Friday, June 25, 2010

The maestro and Marilyn

Through his interpreter, he tells our class that the secret to good leading is to embrace the follower as though she is the most beautiful woman in the world--someone like Marilyn Monroe, perhaps.

Now he holds out his hand to his wife, and she steps forward to take the embrace. As he holds her, he sighs theatrically and says in his own, heavily accented English, "Ah, Marilyn! At last I have found you!"

We all laugh, and he kisses her cheek as the music starts.

Classical and baroque

What I'm about to write is probably heresy to some and tremendously obvious to others,* but still...

(The British Museum; image from the University of Texas at Austin, Department of English)

(Image from French baroque architecture)

I don't really like Geraldine Rojas's dancing--and not entirely on the grounds of "That's not something you should do at a milonga," because let's face it, everybody showboats to some degree in an exhibition dance. That's part of what exhibitions are for: demonstrating skill beyond what you might be able to do within the constraints of the milonga floor.

At best, I guess you could say I have conflicting feelings about her dancing: I think she's extraordinarily graceful and skilled. It's all the kicks and firuletes that make up so much of her distinctive style that I don't care for--not because she doesn't execute them beautifully, but simply because they're often so superfluous. Too often, they have nothing to do with the music. They don't seem to reflect it, or add to it... They just seem to be this thing she does maybe almost automatically.

And it's the more troubling to me because her fundamental technique can be so lovely, and Javier's leading, at their best as a couple, could be beautifully musical. All her adornments obscure that, when they aren't connected to the music, like the overly decorated facade of an otherwise elegant building.** She can hardly seem to take a step without kicking all around it. I wish she'd let the underlying lyricism shine through more on its own.

These videos sort of break my heart because of this--because I actually like so much what is going on underneath all those embellishments:

I would just about kill to be able to simply take a step as gracefully as she can. But she can't seem to just let that be enough. (Especially later in each video, when she really starts to slice 'n' dice.) I guess she performs this style of tango better than many, but the style itself still seems marred by too much ornament.

So here is what I take from this for my own dancing:

Not to try to be [what can only be] a pale imitation of Geraldine or anyone else, but always to try to be the best possible version of myself.

Always to stay connected to the music. Not to make adornments out of habit, as I have sometimes found myself doing, but only to use them to help me reflect and interpret the music.

To strive for classical grace in my dancing and let that speak for itself, rather than falling prey to the temptations of the baroque--and [a serious struggle lately] to stop trying to show off. It might be a question of what I really want in a dance: do I have exhibition goals in mind on the social floor? But excellent technique and musicality will speak loudly enough to the people whose opinion matters most to me; they've always done so in the past.

* I had a very dysfunctional computer for a long time, so I'm pretty sure this is old news to the rest of the world. I hear Geraldine hasn't even danced with Javier in years, so, I mean, there you go. But I'm only now getting to watch more of their videos and form my opinions about what I see.

** Not to say that baroque art forms can't be quite lovely in their way. Here is where my analogy breaks down, I guess, because I like a lot of what I've seen and read of various baroque art forms--but it can get to be too much. I guess the most I can say is that I don't care for a baroque tango style.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A memory to cheer me up

In Argentina one evening, I was nearly on my way out of Los Consagrados with a friend, B, when a group just coming in stopped to say hi to B. She introduced me to the oldest man in the group, who promptly asked me to finish the tanda with him.

(This seems to be a point of etiquette at many milongas I've been to, both in BA and closer to home; if someone introduces you to a dancer of the opposite gender, you're supposed to dance with that person. This theory could be wrong, but it's based on observation... And I'm happy to benefit from it when it means I get to dance with wonderful leaders I might not otherwise be able to aspire to! But most of all I think it speaks to the consummate courtesy of the traditional milonga culture.)

I wasn't expecting to enjoy the dance, mainly because I had mistaken the man for someone else. As a matter of fact, he was wonderful--and so cheerful and friendly! He told me his nickname among his friends--a boyish diminutive, in teasing contrast to his seventy-some years--and when he learned my name, merrily put it into its diminutive form to match. He was a delight, all around.

This spring, when the organizers began sending information to advertise the festival in Nearby City, my heart leaped when I saw this man's photograph among the teachers; even though I had realized immediately upon dancing with him the previous summer that he was not who I thought he was, I had not realized who he actually was.

Reading about his accomplishments--and even more, having already gotten to dance with him--I was excited about getting to learn from him. My dances with him were among the best of my many wonderful memories from Buenos Aires, but I wondered whether he would remember me. Surely not, I told myself. Why would he? For him, it was just one dance with some American tourist--not even a whole tanda.

