Sunday, 9 November 2008


OK, I know, I'm offline, but I had to come out of retirement to post this.

Every so often one of us starts talking about how hard it is for older women in tango, and how the old guys only want to dance with the young girls. When that topic's come up in the past I have occasionally mentioned, by way of counter example, a particularly beautiful and elegant older woman I knew in London who is always very much in demand.

Well, here she is. Her name is Audrey, and I'd count myself lucky to have even a tenth of her fabulousness.

Her partner in this video is the very beautiful Julian Elizari, currently resident in London, and teaching at the Dome.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008


I'm officially going dark. I've written nothing for a long time, and I've noticed myself getting a little sharp here and there while responding to comments on others' blogs, which I don't like. So it's time to accept that I'm done talking about tango, adn reading about tango, and that I'm happier just dancing tango.

In the past year I've found answers to a lot of the questions I started with, and with the most important ones I've also found that I couldn't talk about them. So I mostly haven't been able to leave the breadcrumbs I hoped to leave behind me on the trail. So here is the only thing really worth saying that I'm able to put into words:

There is no right tango. Everyone has their own tango. 'Improving' is simply a question of discovering what works for you. Your style and your self-expression is every bit as valuable as Eugenia's, or Corina's, or Geraldine's.

And as there are about a million things that I can't put into words, I'm instead going to leave links to some things that have helped me along the way.
  • The Artist's Way: indispensible help for anyone doing anything creative
  • The Inner Game of Tennis: practical insight on getting in the zone, which for us equates to finding your tango zen
  • Sallycat's Adventures: Sally's not updating now, but her blog remains an inspiring read for anyone contemplating a trip to Buenos Aires, or any kind of life-changing journey
  • The Fluent Self Destuckification and coping with fear
There are many more, of course; I'll add them here as I remember them.

Goodbye blogosphere, and lovely bloggesses. May your tango journey be full of joy, discovery, and delicious embraces.

Monday, 4 August 2008

The Garden

I've talked before about the incredible choreography on So you think you can dance (tango aside, obviously). This week I was just blown away by this piece by Sonya Tayeh, who I love more and more every time I see her work.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

A shared language

Nice post from MT today on 'one tango'.

I'm a big believer in one tango. Tango is tango. The proof of this, imo, is that we're all able to dance with each other! If I got up and tried to follow a salsa dancer or a swing dancer I wouldn't have a clue what to do. I can't understand them - we speak different languages. But any kind of tango dancer can lead or follow any other, because we're all speaking the same language. We may have different accents; sometimes our accents may be sufficiently different that we have to make an effort to understand each other, to tune in our tango 'ear', and of course we dance more easily with those with a similar accent. Sometimes our vocabularies vary too. You say freeway, I say motorway, you say ride, I say lift. But it's still the same language. We still understand each other.

We're all creating our little tango-poems with our shared language, even if our accents and vocabularies vary. And it seems to me that if you avoid talking with someone just because they have a different accent, you're going to miss out on lots of interesting ideas and beautiful poems.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Nothing nuevo under the sun pt 3

"The aesthetic of tango has changed but structurally there's nothing new. The women has a lot more aesthetic participation. The structure for example volcadas, already existed."
Graciala Gonzales

Which supports my two points: that 'nuevo' steps are not actually new at all; and that no current style is aesthetically like those of the past. So no style has any greater claim than any other to 'authenticity', and we should all stop worrying about it.

Really must do some work now.

Nothing nuevo under the sun pt 2

Many thanks to Sarah, who just sent me this clip (and apologies to her, as she intended it to be an argument *against* my point, not for it).

It's Pupi Castello at La Ideal. What I'm excited about is that he leads a long 30-second-or-so soltada right at the beginning of it. This giant of 'traditional' tango joyfully and playfully leads something widely considered to be an evil invention of 'nuevo' tango, an empty 'trick' which undermines the sanctity of the embrace. Clearly he didn't consider it to be evil! Or new, probably! He was probably doing that back in the 50s before people like me were twinkles in our mothers' eyes. And he's in open embrace for most of the clip - obviously he didn't consider that evil, either.

