Thursday, July 29, 2010

Julio 22-28

Viernes, 23 Julio 2010

The LAN flights to Lima and then Buenos Aires were fine, and they fed me amply (under today´s conditions) and well. However, timingwise, I still prefer the American Airlines flight to Dallas and then Buenos Aires since it works out better to have the short flight and then the long flight during which I can sleep, instead of having a long flight to Lima during the day, and then a short flight to Buenos Aires in the middle of the night. Still, the price was cheaper by $200, and the entertainment offerings were incredible (47 movie options!).

The current exchange rate is about US$1 = 3.94 Argentine Pesos

Dante (Dante´s Airport Transfers, US$35) picked us up at the airport promptly as usual, and it´s very comforting to me to be met by a familiar face who is an expert of the city and the local tango community. It was actually very lucky that Dante met us, because when we arrived at Becka´s Tango House, the manager was not there to meet us. Apparently, there was some mix-up in the communication and he was not expecting us until Martes! Thank God Dante was with us, because he knows Becka, and had her manager´s home and cell phone programmed into his cell phone. So he was able to call him and the manager was able to get us situated after he arrived 15 minutes later. I am glad I tipped him the extra $5, because he certainly went above and beyond the call of duty and always provides excellent customer service.

Becka´s Tango House (Bartolome Mitre 2094 x Junin) has 10 bedrooms and many communal living spaces: 2 shared kitchens, 4 shared bathrooms, several salons with wood floors and boom boxes (which is great if you want to take or give privates). There are many little touches that make it feel quite homey -- like the amply stocked medicine cabinet, and space heaters for every room, which was essential since in the winter time, like now, the rooms were cold. Sharing the kitchens and bathrooms with constantly rotating guests could be problematic with the bathroom shelves easily becoming the permanent land of orphaned toiletries (which could be good or could be bad depending on how frugal you are or skeeved out you are about using the stuff of guests long past), and the refrigerators becoming science experiments a la dorm or office fridges filled with condiments and other food products with foreign labels and questionable age and origin. It can also be quite noisy, just the same as living in a dorm situation. However, it is conveniently located, just blocks away from the Pasteur or Pasco subte stations. Depending on how considerate/clean/neat the other residents are, the stay can be quite pleasant or it can be annoying/irritating having to share communal areas with people who are slobs or otherwise inconsiderate since the maid only comes once a week and everyone is resonsible for doing their own dishes (hopefully in a timely manner and not letting them sit for days on end) and some people tend to explode all over other areas of the house/refrigerator.

After our morning siesta, we decided to scout out the neighborhood, which was very near Callao y Corrientes, so it wasn´t that unfamiliar since we had stayed there during CITA 2008.

I had hoped to have leather put on the bottom of my Sansha dance sneakers, as I wanted to be able to pivot a lot during Luciana´s Valle´s Intensivos, the primary purpose of this trip. So we stopped at a local shoe repair place, Lucas Shoe Repair Shop on Ayacucho 284. Since this place is so close to the Savoy, NeoTango, etc., it´s a great resource for anyone needing repairs if they are here for CITA. Claudio, the owner, repaired our shoes. Pablo bought some laces (5 pesos), and had his NeoTango dance sneakers repaired (gluing the sole, and stitching the upper, and a free mini shoe shine because the leather parts were extremely faded), and I had my dance sneaker heel glued), which cost a bargain 20 pesos for all the repairs. None of these shoe issues were a make-or-break kind of deal, but were little annoyances that were easily, quickly (10 minutes) and cheaply remedied. I asked about adding leather to the bottom of my dance sneakers, and he said he couldn´t because of the way the sole was designed and he didn´t want or risk destroying my shoe.

Since it was still early, we managed to stroll to NeoTango (Sarmiento 1938), where they have lots of new styles and abundant inventory (the most I´ve ever seen at this store).

Jorge Firpo class on Milonga con Traspie at Escuela Argentina de Tango (EAT) at Galerias Pacifico. (35 pesos 1 class; 4 class card 126 pesos; 8 class card 238 pesos; 12 class card 336 pesos. These prices are 30%+ higher than May 2009!) We began the lesson with traspie quick quick simple footwork patterns solely in front of the mirror. Maestro also added some feel good, feel free body movements to them, with changes of height, and to the candombe rhythm. Maestro noted that Candombe is where milonga is derived from (and tango is derived from milonga). The sequece was a side step to the first half of an ocho cortado, to a Leader right front cross step with left foot rock step, while the Follower simultaneously does a left foot back cross step with a right foot rock step, out to resolution. Maestro spoke a lot about keeping the movement small so that it is acceptable on the social dance floor. Big moves are for the stage. It´s more difficult to dance at the crowded milonga than on the stage because it´s not choreography and at a milonga, you are dancing with everyone else on the dance floor, and there are unexpected obstacles that suddenly come into your path. In the context of the sequence, we spent a lot of time drilling so that the Leader´s could do their back cross and rock steps in the line of dance and not laterally across the lanes of the dance floor.

