Wednesday, November 29, 2006


"Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it."

 by Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Montreal Tango Rendez-Vous '06 - L'Academy milonga

Last time I was in Montreal a lot of people suggested I should attend the L'Academy, Montreal's oldest milonga held Sunday evening. Since I couldn't make that time, I made sure I made it this time.

The venue is well designed so there is no walking on the dance floor, you can watch the dance floor from the bar, it's intimate and it has a lot of character. Sadly, the floor is a nightmare to dance on. It's either extremely sticky, or extremely slippery. At the beginning of the night it felt like there was glue on it, later is was so slippery, one could "skate" on it. And from talking with the locals, it doesn't seem like that night was an isolated incident. That's quite a shame. I was impressed on the attendance though, it was really crowded and it's taking place on Sunday evenings, with people presumably having to work the next day.

The level of dancing ranged from total beginners to very advanced, unlike "Air de Tango" at Moka Danse where there were hardly any beginners at all. What really surprised me was the apparent inability of some people to take no for an answer. I was accompanied to the milonga by D, she just wanted to watch, but she is not a tango dancer. I explained to her the whole cabaceo thing and despite her avoiding eye contact with men and despite the fact she removed her shoes, she was asked to dance repeatedly. And when she declined, explaining she is not a dancer, they still tried to talk her into it. Repeatedly.

I danced a bit, and under normal circumstances I would've been quite happy with the way it went, but after the "tango moment" earlier that day (see the previous blog entry), none of the dances felt very special. With one exception that is, Sherri, one of the instructors in Montreal (I met her and her husband Stephane when they taught a boleo workshop in Providence a few months back) stopped by at my table to say hi and asked if we could dance the next tanga. I must say, I was very flattered as she is an exquisite dancer and as such, she certainly can get the pick of the litter anywhere, especially in her home town.

I was praying (even though I am not religious ...) for the next tanga not to be a milonga as I still struggle with that dance. The Gods listened and they got me a waltz. I would've preferred a tango, as my waltz on crowded floors is not really something to write home about, but I guess one can't have everything. And for the second time that day I experienced that calm, completely relaxed, warm embrace. Montreal is awesome... I think my performance was overall adequate but a few times during the tanga, when the ... stars aligned (as in, I was able to walk without slipping, or stepping on my own pants, when there was a bit of space to move and I managed to "nail" a few musical phrases), it pretty awesome. My friend D was taking pictures with my camera and from the few shots she got of me dancing with Sherri, I like this one (on the right) the best. I think D caught one of the moments where I was doing some really fast side steps using the shoulders to mark the crescendo in the music. One of the times when I "nailed" it.

So, I guess I joined the ranks of the ... "tango moment" junkies. We spend countless hours practicing, thousands of dollars in lessons and travel costs for that 10 minutes of tango nirvana one gets once in a while when everything just falls in place. Looking forward to the next one...


Montreal Tango Rendez-Vous '06 - a tango moment

It occurred at a practica, of all places. Tango Fabrika, a cozy venue with a pleasant decor, a few couches, tables and chairs, excellent floor and a good sound system. The place is mostly frequented by the tango nuevo crowd and there was a lot of alternative music which I really enjoyed.

I got to practice some of the sacada/boleo combinations taught in the class I attended the day before and while it's fun to dance in open, it's not really my thing. Most dancers there were dancing in open embrace which I found interesting as they were quite advanced (not to mention the two couples of instructors who were there dancing open as well). But the people I danced with were quite comfortable in close embrace so it was all well.

Half way through the practica I asked Marika, one of the instructors at Tango Fabrika to dance with me. Dancing with an instructor and performer is quite intimidating as a leader, particularly for one with limited experience like myself (on Jan 12 it will be a year since my first tango class). In the past, the most frequent feedback I had from dancing with experienced dancers was to relax. From the first second after we got into the embrace, I could feel her calmness ... flowing from her body into mine. She has a very warm embrace, which I've seen a lot of in Montreal. Any tension I might've had kind of melted away. I could feel her being completely tuned into my body movement. After a few weight changes and tiny steps off we went. At practicas I like to concentrate on one element only, this time was musicality. I’ve been working on my musicality for a while now, but this time, instead of concentrating on the music, I just ... surrendered to it. Using mostly forward, side and back steps I played with the rhythm, stepping on different beats and instruments, enjoying the dance. Tiny steps, shoulder movement to mark individual notes, playful moves, whatever it felt natural at the time. It’s amazing to lead and feel your partner responding to the smallest movements, so tiny they are nearly invisible to anyone else but you two. For me, it was an amazing experience, and seeing a dancer of her stature genuinely enjoying the dance, participating 100%, having fun, it's so inspiring.

