Meet the senior tango champions of 2017

June 22, 2017

When I learned that Nina Chudoba (82) and Oscar Brusco (90) would be dancing at Nuevo Chique Milonga del Corazon, I marked my calendar.  I’ve been viewing their videos since February when one of them was posted by the YoTango Festival in Salon Canning.  How could it be that in 18 years in Buenos Aires, I had never seen or heard of them?  Better late than never.  I was eager to share their video with students.  I didn’t know where they lived until I met them on Tuesday in Nuevo Chique.  They looked taller in the videos, but both are quite short — I felt tall next to Nina.  She designs and sews her tango dresses.

We thought they would be dancing for us at 8:00, but we waited until 9:00 to see them.  It was worth the wait.  I had my camera to record their exhibition.  I couldn’t hold back tears during the vals.  They prove that dancing keeps us young.  They are so happy to talk to people.  They told me where and when they’ll be dancing next month.

Be quiet

June 21, 2017

All the chatter is really getting to me.  I go to listen to the music and watch the dancing.  The milonga isn’t a social club, it’s where people go to dance tango.  I may share a table with a friend, but we aren’t engaged in incessant conversation.  Blocking out the chatter is a challenge, something I’ve had to practice so I can enjoy the music.

I had a good view of the floor and the first row of tables from the second row where I sat alone.  There were as many as six women sharing a table.  When they weren’t dancing, they were chattering away.  There is no interest in listening to the music or watching the dancing.  I believe this is one of the major changes in the milonga ambiance.  Over the last 15 year or so, the milongas are more social clubs than a place where people go to enjoy tango.  Newcomers fall right into the social club mode.

One professional is a good example of how things have changed.  She has danced for more than twenty years in the milongas.  She respected the codes and customs of the milonga.  After years going abroad to teach, she gets the star treatment.  Her front and center seat is waiting for her.  She stands on the edge of the floor during a tanda as if she entered a restaurant to meet friends for dinner.  She removes her coat while chatting with other women at the table.  The conversation continued for a half hour.  Then she removed her knee-high boots at the table; the ladies’ room is too inconvenient for her to bother. She has the skills of a contortionist changing into her tango shoes with very little space, while trying not to display her bare legs and feet.  This was taking place a few feet away, and I kept my eyes on the scene.  She never stopped talking either.  Then she sat for an hour without an invitation to dance.

The men listen to the music and watch the dancing.  They reserve their conversation for the women.  That’s why there is no end to the chatter.  The women talk at the table with other women, and then with the men between dances.  There was a moment when I wanted to stand up and shout: be quiet!  Don’t you want to hear the music?

The milonga I attended yesterday had lots of chattering, too.  A friend and I sat between two tables of chatterers who never stopped talking, even during the demonstration by the new senior city tango champions.  After the demonstration, a young woman from the USA sat with us.  The woman next to us interrupted tell us not to talk, so we don’t miss invitations to dance.  Her remarks were amusing, and came across as  “do as I say, not as I do.”

Those who chatter away don’t appreciate what the milonga offers them.  They don’t know what they’re missing.

Be choosy

June 18, 2017

If you ask any woman at a milonga if she is there to sit all night or there to dance, she’ll probably say she wants to dance.  I’ve seen women who dance every tanda all night long, like they’re at a marathon.

A few years ago, Leonora shared my table.  She was new to the milonga.  She wasn’t a familiar face, so she was sitting more than dancing.  We talked about observing how the men dance before accepting an invitation.  I told her how I preferred to sit than to suffer through ten minutes with a partner who didn’t feel the music or take care of me while we danced.  In early May, I saw her at a Saturday afternoon milonga.  She stopped by my table to thank me and let me know that she decided to take my advice about dance partners. She is content dancing fewer tandas with better dancers.

Ines heard me talk about the milongas during the three months she was coming to a weekly lesson.  She was finally ready for her first milonga.  We went with friends to Nuevo Chique.  Her first tanda was a disaster.  Her second tanda was another disaster.  She was too good with the cabeceo, but was accepting every invitation that came her way.  Then we talked.  I pointed out Jose, the best dancer in the milonga to her, a man with whom I’d enjoyed dancing many times.  He was directly across the room.  I told her to look his way.  She did. He invited her.  That was an aha moment for Ines.  She felt the difference between men who pushed her around and one who danced with her.  She said, Janis, I’m going to take your advice from now on.  I’m not going to dance with anyone until I’ve seen how he dances first.  I’ll be choosy like you.  A few weeks later, we went together to Nuevo Chique.  She was eager to dance, so I reminded her that she is choosy like I am.  She danced only three or four tandas that day, but none of them were disasters.

 

José Lopez

June 12, 2017

March 28, 1932 – June 12, 2017

There is no recipe to follow in tango

May 21, 2017

I didn’t know a thing about cooking when I got married, so I relied on a Better Homes & Garden’s cookbook that I received as a wedding gift.  I remember starting with the first recipe for a meal and then working my way through the book.  I followed the steps and the results were edible.  I used recipes for everything I cooked and baked for so many years until a friend was cooking in my kitchen without a recipe.  Her kitchen skills amazed me, and eventually I got the confidence to experiment in the kitchen without a recipe.

