Tuesday, 18 March 2014

The world of politics applied to tango

It's around two in the morning and we are walking in the nearly empty streets from one milonga to another. I ignore the cucaracha scuttling away - I do not want my friend to notice it - and try not to meet the eyes of a handful of people waiting at a bus stop in a tired stupor. We are a small group of five people, so I am less afraid of being robbed than when we are just three girls, neither of us particularly tall or broad-shouldered, but there is no harm to being cautious. Just the other day, we were recounted a tale by a woman of how two men stole her necklace, in broad daylight, in a safer part of town, pushing her down and ripping it off her neck. She showed us the large bruises on her knees and legs. Apparently nobody had told her not to wear jewellery here.

"Where do you usually dance? I do not see you around a lot," I ask one of our self-appointed bodyguards. He is young, with a slightly round face and tanned skin, very white teeth and a shy smile.

He thinks a little bit and gives me some names. They are far from where I live, and I have indeed not been there often. It is easy in this city to only meet the same people on a few occasions over an extended period of time, if at all.

I am asked in return which are my favourite nights out, and answer with my top three. Has he been there, I ask?

"Yes, but  I don't like the first one," he answers. "Too many politics."

"It wouldn't be a problem," our other friend adds, "because we dance well, but we don't like it".

I'm surprised and tell them so. I have never noticed any particular politics going on nor found it more difficult to get dances in that particular milonga - in fact it is usually the place where I almost always get at least one very high-level dance, of the sort that leaves me on a little cloud of adrenaline and happiness. I have heard it described as an explosive high-energy place with a sky's-the-limit level, but I am not exactly an advanced dancer yet and get invited nevertheless.

However, a few hours later, as I am sitting in the large and dimly lit underground room of our destination, my thoughts wander back to tango politics. I have heard many thoughts on that subject since arriving in Buenos Aires.

Who dances with who, where, why... It's a world I would rather not enter. I heard I did not notice these games because of my newness on the tango scene, yet I find it difficult to believe the situation is as bad as I have been told. It's true I do not look out for it, but now I sometimes wonder how many people are walking around greeting everybody they know because they are genuinely friendly or because they want to be seen ("look at my connections, look at them! I know all these famous dancers"). Usually for me the problem is that I am too scared of bothering people to go say hi and then I come across as standoffish (so if I don't greet you please don't hesitate to come over).

I find it regrettable that a Milonga would be avoided altogether because of apparent political games. Tango is after all just a dance, despite being certain people's livelihood, and in my opinion some dancers need to take a deep breath and chill out. For me, trying to show off connections or dancing is a childish and destructive behaviour because it creates an unhealthy and uncomfortable atmosphere that drives away beginners.

I have stumbled into long and winding online arguments about the merits of one couple versus another or on obscure technical points (doubly useless because almost no two teachers have exactly the same technique either way and online teaching has little value). I have heard convoluted stories about why so-and-so doesn't talk with so-and-so over something that happened fifteen years ago. Sometimes, I feel like the stakes are higher than in the US presidential election. Why should I feel obligated to defend the places I go dancing because some people are criticising everything from the organisers to the floor? Why should I care that one couple dances a shifting embrace, very creative Milonga while another flows through the same song in a seamless, unbroken unity with a flurry of little steps?

Tango politics, if they truly exist, are something I intend to keep ignoring as long as possible. If I talk to someone, it will be because I am interested in getting to know them. If I (try to) dance with them, it will be because I think I will enjoy it. Both are not necessarily synonymous, by the way.

- Vida

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Of hard times and brighter days

There will be two parts to this post: non-tango and tango.

Buenos Aires as a whole has gotten more dangerous, a kindly, fifty-ish shop-keeper in Palermo was telling us yesterday as what started as a friendly chat took a more somber turn. Her kind chocolate eyes were slightly lined with both laughter and worry, in a mixture not uncommon to Argentina - where people seem to like to laugh, but often have little cause to. The growth in insecurity has taken place especially over the past few years, she told us, even though there were already problems before that. Her eldest daughter - of three - is apparently a doctor who experiences first-hand the misery of some people here. There seems to be quite an important drug problem. I still have to see much, but considering that I am not a night-club goer, avoid suspicious places and spend most of my nights in milongas the opposite would have been more surprising. The worst, she was telling me, is amongst the poor people who have no other way of escape than drugs; considering the cheap ones are often of terrible quality, it messes with their minds and the minds of their children. As we left their shop, armed with 15 minutes of conversation in Spanish, free candy, and their phone number - in case we ever needed 'anything, anything at all' - we were rather subdued.

How strange to think in 1910 Argentina was a model of economic growth with a PIB rising even faster than in the USA.

Argentina is a beautiful country - even Buenos Aires has the potential to be an awesome city. There are numerous parks, some of which are forbidden to pets, in which people like to go lounge, tan, jog, practice slack line or silks or yoga. Many streets are filled with trees, the leafy greenery lending coolness and shade to the otherwise sun-burned stone. The cobblestones in San Telmo are reminiscent of better times as they speckle the streets with a sort of nostalgia visible as well in the carved stone of the belle-époque buildings. Despite the patchwork sidewalk and the loneliness of certain alleys where there seems to be nothing but residential houses, blinds drawn and iron bars isolating the inhabitants from the hazardous streets, or the dirty, narrow, bustling and dusty roads, there is so much potential in this country - which is why it surprises me that it simultaneously seems to be set in a sort of crumbling decadence.

These were the thoughts running through my head as I headed to my usual Friday practica. Having tried another event beforehand and found it somewhat lacking, as it seemed to be run by a circle of friends and acquaintances I had no part in, I had resolved to take a taxi with another girl who had come to the same conclusion. There is quite a gap between the tango world and the sphere most Argentinians seem to frequent. Of course, if you talk about tango all of them are acquainted with the term, but few have ever experienced it. My friendly, previously mentioned taxi driver was certainly one of the most loquacious. Mostly, when you tell them you came all the way to Argentina for tango, you get a slightly impressed, how-crazy-is-this-person, sideways glance.

And yet, being in Argentina definitely seems worth it for whoever wishes to progress - and is ready to invest not necessarily money but hard work, which is why today's tango post shall reflect on progress.

The long, narrow room was less packed with dancers than usual - and not too warm, for a change. A very welcome one too. I carefully manoeuvred myself into the row of onlookers, throwing a look up at the patio. It was packed and I decided to stay down here and maybe try for cabeceo. I had already danced quite a lot that night, but, alas, I am still in the tango stage of more, more, more. A hand suddenly touched my back and I moved aside, thinking I was blocking someone's way to the floor. A face swam into my line of sight.

"Do you want to dance?"

Surprised, I nodded. He was an excellent dancer I had danced with once before - badly. The memory still made me wince. In that particular practica I had spent the whole time feeling heavy, clumsy, completely off-skitter. My legs wouldn't move, my dissociation was shot to hell, in short, I was tense and over-thinking everything. A nightmare, but, well, to who hasn't it happened, especially after a gruelling class - as I had enjoyed the day before?

