Saturday, December 4, 2010

Be alive in the moment

I recently followed the Line by Line opinionator blog series on the New York Times website. [Sidebar: the opinionator articles are pretty awesome] In it, the author, James McMullan, addresses learning drawing. He refers to drawing as the phantom skill, which we all relish when are kids and then lose once we grow up. The series is aimed at trying to get people to regain this skill by looking at the world differently. The first few articles, punctuated with illustrations and photographs, present ideas and concepts like roundedness, light and shading, and perspective. The next couple of articles focus on capturing the essence of objects (e.g., how drawing an elephant is different from drawing a grasshopper, and not just because of the size or the shape, but also the function) and composing drawings. It gets really interesting when he starts talking about drawing the human form.

While faces and caricatures are interesting enough, it’s when he introduced the chain of energy that I really got intrigued. The main concept is that when are you drawing a human model, you shouldn’t just focus on the form of the body parts, but rather you should try to capture the relationship between these body parts. You should, if possible, capture the vitality of a pose – the pressure areas that stabilize the body and the dynamic areas that give a pose its drama. This approach, to quote the author, “celebrates how much the forms are moving back and forth in space, and implying, in the moment after our drawing is finished, that the model will move again.”

You can see this concept in action if you go watch this video:
(I wanted to embed this, but it wasn’t possible. I encourage you to watch it; it’s only a few minutes long)

The one statement that stood out to me was this: “Drawing is so open-ended, so much a thing of the artist being alive to the moment, and not seeing drawing as a procedure that you follow time and time again.” In one case, the artist allowed himself to be moved by the model, and altered his approach to the drawing based on, essentially, the look in the model’s eyes.

When I first started following this series, I didn’t imagine it would have anything to do with tango; I was just interested in picking up a new perspective on sketching. This changed when he started talking about the chain of energy, and the importance of visualizing energy and motion, instead of just form.

You can easily imagine that instead of trying to capture shapes while we dance, we are trying to capture the music in some shape or another. And it’s not just the man who is trying to do that, even though the heavier burden is on him to not ruin a great song, but the woman is also responsible for capturing the music. She has to be on the music in giros, for example, when the man is just standing (I grossly oversimplify of course; the man never should just stand) while she goes around him. Additionally, you should not just try to capture a form. It’s not about the salida or the giro, or even the rhythm or the phrase. You should try to capture a mood, to really let the music move you.

That’s why tango is so powerful; the same song can inspire you to dance in different ways based on how you’re feeling and whom you’re dancing with at that given moment. An individual song doesn’t have to feel the same all the time, just as the same model or the same pose doesn’t have to be drawn the same way. A posing model with a twinkle in her eye may inspire a completely different drawing than if she had a pensive look, even though she is the same person and has the same eyes in either pose. The same is also true of tango songs. If you listen to a different level of music than you did last time you danced the same song, then your dance should be different.

So keep an open mind (and ear, and body) when you dance. Think not of tango as a procedure that you do time and time again, but be alive in the moment, and recognize the possibilities it offers to you.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Snobbery revisited - a way to break a vicious cycle

Yes yes, here I am again, the snobbery apologist. I've been back to the US for a few weeks, and I've DJed at a few milongas, and I have to say, I am absolutely appalled. I'm not an experienced DJ, but I have never felt my work be so unappreciated. A few experienced dancers and organizers come up to me at the end complimenting me on the music. Of course I have no way of knowing whether they mean it or it's just courtesy, but I'll take it at face value. The not-so-good dancers (yes, I'm being my judgmental self, so what), though, grew restless and continuously came up to me asking me for salsa and nuevo....... Seriously? Asking me for nuevo is asking for a backhanded slap to the face. Please don't make me resort to violence. And salsa? This is a city with a huge hispanic population; you can go pretty much anywhere else to dance salsa. Try asking for tango at a salsa bar...
From my perspective, it boils down to two things:
1) people have come to expect these kinds of things by being accustomed to poor, negligent DJing, as I've remarked on a previous post. To continue with the analogy of the previous post, I felt like a parent feeding their kid a 5 start hotel full course meal with the retard child complaining that he prefers McDonalds' happy meal.
2) Organizers continuing to acquiesce to these people's demands, continuing a never ending vicious circle. Why should they honor the requests of people who have no idea what a milonga should be? To keep them coming to the milonga and make it profitable? I believe tango should be above money and profits... On the long run, chasing the money has made this community stagnate.

Leo, who I consider my mentor, is the one who first encouraged me to start DJing. I remember a conversation with him where I asked him how you would evaluate a DJ's performance. He told me that, for a regular milonga, seeing the best dancers pleased would be a good indicator, while for a festival or a workshop milonga the visiting maestros' reactions would be the gauge. At first, this struck me as a very elitist approach, although I didn't say anything. But it's the way I've been DJing since I started. The rationale was that keeping the best dancers on the floor would make others follow suit. Now I really agree with him, that from the perspective of a DJ, at the risk of being perceived as snobby and an elitist, one has to cater to the best dancers' demands (whether or not they're explicit, which in most cases they're not, unlike others...), not the other way around, catering to "the unenlightened masses", who in a way are unenlightened because of a vicious circle started with negligent organizers who are only chasing their share of the pie rather than really promoting tango (although this is arguable, as with all vicious circles... like the chicken and the egg).
You can give me all the arguments of bad economy and the need to be pragmatic in making sense in the short term business perspective. But it's time to swallow the pragmatism in favor of a long term vision, of creating a community that really understands and loves tango.
I'm ashamed to say that I gave in to the constant demands for salsa, and even gave the DJing duties to a co-organizer for a tanda of electrotango. But next time, I'm standing my ground and not giving in.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The six pack abrazo - an experiment

First of all, I want to address something. Most of my posts can be categorized as follows:
1) complaint about something/someone
2) criticism about something/someone
3) lyrics and translation to a song
In this year end lovey dovey season, for those in the US, I'm just going to say I'm thankful that I found tango, and I'm thankful for all that tango has given me. I complain about things that I believe shouldn't be, and I criticize things that I believe could be done better. And I do it not to be an asshole (because I don't need to try!), but because I genuinely believe many things in tango communities worldwide could be better. blah blah blah
But anyway, I think the tone of the blog, at least my posts, could also be better. So in order to take a bit of a different direction, I'm doing an experiment for the next few months, and who knows if for the rest of my life.
There is a common belief among some people that it is impossible, or at least very difficult, to be in incredible shape and have a comfortable embrace. In other words, apparently a flab in the mid section is necessary for a comfortable cushion... more cushion for the embracing. Often, they cite examples of guys who look out of the 300 movie set starting out tango, and then gradually becoming flabbier for comfort. I believe this is argument is a fallacy. Somebody who is beginning to learn tango, regardless of their shape, will probably not have an ideal embrace. And for the athletically gifted, they'll probably use their physical prowess to attempt to lead something, which can only lead to disaster. Then as they get more drawn into the whole milonguero night lifestyle, they gradually abandon their fitness regime and get a beer belly that some tangueras cherish, as long as it's well hidden under a nicely ironed button-up shirt. But their embrace doesn't become comfortable because their body fat increases; their embrace becomes more comfortable because they become better dancers. Perhaps a spare tire helps, but a ripped body should not be a handicap. So right after I get stuffed tonight for Thanksgiving dinner, I'll start an experiment to get incredibly ripped, and still have a comfortable embrace, which will be verified through pictures and through the opinions of milongueras who dance with me.
On the bigger picture, the outcome of this experiment may shed light unto a sustainable, healthy lifestyle as a milonguero, which nowadays seems to be incompatible. I'll prove this wrong!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Alternative music revisited - When does it cease being alternative?

Here I go again, complaining. Two consecutive posts neutral in tone are enough to tone it down! Coming back to the same old topic of crap "DJing"...

Last week, I ran into a local organizer at a milonga. He remarked that I didn't go to his milonga. I paused for a second, meditating the consequences of my crude honesty. I thought to myself, someone's got to say something, might as well be me. I told him that it was nothing personal, but that frankly, the music was awful. His reaction seemed to be a combination of mild amusement with a bit of offense taken. With a nervous laugh, he got a little defensive saying something along the lines of the crowd of the milonga not being demanding because they don't know the music. True, his classes are comprised of mostly younger people, the majority of them just beginning. I am not claiming to be a music connoisseur, but for me this is just a cop out. It's akin to parents feeding their newborn just McDonalds' and TacoBell's, their excuse being that a baby doesn't know good food, so it shouldn't matter. But the real reason is that they can't be bothered to feed and properly nourish their child, much like this organizer can't be bothered to actually sit down and make a proper playlist.

My main complaint is that there was way too much so called alternative. It is called alternative because it is something, as its name vaguely hints, that should be played as an alternative, sparingly, if at all. When I walked in this milonga a few weeks ago, there was some 'alternative' playing. I don't even know if it was Gotan Project, Electrocutango, Bajofondo, or whatever. It all sounds the same to me. I thought to myself, "good, hopefully the tanda will be over by the time I put on my shoes, and there will be no more of this crap music the rest of the evening". How wrong I was... The usual accepted DJ playlist tanda format is TTVTTM, short for tango-tango-vals-tango-tango-milonga, but the format used in this milonga was CCCTCCC, short for crap-crap-crap-tango-crap-crap-crap, crap meaning either an electrotango/nuevo tanda or a very badly constructed tanda.

