Thursday, December 27, 2007

8 Differences Between the 1950s and Now

Scenario 1: Jack goes quail hunting before school, pulls into school parking lot with shotgun in gun rack.
1957: Vice Principal comes over, looks at Jack’s shotgun, goes to his car and gets his shotgun to show Jack.
2007: School goes into lock down, FBI called, Jack hauled off to jail and never sees his truck or gun again. Counselors called in for traumatized students and teachers.

Scenario 2: Johnny and Mark get into a fistfight after school.
1957: Crowd gathers. Mark wins. Johnny and Mark shake hands and end up buddies.
2007: Police called, SWAT team arrives, arrests Johnny and Mark. Charge them with assault, both expelled even though Johnny started it.

Scenario 3: Jeffrey won’t be still in class, disrupts other students.
1957: Jeffrey sent to office and given a good paddling by the Principal. Returns to class, sits still and does not disrupt class again.
2007: Jeffrey given huge doses of Ritalin. Becomes a zombie. Tested for ADD. School gets extra money from state because Jeffrey has a disability.

Scenario 4: Billy breaks a window in his neighbor’s car and his Dad gives him a whipping with his belt.
1957: Billy is more careful next time, grows up normal, goes to college, and becomes a successful businessman.
2007: Billy’s dad is arrested for child abuse. Billy removed to foster care and joins a gang. State psychologist tells Billy’s sister that she remembers being abused herself and their dad goes to prison. Billy’s mom has affair with psychologist.

Scenario 5: Mark gets a headache and takes some aspirin to school.
1957: Mark shares aspirin with Principal out on the smoking dock.
2007: Police called, Mark expelled from school for drug violations. Car searched for drugs and weapons.

Scenario 6: Pedro fails high school English.
1957: Pedro goes to summer school, passes English, goes to college.
2007: Pedro’s cause is taken up by state. Newspaper articles appear nationally explaining that teaching English as a requirement for graduation is racist. ACLU files class action lawsuit against state school system and Pedro’s English teacher. English banned from core curriculum. Pedro given diploma anyway but ends up mowing lawns for a living because he cannot speak English.

Scenario 7: Johnny takes apart leftover firecrackers from 4th of July, puts them in a model airplane paint bottle, blows up a red ant bed.
1957: Ants die.
2007: BATF, Homeland Security, FBI called. Johnny charged with domestic terrorism, FBI investigates parents, siblings removed from home, computers confiscated, Johnny’s Dad goes on a terror watch list and is never allowed to fly again.

Scenario 8: Johnny falls while running during recess and scrapes his knee. He is found crying by his teacher, Mary. Mary hugs him to comfort him.
1957: In a short time, Johnny feels better and goes on playing.
2007: Mary is accused of being a sexual predator and loses her job. She faces 3 years in State Prison. Johnny undergoes 5 years of therapy. Johnny’s parents sue the school for negligence and the teacher for emotional trauma and win both cases. Mary, jobless and indebted, commits suicide by jumping off of a tall building. When she lands, she hits a car and also damages a potted pot. The car’s owner and the plant’s owner sue Mary’s estate for destruction of property. They both win.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

GhettoTango & Nocturne in NYC


Since I started my blog I used initials to refer to various people but that can get quickly confusing as there are a lot of people with the same initials. The reason I didn't use their names is because this blog is public and I didn't want everyone to know precisely who I was talking about, but at the same time, I didn't mind allowing people I know to be able to tell/guess the identities of the characters in my posts. Another blogger gave me the idea to come up with nicknames for the people I am writing about. The choice of the nickname would allow the "subjects" and a few others to know who I am talking about but protect their identity from most of the other readers. I will slowly update (some of) my past posts with nicknames.

Pajama tango

There is something about dancing tango in pajamas right after waking up that makes it really, really dreamy. It was around noon on Saturday when we (about 10 of us who took advantage of Adam & Ciko hospitality and crashed at their loft) got up after dancing the night @ GhettoTango. After having coffee Mr. TangoSuperNut took out his ipod and by sharing the ear buds he started dancing with Ms. TinyNorthern, as they didn't get to during the night. Shortly after, he took out his laptop and started playing music we could all hear. There was one woman there that I didn't know and while I've seen her during the night, we didn't get to dance or even talk. After the introductions were made I asked her to dance. She was wearing her PJs (so her nickname will be Ms. Pajamas) and socks. I was in socks too. I was also wearing other clothes ;) We danced for a while and it was absolutely lovely. We were both barely awake, which translated into a warm embrace with zero tension. We just enjoyed the dance, the music, laughed out the "hiccups" and only stopped dancing when we were warned that we'd be left without food if we didn't go join the others for breakfast. Breakfast tango is great, I wish there would be more of it soon!

Too short!

When one has a good time, the time passes really fast. The Nocturne felt like it was only an hour long, even though it started at 10PM and ended at 3:30AM. I danced a lot yet there were so many people I didn't have a chance to dance with. Why do all these milongas have to end so early? I wish we could dance until there is no one standing.

Taking the bus

For this trip I had the unfortunate idea to take the bus. I was thinking that if I take the bus I will be less tired when I get there and I was hoping to save some money as my car is a Jeep, not exactly known for it's fuel economy. Boy that was a mistake. Why? I left work Friday at 1:15. Drove to a t-stop, parked the car, waited for the subway, and made it to the bus terminal at 2:30. At 3PM the bus left and we made to chinatown a little after 8PM. We walked to WTC, waited for the train and made it to Adam's loft around 9:45 (we only took a 30 min "break" to have some dinner). So, subtracting the dinner time, I was on the road for over 8 hours. Pretty much the same when we got back. The cost? Between the bus cost, the trains, parking for the car, a short cab ride the grand total for both Debbi and I was ~ $100. The gas cost for a round trip with my car is about $75 and it would've taken us about 4-5 hours to get there. That was the last time I will ever take the bus anywhere.

NoTango Land

A few of the people I met during this trip live in places where there is virtually no tango. They all used to live in tango cities only to have to move away to follow their career. I was thinking, what would I do if I got a fantastic job offer in a place where there is no tango? Would I take it? I don't think so (unless of course I would have no choice). Would you?

Tango chat at sunrise

The Nocturne ended at 3:30AM, by the time we got out it was already after 4AM. We (the people staying with Adam & Ciko) were not going to make it to the 4:30 train, so we decided to have some food and take the 5:15 from Penn Station. When we got to the loft it was close to 6AM. You'd think that after two full nights of dancing everyone would just pass out. Nope. We hung out for a while talking about the music, DJing, tanda selections, etc. If this is not evidence of true passion, I don't know what is.

Seeking perfection?

Someone wrote a post about "tango stages". I was thinking about where I am in that classification and I believe I am in between the "Disenchantment" and "Contentment" stages. In the last few months I got increasingly frustrated with my tango experiences. I would dance with someone and manage for a brief moment to completely connect with the music, to feel it "perfectly" only to have the follower missing completely what I was trying to convey. I would be so disappointed that the moment was "wasted". I would allow that then to "taint" my experience and allow myself to come back home from the milonga depressed. But recently something started to change. I went to a local milonga a little while ago and I was able to enjoy some of the dances despite frequent little mishaps, despite missed leads, despite imperfections in the embrace, despite not being a "perfect dance". That gives me hope, as "perfect dances" are few and far in between. The dances I could not enjoy were the ones where I didn't feel the follower's desire to be in the embrace and I didn't feel her joy of the dance. Those were the dances I just wanted to be over. Most dancers have some endearing qualities, it's just a matter of finding them and enjoy that instead of "lock on" to shortcomings of the dance. How is that related to the subject of the post? It's not.

New space for nocturne

The space Adam booked for this month Nocturne is fantastic in my opinion. The dance floor is basically a "fishbowl", an area separated from the rest of the space with glass walls. You could sit at the bar without being subjected to loud music and still see all the "action" through the glass. The decor is tasteful (except for the Christmas decorations which were cheesy at best) and the location is great, just two blocks away from Penn Station. The dance surface is fantastic, the sound system is top notch, the seating areas have an intimate feeling without being isolated. I hope they manage to book this space on a permanent basis.

Something "old", something "new"

I realized that for me, one of the attractions in tango is the comfort in dancing with people I know I like to dance with combined with the thrill of discovering new favorites. The first few dances with somebody you haven't danced with before can be truly magical. Sometimes you KNOW it will be awesome the moment you get in the embrace. Every one of the people I love dancing with has a different embrace. Some connect chest to chest. Some in a slight V embrace. Some connect with their entire body from the waist up. Some rest their forehead on my cheek. The variations are endless. Some times the embrace it's not "perfect" at first, maybe there is some tension for example, but sometimes those imperfections melt during the dance. Or they become irrelevant. You discover the signature moves the other person has. Some move very slowly, like through molasses, some are energetic. Every step is a new discovery. The process is intoxicating. It was no different this time at GhettoTango. After dancing with a few of my favorite dancers I asked to dance someone I haven't met before. Of course, you watch the people dance before asking or accepting a dance, but watching someone dance can't tell you a lot. You can tell you're not going to hate dancing with them, but that's about all I can tell. When I asked Ms. ScarletCarnation to dance, I knew already she was a good dancer, but that was about all I knew. A tanda later I knew I had a new favorite dancer. There was another new face there which I will call Ms. GoldenJoy. The main reason I asked her was because I saw how her eyes would light up when she was watching the blissful look on the other dancers faces. I could feel her joy through the embrace and her sadness when the music stopped. One of the things that make an embrace great, even if it's not "technically perfect" is when you can feel your partner REALLY wants to be there, when you can feel their reluctance to break away the embrace when the song is over.


