Thursday, June 30, 2011

June 23-29

Thursday, June 23, 2011
Late Shift Milonga.
I didn't take the lesson beforehand, taught by Christy and Adolfo. The milonga was reasonably well attended, and got quite crowded toward the end. There were more Leaders than Followers, but those who were out seemed happy enough to socialize near the bar. Rina Gendelman did an exceptionally fine job spinning the tunes, keeping the energy safe, sane and mellow. I thought we all looked pretty elegant as a group. :o) I wore the Holy Grail shoes and they performed well.

Friday, June 24, 2011
MUSE Milonga with lesson beforehand by Jaimes Fridgen and Christa Rodriguez.
I just caught the tail end of the lesson, and the focus was a simple sequence, but doing it musically and then playing with musical variations to add flavor and texture. It was a good lesson. The milonga was fun, with a nice crowd flowing through the entire evening. Mariana Andrly was supposed to be DJ, but the turntable (OK, mac) was hijacked without complaint by Jaimes Fridgen, who, unbeknownst to me and a lot of other folks, is famous for his DJing. So that was an unexpected musical treat. Maestros did a 2-song performance, which the crowd enjoyed. We also celebrated the day after the day after the birthday of Loren with a very nice birthday dance, with Jaimes taking Loren for the first spin. Walter and Raquel made it down from Mendocino, so it was a nice treat to dance and catch up with them. Though the lovely Rochelle was not in attendance, since this was the last MUSE before a 2-month summer break, she sent along two delicious treats: Bruschetta with mascarpone, fig jam, and pancetta (SUPER YUMMY!!!!), and some apricot bars, which rounded out the rest of the food offerings of veggies, fruit, and bunelos de acelga y champiniones (Swiss chard and mushroom balls) from Pablo (which the veggies loved), and my usual phyllo thingies (beef, egg and olive), cheesy potato chips and chocolate chip cookies and Sheri's delicious fruit-infused iced tea, which was very refreshing on this warm night. I wore the Holy Grail shoes and they performed well, though I felt a slight bit of play. Uh-oh. I hope this does not mean I am blowing out of them.

Saturday, June 25, 2011
TangoUniverse Milonga at Lake Merrit Dance Center.
This was a fun milonga in the upstairs hall with pergo floor. The food was diced watermelon and cantaloupe, sliced cheese, sliced cold cuts, and some homemade Indian food of a rice dish and shredded green beans. The flavor of the Indian food was delicious in its depth and complexity, and the heat was spanked down to more westernized palettes. There was also a selection of wines for those who wanted to imbibe. The milonga was nicely crowded, but not obnoxiously so, and Ashvin did a very good job with the DJing so it turned out to be a very elegant, sweet evening. There was no crazed dancing, and floorcraft was reasonable (most people apologized when they bumped into someone). Interestingly, folks came from all around -- the South Bay, Marin, the East Bay and San Francisco, and it was interesting to hear their reasons for not going to more local-to-them milongas (or the ever-popular All Nighter). The volunteers at this event were especially great, as I was again amazed at how the two magical water pitchers never ran dry, despite the large, thirsty crowd and warm conditions. I didn't wear the Holy Grail shoes since I wanted to give them a rest in case I am starting to blow out of them. Still, I wore them for 7-8 milongas in a row (24 hours total) and they performed well throughout that time. But now I think I should give the shoes and my feet a rest and not test them so fervently.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Pampa Cortes lesson at Villa Del Sol.
It had been many years since I first and last ate at this restaurant, in 2005 with the Chowhounds. Back then, I knew absolutely nothing about Argentine food, and from what I recall, the experience at the time was just OK, not great. Of course they were probably overwhelmed by all of us rather demanding diners (what do you expect from Chowhounds?). So it was with great interest when I saw this event pop up on since I had wanted to return to this restaurant after my BsAs experiences and knowing a little more about Argentine food, but I never got around to it. This time, I was determined. A quick search on the internet uncovered a coupon deal (buy a $25 coupon for $10), which I snapped up that afternoon. I had decided I wanted to have dinner before the lesson and practica, since that is generally how I roll to stave off bonking. Unfortunately, upon arriving at the restaurant around 6:30 p.m., we found it closed and no sign with the business hours. There was, however, a sign in the window that Pampa Cortes teaches there every Tuesday, with a beginners lesson and an intermediate lesson (which was not what was posted on A later inspection of their web site showed that they are actually closed on Tuesdays, so obviously they open the restaurant just for Pampa's lesson and to feed hungry dancers afterwards, should they wish.

So instead, we went to the Peruvian restaurant down the street, Golden Inca Peruvian Restaurant We had ceviche (a little too heavy on the acid, in my opinion, and the fish left a little too long in it), and their mixed grill, which was about a third offal. There was intestine, which I didn't like, but also ample tasty chicken gizzards and beef heart. There was also the usual grilled chicken, steak, and beef with little mounds of ginormous corn kernels, fresh and roasted a la corn nuts (only without the heavy-handed salt/MSG and spices found in commercial corn nuts that we ate as snacks as children). They also gave us some extremely tasty rice, gratis (and I normally don't even like white rice, but this rice was absolutely delicious). The owner was super nice and served as our waiter, host and chef. It was a very satisfying meal, and throughout it, I could not stop studying the menu and the pictures of the dishes on the wall as it was all very fascinating to see so many interesting dishes on the menu.