Moving into the abrazo, I threw a quick prayer to the tango gods that my classes, solo exercises, yoga, and two weeks of 'serious' dancing would have paid off. As he moved into the first gliding step I suddenly felt it. He was - there - and I knew exactly how to move. I stretched luxuriously into the movement, enjoying every second of it. Then, we took three deliciously swishy little steps. I felt him smile as his dance became more spicy, challenging, and free.

How ridiculous! How amazing, I recriminated myself, that I couldn't have felt this the first time around? How could I have possibly been so gauche? How could I not have known this? At times, I would feel myself slipping into my old habits - or misinterpret - but it was all right, because I was dancing, and I could feel my partner enjoying it. As we chatted between the dances, I learned he hadn't planned to invite me again but was glad he had - so was I - and he was looking forward to how much I would have progressed next time.

No pressure.

As we wandered home that night I couldn't help but wonder about the cycle of progress. I had already completed several - and I was both dreading and looking forward to each new one. The happy, giggly feeling just after the break-through is like a drug, and when the effect fades, mistakes, miscommunications and problems become more and more frustrating and apparent until the next moment of clarity. I wonder how much of the dance I am missing, and how many issues I still have in my movement and interpretation without even being aware of it.

A few days after the practica, I was invited by a dancer several notches above my level on a rather lively vals. Granted, I was wearing 9 centimetre heels - not a mistake I shall make again, as it is just too much for me; 8.5 seems to be my maximum - I was not dancing at my best. Nevertheless, I could feel it as I tried to keep up, made the occasional misstep, because some songs want you to go fast no matter how much you try to remind yourself you have more time than you think; I just wasn't good enough to be able to really dance with him, no matter how much I wanted to.

Tango progress is not linear, either; it works with a 'two steps forward, one step back' type of logic. Sometimes I don't like dancing with myself, and wonder how my partners can enjoy it. I get frustrated at my body, at its limits, its clumsiness. Those are the moments I feel like throwing my shoes out and quitting tango; but I never do, because I always return to that wonderfully bouncy, supple, rich feeling where I am thrumming with energy and it seems, when I take my partners in my arms, as if I am complete and now I can do ANYTHING.

It is my theory that in tango, two partners of roughly the same - relatively advanced - level can create a whole much bigger than the sum of its parts.

- Mia

Monday, 17 February 2014

The art of embracing

The art of embracing

The stone room is rather empty tonight. I fleetingly wonder where the usual crowd has suddenly vanished. "Es temprano", the argentine woman seated at our table had said when the conversation inevitably rolled onto the scarce attendance. She was the picture of how I had imagined porteñas, small lines of age at the corners of her eyes adding character to her expression, thick black hair falling down mid-back, holding herself straight and dignified in the rickety wooden chair.

Now I am not sitting with my friends but standing in front of the man who has been trying to catch my eye for what feels like two hours, nodding every time I look in his general direction. I wonder what has driven me to finally respond - a mixture of empathy and curiosity I suspect. I would want to dance in his place, and I wish to know why he is so insistent on inviting me.

He extends his hand and catches onto mine. I settle against his chest, only to find his right shoulder has moved toward me. As I try to sidle sideways in a comfortable position, his arm encircles my back and squeezes my spine like some thick, meaty noose. My subconscious whispers I have made a terrible mistake as I stumble through the first half of the song, struggling to arrive on the beats. I feel as though every eye in the room is focused on me, judging my forced and ungainly movements. An elephant in a china shop.

Finally, I see a chance to open the embrace during an ocho, and for a moment savour the freedom of being able to once again keep my axis and dissociate. But all of a sudden he reaches around me and I am once again clamped in a fleshy prison. Stumbling slightly as I lose my balance, I feel my left heel scrape my right foot and wince. For a fleeting moment I am a bird caught in a net and expected to take flight when thrown in sky. Not likely.

Our little struggle occurs several more times over the course of the dance, and I end up clinging to his forearm with my hand to avoid the back-ache looming menacingly as a result of the dance. As the last notes of the song fade away, I hesitate to stop the ordeal there, but I have already prematurely ended one tanda tonight and a little voice whispers that it goes against the codigos. I try to resist the urge.

"Gracias," my partner says, pulling my attention back toward him.

"Gracias a vos," I answer, struggling to hide a surge of relief and at the same time oddly surprised by the dismissal.

I know I will hold many more people in my arms as I continue dancing. Most of them will understand I do not want to be pushed, squeezed, tugged, or pulled on my axis. That I want a partner, not a crutch, and I do not need to be held up like some spindly-legged foal. But at this moment, I feel like crawling in a hole somewhere in a corner of the room and emerging only for a café con leche with medialunas.

Later in the same evening, I am in another room. This one is murky, muted blue and reddish lights shining on glistening skin and patches of colourful swirly cloth. Voices strive to be heard over the decades-old melodies of musicians long gone, instruments intertwining in a polyphonic expression of loss.

I feel at home in this place, surrounded by familiar music and the occasional face of a friend appearing amid the crowd. Even here, in a strange city, a different country, another continent, tango brings us together.

My eye catches that of the slim, dark-skinned man standing at the bar and he nods at me, lips parting briefly in a smile. I eagerly nod back, and as he makes his way toward me I try to discreetly glance behind my back and see if the cabeceo was intended for another - but I only see a male friend who laughs at me. No, his expression says, I don't think that was for me.

I weave my way to the dancers, avoiding a group of women clustered near the VIP table and some loud customers at the bar who are clearly well down the road to drunk. Having reached a corner of the floor, I edge my way in a free slot as the ronda slowly forms.

He appears in front of me, his movements lithe as those of a cat. We exchange a few awkward words of greeting. I am waiting for his body language to indicate he is ready to dance, and suddenly there it is. He relaxes slightly and steps forward, arms open in a welcoming gesture. I can not help but snuggle slightly against his chest, and a second later I am telling my body to straighten and relax.

I do not need to think in his embrace - only enjoy the movement and the freedom he offers me. I am incessantly amazed by the possibilities of this dance where we are constantly connected to another person than ourselves. This is what I crave when attending a Milonga. It is something that I struggle to put in words, and that I feel blessed to have discovered. The song ends, and we are left in each other's arms for a moment before it is time to find a seat again. I savour the memory of the feeling as I join my friends, trying to quell an ear-splitting smile.

People talk about connection in tango a lot. This is partly technical, about positioning your body correctly and points of contact, but it is also about listening to your partner and reading his movement. I still struggle with this at times: my level is insufficient to dance comfortably with everyone, but in my eyes this dimension gives tango a particular richness and texture.

