Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Tango Fever (Part 1): Written By Laila

Of all the things I love about tango, the most important for me is that I've been able to meet so many wonderful people. And out of all my new tango friends, one of the dearest to me is Laila. Laila and I have performed together (she's a much better dancer than me) and she's a joy to spend time with. So, I'm very happy Laila agreed to contribute to this tango blog to tell her story of how she came to tango.

Take it away Laila...

Tango Fever, Part One
From Laila

"Finally, I can walk. I thought I could learn to walk correctly in just a few lessons. Then I realized it would take many more than that. Several years later, I’m able to walk like a tanguera, a tango dancer. And since I can walk like a tanguera, I should be able to dance like one. After all, tango is simply “walking to the music.” However, I discovered that the path from walking to tangoing is extensive, fraught with bumps and twists and tangles, challenges I gladly took on because of the flame that touched me one night at the theater.

The spark for my love affair with Argentine tango began several years ago. As a salsera and aficionada of Afro-Cuban dance music for many years, I thought no other musical genre could move me with such passion. But I began to hunger for something more – not to replace salsa but to add another musical genre to my dance palate. When I heard that Argentine tango was, like salsa, hot and spicy, I bought a ticket for Luis Brava’s theatrical production, Tango Argentino, when it toured San Francisco in the 1980’s. So riveting was the first dance number that I left my seat and watched the rest of the show standing in the wings. The steamy connections between the men and the women and their fiery, passionate moves mesmerized me. I was puzzled by the intricacies of the steps, danced to the complex sounds of two great Argentinean masters - Osvaldo Pugliese and Astor Piazzola, among others. How could a dancer, with her torso flush against her partner’s, kick her right leg back and up high, as if she were striking a match between her partner’s legs – right on beat with the music? How could a lead dancer lift his partner chest high and swing her over one of his legs where she would land and melt into a backbend over one of his thighs? The flames these tangueros generated permeated the theater. My dancing spirit lept onto the stage and joined the other dancers until the final chord of the bandoneon sounded. I left the theater artistically fulfilled -and hungry to learn to dance Argentine tango, which I thought as feasible as dancing salsa with Antonio Banderas on the moon.

Several years later, I saw The Tango Lesson, an independent film by Sally Potter, about a middle-aged, English woman and her interest in learning to dance the tango. Her success inspired this mid-life woman to start my tango quest. The very next afternoon, the man in line in front of me at the grocery store was wearing a Tango Argentino T-shirt and spoke English with an Italian-Spanish accent. Argentinean, I presumed. “Yes, I study tango with Nora at the Mission Cultural Center,” he told me.

The following Saturday morning, I enrolled in my first tango lesson."

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Thanks For Your Comments! / Start Your Own Tango Blog?

Dear Tango Sisters and Brothers,
I'm so sorry I got behind in responding to your awesome comments you've posted on this tango blog recently. I read every tango comment you make and was just waiting to find the time to respond.

Well, I'm finally caught up! I just spent the last 3 hours responding to every one of your comments.

If I inadvertently missed anyone, please let me know & I'll respond asap.

Lastly, I wanted to say how insightful/funny/poetic I find your comments. A number of you already have your own great tango blogs. But for those of you that don't, please start one!

Your tango voices are important & the more people we have blogging about tango, the more people we'll bring into our great passion, the more new friends we'll make, the more partners we'll have to dance with...

Ok, I'm off to the Studio Gracia milonga.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Tips For Buying Tango Shoes in SF & Buenos Aires : Thanks Ana!

I'm taking the liberty tonight of posting a great comment that Ana de San Francisco left recently. She's got some great information below about Jennifer Bratt's new boutique and Ana's favorite tango shoe stores in Buenos Aires, etc.

So, thanks so much Ana for posting this comment! She gives some great insight & tips below, so take it away, Ana:

"Jennifer Bratt now has a Comme Il Faut boutique at her & Ney's studio on Russian Hill here in SF.

