Wednesday, June 17, 2009

BsAs 2009 - Muchos gracias

Aha! It took me long enough to figure it out, but apparently if they say "muchos gracias" at the end of the tanda, it means they really liked dancing with you. I feel like a dumb ass for taking two weeks to figure this out... ;)


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

BsAs 2009 - Week 2 - Overview

Make friends. Fast.

The hardest part in some of the BsAs milongas where the people I’d like to dance with go, (the non-traditional milongas) is the “private party” feeling of the event, when one feels it’s not part of the party. Maybe to a far lesser degree, there is some of this in US as well, but in BsAs it’s taken to an art. Unlike any milongas I’ve been to in US and Canada, where people seem to be there to dance with other people and they act as such, people here in BsAs tend come with a group and sit together, all closed up. What I mean is they face each other, chat when they don’t dance and you can’t make eye contact with them to save your life. What is a shame is that at least some of them are in fact expecting to be asked to dance, as if I decide to go to the table and basically stare at them from 3 feet away, they might turn around, look pleasantly surprised that I’m asking and enthusiastically accept. Why the whining then, why don’t I just do that? Well, because the exact same body language will yield the exact opposite result, I can walk to a table, stop in front of it and not even be acknowledged. At all. All of this being done in front of a rather large audience. This feels far worst then being said no, as they seem to be saying “you are not even worth taking the effort to lift my head and nod “No”. So I’m sitting there in front of the table, no one even looking at me, trying to figure out how long do I sit there before I turn around and go back to my table with my tail between my legs. One second? Two? Five? While I blame no one for going somewhere just to dance with their friends, and it’s certainly not anyone’s responsibility to befriend me, not to mention my own stupidity to go to a Spanish speaking country not speaking any spanish, I believe the ignoring thing is rude and unnecessary.

I’m sure someone will ask, or at least wonder, why don’t go to the traditional ones? Maybe the traditional milongas are great in season, but at the ones I have gone to, there were very few people I was interested in dancing with. So, my advice to anyone coming here in the winter is, learn Spanish and make friends. Get thick skinned. As fast as you can.

Milongas & Practicas

Tuesday @ Praktika8 I had a good time. I am more known there, so I generally get the dances I ask for. The people are much friendlier then other places, though what I wrote above certainly applies there as well. Music was good.

Wednesday @ TangoLab I took the class before and while I like the teacher, there was a lot of talking all fast all in Castellano, I could not follow that to save my life. I did pick up a nice boleo from a position I never considered, so the time was not lost. The “practica” after is in fact a milonga (same as Praktika8, PracticaX and others). The place is nice, but the floor is very slippery and the acoustics are terrible (lots of shiny flat surfaces). That’s one of the places you better come with a group. Music was OK.

Thursdays & Fridays @ Villa Malcom I had over all a good time. I had a fantastic Canaro set, quite a few good dances, but I definitely not danced as much I dance when I’m in NYC or at a festival. The one tanda at a time rule makes it more difficult to keep dancing. Music was OK/Good.

Saturday @ DNI practica in the afternoon it was OK. It’s a real practica, but the level is not very high. For the alternative music fan, it’s the place to go. It has the best floor anywhere as it was set up as a dance studio.

Saturday @ Milonga10 I had the best time since I arrived in BsAs. I danced pretty much the entire time from 11 till 4am. I skipped maybe 2 tandas. The music at Milonga10 & Praktika8 was actually really good.

Sunday @ Loca (same place as the TangoLab) was a total loss. The class before which we attended was something about musicality, but there was A LOT of talking and not one tango song was played during the entire 2 hours. Not even Nuevo tango or fusion or nothing, they used some ballad that I was tempted to ask what it was so I can use it as a cortina, as no one would ever attempt to dance to it at a milonga. I am definitely not a fan of that teaching style, where the teachers explains something for 20 minutes and then you get to try it. They were very nice though and tried as best as they could to explain things in English for us, but it didn't really work out at all. The milonga had the same atmosphere as the TangoLab, little groups hanging out together and dancing with each other. So, if you’re going there, go with a group. I did not like the music at all. The music was way to interesting for me (lots of known songs in unusual orchestrations, alternative, nuevo, etc).