I believe the power of the tango embrace comes greatly from improvisation and communication. When dancing, I enjoy listening to how my partners move: this one higher from the ground and more supple, another all sharp turns and twisty giros, a third smooth, gliding and perfectly on his axis. Such a diversity of flavours amazes me. Improvisation is what allows every single dance to be different. Wouldn't it be boring to ceaselessly repeat similar sequences? But even small changes of direction, suspensions, or varying rhythms give a unique taste to each moment spent on the floor. I have seen many escenario shows or choreographies, many I have admired for the technical difficulty involved, but I always prefer improvised pieces, even when the percentage of errors is higher.

As I settle in my seat, I wonder about the word most people involved in tango are probably familiar with, our very own drug: oxytocin. The therapeutic effect of embracing has been discussed many times online, and I believe it is true. Never have I found a better explanation for the satisfied and euphoric feeling of a night filled with both beautiful dances and speaking with friends I might not have seen for a long time - though a Milonga isn't the best place to hold a heart to heart conversation.

"No, don't just hold onto me," I was told once in my beginning days by one the better dancers in my community, as I awkwardly tried to understand how I was supposed to hold myself - let alone him. "You have to hug me, to embrace me."

At the time I did not know this is something every single tango dancer has probably heard at some point of their lives. I did not know anything about technique, and confused the words "ocho adelante" and "ocho atrás". But the feeling has stayed with me.

Time after time, I know I will find people who seek the same feeling. Of course communication will not always be perfect. There will be mistakes and nights where I possess the capacity to connect and the balance of a one-legged stool. But for nothing in the world would I give up on the unique taste of tango.

- Vida

Saturday, 15 February 2014

The Two-Faced Beast

Three girls are walking down the street. They are wearing summer dresses - none shorter than mid-thigh. A homeless man lies sprawled on the dirty concrete of the sidewalk, his clothes barely distinguishable from the graffitied wall behind him. He is filthy - his hair and beard a matted mess, covered in streaks of what is probably, hopefully, dirt. Even through the reek of the garbage someone spilled further down the road, the girls can smell him.

"Hermosas," he leers, revealing yellowed teeth. "Hola chicas. Que lindas son!"

The girls duck their heads and hurry past. He is not the first one - and he will not be the last one to throw lascivious comments, whistle, or eye them like hunks of meat as they make their way around. As they make their way further from him, he yells angrily at their backs:

"Que feas son todas!"

"Don't you feel a little bit sorry for him?" one of the girls wonders, blue-grey eyes gazing questioningly at her friends. "He was even missing a leg. What has he got left?"

Cynically, the youngest one raised an eyebrow.

"If he's missing a leg it makes me less afraid he's going to attack us."

Then, as if to excuse herself, she added:

"I would have felt sorry for him last week, you know."

Of the three, she had had the most direct contact with the unpleasantness of certain men in the city.

They kept walking, keeping a careful eye on their surroundings. Night was falling, and the sunny, friendly shops fronts were slowly giving way to metallic sheets - isolating the once passer-by filled streets into long, dark, threatening tunnels, sparsely lit by the occasional electric lamp.

Suddenly, a foot scraped the floor behind them, and a few quick glances were thrown over their shoulders. It was just another woman, trying to appear as if she was part of their group. They all relaxed minutely as they hurried to a tango practica, the small, high-ceilinged room finally allowing them to breathe. The atmosphere of this practica was warm and friendly, in striking contrast with the street outside, and filled with the familiar strains if of a tango song.

As she sits and observes the singer who is performing that night, armed with a guitar, endless enthusiasm, and a huge smile, the youngest girl - the cynical one - is reminded of a Latin American singer she used to listen too, but never really understood before coming to Buenos Aires.

"En mi País," the singer's voice went, heavily charged with emotion, "qué tristeza, la pobreza, y el rencor."

Shortly after arriving, the girl went exploring - by foot, as she is want to do. She passed by the chic boutiques of Palermo Soho, up to the Jardin Japones and the tall, marble buildings in the streets surrounding it, protected by cameras and armed guards. She walked, with her friends, all the way down the busy, thrumming Corrientes Avenue past the Obelisk. She went in the streets under Corrientes, one quiet, dusty Saturday afternoon when it appeared the city was taking an exhausted breath. She walked past the flea market of San Telmo, went down to Almagro and Villa Crespo. Of course, this wasn't all in one day -

Faultlessly, she would see the poverty Zitarrosa sings about. She would see it in the faces of the homeless, in the broken down houses and the graffitied walls, in the once-great marble building that now stand awkward and dusty, surrounded by rusted cars and littered streets.

She would also see the numerous boutiques and shops, the business men, the jewellery that no one seems to wear protected by thick weaves of iron mesh, the dozens of coffee shops and bakeries.

Then she would go to the milongas in the evening, and lose herself in tango song after tango song, listening to words like Zitarrosa's, or ballads of betrayal and long-lost love. She would hear the 'piropos' going at it, then go dance to the sound of tales of eternal love and suffering - practically all caused by women of course, as is only natural in tango.

Buenos Aires appeared to her a chimaera, infused with a life of its own, an impossible amalgam of un-reconcilable parts.

- Mia

Friday, 14 February 2014

When the magic happens... And when it doesn't

When the magic happens... And when it doesn't

The first urgent notes of a d'Arienzo song filled the cool, air-conditioned room, replacing the funky cortina some couples had been dancing to. Due to a simultaneous festival Milonga the floor was emptier than usual, but not too empty - just the right quantity of dancers to keep things spicy.

Straightening instinctively from where I had been chatting with my friends, I cast my eyes around for a potential partner. I had already danced with almost all of my friends present, and this was promising to be one of my favourite tandas, the kind I really did not want to miss - the kind that made me tap my feet, mouthing the lyrics along to the music, while I tried to look as if I was listening to the discussions going on around me.

I finally gathered enough courage to eye the DJ, standing in his booth behind a chin-high sheet of glass. Catching my eye as he looked up from his computer screen, he threw me a small smile then focused once again on the bright display.

Well, it was rather nice of him not to outright ignore me, I thought. Nevertheless a bit embarrassed, I let my gaze travel to a few couples trickling into the line of dance, their movements suddenly in time with the music as though it were a breath of wind sweeping them along, leaves at the mercy of teasing currents.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone approach. It was the DJ. I tried not looking at him too fixedly as I stifled a surge of envy, thinking he was going to dance with one of the women seated on my right. But he stopped in front of me, smiled, and extended his hand.

The tanda passed in a blur - I had no time to stop and think - and once it ended I was rewarded with a light hug.

I wandered back to my friends, trying not to look too happy, because they had not been enjoying the evening, one of them dancing very little and the other disappointed with all but one dance - the one she had gotten with the DJ.

Which led me off of my little cloud to wonder: why is it that some evenings are so wonderful while others are their exact opposite?

A week prior, in the same Milonga, I remember leaving close to tears myself after sitting out tanda after tanda, as I tried and failed to mirada different dancers, feeling increasingly as though I was invisible. I would tentatively look at the man on my right, only to see him look away. Throw a smile to one of my regular partners at the bar to notice he was busy talking with one of the professional dancers attending the Milonga, and later they were dancing - not that I blame him as I know I'd pick her too, in his place.

