Posts Tagged ‘tango’

First tandas

August 28, 2011

Everyone remembers their first kiss or first date, no matter how many years have passed.  I remember my first tandas with milongueros.

The milonga Glamour was held in a salón at Boedo and Carlos Calvo.  An excellent dancer invited me to dance in September 1997.  It was my first time dancing milonga con traspié.  It wasn’t until years later I asked his name — Ernesto Jorge De Gouvea. 

November 19, 1998 was the first time I danced with Mario Allan “Alito” Candamil.  I kept a diary of my trip.  We danced two tandas in Regin at the corner of Riobama and Corrientes.  It was an Aha! moment for me.  He thought I was Argentine since there weren’t many foreigners and expected me to speak Castellano.  I hadn’t spoken Spanish since high school.  Alito still jokes about our dancing without saying a word.

I danced my first tanda with Pedro Sanchez in Club Gricel in October 1998, a few months before moving to Buenos Aires.  I was too inexperienced to realize what an incredible dancer Pedro was at the time.

The Milonga de Los Consagrados was on Saturday afternoon at Italia Unita where I danced my first tanda with Ismael Heljalil in November 1999.

I danced my first tanda with Miguel Angel Balbi on October 15, 1999, at Club Gricel.  I had not seen him dance and was a bit reluctant to accept his invitation.  I wasn’t disappointed.  That decision lead to a three-year partnership.  He taught me so much about the culture of tango.

Ricardo Hector Suarez loves milonga con traspié.  We danced our first tanda in Club Bailable Juvenil on September 17, 2000, with the permission of his partner Greta Feldberg.  Miguel Angel Balbi filmed us.

Pocho y Nely danced for filming by Solo Tango TV in Salón El Pial on July 11, 2003.  The highlight of the evening was dancing tango and milonga con traspié with Roberto Rafael “Pocho” Carreras.

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Milonga 101: Tango shoe shuffle

January 13, 2011

Milongueros wear normal street shoes for dancing at the milongas.  They never bring along another pair of shoes.  It’s the same for the milongueras who wear the high-heeled shoes they will dance in.  It’s the only way they make a proper entrance at a milonga.

The tango shoe shuffle describes newer dancers and foreigners (men and women) who carry their dance shoes to the milongas and shuffle into them at the table.   Many dancers start changing their shoes in public before and after dance classes.   They continue their routine in the milongas.

I remember being seated at the table of a woman who was changing her shoes while an observant milonguero pinched his nose; he had my attention, and I laughed because he made his point.  Nobody wants to smell foot odor after hours of dancing.   If only the woman had noticed the milonguero, she might have thought twice about it.

If you think no one notices you changing your shoes at the table, you are mistaken.  That’s why going to the ladies’ room before being escorted to your table is an option.  Your potential dance partners don’t need to see you wearing your old walking shoes, etc. which convey a first impression and label you as a “tourist who doesn’t know any better.”  After changing your shoes,  simply wait at the entrance for the host to escort you to a table.

Atorrante – part 8: A juggling act

January 6, 2011

I don’t know how atorrantes do it.  They juggle three women in their lives at the same time.  They certainly qualify as experts at something — lies.

First, there’s Mr. X.  Years ago I overheard my partner telling a friend how Mr. X had a wife at home and two dance partners.  I thought he was joking until I saw for myself.  Mr. X told his wife that he was going to work even though he was retired.  He was going to visit woman #1.  After spending the morning with her, he went to see woman #2 in the afternoon.  He juggled three women in his late 70s!  He kept these women in line on the dance floor as well.  He used to dance with woman #1 at a downtown milonga.  When he taught a class or danced an exhibition, he was with woman #2.  Several years ago his wife died.  He had a juggling act to play with the two women who knew about one another and  who competed to be the woman in his life.  

Mr. Y wasn’t satisfied having only his wife of 35 years.  He went to see woman #1 every weekday afternoon for lunch and conversation.  They continued for years with this arrangement, although she knew about his wife.  She took care of his clothes, bought the food and cooked the meals.  In return, she had his companionship, and he accompanied her to doctor appointments.  He told her that she was the love of his life, and she believed him. She didn’t know that woman #2 came into his life.  He told her that he was working on the weekend and couldn’t see her when actually he spent time with woman #2 who probably thought she was the only woman in his life.  She had the dance partner she wanted on the weekend.  She bought the clothes he wanted and even a car so they didn’t have to take taxis to the milongas.  He never had to worry about woman #1 seeing him at a milonga with woman #2, since she wouldn’t go out alone.  He knew that and was able to divide his life among three women who maintained him. 