Sabado, 24 Julio 2010

Breakfast was at Piccolino de Proscuitto (Junin 283), a rotisseria and parilla place near Becka´s. The chorizo from here was very yummy, and there are daily specials (meat and potatoes), roasted veggies, milanesa, acelga, etc.

We had hoped to take Marta Anton´s and El Gallego Minolo´s Canyengue lesson @EAT, but Laura Collavini was subbing that day. We both adore Laura, she is such a sweet gal, but we´ve already taken her Canyengue lesson several times, so we decided to skip it and go shoe shopping instead before our next workshops.

Maiten Tango Shoes on Maipu 947. This is the sister store, literally and figuratively, of Todo Tango shoes on Suipacha, owned by the Avalos family. Maiten is daughter Ana´s store, and the brother´s is Todo Tango. Their father has been making shoes for 40+ years. There was a coupon in Punto for 50% off your first item, which I was totally psyched about. Unfortunately, I did not see the fine print, which said the coupon was only good until 23 Julio. Dóh!!! Still, Ana was super nice and good sport about Pablo doing his most charming darndest (unsuccessfully) to get her to honor the expired coupon, and she gave me a 40 peso discount on a shoe that I bought (normally 330 pesos, but I got it for 290 pesos). The six pairs of tango shoes I tried on suggests the fit was a little wider than Comme il Faut and NeoTango, more along the lines of how shoes at Artesanal fit (i.e., a little more wide/forgiving).

Lolo Gerard (Anchorena 607). This is one of my favorite tango shoe stores. The inventory seemed a bit leaner, but I still managed to find two excellent shoes on sale (1 for 210 pesos, another for 230 pesos). I also had arches put in for an additional 40 pesos each. So all in all, it cost a total of 520 pesos for two pairs. I did not ask or try on any of their full price shoes.

Abasto Hiper Coto super market. The heated buffet item selection is even more abundant than before. The portion sizes are also more appropriate and elegant.

Demian Garcia and Noelia Soldera Milonga Workshops (2 hour workshops on 2 days @ 85 pesos per person). During this first class, we explored the different dynamics of milonga timing. We should relax our energy into the floor so that our legs are able to move. First, we worked on QQ timing, walking forward and backward in milonga timing and taking small steps. We were to keep our ankles together in the beginning and as they pass each other. The next timing concept we worked on was walking on half time (as opposed to QQ double time). We can do this if the tempo is very fast. We can also go in and out of regular single time, double time, and half time. In milonga, we should not make our steps too big or two short, no matter what timing we are dancing. Next concept we explored was to walk with more accent, and really "freeze" during the accented parts of the music where it would be appropriate to. Again, we tried to get into and out of walking slow and then walking in regular time, forward and backward. Next, we added more contrabody rotation / disassociation for the Leader on the half time steps to add more drama and flavor.

When we take side steps, it is important to bring the body with the foot, not to drag the body behind or after the foot. It is also important to change the weight when you step, and not just move your leg.

We put all these concepts together with just walking: playing with the musical timing and body (contrabody, sharp steps, freezing stops, and sliding glides) concepts using just walking and side steps.

The Leader and Follower both should have energy and tension in the foot so that you can support the position of the body. Don´t be sloppy in the upper body, but really freeze it (do not reverberate).

On the Leader fast side steps, he lifts her a little, or he can also go down and keep her there. The important thing in the height change is that it is not a herky jerky up down choppy movement, but rather a wave like build, cresting, and subsiding.

Next, we worked on a basic figure that included a Leader left foot sacada of her trailing left foot on her right foot side step. The chest of the Leader must be present and clear to communicate the change in shoulder height / weight change well.

