Tango Feed

Living in Argentina: Not Dead Yet

Social media is amazing.  I recently learned that I moved back to the USA and that I am dead. I wonder what I died of?  I find it humorous that people still find me newsworthy.  I had my 15 minutes of fame, and now I have crawled back into my hole...more or less. I can tell you unequivocally, the rumors of my demise are false (the dog and cat are not writing this post) and I have not moved back to the USA.  I only go back once a year to get my Old Navy wardrobe, Costco vitamins, and my contact lenses.  Otherwise, I would most likely never go back, although never is a strong word.

Argentines never fail to mention my American intonation when I speak (intonation is not the same as pronunciation), however, I feel more Argentine than American. Most bicultural people will tell you that it is like having a split personality.  You are but you aren't.  You don't really fit in anywhere. You love your adopted country, but it is not always easy.

Fifteen  years is a long time to live somewhere, anywhere.  You adapt. I now think eating dinner at 9:00 or 10:00 pm is normal.  I cannot eat dinner at 6:00 pm or 7pm.  That is merienda here. (Some kind of snack)  Things not being straightforward are now normal to me.  I now am an ace at figuring out the subtext. My favorite are the men who are bigger than me, look at me menacingly, and try to convince me I am wrong.  People like building administrators.  They don't scare me.  I just stretch and look up at them and give them shit right back.  Which shocks them.  I have the 3 strikes; woman, foreigner, blond.  

I learned how to get what I need or want.  You need "friends," and you need the Internet... and Facebook. (ugh)  I could never live without the Internet.  The Internet is my friend.  As a former business analyst it is easy to figure out what is fact and what is fiction.  Facebook needs no explanation.

So what exactly am I doing with my life?  I am teaching English...in China..on a virtual platform.  I love it. I have learned so much about Chinese culture.  I work for a great company.  What I don't like is getting up at 5:00 AM to start teaching at 6:00 AM.  I have never been a morning person so it has been a cultural revolution to be peppy and bright eyed so early in the morning.

I am traveling.  Last year this time I was in India.  That was a wonderful experience.  I had no culture shock.  After living here, nothing really bothers me.  I can imagine coming from the 1st world it could shocking.  I went to the USA, Iguazu Falls, and of course Chile.  Next year 2019, I will be traveling quite a bit.  It's either now or never.  Never is not an option.

Do I still dance?  Yes, but not so much.  Maybe once a week.  Sometimes twice.  Tango is not the same as it was when I first came here 18 years ago.  Most of the milongueros and milongueras have died.  The level of dance has suffered.  People either shuffle around the dance floor, or they do steps.  I try to go to places where there are few or no tourists.  Sorry guys.  I know this is your grown up Disneyland dance vacation, but I can't bear to listen to:

  1. You are the best dancer in  your community and there is no one  else for you to dance with (I would hate to see how they dance in your community ...if you are the best)
  2. How you bought 400 new pair of shoes 
  3. Who you know, like I care, I live here.
  4. How you are being way overcharged to take lessons from name brands who don't know how to teach
  5. What countries you go to to dance (You know, I stopped taking my shoes when I travel, that is yet another blog post)
  6. My absolute favorite - how you know more about what it is like to live here and dance here, than people who actually live here and dance here.
  7. There is no good food here...wrong wrong wrong

Now that I have nothing to sell, I can be my normal snarky self.  Maybe you don't like it. That's OK.  You can call me names,  I don't care.  Gigi (AKA Louise) understands.  She is my partner in snark. I am back, and not from the dead. From the bowels of Caballito where I reside with JerryBrown and Maxi. Hasta la próxima...

 

 


Living In Argentina: Catcalls and Piropos

In light of the sexual harassment scandals, I am weighing in with my dos centavos.  I don't think that there is a woman who has not suffered sexual harassment.  It comes in many forms; from the co-worker or boss propositioning you, the date who makes it easier to say yes than no, and sexual innuendos that are not welcome.

The first time someone catcalled me I was 17 years old and walking home from school.  I had to walk by a construction site to get home.  It had been raining and the area was muddy.  I remember one of the men calling out to me "Hey, do you want to come play in the mud with me?"  I was speechless.  I put my head down and continued walking.  I felt embarrassed and maybe a little scared.

7 years later on a trip to New York with a boyfriend it happened again.  Another construction worker.  I was walking to get to the Guggenheim.  In those days I was a super fashionista.  I remember I was wearing my red Fiorucci jeans and cowboy boots.  Funny the things we remember. When I walked by the construction site a guy yelled "Hey!  You got a great ass."  I remembered looking around.  He could not be possibly talking to me.  I have had body dysmorphia since I was born.  "Yeah, you!" he called.  I remember smiling and waving.  Obviously it made such an impact that I still remember it 40 years later.

Flash forward.  The first time I went to Argentina, I was overwhelmed.  Men had no problems telling me that I was "hermosa" or that I had beautiful eyes, coming from politically correct California, I was tongue tied.  This did not happen.  Men did not dare do this.  

Then on my third trip, I experienced my first of many "piropos."  I was walking out of the apartment building where I was staying.  A man stopped in front of me and clutched his chest. "I'm dying." he said. I was alarmed. I asked him if he was OK.  "I'm dying, I know that I am dying because an angel with golden hair just dropped out of the sky." he chanted, then laughed, and continued walking, leaving me perplexed.  

The piropo has its beginning in Spain, 17th, 18th century Spain. (Some say Italy too, but I am not going to write the eternal history in this blog post.) It started with the aristocracy.  In those days a man could not go up to a woman and say "Hey, you're hot, let's go get a drink."  People needed to be introduced. When a man wanted to show his interest in a woman, he would give her a piropo which was a piece of poetry, with the intention of capturing her interest.  Along with that came the laying down of the cloak for a lady to cross the street so as not to muddy her dainty little feet, and the serenading with music.  After all this gallantry, he might be able to find out her name, in order to speak with her father.  These customs carried themselves to Latin America where the Spanish were settling (and trying to conquer).  The custom eventually spread to all the classes.