I understand why people relate more to electrotango/alternative music, especially outside of Spanish speaking countries. Firstly, it is music from another time, and oh how times have changed (I guess). Secondly, there is the language barrier that makes it difficult, albeit not impossible, for people to understand the music. As much as I'd like to be a dictator and just impose what I consider to be good music on these people, I realize they can just choose to leave. So the compromise would be to play these tandas alternatively - meaning very sparingly - just to appease the unenlightened. Then as people gradually gain appreciation of the good music from the Golden Age, these electrotango/alternative can be phased out.

My grief with electrotango/alternative is that these cease to be tango for me. Just because some lounge music has a bandoneon playing here and there with chill out ambient music on the background definitely doesn't make it tango. It's because these kinds of organizers play this music so much that people come to expect it to be played much even in proper circumstances. Whenever I am DJing and am asked to play some nuevo, I chuckle contemptuously and tell them to go to a lounge bar. Seriously, they play that kind of music! And it fits the atmosphere much better than a milonga. Even worse yet, the way I see some people dance to this cortina music makes me want to snap in uncontrollable rage. I don't know what they're dancing to; it looks like a hybrid of ballroom with bachata with some other shit... but certainly no tango... please make it stop! My eyes are burning!

To elaborate on the badly constructed tanda, it is a grave insult to D'Arienzo if you mix one of his best milonga songs like La Cicatriz, for example, with two other milongas that are not so good from a contemporary orchestra. Of course, I have nothing against contemporary orchestras. In fact, given the opportunity, I'd like to form one, and it's something I intend to do in the next few years (stay tuned! Not for a living, obviously). But it still forms part of alternative music for milongas. I guess it's acceptable to play a Sexteto Milonguero tanda every once in a while, but don't mix it with D'Arienzo! You just don't do it... It's like wearing a black belt and brown shoes. Or wearing suspenders with a belt. Or wearing a hat or a cap to a milonga. Don't do it, dammit!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Danza Maligna

Music: Fernando Randle
Lyrics: Claudio Frollo

As performed by Enrique Rodriguez and Armando Moreno.
Rodriguez has never figured among my personal favourite orchestras. Sure, it's great for dancing, so I play it almost every time I'm DJing. I guess musically I long for something more intricate. These past few days, however, Danza Maligna has been stuck in my head on repeat.....

Se arrastran los compases compadrones
del tango que se encoge, que se estira...
Su música doliente pareciera
sentir que una amenaza se aproxima.
Viviremos los dos el cuarto de hora
de la danza nostálgica y maligna.
Escuchemos latir los corazones
al amparo de Venus Afrodita.

Placer de dioses, baile perverso
El tango es rito, y es religión
orquestas criollas son sus altares
y el sacerdote su bandoneón
Quiero sentirme aprisionado
como en la cárcel de mi dolor.
Guarda silencio, mitad de mi alma,
que hay un secreto entre los dos...

"Malignant dance"
Dragged are the arrogant beats
of this tango which shrinks and stretches.
It's hurting music makes it seem
like there's an impending threat.
You and I will live the fifteen minutes
of the nostalgic and malignant dance.
Let's listen to the beating of the hearts
under the protection of Venus Aphrodite.

Pleasure of gods, perverse dance,
tango is a ritual, it's religion.
Creole orchestras are its altars,
and the priest its bandoneon.
I want to feel trapped
like in the prison of my pain.
Hold your silence, half of my soul,
for there is a secret between us two.

Some performances to this song:

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Soy Aquel Viajero (1947)

Fellow blogger El Ingeniero has been pestering me for the past week to post something, reminding me that the past two posts have not been made by me! Given that most of my posts in the past few months have been nothing but complaining and more complaining, I wanted to make a post that was not bitchy. But I really have not been able to think of anything substantial to write about that is not negative. Maybe I need to seek professional help.
Anyway, as my usual cop out when my mind goes blank, I decided to transcribe and translate the lyrics to a song that I really like:

Soy aquel viajero
Music: Héctor Grané - Lyrics: Justo Ricardo Thompson
Orquesta Carlos Di Sarli
Vocals: Alberto Podestá
Date recorded: 28/05/1947

This is a song I don't think I've heard being played at milongas except when I've played it. Indeed, it doesn't seem to be a very famous song. Searching on YouTube yields to only a demo by Homer and Cristina that I did not even bother opening (don't get me started), and there is no transcription of the lyrics on or anywhere else, it seems. It seems this song is not usually included in the Di Sarli-Podestá tandas because it was recorded at a substantially later date than the bulk of Di Sarli-Podestá's works, although I didn't realize this until I looked up the details at So I listened to the song and wrote the lyrics down:

Contemplo desde el barco a la ciudad
sombreada por la luz que da el anochecer...
pronto el turbión de su calle
me arrastrará por encontrarte.
Y siento que la duda y la emoción*
aumenta la ansiedad que traigo al regresar
otra vez con la esperanza
de atarme a tus besos que no sé olvidar.
Miro a los que esperan y se van
y la ilusión de verte agranda más mi soledad.
Soy aquel viajero que partió sin un adiós
y sabe que al llegar tu voz no escuchará.
Tengo que encontrarte, corazón,
no sé si por mi bien o si esta vez para llorar;
sólo sé que he vuelto por tu amor que no olvidé,
que no podré olvidar jamás

I'm that traveler

From this boat I contemplate the city
shadowed by the light given by the nightfall...
Soon, the flood of its street
will drag me to find you
and I feel the doubt and the emotion
makes me more anxious as I return
with the hope of tying myself down
with your kisses that I cannot forget.
I look at those who wait and leave
and my hope of seeing you extends my loneliness.
I'm that traveler who left without farewell
and knows that your voice he will not hear.
I have to find you, love...
I don't know if it will be for my good or this time I'll cry;
I only know I've returned for your love that I have not forgotten
and will never forget.

*Thanks to those who have helped us decipher the slurred singing. After hearing it again, it sounds more like "La duda y..." rather than "súbita". Special thanks to Derrick, Fernando, and gloonie.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Pumpkin Beer

Recently I was at a local bar when I stoke up a conversation with a Belgian fellow drinker. Turns out he has been brewing his own beer at home for a while. I hear stories of people brewing beer with all kinds of weird flavors and that led me to ask him for his wildest attempt in the brewing experience. In the spirit of this upcoming Halloween he decided to try pumpkin beer. What surprised me the most was that this is his first attempt to go out of the norm. His reason for waiting was simple: it is very very easy to screw up beer. There are so many factors in the brewing process that not mastering the basics can easily lead to unwanted consequences. Brewing is a demanding process better done with the helping hand of a friend who also knows the process. The result of a successful brewing experience is of course the shared joy with good friends.

What is it that moves us while watching a good tango performance? And why can we sometimes stand in awe after a beautiful dance by master instructors that did not involved many crazy moves? Why can some experienced dancers do all the crazy moves and still manage to look funny? almost clown-like?

A lot of the enjoyment in Tango comes from mastering the fundamentals. The beauty in a perfect connection and an elegant step only comes after years of polishing the basics. Tango is too a complex endeavor where a small deviation from simplicity can greatly affect its tone and value. The acrobatics will catch the eye of many, they serve a function and I am not going to deny they are fun and exciting. But without a solid foundation things can quickly go awry especially while performing. I believe it is ultimately this magical simplicity that makes the dance so compelling. We should honor it by cultivating it. Cheers.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Victims of my Snobbery, part III

Here is an edition of Victims that is not written by Jaimito. This post was inspired by my experience at a recent regional tango festival. It was, in general, a lot of fun, with a set of really good teachers, nice venues and a great all-nighter. As everything in life is though, the milongas were occasionally marred by little annoyances. You know, how someone will occasionally do something dumb that will upset you, taking away a little bit of the enjoyment out of the milonga. I’m sure every one of us has experienced something like that. Well, this has made me think of a few kinds of people who are victims of my snobbery.

The hypocrite:
So the Friday night milonga was in a smaller room. Generally, this would not be a problem, except that it was a free for all. You know those milongas, where the floorcraft is horrendous: people weaving in and out, bumping is rampant, and there some people in the center just going everywhere. It was tough to navigate, and in that big jumble I fell into the trap of being part of this free for all. Now, don’t go off on me! I did keep in the line of dance, I did not bump into any other couple (honestly, not once!), but I disregarded one piece of etiquette that I generally adhere to. 

Generally, before entering the ronda, I try to catch the eye of the guy I’m cutting in front of and to get his acknowledgement. In this particular case, and in this big free for all, I held my partner and I spotted a gap in the ronda, I dived in.  Again I didn’t bump into anyone and I didn’t feel that I in particular disturbed the (non)flow of that milonga. At the end of the the song, I had one of the “organizers”, a tall, physically imposing guy berating me about how I should have let him know that I was entering in front of him. I’m generally not the kind of person who shies away from a bully, but in this case, I figured that I was in the wrong, and defused the situation. I wonder if he was going around yelling at people for bad floorcraft. If he was, then I don’t think anyone was paying attention to him. Also, there are much nicer ways to establish good floorcraft. The most important of which is to advise your local dancers of proper floorcraft and make sure they lead by example.

