Thursday, June 28, 2007

Weekend New York trip (long)

As I had some bureaucracy to fight at the Romanian embassy in NY, I took Friday and Monday off, the plan being to take care of business Friday and/or Monday and use the rest of the time to hang out in NY and of course tango! To save some cash, I got a room in Stamford, which I thought it was 20 miles north of NY on I95. With I got it at a Holiday Inn for $60 a night, which was a pretty good deal. Stamford, as it later turned out, it's actually about 40 miles north of midtown so next time I'll have to pay more attention to the distances ... The other idea I had was that I would trailer the motorcycle to the hotel, and take the bike to the city, as a bike is much easier to park. Assuming there would be parking at the hotel. Which there wasn't (well, there was PAID parking, but not for a car with a trailer attached). Something else I should ask in the future so I won't have to move the car around at 3AM while trespassing ...

Friday - the trip to NY

We (me and Debbi) left the house Friday around 10AM (to avoid rush hour) and we were hoping to hit Stamford by 2AM and then head to town for the afternoon milonga which starts at 4:30. Due to construction and heavy traffic it took us 6 hours to get to the hotel, so we decided to skip the afternoon milonga and just chill a bit and head into town early enough to have dinner and hang out a bit before the milonga. We left on the motorcycle around 7PM thinking we'd get into the city by 7:45 or so. Not so fast... It took us 2 hours to make the 40 miles to the city. Riding a motorcycle in stop and go traffic for two hours is not exactly that much fun. For those who are not aware, motorcycles are manual transmissions, and the clutch is operated by the left hand. When one goes in stop and go traffic, the clutch is basically used continuously. By the end of the two hour trip, I could not feel my hand anymore... On the up side, a few more of these trips and I'll be able to crush rocks with my bare left hand, who knows when that might get ... handy. Hey, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger!

Friday - the milonga @ the Ukrainian East Village Restaurant

We made to the restaurant by 9:20PM, and there was still a pre-milonga class going on, so we ordered food, taking the opportunity to check out the local talent. I saw a few women in the room I wanted to dance with, but they were virtually impossible to approach as they were in high demand and when they were not dancing, they were engaged in what appeared to be intimate conversations which I feel are rude to interrupt. They didn't appeared to be interested in dancing outside of their circle so I didn't even try. Other then Debbi, I only danced with a couple of women, one of them being C, whom I met at the Boston tango festival where she performed with one of the argentine instructors. She is a lovely dancer and I enjoyed every minute of the 2 (or maybe 3) tandas I danced with her. It turns out she doesn't dance socially much, for various reasons, which I think it's a shame. So I "made" her promise she'd go out more often ;-) While I certainly don't feel (anymore) like I have to dance every tanda, it was quite disappointing to dance so little, but it was (mostly) my own choice so I can't really complain.

Saturday - bike adventures

We got up late and headed into town around 3PM, thinking we'll have time to hang out before the Central Park Milonga which starts at 6PM. Good plan, but the bike broke down on the way there. So there I was on the side of the road taking the bike apart to track down what appeared to be an electrical problem. The first attempt to fix it didn't work, but the second time I was pretty sure I got it right and since it was 5PM already and we were still an hour away, I decided to take the chance and continue to ride to NY (as opposed to returning to the hotel to get the car). It turns out the issue was indeed fixed so we made it to Central Park a bit after 6PM.

Saturday - Central park milonga

It turns out Central Park is quite big and we didn't have the best directions, so it took us a while to track down the milonga, but we eventually heard the music and tracked it down. The dancing takes place in a little ronda with a statue of Shakespeare in the middle. The floor is concrete, so not exactly ideal, but it's not that terrible. Me and Debbi danced for the first 20-30 min or so and then we went to find new partners. A favorite follower of mine, R from NY was there and we danced together 3 or 4 tandas, and it was just as lovely as always. I also danced with someone new, N, she has a wonderful embrace and we had a lot of fun. The two hours that we had went by quickly and before we knew it, it was over.

