Sunday, January 15, 2012

December 8, 2011 to January 11, 2012

Sunday, December 11, 2011
Milonga RoKo at Manhattan Ballroom Dance.
I took the premilonga class, which was excellent as usual. I had a wonderful time at the milonga, staying much later than I intended, and only stopping when my feet started to protest. I danced with many new people, some of whom were local (woo hoo!). I had a few amazing tandas that just knocked my socks off. For some reason some Leaders were trying out things like piernazos and off-axis ganchos with me, which are extremely atypical here. My first piernazo sucked, but then we readjusted to get into correct position, and then it worked OKish enough; the Leader was happy since it worked; I think he thought I had a good time as I laughed in nervous embarrassment. Piernazos aren’t something I like to do, but after numerous workshops on it I can at least recognize the lead and execute it not horrendously. Still, it’s good to be stretched in our dancing, and I appreciated that we did it so my Piernazo technique doesn’t go entirely to pot. The Leader who led the off-axis gancho is a truly amazing dancer, new to these parts. Honestly, he is so good that I asked if he was a teacher. He is the most technically skilled social dancer that I’ve come across in the U.S. He easily led me to do things (with perfect timing and perfect musicality) that I learned in workshops taught by the likes of Carolina del Rivero, Donato Juarez, and Fabian Salas, things that no one ever does socially, or if they attempt to, certainly not as smoothly or with such confidence and skill. It was a very nice night, and even after my feet started to protest loudly, I floated out the door and back to Grand Central.

Saturday, December 17, 2011
Mariela Franganillo’s La Practica at Dance Manhattan.
I got there reasonably early, as I missed going the week prior and really wanted to get my dance fix. When I got there, it was reasonably full, with a good gender balance. I danced with my usual regulars and a few new people, locals, which was surprising since I have been going to this event regularly for a while and have seen some of these Leaders at other events, too.

Maybe that’s the thing about the NYC community: it’s not as open as other parts of the country, perhaps a bit slow to warm up, or maybe I am so unremarkable and unmemorable that it takes a while for me to register on the radar. Then again, I understand all of us hacking away at this thing called tango for a long time, so for the most part people in the community dancing with each other for years at milongas, practicas, and learning together at workshops and practicas, and growing and improving together, and everyone having developed their list of people they like to dance with by the time someone new arrives.

You know, it’s funny. Some people say the same about San Francisco (it’s not very friendly to strangers), and I always saddened by the comment, and also thought they were wrong. But that’s because I had been part of the SF community for years and earned my chops there so never suffered from lack of dances unless it was a really slow night overall, or if the event was infested with whack-a-moles (which fortunately do not exist in NYC. [The deportment here is different with followers not so anxious about racking up their mileage, and more selective about who they dance with and leaders more direct and focused on who they cabaceo, and not easily swayed, interrupted or blocked by those trying to steal or intercept his cabaceo]).

Maybe we should all take a chapter from Clay and the Portland tango community and have mixer tandas to break the ice and get us all interacting and dancing with people who are new to us.

Anyway, back to the La Practica. I had a good time. I danced a lot, but was also very happy to sit a few tandas out, as I didn’t want to wear myself out before my private with Oliver Kolker (whoo hooo!). Earlier, I was so excited about the afternoon, I had butterflies in my stomach. It took a lot of consideration to figure out which shoes I would wear (I ended up brining three pairs, and wearing one of my bulletproof old faithfuls, beating out two new pairs). Thankfully, here was a two-hour break between the end of the practica and before my private started, so I had ample time to meander up to midtown.

My private was at Champions, which is a dance facility full of individual rooms (rented for $15-40 per hour, depending on size) that people rented for privates, group classes, or auditions. So the hallways were filled with dancers of all genres, sizes and persuasions, and the walls full of notices of classes, voice workshops, headshot photographers, etc., basically services for those who hope to be professional.

I have chosen to keep the detailed notes from my private lesson with Oliver Kolker exactly that, private.

After my lesson, Maestro was very appreciative. He said I was a good dancer, but also a very open student, pretty much doing whatever he told me to do (instantly correcting) and not having attitude about it or hurt feelings when he pointed out my shortcomings. Doing the work with him reminded me of Luciana’s assessment that I am lazy in my dance at times. I can do the work, I am intellectually and physically capable of it, but often just don’t. :::sigh::: Honestly, I think he was surprised that I took a private since, as he confirmed, I am already a good dancer.