Next figure: Starting from a series of side steps to Follower left, the Follower takes a series of side steps to the left clockwise while Leader does backward paddle with his right foot as his left foot is the standing, supporting, pivoting leg. Here, the Leader is the center of the circle while the Follower walks around him. The Follower adorno as she is pivoting on her left foot, is to drag and leave the right heel, by pivoting on her right sole, transferring the movement to her right heel as she leaves it. The ending to the figure is a Follower left foot forward open step, to right foot forward step.

It was a good lesson. Maestro is a very meticulos, eagle-eyed teacher.

Domingo, 25 Julio 2010

Demian Garcia and Noelia Soldera Milona Workshop (day 2). Since a lot of people opt to take one day or the other and not both, a lot of what was taught today was a repeat of what was taught yesterday. We began with working on traspie footwork, doing Leader side left and Follower side right, and also forward and backward. The "pico" tap adorno during traspie was also taught. The Follower should have a relaxed leg when doing the "pico" adorno. That way the movement will flow naturally.

The Leader´s side step needs to be bigger than the Follower´s step so that he has room to step forward outside the Follower and then back in front of her. The concept of touching the floor being different from traspie was discussed. Basically, it depended on how much the Leader shifts the weight.

Next, we did the forward/back traspie travelling laterally to the Leader´s left, Follower´s right. The Follower´s left foot is at a very slight front cross as it travels laterally. We also practiced this forward/back traspie footwork in a circle with the Leader as the center of the circle and the Follower travelling around him. The Leader should keep his hips level and send the Follower down, to keep the Follower in that traspie forward/back footwork. For the traspie movement, one leg steps in the same spot and the other one steps forward or back. One Follower adorno is to step forward with her heel on this forward/backward traspie. Good technique still applies by keeping the knees together and having the soles of the feet outturned and slightly apart. The Leader adorno is the left foot beat back against his right foot on the forward/back traspie. Here it is important that the Leader keep his body supported forward. We tried to bring this all together with more drilling of the forward/back laterally travelling traspie with Leader and Follower adornos.

Next figure, the Leader as the center of the circle, the Follower does side steps clockwise with the right foot adorno pivot from sole to heel. We also changed the regular Leader footwork to the left foot supporting, standing, pivoting foot while his right foot did a slight paddle behind. Leaders should not compromise their upper body or lose their balance or axis because of what their feet are doing.

Next traspie figure was the simultaneous Follower left foot back cross step to her right with Leader right foot back cross step to his left, to simultaneous Follower left foot open side step to the left and Leader right foot open step to his right. Follower should keep her foot pointed to the ground and keep her knees together. The right, standing supporting leg/foot pivots. With respect to the embrace during this figure, the Leader should not have his arm too low. It needs to be higher up, with his right hand underneath her shoulder blades so that the dancers can connect. Knees should be flexed, and level/height should remain constant. The exit can be to an Americana pivot, so dancers step forward with Follower´s left leg and Leader´s right leg.

To the Americana, we added the low syncopated walk to add flavor: Follower left foot forward step, right foot weight change freeze, left foot forward step simultaneously with Leader right foot forward step, left foot weight change freeze, right foot forward step.

This series of milonga workshops was very good, but I wished there wasn´t so much overlap between the two classes. While I recognize the need to revisit and drill what we learned, it would have been nice if the students were the same on both days so that we could actually further build on the teaching.

Though we had planned to take Olga Besio´s Technique workshop (@EAT, 70 pesos for a whopping 2.5 hours), Maestro personally invited us to his "avanzado" lesson being taught with Guillermina Quiroga later that night. It was a tough decision, but we eventually settled on taking their lesson since I had been curious about Guillermina Quiroga´s teaching.

Demian Garcia and Guillermina Quiroga advanced lesson before milonga Loca! at Club Chalmers (Niceto Vega 5248 in Palermo, 25 pesos for lesson and milonga). This is an upscale, modern space with poured concrete floor, located in the back of a restaurant. We got there early, and so had a chance to see the beginner lesson taught by milonga organizers Marcela Viegas and Demian Fontenla. Even though it was supposed to be a beginner lesson, it looked pretty advanced to me, with the figure being taught including fancy adornos for the Follower ocho/parada/pasada, Leader back and forward sacadas, and Follower ganchos. Maestros were excellent teachers in that when the Leader back sacada proved to be beyond the capabilities of the students, he changed the sequence to one with forward sacadas instead. This lesson appeared more like a group private/practica with lots of individual attention and corrections depending on where the dancers were in terms of skill/vocabulary.