When I first moved to Argentina, I was unnerved by men constantly telling me that I was beautiful.   It is kind of a lift to your day to hear "rubia hermosa" (beautiful blond ) "lindos ojos", (pretty eyes) and even the ones by the older gents who spun poetry.  Seriously at my age, it feels good. Most of the time I don't even notice, I have gotten so used to it.

Then in 2010 I went back to the Bay Area for a visit.  That was when I realized I had been Argentinizied.  For many reasons.  I had been so used to the men in our milongas here commenting on my hair, or my dress or my perfume, that it seemed weird not to have someone say anything to me.  Very boring and safe small talk. I mentioned it to a few of my women friends, and the reaction was very strong. "Why do you need to be validated by a man?" was the most common response.  Validation had absolutely nothing to do with it.  Anyone who knows me, knows that I am very independent and do not need anyone or anything to validate me.  It is nice to hear that you look good, smell good, and are attractive.  Funny thing, those are the same women who literally throw themselves at the Argentine men in our milongas when they are here in Buenos Aires.

However, not all piropos are nice.  There are the ones where they talk about your body parts and what they want to do them.  Those are gross.  Disgusting. Sick.  Those are catcalls. One day when I was walking to the subte, I passed a group of construction workers.  They began to say disgusting things .  I had a Relato Salvaje moment.  I stomped over to them and got in their faces, "Do you have a sister?  Do you have a mother?  Do you have a daughter?"  I demanded.  "How would you like some guy to talk to them, like you just talked to me?"  Not a word.  They said nothing.  The next day when I walked by, none of them said anything.  I scared the hell out of them, I suppose.

 An Argentine woman who received one of the disgusting catcalls about her body, went to the police station and made a complaint.  There is now a law about sexual harassment by catcalls.  (Acoso Callejero)  This, is a good thing.   No one should be subjected to the disgusting comments by men  who have no concept of what is offensive.  Machismo is alive and well in Argentina.

I often see in the expat forums in Facebook how many of the foreign women are chagrined by the piropos on the street.  They hate them.  It doesn't matter if they are the spun poetry, or the random compliment, they hate them.  

There is a difference between an ugly cat call, and the poetry of a piropo.  The sad thing is the poetica piropo is disappearing.  The milonga is the exception, where men still practice this art, but on the street, it is unusual to hear this form of poetry in motion.

 


Dancing Argentine Tango: Who Dances The Most

I am back to dancing.  Every week.  Dancing is a part of my life, it always has been.  I miss dancing salsa. Maybe one day.  For now, it is tango. It is always tango. That will never change.  After all, I live in Buenos Aires, and there is no better place in the world to dance tango - if you know where to go.

I am standing in line to pay at my favorite milonga.  The woman taking the money asks me how I am. "OK, I wish that I had more work," I say to her. "Yes," she agrees, "It is slow for us too. There are not that many tourists coming like before." Before I can answer, the woman behind me starts to complain "I hate the foreigners," she says, "I am glad that they are not here.  They create too many problems. She rants on about how they dance, how they go after the men, and much more.  I turn around.  She had to know it was me in front of her. The hair is a dead giveaway.

I say nothing.  I just look at her. She is a little embarrassed, but not much. "No, no, not you." she says. "You are one of us. I meant the tourists.  You know what I mean.  You have been here long enough to know."  "Yes," I think to myself, "I know."  I remember when this same woman was very hostile to me. When she smirked when I danced.  When she made her comments so I could hear them."

I go into the salon and walk to my table. There are not many people here yet.  It is still early.  I have to get here before 7:00 to make sure I not only have the same table, but the same chair.  It sounds ridiculous when you think about it.  Once I sat two chairs away at the table on the other side where I normally sit, and the men, in their infinite wisdom, didn't realize I was there. Sad but true.  Having your own space gives you cachet as well as everyone knowing where to find you.

 The milongas are not full like before.  It is not cheap for us to go dance.  The entrance is 120 pesos, something to drink is at least 40.  If you need to take a taxi home, you have spent 300 pesos.  Considering the cost of everything else, dancing tango is a luxury.  

More people come to dance.  Everyone nods hello to one and other.  A smile from someone who is dancing or one that is sent by you.  You need to pay attention.  This is the pre-cabeceo. (Cabeceo is the silent way people are invited to dance-with their eyes) The more timid or unsure feel fortified by a smile or a wink.

I am not dancing yet.  The men I like to dance with have not arrived.  I prefer to talk to the people near my table than to dance. An Argentine woman on her way to the bathroom stops at my table to admonish me.  This woman dances with anyone who will ask her.  I think if the toilet brush invited her, she would run to dance with it.  It's not a bad thing to dance a lot, but you need to be selective. She sticks her nose up in the air and says "You aren't dancing.  Do you understand that this is a place to dance?  You need to look at the men and smile.  You need to cross your legs and look at them."  I have to keep myself from laughing.  I have told this woman 100 times I am not a tourist, but she doesn't believe it.

I laugh and say to her "I am not dancing because I don't want to dance, not because I don't have any opportunities."  She is shocked by this.  She doesn't know how to take it. She tries again, "Why would you come here and not want to dance?  That is a little strange, don't you think?" "No," I tell her.  "There is no one here that I want to dance with."  She is about to say something nasty, I can tell.  She has that I-am-going-to-put-you-in-your-place-look, nose in the air, lips pursed, arms folded.  "You" she points her finger at me, "need to learn how the milongas are here."  I smile, "Really?  I have been dancing 17 years in the milongas here.  What I learned is, there are two types of people who do not dance.  Those who can....and those who cannot."  I hesitate and look her in the eye, "Then there is everyone else."  Her jaw drops and she goes to the bathroom to change.  Guess she won't be saying hello to me next week.