The hilarious part was at the milonga the following night. That milonga did have better floorcraft, and which I did take extra care to establish eye contact with leaders I was entering in front of. That same leader who went off on me about how I didn’t let him know I was entering in front of him, was a few couples in front me, embraced his partner with his back to the ronda and stepped into the gap! I’ll refrain from further comments, and leave that to our dear readers.

The wanderer:
He’s the guy who can’t sit if he’s not dancing. Nothing wrong with that per se, but realize that when there is a lot of space behind the chairs and the tables, the organizer meant to have people walk on the outside of the pista. It actually works! You walk on the outside, and everyone on the pista dances. It’s a win-win situation!

That guy I’m referring to, walked in front of me once entering the pista, another time exiting, and then he crossed in front of someone else, walked across the pista and stopped, on the inside of the pista, in front of one of the table, talking to this friend. This situation was solved pretty quickly, when I paused, tapped him on the shoulder and nodded my head to signal him off the floor. This was done with a smile (or was it a smirk?) and a thank-you when he was off the floor. And I don’t recall seeing him on the pista again, while not dancing.

See? There’s a nice way of correcting bad floorcraft. Don’t be an asshole unless you’re ready for someone who might be ready to take it outside.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

If you had to choose one step that should die, what would it be ?

This question is separate from the whole traditional vs. Nuevo style debate. Also, it doesn’t apply to stage tango. As we have already established, stage tango (escenario), done nicely, and on a stage, is a thing of beauty. It’s supposed to dazzle the audience. Wow them with intricate steps. With fishnetted legs tangled with trousered ones, suggesting something just a little bit more than just dance. But that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the milonga, where you are supposed to dissolve into the ronda and become invisible. Once you’re there, you get to become one with the music and with your partner, and you (should) dance for your partner.

So, for those of you who would like to eliminate quintessential Nuevo moves, like the colgada and volcada, I would urge you to reconsider on the following grounds. Yes, I would say that those steps don’t belong in a traditional setting and I don’t do them myself. But, they do provide an interesting sensation for the woman. It’s different, and if she’s into these moves, she would enjoy them. While I personally don’t like colgadas and volcadas that much,  I would say that they have some redeeming value residing outside of their showiness, namely that they do in fact provide a feeling for the lady.

With this argument, I would like to propose the following criteria for the nomination of the one step that should die: That the said move has no redeeming value outside of its showiness. In other words, that it provides no further fun or interesting sensations for the follower than another similar step, and that it is done solely for the pleasure of the leader. Leaders doing showy moves for their own pleasure, or worse, for the pleasure of the audience, are completely missing the point. To those leaders I would say: What is wrong with you? You have a wonderful lady in your arms, you listening to fantastic music and you are surrounded by great people who share your passion. You don’t need anything more. You don’t need the self-satisfaction of doing something “difficult”. Leading nicely and take care of your follower is difficult enough. Savor that and enjoy doing it well.

Anyway, without further ado, here is my choice for the step that should die in milongas: The man’s back sacada. It has no redeeming value. It provides no interesting feeling that a normal forward or side sacada can’t provide. It takes up way more space, and men who do it, do it just for the self-satifaction (The “oooh, look at me, I just did a back sacada” feeling). It is selfish, and if I were I asked to choose the one move that should die in social tango, I would, without hesitation, say: The man’s back sacada.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Victims of my snobbery, part II

What, you thought because I made two non-snobbery related posts after Part I that my snobbery had softened? Yeah, right!
I remember I was at a workshop with a visiting couple when a guy arrived about 20 minutes late. He politely asked me if I could fill him in as to what had been taught so far. I told him that so far we had been doing warm up exercises on balance, flexibility, and walking. What he replied stuck in my head because it almost made me slap him. He said something along the lines of "Good. I came at just the right time to learn the moves." Here is the epitome of this edition's victim:

The move collector
The move collector is most prevalent in outcome oriented societies, where what has been done counts for more than how it has been done. Indeed, watching the move collector dance is like somebody at a job interview reciting his curriculum vitae, desperately establishing his credentials. It's almost endearing, but not really. It just looks pathetic how he's trying to prove himself worthy to the follower by demonstrating how much time he's spent looking at videos and making half-assed imitations of their idols. He goes through all the list of things he can do, with no regard to the music, and more often than not with no regard to space available. He is very easily identified in milongas because he's mostly in the middle of the dance floor where he has more space, and can be seen doing weird crap like huge volcadas during a fast D'Arienzo milonga. More importantly, his technique is god-awful. He has spent so much time learning volcadas, saltos, barridas, boleos, contra-boleos, re-contra-boleos, and every imaginable combination that he has completely neglected the most important things: caminata y abrazo.
It hurts to watch them dance because in some cases you see potential. You can see that their dancing would become so much better if they fixed their walking, if they paid much more attention to the embrace, if they realized that a good, solid, comfortable embrace, and a porteno walk with determination is all it takes to give a woman a good tanda, so they could just stop going over their whole repertoire with every partner. Then maybe they could start listening to the music, and then start feeling it in their heart.
Please don't be a move collector.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Displays of territoriality - macho culture in the milonga

A lot of 20th century Latin American literature has knife fights and similar displays of male bravado as a recurring theme. Some of it has permeated to tango lyrics - Mandria and La Cicatriz come to mind. I'm not an expert in human behavior, biologically or sociologically, but some of the observations I've made in milongas make me believe these instances of male to male aggression are more than simple displays of their manliness. Without going too deep into history or geopolitics (admittedly because I don't know enough about it to go into too much detail), most human conflict can be traced back in some way to competition over resources perceived to be scarce, or actually scarce. In the milonga context from the male point of view by far the two 'sources' most competed for are space and women. Men fighting over women (and vice versa) seems to be universal, encompassing all cultures and historical times... from the Trojan War in Greek mythology to basically every other cheesy Latin American telenovelas.
The attitude over space seems to be more specific to each community and each culture. It is said in Buenos Aires that different styles of dance were born depending on the availability of space, with downtown tango giving birth to tango milonguero, and suburban tango giving birth to tango salon. And maybe this is why tango nuevo is so dominant in the US, in general terms being one of the most sparsely populated nations in the developed world (but it doesn't explain why oh why tango escenario is so popular in Japan and London... there's probably a myriad of other factors I'm overlooking). Indeed, back when I lived in small town America, the milongas were so huge and the attendance so small that you essentially had a whole stage for yourself to experiment. The line of dance was merely a fictitious concept talked about in class, only existent in parallel dimensions where milonga real estate was a big issue. The idea of a couple dancing less than 1 meter in front of you and another less than 1 meter behind you was an alien one, almost inconceivable.
Argentina is one of the two biggest powerhouses of Latin America and has been known to periodically exercise their power over their neighbors. In addition, culturally Argentines are notorious for their arrogance, their ingrained belief that they are somehow superior to the rest of South America because they have a higher proportion of European blood in them. My theory is that these two elements combine together to give Argentine milongueros a profound sense of territoriality, and it gives them not the right but the obligation to react in a potentially aggressive way to any trespassing of their personal space. In fact, a visiting Argentine teaching couple said that disrespecting another man's personal space in the milonga by not following the line of dance or otherwise was about the gravest insult you could give to his honor.
On the other hand, the undisclosed nation I reside in at the moment, while doing better than Argentina economically, historically is a weakling in the region and has been subject to constant bullying from neighboring powerhouses all through its history (I think one of these days a smart ass blog reader will collect enough hints about this 'undisclosed' country and community to not only figure out what country I'm talking about, but who I am and who all the people I'm talking about are... and I'll be in some shit). Given such historical precedents, I suspect people here might be displeased by invasions of their territory, but in a way used to it, and as such may be reluctant to do anything about it. This past weekend, however, there was an exception where a fight almost broke out because of a clash between two couples. I don't know the exact details because I only heard one side of the story, but I later saw the two men walk outside the milonga, and I was expecting an old school knife fight to happen, or if not a fist fight at the very least... It turns out they talked it over. Lame. But anyway, nearly everyone saw the incident. Maybe because of that, leaders were more careful that day in LOD and space issues. It was one of the best milongas I've been to in that sense. People should be wary of territoriality at all times in a milonga without the need of such an incident to break out.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The place of society in tango

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the imaginary boundaries between this obsessive hobby and life outside of it. A tanguera once told me that tango was just: a milonguero whose day job is driving limos is very popular in milongas solely because of his dancing, regardless of social status or income. On the other hand, this other guy who drives his Maserati to the milongas is received rather indifferently, other than maybe some organizers who might be eying sponsorship. Of course, this is nothing new. Many legendary milongueros of Buenos Aires had menial day jobs (not that there is anything wrong with that... just that hanging out with them is traditionally perceived as being something to be discouraged in some cultures), and sometimes didn't show up to the milongas because they couldn't afford the cover fee. I don't entirely agree with the claim that tango is just, but that is not the point of this post. The point is that this would imply the ideal scenario where your life outside the milonga is separate from life in the milonga, and this is unfortunately not the case.

