strange"

This isn't really a tango video; it's a very surreal music video using the lower halves of several tango dancers, named in the video blurb as: Jaimes Friedgen, Shorey Myers, Rebecca Shulman, Adam Hoopengardener, Cidgem Tanik, and Carmela Hill-Burke.

It's really disconcerting not to have any faces to put to the feet; the initial impression is that the cameraman dropped the equipment on the floor and forgot, so he recorded from the knees down while he went to get his hand truck. However, if you can get past that, the song is pretty good and there are some interesting moves. I guess the fun is in picking out whose feet are whose. Well, that and ogling the veritable parade of Comme Il Fauts on that dance floor. Nice job, ladies!





Friday, October 06, 2006

In a crypt. No, seriously.

Okay, so the site is not the sleekest example of minimalist design, but holy crap, dancing in a crypt? I'm sold!

El Once Tango Club. Motto: "Who Cares if They're Dead - Keep Dancing!"

They do, however, have a nice list of where to dance tango throughout the UK. (It's in the links on your right.)

I also have to love the 11-week course designed to make you a pre-intermediate dancer. I can't tell if this is sound business, excellent tango technique, or a vote of no confidence in British tango dancers.

And as long as you're in England, check this out.



Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Tango Video of the Week #2

Sure, it may look like an airplane hangar, but you should be looking at the dancers, dude!




Julio Balmaceda and Corina de la Rosa dancing milonga traspie. I am currently learning this, if by "this" you mean "to weep and gnash my teeth at how nimble she is".


Friday, September 29, 2006

I swear the shoes help.

I will soon be recieving this pair of tango shoes.



No, I won't fall down in them. No, really, I'll be fine. WHAT? Stop looking at me like that! I said I'm fine!

It's sad that shoes like these actually do help keep balance; you'd fall out of regular shoes, and the heel helps you keep correct foot position so you don't roll out. They also have footbeds designed for pivots. You can snap your ankle on a pivot if your foot gets stuck - I cringe just thinking about it.

I wore through my first pair of tango heels in a little more than a month; you can see on the footbed the exact placement of all my toes within the shoe, where the suede has been worn down to nothing and the sole is so glossy it reflects light. From Jupiter. Seriously, these puppies are well-worn.

From there I got my sparkly blue shoes as a gift, and they're absolutely amazing shoes - they kill if you're walking forwards, but walking backwards is easier than breathing. Much harder than breathing is doing an ocho cortado without slicing off a toe.

These shoes won't help my slicing problem. I'm pretty sure that shoe is even more open than my current shoes, which means I'm going to have to either get better or tip these puppies with a little steel.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Because I'm a giver.

In case you actually read this blog (waves to three people), I wanted to point out the sidebar action I've got going. There's been enough navel-gazing on this blog, and I have been totally remiss in getting anyone else interested in tango. And so, behold! Links!

There are headings for upcoming tango events, cities with active tango calendars (and Web communities), websites for tango dancers and musicians, and additional tango resources. Have a look around; it's good stuff.

If you know of any upcoming tango events in your city, or want to know about any, drop me a comment. If I haven't heard of anything, I'll ferret out some information; anyone who wants to dance should be dancing!

Wow.

Tango is not known for the most demure dresses. I understand that. However, I really feel like some companies are getting the wrong idea. It looks like some kind of reasoning game - "Tango Dress, or Attacked by a Wild Animal?"

Go on, you make the call.





Tougher than you thought it would be, isn't it?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Tango Video of the Week #1

It really doesn't get better than this.

That's not a matter of opinion. It's Geraldine Rojas and Javier Rodriguez, who were the world's most innovative and popular tango couple for ten years. When they broke up in 2005 it was viewed on the level of a national tragedy; the art of tango had lost something great.

They are both still dancing, and both their new partners are wonderful dancers, but the magic is gone. Watch the clip and see what I mean.


(Technical detail: they dance Villa Urquiza style, which is defined by the womans' s hand low on the man's back, the woman stepping on the whole foot rather than just the instep, and the woman stepping straight back rather than making a point of brushing the ankles. I'm sure the man does some stuff, too, but I'm a follower, so.)


p.s. If you have a video you want to recommend, or have made a video of yourself, point me to it! I love watching tango almost as much as I love dancing it.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Vocabulary.