 


Dancing Argentine Tango: Save the Last Dance for Me

It's Wednesday. The day during the week when I go to dance. Sometimes if I have an easy week I can go on Friday as well. Between work, my apartment (the never ending remodeling job) and the gym, I don't have much free time.

Today I am going to meet my friend Alicia. We met almost 10 years ago at Canning. She lives in another province, but she has kids who live in the Capital Federal, so she is here quite a bit. I am always happy to see her. Tango is the least of what we have to share as friends.

 I told the organizer that I was coming with a friend and to save me my favorite table. I like to sit in the back towards the end, across from “Los Viejos Locos.” They are two guys that if I told you one was almost 90 and the other was almost 80, you would never believe it. They both look like they are in their early 70s. If you ask them how come they look so young, they will tell you it is because they are happy people, and because they dance tango. I cannot imagine this milonga without them.

There are few people when I enter. It is the end of month. Most people whether it is their retirement, or their salary do not get paid until the 8th, mas o menos. Between the entrance, something to drink, and for many, a taxi home, you are beyond 200 pesos. (Yes I know, 200 pesos is only $12, but we live in pesos, and this an expense that is not a necessity.) There is also a football game so this is another reason why there are few people.

 I never worry about how many people there are. I only need a few guys who can dance and if there isn't, no big deal. I can enjoy hanging out and listening to the music. Tango is a social dance and the milonga is a social event. I come to have a good time, not to compete, or count or whatever it is some people do.

I am sitting at my usual table. Alicia comes and sits with me. I am so happy to see her. It has been a couple of months or 3 since she was last here. We catch up on the news, her family, my apartment. Then it was time to turn our attention to the floor.

I know all the people in this milonga. We are more like a family than a bunch of people who decide to go dance. 17 years dancing in Buenos Aires, does that to you. You know almost everyone, and they know you.

 I go to dance. My friend Luis, the famous remise driver, comes to get me. “Che,” he says to me. No me miraste. (You didn't look at me.) It's a tanda of Pugliese. I don't like to dance to Pugliese, which is why I wasn't looking at him, or anyone. I tell him “I don't like to dance to Pugliese.” He looks surprised. “I know, I am probably the only foreign woman who doesn't die to dance to Pugliese. I prefer to listen to him.” Luis nods, he understands. He is the same. He is a dear sweet man. I realize that I have known him for probably 15 years. Long time.

I meet Alicia back at the table. She has also been dancing. Before we can start talking my friend Paco comes to get me. He is one of my favorite people to dance to Biagi. He has this great sense of rhythm for the staccato beat. “I am so happy to see you.” He says. “I thought that you had left us.” “Noo, never.” I tell him. “I am working a lot. I just don't have time.”

 After this tanda I go to sit. I need to pace myself so my dear foot doesn't get exhausted. Alicia is also at the table. We look at the floor. We both see the same guy at the same time. Alicia says “ That guy with the big mole thinks he is the best.” I laugh. I know exactly what she means. He has the “look.” Not only men get this “look,” women get it too. It is a look of smug satisfaction. A look that says “I am good,” when you aren't. It might be good for you, but you have no idea how the other person feels...kind of like sex.

Alicia goes to dance. I go to the bathroom. I say hello to Brian the DJ. I say hello to “Los Viejos Locos.” and then sit down. I don't feel like dancing. I do not like this tanda. I look up and Mr. “I am so good” mole and all is beckoning me to dance. I look at him “I don't dance with men who come to table.” He is angry. “You weren't looking at me.” “Because I don't want to dance.” I tell him, without adding “with you.” He is a little surprised that I speak Spanish. I look away.

 I am not in luck. He sits down next to me,where Alicia is sitting. “You danced with other men who came to the table.” What a menance. “My friends.” I tell him, and leave it at that. He can't. “You are a foreigner.” he says. So I see he going to pull this trick out of his pathetic bag of tricks. “Yes, I am.” I acknowlege. “So what?” I add. This guy just doesn't get IT.” He won't leave. “I am democratic,” he says, “just like your President Trump.” I look at his ugly face. “Trump is a Republican and he is not my president.” His eyes open wide as I add, “My president is Mauricio Macri.

I don't wait for this sleaze bag to respond. I go sit next to one of the Viejo Locos, the 89 year old. “Que pasa?” he asks. I fill him in on what this guy has been doing. My Viejo Loco puts his arm around me and calls out to the Sleaze Bag, “This is my wife. “ The Sleaze looks at him wide eyed. “What you don't believe me?” Sleaze hangs out a bit and then realizes he is not going to win this one and finally vacates Alicia's chair.

When Alicia comes back to her chair, Viejo Loco #2 is also returning. Viejo Loco #1 looks at me, “He's my husband.” I laugh. When Viejo Loco #2 returns, he looks at #1, “I leave you alone for a tanda, and look at what you do!!” he says. Viejo Loco #1 tells him “Don't worry, she's just an “amante pasajera” Alicia and I are cracking up. I think about how much I love my milonga family.

I go back to my seat. Alicia and I are cracking up over the Viejos Locos. They are such dear guys. Good dancers, and good people, and also very, very, funny. We decide to dance one more tanda and go. Alicia is invited by one of my favorite dancers. “Lucky girl, “ I tell her. I turn to see that Chiche is inviting me to dance. He is an amazing dancer, and it is a tanda of vals. Life could not be much better.

 We dance the first song of the tanda. I am smiling to myself as he leads me into a double giro, actually 3 of them in a row. It has been years since I danced with someone who knew how to lead and do this. I smile to myself as he goes “Eso.” Vals is my favorite of the 3 rhythms. To dance it with someone who can, is heaven.

