Thursday, November 24, 2011

November 10-23 (from Buenos Aires)

Viernes, 11 Noviembre 2011
The first leg of the flight to Santiago, Chile, was nice: the plane boarded and left on time, the movies (52!) were great, the food was well proportioned and tasty. I was annoyed at myself for not checking my flight kit beforehand, so I didn't notice I had forgotten my eye patch and earplugs. Thankfully, Lan passed out some, and I was thrilled, as I would not have managed well without them.

I watched Angels and Demons, a fast paced, entertaining flick. Then I slept somewhat uncomfortably, but reasonably well. I didn't even notice when the person next to me switched seats with another passenger. As far as 10-hour flights go, this one was pretty good.

Then I got to the Santiago, Chile, airport. What should have just been an hour wait for the connecting flight turned into five, which was a total bummer. But at least I got to knock back a couple of Pisco Sours at a place called "The Last Pisco Sour", which was a part of the La Sabastiana Restaurant there at the airport. Pisco Sours are tasty, but a little too much on the sweet side for my taste (I tried not to cringe when I saw the bartender put two heaping teaspoons of powdered sugar into the mix). Since it was a shockingly early hour to be drinking (OK, not that shocking, but still early by most standards), I had an empanada de carne to accompany the libations. The carne was heavy on the cebolla, studded by a large black half-olive, and one 1/8thish chunk of hard-boiled egg. The dough was on the dense, pasty side, which wasn't exactly my cup of tea, though I ate the whole dang thing.

I still had four hours to kill, and needed to contact everyone waiting for me in Buenos Aires (my driver from Eziza, my hostess, and JSE) to tell them I would be very late. I had my laptop, but getting Internet access from the airport was a confusing chore. I made my way to the VIP lounge, and thankfully the receptionist had mercy on me and let me use their computer for 5 minutes. This being South America, I went along with the usual custom and 5 minutes turned into 2 hours (it was a sumptuous lounge, one of the best I've ever been in, and I was in no hurry to leave, and no one asked me to).

Finally, it was time to catch the flight to Buenos Aires. Boarding was late, and after we left the airport, we had to get on to those shuttle buses to the airplane itself. When I got to the top of the stairs and onto the plane, I looked for my seat in row 25. The last row on the plane was 24. D'oh!!! And passengers after me had rows 26-30! Needless to say, confusion ensued and people were stressed out and angry. Fortunately, it all worked out and there turned out to be exactly enough seats. If y'all can envision Southwest Airline style seating when we've paid Lan prices, you can see why people were very hot under the collar about the whole situation. Someone even wrote a complaint letter by hand on the back of a large envelope, ripped it open and sent it around for everyone to sign, and by the time it got to me in the very last row, it seemed the majority of passengers signed it.

Getting through Eziza was relatively easy, but getting a cab to Buenos Aires was kind of a hassle. Dante and I agreed that I should just take Taxi Eziza (cost: $180 pesos), but it was a 25-minute wait. I asked at other remise desks about the wait, and they all said 25 minutes. So I did as Dante said and took Taxi Eziza. We had to queue up, and there were a bunch of flakey people in front of me who missed their call as they wandered off to shop or going to the restroom, etc., and then they would come back and then get first priority in line again. I was told several times that mine would be the “next car”, only to be bumped by some flakey airheads.


The drive to Buenos Aires was smooth and quick, but the Taxi Eziza driver got a little lost in the neighborhood, so we had to circle. When I finally arrived to the place where I would be staying, it was already 8:00 p.m. (which was amazing to me since my plane landed at 4:30 p.m.).

I was pretty bummed that my flight was so delayed since I had a burning desire to go to P.H. today, Friday, since I missed it the last several times I was here, and this the only free day I could get there easily since they're closed Saturdays. I'm curious to see what Lilliana has done fasionwise, as the last time I went it seemed the styles were becoming more on-trend. With my move to the east coast, I only brought the shoes I wear and am comfortable in, and the majority were P.H. and Lolo Gerard.

After arriving home, I tried to make it over to the Ferreteria to get an adaptor for my laptop electrical cord. I got confused about the time because no Ferreteria is open at 8:00 p.m. on a Friday night, so I went over to the Abasto Coto instead to pick up food (where I was a little disappointed with the selection). Afterwards, I stopped off at Maossage (Aguero 616) to get a full body massage (60 pesos for 30 minutes). It was great. Very firm, very relaxing afterwards though painful while getting it. My masseur, one of the owners, was very nice. He spoke in Mandarin primarily, then in Cantonese to me, and after he figured out that that would be an epic fail, plain old English. Turns out he learned his craft in Los Angeles!

After that, I made my way home, arriving around 11:00 p.m. I marveled at how long it took just to get around to do things in Buenos Aires (granted, I did walk everywhere and take the Subte instead of cabbing it as I wanted to move my body after being on planes for so long). Anyway, sitting down to eat, I checked my email, read one from JSE but didn't respond because I was distracted, and then my laptop battery ran out (which was why it was so urgent to get to the ferreteria in the first place). By then I was truly exhausted, so I took a shower and went to bed.

Sabado, 12 Noviembre 2011
There were a million things I wanted to do today, so I was out the door by 10:15 a.m.

My first stop was the Ferreteria (Sarmiento 4380). I probably could have gone to any one much closer, but this one I I made my way over to it, where I pulled out my laptop cord, showed it to the guy, and he gave me a universal adaptor ($10 pesos). I asked for two, just in case (which now seems silly, in retrospect).