Some brief background information: the undisclosed country I live in at the moment (for reasons also undisclosed... mainly because I don't even know) is characterized by retarded degrees of social conservatism, which, among other things, entails a strong sense of community held by traditional family values. This aspect of the culture is relevant for several reasons. The first reason is that even now, such close contact dance is considered taboo. As such, people generally don't like to make their hobby known except to close friends. The converse is not necessarily true: people sometimes seem to be way too interested in others' daily lives outside of tango. This is particularly true for the older crowd - people in their 40s and 50s. As I mentioned, this country is socially conservative in a very retarded way, so there is the whole issue about respect to older people, and in return they feel the need to be the fatherly figure to give you unsolicited advice about life, relationships, career, and whatever topic some booze can bring up in them. Um, just because you're old enough to be my father doesn't mean I'll listen to your advice... I mean, I love my father, but I often don't listen to his advice; what makes you think I'll listen to yours? Don't even bother...

Something that 2 dudes old enough to be my father told me at post-milonga drinking session stuck out, however... They told me I should be respectful to another older guy who frequents milongas, because of nothing but his social status. Apparently, he's a graduate of the most prestigious university of the nation and got a PhD at Princeton. Woo hoo! Who gives a shit? Apparently a society that values who you know and where you went to school more than who you are does. That's fine - these things won't change overnight. But don't impose them in milongas. Needless to say, I won't follow their advice and suddenly be an ass-kisser because he's "kind of a big deal" in society. Thankfully, social status ceased being of such importance in the milonga scene. Although said person seems to be quite powerful in society and is the Chairman of some tango association, most tangueras with enough experience to be picky will reject his dance invitations.

So what's the order of things? I have been told that people ask me about my personal life because they want to be close friends with me. I think it should be the other way around, especially with people you meet in tango - you first establish a low key kind of non-invasive friendship before you have the privilege of asking me about my job, my income, or my sex life. Instead of telling them straight out that it's none of their business, I tell them I work for a gang, that I live off of money I steal from orphanages, and that I'm banging his wife. Yes, not very subtle... but I hope it's a good enough hint to people to back off and concentrate at enjoying the milonga for the music and the dance, not bullshit about others. I realize I've completely deviated from what I was intending this post to be about, but I needed to get this off my chest.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Victims of my snobbery, part I

In my previous post, I discussed with some detail my gradual, ongoing transformation to a tango snob. As I said, the morality (or immorality) of being a tango snob is unclear to me. But for now, I decided to embrace what I have become, in an attempt to understand the nature of the snob (or maybe it's just my excuse to be lazy and change, if you're a cynical anti-snob, which itself is, ironically, kinda snobby too). Perhaps I'm just trying to justify myself for something that might be seen as wrong, but I think, as you get in deeper into a hobby, it's inevitable to slowly become at least slightly more knowledgeable in the subject, develop stronger and stronger preferences, becoming pickier each time, and also maybe gain a little sense of entitlement given the amount of time, money, and effort invested in it. "Steve Pastor", Moderator and Feudal Lord of Dance Forums, gave me an example of his that suddenly made things clear:
"The Lion King was in town about a month ago. I'm going to Africa for a second time, and, although I've seen the film, a production in Orlando, etc, I went to see this production. Although someone in my office gave high praise, my reaction was more subdued. Someone called me on it, and it's simple. I've seem many live musicals, etc. over the years. This production of The Lion King was one of many. If you have never been to something like this, it's much more impressive."

But I digress. The point of this blog, as indicated in the title, is to directly point out who the people that irritate me at milongas are. I'm not going to include the obvious, such as people with no respect of the LOD or people who dance awfully even if they've been dancing a while. Of course, I've tried to be as decent as a self-confessed snob as possible, so I haven't been judging those who have obviously been dancing for a short time too harshly. And in the meantime, I'm just going to sit and fret over the people I will describe in a series of posts. That is, until the hypothetical day comes that I am good enough to be able to teach in order to eradicate all the things that annoy me of the tango scene, and in this way, give back to the community, as has been suggested to me. You might laud me and say that, despite my snobbishness, I still have a shred of humility left in me. But it's really an extension of my snobbery, owing to the amount of 'teachers' who have no business teaching, which seems to be proportional to the size of the tango community. Anyway, I digress again.... Without further ado, I present you:

The Escenario Barbie

I have no beef against Tango Escenario. In fact, watching the Escenario category of the Mundial is a lot of fun, especially if they fully express the drama of Pugliese, and if they can pull off Piazzolla, all power to them. But it's called Escenario because it should be saved for the stage. It is perfectly possible to do Tango Escenario on the stage, and switch back to salon/milonguero for social dancing. In fact, a couple participated in both Escenario and Salon in the Mundial, ranking 2nd and 3rd in each.

Last night, I encountered a species that I never thought I would encounter in a milonga. I'd seen her in rare occasion with her partner at a different milonga, and it was clear they were performers. A mutual friend introduced us, and my friend, in private, asked me to dance with her if it wasn't too much trouble. Apparently they are an Argentine couple who work at a local Argentine restaurant performing at shows, but for whatever reason, locals rarely ask her to dance. It became clear why (not sure if it's the same reason that others don't ask her to dance, but just to strengthen my argument, I'll imply it is, with no evidence whatsoever).

She looked pretty from a distance, but from up close, I could see the thick layers of makeup. I just thought 'oh maybe they were performing today and had to look pretty'. It was just a foreboding of things to come. As I embraced her, I have never been so convinced that somebody's boobs are not made of human tissue, but of synthetic material. It was a fitting metaphor of her tango - fake. The embrace was awfully distant. She was more concerned in looking pretty by making her legwork elegant rather than by just following, enjoying the embrace, the dance, and the music. As such, I could barely lead to a proper ocho atras without the embrace falling apart. I tried just walking, but she seemed to become bored. At every move, her torso stayed very still, hinting not so subtly that I should show her the way with the use of my hand (this became very apparent in watching her partner dance with her and other hapless women). I thought to myself "hell no, woman, my hand is for embracing you, not for moving you around like a sack of potatoes!" I guess you have to use your arms to throw your woman around in crazy saltos, ganchos, enganches, and the whole package. But yeah.... fortunately (or very unfortunately for me), I'm not yet enough of a snob, or rather I'm still an inhibited snob, so I endured the agony of the whole tandas. Di Sarli never seemed so eternally damning. From now on, every time I see them at the milonga, I'll politely say hi since we now know each other. But I'll use any excuse not to dance with her, and I will shake my head in contempt when watching them dance.

Stay tuned for the next edition of Victims of my snobbery

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tango snobs

There are plenty of stories, fictitious or not, in which a character ends up becoming the person he despises at the start. Napoleon, the leading pig of Orwell's famed allegory novel Animal Farm, leads a revolt against the human masters, but by the end of the novel has become just like them, learning how to walk, sleeping on beds in rooms, and even socializing with humans. Lately, I feel a lot like Napoleon. Although I've always had a bit of snob in me (remarking to El Ingeniero at a milonga how watching a certain couple dance makes my eyes bleed - so he already knows I'm a snob, and Dr Agsol Rac probably does too...- and previously having had a reputation among beginning tangueras that I'm standoffish, hard to please, picky, arrogant, and thus difficult to dance with because they are concerned of whether I approve - none of which, I admit, is entirely false-), it's never been full blown out as it seems nowadays. My previous rather acidic and hateful post about milonga pet peeves only begins to scratch the surface.

I used to despise those people at the milonga, the ones who act as though they hold the mysterious, magical way to tango, and brush off all others not belonging to the 'clique of the illuminated' as being mere wannabes. I think there were two major turning points to my transformation to who, what I am today at a milonga. At the local festival a few months ago, I was assigned as an interpreter for Javier Rodriguez and Andrea Missé. My perception of the whole experience, from the dance, the music, the little details, and interacting in the community, was completely shaken up, and has been evolving since. The second major turning point was starting to DJ regularly at milongas. From then on I have become an incredibly judgmental asshole.

At milongas where I'm not DJing, I'm sitting there listening, looking, and only dance if and only if several conditions are met: I like the music at the beginning of the tanda (I am developing a taste for the non-rhythmic music... it is rare that I dance to Rodriguez or Biagi, let alone D'Arienzo... but don't worry, I will still play enough of it when I'm DJing), I feel the energy, I spot a suitable tanguera (considering all aspects: does she have her shoes on? have I danced with her before? does this Tanturi-Campos tanda seem to be in congruence with her personality as I know her and with her mood today? Yes, I'm a prick), and I achieve cabeceo with her. Otherwise, I watch and praise some dancers while I grimace in contempt of others. If I do get to dance, I am exceedingly irritated when somebody does not follow the line of dance, and I make it as clear as possible without actually explicitly telling him and proceeding to pick a fist fight (no, I haven't gotten to that point yet... I would probably get banned from the milonga venues). I often am judging far more experienced DJs for recycling tandas or having mediocre tandas where the mood is all over the place. Next thing I know, I'll be rejecting every tanguera that verbally asks me to dance, even if she's a close friend and a great dancer. This would be very Javier Rodriguez, but he can do it because he's THE Javier Rodriguez.