It was almost the same when I started learning tango.  I didn’t know anything about the tango from Buenos Aires.  I met a ballroom dancer in Chicago who had been to Buenos Aires, so I asked him to share what he learned with me.  He had tango videos that we watched during our practice sessions.  I followed his lead in the steps and the results were palatable.  After years of ballroom dance classes, memorizing step sequences was normal.  I had learned basic choreography for tango.

It was years before I realized that the choreography I knew was for stage performance, and that improvised tango was in the milongas.

The annual city tango championships were held this week, and I watched the qualifying and semi-final rounds on YouTube today.  There are certain movements that are standard choreography in social tango today.  Personal style is almost lost on the social floor.  The championship has a recipe style of its own — one to please the judges.

There is no recipe to follow in tango.  It comes from the heart.

 

Look me up when you visit Buenos Aires

May 10, 2017

I enjoy meeting tango dancers from around the world who come to Buenos Aires for a total immersion in the culture.  It’s my pleasure share what I know about the city and tango.  I’ve met the nicest people who love tango.  In February 2016, I met Felicity who stayed at the guest house a block from my apartment.  She got around to writing a year later about her visit.

* * * * * *

I probably would not have gone to Buenos Aires if it weren’t for Janis of Tango Chamuyo. Two almost misable remarks got me there. How significant the small things can be, even from people we do not know.  The first though was from Chris and happened in chat about music and dance:
F: I do mind them dancing tango to non tango tracks!
C: Well, I never have that problem. Because if I see them dancing non-tango, by definition they are not dancing tango.
F: 🙂 You’re such a literal guy. Do you not ever feel you make the world fit your view of it!?
C: Get thee to BA.
F: No way!
C: Fair enough, but then keep in mind that you and I are not viewing the same world.
F: Don’t harry me! It would be lonely & scary & very likely demoralising & unsuccessful. I’m not ready. Let’s not talk about it.
C: Sorry. I was not really suggesting, more making a point. Because it really is an important one. To people who really dance tango, those people “dancing tango to non-tango” are not dancing tango, even badly. They are dancing non-tango.
That conversation and others related to Buenos Aires dogged me for over a year, though I forgot about the “I was not really suggesting”.
The second was something Janis said later in a reply to a comment of mine in her blog. It was something like “When you come and dance with the milongueros in Buenos Aires…” The remark just assumed I really would in a way I had not considered. It was after that I decided, despite all the misgivings and the obstacles that I should go and soon, while there still were the milongueros Janis wrote about.  Without Janis and her blog I probably would not have gone to Buenos Aires, or at least, not then.
But I did not know Janis except via her blog and I did not want to presume anything by contacting her and asking for advice. I remember that came up later, when I was there about something or other, I forget what:
– But you didn’t ask! she said.
– I didn’t like to! I said.
– I was expecting you to! she said
She is that ready to help.
This is how I got in touch with her. Once I had virtually decided to go to Buenos Aires Chris was the obvious person to ask for advice:
F: Have you advice about the trip, the stay, anything? 
C: Top priority is security. 
F: From mugging/street attack? 
C: And the rest.
F: Is that common? 
C: Yes, very. 
F: Everywhere? I remember reading that Janis walks about at night. 
C: Second priority is: ask Janis’ advice. Esp. on good (inc. safe) accommodation. I would stay with an English speaker who understands [about security].
F: Do you know anyone? 
C: Janis is the one to ask. 
I had confidence in Chris and he, who is careful, had it in Janis. So I did. Still, I did not really expect her to answer a stranger, just as when eighteen months previously I hadn’t really expected Chris to reply, when a year after first wondering where to find a copy of a foxtrot some guy had mentioned on the internet I finally contacted him to ask. I could not have been more wrong about either of them..
Janis when I met her was a force of nature. She is tiny, very petite and it was astonishing how much strength of mind, personality and will could fit in such a small frame. She was interested in everything and everyone related to Buenos Aires. She chatted to lots of people on the street, in shops, in the neighbourhood. She talked to babies. But she did not talk much in the milongas.  There, she listened, she watched, she danced. In fact, though she might catch up for a few minutes with a friend here or there, she did not seem to like much chat in the milongas. Sometimes she introduced me to people or made an advisory remark.
Janis’s blog is about other people. It celebrates other people. In her apartment she had lovely photos of her parents and I thought she should tell that story. She had an attractive collection of small objects. I think they were stones with words on them which were meaningful to her but I could see they also related to tango and to life and I thought that would make a lovely post. She seemed to see that too but she shied away. I don’t really talk about myself in the blog was as much as she would say. And that is true. But there is no false modesty – she appears in photos with her friends, but her posts are about the city, the concerts, events, the milongas and the milongueros.
I cannot begin to say how kind and helpful Janis was. She told me so many useful things before I went to Buenos Aires I could not say them all here. She arranged for me to be picked up at the airport by a well-known milonguero and came too.  She showed me around the neighbourhood, lent me cash til I could get some and came with me to get money – luckily, as the place had moved. She went with me to the milongas in my first week, even showed me where the ones she didn’t plan on going to were.
I already knew from the blog that she spoke her mind but I think many people admire and respect Janis for telling it straight, for saying what they would not necessarily dare to, for standing up for the manners and mores of the traditional milongas, for alerting foreigners to these and for keeping them up to date with the people and places they love to meet and to visit.  The posts about the changes in the milonga Lo de Celia after the sad death of Celia are a case in point.  It is well-known how much Janis loved that milonga. It was the first one she took me to. We went three times in five days. Some of her posts talk about it like home and family but when it changed and became unrecognizable from what it had been, she moved on. She said she adjusted “faster than it took to walk from LdC to Obelisco. I put the past behind me and embraced a new tango home.”
When we went out to the milongas, she always looked top dollar and she did it all on a shoestring.
Janis gave advice, told stories, answered questions and took me on an excellent walking tour incorporating history, tango and architecture. She kind of just said one day that was what we were doing and I am so grateful we did.  She is knowledgeable about many aspects of Buenos Aires as well as about the milongas and the dancers.
She had thought I would blog every day about the trip but I said probably not, that I liked things to settle though even I did not expect it to take a year. I notice it is a year to the week since I went. She offered as soon as I arrived to arrange for me to dance with a famous milonguero in a private lesson. I did not want to offend her nor foreclose wonderful opportunities but I had to explain that these days tuition in tango was “against my religion”.
I dreaded explaining this though I should have realised straight-talking Janis probably respected honesty. I felt if I gave in on that, even with a famous milonguero I would be faking everything I danced with him, withholding myself from the dance and lying about any enthusiasm or interest I showed. I would hate myself for that and it would be disrespectful to him. It had to be a real dance in the milongas or nothing. I didn’t say any of that but Janis seemed to understand. She proposed something else with him instead, which was fine with me. She knew on this and other things, like her, I had my own way. She just accepted it and let those things be.
I am not sure now if I would do the same again. Some men teach and make you “think dance” and you don’t learn but some men just dance with you and you do learn. There is a big difference. But I still have a problem with paying someone for something that is about feeling between you. If you pay them it is necessarily going to be fake. On the other hand, I felt there is something wrong with a western tourist turning up expecting to learn for free from a milonguero in Buenos Aires. I am not sure I thought things through like like this at the time but I did feel things would get sorted out in the milongas.
Recently I told Janis I was going to write finally about the house I stayed in on Chile.  A friend writing a book about tango was in Buenos Aires and it was bringing it all back. I asked Janis if I could mention her in the blog. She said “By all means, tell people that I live a block away and am available for walking tours, etc. I started a free and open tango class on Thursday from noon to 3:30 for anyone who wants to join me.  I had understood it was a class for women and asked for clarification.  She said, What started out as a women’s only class is changing.  We need men who want to learn. One woman asked if a friend can join us, and I said of course.  I’m inviting friends who already dance to give the women practice.”