The advanced lesson music was Pugliese and it began with a figure of side steps (Leader left, Follower right), to a Follower left foot back ocho while Leader does right foot back ocho/back cross step***, to a Follower right foot back ocho to Leader parada of his right foot. Here, he pivots the Follower as she fully collects, and then she steps left foot forward ocho, to right foot forward ocho into a clockwise molinete. For the molinete steps, she should make big, strong steps. Leader does a right foot sacada on Follower´s right front cross step of her traililng left foot. Then he does another sacada using his left foot on the Follower´s left foot side step of her trailing right foot. Leader does parada, Follower does pasada, and then Leader does another parada on the other side, and Follower does a pasada. Follower should not hang onto the Leader and should not fall into the Leader. She should also not hesitate on any of her ocho steps. She should pivot at collection completely before beginning the forward ochos.

*** at the point right after the Leader right foot back ocho/back cross step, he does a quick series of three left foot tight front cross steps stepping back, to do his Leader sacadas of his right foot, and then his left foot.

We played with changing the ending of the Leader left leg sacada into a Follower soft right leg wrap of the Leader´s left leg. For the wrap, the Leader shifts his weight into the Follower to lead the wrap. Their goal as dancers is to be smooth. This wrap is not violent or high, so there is no need to kick into or out of it. Follower lifts her leg smoothly as she goes over. The Leader´s foot place as he is leading this wrap is to go out like a side step (stepping at about 9:30 on a clock). This wrap is like a gentle sweep, with a slight raise of the Follower´s leg to get over. Our goal as we drilled this was to do the wrap soft and slow. It is not a gancho becuase it has a light, gentle energy. Follower should keep her legs together on the wrap exit. After the wrap, the Leader does right leg parada on Follower´s right foot back cross step, to send left leg up to a change in driection/suspension up, to step forward counterclockwise with her left leg. Alternatively, he can pivot her so that she can step back with her left foot counterclockwise, and then pivot her again as he paradas her on the close side of the embrace, or he can add a sweep of Leader´s right foot of Follower´s right foot. Maestros showed us many possibilities to change the ending as she goes into her Follower counterclockwise molinete.

This was an excellent lesson. Of the two Maestros, I thought Maestra was the nicer of them. :o) She gave me a nugget to correct in my dancing. It makes me laugh when I do it her way, because I can see her doing what I (used to) do, and I admit it was kind of funny.But it´s hard to change this thing that I do because I was taught/told to do it by Los Dinzel originally, and I believe it´s worked well with respect to being a more responsive follower and being able to connect with Leaders. Looking back, other maestros who have tried to adjust my doing this was Diego Alvaro and Homer and Cristina Ladas. Maybe that´s the thing about learning tango: we are given certain instructions as beginners, and then that takes us so far...then we are given a different set of instructions as we reach different levels in our dance, for more refinement and more fine tuning, which we wouldn´t be able to do if we can´t even do the basic, fundamental concepts proficiently. But it is a little bit jarring to spend all this time really trying to get it absolutely, flawlessly correct and execute perfectly something the way our original teachers taught us, only to be told by a different teacher to do it a another way in order to achieve a more sophisticated level of dancing that may appear to most people to look more natural, even though the path to get there was completely unnatural and at times uncomfortable.

The Loca! milonga afterwards was great. It was decently attended, but not super crowded, so the dancers had ample space to dance freely. Since the dancers were generally at an excellent technical and social level, floorcraft was not too much of a problem. I danced with a lot of international people who were technically very strong, and several locals. El Pibe Avelleneda was there, and danced socially with Guillermina Quiroga and several other very lucky followers (myself not included, obviously, not that I expected otherwise...but a tanguera could still hope...). It was an amazing night...and it was still not over since it was merely two a.m.

A short four-block walk away had me at La Viruta (Armenia 1366), where entry was free since it was after 2 a.m. Many of the same dancers at Loca! made their way over here as well, so dance level was quite high. Since it was a bit late, the floor was reasonably open. Here again I had excellent dances with international folks and a few locals. Musicwise, there are no tandas, and music is played not in sets, so when you need to take a break, you need to say "Thank you" because if you waited for a cortina, you would be dancing with the same person all night long.