Another time, my friend had danced practically all evening while I felt my bottom would soon take the shape of my chair's seat - and it was not very flattering - or stay glued to it when I tried to get up. I remember a vivid moment when I was hoping to dance with a man standing near our table, but who was gazing fixedly at the opposite wall. I checked my other side for potential partners. Nada. Then I saw my friend walking to the floor with Mr. No-way-in-hell-I'll-look-your-way.

But that night, it was the opposite, and she was almost not dancing at all.

"Don't take it personally," I told her, knowing it was a piece of advice I myself found rather difficult to apply. "You're a good dancer, and a wonderful person. Tonight was just unlucky".

That is a point no one should forget: an evening out can just as easily be great or make you want to rip out your hair (which would be more painful for certain people than for others). However, here are some thoughts about what makes a night turn out great, or feel like a psychological pit of hell.

I find this unfortunate, and as cruel as it may sound, an important element is being young and pretty, especially in certain Milongas where the average age is lower than in more traditional places. Tango isn't always nice and happy, and I believe this is one of the nastier aspects of the dance: the importance given to appearance (and I'm not talking about dressing appropriately or being clean). People - of both sexes - are more likely to invite the pretty young face than an older dancer, unless there is a high difference in skill. Sorry, men, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I have the impression this is especially true for you.

I won't expand on this subject much as it was not the central topic of this piece.  To continue with another element, simply enough the way one dresses is enough to influence an evening.

"This place is famous for the short skirts the women wear," a female friend told me the other day as I tried not to stare incredulously at the panties of the follower dancing in front us. "The shorter it is, the more you dance."

"Maybe I should wear a mini-skirt", I joked - I tend to favour minimum knee-length - as the song ended and the undergarments were hastily hidden by their owner as she pulled her pencil skirt down.

"You should, dear, you have nice legs," she answered, blue eyes crinkling up. As I laughed, I couldn't help but consider trying to wear less covering garments - maybe not a skirt but why not a pair of shorts?

I recall being told just a few days prior, on the subject of one of the numerous big fish of Buenos Aires, that he always dances with girls who showed a lot of leg even if their dancing was not up to par. To be honest, I feel I am not in a position to judge this.
One: I am not in the position to judge anyone's reasons for dancing with another person.
Two: I also dress up for milongas, simply I have a different style from Mrs. Mini - and even then I feel I am changing the way I dress lately.
Three, as long as it stays decent, I understand girls who use what they have to their advantage... Don't we all?
Four (since I'm being honest): I also would rather dance with a well-dressed man than someone who looks like he wore his pyjamas to the Milonga or is celebrating the tenth-year anniversary of his unwashed t-shirt.

Clothes put aside (metaphorically), another element is whether people see you on the floor. If they see you dancing, they will assume you know what you're doing, to a certain degree. If they see you sitting... Well, why should they take their chance with the unknown factor when there are so many delicious dancers around? Of course, it helps to go with friends, but sometimes even they elect to primarily invite other dancers, and usually all at the same time. According to my hypothesis this is due to Murphy's law... I do not blame them, as there are also times I am less enthused about dancing with people I see every day (others I would happily dance with several in one evening). And of course, once again, this is not a problem for women only, I believe.

I'll just mention a third element before the end of this meandering piece. Sometimes, how much you get invited is simply a matter of expression and body language.

I for one am guilty of not being able to watch my facial expression for extended periods of time. And let's be honest, I too would dance with a smiling individual rather than one who looks murderous. The problem is, my forced smiles look... Well... Let's just say it might be better to simply sulk in my chair or find someone to talk to who doesn't try to edge away discreetly.

Body language is just as difficult to control, yet I have noticed a difference in the amount of invitations I receive that seems directly related to how happy or confident I feel. However, there also other pitfalls than looking unhappy.

"Don't look over-eager," I was wisely told once, as I wiggled forward in my chair during the first notes of one of my numerous favourite songs.

"He told me I should look mysterious - mostly as a joke, I think," a friend confided another time, sitting down at our table after dancing several songs in the dimly lit room of the unavoidable Buenos Aires early morning Milonga. "So I pretended I was mysterious - it was very funny. Then he looked surprised and invited me." We laughed, but I think there is some truth in looking like an interesting person (If you have tips on how to look like an interesting person please message me).

All these elements set aside, When I had just started dancing, I remember one of the more advanced followers in my community, a charming lady of around fifty years, telling me:

"Stop wondering why people don't dance with you. If you want to get better, get better. But they might not be dancing with you because they are tired, because they don't dance with people they don't know, because they don't like your clothes or don't like girls with curly hair. They might also feel uncomfortable because you're so much younger than them. But really, it's a loss of time. It'll come or not, and worrying about it won't change much."

- Vida

Thursday, 13 February 2014

How to deal with improving your tango

As I ran my eyes over the slightly murky, high-ceilinged room, hearing the first notes of a lovely Donato begin to ring out, I spotted the curly-haired head of a dancer I had shared some very nice dances with a few days earlier. I gave him a happy little wave, trying to think of a way to show I would like to dance with him again without being too insistent. He at first seemed slightly surprised to see me - it was my first time in that particular practica - then he sent me a brief smile and made his way over.

"Would you like to dance?" he asked, clearly amused.

I suppose I maybe could have been a little less enthusiastic in my I want-to-dance expression. Oh well. While I generally prefer cabeceo, verbal invitations are often fine from people I know - especially when I make it so obvious that yes, I do want to dance. I nodded, trying not to look too happy I had succeeded in my attempt, and proceeded to make my way to the floor. 

As I moved into the abrazo, breathed out, aligned my spine, and stepped into the dance, a sudden feeling of dismay washed over me. I felt late - and then I felt early. I couldn't dance to the music. The way I was holding him felt awkward, forced, my balance was shot to hell, I couldn't dissociate, and even I could feel how tense my shoulders were.

As I desperately tried to find a workable way to move my suddenly clumsy, ungainly legs into a semblance of the tango, I felt rather like letting loose tears of frustration. Where was the effortless gliding, swirly feeling I remembered from our dances in the Monday practica I usually attend? Finally, we rather dubiously and a bit regretfully thanked each other at the end of a few songs, as it seemed useless to insist.

I'm quite certain all of us have had those moments - generally, what keeps me going is two pieces of advice I really want to share now, especially with the less experienced ones amongst you, because of how much they helped me. The first one I was told almost immediately after I started tango. The second is much more recent.

I remember the muted light and quiet, almost dispiriting atmosphere. Maybe I had been dancing for five or six months. I had just attended my first tango festival and seen really top-level dancers going at it for the first time in my life. I had danced every day from 15.00 to 20.00 and then from 22.00 to 6 or so in the morning. I had danced so much because I had accepted every single person who invited me. It was before I started becoming picky, when I was just so glad to be invited at all I would almost spring out of my chair with every invitation - or cabeceo, which I was just learning all about. I had literally danced until I could barely walk; I was completely crazy back then. Anyway, I went back home feeling like I had progressed immensely. 