 My teachers, here in my hometown, were working to arrange for him and his wife to teach a couple of classes in our city while he was in the area, and while they were talking to him, they introduced me again. I told him how I had enjoyed his classes, and to my surprise, he told me, through my teachers, translating, that he remembered me from Argentina.

Later I would get to dance with him again, and it would be every bit as wonderful as I remembered. Before we said goodbye the final time, back in my hometown, I tried, in my poor Spanish, to tell him and his wife what a pleasure it had been. Ever the gentleman, he pressed my hand and looked intently into my face as he complimented my dancing. (But after all, the best leaders make it so easy!)

But you can see his beautiful leading for yourself:

(With thanks to the authors of Movement Invites Movement, where I first ran across this particular, beautiful video the other day.)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Roses and thorns: clothing

Things I love right now:

(Image, and proof that I really cannot wear junior sizes any more, courtesy of Kohl's.)

Wide-leg gaucho pants in a nice, flowy fabric

Had I caught on to the beauty of these a couple of years ago, when they were more popular, I would have/should have stocked my wardrobe with them. They are. So. Comfortable. But because I am generally at least a year late on most trends, I am now unable to find a good pair, in my size, in black or a nice grey. But the brown ones I recently found, I love them so; I plan to wear them to death and then weep over their grave.

(I may have found a possibility in black from a tango clothier, but I'll need to check my measurements. I'm also thinking about asking my seamstress to convert a skirt that I haven't been wearing the way I should.)

(Also courtesy of Kohl's.)

Maxi dresses

I wouldn't wear them for tango, of course--too long, I'd step all over the hem, and besides, you couldn't see my feet, which, we all know, is the most interesting part to watch, in social tango! But I'd wear them pretty much the rest of my life outside of tango, if I could. The only key seems to be making sure the cut of the waist and the pattern don't say "maternity wear" instead of "Bohemian chic." But otherwise--breezy, effortlessly pretty... Next best thing to wearing pajamas, and you don't even have to shave your legs!

Maxi Gluzman

(But let's not get started on all the lovely tangueros I adore...)

Things I hate, now and always:

(From Sak's Fifth Avenue)

Dropped-crotch harem pants

Maybe these have their place in a belly dance routine, or an ethnic costume; I wouldn't dream of knocking that. But for the rest of us, no matter how hot a girl may be,* these are never going to do anything but make her look like she's wearing a saggy diaper.

Why is anyone still offering these, yet beautiful gauchos for the fuller-figured lady are almost nowhere to be found? Oh, ye fickle and unfeeling gods of fashion!

Jangly anklets

Actually, I'm a bit of a fan of these in my non-tango life. So gypsy-flavored! Rings on her fingers, and bells on her toes! But at the milonga or practica, they immediately become unbearably obnoxious. I am busy trying to hear the rhythm and concentrate on my partner; I do not need to hear every movement of another woman's feet when she is wearing this kind of jewelry.

And special mention, bellydancer hip scarves with coins on the hem! So far I've only encountered this at a Halloween milonga; dressing in full bellydancer regalia is a bit much, even for the tanguera with a more pronounced exhibitionist streak than most (which is saying something; I think we all have a little attention-seeking side, or we wouldn't have started tango in the first place). But I tell you, in that context, it was the most irritating costume I have ever encountered. Imagine my disgust when it won "best female costume" that night.

* And I have only seen these affected by (Caucasian) beanpole fashionistas. I suspect that bigger girls are used to having to be more careful about what they put on their bodies, whereas a lot of fashions these days (bubble-hem dresses with big pockets at the hips? really? because your average bubble-hem dress isn't sufficiently godawful on most grown people?) seem to be about how you're supposed to be so cute you can wear any unflattering thing and still look good.**

** I think I read something like this phrase recently, in re. empire-waist dresses for plus-sized ladies, but I can't remember where. I'd credit if I could!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Notes on a learning experience

Annoyingly, have been sick for the last, approximately, ever. (Okay, week; it just feels like forever. My whole body hurts from coughing, and I am fast using up those hard-earned sick days.) So no tango for a while.

Since I can't dance at the moment, I thought I'd write a little bit about what I've been trying to work on in my dancing for the last little while. The general theme is dancing outside my comfort zone.

I appear to have finally learned how to take a slow step, either side or back and forth. Generally, so far, my tendency has been to step where I'm being led quickly. Get there and get it done; isn't the point not the step (how you get there) but what you'll do from there? And tango is always more difficult when it's done slowly (you can't rush past a mistake). It's also connected to my longstanding trouble keeping my free leg relaxed at the hip--which remains a struggle.