But wait, there is more. Many instructors talk about the bidirectional communication between the leader and follower, but this is the first time I’ve really seen it at work. I don’t know how, and I forgot to ask, but she always had a way to let me know when she finished a move or embellishment and she was ready to move again. Not once I had to watch her feet to tell if she’s done, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t cut short anything she did. A couple of times, when there was something in the music that she really liked, she somehow made me aware of it (without back leading!), kind of like "hey, listen to this", but without words. That was pretty amazing.

Lessons learned

- steps/figures are irrelevant
- the quality of the embrace is paramount
- surrender to the music rather then concentrate on it
- being tense really is a tango "killer", conversely, being completely relaxed brings one's dancing to a whole new level

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A tango moment #1 - Nov 08 2006

A few days ago I went to a practica in a nearby town. A woman I never danced before with asked me if I wanted to dance and of we went. In the last few months I've been dancing in close embrace exclusively, as I felt the connection is much stronger that way. But there was something awkward in trying to dance in close embrace with this particular woman (she was slightly tilted to the left and I was getting thrown off balance), so I opened the embrace. Once I did, the stars suddenly aligned and the DJ started an alternative tanga. Wow, maybe her posture is not great in close embrace, but this woman REALLY knows how to listen to the leader and the music and the same time. For the next couple of tangas I was leading steps I've never done before, coming up with stuff as I went along. Slow cat like movement, fast milonga style steps, drags, hesitation steps, whatever I was doing, she was responding to it.

So, one can have an incredible connection in open embrace as well. Who knew?


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

My favorite tango video

I don't really have other words. Anyone knows who are they?


Monday, November 06, 2006

Tango de los Muertos - Nov 2-5 2006

Tango de los Muertos was the second festival I attended, the first one was in June. As the first one, it was exhausting and a lot of fun. But this time, as I felt a lot more confident in my dancing, I asked and danced with a lot of great dancers. Most seemed to enjoy dancing with me and I must say it certainly feels nice to be rewarded with sparkly eyes, a big smile and warm thank you at the end of the tanga from a woman that certainly has danced with the best leaders out there. The ultimate compliment was when after dancing a whole tanga with an exquisite dancer, she stayed for another one despite the fact that 3 of the very experienced leaders present were available and scanning for partners. That gave me a warm fuzzy feeling inside ... It's true, it happened that I knew all the songs in both tangas and they are among my favorite, but who cares, I rocked!

One thing I learned is that dancing on crowded floors is still a hit or miss for me. Much better then a few months ago, when it was a definite "miss", but even now, when it's really crowded most of my energy is spent on navigation, and I can't really listen and interpret the music, which leads to a boring dance and it's obvious from the reaction you get from your partners. Practice, practice, practice.

I took a few workshops, let's see. The first one was with Tova and Carlos, "Beginning milonga". As usual, their class was a lot of fun and I felt like my grasp on the basics of dancing milonga got better. I even attempted a few milongas at the milongas (this is got to be confusing for the tango uninitiated ...) with a couple of women I know well. I had mixed results (which is certainly better then complete disaster ...) so I definitely have it on the agenda for practicas.

Friday evening there was the Golden Age Milonga, Attire: dress as a 1930s/1940s film star. A lot of evening dresses, some funkier costumes and I went with a gangster look which was a great success. I had a couple of pictures taken with V, but I need to get the files from her. I will post them as I get them. I stayed until the end at 3AM and then I drove home a few friends. By the time me and S we were done chatting and I dropped her off, it was 4:30. I got to sleep after 5AM.