What do you think happened; obviously, I spent a whole milonga - or two - as a wallflower, and when I did get invited nothing worked any more. Then a more experienced dancer told me this.

"You always progress by steps. When it feels like you're stuck or even regressing, then keep at it. Keep trying to understand what's going on in your body. Keep chasing the feeling you're looking for, because it means you're about to get much better."

So I went home, and practised walking and ochos and dissociation every day. Whenever I was sitting in a milonga watching other women spend tanda after tanda in the arms of leaders I wanted to dance with, doing beautiful steps and adornos that I wanted to be able to do, it would give me the motivation to stubbornly keep trying, keep practicing, no matter how often I stumbled or got stepped on or messed up or had my arms hurting because I was dancing with dancers I wouldn't consider dancing with any more, just because they were the only ones who would invite me.

The second piece of advice I received shortly after arriving in Buenos Aires in December. I'm afraid I don't remember the context - maybe I read it on the internet, so feel free to manifest if this is your quote. 

"These are the phases of progress. First you do things wrong unconsciously. Then, once you have been corrected or felt yourself that it wasn't working well, you begin doing them wrong consciously. This is the most painful phase. Then, you begin learning to do them right - but you have to make a conscious effort. Finally, you can do it right unconsciously; this the phase when you can really begin to enjoy the dance."

I have found this invaluable. Every time a teacher explains a concept, and I feel like crying because I understand it intellectually but I just can't do it -  I think about this. I tell myself I will practise it, incorporate it, and sooner or later, whenever I'm ready, not whenever I want, it will start working. 

"It takes about two weeks," a pair of teachers I respect enormously told me, "it takes about two weeks for you to really feel the effects of a private class, and begin to understand what you're taught. So don't be sad or angry at yourself if sometimes you loose the feeling, because as long as you did it once, or understood it once, you can do it again."

So keep practising, keep progressing, and don't give up - because it's worth it.

Oh, and about Mr Curly-Hair. He did invite me again. And this time, the dynamic was back - and feeling, maybe, a little bit stupid, I even understood why it hadn't worked the last time. 

- Mia

Monday, 10 February 2014

Mysteries of the musical body and connecting with your core

Tango begins very simply.

"Just hold on to your partner and walk to the music," I remember someone telling me. "It's very easy."

Unfortunately things rarely happen that way. Let us study the second part of the above statement, walking to the music. When you begin dancing, stepping to the beat already seems like quite an achievement. It used to make me so happy to be able to arrive on the right foot, in the right time, in a harmonious manner (or the left foot, in the left time - wait no). Now, when I dance with a dancer who arrives precisely on the beat, like clockwork, never varying, I often feel like pulling my hair out.

"Do you play an instrument?" a rather good leader I know asked me lately.

As he was not the first to ask me this question, I shook my head.

"No, but I really wish I did.

-You do another dance then," he declared, making me smile.

"No, not really."

He looked at me slightly askance.

"But you're so musical."

This is probably my favourite compliment. I love being told I'm musical, because as a child and a teenager - I wasn't. Seriously, it was pathetic the way I couldn't move to a simple beat; I think in retrospect that I was trying to dance ALL the beats, not just the main one. Understandably, it didn't work very well. This is exactly one of the things I love about tango music; it has no 'simple beat,' because it is polyphonic. You can dance to the cascading piano in d'Arienzo, to the violin twisting lazily through Calo, to the powerful bandoneons, to the singers voice - and even to the silences in the music, as I have witnessed a few precious, beautiful times. Since I started tango I began to fall increasingly in love with the complex art form of tango music - with d'Arienzo, who can always make me smile, with Pugliese's sometimes overbearing drama, with Calo and with Biagi's syncopations, with all the wondrous moments I feel, sometimes, inside my body, as if I am no longer listening with my brain, but with my entire being.

I have invested a lot of effort in musicality - I listen to tango music every day, I used to walk to it in the street, to try to separate the eight-beat phrases when at the gym, and so on. I'm still not exactly there yet, but now I can really hear the music - even if sometimes I'm just to clumsy or slow or inexperienced to be able to handle it on the dance floor. Which makes it all the more painful when the magic doesn't happen, when my body can't connect to the music, when I always seem to be too late - or too early. Sometimes both. I have noticed two reasons for this; the first is purely personal. If I am tense, or too focused on other details - legs straighter but flexible, upper body present but light, straighten your back, stretch your spine, be grounded but light; that's the general idea - I disregard the music (and later feel like apologising profusely to my leader, but that's another story).

The second reason is, unfortunately, my partner. There are excellent dancers who sometimes seem to be hearing an entirely different music from you. While this has not happened to me often, it is quite unpleasant - while it is sometimes possible to meet partway, it is disappointing. Then there are dancers who just don't seem to hear anything at all, and I'm finding them increasingly difficult to dance with. Often, suitcase dancers are the worst of these; they arrive whenever they want, and you are expected to arrive with them. Do you want to dance this piano? Sorry but no. What, are you trying to slow down for the violin? Well, not this time.

The other day, I was dancing with a slightly less experienced dancer. As he led me a front ocho, I happily executed a little syncopation. And then he paused. Puzzled I glanced at him. As he was still not moving, I tried to shift a little bit awkwardly from foot to foot, than took a slightly forced step forward, trying to arrive on the beat. Later as we were talking, I asked him if my decorations were bothering him - I'm still learning to do adornos, be they syncopations, little ganchos to my free leg, rulos, or anything else.

"Oh no," he told me seeming earnestly surprised. "I love it actually. It feels like you're really dancing, not just waiting for me to move you."

I bit my cheek, not sure exactly how to tell him he didn't need to break the flow of the dance every time I wanted to do something. What if I unwittingly made him into a clockwork dancer? What if he stopped listening to the follower altogether?

My experience with musicality leads me to the conclusion that it is exactly like everything else in tango; you don't dance with your head, or even your body; you dance with your core, and all the rest just follows. An amazing dancer incorporates the music; he lives it; he breathes it. How many times have I heard deep sighs of contentment as different tracks began to ring across the milonga? How many feet, hands, heads, have I seen tapping out the beat? There is nothing mystical about tango music - yet it becomes part of my body, when I am relaxed enough to let it - and this being tango, I mean relaxed but present, not relaxed and amorphous. 'Sin tension' the Argentinians would say. 'Pero no floja."

One thing is certain for me: to dance tango well, you have to love tango music; even as a mysterious entity floating around you, waiting to become part of you, or waiting for you to become part of it.

- Mia

Body language tips

A handful of couples stood chatting on the cold stone floor, waiting for the music to start again. An occasional glance from the people clustered at the tables on both sides of the room or lined against the walls would travel over them with disinterest. Dim blue and pinkish lights made it difficult to see who was looking where, but I could see my friends sitting under the air conditioner, twitching as the occasional droplet fell on their skin.