Maestro asked me how many hours a week I dance, and I told him 4 (obviously, I miscalculated, as it’s really closer to something like 6-8), and he remarked that that’s because I have a life and other priorities, and that balance was good. However, it did remind me that this is a far cry from how much I used to dance (20+ hours a week). So maybe now that I have access to the corporate gym again with beautiful dance studio (although no barre), I should spend more time there, walking backwards until I get to China, and pivoting until I bore through to the center of the Earth.

This private was amazing because generally, people think my technique is pretty good (among the best is what I’ve been told from social dancers) . . . but maybe that is not saying much when most people's technique sucks. It kind of reminds of when you take a few ballroom, Latin and swing classes and go to a wedding where there’s dancing and folks think you are a teacher somewhere because they think you look great. Then you go to a dance event, and everyone else is so much better than you know and you realize how badly you suck.

It was a very eye-opening, humbling lesson, which is a very good thing.

Since I usually dance with mere mortals, most folks think I am good or sometimes great or excellent. It is an amazing opportunity to be able to take privates with Maestro, since he is Luna’s former partner and has danced with Alejandra and other dancers of their caliber—basically, the best tangueras in the world, ones that I admire and the ones who are regularly called “Diosa”. Since Maestro usually dances with diosas, he can point out what I need to do to improve and perhaps in a thousand years, get to diosa level.

Sunday, December 18, 2011
Milonga Roko and Manhattan Ballroom Dance.
It was a difficult night dancing for me. I was way off. It’s a good thing I sat out a lot.

Saturday, December 31, 2011 to Monday, January 2, 2012
Providence Tango New Year’s Celebration:
3 milongas over 2 days.

New Year's Eve milonga
, Saturday, 9 pm to 5 am.
Includes appetizers, buffet dinner, desserts and performances.
According to Homer, this was the place to be on the East Coast during New Year’s. Since Providence is centrally located, it draws dancers from New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and lots of other states on the East Coast. Ellen’s food is legendary, as is the hospitality of the local Providence community, and this New Year’s celebration was no different. Since I was staying in the Providence area rather than driving back and forth, I defrayed my costs by volunteering. And I am glad I did as I got a chance to match the names to some faces I had seen around the New York tango community, and I am glad that several of my favorite dancers were there that night. I got to dance with a few dancers that I have seen for months but had not yet danced with. The dancer quality was extremely high, and though it was crowded, floor crafting was generally not a problem. Lots of folks were also happy to sit out and enjoy the evening, chatting and eating with friends old and new. It was a fun night.

New Year's Day milonga, Sunday, January 1: 11:00 am to 6:00 pm, includes brunch. I got there early, since I was part of the setup crew. When my shift was over at noon, I spent the next two hours straight dancing. It was fun, more fun than the night before as the floor was less crowded and I got to dance with a lot of new folks, some of whom are teachers or DJs in their local tango communities. So that was a real treat. But around 2:30 pm, my body (suffering from not quite enough sleep) and my feet started to protest. So I left early because I needed a disco nap before the night’s milonga and my final volunteer shift.

New Year's Night milonga, Sunday, January: 6:00 pm to 1:00 am, includes light snacks. The milonga was more lightly attended, but still a lot of fun. Many of us were more familiar with each other since we had seen each other or danced together at the prior two milongas. I got a chance to dance with an old Luciana Valle Intensivo alumni, so that was kind of funny, actually, since his own community is quite small and not as technically skilled. To give an idea about the draw, he came all the way from South Carolina just to attend this event. It was a good night.

Overall thoughts: Homer was right. It was well worth the trip to go to this event. The dancer quality was high; the food was amazing, ample, and gourmet. Some folks from New York defrayed their costs by rooming together. Others, like me, volunteered. Housingwise, I found accommodations through I won’t say exactly where I stayed because I loved it so much and I want it to be available when I am next in the area. Suffice it to say my experiences with thus far have been overwhelmingly positive; it truly has been a game changer with respect to how I travel.

Saturday, January 7, 2012
Mariela Franganillo’s La Practica at Dance Manhattan.
The practica, as usual, was a blast. The quality of dancers in New York at this milonga is truly amazing, and it is quite a pity that these dancers are not found at the night milongas. It was nice to welcome the new year with friends old and new. It was an oddly balmy day in NYC, and the milonga was warm and humid. Afterwards, I walked around in just my thin dance shirt (no jacket or coat) and a floaty skirt. I looked very spring, and some folks walking down the street commented on it. I was trying to kill time before the Triangulo afternoon milonga, but the though the spirit was willing, the flesh was weak. So I started to bonk after lunch (at this good Korean place), so just went home instead.