Lunes, 26 Julio 2010

La Maria Practica on 4534 Corrientes, near the Carlos Gallardo subte station (15 pesos, includes free coffee/tea/juice and cookies). This facility has a homey feel and the usual stone tile floor. There were many woman leaders and who only wanted to lead (which I personally found very curious). I danced a few tandas with some good and excellent leaders. There was also a mini lesson at 5:10 pm that focused on El Abrazo. Maestra (whose name I didn´t write down) said that en el abrazo, the man should have his right hand right below the Follower´s shoulder blade on her ribs, her right for close embrace, and her left for open embrace. I left shortly after the lesson began because I was starving.

Martes, 27 Julio 2010

Bien Porteno Tango Bar (Rivadavia 1392). I was curious about this place since the ad in Punto said "Free Admission 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.) The deal is that you can have breakfast and lunch here and practice on their nice oak hardwood floor for free during that time. They also have lessons at 2:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. daily. This place is totally about tango, with the usual free magazines and flyers, and art and clothes for sale (they take Visa). It´s a cozy, comfortable place, and heated very well (too well for my tastes). Saturday´s La Marshall (gay/same-sex) milonga is held here. Their milanesa was delicious and made fresh! I believe I had been here before, in August 2007 with Roberto´s y Carolina´s group. But I am not 100% certain since everything was such a blur back then with respect to where we went and the names of places.

Amazing what a difference a month makes climatewise here. It is quite cold now, and places are not crowded because of the worldwide economy, but especially I believe because of the European banking situation. It seems to me only the truly hard core addicts are here in BsAs for their annual pilgrimage, as the beginners are probably thinking twice about it, and watching their Euros/dollars.

Right now, I am also at a different place mentally than I was in the past. Believe it or not, going shoe shopping doesn´t excite me as much as it used to, and it´s not uncommon for me to be unmoved by the entire collection at a store. There are also many new shoe stores here, but I am not ambitous enough to visit them. Right now, the shoes that work best for me are Lolo Gerard and NeoTango. I´ve always wanted to go to the legendary Fattomano, but haven´t yet made my way over there, on this, my 5th trip to BsAs.

Milonga Nuevo Chique (San Juan 244, 15 pesos). I decided to make my way over to this afternoon milonga. Thinking it was low key and since it was in the middle of the day, I did not bother changing out of my jeans and technical bike shirt (albiet leopard print). When I got up to the table, I was a bit chagrined to see that the sign said "elegante sport". Whoops. I was SO NOT dressed "elegante sport". The gal was a good sport though, and she assured me that I was welcome at this milonga and that I should go ahead and give it a go. And so, I did. This is a very nice facility, with large wood floor (powdered? it was a tad slippery.). It was a very porteno flavored milonga, with formal seating of women on one side, directly opposite the men on the other side, and the couples seated at the other two opposite sides of the room facing each other. Floorcraft was interesting. In the beginning, it was modestly attended, so there was plenty of space to dance. There were some light bumps, but nothing that drew blood.

Praktika8 (Loyola 828 en Villa Crespo, 10 pesos). This is a smallish facility with stone floor. The crowd was young, hip, attractive, and technically strong. Floorcrafting was OK (not great, but not horrible). Sometimes the dancers would get worked up into a frenzy, partciularly during the vals tandas. The squeeks of the dancers´ rubber soled shoes could often be heard as the Leaders did their many pivots on the unpowdered floor.

Jueves, 28 Julio 2010

The day was spent at the locutorio and scouting out town looking for "THE" pharmacy to go to (among the seemingly several thousand phamacies in Buenos Aires). I found it.

I also stopped by Bertie´s shoes (Mitre 1394), but that only yielded their signage over an empty storefront. So they must have been a casualty of the economy. I also saw that the Artesanal ads in the magazines show only the Anchorena store (the Riobamba store seems to have been closed).

Dante and Paola asked Pablo to teach them volcadas, so that´s what he did. Pablo showed up late for the lesson, and so I went ahead and began with them without him, giving my thoughts on Follower´s technique with respect to posture and freeness of the free leg, and physically showing them what it meant to "engage your core." It was an interesting experience assisting, and at the end of the three hours, Dante and Paola were doing volcadas with resonable proficiency. I encouraged them to write down their notes later, but of course they just laughed and said they didn´t need to because they had the videos. :::sigh:::

To show their appreciation, Dante and Paola took us to a local pizzaria, where we had their house special pizza, one with everything and the kitchen sink on top of it (sausage, hearts of palm, ham, red bell pepper, oregano, some type of mayonaise sauce, lots of cheese, etc.). It was piled high, 40 pesos, and was more than enough to feed the four of us. Total bill with two litres of Quilmes lager and a diet coke was 65 pesos.

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