"What a beautiful dancer!", my partner exclaimed, leaning in towards me as he craned his neck. I stood, awkwardly waiting for the music to start blaring notes laden with the slightly echoey quality that plagues it in this milonga.
"Thank you, you too," I answered in my slightly broken Spanish, preparing myself for last song of the tanda.
"How well you dance...", he said again during the dance. "What a woman!"
Not knowing what to answer (which part of my dancing is particularly feminine?), I beat a hasty retreat to my seat as soon as the tanda was over.

"How was it?" My friends questioned after I had sat down.

You should know girls talk about their dances - a lot. I am completely unrepentant as I believe men are guilty of this as well. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

I proceeded to tell my friends that while he was a good dancer, I was not sure I would feel up to the unsettling compliments anytime soon. "You too?" My friends asked, starting to laugh.

Yep, he had said the same thing almost word for word to all of us. It may seem funny, but it was not enjoyable. How could we believe he was genuine after delivering the same lines to all of us? And I'm not mentioning how uncomfortable he made all three of us feel, as we all know we are not exactly competition for the excellent followers living in Buenos Aires (as of yet, we are working on it).

I felt like telling him, what about something more poetic and unique such as: "Should I compare thee to a summer day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate".

Of course, I understand why one would try to flirt in tango, and I don't blame them - it's normal to try your luck with someone you find attractive. But would a little bit of delicacy be too much to ask for? And if people could learn to read body language, that would be great.
Tip #1: If I'm trying to edge away, it's generally a bad sign.
Thank you.

- Vida

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Foregoing the Milonga in favor of tango classes

Being in Buenos Aires  is the best occasion to take cheap tango classes with a variety of the best teachers in the world, some of whom do not travel to Europe. For me, this means two or three private classes a week, and I would take more if I could afford it despite knowing it's a lot of information to incorporate. This has led me to wonder about the efficiency of packing one's schedule with too many classes. There are three particular events that I've been mulling over.

The first was a few weeks ago. I had taken classes with a female partner during a tango festival. When we arrived, the first thing the teacher did was walk over to us, wearing a huge smile, to greet us and ask our names. The theme was on different types of walking to the beat. Even if I had wanted to, I couldn't have gotten frustrated because of how the teachers patiently walked us through the steps and enthusiastically explained the concepts of the exercises.

At the end of the class, enthused by their teaching method and all I had learned about how to walk, how to step and put down my feet, how to accelerate and step on the beat, I turned to a friend who was also there, an intermediate male leader.

"That was great!" I told him happily. He looked at me a little bit sideways.

"Actually I found it boring," he admitted.

Of course I know not everyone enjoys the same things in a class. But this was really the sort of fundamental technique he has yet to master, and I had been hoping he would profit from it and incorporate it in his dance. As I stared at him in dismay, my partner from the class intervened.

"How can you say you were bored," she said (rather bluntly), "When you can't do these things?"

This is what bothered me: of course I was disappointed he did not enjoy the lesson, but the problem was that he was not ready to do this "boring" stuff like learning to accelerate and play with the beat. I was particularly disappointed because I used to enjoy dancing with him but now find it very flat - an opinion shared by the friends I have asked.

Moral of the story: you might find things boring, but do them or be ready to stagnate. Which is acceptable if you're happy with your current level. Oh, and also: different people, different tastes.

The second event was a discussion with a friend recently arrived from Europe determined to work on a specific style of dancing, very different from what he had been learning up until now.

"I take private classes every day," he told me proudly, then turned a bewildered expression towards me. "I don't understand why you don't take more classes while you're here".

I refrained from pointing out the setback of my limited budget, and wondered why I had not noticed any improvement in his dance as of late.

"I just don't know why you go out dancing all the time instead of resting more to be in shape for classes," he finished, tossing his hair back to get it out of his face in a typical gesture of his.

Looking at him in puzzlement, I pondered this opinion. Why should I forego social dancing in favour of taking classes? For me a milonga is the occasion to incorporate what I have learned into the way I move with a variety of partners, to commit information from intellectual understanding to muscle memory. Some nights feel like I have vastly improved and the next my legs seem glued to the floor by some strange magnetic field, but I insist and little by little the way I move, stand and react changes.

Going to the milonga is an important motivator for improving. When I watch dancers who have invested a lot of effort and time into their dancing, who are often professionals or semi-professionals, I want to dance with them and more importantly I want them to enjoy dancing with me - I would rather sit all evening than dance with people who don't enjoy it.

When I watch the explosive, high-energy dancers at El Yeite, the boisterous and lively crowd at Viva la Pepa, or the (mostly) advanced dancers of El Motivo, I want to have this much fun, and be part of the people who make these places feel alive and fun. It's simple: the more I improve, the more I enjoy those very good dances when I get them.

I try not to make the mistake of thinking technical skill is the only thing that motivates people to dance with each other. I enjoy the feeling of communication, of freedom, that comes with improvement itself and I can only find this by going out to dance - in a milonga.

Yes, the classes here are really worth it. The teachers are amazing and much more affordable than in Europe - most of these people deserve every last peso they charge. But the milongas in Buenos Aires are an experience I wouldn't miss for the world. There are some of the best dancers from all over the world here. La crème de la crème. Some of my tandas left me with an ear splitting smile for days afterward. Some moments of sitting with friends - people I had not seen for months - and simply talking or holding each other still make me feel warm and fuzzy.
So I'm sorry, but I can not forsake the milonga in the name of classes.
The setback in taking too many classes, I believe, is that information needs time to be incorporated and understood. This is of course different in the case of a series of classes with the same teacher... But good teachers can give enough feedback in one hour to keep their students busy for days on end. So then, I would like to ask my friend, what is the point of adding additional information on top of things you have yet to master?

This leads me to the third event I've been thinking about. A woman I know came back from a class almost in tears and told me:

"I couldn't do anything today. None of the exercises - my body just won't do it. My teacher was showing me the exercises and I just couldn't do it."

She's a good dancer and takes her dancing seriously - she's not one of those people who never push themselves and still expect to get all the dances. She has never taken many classes in Europe (for financial reasons), and here she has been taking all those she could: privates, group classes before the milongas and women's technique classes, as well as practicing with friends. She's enough to make me feel lazy. And yet, she felt so frustrated she was practically crying.
This has happened to me too of course. Any person afflicted by chronic perfectionism can identify.

In this moment I truly realised the perverse effect that pushing yourself too hard can have. No matter how many times you fail an exercise, you must remember not to take it personally. Wait, then try again - give it time.

Remember, the body will not progress with the same speed as the mind. It's no use stuffing your brain until you can't tell your right foot from your left foot, and spend the dance trying to go up while going down, without forgetting to relax your shoulders.

I love tango when it sounds like a strange child of zen philosophy. Go up but down. Present but relaxed. Expand your chest but close your muscles. Walk normally but spend hours practising how to walk.