Lately I'm finally starting to get the hang of savoring the step itself, a bit, when the music calls for it and the lead permits it. Let the process of simply taking a step be a thing of beauty; no need to rush. And it has led to some lovely little moments in my recent dancing.

Also, working on some showier moves. At a recent practica, I approached a trusted partner (the one with whom I successfully danced to non-tango music a little while ago) and actually asked him to work with me on volcadas, which, til now, I've had a big block about. I tend to step forward when I feel the leader's chest recede from me. I think it's been partly a misunderstanding of the movement, on my part, even though I was familiar with the concept of volcadas, and partly perhaps a bit of lack of trust of the leaders--not fully believing that they were going to/could support my weight when they took me off-balance. Or more fundamental, more visceral: not liking to let myself be off-balance.

But finally, I seem to have learned to reliably, if not always gracefully, follow a volcada. Another victory.

Then I simply asked this same partner to dance with me however he liked, pushing my boundaries. In our dances together, he usually respects my preference for miloguero style, but he does all kinds of nuevo things with other partners. I was pleased with how much I could follow when we danced this way. Not everything, at least not the first try, but a lot.

All of this stems from some frustration I've had lately, feeling a bit limited in my dancing. I don't necessarily want to be led this way all the time--indeed, many of the most wonderful dances I've ever experienced, in the US and certainly in Argentina, have not used any big "stagey" moves at all. I love best the intricacy of navigating in tight space on a crowded floor--it's like a puzzle: how will we work from this position, with only these options available? And when it's done with real attention to the follower's comfort and safety, and sensitivity to and knowledge of the music... There is really nothing like it.

But I'm tired of feeling like there are just some things I "can't" follow if a partner leads them, or very nice nuevo-leaning partners that I "can never" dance with. My pickiness in this regard has really limited my options at the local milongas. (I reserve the right to continue to be picky about the quality of the lead, the music, my mood for this, etc.)

Plus, I must admit, sometimes a girl just wants to show off a bit. Not on a crowded milonga floor, of course--but sometimes. One is only human.

And somehow, no matter how many times partners, observers, and teachers whose opinions I value tell me positive things about my dancing (my embrace, my musicality, my footwork...), I feel like I'm not as good a dancer as I could be if I don't even know what to do with myself when these things are led.

So, it will probably never be my preference, just as I will probably never prefer dancing to non-tango music (because to me, non-tango music and the movements of tango do not compliment each other), but I'm trying to increase my possibilities for enjoyment.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The old pro (and the tango princess)

He is dapper in a trim black suit, with the effortlessly gentlemanly manners of many of the older Argentine men that I've met. Though I stumble a little a couple of times in our first song together, our second is better, and he makes a joke of it, saying that maybe by three AM he'll be able to lead me perfectly.

I laugh and tell him that I'll let him say that, even though I know my mistakes weren't his fault--that maybe in fifty years, I'll be able to follow perfectly. He waves this away and asks whether I'd like to dance the next song.

"If you insist," I answer, with a grin.

Now, listening to the opening bars of the third song of the tanda, he smiles and tells me that when he was touring with  the tango show, this was one of his solo songs.

I smile to hide the fact that I can't think of anything he could have said that would frighten me more. But I needn't have worried; he leads me through it as surely and sensitively as he has led all our other songs so far.

When it's over, we hold for a moment the lingering embrace that SallyCat has identified as a special sign of the exchange of the Tango Gift. He walks me back to my seat and presses my hand, smiling. I thank him and squeeze his hand in return. I don't mind that there's still another song in the tanda; he's told me (confirming my earlier observation) that he likes to dance at least a song or two with every woman at a milonga like this, and I've had three songs with him, so I feel quite lucky.

I sit for a while, smiling to myself, just savoring that special feeling of a really good dance. I only dance once more, with a favorite partner from out of town, a whole tanda later, before I go home, still with that glow in my heart and that smile on my lips, from a really good milonga all around.

Nights like these, when everything seems to go so right--or any mistakes are no big deal--and I feel so good about myself and my dancing, I feel like a tango princess. I can't claim tango-queen or (heavens to Besty!) tango-goddess status, but I feel like perhaps a junior member of their ranks--or at least as though I could be in the same room with them. And that's good enough for me.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

OMG, shoes!

Oh, drat. While I was fondly browsing the Dress-Up Lady's shoe site last night, I ran across a gorgeous pair of CiFs that are sorely tempting me. My size; my heel height; black with white polka dots, and red patent leather--of course, since they're CiFs, all arranged in a very striking design. WANT.

I just have to keep repeating to myself that I already have a lovely pair of wonderful red and black shoes (one of my handmade pairs, which I call my Ferraris), and anyway, I do not need to be splurging on tango shoes of any description, at the moment.