As for me, my new favorite is Lolo Gerard (on Anchorena 607 in BsAs). The quality of their materials, construction and design are outstanding, and they have plenty for the guys too.

Another favorite is P.H. (on Grito De Ascencio 3602 in BsAs). Their designs are becoming more fashion forward and they now have spikey stilettos a la CIF, but with a more traditional design, so more supportive than a strappy sandal, but you still get a very nice arch and a lot of footbed padding, typical of P.H.

And for the record I have 2 pairs of CIF, and 0 NeoTango...but many, many other pairs from others (Lolo Gerard, PH, Artesanal, Tango8, Victorio)...The thing with shoes is that everyone's feet is different, and so everyone will have a different opinion on which shoes are "best" -- and even that is subjective with more people giving weight to fit, style, stability, etc., and all colored with the dancer's own experience and skill level. So ... bottom line... to each his/her own...

As for CIFs, no doubt about it they are among the most beautiful shoes I own, but I rarely wear them because I have other shoes that are more comfortable and equally or more beautiful."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tango Eavesdropping (Unintentionally)

So, I'm sitting by myself waiting for the pre-milonga tango lesson to begin. There are 2 guys to my left & 2 women to my right--I don't know any of them. I knew men talked this way because it's the same type of conversation I have every week with my brother, Dad, & every other guy I can talk sports to.

But who knew women talked this way? (my internal dialogue is in parenthesis).

Dude 1: "Did you see LeBron last night?"
Dude 2: "He was on fire!" (I'm a Celtics fan, but even I have to admit that's true)

Damn Sexy 1: "So, how's your week been?"
Damn Sexy 2: "Ok, I went to dinner with Chris" (not his real name; cool--a peak into the unreadable mind of a woman coming up)

Dude 1: "Damn, 45 points in Boston & they still lose"
Dude 2: "Yeah, but he can't carry the whole team by himself" (good point)

Damn Sexy 1: "Yeah, how'd that go?"
Damn Sexy 2: "It was fine, the restaurant was good & he kissed me goodnight" (...and you would tell your girlfriend this because...?)

Dude 1: "That's true--I'm just saying if he had a little help they would've won that series"
Dude 2: "But they wouldn't beat Detroit anyway" (this guy knows his basketball)

Damn Sexy 1: "Well, that's good, but you don't sound very excited." (I agree)
Damn Sexy 2: "It's just that it was like a normal kiss. He didn't kiss me like he wanted to rip my clothes off" (Whoa! Do women really talk like this? I swear this was a quote. Obviously, she's saying she wanted him to kiss her like he was really passionate about her. When are they going to talk about last night's game?)

Dude 1: "You don't know that--they'd have a better chance than Boston" (b.s.)
Dude 2: "That may be true, but I want to see Boston in the finals against L.A." (for sure)

Damn Sexy 1: "That's too bad. So, what are you going to do?" (this is starting to sound like a Venezuelan soap opera; not that I've ever seen one, but my Spanish teacher said they make Desparate Housewives look tame)
Damn Sexy 2: "I don't know--he's a nice guy, but it's kind of like 'what's the point?'" (I resist the temptation to offer a solution, mainly because I don't have one)

Dude1: "How sweet would that be"
Dude 2: "Real ol' school, minus Bird & Magic, but still awesome" (I'm dying to jump into this conversation, but the tango lesson is beginning)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Tango Sin #3 For Men: Leading Your Partner Like She's A Bumper Car

Tonight we continue through the list of tango mistakes men make when leading and I don't know of any leader who has committed these sins more than me.

I was at a milonga recently enjoying a great tango with my partner when suddenly I felt a four inch heel land into my right heel. I bit my teeth in pain, turned around to see who had just fired their nail gun, but instead saw a petit milonguera. She immediately apologized and clearly felt terrible about the whole thing, but it wasn't her fault--she had no idea she was so close to me. Unfortunately, it happened because of her partner, since it's the leaders responsibility to keep her and everyone around them safe.

So, how did this happen?

Unfortunately, it was another example of a guy leading his partner like she's a bumper car.