As it turned out, my first dance in the milongas was with that milonguero but I was by then so keyed up and out of practice it was disastrous in that I felt stiff and embarrassed and in the spotlight.  Though he was most courteous and invited me again later I finished it on the verge of tears at my nerves and inability to dance.  While she might have been surprised that the world did not move for me, I guess Janis was not really surprised, given that I had turned down that opportunity to dance first outside of the milongas, to get used to new things.  She is very clear-sighted.  She didn’t make a big deal of it.   I imagine when Janis, talking about her new class says friends she means or includes Argentinians so I think her project sounds interesting.   And I doubt it would be anything like a European class.  Besides, the men dance very differently to a lot of dancing in Europe and if you are anything like I was when you first arrive, especially if you are alone then it might be a good thing to have that experience before going in to the milongas.  Apart from that just meeting Argentinians is a lovely, warm, experience – and I liked meeting other tourists and expats who come again and again to experience the milongas of Buenos Aires.

Ernesto Hector Garcia

May 8, 2017

May 8, 1936 —

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The videos of Flaco Dany show him dancing an exhibition, but I managed to record him during a milonga in Obelisco Tango.

Mario Allan Candamil

May 6, 2017

May 13, 1929 — May 4, 2017

I will write more about this great milonguero viejo soon. These are a few of many photos I took of Alito.  He was always happy, never complained or argued with anybody about anything, and enjoyed life, reading, and the milonga.  The last time I saw him was the day he had cataract surgery in a clinic near where I live. They called to remind me of the appointment although I wasn’t the person in charge. I went to see him there for the last time, September 3, 2014.

 

Hector Giocci

April 21, 2017

April 21, 1936 —

Hector is en pareja for the last several months, so there is no chance I’ll dance with him. He reserves his embrace for his sweetheart. I can’t wait to see them dancing together.  Hector’s embrace defines tango.

Osvaldo Vicente Centeno

April 1, 2017

June 15, 1937 — March 30, 2017

I received a message last night from Italy asking me about Osvaldo. I saw him three weeks ago in the hospital after surgery.  He called to let me know where he was.  I spent two hours with him. I wrote another friend last night for confirmation.

This great milonguero is gone.  I lost a dear friend.