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?


*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


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!


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


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.