Tuesday, August 16, 2011

August 9-14

Friday, August 12, 2011
Afternoon milonga @ Triangulo (4:30-8:30 p.m.).
When I arrived @7:00 p.m., I was warmly greeted by the door volunteer. Actually, not just warmly. She gushed. She was extremely enthusiastic and effervescent. She made me feel like I was the milongas long-lost favorite tanguera, even though I had never been there in my life. In short, she was the perfect door volunteer. Or maybe she was the organizer. I don't know. But man, I was just complete shocked at the positive good vibes she threw off.

Triangulo is an older space with nice hardwood floors, and two huge window air conditioners mounted high, supplemented by large area fans (not the gigantic professional/institutional ones). There is a full-length trompe l'oeil mural at the opposite end of the room that has a wonderful milonga scene of New York. How d I know it's of New York? Well, looking closely at the faces of the dancers portrayed, it is obvious that the most clearly animated ones are of folks from the local New York dance community. So it was quite a kick to see it. In the mural, the curtains to the milonga are parted back by Carlos Gardel on right side, and a famous bandoneon player on the left.

For libations and snacks, there was wine and water, chip mix (cheese puffs, corn chips, pretzels, that type of thing), pineapple, cake, and candy.

The milonga was already crowded when I got there, and folks looked very happy. Dancewise, I had a few not-so-great tandas, and one absolutely fantastic tanda that knocked my socks off. It was the best one I have had in NYC so far. In speaking with the dancer, I was a little disappointed to learn that he was only a recent NYC resident, and that he had learned his craft in Chicago. Not that I am dissing Chicago, but I have yet to experience New York's finest on the dance floor. But maybe that is just me still working my way up the ranks...

I specifically wanted to go to this milonga since I was channeling JSE (who continues to live la vida portena) and planned to go to another milonga afterwards, Milonga Rosa at the Ukranian East Village Restaurant. So when the afternoon milonga ended at 8:30 p.m., I changed back into my street shoes and hoofed it down 6th Ave, with my destination the Ukrainian East Village Restaurant, about 12 short blocks away.

I passed by many of those $1 per slice pizza places that NY is famous for. I admit, in all the 20 years I've visited NY, I have never had one. And so, even though I was going to have dinner at Ukrainian, I succumbed to curiosity and popped into one for a slice. And what did I think? Well, it tasted exactly as a $1 slice of pizza should: not magic, not tragic. OK for when you are starving, and lean on cash and time. Would I buy one again? Probably not. I'd splurge and get a $3 slice of pizza, which isn't as good as Blondies, but serviceable enough.

As I walked down 6th Ave, chomping away on my $1 pizza, I started to feel guilty because I had been looking forward to the Lamb Shank and Kasha at Ukrainian. Oh what to do? Eat the whole thing and be too stuffed to really enjoy the lamb shank? Or throw away the half-eaten pizza with grandma's voice ringing in my head saying "the most expensive food you will ever buy is what you throw away"?

I felt a bit of anxiety over my predicament, but the dilemma was nearly instantly solved, as magically, the Angel of the Guiltily Half-Eaten Slice of Pizza suddenly appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, asking for the rest of my pizza. Naturally, I happily complied and even gave him my unused napkins. He actually looked a little surprised that I did it so easily and cheerfully. Problem solved. :o)

When I got to the Ukrainian East Village Restaurant, it was the same as when I was here a few years ago. Even the menu (and their prices) had not changed. So I got the lamb shank with kasha, and it set me back all of $10.95, which is a huge bargain as it came with salad and table service. It was delicious.

I got to watch the tail end of the lesson, taught I believe by Dani Carpi, the organizer of Milonga Rosa, and it seemed like he gave some good technical pointers related to the step the were working on, which was the ocho to the sandwich and the concepts of suspension and settling. Though I didn't take it, it looked like a pretty good lesson.

The milonga itself was fun. The lesson was full, and it got even fuller throughout the night for the milonga. The same guy from earlier with whom I had the fantastic tanda showed up, so we got to dance two more tandas, which were sublime. Dallas showed up later on, and I delightedly went over to him and greeted him. I hadn't seen him since he taught in San Francisco with Chelsea since I missed Austin for Thanksgiving last year. Happily, he too has relocated to NYC to work on his non-tango career, so he'll be around at the local milongas. His dancing is as great as ever.

Junior Cervilia and Natalia Royo did a great three-song performance: a traditional tango, a performance tango, and a milonga.

After that, I was pretty much tuckered out, so I made my way to Grand Central to catch the train home.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Still channeling JSE, I had planned to go to two milongas this evening, Pa'milonguear@Dardo Galleto Studios and the All Night Milonga@Stepping Out.

I was curious about Pa'milonguear since Carolina Zokalski and Diego Di Falco were the hosts of this practicalonga. I took lessons from them in Austin and found them to be excellent teachers. When I got there, there were only a few people in the room, and the volunteer door person told me that Carolina and Diego were travelling and would not be at the practicalonga that night. So he said I was welcome to join, but that there would be no practica feedback. I peeked inside the space and saw only a few dancers, with several followers just sitting and one leader standing, and one or two couples dancing. So I thanked the volunteer for being frank about the situation, and decided to save my $10 for the next time Carolina and Diego were in town and the place was a little more full (he said there are usually 20-30 people).

I tried to decide if I should walk the 20 short blocks to Stepping Out or if I should take the subway. Since I had a lot of time, I decided to walk, thinking that it might be nice to just walk straight down from Broadway. That lasted all of one block since the throngs of people made it feel like I was a salmon trying to swim upstream, and I quickly decided it would be better for me to walk down 6th Ave.