Why is this happening? Is this wrong? I don't know the answers to these questions. But I think the more one gets into a hobby, the more you get a (false?) sense of entitlement, and that's where the snobbishness comes from. I used to be a 'just do it' kind of person at milongas, regardless of Buenos Aires códigos or expectations to abide by the local community customs. Now I suddenly am much more difficult to deal with in a bizarre way. Maybe nowadays I think much more about tango than I did before now that I am more involved in it. The thought of taking a break from this hobby (because that's what it is for me... for now) has crossed my mind, but it's like an alcoholic in front of an open bar told not to drink. During the World Cup, I did take a 'break', but it was mostly because the game schedule conflicted with milonga schedule, as well as to circumvent some tanguera drama. Even then, I listened to tango music all day and practiced tango walking around the apartment, much to the confused amusement of my brother. So basically, once you're in deep enough, you start acting strange and you can't quit it... I remember I asked a tanguera about what the hell was up with that guy at a milonga who is a major snob and acts like a judgmental dick (who does this remind you of?... surprise--> nowadays I get along with him). She just shrugged her shoulders and said: "he loves tango too much". I love tango. Maybe that's why.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

"Ella Es Así" and a small comment

I'm stealing Alex's idea (opens in new window), with my favorite milonga: Here are 9 interpretations of "Ella Es Así" by Edgardo Donato.

My personal favorite is Ariadna & Fernando's. What's yours?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Milonga pet peeves-don't, please just don't

Last night, the biggest milonga in the city was more crowded than usual, with a bunch of people from out of town. This is usually fine, but yesterday I wanted to get in a fight, or share a few nasty words at least, with multiple people. Namely, the following:

-Leaders dancing with their eyes closed. Are you kidding me??? Not only does said leader look absolutely ridiculous, but he also is a hazard to himself, his partner, and everybody around. I'm all for feeling the moment and the music, but that doesn't mean you close your eyes.
-Performers: People who think they're performing on a crowded dance floor, doing lengthy sequences with long steps requiring much more space than available, and doing them anyway regardless of the couple in front and behind. This also applies to followers who do big, showy adornos regardless of space. Some of them unled..... my 'favorite': unled high boleos as an adorno. Don't do it.
-'Drivers'. Just because the line of dance is figuratively referred to as a lane doesn't mean you're driving on it... In other words, slow the hell down. Your point of reference in terms of speed is the couple in front, not a speedometer. Do not pass, goddammit! And even worse, don't keep switching lanes! If you're going to be performing, do it in the middle of the dance floor where you'll be ridiculed... and stay there, don't cut in front of me, you stupid motherfucker.
-People who don't respect the dancers' right of way. Continuing the traffic analogy, there is no question that the dancers have the right of way on the dance floor. It should be a no-brainer, yet people continue to ignore this, and think it's more important that they get to the bar as soon as possible to get their drink or outside to have a smoke to the point that they pop in front of dancers or just push them. WTF? It also includes people gathering in front of the fan, occupying a significant area that would otherwise be dance space. Thanks for ventilating your sweat and germs to everyone, guys.
-Pissers: a few times, I've gone to the milonga restroom and come out traumatized. People taking care of their needs... then not washing their hands.......... come on, guys, WTF??????
-Gossipers: it's called private life because it's meant to be private. Please mind your own business.

You can be a very nice person off the dance floor. In fact, you could have achieved world peace, cured cancer, ended poverty and hunger worldwide. But if you do any of the above, in my eyes you're Hitler.
The above list is just off the top of my head. There are more. Feel free to suggest other kinds of milongassholes.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lady X

I will refrain from making sexual comparisons, but sometimes the first tanda you have with someone will be awkward and leaves something to be desired. This happened to me a few weeks ago at a festival I visited. I danced with a follwer, let's call her Lady X, who had really great balance and a good sense of following, but her embrace was too restricting and a little rigid. I had to switch from close embrace to open embrace and finished the tanda, which was, all things considered, a pretty good tanda.

However, after we were finished and I was walking her back to her seat, she actually asked me why I had switched to open embrace. I felt kind of bad, like I had hurt her feelings or something. So I gave a diplomatic yet honest reply. I told her that I thought she was uncomfortable with close embrace because she was squeezing me hard with her left arm, and that was that.

We met again at another festival recently, and this time around, the dances were simply amazing. Lady X's left arm did not choke me, but rested on my right arm and shoulder with just the right amount of pressure to achieve a wonderful connection. We had several fantastic tandas. A couple of things that deserve mention:

1. She apologized several times about tensing up slightly, adding that she felt a little nervous. This in turn made me feel bad. I am a passable dancer, not a very high caliber leader, and so I can only conclude that my previous comment about her embrace made her self-conscious. I apologize (anonymously) to this wonderful lady for making her doubt herself at all. That being said, I must acknowledge that my honest reply to her question, did result in her paying attention to the quality of her embrace. Conclusion: Leaders, please refrain from unsolicited comments to your dance partners at milongas, but if they ask you, by all means be honest, yet very nice about it. No doubt, some people will be upset if you point out specific shortcomings, but I have to assume that if I am directly asked, then the person asking me does have a genuine interest in hearing my input. And in my case, that input was taken into consideration, and made a great dancer even greater.

2. Among the leads in our community, I tend be one of the simpler dancers. I rarely lead ganchos, leg wraps or any of the flashier steps, even given the space at our more sparse milongas that makes these steps feasible without kicking other people. I was dancing with Lady X to 'El Adios' (can't remember if it was Donato's version or Canaro's), and during a couple of the phrases with the prominent wailing violins, I just walked and walked. I have something for wailing violins apparently, and I really walked from my heart. This did not go unnoticed by Lady X, who commented that she loves simple dances with lots of walking (Apprently she agrees with Jaimito that simple is beautiful), but that it's so rare for leaders to do that with her. My reply, and hopefully that reply undid whatever emotional damage I did with my previous comments, was that probably because she is such a wonderful dancer, all the other guys want to try out their "moves" on her. On my part, when I dance with such an exquisite dancer, I want to enjoy the dance, feeling the music and feeling my partner. If I wanted to do "moves", I'll go salsa.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Thoughts on my debut as a DJ

Last week, an organizer of a milonga I frequently go to invited me to DJ at his venue for Wednesday night (there is a milonga every Wednesday and Friday). We had previously had lengthy conversations regarding music and dance, so perhaps he felt I shared his vision on how milongas should be. Even though I had no previous experience, I felt that the Wednesday milonga was small enough and lenient enough to allow for newbie mistakes. This was not the case - I decided to announce my debut on Facebook, though I really did not expect that many people to show up! I was pleasantly surprised, and it added some more pressure to play good music (in addition to finding out that I'd be getting paid the equivalent of ~25 USD... the milonga entrance fee is ~6 USD). I made the playlist as the night went along depending on the mood and the flow, but I forgot to save it. Still, I remember most of it:
Canaro instrumental (Loca, Pampa, La Maleva, La melodía de nuestro adiós)
Lomuto (Son cosas del bandoneón, Madreselva, San Telmo, Por la vuelta)
Orquesta Típica Victor (El porteñito, Che papusa oi, Dominio, Cardos)
D'Arienzo instrumental (El flete, Retintín, El Cencerro, Ataniche)
Tanturi-Castillo (así se baila el tango, esta noche me emborracho and two more)
Biagi vals (Pájaro herido, Cuatro palabras, Lágrimas y sonrisas)
Caló-Iriarte (Marión and three more)
Troilo-Fiorentino (Yo soy el tango, toda mi vida, Pájaro ciego, Te aconsejo que me olvides)
Canaro instrumental milonga (La milonga de mis tiempos, Milongón, Reliquias porteñas)
Di Sarli-Podestá (Nido gaucho, Lloran las campanas, Vamos, La capilla blanca)
Fresedo-Ray (Siempre es carnaval, Como aquella princesa, Sollozos, No quiero verte llorar)
De Angelis vals (Soñar y nada más, A Magaldi, Pobre flor)
Donato (Mi serenata, Alas rotas?, El Adiós, Sinsabor)
Rodriguez con Moreno (Cómo has cambiado pebeta, Mirame de frente, un tropezón, Yo no sé por qué razón)
Villasboas milonga (La tierra gaucha, Papas calientes, El charo camaro)
Malerba con Medina (Remembranzas, Magdalena, Embrujamiento, Gitana Rusa)
Varela (Fueron tres años, Portero suba y diga, Muchacha, Fumando espero)
D'Agostino con Vargas (Caricias, ?, ?, No vendrá)
A few notes:
-Canaro tangos generally don't appeal to me, but the instrumental tanda I had at the beginning was very nice, and it was a real shame that there was nobody to dance to it. That's why for the following two tandas I played rather forgettable music (no offense to Lomuto and OTV fans). When people started showing up, probably there's nothing better than D'Arienzo to get people on their feet!
-The way I built the tandas, other than the almost mandatory same orchestra, same year (or at least spaced closely together), was to put 4 songs of similar mood, with the most recognizable one first to get people on their feet, and the best for last, to really enjoy that last song! It's rather subjective on what people consider to be the best and the most recognizable, but it's what I went for.
-The technical aspect of DJing is something that I had always taken for granted. Sure, every now and then, with an inattentive DJ you hear a scratchy, low quality recording, but no big deal, right? Well, big deal when I'm the DJ. I always listen to my songs on crappy computer speakers, so I hadn't realized how bad some of my sound files are. I was only worried about the scratchy ones, but at first the biggest issue was the inconsistent volume level, in general too low. This made me realize the value of not being a cheap ass and actually buying the albums. And if I really want to overdo it, maybe eventually go old school and DJ with only CDs!
-Looking back at the playlist, maybe it's true what people tell me... I'm indeed a hopeless romantic! Also I was worried that people might complain that there wasn't enough instrumental tandas. A mock playlist I made beforehand was composed of mostly sung tangos, and I think non-Spanish speakers may not have the same appreciation.
-Going back to the technical aspects, I didn't realize that my laptop makes the default system clicking noise when I navigate through the folders, which happened a lot when I was going through the music to choose... but didn't realize it till the day after! The organizer later told me he was aware of the little clicking sounds through the speakers, but let it slip because it was a common rookie mistake. You can imagine how embarrassed I was........
-An unusual thing I did for this milonga was to play a different cortina every time. People used to hearing one or at most two or three of the same cortinas all night and every week might have found it distracting, but I have two reasons for having done this: firstly, I am always unspeakably bored of hearing the same cortina throughout the milonga. Secondly, and more importantly, I wanted to give the crowd a hint of what was coming up. For example, before the rhythmic tandas or milonga tandas, I played heavy metal, capoeira, and techno. Before romantic tandas, I played some mellow ballads, and so on.
-I played an experimental milonga tanda, and by experimental I mean that it's not a tanda that I've ever heard being played in this community, although I consider it very danceable. Anyway, it was Villasboas milonga, and people were rather confused during the Papas Calientes song because of its abrupt and long pauses, perhaps thinking that I had accidentally stopped the music or that it was just how the song ended. I think I'll play some experimental tandas every now and then. For the precursor cortinas, Frank Zappa or The Doors would work wonders.
-Learning how to say no: As a man, it's hard to say no when a girl asks you to dance. I danced much less than I usually do, but still more than I would have liked to and definitely more than what's advisable for a serious DJ. Although it's against Buenos Aires code to even explicitly ask for a dance (even more scandalous when it's the woman asking for the dance... more on this later), people still do it, and it's hard for me to say no. But when DJing, I found that I can't even concentrate on my dancing, as I'm constantly thinking of what tanda to put next, how the flow and the mood is going, how the sound quality is, etc.