Still in search of a replacement of my beloved pair of Negra y Portena shoes that were mortally victimized, I tried to go to Asignatura Pendiente (Corrientes 2176), but when I got there, another store was in its spot, so it must have moved. Since I was so close, I walked over to Tango Leike (hoping to pick up some free tango magazines and a tango map) and NeoTango (both on Sarmiento 1947 and 1938). Both stores have been remodeled and look more boutique-y and upscale. NeoTango is much more efficiently laid out to try on shoes; stylewise, the shoes are much the same and remain as pretty as ever. The styles at Tango Leike were surprisingly more edgy and fashion-forward. I only managed to pick up a copy of Diostango and was surprised at how slim and light it was.

Saturday afternoons in Buenos Aires usually mean for me Marta y Manolo's Canyengue class at EAT, and this was no different. Since I had an hour to spare, I went via Suipacha (200 block), hitting all the shoe stores beforehand (Flabella, Darcos, Scarpe Mahara, etc.). On the train ride over, I browsed through Diostango and saw that Asignatura Pendiente was now located on Suipacha as well. Just doing some window shopping on Suipacha, shoes started around 380 pesos and went up (how high I don't know because I didn't try on or ask about any specific shoes). Some of the stores have moved around and consolidated a bit. The place next to Darcos seems to sell a mish-mash of all different stores (including Asignatura Pendiente, but they only sold their clothes, no Negra y Portena shoes), and the awning is that of Todo Tango, which used to be down the block. Lucky for me, EAT had a coupon there for 25% off one class.

Making my way over to EAT, it occurred to me that Buenos Aires is really coming together for me geographically, as I can navigate better and more confidently, even though I didn't have a map as insurance. I was happy to see the classes were the same price as the last time I was here (45 pesos), and with my discount coupon, the Canyengue class came to 35 pesos.

Happily, the class was pretty full. Marta y Manolo look strong and healthy. As usual, the class was split into two groups: those with Canyengue experience and those without. Marta worked with the newbies while Manolo led the guided practica for the rest of us. The gender balance for both groups was perfect, so no one switched (and we weren't asked to). I partnered with a porteno who as also in class last time I was here, so it was nice to see a familiar face (actually, several). As usual, I struggled with the posture and connection, and keeping my steps small. The Canyengue work is basically the exact opposite of the Luciana Valle work, although in my mind Canyengue can be viewed as the original off-axis form of tango since there is such extreme lean.

In the starting embrace, I need to remember to bend the knees and keep the heels off the ground in order to connect with the Leader from chest to belly. The Follower's right hand in the Leader's left hand enables the Leader to open and close the embrace depending on how much pivot he wants the Follower to do based on where he wants the Follower to step.

After class, I was famished, so I went over to Galauno. Unfortunately, a choripan is now 9.99 pesos (gotta love the .99 bit as an attempt to keep things in the single digits), which I thought was steep. So I went a few storefronts down to the Arabic place and had a cordero shwerma instead (very tasty).

Originally, I had planned on going to the afternoon milonga at Confiteria Ideal but I was just too pooped. So I went over to Anchorena instead, to hit Artesanal (Anchorena 537) and Lolo Gerard (Anchorena 607). At Artesanal, I was shocked to see that they had a shoe in the window that was 650 pesos! Going in, I browsed a bit and then went upstairs to see their sale shoes. I didn't find anything compelling. As I was heading down to leave, who would I find coming up the stairs but Linda from Idaho! I knew she might be here as she emailed me a few weeks ago telling me this would be viaje numero ocho (I am only on siete), but what a kick that we'd bump into each other at Artesanal on a Saturday afternoon. I met her beau, who is a charmer. After catching up and confirming contact info with a promise to get together at some point while we are both here, I made my way over to Lolo Gerard.

At Lolo Gerard, I found 4 pairs of sale shoes in my size, and bought all 4 (290-360 pesos). I hadn't planned on buying so many, and only had enough pesos for part of the purchase. Thankfully, she accepted US dollars as well (which many stores seem more open to doing this time around as the Argentine peso continues to sink versus the US dollar). Before coming on this trip, I decided to bring only one pair of dance shoes (besides my 2 pairs of dance sneakers for the Intensivo), and the ones I picked were Lolo Gerard. And that got me to thinking that of all the shoes I reach for, the bullet-proof, most reliable, most long-lived ones for me have been Lolo Gerard. So I kind of wondered why I even bother going to any other shoe store when I've found the brand that works for me.

After my purchase, which took all of 5 minutes, I was really exhausted and made my way home. I plugged in the laptop using the new adaptor and was pleased it worked (although plugging it in the first time it kind of sparked, so i did say a little prayer as I plugged in the other part into the computer itself). There I found an email from JSE suggesting she was worried that she hadn't heard from me, which sparked a flurry of emails from my end, apologetic, etc., about my flakey silence. Anyway, we made plans later on that night to dine at Cafe Vinilio.

Cafe Vinilio (Gorriti 3780) is only about 1.5 miles away from where I am staying, and it was reasonably easy to catch a cab. There JSE was already waiting for me. It's a very nice space, with jazz influences all around, and an authentic 1960s hi-fi console with lots of vinyl to choose from. JSE asked the waitress to put on tango, she happily complied since at that early hour of 8:30 p.m., we were the only ones in the place. We both had the beef stew in chocolate sauce, which came with some french-fry like things (I think it was made from a tuber other than the usual potato as it had a slightly sweeter taste and a stringier but firmer texture). We spent much time just being chatty Cathy's and catching up.