(Edit for clarification: that paragraph was not directed at Sarah, and I apologise if I looked like it was. She didn't say anything about soltadas or embraces or similar. She sent me that video simply to show me Pupi saying that he felt that Geraldine danced the way they did 'in the old days'. I then got excited about the soltada, and posted about that, and perhaps I should have been clear to say that the two issues were separate. Sorry Sarah.)

Fear and loathing in Villa Urquiza

(I should point out I have nothing against Villa Urquiza or Villa Urquiza style - I just needed a placename associated with a 'tradtional' style to make the heading work!)

When I started this blog, one of the things I planned to write about was the old/new divide in tango, because as a dancer who learned in the nuevo style, it felt like wherever I turned, someone was having a go at nuevo. I never got round to writing the planned posts - I had too much to say, it mattered to much to me, I wanted to get it right. And then I went to BA, and I stopped worrying about it, because there I never felt marginalised. It's funny: I went out there with a liking for all styles of tango, but a feeling of faint persecution, and left there with my preference for nuevo vastly strengthened, but not feeling persecuted at all. What I found there was that there was such variety of style and movement that it really seemed hardly worth worrying about styles anyway. Take any two salon couples there, and the differences between them might be as great as those between them and the nuevo couple one table over. Because of this I developed a huge appreciation for everyone's individual way of doing things, and by extension, a sense of security in my own way of doing things. No right or wrong: what works, works, and the rest is personal taste. So I felt so chilled that it didn't seem worth the effort of writing about it.

However, I do still regularly encounter people spouting the most incredibly vitriolic stuff about tango nuevo. People who are apparently perfectly reasonable on other topics will positively froth at the mouth about nuevo. I've just come across some anti-nuevo rants that have motivated me to finally write up a few of the things I orignally planned to talk about here. So here we go.

It seems to me that a lot of the real nuevo-hate stuff - the people who think nuevo is the work of the devil and a harbinger of the apocalypse - is based on simple misconception. So, here are a few of the common complaints made against nuevo and its practitioners, and my opinions on them.

1. Nuevo is dangerous - nuevo dancers have no regard for those around them, and cause accidents.
Accidents are not the result of style, they're the result of bad manners and bad floorcraft. Bad floorcraft is definitely not limited to nuevo dancers! Sure, a badly timed boleo at a busy milonga can do some damage. But so can a stiletto ground into your foot by someone just walking. I've had far more injuries at Nino Bien than at Villa Malcolm; far more stiletto-in-the-ankle injuries from 'traditional' dancers than stiletto-in-the-thigh injuries from 'nuevo' ones. A good dancer is aware of the space around them, has consideration for their fellow dancers, and adjusts their dancing to the environment, whatever their style.

2. Nuevo is not suitable for the social dancefloor.
This is very related to the point above, but not quite identical, so I think it's worth an extra point. When people say this, I can only think they're confusing nuevo with stage tango. They think that you need lots of space to do nuevo, so I assume they think that nuevo inherently involves great big boleos and the like, and that 'traditional' tango inherently involves dancing small. But look at Tango x 2 or similar. These shows are not nuevo in style, they're stage tango developed from a 'traditional' aesthetic. If you read an interview with Miguel Angel Zotto, you'll hear him talk a lot about the codigos, the traditions, elegance, all the salon stuff. But his stage shows are chock full of crazy moves where they throw the woman around, giant kicks, sinking to the floor so your legs stick way out, etc. Does this mean he's 'not suitable' for social tango? Of course not! He would never do such things on the social dancefloor. Do you think nuevo dancers have any less sense? Salon dancers doing a performance will use just as much space as, say Chicho and Eugenia doing a stage show, if not more. But at the milonga, all will dance small.

Nuevo is not tricks and giant moves. For me, it's a mixture of things - a way of thinking about the mechanics of tango, an organic aesthetic, an exploratory attitude (though of course it means different things to different people - more on this here). You don't have to do whopping great boleos to be dancing nuevo. A nuevo dancer can be just walking, but they're still dancing nuevo.