I dropped off my laundry yesterday, and the young couple who run the laundry service took it and weighed it and handed me my little yellow tag marked carefully with 7pm - RED, and the whole time in the background a language tape was playing on a little boombox. (You could tell it was a tape; it still crackled.)

"I already submitted my paperwork," the tape said, the voice repeating in Chinese.

"I am here to apply for citizenship."

"I am taking the test for citizenship. I already submitted my paperwork."

"These are the forms you requested."

"Detergent allergy?" she asked me, and I wondered if these were the only two things they ever talked about; beaucracy and laundry.

It's interesting how quickly someone's vocabulary can change, and the gulf that opens up between people when their internal dictionaries are different, how the words you use define you.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Down the Rabbit-hole.

It's been a while since I posted; things other than tango have taken my time (what is that, I ask you? Outrage!) and I am only now settling back in to a routine.

Highlights of the past three weeks are below, more or less in the order they happened. Lowlights of the past three weeks are sort of a dark chesnutty color on the lower layer, just to give the hair some depth.

**

I'm sitting at a table at a milonga, near the dance floor and therefore Vasquez the DJ, who has warmed to me enough that she criticizes my posture directly instead of ignoring me. My partners are constantly complimenting how balanced I've become, however, so it's clearly worth it.

"Excuse me," I hear, and look up. It's an unassuming, slightly scraggly man who was in the beginner class. I'm too advanced for him (it looked like his first lesson, and at this point I have to play politics to maneuver for good partners), so I smile politely and prepare to refuse him.

"I like your shoes," he says, and gestures.

I like my shoes, too - they're blue and sparkly and four inches high. "Thanks," I say, and smile. Nothing unusual so far; the style and condition of one's shoes is an indicator of one's seriousness about the dance, and wear four-inch heels means you're in it to win it. (Wearing dance sneakers means you're either tired and dancing with friends only, or you're such a badass that you can wear whatever you want and you're still more awesome than anyone in the world.)

He grins and reaches down as if to touch them. "Beautiful," he says, and now he has the distinctive Voix de Pervert.

I slide my feet under the chair and say in a distinctly cooler tone, "Thanks."

"No," he says, "really," and bends over as if he is going to crawl under the chair and forcibly remove them.

I stand up like Iv'e been shot and am just about to prtoest on my own behalf when the man is assaulted, and it takes me a second to realize that Vasquez has left the DJ station to drag the guy off the dance floor for a very vibrant discussion in the corner. There's a lot of hand waving, and twice she points a finger in his face and he recoils.

He wanders away a minute later, a broken man, and as Vasquez walks back to the DJ booth she says to me, "It's not polite."

I sort of wish Emily Post worked that way, too.

"At a dinner party, it's polite for gentlemen to stand when a lady leaves the table. If they do not stand, beat them severely so they have a real reason to stay seated due to busted kneecaps. "

**

A legendary tango couple comes to town, and weirdly there are not enough men to go around. I end up leading.

Women leaders can sometimes be an annoyance to traditional milongueros, as roles in Buenos Aires are more conservative and tango lessons are taught as man and woman, not leader and follower. However, people are so generally execrable at this particular lesson that their hands are full, and I'm free to practice leading the basic step with proper dissociation, posture, and purpose.

Towards the end of the class I'm walking my follower in the line of dance - on the beat, dissociation, strong steps, giving her space and time - and the teacher says to me, "Es so."

I win at life.

**

Four days later I'm at a milonga, and the legends are there as guest performers. She watches my technique as I go by, and I decide I'm going to have the best technique of my life.

He leads an ocho cortado, and I slice my four-inch heel across my toes in the process.

I keep tango face and make it to the end of the song, but there's a bright white line across my toes that turns increasingly red as I watch it, and I hobble back to my seat to change my shoes.

I wonder what that guy thought he was going to do with four-inch heels. I'm armed in these things, dude. I can take out an eye.

Probably my own eye, but whatever.






Monday, August 28, 2006

The Life of a Milonga

7pm:
The beginners show up for lessons and stand on the dance-floor portion of the restaurant. Unsuspecting diners look as though they're about to be mugged. Waiters cast hateful glances at the dance floor, knowing what's to come.

Di Sarli songs are played repeatedly as men in flip-flops and women in wedge espadrilles shuffle around the floor slightly off-beat. Then they take partners and try to do the basic back and forth, falling further behind with every step.