I had a great time. I'll be back in NYC really soon!


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

$7110.02 ...

... is the amount in fraudulent charges made on my American Express card in the last 5 days. And American express never thought it was odd "I" was charging $3000 at Bloomingdales in NY at the same time I was paying at a restaurant in Montreal.

It doesn't seem like I'm responsible for those charges but still, it's stressful to know we're so exposed. What if that was my debit card? Not that I have that kind of money in my bank account but still.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Montreal again ...

I'm in the car coming back from Montreal where Debbi and I went this weekend to dance. It was a nice trip.

Two of our tango friends came with us in the car, so we talked about tango most of the time, which made the drive seem much shorter then usual.

Friday we went to Moka Danse and we got there around 10. Since there was another special occasion milonga nearby, it wasn't nearly as crowded as it usually is. We met with a friend who recently came back from BsAs with a pair of Comme il Faut for Debbi, and once she put them on, Deb was so happy we quickly went to the dance floor to try them out. And they worked! Debbi was moving well and we had a couple of fun tandas.

My second dance of the night was with L, a girl from Montreal. We danced before and she is a beautiful dancer. While I'm guessing she is in her early twenties, she is been dancing since she was really young, and it shows. Great connection, fantastic musicality, warm and comfortable embrace. I liked the music, I was inspired and there was still some space on the dance floor so it went really well. The two tandas we danced together were probably the best I've had this weekend (with the two tandas I had with Marika a close second, as I was really tired when I danced with Marika and I was not as inspired).

After that, the Friday evening went downhill. It got crowded and I was too stressed out to enjoy myself, I seemed to have such a bad timing when asking people to dance (when I really liked the music the people I wanted to dance with were not available, when they were available, I didn't like the music or the floor was too crowded, when the floor finally cleared up, most people I was looking to dance with were done for the night). So aside from L, the couple of dances I had with E, our lovely host, and Deb, I didn't really had any great dances (in most cases it was not the follower's fault, I just was unable to get in the "zone") but none were bad.

Saturday morning we had breakfast with our hosts which was great (both the breakfast and the company), we hung out, talked about tango, practiced a bit and then later in the afternoon we went to do some food shopping as they were having some people for drinks before going out to dance. We had a blast talking with some of the people we often dance with, but hardly ever talk with, and then we went to a restaurant to have dinner. We had wine and fun conversation but it took forever to bring our food, so I got a bit cranky.

When we got there it wasn't very crowded, but it filled up quickly after we arrived. Me and Deb we danced for a few tandas but I was still cranky and that didn't go all that great.

After dancing with V (a very good dancer from Montreal) for a few tandas, my mood had slowly started to improve. While it was crowded, there were a lot of good dancers and the navigation wasn't too bad.

I danced with too many people to mention them all but I have to mention some.

R (a very sweet Romanian girl from Montreal whom I met at a festival in Montreal a year ago) was there. Somehow we didn't get to dance the last few times we ran into each other, so this time I asked her to dance as soon as we met. She improved a lot since the last time we danced, her embrace was very relaxed and warm and when I asked, she told me she worked with Marika on her embrace. It showed. If a follower finds herself in Montreal and wants to work on her embrace (and I can't see why she wouldn't, as it one of the most important elements of close embrace tango), I would highly recommend to seek out Marika. She is a very sweet person and her embrace is amazing. I have yet to meet anyone who danced with her and disagrees with that statement.

I danced for the first time with M, one of the DJs in Montreal. I wish I was more inspired and less tired, but it was a fun tanda. Between songs she asked how come she didn't see me when she was in Boston two years ago. When I replied I wasn't dancing tango two years ago she seemed very surprised. "But you danced some other dances before tango, right?". No, I didn't. It was nice to hear someone being surprised I've been dancing for less then two years. Sometimes I feel like I am plateauing despite my efforts, so hearing the surprise in her voice was a great compliment.

I had two tandas with Marika who despite not feeling well was just as amazing as always.

We left around 4:30AM and we crashed as soon as we hit the bed. Woke up at noon, we met a friend for brunch at one and we were back on the road at 3pm.

Overall it was a fun trip. I had a few great dances, most of the others were at least good, none were bad. We got to know M and E a bit more and they are awesome (and their apartment is gorgeous, Deb has a serious case of apartment envy). We met some fun people, socialized and spent a little time in Montreal, a city we really like.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007


Until a couple of days I was blissfully ignorant about the networking sites. I've heard people talk about them but I didn't pay attention. Until a few days ago when a friend sent me a message about some pictures she posted online and went through the link in the email to ... facebook.

Shit, now I have another addiction.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Last Nocturne at Empire

To fend off some of the expected post-festival depression, Deb and I hopped in the car Saturday and came to NYC to attend the last "Nocturne" at Empire. We were expecting everybody to be there and they were. A & S were so kind to host us on such short notice and after the 4 of us had dinner at an indian restaurant, Deb and I headed to Empire for the class before the milonga. The class was not all that much fun but not many group classes are.

After opening the evening with Deb as usual, my second dance was with A from Princeton. She has a very warm and relaxed embrace, good connection and musicality. The last time (which was also the first) we danced together at the NYC tango festival on live music which I didn't like much so this was the first time we danced on traditional recorded music. While I wasn't uber inspired it was a very pleasant couple of tandas.

During the dinner with our host, we were talking about the best women dancers in NYC, making a list. It was not a very big list. As I was at the milonga I realized that most of them were there, and most of them are people with whom I dance with most times when we run into each other. When I feel like bitching about where I live I need to remember that I am luckier then most. One person on the list who was there and with whom I never danced before was V. S introduced us and I asked her if she was going to stay later, as the floor was crowded and I prefer to have space when I dance for the first time with someone really good. Unfortunately she was going to leave soon, so off we went. On top of crowded floor issue, the next two tandas were also completely un-inspiring, some lyrical music with a lot of vocals. I tried to make the best of it, but I'm afraid I didn't make a stellar impression... Maybe next time I'll have better luck.

The surprise of the evening was a fellow blogger, Nuit. While we met some time ago, last night was the first time we had a chance to dance together. She's only been dancing for 6 months yet she has a relaxed and warm embrace, she is pretty good at following through the steps (not anticipating movement), a clear sense of the music and one other quality that is difficult to come by, she doesn't tense up when stuff doesn't work. She is already lovely to dance with and if she continues to progress at the same pace, she has the potential to be pretty great. In between sets I told her I found her dancing rather impressive for someone that has been dancing for such a short time and she replied along the lines of "oh, you are too kind". Mmm, no, not really. I don't remember ever making a compliment I didn't mean or even "padding" a compliment. Just ask Deb ;-).

I got to dance with S again, and the music sucked both tandas. Speaking of the music, Avik from Ann Arbor was DJing, the tandas that I liked, I really liked, but he kept playing throughout the evening lyrical sets with a lot of vocals and little rhythm. While this type of music is pleasant to dance once in a while, last night I think it was one in 3 or 4 tandas. She is such a blast to dance with on the right music, it wasn't meant to be.

The lyrical music did work for me once last night. Marika from Montreal was there and I saw her sitting down after dancing with Felipe for a few high energy tandas. I felt a little guilty for not letting her catch her breath but she is hardly ever sitting and I thought if I waited any longer I'd miss my chance. She has such a lovely embrace and she is one of the very few people I really enjoy dancing on very lyrical music. Absolutely lovely two tandas.

R was there and we danced one set, but once again, I didn't like the music. But she has a great embrace so it was a good tanda regardless.

Toward the end of the night I danced with L for the first time. I didn't remember seeing her before, even though she started about a year ago. I saw her dancing last night and she looked good. After the first song I asked her if she is studying with Robin Thomas, and she confirmed. She has some signature qualities which made it very easy for me to guess who her teacher was. The embrace, the way she steps forward and some other details, (all of them positives). Robin is such a good influence on followers I can't really imagine how the NYC scene would be without him.

Ciko was hosting and dancing so I only caught her about ten minutes before the milonga ended, it was way past 4am. She is so much fun to dance with, but I was almost wiped out by then so I'm afraid I didn't have much to offer. When "La Cumparsita" started I went and woke up Deb, who crashed about an hour earlier and we had our last dance, both of us being wiped out. We did good considering ...

Now Deb is driving back and I'm writing this. Was this worth the cost? My Jeep is a gas guzzler, so this trip cost us about $100 in gas plus the other expenses. Probably, I had a great time.

Next week we're going to Montreal for a special event. Looking forward to that, despite the optimistically 5 hour drive.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tango de Los Muertos

It's Wednesday and I'm back to work. This time I was smart enough to get both Monday and Tuesday off (after the festival). I'm glad I did as I was exhausted. I was planning on doing some work around the house yesterday, but I didn't really do much the whole day. Worked a little on the pictures I took at the festival (I took over a thousand pictures, it will take some serious work to edit, crop and adjust all of them).

The festival was great. I mean, what is really important was awesome : the dancers, the music and plenty of time to dance. There were some things I wish were different, but I'll get to that later.