Besides, if nuevo is 'not suitable' for the social dancefloor, then what do you think we're all doing at Villa Malcolm or Practica X? Rehearsing for non-existent stage shows? No, we're dancing socially! Milongas aren't inherently packed to the gills, in any case - sardine-like conditions aren't a defining feature of the social dancefloor. Go to La Viruta at midnight, and you may not have space to do more than walk. Wait till 4, and you may have room to do whatever you like. It's all still social dancing.

3. Nuevo dancers have no feeling / don't care about the music - all they're interested in is doing as many tricks as possible.
Musicality and feeling are not restricted to 'traditional' dancers! There are musical and unmusical dancers in all styles. Look, we're not aliens, we're just like you! We want the same things you want - musicality, connection, feeling, a lovely embrace. Tricks are fun, but a good dancer knows that cramming in as many tricks as possible is like eating chocolate all day long - desperately boring. There are some guys who think they should throw in all their special moves in every tango - but these guys can be found amongst the 'traditional' dancers as well as the nuevos.

4. Nuevo dancers don't care about the embrace.
Not so. I've written about this before, so I won't repeat myself. A short summary - the American idea that nuevo = open embrace is mistaken. We spend most of our time in close embrace. We like to snuggle too.

5. Nuevo is not Argentine - it's European/American.
Oh rly? Do you want to tell that to Naveira and Salas, who basically started nuevo back in the 80s, back when hardly anyone outside South American had even heard of tango? Do you want to tell that to Chicho, Eugenia Parrilla, and the many other brilliant Argentine artists pioneering nuevo today? Are you really going to tell them that they're jumping on a European or American bandwagon?

The fact is that Buenos Aires is still the creative hotbed of tango. Sure, interesting things sometimes happen in places like Berlin, but there's still no comparison with the scene in BA, any more than the large number of excellent Indian restaurants on Brick Lane make London a rival to Mumbai for Indian food. Open-minded artists will exchange ideas, and that's a good thing. If Chicho is inspired by something he sees in Berlin, does that mean what he does is no longer 'Argentine'? Should we tell Michel Roux that what he does isn't French cuisine because he's tasted Lebanese food, or because he's lived in the UK and Switzerland? If dancers in Berlin excel at a certain kind of tango, does the fact they're in Berlin mean they're not dancing tango? Do we tell the Bolshoi that they're not really dancing ballet because they're not French? Do we write off Japanese ballroom dancers for not being Anglo-American? Are you going to tell Swedish lindy hoppers that what they do isn't lindy because they're not from 1930s Harlem? Sweden has some of the best lindy hoppers in the world!

The quest for 'authenticity' is misguided, imo; unhealthy and frankly impossible anyway. I've just written a rather long post on the subject, so I won't repeat those points here.

6. They didn't dance like that in the old days.
They didn't dance like Geraldine Rojas, either. Again, see the rather long post I just wrote on the great authenticity fiction.

7. Nuevo dancers don't respect the codigos.
Any dancer worth their salt respects the codigos of whichever milonga they're at. For example, I personally reject the idea that one 'ought' to dress 'elegantly' in order to dance tango, but if I go to Gricel I'm going to dress appropriately, because to do otherwise would be disrespectful. I may stand through a cortina at a milonga in London or the States, but at La Calesita I'll clear the floor with everyone else.

If people turn up and walk all over the codigos at your local milonga, it's not because they're 'nuevo', it's because they're oblivious or rude.

8. Nuevo dancers have no respect for tradition, or for the history of tango.
In my experience, most of the leading nuevo dancers have huge respect for the traditions of tango, and for dancers of all styles, and maintain affectionate social ties with dancers of all styles, seeing the common ground more than the differences. While I was in BA, Practica X had Tete over to exhibit, and Tango Brujo had him over to guest teach their guided practica, and believe me, there were hugs and respect all round.