From my experience, there are three types of leaders I see at milongas who lead their partner like this:

1. The "Tailgater": I'm sorry to say this is what I used to do because I would tail the couple ahead of me by too close of a margin. When I first started out I was so focused on trying to lead that I wouldn't notice how close I was getting to the couple in front of us. By combining my lack of awareness with some leaders who take steps backwards without knowing if someone is behind them, the only outcome was bumping into each other. Some of our brothers bounce around a milonga using his partner like she's a pinball in a machine. There are no points scored for leading one's partner into another couple, so please be aware of your space to avoid my mistakes.

2. The "Speed Racer": There's a guy I'm acquainted with whom I see at milongas. Good luck finding a nicer guy to talk to, but when he gets on to the dance floor he slices through crowds for no apparent reason. He flies through the crowds trying to squeeze through openings so small it reminds me of the motorcyclists here that drive on the white line through stopped traffic. Both seem to be racing, but to where?

3. The "Heel Spiker": This is the dangerous one of the three because at least the Tailgater is usually a guy leading a woman's back slowly into the back of another man or woman. But, unlike the Tailgater, the Heel Spiker is normally led quickly into another couple without warning. It's the surprise element that normally leads to the spiking.

None of these examples are the followers fault although, ironically, it's normally the woman who apologizes. No, these bumps & spikes are the responsibility of the leader.

I know how hard it can be to pay attention to spacing on what are often crowded floors--especially as a beginner. Please, brothers, avoid my earlier mistakes. Protect your follower and the other dancers around you by using the widest safety zone possible.

My heels thank you.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Why I Stopped Going To Milongas When I'm Exhausted

I like to tango.

A slow week for me is when I only get in tango 3 times. A more normal week is 4 or 5 times a week.

But I used to go for tango even on nights when I was exhausted. So, how did that work out for me?...yeah, not too well. I finally stopped doing that when I was a beginner because I was so tired one night I was having trouble focusing.

My internal dialogue went something like this: "hmm, who can I tango with?; she looks nice & not too far above my level; great--she accepted; wow, she dances better than I realized; geez--she can really move her body; damn, she's sexy; ok, I've just repeated the only two moves I know eight times--what was that new one I just learned? was it a boleo to the right or left? I think it was to the right? no, it was to the left, or was that the gancho? why did everyone stop moving? or is a gancho that move I just learned or an Argentine cowboy? John Wayne--now there was a cowboy! Although Jimmy Stewart was better in "Destry Rides Again"; why are people walking off the floor?; I wonder who would've won in a fight between John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart? Yeah, sure the obvious choice is John Wayne, but I bet Jimmy Stewart would've kicked his ass. Hell, Stewart flew dangerous missions in World War II--now that was a guy with a backbone! it got real quiet in here all of a sudden; And that scene when Stewart danced into the pool with Donna Reed in "It's A Wonderful Life"--hilarious! I would've loved to have tangoed with Donna Reed. I wonder if she or Grace Kelly would've been a better tango dancer? Why is my partner is looking at me quizically? Damn it, the tango ended! How did I miss that? I've got to focus--no more drifting. 'Thanks for the dance--sorry I missed the ending'; ok, so Jimmy Stewart kicks John Wayne's ass, but would he have beaten Clint Eastwood? Clint was probably a faster draw, but if it's a barfight--I'd take Stewart again--he's just too fast; hmm, who can I dance with?; she looks nice and not too far above my level..."

Brothers, if you ever find yourself tangoing with a lovely woman and wondering if Jimmy Stewart would've kicked John Wayne's ass, it's time to go home.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Tango Sin #2 For Men: Throwing Your Partner Around Like A Ragdoll

And, yes, I committed this sin in my first year of tango, too. You know what it usually looks like--a guy is doing a fine job of leading his partner, nice salida, elegant backward ochos and then, bam!, he throws her like a ragdoll. She's jarred and continues with a look of dread; he's oblivious and continues with a look of anticipation planning his next big move.