Saturday - Lafayette milonga

In the evening we went to Lafayette milonga. I reviewed this milonga a while ago and nothing really changed. The level of dancing is much lower then all other milongas in NY, I actually only danced with Debbi, L, a follower from Boston who happened to be there and one tanda with a local which was OK, but nothing special. Interesting though, while I'd say that most dancers were between beginner & intermediate, the floor craft was decent. The milonga had live music with a duo, which sounded fine, but I didn't find it very inspiring to dance to.

Sunday - Sancha dance sneakers!

Over the last year I've seen scores of people talking about sancha dance sneakers and seen even more dancing in them, so since we knew there was a Sancha store in NY (8th ave & 53rd) we went there so now I'm the proud owner of one pair for about $40. And it turns out, they ARE very comfortable and great to dance tango in (just make sure you get the ones with hard soles, as they make ones with soft soles which are way to grippy for tango).

Sunday - Tango Porteno (Sea port) milonga

Now, this was the best milonga of this trip, and possibly the best I've been in NY ever. There were a few issues, the most important one being the floor, which is an old wooden deck, complete with cracks, splinters, warped planks, etc. I was in sneakers and sometime had a hard time, but some of the women were wearing high heels and I have no idea how they do it... They are my heroes! ;-) The other issue is that the dancing area is not delimited, so unlike a traditional milonga, where if you can keep your follower on the outside of the outer loop you can keep her safe, in this case it was not true, as there were bystanders, bicycles, kids running, etc. I don't know if that would be allowed by whoever owns the area, but it would be ideal if the dance area was cordoned off, which would keep both dancers safe from pedestrians and keep the pedestrians safe from being stabbed by a rogue boleo...

But there were scores of great dancers, and I got to dance with a few of my favorite NY dancers and even find new favorites. T was there and we danced several tandas which were a lot of fun. Sadly that happened at the height of the evening when it was the most crowded, so it was not nearly as fun as it could've been. Same with R, which I was so glad to see, as she is so awesome to dance with and we both enjoy tremendously dancing with each other. I danced again with N, who I met at the Central Park and she was lots of fun. And I found a new favorite, D, from NY. She looked familiar but I could not remember where I knew her from, so I went to introduce myself and I was surprised to see that she knew my name. It turns out we met at Adam's party in the spring, though I can't remember if we danced together, I would guess we didn't, as I'm sure I would've remembered. It wasn't easy to get her as she was in high demand, one leader in particular (fantastic dancer according to Deb) monopolized her for over an hour. Grrrrrrrr ;) But we go to dance a few tandas toward the end of the evening, and it was certainly worth the wait. She has am amazing embrace and an elegance in movements that reminded me of Marika (my first "tango crush"). Looking forward to dance with her again, hopefully on a better surface.

Monday - Oops, embassy closed until late

Monday at around 10:30 we arrived at the (Romanian) embassy where I had some papers to get notarized just to find out they would not open until 4PM. The original plan was to leave the NY area around noon heading to Boston. Leaving right after the business was taken care of would've put us on the road at around 6PM, and that seemed like a bad time to get out of NY. So, we decided to stay later, and since we were there ;-), we decided to stop by at the monday's milonga, as it's unlikely I'll be in NY on a monday evening any time soon.

Monday - Luna milonga

The milonga starts at 9:30 and unlike Boston, there were quite a few people waiting to get in, so the floor got busy right away. The level of dancing was mixed, from good to beginners. I was quite tired as the night before I only slept 3 hours and since I was going to drive to Boston after the milonga I only danced with a few people with whom I danced before. N, was the woman I met at the Tango Nuevo Fest in Montreal who was only been dancing at that time for 8 months, yet she's fantastic (she's both fun and technically proficient, which is not a combination easy to come by). We danced for a long time, maybe 4 or even 5 tandas until she had to leave as she had to get up in the morning. We had a blast. L, which I danced with before at various events is also a great dancer, but I'm having trouble maintaining a comfortable embrace for some reason, it could be height related.

Monday night - the drive home

One advantage of driving during the night is the complete lack of traffic. I set the car on cruise control at 75mph and that was that. About 2/3 of the way I had to pull over for a power nap. After about an hour I woke up, Deb woke up and we made the rest of the distance without incidents.


I love NY.