9. The way nuevo dancers move is ugly
This is a question of personal taste. We're all entitled to feel the way we feel about this. I prefer Cecilia Garcia's way of moving to, say Geraldine Rojas' - you may feel the opposite. Problems only arise if we confuse our personal taste with Truth. There is no Truth here. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Some people talk as though there is only one kind of beautiful movement in tango. These people generally talk a lot about posture, and complain that nuevos look down, or drop their heads. Please understand, this is just your preference. A slightly lowered head is not 'wrong'. It's not necessarily a 'mistake' that some dancers make because they don't know any better, or they have bad habits. It may genuinely be their preference. Actually, when guys are a little towards me in this way with their upper body, it often feels more intimate to me; the bolt-upright Victorian-straight posture of some 'traditional' dancers sometimes feels very cold to me. The straight/bent legs thing, too, is just preference. I like down and dirty - I like it in lindy, too, which is why I prefer lindy to more upright forms of swing.


It's so hard to talk about styles of tango in a constructive way - the concepts are so fuzzy as to be unhelpful, really. Labels create division. How do we get past them? How do we spread the love? I really like the Desafios Maestros project, where the guys at Practica X invite pairs of teachers to do a class together, to compare and contrast their ways of doing things. This is great! Let's talk more about what we do, so we can see that everyone's approach is different, that we can learn things from each other. Let's talk to the dancer next to us at the practica, and find out why they like their way of doing things. You like the feeling of the woman giving you a moment of resistance before she moves? It makes you feel connected? I can understand that, and so I can respect it. I prefer to move without resistance, because it makes me feel more free - but I can prefer this without thinking any the less of your preference. Maybe we'll try your way of doing things for a bit, and then try mine, just trying them on for size. We can enjoy both. Every dance is a meeting, and every meeting ultimately requires compromise, as we each come towards the other and find the place where we can be together comfortably. I don't have to be wrong in order for you to be right; this isn't a zero-sum game. Respecting each others' approaches doesn't diminish our own - rather, it enhances them. Dancing with a range of dancers doesn't pollute our individual style - it distills it.

Nothing nuevo under the sun

The great authenticity fiction

In some circles in tango there is what I consider to be an unhealthy obsession with 'authenticity'; with the idea of 'the real' tango. These people claim that their style is best because it is most like the tango that was danced during the golden age, or at the birth of tango, or some other mythic time. And because they feel that 'good' can only exist in contrast to 'bad', they attempt to futher elevate their chosen style by dismissing and ridiculing anything that they consider new.

I consider the obsession with authenticity unhealthy, because in my opinion change is a necessary and unavoidable factor in any living art form. Tango is a living thing. It's danced by ordinary people, for their own enjoyment. It's a folk dance in the sense that it's a dance which was created by and still belongs to 'the people', which developed naturally, organically, and so involves natural, organic movements. It has changed, and will change, because any living thing grows and changes.

Look at the alternative. Ballroom dance is a good example of what I would call a dead art form. It's been codified, it's full of rules and regulations, created of course to make it possible to judge it with some semblance of fairness, but the result is that these rules and regulations freeze it, kill it, because they prevent it changing and growing organically. All the change that remains possible within it is for the regulation movements to be done in ever more exaggerated, stylised ways, becoming non-organic, requiring bodies warped into shape from an early age almost as much as ballet does. In my opinion, any attempt to freeze an art form at a particular point in time will kill it. We don't want tango to become a dead thing, to become stylised, something that requires a trained body to do. We want it to remain a natural dance of the people. (Sorry ballroomers - I don't mean to say that either ballroom or ballet is less valuable than tango, just that I personally value the organic nature of tango more.)

I also consider the obsession with authenticity foolish, because the idea that anyone today dances in the same style as they did in the 'old days' is crazy. And on the other side of the coin, the idea that people back then were different from us is also crazy.

The latter point first. People have this idea that in the old days everyone danced small, or they only cared about the walk, and they certainly never did any 'tricks'. Not true.

For instance; a teacher friend of mine, who dances a very milonguero style, told me that his very milonguero teacher, who learnt to dance during the golden age, told him that all the stuff that the young kids are doing these days, all the tricks and kicks and ganchos and boleos, he and his friends used to do decades ago, back when they were young men, in the golden age. They used to get together and think up the coolest, flashiest new stuff they could.

For another instance. El Pibe Palermo, who was also a young man during the golden age, and who was a big fan of the guardia vieja and known for respecting tradition, was adored, not for a nice simple walk, but for his tricks. He was that kid 'who knew all kinds of tricks'. On seeing him dance, El Tano Roque said, "Now I can die in peace. With this kid there is guardia for 60 years." Incidentally, look at the pictures on that page - not a chest-to-chest square front embrace amongst them. Or a pointy toe or stretched leg or 'face of tango' on any of his partners.