Monday @ El Motivo (practica at Villa Malcom) I had a good time. It’s very weakly attended in this season, but this is a real practica so if you find someone you like dancing with and the other way around, no one will look funny at you if you dance for an hour straight. The woman I had the fantastic Canaro set was there and we danced for maybe half an hour (until they played an alternative set which didn’t inspire me at all), that alone definitely would’ve made my night, but the other dances were quite nice too. Music was OK.


The classes at DNI are useful, but I didn’t take too many this week as I’m working during the day and the evening classes are too basic. I took two classes with Chicho at La Viruta and I think he has the best teaching technique I’ve seen yet. Anywhere. Why?
- he starts the class with some exercises which will have you practice the elements he will use throughout the class. In one class it was leading tiny steps and gigantic steps intertwined, in the other was being able to change the follower’s weight independently then yours.
- he will demonstrate a short part of a sequence and briefly talk about the technique required, maybe an element or two and then lets the class practice for 2-3 songs. He and his partner goes around and they answer questions. After that he goes back to the same part of the sequence and adds more technical details, maybe another 2 or 3. And then you get to practice again. He repeats until all the technique elements required are covered.
- He talks briefly and concisely, he shows what he’s taking about, the bad way(s) and the good ways to do it and even for me who I can’t understand a word in Spanish, I understood most of what was expected of me.
- He doesn’t insist on having the students do what he showed, you take what you want from what he says and work on whatever you want of it.
- The classes are three hours long, which allows for a lot more time to cover technique in detail. It is exhausting though.
- While the material is really hard, and it was way over my head, I definitely learned new things, not moves, but ways of moving.

Other stuff

Sunday we went to San Telmo to the antique fair which is on every sunday. Wholy crap, that was a lot of antiques. I took a few pictures but didn't download them yet. We walked for a few hours, went to a restaurant where they had a "tango show", a couple would come and dance a few songs in a small space between the tables. To their credit, they were dancing on traditional tango music and were actually dancing salon tango.

Between working 10-6, tango classes and milongas I had no time to do anything else, or go see anything else. But I have 4 weeks of vacation out of the next 7, so I will have to find time.


BsAs 2009 - Week 2 - Thursday @ Villa Malcom – Take 2

Where last week I had a miserable time, this week it was so much better. Last night I arrived to there around 10:30, after having dinner after taking Chicho’s class. As a side note, and I may write a post about his classes, damn, those classes are hard. First, they are three hours long with one 5 minute break. It was way over my head, but you are taking the class with a partner, so as long as you are both aware of each other’s limitations, there is plenty to learn regardless of one’s level. At least 50% of the class, if not more, were teachers, either from BsAs or abroad.

Anyway, after getting there and warming up with a friend I came with (bringing someone with you so you can warm up and be seen dancing is highly recommended) I had quite a few dances ranging from nice to very good. Throughout the night I tried several time to ask a women I was introduced to during Chicho’s class, but she was either dancing or was in a conversation. Around one, the first song of tanda just starting was Poema (Canaro). I really like this song, I though Canaro was the perfect orchestra to dance with this woman based on how she moves, so I stood up determined to go ask her, even if I had to interrupt a conversation. When I turn around, here she was asking me if I wanted to dance. I resisted the temptation to look behind, to make sure she was talking to me, and off we went. It was one of the best dances I’ve had, ever, definitely the best Canaro set.

When I got back to the table my friend asked me how was it, I told her and her next question was “What makes her so good?”. Huh… Good question. I’ve written a post a long time ago on this subject, time has passed, so maybe I’ll take a crack at it again at some point in the near future.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

BsAs 2009 - Week 1

So it’s been a week since we arrived. Here’s the summary :