Overall, I think it was a successful debut. A milonguera friend who is currently taking it easy because of her pregnancy (she is due in a few weeks) showed up just to listen to my music and didn't even bring her dance shoes, but was up and dancing anyway, probably more so than was medically advisable, so she had people worried. But at least, I guess (or hope) that it was a good indicator of my performance. So it seems it was good enough, at least to impress the Friday milonga organizer at the same venue, so he invited me to DJ again. This second time, I made sure to turn off the system sounds, focus on sound quality through equalization, and actually save the playlist!

De Angelis Instrumental (Nueve de Julio - being 9th of July and all -, El entrerriano, El Chañar, El huracán)
D'Arienzo con Valdez (Hasta siempre amor, Adiós corazón, Andate por Dios!, Chirusa)
Donato con Lagos (Gato, Me voy a Baraja, Se va la vida, Alas rotas) - to get the milonga really started with some playful mood
Vals Biagi con Ibáñez (Lejos de tí, Loca de amor, Viejo portón)
Canaro instrumental (Lorenzo, La Maleva, La viruta, La melodía de nuestro adiós) - I wanted to make up for a similar tanda last time being wasted at the very beginning of the milonga
Rodríguez con Moreno (Cómo se pianta la vida, En la buena y en la mala, Llorar por una mujer, Danza maligna)
Milonga Di Sarli con Rufino (La mulateada, Yo soy de San Telmo, Zorzal)
Tanturi con Campos (Una emoción, Palomita mía, que nunca me falte, Oigo tu voz)
Fresedo con Ray (Vida mía, Araca la cana, Yo no sé llorar, Cordobesita)
Balcarce vals (Unitaria, La pulpería de Santa Lucía, Luna de arrabal)
Biagi instrumental (Re fa si, La marca de fuego, El yaguarón, El estribo)
Troilo instrumental (Cachirulo, Milongueando en el 40, El Tamango, Guapeando)
Milonga Donato con Lagos (Ella es así, Sacale punta, La milonga que faltaba)
Demare con Miranda (Malena, Pa mi es igual, Al compás de un tango, Mañana zarpa un barco)
D'Arienzo con Mauré (Dime mi amor, Infamia, Ya lo ves, Humillación)
Vals D'Agostino con Vargas (Esquinas porteñas, El espejo en tus ojos, Tristeza criolla)
Caló con Berón (La abandoné y no sabía, Entre sueños, Domingo a la noche, En tus ojos de cielo)
Laurenz con Podestá (Nunca tuvo novio, Como el hornero, Yo quiero cantar un tango, Todo)
Di Sarli 50s instrumental (A la gran muñeca, Organito de la tarde, El once, El amanecer)
Troilo con Fiorentino (Pa que bailen los muchachos, Percal, Colorao colorao, En esta tarde gris)
Gobbi instrumental (Independiente Club, El andariego, La viruta, Racing Club)
Canaro instrumental (Poema, El Adiós, Paciencia, La Cumparsita)

For this milonga, there was a lot of people visiting from abroad, so I didn't really know their taste. It seemed like they would dance to whatever I played, though.
Regarding the last tanda, I don't like playing Poema because it's such a recognizable song that the rest of the tanda doesn't have the same impact. But at that point in the night, I wanted to get the few people remaining on their feet, so I tried my best to make it a worthwhile tanda even after the first song. They later told me it was fine, but suggested I mix it with other recognizable songs by other orchestras that are hard to fit into tandas (Buscándote by Fresedo, Café Dominguez by D'Agostino, for instance). I've shown my playlists to friends in other communities, and they almost invariably ask why there's no Pugliese... for the first night, the milonga wasn't long enough to really fit in Pugliese; it would have seemed very forced to play it. For the second night, the mood didn't really seem to call for Pugliese. Maybe next time.
I have the next week and a half off from DJing duties! So I'll gather my thoughts further. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated!

Way to butcher one of my favorite songs

I normally am an advocate of "whatever floats your boat" as long as it respects the well being and reasonable interest of others, both on and off the dance floor. But this is just revolting......

Why???? Why???????? I won't be stating the obvious that there is no way you could ever use these kinds of movements at a milonga, unless it's a really really slow night..... but even if it's a performance, why would you do this? Whatever that is, it's plain ugly... They look like a very inelegant hybrid of half-assed splits and a few kicks here and there. And no need to get into semantics of what is tango and what is not, because that sequence on the video above is definitely not tango. From that, my biggest complaint: why would you disrespect such a beautiful, elegant song with such awful nonsense (no other word comes up to mind)? Associating "advanced revolt-cadas" with Nido Gaucho is travesty, and it makes me cringe. Di Sarli is rolling in his grave, and Podestá would probably cry.
Some people will no doubt say "oh quit living in the past, nuevo is the way forward!" I'm no one to say how tango should be danced, and I'm all for experimenting with weird things. But this is just plain disgusting, it doesn't even look pretty, no matter what your standards of beauty and elegance. People pay to learn this?????????? Really??????????

Saturday, June 12, 2010


As played by Orquesta Lucio Demare, featuring Raúl Berón

Quebradeño a mí me dicen porque nací en La Quebrada.
Carnavalito de mi querer, toda la rueda venga a bailar.
Porque soy como mis cerros, curtido por la quebrada,
carnavalito de mi querer, toda la rueda venga bailar.
carna-carnavalito, cora-corazoncito, porque soy desdicha'o vivo llorando, llorando
Pum pum carnavalito (venga la gente a bailar, carnavalito).
En el manantial se apaga la sed, la sed de vivir, la sed de viajar
En el carnaval que hay miel de calmar la sed de un amor que me hace llorar
carna-carnavalito, cora-corazoncito, porque soy desdicha'o vivo llorando, llorando
Pum pum carnavalito (venga la gente a bailar, carnavalito)
Palomita sin palomar, un viento malo te quebró,
carnavalito que hay de curar con yuyo bueno del corazón
(carnavalito de mi querer, toda la rueda venga a bailar)
carna-carnavalito, cora-corazoncito, porque soy desdicha'o vivo llorando, llorando
Pum pum carnavalito (venga la gente a bailar, carnavalito)

I first thought of posting Carnavalito's lyrics and translation because usually it's a lot less thoughtful input than insight in a specific topic. But after going through the song, I realize there's a lot more into it than I can handle if I were to go in depth. There are many elements about this song, but unfortunately I don't have the expertise to be knowledgeable about them, so I can only do my best in skimming through with the help of my friend Lucio (not Demare, this one). Any mistakes in the transcription, translation, and notes from the song are probably mine.