Which brings me back to my previous point - that noone today dances the way they did in the 'old days' - no, not any of those milonguero or salon couples who think they're soooooo authentic. Below is Carlos Gardel and friends dancing back in 1935. I think it's fair to assume they're representative. Although it's recognisably tango, stylistically it doesn't look anything like any modern style - not milonguero, salon or nuevo. Their movements are more hoppy than gliding; there a slight bouncing on each step, and several large shoulder shrugs. The second couple are smoother, but the woman is leaning backwards in a very odd way - I guess the salon idea that 'posture is everything' wasn't around then. The first couple's knees are very bent. There's not a pivot in sight (I'm told we only started pivoting relatively late in the history of tango, when we started dancing in nice ballrooms with smooth floors). And look! Their heads are both pointing forwards, more like ballroom tango than anything else - you can see where ballroom tango came from. And look!!!!!! At the end - that's a *soltada*!!! Nuevo my arse.

My point is two-fold. Firstly, all the styles today are different from the ones in this clip - they've all evolved, naturally, because that's what happens in a living art form. So no style in existence today can claim any kind of greater 'authenticity' than any other. Secondly, there's nothing nuevo under the sun. Those guys in the golden age loved to mess about and experiment just as much as we did. The idea that they only valued a simple walk is a modern fiction. So, who are the traditionalists to think they dance the same way people used to? And who are we nuevos to think we're doing anything that hasn't been done before?

So we should all stop worrying about new and old and just dance. After all, do these people look like they're worrying about extending their legs, or maintaining their connection, or looking pretty, or being too heavy or too light? No. They're just having a bloody good time. I bet those guys never had a teacher making them do endless exercises to learn the 'right' walk, or fretting about their axis.

So can we not just get over this already and dance? Let's just love and respect other dancers - milonguero, salon, nuevo; tango, salsa, ballet, raqs sharqi, nihon buyo, morris - as fellow human beings who share the same passion that we do, the primal, spiritual, sheer love of moving together to music.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Clearly about to do an enrosque

Invisible tango partner

Yes, I know, I've posted nothing for weeks but So You Think You Can Dance and lolcatz. I'm a bad, bad blogger. One day I'll get round to explaining why. Ach, here's the short version - my last six months of tango learning have largely involved things that don't go well into words. Sometimes, when you talk about an idea, you lose it, or change it.

Monday, 30 June 2008

So you think you can dance

I know we're all supposed to love hating the tv dance shows. But I'm surprisingly impressed with So You Think You Can Dance. The technical ability of the contestants is far higher than in the other shows, and that means the choreographers aren't limited, and some of those choreographers are just amazing. Sure, the tango is always godawful, whether ballroom or Argentine. But the contemporary, the jazz, the hip hop - a lot of those routines are really good. Look at this quirky contemporary routine by guest choreographer Sonia - a battle/flirtation between two comic book characters.

Or this group piece by the ever-genius Mia Michaels.

Just don't go searching for the tango. Terrible.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Stalking Cecilia pt 2

Many thanks to La Tanguerita, who sent me the link to some new Cecilia and Horatio videos. I had to post this one for the crazy hyper-extended multi-volcada at the start. The 4th video in the same series has some other interesting legwork. I love the way she plays. As you all know by now! :)

Saturday, 31 May 2008

La Copla Porteña

I've had iTunes on shuffle, as you do, and some Canaro came on, and I just caught the phrase 'Hoy las chicas son terribles', and wondered what the song was about. It turned out to be kinda cute, so here are the lyrics. I can just see those porteñas swanning around pretending to be Garbo!

Tienen coplas en España,
cuplés tienen los franceses
y yo quiero tener coplas
de carácter nacional.

Hoy las chicas son terribles
cuando se quieren casar,
hoy las chicas son terribles
cuando se quieren casar,
y si pescan candidato
no lo dejan escapar,
y aunque no tengan carnada
el anzuelo hacen tragar,
hoy las chicas son terribles
cuando se quieren casar,
y si pescan candidato
no lo dejan escapar.