- Love the “winter” weather so far, I find it amusing seeing portenos wearing winter clothes and gloves when it’s 50 degrees outside …
- many of the milongas are very weakly attended in the off season. There are exceptions.
- people come out really late. For a milonga ending at 3 or 4 it’s not unusual to see people walking in at 2am.
- people (locals obviously) come and hang out in groups. The women rarely look around so catching their eye from afar is next to impossible (except at traditional milongas), generally you need to get closer and/or verbally ask.
- a cabeceo decline is highly unreliable (except at traditional milongas). A number of time I caught someone’s eye and they looked away. When I eventually got bored and said fuck it, I’ll just ask, they enthusiastically accepted. Now it’s possible they actually watched/seen me dance between the decline and the verbal invitation, but most of these things happened at the end of the night so presumably they’ve seen me dance before the decline. With “the pants” I’m not exactly inconspicuous.
- not speaking Spanish, while not a major issue makes for awkward pauses between songs ;)
- bring with you black pepper if you like it in your food. Most restaurants don’t have it.
- don’t buy anything packaged labeled orange juice and expect to drink orange juice
- I went to a few traditional milongas, I don’t like the vibe. It may also be relevant that at the few traditional milongas I’ve been, there weren’t many people I wanted to dance with.
- Many people equate the “Nuevo” milongas with open embrace acrobatics. The best “acrobats” are also fantastic close embrace dancers.
- I like the teaching style at DNI but they are focused on open embrace. That’s unfortunate. I’ll still take classes there though.
- I really dig the telecommuting work. Nothing like having a 5 foot commute, being able to walk downstairs and have lunch in Palermo-Soho. That 9am EST is 10am here doesn’t hurt either as La Viruta is open very late;). The SipTalk VOIP phone works wonderfully. Being paid dollars and spending pesos is also a pretty good deal. Too bad I have bills going on the State side as well…
- The one tanda at a time rule is observed almost anywhere I’ve been (except at VM on Mondays). I still don’t know how I feel about this one. There are times when I dance with someone and I know a second set would work much better, so at those times the rule is annoying. On to the other hand, it makes one make the most of the songs that you have. No “autopilot dancing” because you don’t like the song/set and you’re just waiting for the next tanda.
- As one gets known, it gets much easier getting dances. Last night at praktika8, a week after my first night out in BsAs, I danced pretty much the entire night, all dances were at least very good, and all of them were with BsAs residents, half locals, half foreigners living there.
- Medialunas are yummy
- If I would have state the biggest difference I felt between women who are trained to dance in BsAs vs some other places, is the way they move their hips when dancing. Portenas and foreigners living here they all roll their hips as they walk, which makes for a much more flavorful dance and removes a lot of the stiffness people trained other places have.


Monday, June 08, 2009

Sunday was a good night, even though it was low key. I went to check out El Beso early in the evening, that was a mistake, as the milonga doesn’t even start until after 10, and people are not coming before 11 when I left (as I was meeting some people at La Capilla). La Capilla it’s a very cute place, small, lots of character, they serve coffee, empanadas and a few other thing. There were very few people (apparently it used to be free and now they were charging 5 pesos), but I had a good time. I danced quite a bit with a new friend who lives in BsAs, (the vals set was really, really nice, thank you N), with my new friend S visiting from France and two locals. One of them , D, joined N, S and I to La Viruta around 2AM where we danced some more. La Viruta was not very busy and there were lots of fantastic dancers, but the music was … err … well, mostly weird crap so I did not feel like trying to dance with someone new on that, especially since I was tired by then. But I had a few fun sets with D and N and then around 4am I headed back to the apt. At 10AM I had to be online at work. Waking up was rough ...

I will be working the next couple of weeks 10am-6pm so the afternoon classes at DNI are out. The evening ones are mostly beginner so it seems I’ll be taking a break for a bit, unless I find something else worth attending that starts around 7pm.

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Sunday, June 07, 2009

BsAs 2009 -- Day 5

2pm : class
4pm-7pm : practica
7:30pm-10pm : Los Consagrados
11pm-4am :Milonga10
4am : done

The class was interesting, though the entire material applies exclusively to open embrace. I like the teaching style at DNI, I wish I could find a non-nuevo class that teaches the same way.

The practica was fun. A lot of foreigners living in BsAs. Brazilian, Israel, Italy, Canada, etc. The israel girl wore me out in 4 songs. I felt I needed a nap after that set. A teacher from DNI asked me to dance and I had to decline, the music played at the time was totally undanceable (for me). I danced with a tiny portena who was totally wild (in a fun way). All in all, it was good.

We went to Los Consagrados to meet some friends who go there regularly. I don't really like the traditional scene, where the women sit on one side and the men on the other. I danced with Debbi and two of our friends, and that was it. An older porteno stopped by at the table to say that he thought I was dancing tango very well. He seemed surprised I don't speak castellano.