In between songs I say to Chiche “Do you remember me?” He smiles “Of course, you were always at Lo de Celia's. We never danced much.” “Don't you remember?” I ask him, “You hated dancing with me. You once (I make the cutthroat motion across my neck, which is the kiss of death in tango cabaceos)did this. “ He looks panicked. I continue “You have were right. I was not a good dancer. I thought that I was, but I was not. I didn't realize that even if I liked dancing with a person, my partner might not feel the same.” He smiles. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, and then you learned.” We finished the tanda. One of the best I have had in years. He walked me back to my table. “Thank you,” he said. I smiled, “Thank you.”

Hear my 2 minute version of what happened on my YouTube Channel: https://youtu.be/Slq_sBfLQFA

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Racist or Ignorant and Insensitive

A couple of weeks ago a person on Facebook wrote a post that really bothered me.  She is a woman who is educated, well traveled, and lives in an English speaking country.  I might add she hates Donald Trump and is always bashing him.

She had taken her grandchildren to a restaurant.  The server at the restaurant showed her to a table.  He was a native Spanish speaker so when he asked her if she liked the table, "Do you like this?" came out as "Do you lik dis?"  The woman parodied him and answered "Yes, I lik dat."  After the server left, her grandchildren starting laughing and asked her why she said "dat" instead of "that."

This person responded that she was communicating in the same language as the server.  She then went on to say that she could speak any language in the world.  She parodied French and several other languages (obviously in written form on Facebook,) much to the delight of her grandchildren.

I was appalled and called her on it.  I told her that it was very insensitive of her to mock the server.  I told her that native Spanish speakers cannot say the TH sound.  It is not in their language so it comes out as a D sound.  Russians say it with a Z.  (I have taught English as a second language for more than 12 years and I know how hard it is for these students to make this sound.)

The woman replied that it was all in good fun.  That the server laughed along with her when she imitates him.  I doubt he thought it was funny. Did she really expect him to lecture her or tell her to stop?  She has the position of power over him. He needs a job.  I told her she had no idea how difficult it is for people to learn another language.  The older one gets the harder it is.  Past the age of 12 it is very difficult to lose your native timbre. Another person on her page talked about helping Spanish speakers prepare for the citizenship test and also made fun of them.  What is wrong with these people?

I was furious.  This woman does not speak another language.  She lives in an English speaking country and English is the only language she knows.  She has never left her home country to live in another country where her native language is not spoken.  I have, and while I am proud to speak a second language, it was not an easy path, and I am far from perfect.

I have often written how people here in Argentina have made fun of my accent or how I pronounce words.  There have been store clerks and salespeople who have pretended not to understand me.  I have been told that I need to lose the tone of my native accent.  When asked, none of these people spoke a second language.  They are as ignorant as this person.

Why do people put different standards on learning a language than to learn anything else? Not everyone can be a virtuoso at piano, or playing tennis, or dancing. Some people start very young and become very accomplished, while others learn later in life and become very adept. Then there are others who are not able to learn a new skill, or never advance past a certain point.  This seems to be acceptable. 

Why then, is it not acceptable when someone tries to learn a new language to live in a new country? Not everyone can learn a new language, but we expect all immigrants to do so.  Not everyone can speak with an excellent accent, yet we expect them to do so. Not everyone can or will become fluent, yet the expectation is that they should after a certain time in their new environment. This is unrealistic.  Are these people racist? Or just ignorant and insensitive?

The woman who wrote this post on Facebook is not an American.  She lives in another English speaking country.  When I told her she was insensitive - she unfriended me.  I am better off with one less "friend."

If you are trying to better your English check out and subscribe to my Youtube Channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9vR1Pzt-ZBoK8P3wYiSWDA or check me out on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Inglescondeby/

 

 


Dancing Argentine Tango: Friday Night at the Milonga

I have started to dance again.  My foot feels much better, and with Leo's shoes (the best hand made tango shoes in the world) I can dance most of the night.  I need to get out.  My apartment construction is driving me a little nuts.  It isn't fun to live in a construction zone.

My preference is for traditional milongas, especially those that have no tourists.  If you are reading this, and you have been to Buenos Aires to dance tango, I am sure you do not like that I write things like this. Let me ask you, in your city or town, do you like to go to places where there are lots of tourists?  No, I do not think so, you call them tourist traps.

Milongas full of tourists change the environment. Yes, Argentines go to them.  The whole vibe is different.  There is a competition that I don't find in the more traditional milongas here.  For example, in conversations with many tourists, I hear the same variation of a phrase "I am the best dancer in my community."  "I have to come to Buenos Aires because there is no one for me to dance with."  "In Buenos Aires, all the best dancers dance with me."  I watch these people dance (men and women) and I can tell that they have no idea what it would be like to dance with them.  You may find a dance pleasureable, but does your partner?

I remember 20 years ago when I was first starting to dance in California, I asked a man to dance. I liked dancing with him.  He was maybe in our community one of the better dancers.  I had danced with him several times.  That night when I asked him to dance he blurted out "No, you are too heavy." In my naivete, I had no idea what he was talking about.  I had always been "light on my feet."  I now know what he meant.  I was hanging on him, because at the time, I had no balance or my own axis.  I was heavy, and although dancing with him was heaven, dancing with me was not.

Aside from that, in the 17 years I have been dancing in Buenos Aires, I have never heard an Argentine say anything remotely close to their being the best dancer.  The closest is when one says "I know my dance," which is completely different.  It just means you know how you dance, and who you can and like to dance with.