New friendships

Like it happens at every festival, I met new people with whom I had some amazing dances. Amazing for me that is, if they enjoyed it a 1/4th of how much I did, I'd be happy. I will mention the ones that are teaching tango in their cities, because while I never had the opportunity to take classes with any of them, they are such amazing dancers, and such awesome people, I have no doubt they have a lot to give. So, here they are in no particular order. Thank you Jenna (Portland) for the awesome dances. She has a such an amazingly active following style, and if you are a follower and you have a change to take a class, ask her to show you how to improve your giro, I can guarantee she can show you how to make it amazing. Oh yeah, and sorry Jenna for the 10000 left turns I was leading, they were just too much fun, I could not help myself... ;-) You know a dancer is amazing when it inspires you to do things that you were never did before, like that gancho which I didn't even think it was possible ;-) Thank you Charity (San Fracisco) for the most fun bar none I've ever had dancing on live music Thursday and on nuevo music Sunday. I did not think it was possible for me to enjoy dancing on live music or nuevo music. Boy, was I wrong. A very good dancer from NY told me one of his best tanda ever was with Charity. Same here. Her ability to maintain a connection (despite my sometimes awfully clumsy moves) was just amazing. After that tanda on Sunday afternoon, I was high on endorphins for at least half an hour. Thank you Christina (San Francisco) for giving me my first couple of tandas of the festival. DiSarli's Corazon is just too beautiful song not to dance to and thanks to you, not only it didn't go to waste, but I got to dance to it with a great dancer. She has such a calming way of moving, she managed to keep my upper back tension (my nemesis) down, which was an amazing accomplishment in itself.

Old(er) friendships

Then there were the people that I already knew. Marika (Montreal) with her amazing embrace, Mila (Kansas City) which I have to thank for my first two tandas at Sundays afternoon milonga, which set the tone for an amazing tango day. S (NY) which sadly I only got to dance with once at the height of the Saturday mayhem, and who was such a sport about my abysmal navigation skills and inspiration at that time. Shorey (San Francisco) the best DJ I know, with her amazing music on Saturday, I only wish I was more inspired when we danced on Friday. M from NY who is such a sweet person and awesome dancer, R (Princeton) who I rarely get to dance with, which put up with my milonga dancing, M (Chicago) whom I was so glad to see again after meeting her at the NY festival, S (Montreal) and many others.

And then last but certainly not least, my lovely Debbi, with whom I had the last dance each night (well, maybe I should say every morning) and who after less then one year of dancing she dances better then most.

The festival, the good

Tova & Carlos got a lot right with this festival. They managed to attract fantastic dancers from everywhere, they got amazing DJs, danceable live music (those of you who read my blog on regular basis, you didn't think I was ever going to say that, didn't you?), long milongas so we had lots of time to enjoy all those things (like 2 all nighters and the Friday till 3am). The location was Springstep which has great hardwood floors, a great sound system, plenty of parking and it's easily accessible. The themed milongas were fun, a lot of people got into it and came dressed in some very inventive outfits. I thought some of the decorations were inspired, some in my opinion were not (the vertical food thing was awkward at best), but I personally don't think decorations are all that important at a milonga, to me they are pretty much at the bottom of my list (way behind the layout, lighting, drinks and food). Tova & Carlos convinced a local restaurant to open at 5AM so people can go have an early breakfast after the all nighters, which was a nice touch.

the not so good (in my opinion)

table layout - Saturday, the layout of the tables and chairs was uninspired at best. Having chairs along both long walls and nothing else had everyone walk on the dance floor which created a navigational nightmare. I am surprised I have never seen any organizer using cordons to mark the dance floor. They don't take any space and I suspect they would be highly effective at stopping people from using the dance floor as a pass through area.

performances - In my opinion the performances were way too long (3 couples 3 songs each) and taking a one tanda break between the second and third couple was an odd choice at best. They were also very late, past midnight so all the people who were there for the performances were forced to stay longer they would've otherwise. The festivals where performances are scheduled separately, before the milonga are best in my opinion, as it gives one the option of not going to either the performance or the milonga if they don't want to. As far as the performances themselves, while technically perfect (as much as I could tell) they had a lot of acrobatics which I personally don't care for. They reminded me of gymnastics competitions, where the gymnasts are performing complicated heart stopping moves with a face expression that shows the incredible concentration required to do all that stuff. I fail to see tango in all of that. I watched the same people dancing socially later and I liked their social dancing a lot better.

- In my opinion the large studio at Springstep was not large enough for the amount of people that were in attendance. Between 10PM and 2AM it was almost impossible to dance without getting injured. While the orange studio was opened as well on both Friday and Saturday, almost no one went to dance there. I tried, it just felt weird to ask someone to dance and take them to another room. I think more people would've used the room if it was designated as an "alternative/nuevo" milonga with a different DJ.

- The lighting is awkward in the large studio at springstep and aside from that they only had two reflectors on a single stand. As a photographer I am more sensitive then most to the lighting and there is no way to properly light a room with one light stand. I wish some of the effort and money spent on decorations went to a better lighting setup. Which reminds me, I continue to be surprised by people's preference for dark rooms for milongas. How is a dark room more suitable for tango is beyond my ability to understand.

The conclusion

The positive far outweighed the negatives, it was a great festival, looking forward to the next year. And now I'm going back to the regularly scheduled post-festival depression ;)


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"You're too greedy..."

I took last night a private (tango lesson) with Tomas Howlin. Deb booked it and she asked me to join her. While there are countless things I need to work on, I had some doubts that I would get new useful information, I thought I was aware of my shortcomings.

Deb asked him to help her become a more musical follower and since I consider musicality to be the most important quality a dancer can have, I figured I would ask for the same kind of help. Tomas watched us dance for half a song and then he told me.

"You are too greedy". Since I started my quest on finding "the tango", improving my musicality was at the top of my list. Being able to isolate and dance to the various beats and melody was at the top of my priority list. And I got better and better at it. What I did sort of lose sight of is that there is such a thing as too much "musicality". Tango music is complex, the beats and musicality offer countless options to move to, but I forgot I don't have to dance to ALL of them. I am too greedy, I want to dance to all nuances (that I can hear), which is often way too much.

It's funny too, I was talking with Deb that day before the class about some dances I had with some really good dancers at TdLM. I have no doubt they had a lot of fun when we were dancing, one just can't fake that, but at the end of the tanda they seemed exhausted (not physically of course). Now I know why.

So we worked on the quality of a step, the ways one can step, transfer weight (make it shorter, longer, delay it, etc), on how to use the upper body to communicate that to the partner.

It was time and money well spent. I just wished I did this sooner. Tomas is a great teacher and I would highly recommend him to anyone that wants to learn what is truly important about tango.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Guerilla milonga

Since yesterday I had an itch to dance, but there was nothing going on in Boston, I decided to do something about it. Late afternoon I sent an email to all the people from Boston I have an email for, inviting them to a "Guerilla Milonga". That is a milonga that takes place in a public space (in this case the Porter Sq subway station) without permission. Subway stations are perfect for this as if you're getting kicked out, you just take the train to the next station and start again ... ;-)

I was there at 8:30 as I promised I would. Debbi was working late so I was alone. Good thing I had a book, as it was at least 9pm until one other person showed up. Unfortunately it was another leader. Then around 9:30 another leader showed up. Huh ... Part of the reason I wanted to do this in a public space was to expose people to real argentine tango and see if we can grow the community. Well, it seems like a catch 22 here, to expose people to tango you need some people to dance tango with ... All together, by 10:30 there were 7 of us, 3 followers and 4 leaders.

It was actually fun, we danced until midnight. No one bothered us, but I did notice something funny. People in Boston are socially awkward. They would pass by pretending they didn't see us, until they would be at a "safe" distance and that's when they would stop, turn around and look for a while. It's like they were ashamed they were looking. Next time I will bring a big sign that says "We're not selling anything. Please feel free to stop and look".

I'll try this again at some point. I'll try next time to give people more notice. If you are from Boston and you didn't get my invite yesterday, send me an email, I'll add you to my list. Which I will never make public.

One other thing about US and the east coast in particular is that people are workaholics. Quite a few replies to my invitation said things along the lines "I'm swamped at work". Huh? At 9PM? I miss home sometimes (that would be Romania). People can't wait to leave work. People go to work because they have no other option. Here people buy more stuff then they can afford then they have work 12 hours a day to pay for it. This is in my opinion the devastating effect of easy credit. Romania was a cash society. If you don't have the money, you can't buy it. Unfortunately that is changing. Along with McDonalds, the easy credit, financial trouble and obesity is finding it's way to that part of the world as well. Bummer.


Friday, October 19, 2007

Seasoned vs. "young & pretty"

There were a few (rather bitter) remarks from some (presumably older) tangueras some time ago, about leaders who'd rather dance with the "young & pretty" women, even though they are less skilled then themselves. They of course attributed that to the male hormones.

That may be the reason in some cases, but from my experience, observations and discussions I've had with other men, it's not the reason in most cases. First, some of my favorite followers are women in their 40s and 50s and I would dance with them any time, no matter how pretty are the alternatives, but I just realized last night, when I go dancing, I will usually either dance with the really good dancers, or with the promising "beginners". In most cases, they are young (hence, pretty I guess). Why would I dance with a beginner over the more seasoned veteran dancer, who, while not great, is certainly better then the beginner?

Because in most cases, they are not good enough and they plateaued many years ago. Which means their dancing is unlikely to get any better, they are certainly not looking to improve, most never ask for feedback, most don't come to practicas. The "young & pretty" have a chance to become dancers I really enjoy dancing with, and by dancing with them I can help them progress in the "right" direction. They ask for feedback, they try to get better, they show up at practicas and they do get better.