When I arrived at Milonga10, there was a class going on. It was a "I show, you do" type class, I can't say I like that style a lot. The level wasn't very high. At midnight the place was pretty empty, so I considered going some place else. The place filled up by 1am, and I danced pretty much the whole night. A portena came she asked me to dance, she said because she saw me in the class and I was dancing "muy lindo". She was good, a really nice embrace too. I even got a compliment from the waitress. At some point a tanda started and I really liked the song, I looked around and no one I knew was good was sitting, so I asked a girl I didn't see dance (the wear patterns on her shoes looked right). She declined. Later I saw her standing up, she seemed like she was 6'5. Note to self : watch and then ask. I left before the milonga was over as I was getting too tired to dance and I was starting to dance on auto-pilot. Not something I would want to do in a milonga in BsAs much less in the place where Chicho and F. Naveira were hanging out.

It was a good day.

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Friday, June 05, 2009

BsAs 2009 - Day 4

So yesterday we took two classes at DNI. They were good, all about the mechanics of movement, not as much about figures. I took one class at Tango Brujo a few days ago, I wasn't impressed. Tango Brujo is also much further away, so I may stay with DNI for now. I'd just like to find a non-nuevo place to take some classes.

Villa Malcom - take 2 (on Friday)

We were there at 10 to attend the class before the practica, since we were told that was a good idea to make yourself known, yet last night, no one in the class except for maybe two other couple could actually dance, so being there didn't help much. When the practica started, I danced with Debbi for a while, then with a french girl I met in one of the classes at DNI. After that I danced with 1 portena, who's been dancing for 2 years yet she was moving like some of the best dancers I ever danced with (in my opinion of course). She was my best dance of the night, the trip and one of the top dances I've had ever. I danced with another two BaAs residents after that (one american, one japanese) both really good dancers and then with a couple of women from Boston who were there. All in all, better then last night.

La Viruta - take 2 (on Friday)

At 3am I walked to La Viruta. The music wasn't bad, I wasn't crazy about it, but it was ok. The floor was packed and it stayed packed until 5am when I was done. Some good dancers, not a lot. I danced with 3 people. A french woman at met at DNI, a portena (friend of the woman I had the best dance with) and a woman from Australia. The portena was a lot of fun, the other two were really good.

Note: Invisible

A number of people warned me about how ruthless portenas & portenos are. I figured, well, they're just not going to dance with me, what's the big deal. Well, here's the thing, they all seem to master the skill at looking right through you. A number of times I felt the temptation of sticking my tongue at them to see if I get a reaction. A couple of time I felt the need to look in a mirror to make sure I didn't suddenly became a ghost. Not yet...

Note: Pepper

If you like pepper in your food, bring it with you from wherever you are coming from. You can't find it here. Also, bring coffee, the one sold here has sugar in it...

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

BsAs2009 - Day 3

Well, the words that come to mind for my evening today are ... total loss. Debbi wasn't feeling well so I went to Villa Malcom alone. I got there around 10:40, just as the class was wrapping up. I noticed a quite a few good dancers, which, no surprise, avoided my gaze systematically. I then saw a woman sitting down and I thought I recognized her from another milonga. I was wrong. Very wrong. That tanda probably sealed my fate for the evening. All good dancers there were in groups, none of them seemed interested in dancing with other people. I thought I caught a break when one of them accepted my invitation. It was an OK dance, nothing out of the ordinary, and maybe it would've helped, but somehow EVERYONE decided to dance that set, so there was no one left to see anything. That concluded my dancing until around 1am, when I threw the towel and walked to Viruta.

At La Viruta, there were maybe 10 dancers that were good or above, all of them hanging out with their friends. Since I didn't feel like waking in the middle of the pack and tap someone on the shoulder and cabaceo didn't seem to work at all, they were all out of reach. I thought I caught another break when one of the better dancers I saw at El Beso last night walked in and sat alone. I went and asked her, to my surprise she accepted and off we went. The problem is the music at La Viruta tonight was the most unpredictable crap I've ever heard played at a milonga ever. So after the first somewhat passable song, they played some Piazzola wannabe utter crap set which naturally, didn't inspire me in any way or form. The dance wasn't bad, it was just ... colorless. Either I was unable to engage her or she is not the type to "engage" during the dance. After that set, the music got even worse and 20 min later, at 3am they played Cumparsita, which ironically, despite being a version I don't like, was the best song I heard in the last 45 minutes.

So, 4h 20min, 3 tandas, one terrible, one ok and one ... flat. I am reasonably sure this was possibly the worst night I've had since I started tango, and I am including my first milonga I ever attended. On the up side, I can't see how it would get any worst, so, it should be better tomorrow.