More conclusions :-)

Taking the bike on a trailer to have to buzz around in the city was a good idea, but we had to deal with carrying the jackets around as I had no way to secure it. Next time I'll bring a cable lock to be able to secure them to the bike. Also, I'll have to make sure that wherever we spend the night there is space to park a car with a trailer attached. Alternatively, I could try to fold the trailer and try to squeeze it in the same parking spot as the car, but I'll have to find a way to secure it to the car (the cable lock maybe?).

As far a tango goes, NY is a much bigger scene then Boston and I've seen lots of people I would've liked to dance with but had no time or opportunity to ask. Looking forward to going again.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Boston tango festival - Day 4 & 5

On the last two days nothing happened that was worth mentioning. Saturday at the 1st milonga, from 9PM to 1AM, I only danced with Deb a few tandas and then two more tandas with two different women. It was by choice, while the live music was much better for dancing then the one on Friday, it didn't inspire me much. And the DJed music selection was totally uninspiring. The 2nd milonga, the "all night" one, from 1AM to 4:30AM was just as uneventful. The music selection was weird to say the least (each traditional tanda was followed by a two song alternative set) and after dancing with Deb at the beginning, I only danced a couple of tandas. All in all, it was a lame Saturday.

Sunday wasn't much better. While there was much more space on the dance floor, the music selection was odd (same DJ as Saturday), attendance was low, and I think I danced maybe 5 tandas all together, 3 of them with Debbi.

The Sunday afternoon practica was more fun then all the 3 festival milongas combined.

I will post soon a review of the festival on my Milonga review site.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Boston tango festival - Day 3

I decided I will soon post a review of the festival on my Milonga review site, so I'm only going to write now about my dances, nothing else.

Friday I danced just a little bit, most of the dances were rather unremarkable with a couple of exceptions. As usual I started the evening dancing with Debbi, which sets the bar pretty high. I danced with Tine, the DJ from NY, and she was lovely as usual, but for whatever reason we could not connect this time (dancing on live music, didn't help). I also danced with a woman I haven't been dancing for a long time, as she dropped out of tango to concentrate on studies. I used to love to dance with her but this time it just didn't work.

Towards the end of the evening I was taking pictures, as the music was rather uninspiring, when I noticed a woman who seemed somewhat familiar, sitting down rather bored. I was pretty sure she was a good dancer, even though I could not place her, and as I was trying to remember where did I see her, a vals tanda started. I figured what the hell, vals is a pretty sure bet, even when dancing with people I'm not quite compatible with. So I catch her eye, she smiles, I ask and off we go. From the first few measures it became obvious she was a really good dancer and it got better and better as we were adjusting to each other. As we were talking between the 2nd and third song I learned she grew up (in NJ) with tango music as her father was/is a (tango?) musician and she started to dance tango more seriously in 1995... When the vals tanda ended she didn't seem to be in any hurry to go anywhere, so we talked through the cortina and continued to dance on the next tanda. The music was inspiring, I had a great time and she seemed to enjoy it as well. When the tango tanda ended, I was thrilled to see that she was up for another one, when I realized the song played was "La Cumparsita". I looked at the watch, sure enough it was almost 1AM. I excused myself, as I was sure Debbi was waiting for us to have the last dance of the evening together. After the last song, as we were changing shoes, I realized who she was. She is the partner of one of the argentine instructors and she seemed familiar because I've seen her perform at the opening milonga on Wednesday...

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Boston tango festival - Day 2

Thursday was the second milonga, at the same space. It was pretty much the same as the day before, it just seemed like there were less people, which I find odd. Maybe a lot of people came Wednesday to see the performances. Same horrifying lack of floor craft (Deb got hit in the head by one of the local "dancers", that guy is a menace on the dance floor, yet he thinks he's fantastic. He actually TEACHES tango and he gets gigs to showcase tango at weddings like you can see by following this link. I shudder at the thought of people watching him and thinking that is what tango is.), same light setup and once again the milonga ended at midnight. Sigh ...

Speaking of performances. It's rare I enjoy watching a performance more then watching the same people dancing socially. That's because in most cases, it seems like the dancers feel they have to do amazing athletic things in a performance, and the whole thing looks like a circus act.