JSE must have read my mind because she brought a bunch of tango magazines for me (now isn't that thoughtful?). I think the economy has taken its toll all around, even at the tango-related businesses since it seems some shoe stores, milongas and practicas have either closed or are just not advertising as much.

Domingo, 13 Noviembre 2011

On Sundays, there's not a whole lot to do in BsAs as most of the shops are closed. So I spent the morning writing. Then I ate breakfast, and went grocery shopping. I went to the Coto on Corrientes closest to home, rather than Abasto. It was OK, smaller but well stocked. The rotisseria (prepared food) section was smaller but serviceable enough.

Something weird happened at the checkout, which made me feel a little ookie. Basically, the checkout gal didn't give me all of my groceries, holding back a bag that was filled with my most expensive items. Fortunately, I realized I was a bag short just after leaving the store, so I immediately went back in. She gave me my items straightaway, but I thought it was weird that she knew exactly why I came in and hesitated a little in giving me that bag, which if I recall correctly was not the last bag she packed.

It was just a very weird experience overall, and I was reminded by something someone once said to me about trips to Buenos Aires: It's very easy to be happy and relaxed, because here we are working on something we (supposedly) love (tango), but some event usually happens that mars the vacation from being perfect, whether it is getting ripped off by a cabbie, losing something at the outdoor milonga, being "mischarged" for shoes or other items, or whatever... something almost always happens. Fortunately, I've been pretty lucky overall, since I don't think anything bad has personally happened to me since the first trip and my unfortunate incident as a sole passenger in a shifty driver's cab (where he accused me of giving him fake money and then proceeded to turn several of my 100 peso bills into 10 peso bills because I foolishly let him get his hands on them...).

Lunes, 14 Noviembre 2011
Luciana Valle Intensivo Al Cuadrado Day 1

We began with a 1/2 hour warm-up, dancing 2 songs each with 3-4 different Leader assistants. During the warm-up, we as a group were instructed:

Followers: keep the heels on the floor; slow down; take each step; take the time to take each step.

Leaders: wait for the Follower; wait for the Follower to give feedback in her dancing; be careful of the arms taking the space of the body. Arms should come from the back, Our connection is body to body, and the arms are a continuation of our bodies. Lead the motion from the push of the standing leg.

Our work today focused on:
(1) Ganchos and Leg Wraps
(2) Shared-Axis Turns
(3) Sacadas

We began with Follower's back cross gancho, open step gancho and front cross ganchos from the point of view that the Leader is the center and the Follower is the circle.

For the Leader, the gancho leg is free of weight and there is no axis of the Leader involved. The lead for the gancho is the lead for the turn. Just as the Follower goes, it is an interruption of her step. It is the step that never happens. Follower needs to arrive to axis first, and then move her feet. The gancho comes from the standing leg pushing off, not the free leg. It is the Follower trying to step, but not being able to step.

The Leader goes down with his standing, supporting leg when he asks for the gancho. The Leader's gancho/sacada leg is straight; the standing, supporting leg bends and thus so does the gancho/sacada leg too as the Leader leads/receives the Follower's ganchoing leg, with his weight always on the back foot on axis. With the Leader's leg straight, he can always Lead the Follower to do either a gancho or a sacada.

For these back cross ganchos, the Follower should keep her top with the Leader, but activate the gancho from the bottom. The Leader should keep his chest with the Follower, until the point of the gancho, where he rotates his chest to lead the Follower's gancho. The Follower has to feel no invasion into her space.

It is important for the Follower to have good turn/hiro/molinete technique, as the back cross step is overturned to keep equidistant from the Leader as she goes around the Leader, same as the previous step. She should also activate the standing leg, and not fall after she does the gancho.

We drilled with four options the Leader receiving the Follower's back cross gancho on his inside leg or outside leg, noticing the direction of their hips: away from each other or toward each other.

Follower should not anticipate the gancho or make it wide (have air between her legs). She should just step normally. We do lots of things from the gancho, not just the gancho, but sending it out in a boleo afterwards, for example. Follower should keep foot on the floor, striking it like a match.

Gancho Leader Options:
(1) Gancho only
(2) Let the Follower drive you
(3) Receiving the gancho, then sending it back out.

For option (3), the Follower gets the dynamics of the free leg and her body gets the spiral.

We drilled all these possibilities to improve our gancho technique (both Leaders and Followers). It is important that the Follower leg her left arm/hand slide so that she does not jam the Leader when he tries to lead a gancho on the close side of the embrace. Connection is the Follower's responsibility.

Next we worked on Follower front ganchos of the Leader's front leg. All of these possibilities are with the Follower spiral from the top down.

The lead is like that of a parada, but the Leader moves the axis by stepping around the Follower, and as she comes in, he moves opposite to lead the gancho/leg wrap. The Leader does not lead a pivot, but leads a spiral, going from top down.

We drilled Follower front wraps to the Leader's outside leg (front/forward).

The Leader walking around he Follower is what leads her to spiral from the top down. His contra motion is what leads the Follower to do the wrap (front to front).

In the front-to-front wrap, the Leader changes from being the center of the circle to the Follower being the center of the circle and the Leader walking around her, so the lead is more like for a boleo interrupted, as it starts from the Follower spiral on down. The Leader needs to think circularly and step around the Follower, but don't transfer weight fully, as the lead for the wrap is in the contra energy.