Or so it normally goes. I was watching this very type of scene two Sundays ago--the guy wasn't being respectful of his partners body even though her discomfort was obvious. I honestly don't know if the guy had any idea how uncomfortable this was for her, but I had the feeling he didn't. Finally, he jarred her one too many times and she appropriately walked off the floor.

What an unfortunate and frustrating experience for her. She was there to have a great time and now she's having to worry for her safety and feeling the awkwardness of having to leave her partner on the dance floor. There were a lot of glancing looks as people tried figuring out what had just happened. Fortunately, I think the guy got it because during his next dance he didn't try any of his show moves and his boleos became more subtle.

Women, I will never try to excuse my own bad leading from the past (I'm sure many would question my use of the "past", but please throw me a bone). Nor will I try to excuse the lead of some of my brothers. But I will try to explain it.

Why do we sometimes lead moves as if our follow is a ragdoll?

Because too often we don't take enough classes to properly learn moves and we end up leading them badly. As a result of not having really learned the moves, we don't know strong our lead should be in the beginning.

When new leaders (and sometimes more experienced ones, too) start going to milongas, the confusion mounts because there's a lot to remember and we start hitting sensory overload (difficult dance to learn, sultry music, close embrace tangos, sexy women, great people, the chattering crowd, the flowing line of dance...). You add all this up and then combine it with the challenge of having to gauge how strong your lead should be for different moves and, unfortunately, most of us make mistakes in the beginning.

This is why, brothers, it's important when you're starting out to please practice your new moves in classes and practicas before surprising a women with them at a milonga. And if you're determined to try a new move, err on the side of leading the move too gently at first and only increase incrementally as necessary. What's the worst that can happen?...the move doesn't work, but at no risk to her. I can tell you it took me well over a year to get boleos down and I'm shocked now by how boleos are a simple transfer of weight. I lead them now with half the power, but they're twice as effective. Less is more.

So, brothers, lead her safely. If we're respectful of our partner, we'll have a new friend who will gladly dance with us at milongas for years to come. And what could be better than that?

Friday, May 16, 2008

But Doesn't Three Tango Performances Qualify As An Excuse?

Dear Friends,
I'm sorry I wasn't able to post more recently, but over the past 2 weeks I've been swamped launching our new website at work (a few too many 1am calls to New Dehli) & I've had 3 tango performances with LiberTango.

Now I know what you're thinking: "But, Mark, I don't even go out tangoing until 1am, so, that's a lame excuse."

Good point.


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A Big Fat Greek Wedding, A Little Tango, A Lot of Bachlava

God bless the Greeks.

I'm fortunate to be on a tango performance team called LiberTango, led by the multi-talented Christy Cote and Darren Lees. Sunday night we performed at a Greek-American wedding at the beautiful Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Oakland Hills. I've performed about 25 times before (tango & salsa), but last night was my first time performing at a wedding.

It was great fun, mainly because there were a couple of hundred people there and, thankfully, they really got into the tango. The funny thing is we hung around after our tango performances to see if any folks at the reception needed any enouragment to dance to the band. That turned out to be completely unnecessary because Greek-Americans need about as much encouragement to dance as Latino's do. It was more of a sprint to see who could get to the dance floor first.

So, out of respect for the privacy of the families, I'm only posting a distant photo to give you a feeling for the room, which was great. We felt like we were tangoing inside a giant blue cumulus cloud. This photo was just before the band started playing & everyone packed the dance floor in two big circles for Greek dances. Awesome.

I can't remember the last time I saw people having so much fun at a wedding. God bless Greek-Americans.

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Monday, May 5, 2008

Tango Sin #1 For Men: Tossing In Moves Above Our Level

Brothers, before I jump into today's blog, let me say that I've made every mistake in the tango book. So, when I offer feedback for us that I've heard from women, please don't think I'm saying I don't make the same mistakes--I've made them all.

Having said that, I have heard from women that they lose some of their tango love for us as leads when we think we're better than we really are and, as a result, try to lead moves at milongas that are above our heads.