Atorrantes have no time for work.  They’re too busy juggling the women in their lives who willingly provide everything they need.

A media luz

December 21, 2010

You’ll be dancing when suddenly all the lights go out and the music stops.  Often it’s a case of waiting while someone replaces a fuse.  Sometimes a power outage occurs in the entire neighborhood without warning.  That’s what happens in the milongas of Buenos Aires.

That was the case on Sunday night at Lo de Celia when at 8:50 pm, we found ourselves dancing A media luz — half the lights were out, the music stopped, and the air-conditioning was off.   First they had to find the cause of the problem.  It was interesting to see how patient all the dancers were for a half hour and how very few left.  Celia made an announcement, and all sat quietly at their tables.  A boom box provided us with music, but it wasn’t needed for very long. 

Dancing tango A media luz may be common in other countries, but not in the traditional city milongas of Buenos Aires where good lighting is required.  Once the music from the boom box began, dancers began inviting partners.  The first couple on the floor received a round of applause.  When the music finally came through the sound system, everyone applauded.  My video shows how it was Sunday.  It may look like your local milonga, but it is definitely not normal in Buenos Aires.

This wasn’t the only power outage of the week at Lo de Celia.  When I arrived on Wednesday I was told that power in the neighborhood was less than normal, so the milonga had no air-conditioning.  There was light, fans, and music.  That was enough for me and all the other dancers.  Eventually the air-conditioners were operating.  The milonga continued as normal.

Ballet feet vs. tango feet

December 19, 2010

Classical ballet training begins with learning the basic five foot positions created in the 1600s by French choreographer Pierre Beauchamp.   One could attend a ballet class anywhere in the world and find the same five foot positions.

First position in ballet

It’s been ages since I put on my ballet shoes.  I never had a full turnout for ballet.  The heels are together with the feet turned out.  It’s the same turnout for all five positions, and it takes years of training from an early age to develop the technique. 

Many dancers in Argentina (classical and folklorico) have made the transition into tango, performing and teaching.  Most of the women have classical training while the men have folklorico training.  The milongueros and milongueras, however, learned tango while dancing at family parties, clubes de barrio and the city confiterias

First position in ballet

Guillermina Quiroga, Lorena Ermocida, Aurora Lubiz, Alicia Monti and Gloria Dinzel started in classical ballet and ended up in tango.  The transition from dancing alone to dancing in a partner’s embrace is a big leap.  They performed in tango shows on stage where they put aside their classical training.  

There are tango teachers with ballet feet who haven’t made a complete transition to tango.  Consequently, it is common to see new adult dancers with ballet feet in tango.  They practice what they’ve learned in women’s technique classes and dance it in the milongas.  The only difference is they are dancing on their toes wearing stilettos.

First position in tango -- where the dance begins and ends

All social dancing uses the same foot positions.  Classical technique is beautiful to see in a great ballet like Swan Lake, but it has no place in tango.

Puro tango

December 10, 2010

We left the milonga on Sunday night at the same time.  As we arrived downstairs at the entrance, Graciela said to me, “the milongueros dance pure tango.  What a pleasure it is to dance with them.”  I agreed.  They don’t intellectualize it or analyze it.  What are we going to do when they’re all gone?  What will tango be without them?

On my walk home, I thought about all the milongueros who have given their pure tango to me.  I know that many of them didn’t attend school past the age of 12.  They learned a trade as an auto mechanic or shoemaker or upholsterer.  Many worked as bus or truck drivers, and today many drive taxis or remises.  They all made time for their passion: dancing in the milongas.

Alito is one example.  He has spent most of his life dancing tango.  He organized dances from the time he was 17 (1946).  When we dance together on Tuesdays at El Arranque, I share his pure tango. 

Listening to tango on the radio and learning to dance well was more important than anything to the milongueros.  We owe a debt of immense gratitude to the milongueros who are an example of pure tango.   It flows through them.  It beats in their hearts.  It is felt in the embrace.

Entre tango y tango

November 13, 2010

Bob and Viv posed for this series of photos to show what to do and not to do between dances.  Many people think they have to talk.  According to the milonguero codes, it’s the woman’s decision whether or not to say anything at all to the man between dances, and then it’s usually about the music.  There are dancers who don’t say a word between dances because they focus on the music. 

Bob and Viv show a normal stance between dances.  The man stands with his hands clasped behind, and the woman with her arms at her side. 