I love my Friday night milonga.  It is one of the few where the men still wear suits, and the women dress up.  It has that feeling of the milongas when I first came to Buenos Aires.  The big difference is now I prefer to be selective in my dances. As Mimi once said to me "There are two types of people who do not dance - those that can, and those that cannot."  I prefer to wait for the tanda of music I like, and for someone I want to dance with.

As I sit at my table, I survey the floor.  My favorite dancers are there.  This is not a big surprise, they usually are.  I came early, to make sure that I can have the table I like to sit at.  The tables, and even the chairs at the table are a big deal.  People have their favorite places, and they do not like anyone else to sit there.

The man at the next table keeps asking me to dance.  I keep turning him down.  I want to see him dance first, and to be honest I don't like to be asked. I go to dance with a friend. He tells me that it is nice to see me dancing again. Between the songs is the only time you should be talking.

A silver haired, dapper man invites me to dance.  After the first song he says to me, "You don't remember me, do you?" I smile my coy little milonguera smile.  "I taught you some of your first steps at Lo de Celia."  There were so many of these milongueros who bravely bore my learning curve.  The vals with him is lovely.

Later I spy a man I haven't seen for ages.  He is decked out in a nice suit.  I remember him.  Maybe 10 or so years ago, he was one of those attorantes in training.  His dancing was just OK.  He worked hard to get the look.  When he took me to dance, that was where it ended.  He couldn't dance that well. Tonight I watch him. He has vastly improved.  He looks good.

This time when he invites me to dance, I accept.  He is light. It is a pleasure to dance with him.  "So how long are you here for?" he asks.  "I live here."  I tell him.  I know that many foreign women tell the men that they live here.   They think it makes them less of a target.  People are not stupid.  "14 years now." He looks at me.  I get the feeling the tactics will change. He tells me I dance well, that I am a pleasure to dance with.  OK nice, yes, it is always nice to hear that.  I thank him for the tanda and head back to my table.

I dance with a few more of my favorites.  It is nice this milonga.  It is one of the few milongas where I like to watch people dance.  There are not many that are like this.  Sometimes, when I see YouTube videos of people who are "teaching" posted on Facebook, I am appalled.  I am amazed that people actually pay these people for lessons.  Bad teachers, who make bad dancers, who make more bad teachers. The cycle that has almost killed tango.  But won't.  Because of milongas like this one.  Take your ganchos and boleos somewhere else.

Pretty boy asks me to dance.  I have been watching him.  He has chamuyo.  I see him dance painfully with several women.  Most likely he is looking for students.  He has that look.  I hear him tell them the same things he has said to me.

It is fun to dance with him.  He is light, he knows the music. He tells me that he has been touring France.  That he mostly teaches there. Uh, OK.  He throws a little French at me.  I smile.  I have been  down the street of versero, it is not that easy to BS me anymore.  He says all the right things, that it is a wonderful to dance with me, that I know the music. It is not easy for me to BS back.  If you know me, I am just not that way.  I try.  I think it comes off that I am shy.  I don't mind.

I dance a few more tandas, and then it is time for me to go.  I have been dancing for 5 hours.  My feet hurt. Tomorrow I must get up early.  The work crew is coming.  As I walk to the door, Don Suave (aka Pretty Boy) stops me.  "Where are you going to dance on Monday?" he asks.  I normally don't dance on Monday, because I work early on Tuesday. He keeps throwing out milongas I never go to. I tell him I don't dance at those milongas.  He insists he will be there to dance with me.  Somehow the conversation turns, he asks me where I am from.  I tell him San Francisco.

"Oh," he says, "I lived there for 1.5 years."  My interest is piqued.  "Really? When?" "In 2012."  He tells me where he lived - Palo Alto, Woodside, Menlo Park, all wealthy areas.  I wonder who was hosting him.  I start to ask him, mentioning a few friends.  "Did you teach there?"  "Oh no," he tells me.  "I was living with a very rich woman.  I didn't have to work.  She had more than enough for both of us."  He went on to describe his life with Lady Gottrocks.  

He sees the look on my face and stops.  I am not sure what he was thinking.  Did he think I was rich and would be dying to throw my money at him?  I am surprised at how candid he was.  "I hope to see you next week," he says. Some things about the milonga never change.

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Dancing Argentine Tango: Where Is The Best Milonga

I have been dancing tango for more than 20 years, 16 of them here in Buenos Aires.  How I dance and where I dance has changed over the years.  I no longer have tango clothes, 25 pair of shoes, or worry about how well I dance..or not.

When people come to Buenos Aires or they are planning a trip, they always ask me "Where is the best milonga?" Or they ask "What is your favorite milonga?"  I cannot answer either of those questions, because it is almost impossible.  Buenos Aires has over 150 milongas.  There is something for everyone. There is no "best milonga."  The "best milonga" is the one you are at, nor do I have a favorite milonga.

How can I not have a favorite milonga?  It does not work like that.  I know lots of milongas, and I know lots of local people who dance.  Where I go can depend on what I am doing that day, if I want to walk there and back, and if the music is good.  I know that I will dance unless I do not feel like it.

The other day I went to Canning on a Wednesday.  I can walk there.  I like the Dj Mario Orlando.  There is always 4 or so men I like to dance with.  I can dance 8 tandas in the 2 hours I spend in that milonga.  It is a nice way to end my work day.  I think many people who live here feel the same way. People stop off on their way home, have something to drink, dance a few tandas, and then leave.  Until maybe 5 years ago there was no bar scene here with happy hour.  There is now, but mostly young people.  Old people like me stop for a coffee or I guess they go to a milonga.

Wednesday.  I was going to go to Lo de Celia, but the nightmare traffic situation made it impossible. I can walk to Canning.  A simple decision.  I enter the salon.  The waiter sees me.  He comes to kiss me and lead me to my table.  I have known him for years.  He knows where I want to sit.  I always sit at the same table.  I think most of us do that.  There is an unwritten law about the tables.