Di Sarli rolls over in his grave. The DJ starts drinking.


8pm:
The intermediate class begins. Suspiciously, all the people who sucked in the beginners' class are still on the dance floor for the intermediate class. The instructor, usually a visiting pro from Buenos Aires or a local performer, watches the skill level during the warm-up dance.

"Right," the instructor says with a tremor of panic. "Let's begin with a simple move, and add on."

The instructor demonstrates a basic move with a single challenging element - an unusual change of weight, a new way of leading a front ocho, incorporation of the rockstep.

The students pair up and begin to butcher the step.

The instructor starts drinking.


8:30pm:
The instructor finally manages to untangle the worst of the couples from the knot into which they have jammed themselves, forming a single gelatinous lump of person. Drink in hand, the instructor effortlessly repeats the action without spilling a drop, then looks around. "Questions?"

No one ever asks, because the only real question is "Why can't I do that?" and the answer is always, "Because you're not good enough."

"Okay," sighs the instructor. "Go ahead."

The music starts, and the couples take the floor again, accompanied by the gentle sounds of Di Sarli weeping. The old guy with the sweatband immediately starts improvising, which includes making his partner do the splits between his legs. From the center of the crowda man asks, "What foot are you on?"

The DJ and the instructor decide to split a bottle of wine.


9:30pm
The milonga begins. Di Sarli, too tired to continue rolling over in his grave, gives up. The DJ understands and moves on to D'Arienzo.

People stream in, sitting on the 8th-grade-dance lineup of chairs to change their shoes from orthopedic loafers (holla!) to 4-inch stillettos (...holla, and I hope my podiatrist doesn't read this). Friends who have come together move to the dance floor.

Students come off the dance floor and start trying to wheedle free bottles of water out of the waiters. The waiters smile politely and ask for two dollars a bottle.

From the kitchen, the sounds of knives being sharpened cuts through the cortinas. At least one beginner will not return from a bathroom break this night; the waiters demand vengeance.


10:00pm
The men who have come alone and can't strike up a conversation with anyone start weaving through the tables like sharks. The women either look expectant or suddenly become absorbed in the contents of their handbags and dig ever-deeper into the apparently fathomless accessory as they hope to be spared the embarrassment of refusing the gentleman in question.

Every woman dancer knows that if she's avoiding eye contact, the answer is No, and the man shouldn't ask. Every single one of them knows. The men don't know or don't care, and will actually approach a woman who's looking away and tap her on the shoulder to ask her to dance. Then, when she says no, he is offended.

I start drinking. (Coke. I can't imagine trying to balance on those shoes after a real drink. But if I could I would totally be drinking, because people need manners, and it hurts when there aren't any.)


11:00pm
The milonga is filling up. A few of the better social dancers have laced up their shoes. A pair of milongueros have stopped by and hovered in the doorway for a tanda or two; if the DJ is good, they have come in and taken up a spot on the dance floor to practice their perfect technique when their favorite composer is played. Faced with professionals, embarrassed beginners flee the scene.

The instructor, thrilled to be watching competent dancers, switches from drinking to toasting. It is not unusual at this stage in the evening for the instructor to start humming along with any vocal tangos.

The waiters become belligerent, insisting that someone ordered the tripe dumplings and, by God, someone is going to eat the tripe dumplings.


11:30pm:
The dance hall has declared open war on the restaurant, and the battleground is a plate of tripe dumplings slowly congealing on an abandoned side table.

The dance floor is too crowded; the smell of sweat is lingering, and the danger of being sliced by a stilletto is an ever-present one.

Evolution must take its course.

The DJ plays a set of fast milongas to cull the weak among the herd. The good dancers must now maneuver through the field of the fallen. The remaining beginners flee the scene, never to be seen again.

The DJ switches from drinking to toasting.


12am:
Impossible to hear the original lyrics over the combined voices of the milongueros and the instructor. The DJ ha stopped cranking up the volume and now merely conducts the small chorus.

I switch from Coke to coffee, and crave toast.


1am:
Five couples are left; with a ratio of four decent to one excellent, the per-capita quality level is the highest of the night. The DJ whips out Pugliese, Troilo, intricate waltzes. Chances of witnessing performance moves steadily increase.

The waiters, soothed by their sacrifice of a cheapskate beginner, are content to let the rest of us mill about unmolested. Instead, one can be molested by one's tipsy dance partner.