Como tengo varias coplas
archivadas en el mate,
voy a ver si otra les canto
no me quiero hacer rogar.

Las muchachas con el cine
hoy están locas de atar,
las muchachas con el cine
hoy están locas de atar,
y pretenden a la "Greta"
como estrella suplantar,
sin pensar las estrellitas
que se pueden estrellar...
Las muchachas con el cine
hoy están locas de atar
y pretenden a la "Greta"
como estrellas suplantar.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

The inner game of tango

When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as 'rootless and stemless'. We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don't condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is.

Similarly, the errors we make can be seen as an important part of the developing process. In its process of developing, our tennis game gains a great deal from errors. Even slumps are part of the process. They are not 'bad' events, but they seem to endure endlessly as long as we call them bad and identify with them.

The Inner Game of Tennis, W. Timothy Gallwey

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Stalking Cecilia

I have to post this again. Cecilia and Horatio dancing the same milonga as they did at Practica X, and being just as cute and playful.

Ariadna and Paola

We don't want to leave the girls out, so here are Ariadna Naveira and Paola Motillo. I wish I could show you the show I saw at Villa Malcolm, but sadly that one never made it to YouTube either.

Martin and Mauricio

And now some good same-sex tango.

Back in January I saw Martin and Mauricio perform at a party in Tango Brujo, and I loved them. Their performance was beautiful and intimate and dynamic, and I loved the way they moved. I've seen some guys who take on a strange quality when they follow, all tiptoes and twiddles, as if they're trying to mimic the girls, but Martin and Mauricio both moved like themselves the whole time; they did everything followers do, but with their own quality of movement. It was gorgeous.

At the time I looked to see if anyone had put it on YouTube so I could share it with you, but it wasn't there. But now it seems YouTube is full of them! They're obviously touring Europe at the moment. There are also videos of them at Tango Brujo, but I think it must be a more recent performance.

Anyway, I recommend a good browse for M&M, and to get you started, here's a little milonga.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

From the sublime to the ridiculous

Is it me, or is this the most wrong thing ever? Crappy stage tango + sex + catholic martyrdom + fishnets + clowns = ?!?!?!?!?!

Though the expansion of masculine and feminine couples is something I'll always get behind, and I'm always happy to see a bit of guy-on-guy action (What? What do you mean 'objectification'?).

But that aside, just plain wrong.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

And that's how it's done

Look! It's Chicho and Eugenia doing Poema! And it's as sweet and lyrical as can be. This is why he's the master. Those people who claim nuevo has no soul really haven't seen much of Chicho.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Wild Geese

After all this time, and all this work, I still tend to fall into worry and thinking. It's still effort for me to just let myself dance. Over the time I've been tangoing I've collected an ever-growing box of tools for dealing with this, for letting myself go, for trusting myself, for accepting myself, but the enemy is cunning, and shifts and adapts to keep up with the latest technology. Perhaps I'll always have to work at this. Perhaps in ten years time I'll still be writing whiny posts about how I can't get my brain to shut up.

So, thanks to Nuit for reminding me again of the importance of letting myself have fun. Tonight I decided to trust myself - my body does this well when I don't harrass it - and I had a good night. And then I came home and came across a poem which I'd forgotten all about but love, and which has much to say on this subject. Here it is: Mary Oliver's Wild Geese.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Ya No Sé Que Hacer Conmigo

This is playing periodically on cable here at the moment, though it doesn't seem to be a new release. I love it; not only is a great song and a great video, it's good for my Spanish.

Friday, 11 April 2008


I live in an area which is packed with antiques shops. For months I've been walking past these shops, stopping to stare at the occasional beautiful classical statue, and thinking, 'man, I wish I had one of those.' And only today did I realise that I do have them. I live here. I see them every day. Every day I walk past window after window packed with venerable furniture, exotic jewellery, splendid paintings, colourful glass. I get to see these things every day, and I don't even have to find them house room. Why did it take me so long to realise what a gift that is?