And remember to do yoga.


Buenos Aires: Stray Experiences in and out of Milongas

Today I had my Second Nasty Buenos Aires experience. We can call SNBA for short. Walking home from La Viruta in Palermo, which I have always felt safe doing before - never alone of course, we were two when it happened - somebody grabbed onto me from behind. My first thought was that I was going to get stabbed or something. With no knife incoming, my second thought was that someone I knew was playing a very, very bad joke and that I might have to murder him for having the worst sense of humour in the universe. Then he started groping me. I struggled and kicked and he let go and ran away - all of this so rapidly my friend didn't have the time to react.

I am thinking of ensuring travel in larger packs from now on. I did ask a few guys I know to come with us , but they were going in other directions. Normally I wouldn't really care, considering nothing happened, but I do feel the need to warn people to be careful - even in 'safe' neighbourhoods like Palermo. It does, whoever, unfortunately reinforce the little part of me that can't help but ask what the hell - and I'm being very polite compared to what I'm thinking - is wrong with men.

Perhaps I should speak of something more entertaining, like... Food!

It is possible to eat 'healthy' in Buenos Aires. There are numerous fruit and vegetable vendors on the street, though the quality and variety of their goods often leaves much to be desired - not unlike in the supermarket. However, for whole-grain or quinoa, etc. products it is necessary to go to a 'Dietética.' These shops are luckily very numerous - personally, I already picked a favourite, not due to the variety of the goods, but due to the vendor. The shops are maybe a block and a half apart. In the first one, the shopkeeper is pleasant, smiles, is genuinely helpful, explains to you the terms in the ingredient list you don't understand, and seems altogether like a pleasant person to be around. In the second one, the shopkeeper glared at us as we checked the ingredient list on a bag of biscuits.

"You can't touch the products," she snapped.

We tried to explain in our admittedly poor Spanish that we just wanted to see what types of flour they contained, but she just jabbed impatiently at the sign next to her till. Needless to say, we didn't insist and left. And that's how I learned what 'No tocar la mercadería' means. 

Sometimes I wish I could pound 'no tocar' in the head of those men that walk up to you in a milonga from your blind angle, prod your arm and ask 'bailas' as if the element of surprise would make you accept - don't. Just don't. But that, is another story.

The first time buying empanadas is one every newcomer will probably experience. Here are a few need-to-know things. The first one is that they sell empanadas literally everywhere. However, it is better to buy them in a shop specialising in empanadas and tortas, where they cost 5 or 5.50 pesos, or in a bakery, where they cost between 8 or 10 pesos. Heard from a friend: don't buy them in the supermarket. Also, if you want verdura, or vegetable, you should know here it just means spinach. other vegetables, well, apparently aren't vegetables. Then they have empanadas de carne. Here, carne means beef. You don't have any other acceptable type of meat, except pollo - which, apparently isn't meat.

Onward to a different register: reserved seating. In Europe, it so possible to settle down wherever there is free place, move around during a milonga, and people share chairs. This is due to fact there are generally more chairs than people, and the good cabeceo spots are very coveted.

As much as I enjoy reserved seating at times, I have had the interesting surprise here in Buenos Aires of calling a certain milonga and asking if it would be possible to book a table, in my best Spanish. 

I was incredibly surprised when the man who answered announced quite decisively that no, it would not be possible, as it was not part of their policy. So we decided to simply arrive early and get a good seat. Upon our arrival we settled down and promptly got told that that table was reserved... For the artists. 'Perfectly understandable' I thought, observing the long, twenty person table.

"And which part of it is booked?"

"All of it. You can't sit here."

Beginning to feel sceptical - only two artists were performing, and even counting their friends, family, and neighbours, that seemed like a lot of place. 

"What about this one?" I continued, indicating the other, identical table, situated to it right. "Or this one?" 

Their triplet to the left seemed just as large and just as empty.

"Booked," the man told me, looking at me as if I was being very obtuse. "All of them booked."

To this day, I still have not understood that particular no booking policy - which by the way, can be compared to this gem. 

Having successfully booked a table in another milonga, another day, we proceeded to arrive at eleven thirty-five. Entirely our fault, I plead guilty, we knew bookings closed at eleven thirty. We underestimated the amount of time we needed to prepare. Anyway, the lady at the entrance announces reservations are cancelled. Disappointed but understanding it was entirely our fault we spotted a free table and settled down. At which point the lady hurried over. 

"No no this is reserved," she explained. 

Needless to say, we raised an eyebrow at this announcement.

"For the performers," she finished.

Ah... We got up and moved to another table.

"No no, this is reserved," she proceeded to recriminate.

"How can it be reserved?" I questioned, beginning to be a little bit annoyed, I'll admit.

"It's always reserved," she explained as if this should have been obvious. "For the regulars."

It seems it really pays off not to be a tourist in Buenos Aires. Sometimes I feel as if I am expected to apologise profusely for being from abroad.

I'll admit, I'm a recent dancer - and this is my first time coming over. I don't know everything; the tango world is both extremely simple and extremely codified. There are a lot of unspoken rules - even about who should dance with who, I've been told, but I have yet to observe such behaviour. Of course the better dancers are picky - but let's be honest, you would be too, if you had spent years working on your dance, making it into an art form, working on mastering your own body for hours on end. There is a gap between professionals, - and I'm talking about the real ones, not the 'tango teachers' some of us have been unfortunate enough to cross paths with - there is a gap between professionals and social dancers. Some people walk the borders of both worlds, but they are rare and far between. Those people can be the friendliest, in my experience, or the most arrogant. Most of them seem to warm up to you when they understand you are serious about learning to dance tango.

Now, about this last point. I occasionally dance with some of the better dancers out there. I don't know if this is due to how I dance, my looks, my personality (people who know me are probably laughing hysterically by now) or any other number of points - either way there is probably never a single cause.

I have often had the experience of having other followers ask me with a surprised, slightly envious tone how I did it. Or, alternatively, sigh enviously:

"It must be so nice to be young/beautiful/have a nice body/be a new face."

This sort of comment always gives a small internal shudder. Of course, intellectually, I'm afraid it's true. There are much better followers than me running around, especially here in Buenos Aires. Nevertheless, it hurts. I work very hard on my dancing. I listen to tango music in my free time; on the street, I try to walk to the beat, despite the somewhat strange glances this attracts. I'm too afraid to do this in Buenos Aires, of course. I also do solo exercises almost every day. I take group classes occasionally, and two privates a week - sometimes three. I do yoga, stretching, and generally invest a lot of time and effort in improving. Telling me the equivalent of 'anyway, they dance with you just because you're young and pretty, so there' can be felt rather like a punch to the gut.