The woman speaks softly to her partner’s ear so that their conversation is private and doesn’t disturb others.  “This is my favorite tango by Di Sarli.”   A milonguero may ask, “bien?” after the first dance.

The man has no right to touch the woman in any way unless they are a couple.  This may give the impression that they are a couple, even when they aren’t.  The woman can avoid the situation by taking a step back from the man. 

The man doesn’t need to touch the woman in order to talk. 

The woman wants to talk and flirt.  The man gets her message.  This is an example of how all the twitter starts.  The woman will probably be invited for another tanda or two that night…and perhaps for coffee.

My thanks to Bob and Viv for taking time out of their busy vacation schedule in Buenos Aires to pose for these photos.  They are the only tango dancers I know from Wales; actually the only people I’ve met in my life who live in Wales and own an apartment in Buenos Aires for retirement in a few years.


November 12, 2010

Alito is doing fine.  Now that Buenos Aires has nicer weather, I like to take him for a walk along Rivadavia so he can leave the confines of the room at the Geriatric center he shares with two other men.  He used to walk around the city all the time, to and from the milongas.

The other day we stopped at a cafe to have a drink.  Alito starts telling about the “passwords” that were used to enter the milongas years ago.  It was the way men entered a milonga without paying the entrada.  Alito figured out it was a nice little business, and sold the “contraseña” to make money every night.  It was given out at the door to those who left the milonga, but expected to return later; that way, they didn’t have to pay the entrada twice.  Alito began reciting some the lyrics for the tango, “Bailarin de contraseña” recorded in 1945 by Angel D’Agostino with Angel Vargas.  They describe a day in the life of a milonguero.

The next day I encountered Hugo on the street.  We stopped to talk about where we are going to dance these days.  He mentioned one milonga where he doesn’t pay the entrada because he has the contraseña.  He told me what it is, and I just might use it later this month.

P.S.  The story continues.  On Saturday night I went to a club de barrio where I met the organizer of other milongas.  She invited me to come to her new milonga the next day and gave me the contraseña so I didn’t have to pay the entrada.  It was the first time I entered a milonga with a password instead of paying.

Where are all the dancers?

October 20, 2010

If you go to any milonga in Buenos Aires, you probably won’t find a capacity crowd.  Porteños are finding these inflationary times difficult.  They are going out fewer nights each week than they once did, that’s for certain.  The only ones who can go out several nights a week are those who don’t pay the entrada or have an excellent income.

I struck up a conversation with a woman at the table last Friday night in Gricel.  She told me that she takes a taxi to and from the milonga, pays the 20-peso entrada, and buys an obligatory drink.  She added that she went to Niño Bien the night before which is usually packed with foreigners.  It had a lighter attendance than normal.  I asked what she thought was the reason.  “All the foreigners came in August for the festival and world tango championship.  Tourism is down and the milongas are empty.”

Later my friend Lucia arrived to join me in Gricel.  She takes taxis to and from the milongas; that’s 30 to 40 pesos, plus the 20-peso entrada and a drink.  She can easily spend 70 pesos a night.  If she doesn’t dance, it is a total waste of time and money for her.  She can no longer afford to go dance several times a week; once a week is all she can afford.  She accepted invitations from anyone who passed by the table so she could get to dance.  During three hours, she danced less than usual.  The milonga was dying down at 3:00–the time many waited to begin dancing.

A friend told me she had come from another milonga where there were no more than a handful of dancers.  She wanted to dance, so she and another woman arrived late where I danced four tandas the previous hour.  That was more dancing than I’ve had at other milongas.

I consider myself fortunate in that I can walk to my favorite milongas.  When taxi fares rose a few years ago, I decided I would walk to and from the milongas or take a bus, no matter what time of year or hour.  It became my 20-minute warmup for dancing.  Taxi fares increased another 26% this week.  Bus fares in Buenos Aires continue to be the lowest in South America.

Here is a comparison of prices ten years ago and what they are today.  Take into consideration that ten years ago, the peso was equal to the dollar.  Today the dollar is worth four pesos.