I found it weird that argentine dancers would dance (at least during performances) almost exclusively in open embrace. I thought they are supposed to prize the connection and intimacy of the dance beyond anything else.

I feel that we might have a vicious circle going. The performers probably feel like they would not be as entertaining if they didn't go overboard with the athletics, so they keep doing it, and at the same time they make people think this is what tango is all about, so they sort of create the "monsters" who want them to execute the "dancing with the stars" performances. It's quite a shame I think.

I danced with one of the argentine instructors at the end of the night, on the last two songs (two versions of the "La Cumparsita"). On the first song she felt a little stiff and mechanical, like she was bracing for disaster ;), so I kept it simple and stayed in open embrace. On the second song, I switched to close and by the second half I felt we were really dancing (as in, she was participating in the dance rather then just tentatively going along for the ride). I wish it wasn't the end of the night, as I would need a few more dances to figure out if I could create a really good connection with her. Please note that I'm not questioning her proficiency in the technical aspects of the dance, I'm talking about how well we managed to connect with each other and the "chemistry" of the dance. It was too little to figure it out. Maybe I'll get another shot at it later.

Of course dancing what seemed to be the last dance of the evening with somebody else got me in trouble as Debbi likes to end the evening dancing with me, so she excused herself to the person she was dancing with only to sit down alone for the last song. Ouch. In my defense, I looked for her when the first "La Cumparsita" started and she was dancing with Miles, so I went to chat with the DJ and sort of ran into the teacher and without thinking it through, I asked her for a dance. Since I asked her halfway through the song, I felt it would've been really rude to excuse myself after just half a song, so I felt I had to continue.

When I got back to the table Deb was looking really disappointed, so not wanting to leave things as they were, I grabbed my cell phone, which among other things it's an mp3 player, quickly found "Re, Fa, Si" (Biagi), put the phone on speaker and asked Deb for the last dance of the night. So off we went, with the phone kept really close to our ears and had our last song of the night. Miles took pictures and some video of this dance which you can see below. So that's how I managed to dug myself out of the hole ;)


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Boston tango festival - Day 1

Last night was the opening night at the Zero Arrow theater in Cambridge. It's a nice space but there are some things that I could live without. The main room is pitch black. And I mean walls, ceiling, I think even the floor. I was the photographer and when I take pictures in a dark room I bounce the light off walls and/or ceiling to make it look more natural. Well, that will not work with matte black walls & ceilings. To make it worse, they had variable red/blue lighting, so good luck trying to get pictures with good colors. As such, nearly all the pictures look like in a B category Sci-Fi movie. Oh well.

Even if I didn't have to take pictures, the room was way too dark, trying to see people at the tables to find someone to dance from across the room was impossible. So one had to walk (on the dance floor, as there was no other way around) around the room to find partners. I wish there was a corridor created between the tables so "pedestrians" can go around the room without having to walk on the dance floor. I'll mention it to the organizers tonight along with the lighting suggestions.

On a good note, the music was quite good. Tine DJed and she did a great job selecting music for the crowd, the dance floor was packed at all times. She is also a great dancer, the tanda we danced together was one of the best on the night. I however was not at my best. The complete lack of floor craft on the dance floor is screwing up my dance big time as I get stressed out about bumping into people of being bumped in. Unfortunately, I have not been to any milongas where the floor craft was great, so this is hardly an issue specific to this event.

I haven't danced much, for the reasons mentioned above. Maybe today... There were a few people in the room I've danced with months ago and I would've liked to dance with again, but I had no time. I wish milongas in Boston were open later, having to go home at midnight is a bit of a bummer.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

38th birthday in Montreal

Weekend in Montreal

Debbi took me to Montreal for the weekend as a birthday gift. I love that city and every time I go there I wish I had more time. We met a fellow blogger, Caroline, and we had a great time chatting and going to milongas together. Yes, milongas. You didn't think I was going to be in Montreal and not dance, did you? That'd be just silly...

We made to the Royal Tango milonga Saturday night. I haven't danced much as it was crowded and the floor craft was marginal at best. Also with just a few notable exceptions, the level of dance was somewhat mediocre. I was told it gets much better after midnight (and the only other time I've been there it was better later), but we left early as Debbi wasn't feeling well.