I always change my shoes in the bathroom.  Habit.  Besides, who wants to look at ugly feet?  I greet the people I know.  There are people who still come here every Wednesday and Sunday as they have for years.  The salon is mostly empty on Wednesdays now.  There was a time, when it was so full you could barely move.  Now there are many milongas to choose from on Wednesday.  I still prefer the traditional ones, here, Lucy & Dany, and Lo de Celia.

Canning has a large poster (actually a mural) that goes across the back wall.  On it, are pictures of people who danced there during the time they constructed the mural.  I look at that mural everytime I go to Canning.  It was another epoch.  The faces dance out at me.  I know the names of almost everyone.  Sometimes, I feel sad.  Tango was very different then.

I go back to my table after changing my shoes.  I see my 4 regulars.  There are also some tourists. Funny how they are all seated on the same side of the floor near each other.  Some things never change.  I gaze across the room.  One of my favorite dancers is here.  I see him eyeing a table of foreign women. This means he is fishing.  I doubt he will dance with me today.

When I first met this guy at Maipu 444, he told me he only danced with local women.  It took him 2 years to invite me to dance. He  explained to me then, that he works all day,and when he comes to the milonga, it is to relax.  He only wants to dance with women he knows.  He wasn't interested in the tourists.  That all changed when he got hooked by a woman from Europe.  A star was born.

The woman brought him to Europe and set up a tour. He taught.  He never taught in his life, but that didn't matter. She brought him twice and then she was never seen again here in Buenos Aires.  "Oh those milongueros.."  Once he even told me that he was looking to go to the US.  He asked me if I knew anyone there.  Right.  Now I watch him harpooning this woman.  She is a not great dancer, of course she is unduly flattered by his attention.  I know that look.  We have all been there before.

I watch the floor to see if  there is anyone new I might want to dance with.  I have never seen the guy next to me.  Interesting guy.  I watch him dance.  He is enthusiastic.  The guy behind me, also someone I have never seen before, is busy chewing the ear of a woman.  He is trying to impress her. He is complaining and bragging.  Not a good sign.  I watch him dance.  Not for me. Un bruto.

I accept a dance with one of my regulars.  He is happy to see me.   I then accept a tanda of vals with the man next to me. I can barely understand what he is saying to me.  I am not sure where he is from. He is excited that I can do giros, he calls them "vueltas."  I don't correct him.  He has me turning giros like crazy.  I don't mind, but it is almost funny.  He keeps gurgling about my "vueltas."  (Vuelta means turns too, but more like laps, or return, detour.  I suppose you could describe the turns in tango as vueltas, but nobody does.) 

It is time for me to go.  I am meeting a friend who is visiting for dinner.  On my way out I see someone I haven't seen in years.  He gives me a big hug and asks where I have been.  I don't like telling my life's story.  I tell him that I have been working.  We chat outside while I wait for my friend.  He catches me up on his life, with pictures of his house, his grandchildren, and his "students."  Another star is born.  It seems everyone is teaching, except me.  Been there, done that.  I prefer teaching English.

My friend arrives with another friend.  They ask me how the milonga was.  How do I answer this?  I tell them, for me, the milonga is great, but maybe not for everyone.  There is no such thing as the best milonga for everyone.  The best milonga is the one you are at.

 

 

 

 

 


Dancing Argentine Tango: Going Home to Club Gricel

There are people that have this need to discuss every move they make in regards to tango.  Where they are dancing, who they danced with, the trials and tribulations of who dances well and who doesn't, the major disappointments, the major highs, the trips to Buenos Aires, the 9 million classes, the 400 pair of tango shoes, and how many Argentines they know.  This era ended for me a long time ago.  

I do not feel the need to tell the world when I am dancing and really, how I feel about it.  The few times I do blog I get incredible emails from people who have probably been dancing for less time than I have lived in Buenos Aires.  My favorite is the person who told me "you don't deserve to have an opinion, because you don't dance anymore."  Does this person have a spy camera that follows my every move?  Besides, who decides who can have an opinion and who can't?  Aren't we all entitled to our opinions? 

My friend Sarah is here from NYC.  She is one of my oldest tango friends.  We are having fun, just being friends, hanging out. The two musketeers.  The third one is in New Orleans.  I wish she was here too.  I reminded Sarah of some of her famous sayings to me when I just started to dance.  She is surprised at the things that I remembered.  My brain is like that.  Full of useless trivia, which is what an old boyfriend once said to me, until that "useless trivia" had something of value for him.

I looked up to her.  She had been dancing, teaching, and performing longer than anyone I knew at the time, and she was and still is a nice person.  I still look up to her, but maybe not for tango.  She is an amazing person.  She hosts the most popular milonga in NYC (The All Night Milonga) she goes to nursing school, she rescues cats, and she is a champion of all animal rights. How can you not love a friend like that?

Finally after her being here a couple of weeks, we decide to go to a milonga.  I make sure she knows I go to milongas where the people are very traditional.  Most likely we may be the youngest people there. Or look like the youngest.  I don't like tourist milongas.  I don't care about Argentines who look like they rolled off the poster of some horrible tango show, I like milongas where the people know how to dance. Sarah likes old people, plus she wants to see lots of different types of milongas.

Friday night.  There are lots of options.  For me, the best option is Gricel.  Gricel, along with Lo de Celia, are like dancing in my living room.  For other people this may not be true. Clely Rugone and Oscar Hector have the milonga on this night.  You can call them milongueros, you can call them veterans.  You can call them anything you like, but for me, they are people who have always been kind to me.  Both of them are wonderful dancers and attract the same at their milongas.  Oscar used to have the milonga in Mataderos, La Glorias - until a tornado blew down the social club where the milonga had been held.  Oscar has had many milongas.  Clely too.  She still does.