Here is my take on the translation:
They call me "Quebradeño" because I was born in La Quebrada.
Carnavalito of my love, all the circle come dance.
Because I'm like my hills, tanned by the stream!
Carnavalito of my love, all the circle come dance.
carna-carnavalito, little, little heart, because I'm unhappy, I live crying, crying.
Pum, pum carnavalito (all the people come dance, carnavalito)
By the water spring the thirst to live, the thirst to travel, are put out.
At the carnival there is honey to calm the thirst of a love that makes me cry.
Carna-carnavalito, little, little heart, because I'm unhappy, I live crying, crying.
Pum, pum carnavalito (all the people come dance, carnavalito).
Little dove without a dovecot, a bad wind broke you
Carnavalito that will heal with good herb of the heart.
(Carnavalito of my love, all the circle come dance.)
Carna-carnavalito, little, little heart, because I'm unhappy, I live crying, crying.
Pum, pum carnavalito (all the people come dance, carnavalito)

-In the first line where the lyrics refer to the narrator being from La Quebrada, he probably means Quebrada de Humahuaca, a narrow valley in Jujuy, in Northwest Argentina, where the indigenous population is dominant. It is often said that Tango has its origins in European music, but, like Latin American art and music, its African and indigenous influences cannot be neglected. I believe this song emphasizes on the indigenous and African cultures in tango. Carnavalito is a dance performed during carnival festivities in the Andean Northwest region of Argentina. Unfortunately, I don't know enough about this dance to give any further information about it...

-When I was first transcribing the lyrics, I was a little startled because some parts of the lyrics were not enunciated clearly, which was surprising considering Berón's usually flawless modulation. Maybe it is done the way it is to fit the rhythm, but it could also be to emulate the Jujuy accent.

-Lucio, who again helped me decipher parts of the lyrics and also briefly gave me some information about La Quebrada and its people, also noted that the chorus has a very Murga feeling. This murga-like chorus is perhaps homage to the Afro-Uruguayan influence in tango. These indigenous and Afro-Uruguayan elements perhaps make this song seem almost like a folkloric song rather than a typical milonga. I heard somewhere this is the reason why this song isn't played as a milonga in Buenos Aires. Overall, it can be said that it's a celebration to the indigenous-style festivities of Carnival, regardless of its Catholic tradition.

-On a completely different note, I have to confess really did this song because I love Berón's singing. As my fellow contributor Ingeniero knows, I'm in love with Berón full stop. I mention this, though, because I had an interesting conversation at a milonga the other day. Una Emoción by Demare and Berón was playing, and my friend Leo asked me if I preferred that version to Tanturi and Campos's. He prefers Tanturi's for dancing, and told me jokingly that maybe I preferred Demare's because I'm a hopeless romantic. From then, I've seen many sources refer to Berón as the ultimate romantic voice of tango. What is it that makes a vocalist romantic or otherwise? I never perceived Berón's voice as overly romantic. In fact, I like his voice because it gives me a cool, chilly feeling as opposed to a warm feeling I get when listening to, say, Podestá (whom I also love... yes, I'm promiscuous when it comes to tango vocalists, so what?).

Special acknowledgment and thanks to Lucio S. and Lucio Demare!

Monday, May 17, 2010

My favorite couple of the month: Dante Sanchez and Angelica Avalos, and what they helped me understand about my myself

As my fellow contributor Jaimito knows, in addition to having a favorite tango and vals of the month, I have a favorite couple of month. Previously this used to be a favorite man-crush of the month. I am completely straight, but there is this sort of infatuation that sometimes sweeps over me when I watch certain leaders. Mostly it's of the sort "I wish I could dance like that", but a lot of times it's "I wish I was a girl so I could dance with him". It creeps some people out, especially when I say it out loud. But hey, tango was a dance that evolved in large part by men dancing with men to improve and invent, so I'm sticking to that one. So why am I declaring a favorite couple of the month?

Well, as some of you may know, Dante Sanchez won the 2007 World Championship in the category Tango Salon, with Inés Muzzopappa (source). Now if you look them up on youtube or elsewhere, their dancing is absolutely beautiful. But, for me, there was something missing. A little pizzazz. I don't know how to describe it. I just couldn't feel a man-crush on Dante watching him dance with Inés. I committed the heresy of telling myself "He's good, but he's no Pablo Rodriguez or Fernando Sanchez". But then I saw his dancing with his current partner, Angelica Avalos, and consider me in love!

This is where I realize that what I thought were man-crushes were more of couple-crushes. Tango threesome fantasies? It was not the leader that I was infatuated with. It was more than that. It was the intense connection that I saw and felt, the beautiful joint expression of the music, the graceful movements, that raw human emotion. I now realize it's not even the couple that I'm infatuated with. It's the tango...

For your viewing pleasure: Dante y Anshi dancing to D'Arienzo's "El Cencerro" ... a breathtakingly beautiful dance. Unpretentious and flawless. Enjoy.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Jamás retornarás - You'll never return

A few weeks ago, I promised El Ingeniero that I would make a meaningful post on the blog after the local festival was over. Indeed, I was very busy, being in charge of translating for Javier Rodriguez and Andrea Missé for their classes. Working close to my first tango idol was eye opening, and I have many things on my mind that I want to share... but at this point, if I were to just write everything down, it would be a mess, more chaotic than my usual unedited writing. If I'm not imagining things, I believe both El Ingeniero and Dr Agsol Le Rac are going to (or went to) a nearby festival where Ariadna Naveira and Fernando Sánchez will be (or were). I hope they get some useful things to share on the blog. But anyway, while I organize my thoughts, I want to honour my promise with El Ingeniero and just write something on the blog. So here goes a translation to a great song:

Jamás retornarás (1942) Music and Lyrics by Osmar Mardena and Miguel Caló

Cuando dijo adiós quise llorar. Luego sin su amor quise gritar.
Todos los ensueños que albergó mi corazón, toda mi ilusión, cayeron a pedazos.
"Pronto volveré" dijo al partir. Loco, la esperé, pobre de mí.
Y hoy que tanto tiempo ha transcurrido sin volver siento que he perdido tu querer.

Jamás retornarás, lo dice el alma mía.
Y en esta soledad te nombro noche y día.
Por qué, por qué te fuiste de mi lado y tan cruel has destrozado mi corazón?
Jamás retornarás, lo dice el alma mía
y aunque muriendo está te espera sin cesar!

You'll never return

When she said goodbye I wanted to cry.
Later without her love, I wanted to yell.
All the dreams that I had in my heart, all the hopes, crumbled down to pieces.
"I'll be back soon" she said as she parted, and crazily I waited, poor me.
And now that so much time has passed without your return, I feel I've lost your love.

You'll never return; my soul says it.
And in this loneliness I summon you day and night.
Why, oh why did you leave my side and so cruelly destroy my heart?
You'll never return; my soul says it,
and even though it's dying it endlessly waits for you.

No crazy lunfardo slang in this song, so pretty straightforward compared to Chau Pinela. But still, as usual, pretty awkward wording with the translation. I wanted to stay as close to the original as possible, so a lot of the grammar is also weird. It's also worth noting that the first part of the song refers to the woman in third person, but later in second person (i.e. she, then you)... WTF?
Yeah, I realize I cannot fully express the poetry and emotion of this song through translation, especially due to my inexperience in translating songs, but at least I hope you non-Spanish speakers know how sad this song is while you dance it. Next time, dance it with more passion than ever!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Stop leading to improve your leading

It sounds counter-intuitive but I remember having an "aha!" moment the day I realized this was improving my dancing and my dancing experience in general. Here I am referring to leading as the act of pushing my partner's body by moving my own without understanding how this body in front of mine actually moves.

If you are able to understand how your partner moves you can get her to do a whole lot of things she was not aware she could accomplish. Think of your own body. Hopefully you already have listened enough to your own body to know what it can and can not do. Maybe you feel very good at turns but those back sacadas are not working out as well. This tells you what you should do on the floor and what you should reserve for practica time. In a way you want to develop a similar knowledge of the person you are dancing with.

But how can you achieve such understanding? Well, it takes a lot of listening. One needs to wait a little more and listen a little more carefully. If you are a follower this probably sounds familiar. Turns out the skills that make you a good follower are very useful for a leader as well. This is why I advocate so strongly the cross-pollination between roles. It is amazing how you can improve your leading by learning how to follow.

So instead of forcefully wrestling your follower to move one way or the other stop and listen. Try to understand how her body is moving and how it respond to your input. And then stop and keep on listening some more. Eventually you become more aware and used to her own movements. And then you will start "suggesting" instead of "leading". You move her carefully and try to convince her to take a step instead of just going for it like a bulldozer and hope she will move out of the way.

A key element here is the notion of pre-lead. This is the nest where movement is created. It is a space where you prepare yourself and your follower before going anywhere. This preparation requires a constant feedback between partners in order to establish the basic ground rules for what the communication -the dance- will become.

This is by the way completely independent of the strength on your frame or the power of your steps. I am not saying that we have to dance like we were walking on glass all the time. What the "stop and listen" philosophy will give you is a better connection with your partner, not a wimpy lead. And a better connection does lead to a better overall experience independently of the level of the dancers.

Try it sometime. Suggest your way through the floor. Stop leading so much and you may start listening to a voice you were not aware of before: it is the voice of your follower leading you where she wants to go. Believe me, she will take you to a good place.

The Choke Hold embrace, or, Ladies, relax!