A few cases in point.

There is a woman in the community, she is absolutely gorgeous. Young, beautiful, amazing figure, pleasant personality, yet if one pays close attention, very few of the good leaders are dancing with her and even the ones that do, they only do it rarely. Why? Because she has an awkward embrace, she almost never shows up for practicas, and even when she does, she never asks for feedback. As a result, I have not see her improve a bit in the six months or so I've known her.

There is another woman in the community, she just started 3 or 4 months ago. She shows up at nearly every practica, she asks for feedback, she tries to apply what is suggested and she is getting better every week. I have a feeling she will be a hit with the better dancers in Boston and everywhere else.

There is a woman in Montreal, she must be in her 50s, she is a great dancer and I can guarantee you she will dance as much as she wants to, with the best leaders, even if all the contenders in the Miss America pageant would flood the room.

So, if you see that you're being passed for the "young & pretty", chances are you are not as good as you think. You may be more skilled then them, but not skilled enough for the leaders you want to dance with, but since you're not getting any better, there is no incentive for them to dance with you. If you want to change that, go to practicas, go early, ask the better leaders for feedback, pick an area they point out and work at it. Most better leaders will go out of their way to help out someone that shows an interest in getting better.

There was another argument I heard "Some people who love to dance with me at some times, they just ignore me at other times". A good (and smart) dancer will do his or her best to create the appearance that he loves dancing with his/her partner, as that usually makes the partner dance at his/her best. That doesn't necessarily mean they love dancing with you, they just made sure they were trying to get the best experience they could. So once again, the solution for that is to get better.

Now, it's true, when everything else is equal, most people, men included, will go for the "pretty". I imagine most women would rather dance with the handsome dancer rather then the old, fat and bald one, if they are just as good dancers. You just have to become good enough that people love dancing with you or show that you are heading in that direction.

I am sorry if this will hurt some sensitivities, but I'm kind of getting tired of all the men bashing that's becoming so fashionable lately, so I figured it would be useful to hear another perspective.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Djing the Odd Tuesday Milonga

My first milonga as a DJ was supposed to be tonight. So last night, when I went to the "Odd Tuesday Milonga" I took the laptop with me to work on some play lists. When I got there, Steve, the host, was fumbling with his laptop, looking kind of frustrated. It seems he was missing some music so I said, you know, I have my laptop with me if there is a problem with the music. He looked at me, said, "you want to do the music?", I said, "Uhh, sure". So there I was, 10 minutes away from the milonga start, with no play lists, no cortinas, on my first night as a DJ at a milonga. Sweet!

It's tough to say how did I do. Most people were dancing at all times, so I'll take that as a good sign, but aside from a couple of them, no one came to say if they were liking or disliking the music. I did ask K, who is Russian, and if you want a blunt response to a question, the best people to ask are Russians or East Europeans. He said it was OK, he didn't particularly like it or dislike it, but he liked the music I play at practicas better. Huh... I thought I did play sort of the same music. I did save my ad hoc build play list, so I'll look to see how it compares with the lists I made for practicas.

Tonight I'm DJing again and tomorrow I'm DJing the practica at MIT. That's a lot of DJing this week.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

DJ debut ...

Wednesday it will be my first time DJing a milonga. I've been Djing practicas for a while now, but this is the first milonga. I will DJ from the laptop, but I'm planning on loading a backup playlist on my mp3 player and burn it on three regular CDs, just in case things go terribly wrong with the technology ...

So, if you live in Boston, come check it out! If you like traditional music that is, there will be no alternative music at this milonga.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

New milonga-practica in Boston? Poll.

I am considering organizing a new weekly event in Boston, a ... practilonga, a combination of a milonga and practica. That means a relaxed atmosphere, people feeling free to dance or practice, depending on their mood.

I created a poll to get some input from the Boston tango community. Please refrain from voting if you are not active in the Boston scene.

Here is the link for the poll :

If you have any other suggestions/comments, please feel free to use the
Message Area

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Musicians vs. dancers

In the last few days I've been exchanging some emails with a prominent musician, about contemporary tango music, dancing and live music. It all started when I expressed my desire to hear more "Golden Era" arrangements when live music is played, as opposed to hearing the late Pugliese/Piazzola which most musicians seem so fond of.

During this email conversation I realized how huge the disconnect is from the musician to the dancer. While well intended, as he took time of what I have no doubt busy schedule to explain and educate me on his values, preferences and music in general, he was extremely condescending, his tone is his emails amounting to what an adult would use to talk to a 4 year old who challenges his infinite wisdom.

Now, he is being playing tango music for decades, so I am a 4 year old when it comes to my ability to intellectually understand tango music (or any music for that matter), but he is convinced that since I don't know any music theory, I can't possibly comprehend the concept of harmony, I don't know what rhythm is not am I able to hear the phrases which create the melody. And he is probably right, I can't do that, no like himself or other trained musicians can. But while I can't listen to the music intellectually, I listen to it instinctively. If the harmony is not "right", I won't like the song, if the rhythm is not "right" I won't feel the desire to dance to it, if the melody is not "right" I won't be emotionally touched by it.

His attitude is "you are all musical illiterates, shut up and listen to what I am playing, as I understand music, and you don't". Interestingly enough, I do understand his point of view. Many people when they look at some of my pictures, they are in awe of the pretty, colorful sunsets and kind of confused about the black & white abstracts I love. They hold dear a badly focused, badly exposed, badly composed picture, because the content touches them for some reason. I lost that ability, when I look at a badly exposed, focused and composed picture I can't enjoy the content, no matter what it is, the "presentation" completely ruins it for me. Even my limited photography "education" had that effect on me, I can only guess what happens after playing tango music for over two decades. I don't think they are able to see the beauty in the simplicity of the music I like.

What is my point? In my opinion, today's professionals tango musicians lost their "innocence". Or they likely never had it. They never listened the tango music with a non-professional ear, so how they can possibly comprehend how I hear it? They know everything there is to know about tango music, they hear things most of us can't, and they don't understand how most of us, the dancers without a music education, listen to music. They all keep playing the same music, Piazzola, Pugliese or arrangements like that. They rarely, if ever, play the "Golden Era" arrangements. They are too simple for their skills. They (and the musician in question) justify their selection by saying that they can't all play the 40s music, or tango would die and they played for the greatest dancers in the world, who love their music. That Piazzola/Pugliese revolutionized tango music. While I actually like to dance to some of the Pugliese's interpretations, I really like the pre-revolutionary music. I would say that most people do too, otherwise the DJs would all play Pugliese & Piazzola the entire night.

So, as far as I am concerned, tango music, the music that most of us, the music illiterates like to dance to, actually did die. Luckily, we have the recordings. I'll have to learn to put up with the live music performances. And no, I will not do it quietly.

If you have any thoughts about live music at milongas, feel free to add a comment.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

New York tango festival, Oct 2007

I had a great time. There were a few things that rubbed me the wrong way, but I think this was one of the better festivals out there. I'll write more about the festival itself in a review I'm planning of writing. Until then, I'll just write about some random experiences.

Taking chances

One of the ... "catch 22's" at festivals is that I have to choose between "safe bets" or taking chances. By "safe bets" I mean dancing with people I know I love to dance with, or take a chance and ask someone new. It's a tough choice, especially at a festival where the milongas where annoyingly short, so the time was limited. By now I know most of the great dancers in NYC, and a lot of the tango festivals regulars, I certainly know enough of them to dance non-stop without ever dancing with anyone new. And it's tempting. It's not like I get to dance with them all the time, and I'm talking about really, REALLY good dancers. So why take a chance? Well, at the last milonga on Sunday, a girl who seemed somewhat familiar came and asked me for a dance. I was looking for Deb at that time, so I had to decline and I suggested that maybe we can dance later. Fortunately, I ran into her again a bit later and asked for a dance. It was so much fun, despite the fact that we danced on live music, which I generally dislike to dance to. So, thank you A (from Princeton?), it was a lot of fun. Taking chances pays off sometimes.

A new "tango crush"

As I was writing before, I know by now a lot of truly gifted dancers, and I am lucky enough to be able to dance with them on somewhat regular basis. But once in a while you meet a dancer with whom everything just works... Our host A, one of the (better) instructors in NYC suggested I dance with this woman, M from Chicago, whom I never met nor seen before. Now, since she came highly recommended by A, I was of course expecting her to be good, but ... wow. The first time we danced together was at one of the practicas, I think we danced for 3 tandas in a row. I never used this expression, and I'm glad, because I can use it now appropriately, it was tango bliss. Sometimes when the first dance with someone is amazing, the next ones are disappointing. It wasn't the case with M, we danced a few more times during the festival, each time for a few tandas (I can't really remember, being in a cloud and everything) and they were all just as good, if not better. I just hope she enjoyed it at least half as much as I did. After we danced at the practica we asked each other for feedback. "What do I need to work on?" she asked. Uhh... Mmm... and for the first time in my (tango) life I had ... nothing. I mean, I'm sure there is something she could work on, everyone needs to work on something, I was however unable to come up with anything. And that's a first!

Robin's practica

We made to NYC Thursday afternoon, but instead of going to the festival opening milonga, we went to Robin's class & practica at Empire. Why? Well, from all the teachers in NYC I took classes with since I started tango, I like Robin the best, he also seems he was involved in the tango education of a lot of followers I love dancing with. I am glad we went there. Not only I got a chance to dance with some of my favorite NYC dancers but I also learned a rather cool move, a wrap the follower does around my waist. Open embrace stuff, but cool anyway. If I ever find myself in NYC on a Thursday evening, I know where I'll be.