Things really quieted down in the 20's, and I made my way with enough time to pop in to another pizza place for a slice. This one was $4.25, which I thought was kind of high, but there was a large selection of gourmet toppings (eggplant, spinach, broccoli, fried chicken). My sliced was OK.

Stepping Out is a large dance studio, with one large center room, and two other big rooms on either side. On this night, one of the rooms was the alt/nuevo room, and the other one was a practice space or space for dancers to dance big and not disturb all the other dancers at the main milonga. The floors are a nice hardwood, and though the place has central AC, there were also fans around to help with the air circulation.

The lesson was taught by Veronica Palacios and Omar Quiroga, and began as usual with one warm-up danced so they could assess where we were in our education. We began with the basics, walking and connection, as these are the cornerstones of tango. The concept of punto zero (point zero) is very important. Maestros illustrated the concept by showing us the wrong way, where their legs would pass quickly against each other with no pause, seemingly through and oblivious to the music, versus the right way, where the movement is very clean, very elegant, and always collecting with one weighted foot and one free foot with a nanopause at the point where the ankles are next to each other and the feet are together, before they pass each other--that is point zero.

So we tried to walk with this concept in our heads and bodies, and for the Leader and Follower to have the same timing. So we walked to one song in close embrace. Maestra noted that men needed to have intention when they walk. In partnership, men always walk forward using their whole body. And Followers need to be connected to the Leaders in their walk, and not transmit the energy backward (like pinball bouncing away). The Follower needs to make the Leader feel her presence in the embrace.

Connection is not just in the chest, it's in the whole body. For dancers of substantially different heights, they need to find their point of connection. The Follower has to find out how to connect her body with his. If you are a tall Leader,
you do not need to take big steps, but can walk normally.

Next, we worked on a simple, fun pattern. Side step Leader's left, Follower right, to a Leader's walk forward 3 steps (Follower back 3 steps), to Leader's weight change to lead Follower to do 2 milonguero back ochos (not much pivot). Leader should always keep the Follower straight, because if he turns his body in any way, the Follower is going to cross. The weight change of the Leader does not mean to change the walk of the Follower. After we worked on cleaning up the technique of this and drilling it in our muscle memories, the step was changed.

We did a side step Leader's left, Follower's right, to a Leader's walk forward (Follower back), inside and outside to Follower's back ocho, leading her to cross. Then a Follower right side step to sandwich Leader's right foot. Here, they connect at the feet and the Leader lifts the Follower's left foot with his connected right foot, to bring it up and over to the right side of her right foot in a cross. With his weight still back, he then does a small barrida of her left foot, moving it farther away (opens the cross more), then pivots around it to sandwich it again, pivots her around so that she pasadas with her right foot out to resolution. It was a fun little step.

The milonga got very crowded, and I sat out a lot. I declined a dance with someone. He's a nice enough guy, and looks OK when he dances simply with other Followers, but when we dance, I feel very pole to his pole dancing, where he tries a lot of new things but doesn't execute them well, and does a lot of stop-and-park ganchos (which I absolutely loathe on top of being very cool to ganchos to begin with). And I hate to be so prima donnaesque about this, but at some point, I'd just prefer to sit out rather than suffer through a tanda.

And yet I do recognize for him to actually be able to execute whatever it is he is working on, he needs to try it out on Followers. So there I was, having this existential conversation in my head, on the one hand not wanting a bad tanda, and yet on the other hand knowing that in a way it is the Follower's responsibility to help Leaders improve and aid in their development, even if we suffer in the meantime.

I spent a lot of time watching at this milonga (as I was not inspired to dance much), and I watched a lot of skilled Leaders dance with much lesser Followers and seem happy to do it (and happy to teach on the milonga dance floor...but that would mean I would go off on another tangential rant). So there seems to be a huge difference in how Leaders and Followers (or me!) accept the situation of dancing with beginners or improvers. Leaders seem to do it cheerfully, most Followers less so.

Before I left SF, I asked a Leader bluntly about this, about how he is a truly excellent dancer, and yet he dances with a lot of beginners and looks extremely happy and joyful when he does (the same as when he dances with the skilled Followers). He said that he is basically dancing the same dance with all the Followers, but that every Follower is different in how she responds to his lead, and the Followers respond in unique, sometimes delightful and often unexpected ways, even if they are beginner. To him, that's fun, and every Follower is a blessing to dance with. Sure, he recognizes that the beginner follower's technique is not there, but for him the point of tango is not just to dance with technically perfect dancers, nor is it to develop Followers and teach them how to improve their technique or work improved technique into the beginner Followers' bodies. For him it's a communication thing, and a getting along and having a good time thing. Which gave my brain an interesting nugget to chew on. As a Follower, I wish I had the same type of positive, happy, joyful, compassionate and understanding disposition at being a pole to his pole dancing, but I am afraid I just don't.

I also heard a bit of griping on the parts of Followers in the SF Bay Area about not liking to go to lessons because they are targeted at Leaders and they feel as though they are just tango props as the Leaders hack away at their stuff, which kind of surprised me as each lesson gives every Follower an opportunity to perfect her craft, to perfect her technique. She can work on making every step she takes as beautiful, as clean, and as precise as she can, which let's face it...that's hard work! But it's also something that all Followers can work on. Even if it's just a side step (and being precise, accurate, smooth and complete with her weight change), or walking backwards or forwards, or working on pivoting well and remaining in balance on one foot, or reaching well as she does ochos, etc. And of course everything needs to be done with good posture (most of us have room to improve there too) and respecting point zero (and not cutting it short with flailing feet).

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