Not even these, by Tara Tango, which I kind of want just for everyday, even:

Yes, Tara! They are the shoes I want for summer fun! Just looking at these shoes conjures up visions of the entire life I would like to lead--if I were independently wealthy and had nothing better to do every day than dine in the finest restaurants, wearing floaty cotton dresses and very wide-brimmed hats, before going out for another round of shopping. (Ha!) Somehow, I very much want to believe, these shoes, yes, they will make all of that happen! And that is really their greatest attraction for me. Behold, the power of shoes...

(One of the biggest problems with these is simply deciding what colors I'd want where! I lo-ove that stripe, but I don't think I'd want it all over... It's almost more fun just to imagine the different possibilities.)

I will cry whenever I check back and find that the CiFs have been sold, though. I mean it; I will probably literally shed a few disappointed tears--at least, I will pout a little, like a spoiled child--even though it is probably the best thing for me, right now.

(I have shoes on the brain so badly right now that this morning in church, instead of "he shall place your foes under your feet," I read it as "he shall place your shoes under your feet." What a good thing I wasn't a lector!)

L'histoire de mes Comme il Fauts

Comme il Faut shoes, sometimes called the Manolo Blahniks of tango...


About one year into my tango career, I went to a festival in a nearby city where some shoe and clothing vendors were set up. One of them was highly recommended by my friend and frequent traveling companion, L. She'd had an excellent experience buying from them online--and she just adored the pair of Comme il Fauts that she had bought from them.

(It was not Julia Bella, whose video showcase of shoes I've linked above, although I've no doubt she also provides fine service.)

So when we went to Nearby City, L and I were both very excited to get to browse this vendor's selection of CiFs in person. I was dubious of my ability to walk on their famously slender stiletto heels, but, hey, it's free to look, right?

I decided to play dress-up: "Could I please try on your very sexiest pair of size eight Comme Il Fauts?" I asked the vendor, feeling a bit overwhelmed by the array of styles, brands, and sizes.

She laughed. "Bad-girl shoes, size eight, hm? Let me see..."

She disappeared among the stacks and returned with, as I recall, a pair of purple and black creations with four-inch heels and a double ankle strap. Bad-girl shoes indeed!

I could barely stand up in them. But as I wobbled to the mirror to examine the effect, I had to admit, they certainly made my legs and feet look good. And by "good," I mean "sexy as hell." They were hot.

I didn't buy anything that night, but when it was time to buy a pair of "real tango shoes," I remembered how cheerfully the vendor had let me play with her stock, and I made sure to purchase from her (a different brand, with a much lower, more solid--less intimidating--heel).

Although I'd had fun, I had taken away the impression that I could not handle the famous CiF heel. I would think of them with regret over the next few years. Too bad I can't wear those sexy shoes...


When L and I went to Buenos Aires last summer--the ultimate tango-traveling adventure, which I was very happy to be able to share with her--one of our few fixed destinations was the Comme il Faut showroom. L needed to make the pilgrimage to pay homage to the makers of her favorite shoes--and to stock up.

I was less enthusiastic on my own behalf, since I had this mental block about their shoes, though I was excited for L. Mostly I was interested in the experience of it. And, oh, it is an experience indeed...

Saturday, June 5, 2010

"Te espero..."

I'm listening to my tango station on Pandora at work, when a song comes on that yanks my memory back to Buenos Aires.

It's "Te espero en Rodríguez Peña" (if I've got the title right). While I was there, this was the song I first danced with my friend's sweetheart to. One of the first, anyway. He's Argentine, and such a lovely leader. (And I loved seeing how he made her smile!)

It was the end of the evening at El Beso, and I think I had not danced much up to then--I usually had a hard time getting dances at El Beso, being a tourist, seated all the way at the back of the women's side. But quite late, as things were clearing out, he arrived, and my friend introduced us. We nearly had the floor to ourselves, by then...

As we danced, he hummed along with the song, chiming in only on that one line, with a richly rolled R on the street name--"Rrrrodríguez Peña!" Between his limited English and my toddler-level Spanish, he managed to tell me basically what the song was about, when it ended. 

It has been a while since I remember hearing that song, but when I heard it yesterday... oh, how it took me back to that first lovely dance! I could almost hear his voice in my ear, savoring that R: "Te espero en Rrrrodríguez Peña..."

His relationship with my friend was a little up and down, the last I knew, and I haven't heard from her lately. I'm usually a little hesitant to ask her about him when I write to her, never quite sure whether the question will be welcome or not. But I hope he's still making her smile... Still waiting for her on Rrrrodríguez Peña.