BsAs 2009 - Day 2

Well, day 2 was a bit of a bust tango wise. We went to check out the afternoon milonga at Confiteria Ideal. Pretty place, there was no one (that could dance) there.

Then we went to Salon Canning around 8pm for the "evening" milonga. Same thing. Me and Debbi we sat separately so she can get asked to dance. I didn't ask anyone except Debbi, as there was no one there I wanted to dance with, Debbi danced a couple of times.

Then we went to El Beso but sat separately. Naturally, I got a seat at a table in a pretty bad spot (even though I learned later, that was not the worst spot). The entire night aside from dancing with Debbi and a friend who met us there, I danced with 3 other people out of the 9 people that I thought looked good. By looking good, I mean people that I would've asked to dance at a festival if I had the chance.Out of the 9, two of them were there with their boyfriends so they danced only with them, two came late and they were practically impossible to catch, as they were passed from one leader to another and the other two avoided my cabaceo. The lesson I learned, if the table you are seated at is not well placed, and you sit, you'll not get dances. So I went and hung out at the bar, from where I got the dances I did (despite the advice of a friend who said only the losers hang out at the bar so I won't get any dances there). The music was OK, the navigation was pretty good. All in all, I was bored to tears. It's unlikely I'll go back there.


Wednesday, June 03, 2009

BsAs 2009 - Day 1

7:05am – still in the plane and bored out of my mind. I can’t sleep in the plane, so I’ve been up the whole night. We will be landing in a little over 1 hour. Damn, this is a long flight. Any interest I ever had visiting Australia (or Japan or any of the other places on the other side of the planet) vanished…

They are serving breakfast, gotta go.

9:20pm – We got to the apartment around 11am, walked across the street to get some pastries, and then crashed around 1pm. We were going to get up at 4pm, so I set the alarm. Yeah, that didn’t work. The alarm did work, us getting up didn’t. I don’t even remember shutting the alarm off…We woke up around 6pm, still exhausted. But hungry, so we went and had some food at a cafĂ© a block away. I think I’m going to like BsAs, it reminds me a lot of home. Around 10:30 we’re going to be heading out to the first milonga in BsAs (well, it’s a practica but you know what I mean), Praktica8. More then a few people asked me in the last few weeks if I’m nervous. Umm, no, not about dancing in BsAs. I just don’t really know how is going to work chatting with people when my Spanish vocabulary is limited to “Hola”.

3am – Got back from Praktika8, where I went alone, as Debbi wasn’t feeling well. Initially I was supposed to meet some people there, but that didn’t happen, so, there I was, my first time out dancing in BsAs, in a place where I don’t know anyone and no one knows me. That was weird, as I can’t remember the last time when that happened. It was probably the first time I went to Montreal. Anyway, I just got myself a glass of wine and sat and watched for a little over one hour, trying to figure out the ways of the land. My first observation was, holy crap, ALL these people can dance! Well! As they arrive, people get attached to "packs", and when they don't dance, they chat. So, if you go ask someone and get turned down, you will do it in front of an audience and everyone watches everything. Sweet! Cabaceo doesn't seem to be used here, so you have to go ask people verbally. The music at the Praktika8 was actually really good even though the DJ seemed to hate valses, as he didn’t play any. Well, I wanted to dance at least one tanda on my birthday, so I went and asked one of the girls that did not seem belong to a "pack", who seemed to move well and who sat for the last few tandas. The strategy worked, she accepted and off we went. She was a good dancer, I’d say at the level of the better dancers in NYC, and it turns out she spoke a little bit of English too. When she heard I was from Boston, she seemed slightly surprised “But, you are a good dancer”… I don’t think she meant it the exact way it sounded, but it was funny nevertheless. After that I danced with another 4 or 5 people and except for one, they were all good or very good dancers. The one that wasn’t that great, just moved back to BsAs from LA where she lived for the last 7 years. All the women I danced with were from BsAs (though one of them moved to BsAs from Germany) and based on their comments at the end of the tanda, they seemed to enjoy the dances. They all spoke some English, so even though I should learn some Spanish, not knowing any doesn’t seem to be a big problem so far. All in all was a good night, although it would’ve been a lot nicer if Debbi was there. I think I’m going to like dancing in BsAs.