Monday, January 9, 2012
Game Dinner at T&J Villaggio Trattoria
in Port Chester, NY. Apparently, game dinners are way more common out here than on the West Coast. What is a game dinner, you ask? Do we play Scrabble/Monopoly/Charades all night? Why no, silly! We dine on venison, pheasant, rabbit and the like. Think shoot and kill. That kind of game. Apparently, game dinners are quite common in places where people hunt. This particular one had an Italian spin on things. There were 235 people, 96% male, 90% Italian, many local celebs or politicos.

So what does all this have to do with tango, you might ask? Not a whole heck of a lot, but the tie-in is that our attendance at this particular dinner was organized/coordinated by none other than the cousin of the San Francisco Bay Area’s (and Buenos Aires’s) Jeff Schneider! Which was a funny coincidence, revealed after the usual dinner chitchat among strangers (it was a Meetup gourmet foodie dinner). Since the organizer had Jeff on his cellphone, we were texting throughout the night. So though Jeff was not there physically, he was there electronically every now and then.

Dinner began with a huge platter of antipasti, and I had the pleasure of sitting next to Mr. Coldcuts himself, the provider of the salumi. (He was not part of our Meetup group; the table was set for 12 diners, and our group was only 7 people, so we had the pleasure of Mr. Coldcuts’ company along with his son and his son’s buddy.) There was salami, sopressata, capicola, mortadella, cubes of provolone, olives and pickled peppers galore. This was followed by a nice green salad that was not overly dressed. The unlimited red wine was Zonin Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, 2010. There was a white and a rose wine offered as well, but no one at our table partook of them.

Mr. Coldcuts and I had a very interesting conversation about the Bronx Italian linguistic tendencies versus other parts of the country (like North Beach in San Francisco), because I had trouble understanding what he meant by my having to try the “gabagol” (which is what I know as capicola). Apparently, they do often drop the last vowel (mortadell for mortadella, for example), and the verbiage is a lot more casual (cold cuts for salumi, cutlet for milanesa or Milanese, or gravy for pasta sauce, macaroni for almost any type of pasta including but not limited to the small hollow curled pasta).

The first of the game courses was a Venison cannoli. Here, the Venison was ground and the pasta freshly made. It was delicious, and I finished the whole thing. It was not a mini portion, and I know that I should have paced myself, but it was just too darn good to not finish.

Next came the rest of the venison dishes: Venison meatloaf with mashed potatoes (divine!), Venison Stew (OK), and Venison cutlet (what I would consider milanesa, so of course I loved that too). There was ample food to go around, all served family style, and everyone took as much as they wanted with plenty left over.

Next was the raffle portion of the evening, where the prizes were a cross bow, an air gun, and some other weapon to hunt down dinner with (which I didn’t quite catch). Our table had 4 of the 6 ladies in total attendance, and 1 was chosen to be the picker of the raffle ticket winners. She was gorgeous, bubbly and vivacious, and certainly up to the task of hamming it up on stage. And so it was good to see that the men appreciated our presence.

After the raffle, they brought out the Pheasant, which was prepared in their famous pimiento scarpariello sauce, and the Rabbit (I can’t remember any special sauce; it seemed like it was just baked or braised). Both these dishes were good, but I liked the Venison much better. I guess I am just a red-meat loving kind of gal. Just like they say, the rabbit tastes like white meat chicken (it is extremely low fat) only with a lot more small, splintery bones, so given the choice, I would just eat chicken (and reach for the dark pieces).

OMG, I totally forgot, and actually posted this and had to amend. They also served quail, which looked good in all its roasted glistening glory, but which I left untouched. I have a hard time eating any fowl smaller than a chicken due to an unfortunate childhood incident. So I just passed. Other diners snaffled the little things up like there was no tomorrow. I was not even tempted. But that's just me.

Dessert was a plate of delicious Italian confections, followed by coffee or espresso, with or without white Sambuca. I had Sambuca neat, which raised an eyebrow or two. But hey, what can I say? I never touch coffee.

It was an amazing event, a totally new foodie experience for me. This is the kind of thing that really should be put on FoodTV.

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