We drilled this on the close and open sides. The open side is more difficult.

The Follower needs to know when she needs to pivot, and when she needs to spiral. She should not dance by memory because the Leader might lead many different things:
(1) barrida
(2) wrap/gancho
(3) sacada

Next, we worked on Front Wraps to the Inside of the Leader's legs (still front-to-front):
Leader left leg receives, Follower left leg ganchos
Leader right leg receives, Follower right leg ganchos

The Leader's timing is important; he should not enter her space too early and lead the wrap, otherwise, the Leader and Follower are fighting for the leg space. Follower needs the time to arrive and spiral.

For the Follower, the gancho is in the "out" motion, not the "in" motion. The "out" motion is led by the Leader's contra energy.

Then we did a quick review of the similarities of the communalities and differences among:
(1) sacadas
(2) ganchos
(3) shared-axis turns

Sacadas & Ganchos: Leader's footwork of reaching with a weightless free leg is the same for both, but his target is different:
Sacada: Follower's free leg
Gancho: Follower's weight leg

Ganchos & Shared-Axis Turns:
Shared-Axis Turn: Leader goes around the Follower with his own body, his whole self (Follower is the center of the circle, while Leader is the circle). Leader is already turning as he goes in.
Gancho: Follower is circle, while Leader is the center of the circle.

We drilled these options, trying to be clear in the lead and maintaining control, with the Leader doing the take (footwork) for a sacada, and then changing the direction to make it a gancho.

Follower: on the close side, she needs to come in at the point of gancho instead of keeping the Leader away. There needs to be distance for the sacada, but not for ganchos.

We drilled the control aspect with the Leader leading a back cross step and then stopping the Follower to change the direction but NOT lead the gancho.


I wanted to go across the street to Don Niceto Parrilla for lunch, but sadly it wasn’t open. Instead, I walked down to Serrano y Niceto Vega to Shwerma King and had one of their Shwermas (+ gaseosa = 19 pesos). It was yummy, and I snarffled it up right quick. With the extra time on my hands, I walked up to Cordoba and went to Dia, a local grocery store. Sadly, that one was disappointing, but i did marvel at how close we were to Villa Malcolm, just across the street.

After class, I made my way over to Negra y Portena (Lavalle 820, #C9), which, thanks to JSE's thoughtfulness at giving me her La Milonga magazine, I was able to see their ad with current address, basically in the heart of the Florida shopping area. Negra y Prortena's shoe selection was small, though they had shoes for men and women. One silver pair caught my eye, and luckily they had my size. So I tried it on and it fit, so I set it aside. Then I asked the shop gal for all the shoes in my size, and she showed them to me. Amazingly, they all felt really good, so I ended up buying all of them (only 3 total). The shoes are normally about 350 pesos each, but since I was buying 3 (in about 3 minutes), I bargained her down to 1,000 pesos. We were both happy with the transaction.

By then I was starved, so I went to the Pizza place on Lavalle right next to Galauno, and had a calzone (18 pesos, and a tad salty) and copa de vino (8 pesos, gigantic: 8-9 ounces). Then I made my way home as I wanted to rest before heading out to El Motivo @ Villa Malcolm that night.

But as usual during these Intensivos, the sprit was willing, but the flesh was weak. So after showering and laying down to rest, I became one with my bed and that was pretty much it. Although feeling guilty, I did type out my notes, with my feet slathered in Ben Gay and toes being stretched out in my pink yoga toes.

Martes, 15 de Noviembre 2011
Luciana Valle Intensivo Al Cuadrado Day 2

We began the day with a review of all of the ganchos/wraps we learned yesterday, with the goals:
Leader: Make a decision from the same place
Follower: With for the real lead from the Leader (do not guess or go on your own)

From the Followers back cross with the options:
(1) gancho
(2) gancho with send out dynamization in the opposite direction
(3) driving the Leader's leg around
(4) change of direction
(5) shared-axis turn
We drilled this with each leg and in both directions

From the Follower's open step:
(1) gancho
(2) sacada
(3) sacada converted to gancho
(4) gancho with send out to other side (dynamicized by walking around Follower)
(5) sacada with change of direction into gancho
(6) shared-axis turn
We drilled this with each leg and in both directions

In the dynamization, the Leader's knee flexes so that he can play with the options in terms of how much energy he gives.

From the Follower's front cross step:
(1) sacada
(2) sacada into gancho
(3) gancho
(4) gancho with send out to other side (dynamicized)
(5) shared-axis turn

For this gancho, the Leader's foot goes in front of the Follower's front cross step as she is moving as a boleo. This gancho happens on the pivot, not on the step, on the way to the front cross, so the movement is like that of a boleo, interrupted.

We drilled this with each leg and in both directions.

The Follower should not guess what the Leader is going to lead. The Follower should keep her top with the Leader and go around the Leader in a molinete/hiro/turn.

We then drilled managing the difference between gancho and shared-axis turns on the Follower's open step by doing ganchos only or shared-axis turns only, or doing ganchos and then converting them into shared-axis turns.

Then we moved on to rebotes/changes of direction, combining the take (tomar) of the sacada plus a change of direction.