After dinner, we made our way back to Villa Del Sol to find the lesson already in progress. It was a simple sequence of going to the Follower's cross, and then doing forward ocho steps. We also worked a bit on the ocho cortado, followed by a rock step with Leader right leg stop to cause Follower to sandwich his foot, out to resolution. It was a nice lesson, and I got to demo a lot with Maestro. I also rotated among the beginner Leader students, who were very appreciative of my partnering with them. Maestro teaches in Buenos Aires style with demonstrating the step, commanding the students to watch and pay attention, and also splitting us into two groups so he could show the Leaders what to do as they watched behind him trying to copy is footwork and upper body torsion and lead, while the demo follower (this would be me for this class) did her part in front of him with all the follower students watching behind her and trying to copy what she does. For some parts of the class, he also took out every single follower and demonstrated with her so she could work the correct sequence into her muscle memory, like what Nito does.

Afterwards, a very generous student bought the entire group dinner at the restaurant (yes, you read that right!). So there we were, the dozen or so of us all sitting around with a delicious and simple meal of a couple of orders of Argentine parrillada (beef, chicken, pork, morcilla, chorizo), green salad, perfectly crispy French fries, and a couple of bottles of wine. The conversation flowed fast and fierce in Castellano, so it was a very entertaining evening and a great place for some folks to practice their Spanish (or English). My gringo companion (who is no stranger to BsAs) said it was the most authentic Argentine experience he's ever had in the San Francisco Bay Area. I would agree. It was a super fun, extremely culturally rich evening. Regretfully, I will only be able to attend this once more before I leave.

Sadly, I will also miss La Pena de Pampa Cortes on July 16 at Villa Del Sol. I was excited to receive the flyer, as Penas (dance parties, not specifically tango although some will be played, but more just general dancing, Argentine [chacarera and other folkloric dances], salsa, rock n roll, etc.) are popular in BsAs, but nonexistent in the SF Bay Area. The San Francisco Bay Area is very lucky to have such an amazing Argentine dance icon in its midst in Pampa Cortes, who is exposing a lot of us Gringo tango heads to Argentine culture beyond tango.


Last week's blog posting about the conversation I had with the Three Anonymous Leaders I had lunch with after a Sunday afternoon at Bollyhood piqued some folks' curiosity.

JSE and I got to emailing about parts of the conversation:


I gotta tell ya, it's all preference. Like XY (not one of the three Leaders present that afternoon), he thinks I am a tad too heavy and too forward leaning and should be lighter, because that's how "the good dancers in SF are" and he likes superlight. He thinks that's how the "good" dancers in the Bay Area dance. But guess what? That is NOT how the good Leaders like it in Buenos Aires, and some excellent Leaders like it in SF, so you have to take all Leaders' opinions with a grain of salt. Try to tell XY that there is a different opinion and he is not the best dancer in the world (and just might be dissed as not dancing "real tango" if he ever bothered to go to Buenos Aires), and well... you see what I mean? Life is truly different, and your tango perspective is truly different, when you dance in BsAs (XX also confirmed this). XY has never been to BsAs, and neither have two of the three anonymous Leaders. However, all three of those Leaders I had lunch with have a good perspective, respectful of how tango is in BsAs, much more so than XY and a lot of SF leaders.

I was thinking of writing something about the whole lightness versus heavyness/groundedness, because some Leaders are completely clueless!!! Of course, it's just a preference...but still... It depends on what you want... to be a "good dancer" in the eyes of a certain select population of the SF tango community, or in the eyes of the Portenos.


In Buenos Aires, I hear locals that dance close say North Americans dance too light, and I hear traveling international tangueros say San Francisco has a very upright style that runs up and down the West Coast. In open embrace it can be that a Follower is mostly on her/his own axis except when the Leader changes it. But, there is an energetic exchange at times with the leader that brings a dialog, a push and pull, that exchange of energy we seek. Leaders don't want to move a us around like a refrigerator, but they need to feel us, feel our connection to the earth and ground. So, there is something important in saying a good Follower maintains axis, but it's missing something at the same time. We need that exchange of energy, it's why we dance, we need to feel the other person's presence but not because we are speaking for them. If you are too self-sufficient and too self-contained on your own axis, you are not really "showing up" and you can't be felt.

A Russian leader told me tonight that if I do exactly what he expects (I was getting tense thinking I was making a lot of mistakes), he only knows himself, but if I do something unexpected, he gets to know who I am. I asked him, didn't he want to get to know himself better, and he said something like, "Well, I've seen that (meaning himself) several times already", and it was more interesting to him to learn about another person through dance. It seemed extraordinarily profound at the time; it was respectful not sleazy. Just dance.


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