Group classes

My frustration with group classes was renewed. Unless one goes with a partner, it's a complete waste of time. There were people in the advanced class that could not lead or follow the cross. So, for whoever reads this, taking a group class significantly above your level is not only a waste of your money and time, it's also a waste of money and time for whoever is unlucky enough to be partnered with you. I wish teachers would have enough balls to kick people out of the class if they are not at the level required.

Active followers

There are women who's style of dancing is very calm, very reactive, kind of dancing with a cloud. Others, are the exact opposite. They are energetic, they play with the dynamic of the step, they take any opening given to them to express themselves. They are both a pleasure to dance with (when done right of course). The latter kind of follower though, is rather intimidating for an emerging leader. The first truly active follower I danced with was Shorey Myers, I wrote about that experience and it was one of the best danced I had to date. A few months ago I had a chance to dance with S, a woman from NY I've seen around, dancing with all the "stars". She is another of those active followers. It was a lot of fun, but it was nothing like it was this time. We danced three tandas in a row and by the end of the third one, I was feeling like I just had an espresso shot. One of the best dances to date. To top it off, she said "You have improved a lot since the last time we danced together". That was reassuring, as at times I was feeling that my progress was slowing down. And that would be bad.


At one of the practicas I followed a leader from Princeton for a bit, and I did better then I was expecting, considering I haven't followed much lately. It's funny how illuminating is to follow and feel how one thing or another actually feels from the other side. It's also quite fun not to worry about navigation ...

Beginner dancers at festivals

I recently read some posts from a less experienced dancer about her experience at the festival. Not surprisingly, she didn't have as much fun as she was hoping for. If you are a (relative) beginner, keep this in mind about festivals (and other one time, well attended events) :

- The better dancers, who normally will dance with you at regular milongas will likely not have the time at such events. In most cases there are too many great dancers from afar with whom they don't have the chance otherwise to dance with.
- If you decide to go anyway, go at the beginning of the milonga and stay until the end. At both ends the options are usually more limited and your chances of being asked (or your invite to be accepted) are higher. Attend practicas before you attend milongas. Most better dancers will gladly spend some time working with a promising dancer at a practica, where at a milonga they might just dance with their favorite dancers.
- Work the room. Walk to a dancer you'd like to dance with and say something to the effect of "I enjoyed watching you dance and I would like to dance with you at some point if you have the time", smile, and then walk away. Don't grovel. At many large festivals, it's unlikely a good dancer will take the chance to accept a dance from someone they didn't see dance. Once you talked to them, they will be more likely to notice you dance and come ask you later. Some may even say, "what about now?". It's also almost risk free, since you are not putting them into a corner, it's very unlikely they would flat out say no.
- Don't look like you swallowed a rancid egg, be friendly, smile at people. Don't look over eager or desperate (which means, don't look like you're trying to catch the eye of anyone passing by)
- Choose a spot to sit and stay in that area, so people will know where to find you.
- If you are chatting with friends, don't face each other. Make sure you face the room, otherwise it will send the message that you are not interested in dancing.
- Don't stay in the dark
- If you are a beginner leader, the things that good followers are impressed with are the quality of the embrace and musicality. Not figures. Do not, under any circumstances, try the new cool moves taught at the festival. Don't try any move you can't execute perfectly 20 times in a row. A comfortable walk on the music will feel better then any badly executed figure. Obviously that is true anywhere, not just at festivals.
* If you are a beginner follower, don't think. Don't try to do things. Close your eyes and listen to the music and your leader. Try to have a relaxed embrace (I follow a bit, I know it's not easy), and don't pull. As a leader, there is NOTHING that bugs me more then a follower who anticipates my lead.

Generally, I would not encourage beginner dancers to go to festivals. It's usually a tough crowd.

To be continued ... (at some point)


Monday, September 24, 2007


The all night milonga

Saturday it was that time of the month, the 4th Satruday when the all nighter in Providence takes place. I was happy to see a much better attendance this month then what we had over the summer. Quite a few people from NY joined the party and this time Boston was better represented as well.

We made it there around 10 and we left around 2:30AM. I was kind of surprised at myself. At 2:30 there were still plenty of people dancing, most of them good dancers, yet that didn't stopped me from calling it a night. I wonder if my tango obsession is fading a bit. It doesn't feel like it, but I don't seem like I close the milongas anymore, I don't feel the need to attend every single one and on (rare) occasions I prefer to do something else. I've had a few good dances but the best one was with K, a girl from NY. She is really young, I don't thing she's 20 yet, but she is already a very good dancer. Somebody took a picture of us dancing on his camera phone, and it's a surprinsingly good shot. It doesn't happen often that both people look good. I usually look like a drooling idiot.

I also had a chance to dance with someone who is considered a fantastic dancer by the US community. I could not connect with her at all. And I mean, at all. It was the only time when I danced with a tango "god" when between each song I was hoping the cortina would come. I was not having a particularly bad night, so it was surprising. Good thing I didn't have that dance at the beginning of the night, it probably would've killed my mojo completely.


Sunday I went to a workshop at MIT taught by Daniela and Luis. I like them. They are attentive in class, they allow people to practice without interrupting every 30 seconds, like a lot of other instructors do. They go to each person and they (try to) correct whatever issue needs to be corrected. They also seem genuinely dedicated to make better dancers. The workshops where also about elements that are critical to the development of a good dancer. Embrace, connection, the dynamic of the dance. Unfortunately the attendance was light, I'm guessing because it's hard to sell the critical but "boring" stuff over the flashy colgada/volcada/jumps. I only attended one of the workshops, as I wasn't in a tango workshop disposition.


After the workshop, I went to the Sunday afternoon practica where I only stayed for 45 minutes or so. I just wasn't in the mood. I danced with a great dancer I had a fantastic (first) tanda with a week ago, but this time was remakably unremarkable. Funny how that happens. I then spent the rest of the time working with a new dancer. She just started and after watching her being manhandled by some of the "experienced" dancers in the community, I had to spend some time to try to undo some of the damage these people do. Why on earth these people feel compelled to try advanced figures (which themselves can't lead to save their lives) with a complete beginner is beyond me. Anyway, she shows promise.

1 comment:

Friday, September 21, 2007

Women leading ...

There is a blogger who's postings I've been enjoying for a while, and at some point in her tango career, she started leading. Apparently that sparked a lot of mixed reactions, some of which I find odd. She was writing about people (mostly men) making nasty comments and getting weird reactions from women. And this is not happening in some god forsaken part of the country, but in a cosmopolitan, allegedly progressive city.

So, if any of these men are reading this, let me congratulate you. By making those comments you are without a doubt identifying yourself as the insecure, misogynistic assholes you are. Are you afraid that you will become obsolete, when enough women will learn to lead and the other women will prefer to dance with someone that actually knows how to dance? You should. Actually I have a bit of an advice for you, quit while you are ahead. THAT will show them and by depriving them of your sublime dancing skills, you will have your satisfaction. And we'll have a asshole free tango scene. Everybody wins.

Americans, particularly women, are taught from a young age to be "nice", to be politically correct, to avoid confrontation, which is rather amusing considering the position of US in the world. So it's likely that not many of these assholes are confronted, which only encourages them to keep at it. I on the other hand, am not American. I didn't get the "be nice" indoctrination. There are a few women leaders in my community I really like. Debbi, my girlfriend is learning to lead. If I ever hear about anyone giving any of them a hard time, I promise you, I will make it my mission in life to make your life so miserable in the tango community until you'll quit. I embarked on quite a few of these "missions" in my life and I have yet to fail in accomplishing any one of them. Don't say I didn't warn you.

So, my advice to you? Feel free not to like women leading.

Just shut the fuck up!


Monday, September 17, 2007

Saturday I went to a monthly milonga but I went late, as Deb was not feeling well and I didn't want to leave her home alone for the entire evening. I considered not going at all, but I was restless. Once I got there, it was just in time to catch the show. I hate shows at milongas. Particularly choreographed shows like this one. That didn't do a lot of good for my good spirits. I always prefer to see the tango "Gods" dancing socially. What I find interesting is that most visiting Argentine teachers almost never dance socially in the local milongas in the cities they teach. I've seen this in both Montreal and Boston. Anyway, after the show the music was ... well, I hated most of that as well. Weird songs, awkward sequencing, ear piercing loud cortinas, I cannot figure out to save my life why they insist on using this particular DJ. He's obviously not interested in DJing, most times he's nowhere to be found. He sets the computer and disappears. The volume is either too loud or too low, too much bass or too little, etc. Some tandas were OK though, and when one of those started, I went and asked Fernanda Cajide for a dance. She is one of the local instructors, the only Argentine instructor in Boston. I like her teaching style especially for beginner classes, and when people are asking for me to recommend a teacher, it's usually her I recommend. I danced with her before many times, and I always got this vibe that she was just indulging me. This time though she seemed like she was genuinely enjoying the dance and at the end of the tanda I had another first, she stayed for a second one. That never happened before. After that I danced a set with A and it was quite fun, although she was kind of wild, as she just danced with K, and they are really wild together. Danced the last song with a girl that just moved to Boston this week. She is a good dancer, but I had a hard time with the connection. That's why people dance tango more then one song, it's just not enough to adjust to the other person, unless you know them well. Was it worth the 45min round trip drive and the $12 admission price? I had some good dances but I'm not sure if they managed to offset my frustration with the music.