First, we reviewed the fundamental techniques of changes of direction:
Leader: receives the back cross of the Follower, changes it into a front cross in the other direction while he does open steps.
Follower: keeps bra line to Leader, even though her hips face elsewhere.
Leader: should be behind Follower's axis (foot placement is key) so he is not in the Follower's way when she changes direction so she can really turn, pivot, and reach for a new place. The Leader does this by overturning the Follower so she can step close to the Leader, towards the Leader.
Follower: Needs to maintain connection in her arms and hands.
Follower: At the overturned back ocho, she should not go down low, but keep knees soft, remaining upright. This is so she has speed on her pivot. If she goes down, it slows down her pivot. She should use the floor, push into it, but not push into her knees. She should not use her knees if it is not necessary. She should push with the foot on the floor to get a deeper pivot. The sensation is more up than down energy, as if emerging, not submerging. She should use the down to up energy, using the floor to give speed to her hips.

With the Leader's open-to-open footwork, the Follower did:
back cross to front cross
front cross to back cross
front cross to back cross to front cross
open to open step
open to open to open step

All of these options should be circular in how the Follower steps, and she should really step around the Leader.

In the Follower open to open step to the Leader's open to open step, the Leader and Follower are doing opposite circles, concentric circles going in opposite directions, which creates linearity.

We specifically worked on the musical timing, with the Leader's footwork being 1-2-4-1, and the Follower's footwork being 1-3-1, so all the beats of the tango rhythm were hit (1-2-3-4-1).

Leader does not do full weight transfers to get to another place as he leads the rebound.
Follower connection is key. What brings her back in the rebound is the Leader's motion. Thus, she has to have ton in the embrace so she can feel the send and the receive. Follower's steps are circular and with torsion. She should not be flat, otherwise she will go out too far and will be too slow in coming back.

We spent a lot of time working on the feeling of elasticity doing an exercise of Leader sending the Follower out to do a big side step with their arms extending away from each other as their bodies move away, and then coming back in to understanding the stretchy, elastic, but connected feelings in the Follower's arms/embrace.

Note that the change of direction is not a rock step with each dancer going in the same direction. The difference is the elasticity in separate directions: the motion is "counter" -- not together at all, going the opposite paths, not the same path at all.

Leaders need to work on separation of:
-transfer of weight


Miercoles, 16 Noviembre 2011
Luciana Valle Intensivo Al Cuadrado Day 3

We worked on the three changes of direction for the Follower:
Front cross to back cross to front cross
Back cross to front cross to back cross
Open step to open step to open step
both on the left side and right side, with different Leader footwork of front cross to open or back cross to open.

Follower needs to take good, long steps around the Leader.

Again, we reviewed the elastic sensation exercise focusing on Follower's arm work and connection and also how much she uses her legs. Follower should face the Leader and not disconnect her arms. The Leader's foot placement next to the Follower's is also a point of connection. We did a lot of work with this exercise to get the feeling of elasticity in the move to make it tasty/juicy (not dry). The Follower does all of the work to give the feeling of elasticity.

From here, we added the Leader's back sacada. Note that the Leader's back sacada leg is unweighted because there is a change of direction immediately following. The Follower needs to have good, open, elastic steps on her front cross and open steps. The Leader needs to have a good setup for his overturned back cross step (back sacada step).

We worked on various Leader footwork options:
(1) open step
(2) front cross
(3) back cross (on the left side only)
(4) back open step (4th sacada)
in the Follower's open step and the Follower's front cross step

Note that for some of these options the Follower does not collect in between her steps. She should also use flex in her knees to give energy to the steps.

We drilled the mechanics and dynamics of Leader back sacadas with his various footwork options on her front and open steps.

One exercise we worked on:
Leader's back cross step to Follower's front cross step, with Leader counterclockwise pivot (down to up) to do a left foot back sacada of the Follower's open step, to an immediate Follower back cross step.

Again, it was reiterated that the Follower go around the Leader in an active way and not fall on her side step.


For lunch, El Italiano and I went across the street to Don Niceto Parrilla (Niceto Vega 5255). It was good and inexpensive. Since he is fluent in Spanish, he had no problem asking questions and specifically ordering whatever would come out fast. I had a choripan con lechuga y tomate. Since the bill was combined I am not sure how much it was. But I think 10-12 pesos. We had a nice time catching up. Lucky for me, he is going to Nueva York after Al Cuadrado, so we will be able to do some homework. It will be really nice to have someone familiar to dance with that the NYC milongas and practicas.

Jueves, 17 Noviembre 2011
Luciana Valle Intensivo Al Cuadrado Day 4

We reviewed the Leader's back sacadas that we did yesterday: to the Follower's trailing foot of her front cross step and to her trailing foot of her back cross step, on both sides and with each foot of the Leader (left and right).

As a reminder, the Follower needs to have good generous steps with energy on her front cross step and open step. We should keep our tops quiet (Zen), as all the movement/energy happens in our legs.

We explored different applications of the same technique.

We focused on the Leader's back sacada into the trailing foot of the Follower's back cross step. The Follower needs to give the Leader time to decide how he wants to do the back sacada, with energy or without, walking around, or into a boleo, etc.

The Leader needs to send the Follower to step, then change his feet to do the back sacada. He should not disconnect his arms from his torso, which would cause the Follower to be behind the Leader. He needs to keep her in front of him.

For the Leader, he needs to be careful with the take and not enter with his heel.

Next, our worked moved to Follower back sacadas.

We defined:
Actor of the sacada: always the center
Receptor of the sacada: always the circle

The Leader has to position the Follower so that she is the actor of the sacada, the center of the circle. The Follower takes an overturned position, led there by the Leader by using the Leader's preparation step:
Leader front cross step simultaneous with the Follower's back cross step, into a fierce Follower pivot clockwise with more rotation and energy in the Leader's chest/torsion. For the Follower's fierce pivot, she should use the floor with down to up energy and not go down with her knees.