After having a fight with my clothes,  (amazing how I can be the same size, but things have sort of moved around) Sarah and I are off.  We enter Gricel after arriving on the bus.  I told Sarah that this being the end of the month, it is possible that there may not be many people.  Things are a little difficult these days.  My water bill went from 65 pesos to 700, so maybe this will give you an idea.  Going to the milonga is not as high a priority for lots of people.

I am surprised that there are many people, and it is still early.  I see a few familiar faces.  There are also lots of faces missing.  There are people who always came to Gricel on a Friday night, regardless of who was hosting the milonga.  Very few of them are here tonight.

Sarah and I sit down.  The men are looking at us.  Sarah has not changed her shoes.  I will not dance with anyone until I see how they dance.  That is me.  I would rather not dance, than to dance with someone who cannot.  I do not know the DJ.  He is good. A man keeps staring at me.  I stare at the table.  I know him, but I don't remember if he dances well.  I would prefer to wait.  I do not have this option.  Clely comes to tell me to dance with him.  OK.

He takes me out to the floor.  "Rubia,"  he says.  "Where have you been?"  This is a question I will hear all night and in every tanda except one.  My friend Dany Pererya  the DJ at La Viruta and other milongas, knows where I have been.  Most people figure I moved back to the US.  I explain my foot, my job, life in general.  Although my foot is not perfect, good dancers and Leo's Shoes help lots.  I cannot dance without Leo's shoes, she has been making my shoes for 18 years.

 

Oscar Hector comes to get me for a tanda.  This is special.  Amanda (Amanda Lucero, the great milonguera) says he is one of the best dancers of his generation.  I love watching him.  He takes me to the floor.  I am surprised that he remembers me.  The hair.  It is always the hair that does it.  He is surprised that I have remembered not only his milongas, but his shows, and how I loved to watch him dance with his sister, Haydee, not just tango, but jazz as well.  This dance with Oscar reminds me why I love to dance tango.

Sarah has her Gancia and I have my champagne.  We are having fun.  Everyone is having fun.  No one is doing boleos.  No one is taking up half the floor, and no one is bumping into anyone.  I think of all the times I have been in this club.  My first milonga in Buenos Aires, back in 2000 was in Gricel on a Sunday.  I spent many Fridays here with Mimi and Sandra. Mondays were special with Patricio (who has since passed over to that great milonga in the sky) and Adriana.  There were others who have floated into and out of my life.  I had many good dances and times here.  Lots of things have changed, but some things never do.


Dancing Argentine Tango: Adios Celia Blanco, Lo de Celia Will Never Be The Same

The milonga that changed my life.  You might say that.  It was Lo de Celia in Buenos Aires.  The owner was Celia Blanco.  She died last night.  Another candle snuffed out. One by one, the people who most influenced me are going, to dance at that great milonga in the sky.  A new wave of dancers will never know who they were.  Sad.

The first time I went to Lo de Celia was in 2001.  I went to an afternoon milonga on a Wednesday. I think,but I am not sure, that Enrique and Reuben had the milonga.  If not it was Luis, and Reuben and Enrique were on Tuesday.  All three of them are dancing in the sky now, and I am sure that they as well as many other milongueros, were happy to receive Celia.  Until this time my matinee milongas were El Arranque, Canning, and Ideal.  Lo de Celia was another galaxy. 

In California I was considered an intermediate dancer,in  Lo de Celia, they saw me as a beginner.  I was happy to sit and watch.  In those days this milonga had amazing dancers.  In the other milongas I was invited to dance, in Lo de Celia no.  It was not until 2002, that I was invited to dance in the matinee milongas.  I went to the one on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  On one Saturday I saw Muma dance with Ricardo Vidort.  I was mesmerized.  No one, and I mean no one danced like them.  It lit a fire in me.  I wanted to be able to dance like that.  They were so elegant.

There used to be strong codes in the milongas.  Lo de Celia was a milonga for the milongueros and there all of the codes were in action.  In the evening milongas there was a dress code.  If a man came to the door without a sport coat he was turned away. Women were expected to dress nicely.  No pants.  Dance shoes for everyone.  Probably one of the things that most impressed me was the organizers would ask people who could not dance to leave the floor.  They would tap them on the shoulder and ask them to sit down.  

I remember I came to this milonga in the evening every night in 2002 for over a month.  I would just watch.  My favorite time was when Celia Blanco would come out and welcome people to the milonga.  She would sit at her table smoking. (In those days you could ugh, smoke in the milongas.) People would come to greet her.  She was regal.  She was the queen of her own milonga.  I loved it when she would get up at midnight, microphone in hand and make announcements.  She always wore an evening gown.  She was the Lauren Bacall of tango.  She was gracious and welcoming.

Lo de Celia was where I cemented my friendship with Mimi Santapa.   She told me that night, that she knew we would be friends.  The grand milonguera Amanda Lucero thought I fell out of the sky when Celia asked if I could sit at her table one Saturday.  Probably more than anyone, Amanda taught me the ways of the milongueros/as.  Years later, Amanda adopted me as one would a daughter.  She wasn't old enough to be my mother, but she felt that she needed to look after me.  Between Mimi and Amanda and a few others, I was lucky to meet incredible dancers.

Most foreigners take lots of lessons.  Private and group classes.  There is this idolization of their teachers.  I never went this route.  I learned the way the Argentines learned.  I learned by practice, patience, and by watching.    I didn't have that many lessons.  The milongueros/as were my teachers.  I think in those days before I moved here, I was like a pet.  I spoke horrible Spanish, but I was respectful.  I wanted to learn.  There were not many tourists in those days, and so I stuck out.