Sunday was a true tango marathon. We started it at 3PM with the practica at Studio Tango then went to the Tangueria milonga where we made it around 7:30 and then we left around 10:30 to make to "L'Academie" where we closed the place at 2AM.

I'll post some reviews of there venues on my milonga review site later, so I won't go into details now. I'll just write about some of the highlights.

At the Studio Tango supervised practica I danced with Mireille for a little bit, as she was "on the clock" (she was the supervising teacher). I saw her at the milonga the day before, but we left before I had a chance to introduce myself. So I did at the practica. She is a dream to dance with. Unfortunately because the practica was crowded and the movements of the dancers were a textbook Brownian motion, I spent a lot of energy in trying to protect her (and myself) from being crashed into, so that made it somewhat difficult to truly enjoy the experience, but one thing was clear, she is awesome. She masters the "moving like moving through molasses" technique and I look forward to dance with her again in a more favorable setting.

At the Tangueria milonga I had the chance to dance with Laura and she was a blast to dance with. I wish I had the chance to dance with her on some music I really like, instead of Pugliese. Pugliese can be fun to dance to, but I have to be in the right mood, it's a difficult music to dance to and trying to make it interesting the first time you dance with someone can be challenging. Debbi took video of me dancing with her, here are a few fragments. Apparently I picked up this funny habit of dancing with my mouth open, which makes me look like a drooling idiot (which I'm not ... most of the time). I'm thinking I should stop doing that ...

The next stop was L'Academie. And it turns out that that's where all the great dancers were. Marika was there (my first "tango crush" as Debbi calls her) and we danced a couple of tandas. She was just as lovely as always, both as a person and as a dancer. She has this amazing warm embrace that can just make you melt. It just occurred to me, I think she should teach a workshop on embrace, a lot of people would benefit greatly if they learned hers. Or maybe she does that already as quite a few dancers in Montreal have a very pleasant embrace.

A while ago, the second time I was in Montreal, the first time I went with Debbi, at the L'Academie milonga we saw a man and a woman dancing that caught our attention. He is very protective about his partners, at times keeping his arms around her like a shield and he sings as he dances. He is obviously a very good dancer. She had this totally relaxed expression on her face, the "tango bliss" face. Last night I saw her sitting down and went and asked her for a dance. She is a great dancer (she is been dancing for 8 years) and we danced for a while, maybe two and a half tandas (there were no cortinas played at this milonga and it was a bit disconcerting) until a milonga set came along. She asked if I'd like to dance the milonga set, and I would've loved to continue dancing with her, but a milonga set was more then I could handle after dancing the whole day.

Last but not least, I obviously danced a lot with Debbi, she is (quickly) becoming a great dancer. While she's only been dancing since January, she is quite often one of the best dancers in the room. Her embrace, presence and following is often praised by her dance partners and she is quickly improving on the other skills that make someone a great follower (in my opinion of course).

I had a great time, thank you Deb, you're awesome.


Friday, June 01, 2007

Do you like it here in US?

When they find out I'm a foreigner many people ask me this question. When I don't look too enthusiastic about living here they ask me why and I usually have a hard time giving an articulated answer. But I was reading a blog written by a couple who went to live in Argentina for 6 months or so, and here is what they had to say about the difference between US and Argentina. That explains perfectly what bugs me about living in US.

"In the United States, there is always someone, something, some group, some law who will tell you what is best for you. In Argentina, the people take responsibility for their own lives. In the USA, people give away their responsibility in the name of safety and security. Here, in Argentina, they fight to keep it and are willing to take the consequences.

In the USA of my childhood, we had that. We lost it. Or we gave it away. We got lazy and complacent. We are no longer responsible for anything. We are a culture of victims. Things happen TO us. We are passive and reactive.

Argentinos live on the edge. They pay their money and they take their chances. In the USA, we take our chances only if it’s someone else’s money."

The original post is here.

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How to Play (Live) Tango Music for Dancers by Bob Barnes

There was quite a firestorm of emotions on the tango-l list lately about live music for tango dancing, and in my opinion this post was one of the most useful post ever posted on this subject. If you know musicians who play (or are thinking of playing) tango for dancing, have them read it! :

Here is the link

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