The Follower uses the Leader's step around to adjust to accommodate for the position of the sacada. She pivots first (from the floor up) then spirals (from the top down).

The step of the Receptor needs to have a larger radius from the center than where you are coming from.

The Leader needs to use his torso.

Follower: energy of the pivot is strong, but the energy of the back step is quiet and smooth. It's a regular back step, so push off the standing leg and do not fall back.

The Leader needs to make space for the Follower to step back, so his sacadaing leg is unweighted and his body is out of the way.

Follower: Do not absorb the Leader's energy in her right hand. He is using more torsion and energy there, so there needs to be a solid, strong connection (not a loosey goosey one). It's a very dynamic move. She should release the left hand connection at the sacada.

We also worked on Follower back sacada combinations to the trailing foot of the Leader's open step, back cross step, and front cross step. We also worked on the Follower's 4th sacada (the open back sacada).

The Follower does a back cross step, pivots clockwise, to do a right foot back step. Instead of a Leader's front cross step, he does an open step (side step). The Leader needs to go around the Follower and follower her with his body.

We tried a combination of the Follower back cross step, to clockwise pivot, to a right leg back sacada, immediately into a counterclockwise spiral.

We drilled endlessly.


I know y'all are wondering about the prices of Comme Il Faut shoes. I asked one of the Intensivo students, who said she got 4 pairs for 2100 pesos (you can do the math @ 4.3 pesos = US$1, and I think that was the cash price, not credit card). I personally can't be bothered to go to the store since their shoes just don't work for me, and it would require a cab ride a ways away.

Viernes, 18 Noviembre 2011
Luciana Valle Intensivo Al Cuadrado Day 5

We reviewed Follower back sacadas (with left and right leg, going clockwise and counterclockwise), with the Leader receiving them on his open step, his front cross step, and his back cross steps.

We especially drilled the ones with change of embrace adjustments as those were our weakest.

We then focused on the 4th sacada (open back sacada), with a Leader change of direction of the turn, meaning that instead of doing a front cross step, he does an open step (side step) to the opposite direction of where he normally would have gone if he took his front cross step. This Leader side step is still circular around the Follower, but not too close because she does need room to step back in her sacada. We practiced the Follower's 4th sacada with soltada arm work. The Follower's hips get fast if they are light with good connection to what the Leader's chest is doing.

The Follower's forth sacada with soltada option involved pivoting from bottom up, and then spiraling from top down. Since it looked like we weren't great at this, we backed up and just really disassociating doing first pivoting from the ground up, and then spiraling from the top down (which all Followers needed to work on more), directly into pivoting from the ground up.

For the Follower 4th sacada, we drilled the following arm options, led by the leader:
(1) connected
(2) half soltada
(3) full soltada

We continued drilling all the 4th sacada options for both Leader and Follower.

CONTRA BOLEOS - circular
Our focus after lunch was contra boleos, exploring the difference between linear and circular ones.

Maestra chose this topic because it seemed like Followers seem to do either linear or circular boleos depending on which ones they like rather than which ones the Leaders lead. This is incorrect, because the Leader must lead everything.

So our worked focused on cleaning things up so that the Leader is able to lead ever piece of the contra boleo, which is based on his step around the Follower.

The Leader tends to replace all the work in the torso/body/legs by asking for a boleo with his arms. This is the wrong technique (and very poor technique). The Leader should be able to lead contra boleos from the push of his standing leg (and assuming his legs are attached to his body and torso).

Our work focused on circular contra boleos, which start from the Follower's top, spiraling down. It is important that the Follower not compensate with pivoting and doing a linear boleo when the Leader asks for a circular boleo.

For the Leader, in circular boleos he needs to change the front, turning 90 degrees.


Summary Thoughts on Al Cuadrado 2011
Now some of y'all may have wondered why I was in BsAs again, so abruptly, without an advance word to anybody (except JSE) and for such a short amount of time. Part of it is that I haven't had a day off in 5 months and definitely needed it, and another part of it is that my Al Cuadrado 2010 experience was so horrible that I really needed to have a "do over." On Monday I decided to come, and on Thursday I was on a plane.

Al Cuadrado 2010 was not horrible because of anything Luciana or her assistants did. On the contrary, they were all wonderful, as always. But there was an extreme amount of discord going on in the background that made learning impossible. Some people are just needy and narcissistic train wrecks compulsively addicted to creating drama in their own lives and those of others with very destructive consequences. Thankfully and joyfully, none of that noise and horrendous drama ("tawdry tango tale") are part of Al Cuadrado 2011. So this time around I felt happy and light, mentally and physically ready for the intense, rigorous training.

I cannot say enough good things about the Al Cuadrado assistants. They are all superb dancers, and their English continually improves, so their corrections get more accurate and eloquent. Plus they are all so patient, and just very nice people, I could not ask for a better group of people to work the material with. While all of Luciana's assistants are fantastic, the Al Cuadrado ones are the crème de la crème, which somehow escaped me last year.