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Friday @ Naranja

The practica

Friday we went to Naranja milonga hosted by Tova & Carlos. For the most part I liked the music and I had a good time. We started the evening with the practica and I was trying to figure out a wrap when Carlos came to see if I needed help. For those unaware, before the milonga there is 1:30 of supervised practica. Tova & Carlos are very dedicated people and the entire time they went from person to person offering their help and advice, After Carlos effortlessly lead Deb through the wrap I was failing miserably to lead, he explained the mechanics and voila, 2 minutes later I was doing a ... rough version of it, but it was (sort of) working. Now I just need to practice it. Towards the end of the practica Tova came by and said, "You must be the only one I haven't danced with at this practica, want to dance?". Uhhh, duh! We danced a couple of tandas and it went better then the last time I danced with her. Can't tell if I got better or she dumbed it down for me.


During the actual milonga I danced with some local tangueras, some more advanced, some beginners. Speaking of beginners, there are a few beginners in the community that show promise and I'm glad to see that some of the better leads are keeping them busy. Lately I've been slacking off in my efforts to help the community grow and improve so I'll be trying to catch up. As a more experienced leader, it's always good to dance with people who are not too advanced. It helps refining the quality of the lead, it helps making it clear. Dancing with advanced dancers is obviously more fun, but the good ones are almost reading your mind, so I found that lately some of my leading got less clear, as it didn't need to be. Besides, I have to remember my gratitude to the people who danced with me when I was just starting, and try to pay it forward. Besides, sometimes when you dance with someone who's just starting, you can read from their face when they have a tango moment "Ahhh, that's how that's supposed to feel like!", and that alone is worth it.

A tango moment

Towards the end of the night, I've noticed a leader I've seen a few times during the last 6 months. He used to live in Boston but he moved abroad before I started tango and only came back a few times for business. He is an amazing leader, and this time I know this from first hand experience as I danced with him once in Providence. He lead me though a milonga set. Trust me, if a leader can lead me successfully though a milonga set, that makes him pretty much a miracle maker. In any event, this time he didn't show up alone, he showed up with his wife, which I never met before. I was hoping to get a chance to dance with her, but I was not holding my breath. She seemed the kind of dancer that would not sit too much. A bit later there was an alternative set being played and I look to my left and ... there she was, sitting down alone. Could not help but curse, as I have no desire to dance on alternative music, much less with somebody new, much less with somebody good. I was quite sure someone would ask her to dance before the alternative tanda was over but this time the tango gods were on my side and when the next traditional tanda started she was still there. So I went ahead and asked, she looked at me and for a second or two she looked like she was going to decline the invite, but she got up and off we went. After a clunky start, as I was trying to maneuver around a bunch of people who were talking on the dance floor, things got better and better and better. She is an awesome, awesome dancer. Did I mention awesome? Musicality, embrace, the whole "package". I was kind of hoping for another tanda, as she seemed like she had a good time, but ... it was announcement time! Grrrrrrr. But, she didn't go anywhere and after the announcement I got to dance another tanda with her. And it got even better then the first one. Well, I was happy, this was a "tango moment" and I didn't have one in a while. It was a good night. And they are moving to Boston, so I'm looking forward to dance with her again.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

"You should never ... You should always ..."

Recently I've read and heard in person a lot of ... wisdom about tango dancing. One blogger in particular has an affinity for buzz words/phrases, like "lead with the core" or "the right hand (of the follower) is useless in close embrace" and a myriad of other bits of advice which are advertised as absolutes, as in, you're committing some sort of tango sin if you dare to do otherwise.

For the very experienced and accomplished tango dancers, this is just noise they got used to, but for a beginner it's very confusing. Especially when these things come from people with authority, like for example an Argentine instructor who's been dancing for 263 years and was featured in 17 movies. Which reminds me, what's up with the habit of introducing a teacher and making a big deal out of how many movies they were featured in? Who the hell cares about that? How is acting in movies or performing on stage relevant to the skills required to teach salon tango? But I digress.

So, when an instructor you respect utters an immutable rule "You shall not use your left hand for anything" and then at the next workshop with another tango guru you're taught to use that hand to lead something people get confused. Who is right? Who is wrong? Not only that, but if you watch those people dance, you are likely to see them break all the rules themselves taught.

Here is my conclusion and advice, as it stands now, after a year an a half of intensive tango. It may change in the future. Others may disagree.

There are very few, if any, hard rules in tango. Shorey Myers, one of my "tango crushes", insists for me to hold my left hand in a very specific way, advice also given by many other instructors or dancers. Yet two of my favorite dancers from NY, both of them amazing dancers, they both expressed their strong preference for the way I was holding my left hand, which was almost the opposite of what the "rule" said. They found it cozy and intimate and told me I should not change it. Lately I've been experimenting with different hand positions, the one recommended by Shorey being one of them, and several dancers commented positively about the "new" embrace.

Teachers will often simplify things for people at the beginning of their tango career, knowing it will come a time when the "rule" will not longer make sense. What do you do then? It up to you. Personally, I try to accomodate the preferences of my partners unless that impedes my dancing. If it does, I'll do what works for me. Luckily humans are too "flawed" to follow the same rules all the time. It would be very boring to dance if everyone would have the same embrace, same technique, same feel to the dance.

But, yes, there are hard rules, but some of them are hardly tango rules. It's common sense. Although lately, the common sense doesn't seem so common anymore. For those who misplaced their common sense, here are some of the "hard" rules :

Don't hurt your partner or others. Don't make your partner uncomfortable. Don't be a bitch or an asshole. Remember that people have feelings. Don't take advantage of people. Don't stink. Don't be dirty. Pretty much all of these rules are taught in the kindergarten. If any of these rules are a surprise to you, you may want to seek help.

There are some "rules" that are more important then others when it comes to the actual dance, but I'm not going to go there today. I'll just cover one subject which I consider the most important "rule" there is when it comes to dancing tango. It's a simple rule to remember. Here it is :

Rule : Don't forget to dance.

Let me explain. Tango is dance. A dance, by definition is moving to the music. For a movement to be a dance, there must be a correlation between the music and the movement. The absolute simplest correlation between movement and music is walking on the (main) beat. Walking on the main beat is the simplest form of musicality there is. It's the very first step of very many, towards being musical. If you are executing figures without any relation to the music that is playing, regardless of the proficiency and precision you are executing them with, YOU ARE NOT DANCING. I get sometimes compliments on being a "musical dancer". Musical dancer. Just the fact that the term "musical dancer" was coined it's sad. It should be an tautology (antonym of oxymoron). It isn't. Please make it an tautology. Pretty please?


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Back from Montreal

Monday around 9:30AM we made back from Montreal. We drove back the whole night right after we left the l'Academie milonga at 2AM. Well, Deb did, as I was too tired. Yeah, we're nuts. We didn't want to miss l'Academie, as it's one of the best milongas in Montreal, and Deb had to be back Monday at noon to teach a class ... So, after she took a power nap, she went to work ... As I said, nuts! ;-)

I had a great time even though dancing wise I wasn't exactly "in the zone". I started the evening as usual, with Debbi and then sort of hung out to check out the dancers. As I was sitting down sipping from a glass of wine a tall woman came to ask me to dance. I usually don't dance with people I did not see dance before, but she looked like she had summoned all the courage she had to ask, and I know well how rejection feels, so off we went. I danced the whole tanda in open embrace. This sort of became my favorite way of starting to dance with someone. Start in open, preferably on a vals and then proceed accordingly depending on how it works. I still have a strong preference for close embrace, but only with people who are a) truly comfortable with it b) able to keep their balance on their own. Also, in the case of much taller followers like this one (more then 3-4 inch difference), close embrace is awkward.

After that I danced with S one of my favorite dancers from Montreal. Sadly, I was not very inspired and the added complication of navigation on a crowded floor didn't help. As I was talking with M, a local leader, he pointed to a girl and suggested I ask her to dance as she is quite good. She soon became available and I went to ask for a dance. Turns out, she is Romanian (as I am). Small world. And she is quite good, although I had some trouble adjusting to her rather energetic movements.

Later in the night I danced with E, a girl Marika introduced me to last year. She has a lovely embrace, very smooth and balanced walk and I wish I was more "in the zone" but, well, sometimes that doesn't happen. Then I ran into (another) E, whom I met at the neo tango festival in the spring. She is a lovely dancer as well, with a pleasant embrace and a passion for the dance. It's quite interesting how some people are able to put a kind of energy during the dance that screams "I really love dancing". By contrast, I know of a few followers who, while a lot more proficient, they feel analytical and soulless on the dance floor.

Towards the end of the night I've danced a few tandas with an older woman I danced with before. She is really good and she is one of my favorite dancers in Montreal.

I ended the night as usual, dancing with Deb and once I stopped dancing I realized how tired I was. It's funny how exhaustion and/or pain are reduced while dancing (tango).

Sunday before the l'Academie we rode the bicycles through the city, had some food and we kind of kept it low energy as we knew it was going to be a long light. We were already tired from the night before, at Tango Fabrika, which we left around 4AM.