At 11:30 I was back in the game for "
Leaders: Body Awareness and Dissociation" with Luis and Daniela. They are a fun couple and they had quite a few great "tricks" for the walk, weight transfer, posture and the dynamics of the steps. I think I finally got the hang of the back ochos. Not that a leader will do a lot of ochos per se, but the dissociation technique is the same for turns, leading a molinette, etc.

Then it was the " Dynamics, Subtleties and Nuances" with Felipe and Rosa. This workshop was very cool. It was about subtle variations on basic things like walking to the cross. Things that are not necessarily obvious to the outside observer, but the follower will certainly notice it (and by the reactions I got later at the practica, they also appreciated it).

I stayed a bit at the practica and then I rushed home to take a nap, as Saturday night there was dancing until 6AM! Two milongas in a row. The first one, the
Tango Paradiso Milonga with Live Music by Los Chantas from 9PM to 1:30AM and then the Sleepwalk milonga from 1:30AM to 6AM. Attire: pajamas. That was so awesome to see people dancing in jammies. And there was dancing until 6AM, I was very surprised to see this many people dancing until the end. It was 6:30AM when I got to sleep.

At 3PM, I took the " Single-Axis Turns for the Social Dance Floor" with Robin and Jennifer. This is a cool off axis turn, I'm not sure how will it work if I try to lead women that never took this class, but there is a variant when both the leader and the follower maintain their axis, so I'm thinking might be able to pull it off with more experienced dancers. Robin and Jennifer are very detailed when they explain the mechanics of the turn, and got to practice it a lot. I really enjoyed their teaching style.

The next one was "
...Make Your Partner Go Aaaaaaaaaah" with Tova and Carlos. As one would expect, the entertainment alone would justify the cost of the workshop, but they went over some of their signature moves (not figures mind you, it mostly has to do with unusual weight changes, sudden stops, etc), which can make a simple straight walk a lot more interesting. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

The initial plan was to go home to change for the last milonga of the weekend, but I didn't feel like driving home and back, and since I had a fresh shirt and a jacket in the car, I stayed for the "Vals: Musicality and Turns" with Felipe and Rosa. There wasn't anything new in this workshop, but I got to ... "put a name" on the rhythm I was doing instinctively during the vals, and maybe now I can make conscious choices on doing a 1-2-1 or a 1-3-1 beat step.

At 9PM the Milonga started and I danced a bit but I was so exhausted I sucked. As such, around midnight I bailed. Since I was smart enough to take Monday off, I slept until 11AM ...

Now I'm making stew. Yummy!

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

confidence, mojo & tango

Confidence is such a great thing to have. Too bad it's not sold at convenience stores, you know, so you could stop pick up some when you're low. A few days ago I went to a practica and the teachers that taught some workshops during the weekend were there. Since the only follower not dancing already was the teacher, I asked her to practice with me (note that I did not say "asked her to dance with me"). She obliged and off we went.

Now, while still a beginner as it's not even a year since I started, I'm a pretty good dancer. How do I know this? Well, I can feel it and besides, there are quite a few skilled followers out there that asked me for dances more then once. But for whatever reason I could not lead this teacher to save my life. Forget about fancy moves, front ochos didn't work ... I've seen her dance with many people and she's a teacher for crying out loud, so I know it's not her. I suspect she was on purpose not making it easy for me so I can work on my lead, posture and form (all of which need a lot of work) and I always said, at a practica, followers should not "help" leaders, as they will never learn how to lead unless they see what works and what doesn't.

But, those 5 or 6 dances killed my confidence for most of the evening, and even when I got to practice/dance with women I always danced well with, I was well below my level. So now I question my conviction that followers should not assist leaders at all. Because if they get intimidated or frustrated, their dance quality will get even lower then it usually is. So what's the correct answer you may ask? I don't know. But I'm thinking, if you are dancing with someone and you want to help, maybe it would make more sense to pick ONE thing you think they need to work on and assist with that, while "helping out" when they make unrelated mistakes. This way, it's more likely they will improve on that particular thing and still enjoy the process.

What do you think?