It struck me many times throughout the week what an amazing teacher of the Leader's side of the equation Maestra is. I heard and understood her more clearly than I ever have. I am not sure if it is because I am happy and relaxed and can absorb it all, or if it's because I tried to focus more on the Leader side of things (even though I don't lead), or if she communicates it better, or if it is because I was not so overwhelmed by her rapid-fire delivery. Funny though, one of the Leader assistants was out ill one day, and so Maestra herself took on the role of assisting with us. Now that was pretty nerve-wracking, dancing with the teacher! She had good pointers for me, as usual, and I feel like such a tool, because there I was, in this program for something like three years, and still getting the same dang corrections as I did the first time around!

San Francisco was well represented, comprising more than half the students.

* * * * *

Madero Tango Dinner Show (240 pesos, plus credit card fee and tip).

JSE and I snagged some tickets, after we made sure Jose was performing. It was a great show, improved from last time with Jose y Selena more prominently featured. They were the dancers for the ribbon segment, which highlighted how amazingly strong (muscular) both dancers are. It was a wonderful way to spend a 4-hour dinner.

Salon Canning Milonga (30 pesos)
Afterwards, we went to Salon Canning because one of JSE's buddies was performing. I had a good time there. I got many dances with portenos, and it was easy to cabaceo them. Interesting, I've gone to Canning many times in the afternoon and would try to cabaceo the portenos, only to be asked to dance by the many international folks there. So there must be something about a Friday night that makes portenos more open to dancing with international folks (at least more so than the afternoon portenos at Canning.

La Viruta Milonga (free because it was 3:00 a.m.)
Afterwards, we walked over to La Viruta, and because of the late hour (3:00 a.m.) entry was free. I had some good dances with several portenos and several international folks. JSE said I was lucky to get asked since I am not a regular there. We stayed until the very end.

Super delicious panaderia/confiteria with secret door (closed because it was 6:00 a.m.)
Afterwards, as the sun was rising, JSE brought me to a lovely little panaderia/confiteria that looked closed, but which had a secret side door. She rang the bell, and it was opened pretty quickly, after which she ordered some facturas con dulce de leche y medialunas con jam. He appeared later with her order, all wrapped up. We opened the package right there on the doorstep of the shop, sat down and gingerly snarffled them all up, taking care to not get too covered with the ample powdered sugar. I normally do not eat facturas (it's the whole white flour/white sugar thing), but I did have one with dulce de leche, and it was delicious, still slightly warm from the oven. So there we sat, happily eating facturas y medialunas, on a quiet Saturday morning on a Buenos Aires street.

Sabado, 19 Noviembre 2011
After getting 3 hours of deep sleep (it's amazing how total exhaustion can be an effective cure for insomnia), I headed out for my last shopping day before I left. Earlier in the week I had mapped out my strategy of which shoe stores I wanted to go to, and they all had to be open on Saturday morning/afternoon (which many aren't).

La Vikinga (Entre Rios 469, 2*)
Owned by Helen, a Viking who speaks fluent English. She has women's and men's shoes, and most women's shoes were 450 pesos. I really liked the foam cushioning, and the fit was on the average/medium side of the equation (i.e., not narrow). In her shoes I am a 35 (usually I am 36 or 35 everywhere else). I found her shoes very comfortable, nicely but sensibly designed, and well made. I would have purchased a pair had she had a specific style I had my eye on in my size. Unfortunately, she didn't. She said she could do custom orders in about a week. This is a good place to shop for those with average or wide feet and who would be more comfortable doing the transaction in English. I will definitely stop by on a future trip. There is no signage on the building, so it's important to know the address. She also gives classes at her shop.

Raquel (Bolivar 554)
Very beautiful, very well made, but very expensive (590-690 pesos) shoes. Sizing was very inconsistent, but generally ran on the narrow side. I tried on about 10 pairs of shoes in 35 and 36, and I found the 35s to be narrow (although one fit perfectly and I was sorely tempted to get it but the 590 peso price tag stopped me), and in all the 36s I slid forward. The shopping experience is reminiscent of Comme Il Faut, their obvious direct competitor.

VB (Independencia 389)
These are the same folks who used to make Tango Brujo shoes. Very nice cushioning, interesting styles, 100% flexible all chromo soles. This style of shoe is not my cup of tea, but I know lots of folks loved Tango Brujo shoes. Their shoes are similar to Alanis's in terms of feel and how they perform. Viviana, the shop owner, was incredibly nice. She loaded me down with very useful literature on San Telmo and Buenos Aires, which I appreciated. Pricing was also very clearly marked: Women's shoes were 400 pesos/470 credit card/US$95/70 euro, and men's shoes were slightly more than that.

Delie (Piedras 843)
The store is closed on Saturday.

Naranjo en Flor (Anchorena 430).
The shoe selection was smaller than last time, and relegated to the back of the store. It seems the focus of the store is now more on clothes. The window signs said sale shoes were 250/300/350, but in reality, most were up to 390 pesos, and they looked like everyone and their cousin had already tried them on. Most of the non-sale shoes were 550 pesos, with one interesting model 600 pesos.

Lolo Gerard (Anchorenta 607).
A trip usually begins here and ends here, and this one was no different. I managed to pick up one more of their sale shoes for 360 pesos. The regular-priced shoes were around 490 pesos.

At all of these shoe stores, it is wise to ask about a cash price versus credit card price since they can be different by a large amount.

After that, the lack of sleep from the night prior and the heat was starting to get to me (it was in the upper 80s), so I booked it home. Then crashed for a few hours, waking up with terrible allergies. Then it started to storm heavily, so I stayed in, looking through the pamphlets Viviana gave me. Interestingly, an art/design brochure on San Telmo featured a shoe store called LiberTango, which I had not heard of before or seen any ads for. A quick google turned up Judy's posting that the store was open on Sundays (from 10:00 a.m.)! -- a true rarity among tango shoe stores in Buenos Aires. Since it was right by the Plaza Dorrego, it made perfect sense to swing by on my last day in Buenos Aires.