Tango Fabrika had a special all nighter Saturday, and I was looking forward to it as Marika, one of the hosts is my first "tango crush". She is so sweet and such an amazing dancer. I got to dance with her 3 or 4 tandas ( I always lose count when I dance with her) in two installments and it was just as lovely as ever. A big surprise was to run into R, a favorite follower from Princeton who was in Paris for the last few months. Apparently she just got back from France and went to Montreal for a conference where we ran into each other. She is a great dancer and we had a few wonderful tandas. She invited me and Deb to stay with her during the Princeton tango fest and hopefully I'll find a way to make it. I don't have any vacation days left, so I'll see how "creative" I can get ;-)

One frustration during the milonga was the music. I like Bulent, he is a nice guy, but his musical taste is heavily inclined towards electronica/neo tango which I simply can't dance to. He is accommodating and more then once he played something I requested and this is after all a neo-tango shop so I guess his selection was appropriate for the venue. But it was disappointing to see some great dancers being available, hear the music start and having to pass, as it wasn't something I would like to dance to. Or even worst, dance with a great follower, just to hear the next tanda start and to have to excuse myself and let them go.

Saturday during the day we hung out with Caroline, who was so kind to host us for the weekend, we went for a bike ride, checked out some shops (well, Deb and Caroline did, I had a book to keep me company as they were trying out outfits). At Caroline's apartment there was an outdoor grey cat always hanging out on the porch, we named it the "Fat cat". The "fat cat" was kind of lazy, kind of fat and very aggressive in her pursuit of affection. She would come next to us and relentlessly seek attention. "You will pet me NOW" was the unspoken phrase that seemed to transpire from her antics. Cute.

We also had a picnic on the porch. The street Caroline lives on is quaint and quiet, and after getting the key ingredients for a picnic which was supposed to take place in a nearby park, we decided to have it on the porch instead. Cheese, fruit, olives, fresh bread and wine. Yum.

Friday night we went to Moka Danse. The space was just as cute as I remembered, and it got just as crowded as I remembered ;-). From 11PM to 1AM it was impossible for me to dance and have a good time, as I was spending all my energy trying not to bump into people. After 1AM it cleared up a bit and I got to dance a bit. Deb left early, as she was tired, I stayed until about 3AM. I had some good dances, none of them fantastic, mostly because everyone was tired by that time, but I had a good time. The music was quite good too.

In conclusion, it was a good trip. We got to see Caroline again, had some great dances, a lot of good dances, hung out in Montreal, had perfect weather. Looking forward for the next trip there.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Planned obsolesence ...

I like to tinker with things, so when I saw an ad on craigslist for a front load washer with "a leak" for $20, I figure, what the hell. If I can make it work, it's a hell of a deal. And if not, well, I'll only be $20 out. The seller even delivered it so after breaking my back dragging the thing in the basement, I ran it and sure enough, it had a leak. The leak was caused by a gaping hole in the plastic tub that holds the drum. That could be glued back, but it was obviously a sign of something else gone bad.

So, I took the whole thing apart and I found the problem. The "spider", the support that holds the stainless steel tub it's all corroded to hell and it broke down. I looked up the issue on the net and it looks like it's a well known issue with a lot of front loading machines, particularly Frigidaire (or Kenmore, which is usually made by Frigidaire). These things have been made like this for years, and they still make them from the same material. So, anywhere between 3 -6 years into using the thing, it will break and during the final spin cycle it will sound like a plane is crashing in your basement (the pictures are not from my washer, as I could not download them from my camera ..., but the damage looks the same, it's just worse. Btw, the pictures are from a 2 year old washer).

What's "funny" is that in the manual they specify that they warrant the inner tube (the one that breaks down) for 25 years. So you say, well, then, they stand behind their product. Uhhh, sure, they warrant the part. Which has to be installed by an authorized Frigidaire technician after the problem is "diagnosed". Since changing the part requires taking the thing apart completely, the diagnosis ($80-$100) + the labor ($300-$400) will likely run you to 75% of the cost of a new one. And of course, it will fail again in 3-6 years. When it fails it may take other parts with it, as now you have a 20 lbs broken metal thing spinning at 1000 rpm. You would have to pay for thouse, as they are not in warranty after 1 or 2 years. I need to buy me some Frigidaire shares ...

So, enjoy your front load washer and the day you have it installed, start a savings account for the next one you'll be buying in a few years. I only paid $20 for mine, and I will try to fix it with some braces and epoxy, and I may get a few years out of it, but I cannot even imagine how pissed I would've been if I had paid full price for this piece of crap.

Here are a few other accounts :

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Labor day weekend in NYC

Since we were both sick the weekend of the LongaMilonga, Deb and I were looking forward to the New York trip this long weekend. So Saturday at the crack of dawn (well, more like 6:45AM) we jumped on the motorcycle and headed south. This time I decided to avoid I95 and I took I90 to I84 to 15 (the parkway). While it seems slightly longer, it is definitely a better way to get to NYC. The parkway is so much more tranquil then the I95. Except for the occasional dead skunk... Damn they stink!

We made to NYC around 11:30AM (got a call from work half way through the trip and spent at least 30 minutes on the phone) and went straight to the "La Práctica @ Dance Manhattan". While in theory a practica, many people seem to come here just to dance. I practiced with Deb for about an hour and then I danced a couple of tandas with S, a woman I met a while ago in Providence. She is a good dancer, but I could not find my balance with her in close embrace. I have to somehow improve my ability to ground myself as it seems like lately everyone but very few dancers are taking me off-balance in close embrace, which is why I've been dancing open lately quite a bit. I recently changed my posture to be more straight, I wonder if this is what is screwing up my ability to be stable on my feet.

At 2PM the practica was over and me, Deb, J, P, L and K went out to eat. J was on his way to the airport, heading to BsAs for 6 weeks. I should start taking some Spanish lessons ... We went to a Vietnamese restaurant, I had duck and ... it was pretty horrible. Stringy and chewy, I left most of it untouched. Normally I would've demanded something else, as it was not edible, but I didn't want to make L feel guilty since he chose the place. I also wasn't in a feisty mood.

From the restaurant we headed to the Central Park milonga. The initial plan was to go to the hotel and come back for the evening milonga, but the hotel was 35 miles away ($55 per night at a Holiday Inn in Stamford, CT sounded a lot better then the hotel prices in NYC) and I didn't feel like being on the road for at least 30min each way, probably more as it was a holiday weekend. So we went to the park instead. I was pretty tired already, and the night was young, so I decided I was not going to dance unless I would see someone I really wanted to dance with. After dancing with Deb a few tandas in the beginning, I mostly watched. I danced with P a couple of tandas, a former professional dancer which shows in her balance and ability to move to the music. While dancing in the park is quaint and romantic, the concrete floor is a pretty bad surface to dance on and floor craft is non existent. When P and I stopped dancing, a woman I didn't recognize came near us and P introduced her as I, her friend from Toronto and a great dancer which whom I should definitely dance. From the short conversation we had it seemed we actually met and even danced together in the spring, at the Nuevo tango festival. The fact that I didn't remember her at all seemed a bad sign, as I normally remember good dancers. Also, I don't normally ask someone to dance until I've seen them dance, it's usually the best for all involved, but I couldn't think of an elegant way of getting out of it so off we went. And I'm glad we did... She is a great dancer with a lovely embrace, musicality and following skills. Shortly after that, Deb and I left, as we were starving and wanted to grab a bite before heading to the "Noche de Tango @ Dance Studio 101"

After having some food, we made it to the milonga around 10PM. Good size space with great floors, a bar and some extra cheesy decor. It was also pretty well attended. After starting the evening with Deb as usual, I saw the woman from from Toronto and without many words off we went. With the help of a great floor and good music, we had a few fantastic tandas. She even hung out through a milonga tanda, which I didn't fumble too bad, but damn, I need to get better at milongas. After that, I thought I saw another dancer from NY I really love to dance with, D, and went to say hi. Only it wasn't her ... Ooops, well too late to back out now, so she got up and off we went. She is actually a very good dancer, but I had a hard time connecting with her. But sometimes that happens and I hope next time when we run into each other it will work out better. Then I ran into R, an amazing dancer from NY with whom I always enjoy dancing with. She has an amazing embrace, not to mention balance, following, musicality, etc. I was talking with her between tandas and I asked if there was one teacher in particular that she considered her mentor. Her response did not come as a surprise. Robin Thomas and Ney Melo. Robin seems to have been the catalyst that helped forming most of my favorite dancers in US, so, thanks Robin. You rock. Around 1AM we left as Deb was dead tired. I was kind of sorry to go, but I was pretty tired myself.

Sunday I was up at 8AM after only 4-5 hours of sleep. It's very difficult for me to sleep in. In the afternoon we went to Maria José's Práctica @ Stepping Out. The room is large and the floor is great, but there is hardly anyone there. Music was great though, so if you bring a partner with you, it's a perfect place to practice. Maria also said that soon she would extend the duration from 2 hours to 3, so that would make it even more attractive.

Then it was the Seaport milonga. There was a big concert near the main location, so until 9:30PM we went to the "rain" location, which is on Pier 17. But that place is small and it quickly became a zoo. Pedestrians who obliviously walked though the "dance floor", small children, etc. Then once we moved back to pier 16 it got better as far as space, but the floor on the pier is pretty horrific. It's an old deck, with all you'd expect, nail heads, splintered wood, uneven boards, etc. Deb had a great time, but I had a hard time getting in the "zone" while trying to minimize the damage to my own and my partner's knees and ankles, navigating around random obstacles included but not limited to dogs, bicycles, joggers, empty bottles, little kids, etc. But the real difficulty was the inability to pivot. I'm not experienced enough to limit my vocabulary (to exclude movements that required pivots for example) and still be able to relax enough to be able to connect to the music, to my partner and to have fun. So while I did dance with a few people, I didn't enjoy those dances as much as I would've enjoyed it on a decent floor.