Patricio and Adriana had the milonga on Monday nights.  Lucia and Oscar (Lujos) on Thursdays before Nino Bien.  Fridays, Saturdays, and  Sundays were Celia.  I was there, all of those nights.  Lo de Celia was like my second home.  I never missed a night when I was in town.  

In December 2004 with the fire in  Cromañón everything changed, including Lo de Celia.  At first all public places where there were gatherings were shut down.  Most started to open in a week or so.  Lo de Celia stayed closed for months. The milongas that were held at night during the week moved.  They had no choice.  When Celia finally opened it was only on Wednesday for a matinee, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  She had been reclassified as a Category C dancehall which was ridiculous.  Category C are the large nightclubs.  Lo de Celia would hold no more than 120 people.  She had to install a metal detector, have security, a trap door, and many other things the other milongas did not need to do.  Rumor had it that she refused to pay bribes to the inspectors, so they retaliated by making her a Class C dance hall.

Although Celia's remained a place for the milongueros, it never regained the popularity it had before  December, 2004.  During the time she was closed, people found other places to dance.  I would still go.  Then not so much.  Until I stopped altogether.  A couple of weeks ago I took my guest there on a Wednesday.  I cannot even remember when was the last time I was there.

As we approached the door, there were no longer the milongueros outside smoking that last cigarette.  There was no security at the door.  We ascended the stairs as I had so many times in the past.  The music of Dany Borelli wafting down to the street. There is no other DJ like Dany.  The same old man was taking the money as he had been doing for the 15 years I had been coming to Lo de Celia.  He slapped my hand playfully when I paid.  "Where have you been?"  he asked, as though I had only been gone a few weeks.

The salon was still the same.  There were some of the same people.  Everyone older.  It was no longer filled.  There were maybe 50 people.  Unlike most milongas, of the 50 people there, 40 danced well.  I felt sad.  This was where I learned to dance.  I could see the ghosts of the milongueros/as I used to know.  Their faces.  I had many very happy nights here. Good night Celia Blanco.  Thank you for everything.

 

 

 All videos posted in this blog were copied from YouTube and considered public domain.


Life In Argentina: Obama Dances Tango

You know, that I could not pass up an opportunity to comment on the video that went viral of the President of the United States, Barack Obama dancing tango during his visit to Argentina.  My  Facebook and email inboxes have been overflowing with copies of the said video, along with comments.   At first I was going to ignore all the social commentary, but then, the response by the US (and other international sites) and Argentine social media were so different,  It is amazing the reaction worldwide and here in Argentina.

When Ms. Godoy was contracted by the Argentine government to dance tango for the guests at a dinner party for the first couple, she made it known that she planned to ask Obama to dance.  The Secretary of State (in Argentina) as well as the President of Argentina, asked her to please not do it.  They did not want to risk embarrassing the President of the United States in an important state dinner.  Argentina had much to lose.  The Obama visit was a very important step for Argentina in the international and financial community.  The President of Argentina, Mauricio Macri has and is working hard to change Argentina's reputation as a financial pariah.  The absolute last thing they wanted was to embarrass Obama.

That is all history.  It was more important to Ms. Godoy to get Obama to dance with her so she could be seen all over the world.  She didn't care what the President of Argentina wanted, it was what she wanted.  All ego.  The Argentine ego is legendary, and this is a prime example.  She grabbed Obama to dance and it is purported that he said to her "I don't know how to dance tango."  He can be seen with an uneasy smile.  She didn't care, this was her chance for 15 minutes of fame.  She pulled him to dance with her. Obama is known for his good nature and rather than make a scene he followed through.  A truly gracious man.  The other option would have been to make a scene saying no, while the cameras rolled.  Godoy took advantage of the situation.

If you look at the pictures or the videos, you will see that the response by those that attended was stoney.  Even Obama does not look all that happy about it while dancing.  He has that "I wish this would end soon look on his face." Jose Lugones took Michelle Obama to dance,which was just as awkward.  While the story maybe viral in the international press, it is not mentioned here, anymore.  There was a blurb when it happened and after that, nothing. It was mentioned in the context of the dinner.  In the press summaries of the visit it is not mentioned.   It has been relegated to the gossip rags.   What she did was considered in bad taste and disrespectful.  Can you imagine if the White House and the Secretary of State contracted an act for a state dinner and then defied orders to not do something, and it was done anyway?  That is exactly what happened here.

Now as to the response by the tango communities here and abroad.  Tango communities in the USA went wild.   I remember when  Volkswagen used Bahia Blanca for the ad campaign of the Passat,  I was delirious with joy.   I saw tango everywhere in those days, and even my car had a tango. All over Facebook US tango dancers were posting the video and talking about it.  Their president was dancing tango.  Heaven.  That was all they could see.  Even if what was being danced was not tango and the music was abominable. 

The response here was the opposite.  First of all, what Ms. Godoy dances is not tango.  She dances contemporary dance to sometimes but more often than not tango music.  She is a stage dancer. The music that was played is hardly a tango.  It is annoying.  You would never hear anything like that referred to as Argentine tango music.  It is contemporary music and not even like the electronic tango played by Gotan Project.  Her tango days are long gone.  There was a time when she danced with Osvaldo Zotto.  What she dances now, is something else.

The majority of the tango community felt compromised.  Over and over people wrote in Facebook, how it was not tango.  That they couldn't believe she had done that.  They were horrified by the leg wrap.  One person wrote how he was sick of the press seeing this as Argentine Tango.  He saw it as an attack on the heritage of the dance.  Others wrote that the reason people outside of Argentina think tango is something else than what it is, is because of trash danced like this.  In other words, it was rejected.  In my Facebook feeds there was nothing positive from Argentine tango dancers about the demonstration.

What do I think?  I am glad it all worked out.  I would have hated for Obama to be embarrassed.  I thought what Godoy did sucked.