We miss so much of what we have because we don't have it in the way we think we should, or from the source we think we should, or at the time we think we should.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Dear Diary,

Tonight the impossible happened - a porteño mistook me for a porteña.

He hadn't heard me speak, of course, of the jig would have been up.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

A linguistic peculiarity

I've met a lot of people from a lot of different countries here, and I've noticed that the Americans often seem to have slightly different terminology from the rest of us. Of course, we're all used to this to-may-to to-mah-to business, and it's important that we all respect each others languages. And ultimately it doesn't matter if one person says 'giro' and another says 'molinete'.

But there's one difference that makes me disctinctly uncomfortable. If I say 'tango nuevo' to an American, most of them seem to think I mean 'open embrace'. For example, I might mention to a guy I'm dancing with that the style I learnt was nuevo, and he might then suddenly start dancing open embrace. Or I might say to someone that my teacher's style is very nuevo, and they might say, 'Oh, but he dances really good close embrace too.'

This is a crazy interpretation of the term. Nuevo is not a position of the arms, it's a style and an attitude. A nuevo dancer is dancing nuevo whether they're in close embrace or open. In fact, most nuevo dancers dance close embrace by default - they're in close embrace almost all the time, opening out only occasionally to do a particular figure, and then going straight back into close embrace. For crying out loud, most salon style professionals dance open embrace a lot when they're performing. I recently watched a series of exhibitions at Sunderland - all of them were in open embrace at least half the time. That doesn't mean that salon style tangueros suddenly become 'nuevo' when they're performing!

Really. Look. In this video of Gato and Andrea, who are self-declared salon, it takes them only 18 seconds to move from close to open embrace. And here's Chicho and Lucia (you can't get more nuevo than Chicho) - see - close embrace for the first 30 seconds. And these videos are both performances, of course - on the social dance floor both couples will spend most of their time in close embrace.

So, what is tango nuevo? Well, all these terms are horribly fuzzy. They mean different things to different people. And this idea that there are three basic styles - milonguero, salon, nuevo - is desperately unhelpful, because there are vast differences even between the practitioners of any given style, and similarities across styles. Having made that disclaimer, here are some of the things that characterise nuevo for me (other nuevo dancers may of course have a completely different list): a method of teaching and thinking about tango pioneered by Gustavo Naveira which pays close attention to things like where the axis is in a turn, the triangle of the feet, etc; a preference for each partner keeping their own, upright balance, even in close embrace; a preference for softness in the embrace, completely without force in the arms; the lead coming from circular movements in the chest, not signals of the hand or arm, to the point where you can lead and follow without any arm contact at all (and more recently ideas about the lead take an even more whole-body approach); a close embrace which is typically (but not always) more v-shaped than square-on; a willingness to occasionally change, open or dissolve the embrace to allow a wider range of movements of the lower body; a constant exploration and openness to new ideas; a quality of movement which is as organic and natural as possible, rejecting any stylisation.

Now some of these things are shared with other styles too. But, most importantly, we share the essential aspects of tango - the music, and the connection with the other. Just as with other styles, the music is everything, and we'd always rather dance simply but musically than do fancy steps at random. And just like other styles, we're all looking for that blissful embrace. Just look at Pablo and Moira snuggling at the start of Poema.

I'm sure this misinterpretation is a large part of the peculiar dislike of tango nuevo amongst afficionados of other styles (one day I'll get round to writing about that, but not right now). This idea that "nuevo" = "open embrace" gives the impression that all us nuevo types are interested in is kicking our legs around, and screw the music or the connection. And that's why it makes me uncomfortable.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Cecilia part 2

Oh my god, here it is, here it is! Horatio and Cecilia's remarkable, unconventional milonga from Tuesday. Yay!

(I'm actually in this video, in the crowd. I can only tell because I know where I was sitting - I can't even make myself out.)

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Cecilia is the new Eugenia

Of all the many truly brilliant dancers I've seen since I've been here, the one that has most captivated me is Cecilia Garcia. She's completely mesmerising to watch. Her way of moving is really unique. I've never seen a tanguera express herself so fully in every second. I'm not talking about Geraldine-style endless embellishments, I'm talking about infusing every single movement, however simple, with meaning and character. I'm telling you, she's going to be bigger than Eugenia.