- Mia

Taxi dialogues and a brief tango overview

Buenos Aires continues to thrum with activity. We are currently experiencing a cool spell accompanied by torrential rain. Seriously, it feels rather as though someone placed the Iguasul falls over the town. When the downpour gets heavier, water runs in thick rivers down the streets, gushing in - and more problematically out - of the drainage system. But enough talking about the weather.

Time for the taxi anecdote. The other day I climbed into a taxi - normally I take the 'Colectivo' (bus) as it costs around 2.70 pesos where a taxi would be 30 or 40, but I was late - and after a while the taxi driver asks me where I'm from. 'Greece,' I answer, because I do get rather tired of saying Switzerland, and I am as much Greek as I am Swiss, after all. So we talk about the economical situation of both countries, of course. Then he asks me why I'm here. 'Tango.' 'Ahhhh, tango!' It turns out my seventy-so taxi driver grew up with tango - not dancing, but listening - and had a great fondness for d'Arienzo and Pugliese. I swear he almost kidnapped me just to keep talking about tango. 'Young people these days,' he told me, 'don't know tango.' He pointed people out in the street. 'She doesn't know tango. Those two don't know tango. This one? No... It's the people like you who make tango live. Who come from abroad, for tango. When I was young, tango was everywhere. People danced in the cafés, in the streets - they didn't get drunk or take drugs, they didn't go in nightclubs, they danced tango.' I smiled and nodded, despite not agreeing entirely. How much of his speech was nostalgia for better times? How much was true? I do wonder.

Milongas seem somewhat less full than they were last month. A great number of tango tourists have had to return to their homes and obligations. Another wave seems to be trickling in - the occasional face of wide-eyed discovery gives away most new arrivals. And when it doesn't, you can generally identify the newcomer as the more-or-less advanced dancer who makes perfect straight lines but for 'some reason' is having a lot of trouble with the Ronda. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, especially in the people who have been here more than once or for prolonged periods of time.

My favourite milonga is still El Yeite. The room often feels a little bit refrigerated, especially if you happen not to be dancing. Regretfully, I do not dance every tanda. This is due to two reasons: 

1) El Yeite is like a professional playground. You see Chicho, Noelia, (often dancing together, those two) Pancho, Damian Garcia, Balmaceda, Lorena Ermocida, Fernando Sanchez and Adriadna Naveira, Pablo Veron, Celeste Medina, Mariela Sametband, Natalia Fures, Octavio Fernandez, Andres Molina, and the list goes on and on, happily social dancing with each other. It is, quite understandingly considering my current level, practically impossible to dance with that particular category - and entirely impossible to dance in that particular category.

2) I am picky about my dancers. I know some people who tell me I should just dance with everybody, and that I can enjoy it even if they aren't that good. Sorry, but no. Yes, I have enjoyed tandas with less experienced dancers - but some of them out there look so tense, my shoulders scream just from looking at them. Then there are the suitcase dancers. They tuck you under their arm and then proceed to drag you around the floor with no regard whatsoever for your musicality, expressivity, or even comfort. Considering I am working very hard through classes and solo exercises every day to develop these point I am finding suitcase dancers increasingly intolerable. Let's not get into the subject of do-you-know-deodorant dancers. They are much rarer here than in Europe, anyway.

Another milonga I much enjoy is Viva la Pepa. It's relaxed, fun, but can get very full. Pepa seems to infuse the place with her friendly, enthusiastic personality. Generally, the milonga is preceded - like most milongas - by a beginner class given by a local dancer, an intermediate class given by promising young dancers, and finally an advanced class given by well-known dancers; in January Moira Castellano and Gaston Torelli. The whole package costs around 50 pesos - practices and milongas are generally between 20 and 50 pesos, unless there is a special event. Demonstrations by well-known performers are not considered a special event, as there is one in almost every milonga.


One of the main difference between Buenos Aires and Europe is the one-tanda rule. This is an excellent thing in my opinion because it ensures a better mixity. It ensures that a lot of dancers invite new people, and there is always someone around to TRY and cabeceo. On the other hand, most good dancers know enough women that is they don't want to dance with someone new they certainly don't have to. Besides, sometimes, you just really, really, really want to keep going for much longer than those pitiful twelve minutes. Well that's what practicas are for;

La Viruta is an unavoidable stop for any tango dancer in Buenos Aires. Personally, I find Wednesday and Sunday are the best days - the level is high, and the room is not too full. Then again, I have discovered I much prefer the adequately populated milongas. Overcrowding tends to make me feel stifled and claustrophobic. The medialunas are commendable :-) 

El Motivo is another very nice practica - high level, good music, all positive. It is, like Viva la Pepa, in Villa Malcolm; a lot of events take place there, but the different organisers ensure very different atmospheres. I can't say I like them all. El Motivo, thought, is very hard to get dances in, especially in the beginning. You need, as in many things in life, determination, grit, and the capacity to improve regularly.

Las Malevas is also excellent - but often completely packed! Often practicas contain beginner and intermediate dancers serious about improving their dance, young professionals intent about practicing with each other, and just friends coming to hang out and occasionally dance. This creates a very nice atmosphere completely different from Europe - where we take our tango less seriously and ourselves more seriously, no offence intended.

- Mia

First impressions

I have been in Buenos Aires more than a month. I did not expect it to pass by so fast - and at the same time it feels as if I have been here for much longer. I feel at home, despite intellectually knowing it must be quite different to actually live here, as opposed to travelling here for tango.

Buenos Aires is often loud and dirty, but the regular rainstorms that have been sweeping through the city every ten days or so wash most of the filth away. People have generally been nice and helpful, despite a few less pleasant experience - like the taxi driver who 'forgot' the adress. Thankfully we knew exactly where we were when he took a 'wrong turn,' so we said stop, thank you, and walked the rest of the way.

Oh, and there was that guy who tried to rob us with a screwdriver. He wasn't terribly frightening, to be honest - we probably could have hurt him much worse than he could have hurt us, as there were three of us and one of him, but it really wasn't worth it as he ended up taking off with a grand total of 0.75 pesos... While he was counting the coins, we left and flagged a taxi a street further.

Tango here is awesome - there are evenings where it feels all your dreams are coming true, you are on a cloud and literally everything is possible. Others, magic just isn't meant to be. Mostly though, it's a nice mix of patience, smiles, lingering glances, and invitations - nothing is quite like cabeceo to sift through your dancers - especially if you haven't seen them dancing yet. Just because you are in Buenos Aires doesn't make all the locals tango gods.

Clothes and tango shoes are... less than half, sometimes three quarters less expensive than in Europe. With the dollar at 11 or 12 pesos as it is lately, Comme il Faut are worth around 90 euros - 1060 pesos - and some other brands are around 800 pesos. The difference is simply ridiculous.

A lot of people in the milongas here are brilliant. Mostly, Argentinians will dance with you, sure, but they socialise with other Argentinians, probably because they see so many tourists come and go every year. The international crowd is more friendly in that regard  - and most of them are definitely worth those 12 minutes of investment.

Buenos Aires is so large and diverse I could go on for pages.

- Mia