Domingo, 20 Noviembre 2011

I got up, ate breakfast and made my way over to the Plaza Dorrego. When I got to the place where LiberTango was (Bolivia 1111), it was obviously closed. So I spent a while walking around the Plaza Dorrego antiques open air market, admiring all the silver wares and vintage (or vintage looking) jewelry. As it neared 1:00 p.m., I decided to go as I wanted to get to the Abasto Coto for a foot massage. So I passed by LiberTango again, and it was still closed. So that was disappointing, but understandable since the clientele for the antiques open air market isn't exactly the same one as for tango shoes. Still, they are a new store, opened just last year, and it seems like the store hours are still very flexible.`

Maossage at the Abasto Coto (Aguero 616). I got a 45-minute foot massage that was divine (85 pesos + 10 peso tip). My feet didn't seem as battered, ripped, and stiff as last time, which is amazing considering the rigors of the 20-hours of training on Chalmer's cement floor.

After that, I made my way home, stopping at La Catalana Panaderia y Confiteria (Corrientes 5466) to pick up a milanesa sandwich, chock full of lettuce just the way I like, and a bunch of facturas and medialunas. For my hostess and her daughter, I picked up a batch of mini alfajores. Total cost of all the goodies was a mere 45 pesos.

Checking my email at home, LiberTango responded to my email from the night before and confirmed they were open on Sunday, but from 1:30 p.m.! D'oh!!! Next time...

After a quick shower and eating the last of my food in the fridge, Dante ( picked me up promptly as usual (actually, he is always 5 minutes early, but I know that and expect it). It was very nice catching up with him, and he says "Hello!" to all of his SF Bay Area clients. The drive to Eziza was easy on a Sunday night, as it always is, and I had ample time to cool my heels and burn my keyboard at the airport.

Random comments about this trip:

So what happened to all those privates I was going to book with Chino? Conejita had him booked solid the entire time I was there, so that nixed my plans. Oh time...

Why didn’t I go to more milongas? I wanted to save myself for the Intensivo. I know, boring, huh? I wanted to give my best to every dance I danced with the assistants, as they are professionals in Buenos Aires, so in short, the best dancers in the world: way better than any professionals in any place other than Buenos Aires (that includes all the places with reputations of having very highly skilled dancers; you can fill in the blank on that one).

What was I drinking? Bonardo wines. A varietal you haven't heard of, you say? Me, neither. Which is why I picked up a bottle. And then another.

I get a lot of questions about Buenos Aires, where to stay, etc. And after seven trips, my answer is this:
If you are coming here for an Intensivo or Festival, stay in the neighborhood where it is at. Those coming for CITA 2012 should stay in San Telmo, preferably at the Dandi or close to it. Those coming for LV Intensivos should stay in Palermo, either near Malcolm or Chalmers. After a full day of tango training, it really is physically exhausting just getting around, hoofing it on the concrete/granite floors, or taking a cab in traffic. Really, do yourself a favor and stay in the neighborhood where the festival/intensivo is. Staying anywhere else is a huge time and energy suck. Second option is to stay somewhere along the red (B) subte line.

Where is the best place for steak? "They" all say Don Julio (Guatemala 4699) or La Cabrera (JA Cabrera 5099). I haven't been to either as, to me, all steak in Buenos Aires tastes pretty dang good, head and shoulders above the agribusiness meat that most of us eat in the US.

Where to get the best shoes? That's a tricky one. It's whichever one fits your foot best. Which means it's a trial and error thing. To optimize your time here, many shoe places are located either on Suipacha 200-400 or Anchorena (near the Abasto mall). Visit both streets and you can probably hit a dozen shoe stores in a short amount of time to get an idea of style, price, fit, etc. I recommend you start from there to get a general idea of things and then visit the other more out-of-the-way places (like Comme Il Faut, where the only other shoe store close by is maybe visit Taconeando first...?)

Here are some items that I would include in my Buenos Aires survival kit for those coming for festivals (like CITA) or Luciana Valle's Intensivos:
Ben Gay or blue ice or both
Yoga Toes (this goes for men and women)
Ibuprofen or your pain killer of choice
Water bottle
Electrolyte powder
Dance sneakers with suede soles (suede soles are key, and not just on the ball of foot like some Sansha models have, but on the entire sole)
socks to wear with your dance sneakers
2 ATM cards (in case one is a fail, and do notify both banks so they can put a travel alert on your card, don't have more than several thousand dollars in each account)
2 credit cards (in case one is a fail, and do notify both banks so they can put a travel alert on your card)
Laptop is optional. I personally love having mine with me as it can be kind of a pain trying to find a locutorio with a non-ancient computer open whenever you want to check your email. On the other hand, you have to be sure where you are staying is secure (if I were staying at a hostel, I wouldn't bring my laptop), and several (not just one) of my friends have had their laptops stolen while in Buenos Aires. So beware.
If this is your first trip, fill only one suitcase with all your clothes, toiletries, etc. Pack it into the other one, which will be effectively empty. You will fill it with all the shoes, CDs, and clothes you buy here. Pack fewer clothes than you think you will need. You can always have your clothes washed here, cheaply and same-day or next-day service.

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