  • Buenos Aires Herald newspaper: 1.00 – 5.00AP
  • bus ride:  .70 centavos – 1.20/1.25
  • subway:  .70 centavos – 1.10
  • haircut: 12.00 – 39.00
  • half-dozen eggs: .89 – 4.39
  • loaf of bread: 2.75 – 10.09
  • milonga entrada: 4.00/5.00  – 20.00
  • bottled water at a milonga:  $2.00 – 7.00
  • temporary furnished apartment rental per month for foreigners: $700  – $950
  • Buquebus fast boat to Colonia  $74.00 – 254.00
  • Dial-up internet service $25/month; Broadband service 112/month

Most milongas are charging 20 pesos.  Lo de Celia entradas went from 15 to 20 pesos this month for Friday and Sunday.  That’s a 33% increase, but Celia has kept her prices lower than other milongas for a long time.  Every milonga organizer is feeling a financial pinch.  When I stopped to think about it, I’m paying about the same entrada now as I did ten years ago.  In 2000, the entrada at Gricel was five pesos/five dollars; today it is 20 pesos/five dollars.  When the peso was devalued in 2001, everything was less for those with dollars to spend.  I can relate to porteños living on retirement, because I’m in the same boat.  You’ll see fewer dancers at the end of the month in the milongas.  That’s because they would rather eat than dance.

Codes and customs

October 13, 2010
The Argentine newspaper La Nacion published this article recently entitled, Codigos y Costumbres para no pasar calor  — No sweat codes and customs.    
The tango is a social dance and has its protocol.  There exists a list of unwritten codes and customs from more than a century ago that respond to an essential logic in order to integrate into the tango community.  I’m not certain the codes are that old, but they have been around for a long time and passed on.
A man cannot invite a woman to dance if she is seated at the table with a man unless that man leaves the table to dance with another woman.  The woman in this case is “private property.”   This change in code has occurred over the last few years with the increase in foreign couples who sit together, but who want to dance with others.  It is still uncommon among older Argentines who respect the code: No one bothers a couple seated together in a milonga because they are there to dance together.

Nor can one approach the table of the woman to invite her to dance. From where you are sitting or standing you should make a nod, which is called “cabeceo”, and if she accepts, only then can you approach to dance.  She should never go to his table. This practice will avoid the public refusal and is a democratic way to compete for the dancers.  Women are aware of the codes.  Some will accept a verbal invitation when they don’t know how to refuse it politely; others will ignore it.  Some will make a point of greeting a man at his table while passing by — their way of lining up tandas for the night.  Men who invite women with a verbal invitation at the table don’t know how to dance.

The couples dance counter-clockwise around the floor, and the man walks forward without colliding with other couples.   The progressive movement down the line of dance is not always forward for the man.  It is common for men to dance facing the tables, so they progress sideways as well.

The lanes of dance are invisible. The more experienced are on the edge, and beginners are in the middle because they hinder circulation.    There are no lane lines on the dance floor, but it is easy to see there are at least two outer lanes moving  around the dance floor while others stay in the center.

A single woman always goes to the milonga alone or with friends; never accompanied by a man. Men and women often leave the milonga separately.  If arranged, they can meet at the corner or in a bar.    It is standard procedure for singles to leave the milonga as they arrive–alone.  If a man and woman want to meet afterwards, the man leaves the milonga first and waits for her to arrive at a pre-arranged location. 

Although a couple may have a relationship, no demonstrations of affection are made in the milonga.   Couples have to show restraint in the milonga.   

Women do not invite men to dance, but that code is disappearing in the informal milongas.  Bold invitations to men are being made by foreign as well as local women.  Men are gentleman and will accept, but many have told me how they hate being approached by women to dance, especially in traditional milongas.

If an orchestra plays at a milonga, no one dances the first tango.  This isn’t that important to know in advance, since it will be obvious.  The writer thought it was worth mentioning. 

Do not talk or chew gum while dancing.   Even worse is wearing your cell phone.  In general,  there is time between dances to talk.  Hallelujah!  I’m all for no talking on the floor.  Not only did I see a man wearing his cell phone while dancing, he answered the call.  He didn’t notice that he bumped into the couple behind.  My partner and I couldn’t believe it.  He just kept on dancing with the cell in his left hand.  Worst of all, he is someone who teaches.

One dances the entire tanda with the same person. If one of them does not want to continue, he or she excuses themself by saying “thank you.”   The man accompanies the woman off the floor near her table.  It doesn’t happen often, and it is usually the woman who doesn’t want to finish the tanda because she is uncomfortable.

Women should wait for the man to embrace first, as he decides when to start moving.  What he means is women wait for the man to offer his left hand indicating he is ready to dance.  A man can only embrace a woman when she has taken his hand and positioned her left arm around him.  The man decides when the dance begins.

There is an unwritten code: no one dances until they have proven they know how to dance.   Nobody wants to make a fool of themselves.   Men ask each other, “how does she dance?”  Women do the same.  This is a way to ensure that it won’t be a bad experience.  There are some who are so eager they will dance with anyone before they have seen them on the floor.  They learn by trial and error.