One new trend that I've been encountering among followers while dancing in close embrace is what I can only describe as a choke hold embrace. Their left arm is positioned such that the armpit is positioned against my right lateral deltoid or, even worse, my bicep. An immense amount of pressure is then applied to presumably achieve a strong connection. All I can say is 'Ouch!'. It feels extremely constrictive, especially when I'm trying to turn or even walk on the outside of the follower. Not to mention the pain I feel afterwards from straining against that embrace. Apparently there is a female technique meme going viral among teachers now: somehow the followers have to use their lats (back muscles) to achieve a good connection. I was informed of this by a follower who has a beautifully comfortable embrace, who has figured out how to get a good connection without squeezing the living breath out of leaders.

So now I am on a quest to counter this annoying fad. I am teaching my beginners to focus on connecting at the chest first without any arms, then let the arms fall wherever they fall. I have no idea if this is a kosher idea, but I know their embrace is very comfortable. I'd rather dance with an absolute novice who doesn't hurt my back and shoulders than a more advanced dancer who does.

So,ladies, relax! This is supposed to be a nice, intimate and gentle dance. Don't make it into a wrestling match.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Tango 'Story'

First an obligatory introduction since this is my first post on MilongaParaTres: I started tango in the summer of 2008, mainly because I wanted something new to take mind off of various work and relationship-related stresses. Little did I know that I was going to be sucked in with such force. I am now truly obsessed with tango, not just the dance, but the entire tango experience, however you want to define that. I am not exaggerating; I will sometimes listen to the one same song on loop for several hours on end. I just find the music intoxicating.

Now, sadly, Spanish is not my first language. As such, I almost always miss out on the ‘story’ of many songs. I probably should start taking some conversational Spanish classes and hope that that would help me. Although, in all fairness, my fellow contributor Jaimito, who does actually speak Spanish as a first language, will often times be stumped at what some song is actually talking about. You see, Jaimito, speaks Español in some South American dialect, not the Lunfardo-peppered Castellano of Buenos Aires. His first attempt at transcribing the lyrics of ‘Chau Pinela’ by Sexteto Di Sarli, did not go very well. Only when he consulted an Argentine friend of his did he get the ‘story’ right!

But anyway, all of this was a complete digression, because what I really wanted to say is that knowing what the song is really about will affect the way I dance to it. I don’t know how, I just know it will. Understanding what Famà means when he says ‘Si es cierto que espiantás, qué papa, corazón!’ will certainly mean I will be taking some pretty powerful steps at the moment of that declaration. I'm actually looking forward to my next dance to Chau Pinela. Heavens help my follower whomever she may be!

The summary of all of this: I am certainly psyched that I now understand one of my favorite tangos, and even more pleased that it speaks to me in more ways than it originally did when I fell in love with because of its musical structure. It wasn’t even that long ago that I found myself in a situation similar to the song’s protagonist, and it would have been fantastic to have been able to then say “Cachame tu bagayo! Nunca, nunca vuelvas más!”

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

'Tango booty'

Last Sunday, my friend made an interesting (though maybe obvious to some of you perverts) observation at a milonga... Tango girls tend to have nice butts (Milonga para tres blog is by three guys, after all). Is this a coincidence or is there a correlation? Does having a voluminous, firm, round butt help at being a good tanguera (if this is the case, I'm moving to Brazil... now) or does tango help shape up the booty? I am thinking it may have to do with the followers' technique rather than just dancing, because in the time I've been in tango, I haven't noticed any change in my ass, but then again, as narcissistic as I may be, I don't really check out my own ass (though now that I say it, that's a good idea... In fact, I'm going to go do that now as soon as I'm finished with this post). And also, us guys don't have to dance in 4+ inch heels, but I think that works the calves, not the glutes... In any case, I am not an anatomy/exercise physiology expert... so I can just admire when I sit out a tanda... (the dancing, of course) In the meanwhile, if there are any anatomists/physiologists or even biomedical engineers among our readers or contributors, it'd be great if you could share your thoughts.
I was really tempted to, but I decided not to post any pictures to illustrate my point, because I don't want to be seen as stealing anybody's images. If you want to confirm my friend's observation, just look up any of the following names on google images or youtube and enjoy the view: Mariana Montes, Geraldine Rojas, Jennifer Bratt, Noelia Hurtado, Dana Frigoli, Juana Sepulveda... there are many examples, both famous names or just in your local community.
Thank goodness for blogging anonymity...

Chau Pinela! Sexteto Carlos Di Sarli, canta Ernesto Famá

At the request of El Ingeniero, I did my best to write down the lyrics to this song, hoping that this motivates him to take a break from his engineer duties and write something here. Like the last post, the lyrics are most likely not accurate due to the old, scratchy recording, and maybe outdated lunfardo slang.

¿Por qué no has de decir si pensás espiantar?
Hacé tu gusto, vieja, que para mí es igual
Mujeres como vos se encuentran un millón
si es cierto que piantás qué papa, corazón...
decide sino mal, ¿pa' qué tanto pensar?
cachame tu bagayo, nunca, nunca vuelvas más
si no resuelves vos piantarte de mi lado
cacho yo mi bagayo y chau, Pinela, chau

I made some corrections on the lyrics after consulting with my Argentine friend who has some knowledge of lunfardo slang. Thank you for your help, Lu. Most of this song would make little sense without your explanations of the words espiantar, piantar, and bagayo.

So the approximate translation of the lyrics, along with some notes, would be as follows:

Why wouldn't you tell me if you plan to run off? [espiantar = run away]
Do as you please, girl, it's the same to me. [vieja literally means old woman, but it's widely used in Spanish speaking countries colloquially to refer to a woman, regardless of age]
I can find women like you by the millions.
If it's true that you will leave, tough luck, love. [I'm assuming 'qué papa, corazón' means something like 'too bad' or something along those lines]
Make up your mind already, why think so hard?
Grab your sack of things* and never come back. [bagayo means two things: an ugly person or a big sack where poor people put their clothes and their belongings. So there is probably a pun intended here as well as in the last line]
If it's not you that resolves to leave me behind
I will grab my sack of things, and goodbye, Pinela, goodbye.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sinsabor - Edgardo Donato/Lita Morales y Horacio Lagos

I was looking for the lyrics of this song, but I didn't find any, so I figured I'd listen to the song and write it down. May not be completely accurate due to the poor quality of the file I have.

Llevando mi pesar como una maldición
Sin rumbo fuí buscando de olvidar
el fuego de ese amor que te imploré
Y allá en la soledad del desamparo cruel
tratando de olvidar te recordé
con la ansiedad febril del día que te dí todo mi ser
y al ver la realidad de toda tu crueldad
yo maldecí la luz de tu mirar
en que me encandilé llevando mi ansiedad de amar

Besos impregnados de amargura
tuve de tu boca en su frialdad
tu alma no sintió mi fiel ternura
y me brindó con su rigor maldad
quiero disipar toda mi pena
busco de calmar mi sinsabor
siento inaguantable esa cadena que me ceñía al implorar tu amor

Edit: 6 months later, I realized I had forgotten to translate it
Carrying my sorrow like a curse
I wandered aimlessly seeking to forget
the fire of that love that I implored
And in the loneliness of cruel neglect
while trying to forget I remembered you
with the feverish anxiety of the day I gave you all my being
and when I saw the truth of all your cruelty
I cursed the light of your gaze
in which I was dazzled, carrying my anxiety to love.

Kisses impregnated with bitterness
I had of your mouth in its coldness
your soul did not feel my faithful tenderness
and brought me harsh evil
I want to dissipate all of my sorrows
I seek to calm my displeasures
I cannot bear this chain that clung to me as I implored for your love

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Argentine vs Ballroom, an X-rated analogy

Disclaimer: I have never attempted to do any ballroom dancing nor have taken part in any pornographic films. The analogy is based merely on my own observations.

Unfortunately, the image that many people have with tango is that of 'ballroom tango'. A little less than a year ago, my tango mentor/teacher explained the 'feel good vs look good' dance paradigm. In that particular context, the paradigm was confined within Argentine tango, but in my view it also applies to the comparison of Argentine vs Ballroom (referred to as AT and BT from here onwards, respectively). From what I understand, BT originated by abandoning the Argentine roots to become a competition style dance, which necessarily made itself lean to the look good side of the spectrum. AT, on the other hand, is by nature a social dance, as opposed to competitive dance, so the focus is just having a good time.

In the X-rated context, BT is like a pornographic movie, because it is performed not for the pleasure itself but for viewing pleasure. Often, I suspect, performers have to fake it for the sake of looking good on the stage or on screen. Many things float different people's boats, so some women may prefer an uncomfortable embrace with little connection just to supposedly look graceful and elegant on stage, or may enjoy selling their dignity by appearing in pornographic films. On the other hand, AT is like the passion between a couple who truly love each other, and can give their partner great pleasure, whether on the dance floor or the bedroom, regardless of whether there's people watching or not (if sex in public is your thing, of course). There are AT performers, of course, but it's mostly for didactic purposes.

They say an image is worth a thousand words:

(Thanks to Alex for the awesome picture on the right of Julio Balmaceda and Corina de la Rosa, two incredible dancers. Check out Alex's blog: ... Original link to the picture )