We left "early" (around 1AM) again as we were spent. Again, I was sorry to leave, as towards the end of most milongas only the hardcore dancers are still standing and then you have the space to dance + good dancers. Besides, no matter how tired I get, I always have a hard time leaving a milonga.

So, was it worth the approx $200 hole in my wallet (hotel + gas + milonga costs)? Maybe. There are plenty of worst ways to spend money, and it may have been worth it if only to learn a few lessons :
- Try to avoid making trips to NYC while a major tango festival is happening someplace else. A lot of my favorite dancers in NYC were in Denver.
- Learn to better manage my resources. As in, make sure I'm not exhausted at midnight. Dance less, be more discerning, sleep more. While I did good at being discerning, the lack of sleep got to me.
- Bring some hard leather shoes for outdoor milongas. The dance sneakers were a bad choice.


Thursday, August 30, 2007

Weekend in NYC

After being sick last weekend and missing all tango events for almost a week, we were looking forward to the Labor day weekend in NYC. Until our sleeping arrangements fell through. Since we are both on a tight budget, we found someone to host us, but something came up and now, a couple of days before the trip, we have no place to sleep at. I just looked at "availability" of hotel rooms (which I can't afford), yeah, good look finding affordable room in NYC or even around it for the Labor Day weekend, two days before it...

Maybe I'll just pitch a tent in Central park.

Anyway, if any of you knows someone in NYC who can offer a little bit of floor space (we have an air mattress) this weekend for Saturday and/or Sunday nights, please let me know. Now I'm going to look for that tent ...

Alternatively, if a 2-3 people from Boston would like to spend the weekend in NYC and would like to share a room and ride, that would certainly make it more affordable.

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Shitty weekend ...

Friday at the milonga we left early as I wasn't feeling well. My stomach was upset. Once we got home it got worse and by morning I was feeling like I was going to die. Gas, cramps, nausea and weakness. After some pepto-bismol the nausea subsided a bit and diarrhea kicked in. Around 3pm, Deb was hit hard by the same thing. So instead of spending the night dancing at the all night LongaMilonga, which we were both looking forward to, we spent the evening in bed trying to watch a movie, between the often visits to the bathroom.

This morning Deb had to drive to western Mass and I have to run some errands. I wish a had a portable bathroom ...

The only thing I've managed to accomplish yesterday was to make the front pockets for a pair of pants I'm making. After spending a couple of hours on that, and finishing them, I realized the pant panels were cut using the wrong pattern. When I first took the pattern months ago, I made a pair of test pants and then I adjusted the pattern for a perfect fit. Now the panels are cut using that first rough pattern because I forgot to get rid of it ... Grrrrrrrrrr. The fabric is beautiful though, so I'll have to think of a way to salvage it.

OK, I gotta go now to pick up a stove. Hope to make it without ... accidents. Wish me luck ...


Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Last night I went to the "Odd Tuesday" milonga. It's one of the better ones in Boston as far as the quality of dancers, but once the again the very limited space on the dance floor cramped my style. I doubt I will ever enjoy dancing in a crowd.

The only really good tanda was with P, a local dancer on some rather odd music before everybody arrived. Speaking of odd music, S, the DJ last night played some odd sets. Some people seem to enjoy dancing on music which is not normally played at milongas. I don't, I prefer to dance on music I really like, because if I dance on music I don't care for, my dancing becomes monotonous and boring, I just go on "auto-pilot".

So last night I decided on a new "strategy". Instead of just sitting when there is music I don't particularly like, I will ask the newer members of the community. They are unlikely to notice the difference, and it's very useful to dance with more advanced dancers as I learned very early in my tango "career". I would suggest to the more experienced dancers to do the same. You might make someone's night and help with the development of the community. Especially advanced followers, when you have 10 minutes to spare, find a beginner leader and ask him to dance. It helped me a lot when I was starting.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Aside from technique ...

The quest for becoming a "perfect follow" or a "perfect lead" is a long one and it involves lots of practice to improve the technique. But there are some things that one can do right away, aside from technique, to make a single dance or an entire evening a better experience and PLEASE trust me, they are VERY important.

For both leaders and followers :
* NEVER talk (about people/room/shoes/scenery) to your partner (or even worst, with someone else) while dancing. Not only you are likely ruining it for him/her, but you are ruining it for everyone in your close vicinity. So, please do everyone the favor of shutting the hell up. If your partner is the "talker", don't talk back. In many cases, that should take care of it. If she/he insists, say you can't talk and dance at the same time.
* The milonga is the place where your joy of dancing should come out. It's not the place to refine techniques, to learn steps, etc. Many times I enjoyed dances with dancers who were far from being perfect, because I could feel their joy. Don't lose track of the fact that tango is a dance, and it's SUPPOSED to be enjoyed.
* For a lot of people it is extremely annoying when the music is drowned by chatter. So when you are on the sidelines socializing, lower your voice. Get closer to the person you're talking to, or move away from the speaker. Don't try to talk OVER the music for crying out loud.
* Do not be a "baby seater". If you asked someone to dance and they said, "I'm tired, maybe later", DO NOT SIT DOWN NEXT TO THEM AND WAIT FOR THE "LATER". Ever. The only exception to that rule is if THEY ASK you to sit down and wait with them.
* Bring more then one shirt/top, if you know you are sweating a lot.
* Use unscented deodorant (and yes, for the love of God, do use deodorant).
* Don't try to cover a bad smell with deodorant/perfume. It never works. Take a shower, now it's not the time to save money by conserving water.
* If on your way to the milonga, people in your close proximity had sudden respiratory problems, you may be wearing too much perfume. Knock it off.

For followers, under any circumstances do not :
* Look around while dancing, checking out people/room/shoes/scenery. Or, even worst, checking out yourself in the mirror. If you are easily distracted, close your eyes. Some follows like to assist with navigation, and it's useful ONLY when done right. That means, no head turning and not getting tense. If you can't help getting tense when other dancers are getting close, close your eyes.The only thing I should feel from you is a subtle increase in the groundness and/or a slight tightening of the embrace when you think the current direction we're moving could lead to a collision. The key words here are "subtle" and "slight".
* Second guess your leader in navigation. If your lead leads you to step somewhere, step, even if you think will lead to a collision (feel free to communicate your concern by the afore mentioned increase in groundness), but don't refuse to move (or worst, hesitate). I know I'll have some followers (and even leaders) disagree with this, "but he asked me to step on somebody's toes!". For the most part, you don't know that, since you didn't step. The other side of the coin is, do not dance with someone if you don't COMPLETELY trust their ability to navigate in the current circumstances. For example, if a beginner asks you to dance and you think they can't navigate competently in that environment, tell them "not now, it's a bit too crowded, how about later?". And do go get them later, when you think they can hack it ... errr ... I mean, do it.
* Apologize for ANYTHING but hurting someone. Whatever you do, NEVER, EVER apologize for missing a lead or screwing up a step. If you absolutely have to apologize for something, keep it until the dance/song is over.
* Allow your right hand to hang from your leader's left hand like a dead rabbit hanged in a tree. Unlike the tree, we get tired. And it doesn't feel that great holding a dead rabbit in one's hand either, I promise. Keep your own hand up please.

For leaders, under any circumstances do not :

* Aside for keeping an eye on your immediate surroundings, look around while dancing, checking out people/room/shoes/scenery. Or, even worst, checking out yourself in the mirror.
* Appologise for ANYTHING but hurting someone. Whatever you do, NEVER, EVER apologize for a step/sequence/figure that didn't come out as you wanted it. First, since she doesn't know what you wanted to do (hopefully, you are not trying to communicate verbally), she can't tell it didn't come out as you intended it. Second, it makes you look like an insecure leader, and we all know how much women love an insecure man...
* Teach on the dance floor at a milonga. While this is covered by the "do not talk" rule, it merits it's own space. Every time you stop to show your partner something, you are likely blocking the line of dance, forcing people to navigate around you. Which makes you an asshole. Stop that please. Most women resent unsolicited advice on the dance floor at a milonga anyway, so you are effectively shooting yourself in the foot there. If advice is solicited, get off the dance floor or at a minimum, go to the middle of the dance floor. If I see you trying to impress a beginner by "teaching" her your favorite (usually poorly executed) colgada-volcada-dip-sacada combination I will make it my mission for that milonga to dance with all your victims and gently inform them about milonga codes and what kind of leaders they should avoid. With a little help most women figure out the assholes pretty quickly.

And here are a few suggestions, they don't always apply, and they are not a huge deal, but at least consider them.

* For followers, take your glasses off. It's nearly impossible to dance close embrace comfortably with eyeglasses on. Consider contacts. This applies to leaders as well if you can still see well enough to navigate...
* For followers (not much a problem for men), don't wear anything that creates a bulge on your chest/abdomen, no matter how small (like dresses with a knot in front, jewelry, etc). It makes it very uncomfortable in close embrace.
* For leaders. If you get an erection during the dance, err on the side of caution and assume she's not appreciating it. Move to open embrace immediately if it's not visible or just excuse yourself claiming a "bathroom emergency".
* For followers, don't wear tight skirts, dresses. If you can't comfortably take a the largest step you can take wearing pants, it's too tight.

Feel free to add your own ...