I've mostly seen her dancing with Santiago Dorkas. A little while ago they did a show at Villa Malcolm which is one of my favourite of all the shows I've ever seen. Very sadly, it doesn't seem to be on YouTube. She wore flat shoes, combat trousers, tribal paint, and a tattered scarf wound around her torso. They had an odd mushroom-shaped lamp on the floor in the corner which they occasionally approached with joy and wonder before backing away to wind around each other again. It was moving, evocative, athletic, and very Lost Boys.

Last night at Practica X she and Horatio Godoy gave possibly the best show I've ever seen anywhere. It was miles away in style from the stuff she does with Santiago, but equally mesmerising. If I ever find it on YouTube I'll post it here, but for now here's one that is on YouTube. Even this is only about half as good as the one last night! You should have seen the milonga! But it's still beautiful.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Bs As montage

So, I know I've been pretty quiet here lately. I was without internet for ages, and then - well, this place eats time. It's like it's built around a black hole, or maybe a hellmouth or something.

Anyway. I have a lot of backstory to catch up on, and realistically I'm never going to manage it. So instead I'll do one of those 'time passes' montages to cover the time I've spent in Bs As so far:

Watching really great dancers just messing about at the milongas; Pablo and Maria at Practica X, Julio and Corina at La Calesita, Gaston and Mariela at Villa Malcolm, and a very, very pregnant Moira Castellano at Tango Brujo.

Icecream. A lot of icecream. They have their priorities straight here: the icecream takes up about three times as much room as the cone.

Meeting the lovely Sallycat, and seeing her dance (she's very elegant).

Omnipresent jacarandas.

Eli overcoming his performance anxiety and making it to the Superbowl. OK, that really has nothing to do with Bs As, but still.

A lot of shoe shopping, including my first trip to CIF.

New friends and kind strangers.

Taxi drivers. Despite the dire warnings everyone gave me before I came, the taxi drivers have been universally lovely; they're friendly, chatty, helpful, and patient with my Spanish, they wait to make sure I get into my apartment building safely, and round my fares down.

Right, back to real time.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Home from home

There are perhaps two main things that Cornwall* is generally known for in the rest of the UK. One is the piskie. Pretty much every tourist shop in the country (county, if you're confused and/or pedantic) sells little statues or little pewter talismans of piskies. Piskies are the local fairy folk, these days usually portrayed as gnome-like, ie pointy hat, no wings.

Imagine my surprise when I wandered into the Abasto to be confronted with a stall selling these:

These are Peques, and they appear to be the Patagonian equivalent of piskies. Piskies, Peques... is it possible they have the same origin? Did our Welsh cousins bring the stories with them to Patagonia? Or are they indigenous, in which case the name is just a weird coincidence?

The other thing that Cornwall is famous for, perhaps the thing is is most famous for, is the pasty. The pasty is so Cornish that in the rest of the UK it is referred to as a Cornish pasty. Here's one.

Cornish pasty

"But wait!" I hear you cry, "that's an empanada!" No, my friends, it's a pasty. This is an empanada:


Can't tell the difference? That would be because they're the same thing!!! Well, ok, they're not exactly identical. For example, empanadas seem to be made with minced meat instead of whole chunks of steak. But still, near as dammit.

I don't know, you go half way round the world, only to be confronted with piskies and pasties. If they had clotted cream and wreckers as well, I'd be convinced someone was playing an elaborate practical joke on me.

* A few words of explanation for my American friends. Cornwall (Kernow) is the county at the southwestern tip of Great Britain. Like the Welsh, the Cornish are the descendents of the ancient British people who were pushed gradually west, first by the Romans, then by the Saxons. Studies show there remains a clear genetic difference between the Welsh / Cornish and the English! Cornwall has its own language (close related to Welsh and Breton) and mythology and a distinct culture. Many of us still consider it a separate country. It started to become a part of England in the middle ages, but Cornishmen were considered 'foreign' by the rest of England for many hundreds of years after that. My mother gives her nationality as 'Cornish' instead of 'British', and so would I if I could be bothered to deal with the resulting arguments with officials. :)