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!


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".