Men, how do you know if you fall into this same category I was in for too long? Well, do you feel comfortable leading all of your steps? More importantly, when you're leading your more advanced steps does your partner have a look on her face of happiness or anxiety?

If she has a look of anxiety or frustration then you might need to bring some of your Forever Tango-inspired moves that you're doing at milongas back into practice sessions until your partner tells you they're ready for prime time. When I was in this same phase I was trying to squeeze every single one of my moves into every single tango--regardless of whether I knew how to lead them and ignoring the fact that some didn't fit the music. I was trying to create a great Argentinian guisos soup from my tango, but I kept dumping in too many half-baked ingredients so I ended up with my own "specialty"--an inedible tango broth that tasted more like a combination of Miso/pumpkin/chicken/beet & squid stew.

So, what did I do initially? The logical thing...I inwardly blamed my partners! Surely it wasn't my fault.

But try as I did, I still had this nagging suspicion that the problem was me, not her. Admitting that, though, was hard.

So, what was the tipping point for me when I finally realized it was me? It happened at a milonga at ODC one night. I'd seen a very nice senior woman tango before & was looking forward to dancing a full tanda with her. We started what I assumed would be the first of three or four tangos, but immediately after our first one ended she politely thanked me and walked away. "Hey!" I thought to myself as I watched her sit down, "I still have another 18 moves to show you!" And that was it--I knew then I had to change my ways. But how? Fortunately, I've had great teachers and when I asked them for how to improve my tango almost all of them basically said "less is more--don't try the advanced stuff at a milonga until you're sure you've got it down."

And so overnight I started leading moves that were half as difficult, but felt twice as fun for both my partner and me. The frustrated expressions of my partners slowly left. I started enjoying the basics more and my technique started progressing faster, too.

So, men--give it a try. Unless you're positive you've got all of your more advanced moves down, remove your most difficult 2 or 3 moves from your mental step list and don't break them out again until they're milonga-ready.

And if that doesn't work, then you can blame your partner!

That was a lame joke, obviously. Of all the possible explanations for our partners unhappy expressions, blaming our partner is the only thing that's never an option.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Wonderful Sounds of Tango & The American Bullfrog

Recently I was in St Augustine, Florida visiting my Dad.

Funny thing about St. Augustine--great beaches, lousy tango.

At the end of my week there all I could think of was how strange it felt to not dance tango for 5 nights straight. My Dad's place is close to the beach, so instead of my flat in San Francisco where the fog rolls in from the Pacific, I smelled the salt drifting in from the Atlantic. After awhile I put on my iPod to listen to tango. I start to concentrate and finally I start to hear tango in the distance. I'm slowly drifting into a milonga. But wait-what's that noise? I've never heard that at a milonga. Maybe that's because my mental tanda is being crowded out by the croaking of American bullfrogs and the bellowing of the gators in the wetlands behind my Dad's place.

Yes, bellowing gators--as in the twelve footer in the pond behind my Dad's place.

I decide to try & find a milonga, so I get online. The closest tango is in Orlando--a good 2 hours away. I'm tempted, but is it worth the drive just to tango with Minnie Mouse? Not that I have anything against dancing with mice. Don't get me wrong because I'm not mousist--I'll tango with anyone or anything at this point. It's just that I've heard Minnie backleads.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Goodbye Tango "Strangers", Hello Partners In Crime

I had a tango revelation at my last milonga. Our pre-milonga class ended & and for my first tanda I asked a stranger to tango. We took each other into a close embrace for 3 minutes and I realized how much I dislike the word "stranger" in tango. Why? Because synonyms for "strangers" ("foreigner, alien and outsider") are all words that describe exactly the opposite of how I felt during our tango.

Whether or not I've ever met a tanguera before isn't important. When I think of the tangueras I dance with, I think of "partner, cohort, compadre, crony, and my favorite--partner in crime."

I don't need to have met a tanguera before to already be connected to her through our shared passion for the world's most intimate dance.