The instructor dances with the DJ.

The waiters start drinking.


2am:
The DJ plays "La Cumparsita", and the milonga is over. The few remaining couples gather their things and change their shoes. The waiters slide the tables and chairs back into place, covering all evidence of the dance, and their terrible crime.


2:10am:
The couples loiter, yapping about nothing and finishing their glasses of house wine. The instructor staggers off, still singing La Cumparsita.

2:15am:
A few dancers remain, still talking. Beneath them, tectonic plates move. The DJ yells at them to get out and stalks for the door.

2:17am:
The stragglers are quietly murdered by a posse of exhausted waiters, and as the DJ leaves the dance hall, the lights go off.




Thursday, August 17, 2006

Nice. Good.

Today at Real Job I was talking with a friend about one of his friends, D, an actor. D had a new batch of headshots, and we were trying to pick the close-up that looked least like an ad for herpes medication.

"Is he a good actor?" I asked, scanning the thumbnail pictures. Eighty-five poses, red shirts and black shirts, sitcom-friendly smiling and pensive staring. All of them begged for captions like, "I'm calm, because I'm regular."

My friend nodded. "He's good, yeah. He's nice." He pointed to a half-smiling close-up. "This one is good! It doesn't look like he's trying, and it's his trademark blue. I like this one."

Nice. Good.

I want to put more attitude in my dance. Then, at least if I suck, I will suck and mean it. I used to be a badass, once upon a time, but I walked into tango like it was a customer service job, and now I find myself being too nice because being myself would cost me dances.

At this point, I'm willing to take my chances with my bad attitude.

My trademark, such as it is (a red coat with a high collar, like a film-noir Riding Hood out to get the wolf who done her wrong) doesn't work for tango, and anything else makes me feel like a fraud. If I get a trademark it will have to come slowly. Still, I hear the nicknames and I see people's signature looks, and sometimes it hurts to know that I will see certain people walk into a milonga from across the room, because his shirt or her shoes are so distinctive. 'Porn Librarian,' as a rule, has no translation in the tango world, except "Nice."

Nice. Good.

I hear that a lot. We'll do a move and whoever's running the class will say, "Good." I know it's not true. Half of the people in any tango class are hopeless, and the other half aren't good yet. It's why we're all in the class; because we're not good. Don't lure us into self-esteem unless it's beautiful.

We had a big name visiting this week for classes; my class partner was the gentleman who had danced with Paicas and myself. The teacher demonstrated the move, and we executed it. I mean "executed" in a very literal sense; neither of us fell over and we ended up in the right spot, but it was done without any style, any musicality, any passion. We just completed all the little steps that made up the mechanics of the move.

My partner called the big name over and asked how best to pivot me into position; the big shot demosntrated twice beside my partner, then took me to demonstrate. It was feather-light, and I pivoted so fast I nearly dislodged my glasses.

"Good," said the big shot, and I knew he was lying.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Throwing down.

An experienced dancer asked me to dance this week. He's out of my league, without question, but he's a funny guy and we've chatted in the past. He danced a tanda with me, escorted me back to my place, and that was the end of it.

A woman came up to me later that evening with the fakest smile I've seen in a long time. It was bright white, and picked up her silver eyeshadow in a way I'm sure she didn't intend.

I hope.

"I saw you dancing with him," she said, nodding towards him in what was supposed to be a subtle way.

I wondered how many dumpy girls in jazz sneakers were running around the milonga. "Yes."

She looked me over like I was for sale, slid around me towards the door, and said as she passed, "Don't get ahead of yourself."

Dude. What? Seriously?

A guy asks me to dance. I dance. I did none of the things that could be considered rude - I didn't get someone else to ask him for me, I didn't show off on the floor in an attempt to get noticed (hell, I don't have the balance to show off yet), and I didn't brag during the dance by looking around - when my eyes weren't closed in abject terror, they were closed because I was listening to the music.

I have, therefore, decided to gather a gang of spunky beginners (and a few of the hot-tempered intermediates) and create a tango gang (gango?) to combat the inevitable hit that has apparently been put out on me for dancing above my station. If the tango mafia wants to chop off my head, the hitmen will have to negotiate thirty flailing beginners throwing crappy boleos and violent, out-of-control ochos!

Take THAT.