Tango: my life as a not-so-good leader

And you thought that YOU were the worst dancer in the world ?

Monday, July 26, 2004

Intermediate (finally...)

My regular teachers have 4 levels of students: beginners, intermediate, intermediate 2, and advanced. They make a break for Summer holidays, and the end of the year just came some days ago.

Near the end of the last session they asked for silence and announced that "We're expecting to see all of you in October, in our intermediate class."  I was fearing than one of them would add "Well...except Pablo, of course", but nothing came. (And it did happen a couple of times that these teachers strongly advise a student to repeat a year)

Hence I'm an intermediate, period.
Ok, technically there are still two months till October but I can already begin to accustom myself to this new title.

Pablo, the intermediate...

I thought it would have happened in a somehow more dramatic way: At the last milonga of the CITA, Fabian would have taken the microphone, would have asked the Los Reyes del Tango orchestra to stay quiet, and then, with the solemnity of an archbishop, woud have spouted:
"Beginner Pablo!
Come here, beginner Pablo. The tale of your merits has come to my ear. Innumerable have been the classes you attended. Painful have been the refusals you got from the ladies in the milongas. Sluggish has been your improvement. Deep has been your sadness since you have taken up Tango.
Kneel, Pablo!
Thank the Gods of tango, Pablo. Thank all your teachers for their patience. Because today has come your reward.
Look at me, Pablo!"
Here Fabian would take the sacred Cigarette (the one hold by Gardel in the Chacarita cemetary) on a red velvet cushion, smoke it with an extatic expression, and then puff out in my face.
"Pablo, by the infinite power of the Everlit Cigarette, I make thee an Intermediate.
Stand up, Pablo! "
Then he would hug me, while Los Reyes del Tango would strike up the Cumparsita. Afterwards, back home, people in the streets would look at me with an admirative/timid face:
"- Seen this guy, John? Do you think he's an...
- Yes, Helen. He's an Intermediate".

Well, for the moment, I failed to notice any change when I go out. The pizza deliverers keep knocking over me, and nobody in the metro offered me his seat. Maybe in October...

posted by Pablo  # 5:14 AM (0) comments

Friday, July 23, 2004

In the middle of nowhere

A one-week tango workshop in a remote, distant, unknown place. A sort of retreat, very, very far from the city, with nothing to do but tango. Each day, a warm-up session in the morning, a class in the afternoon and a practica in the evening. All in all, six hours of tango every day.

Sounds great, doesn't it? No? Well, for me it sounded great, and Isigned with both hands. One of the problem of my once-a-week classes that during the six days between two classes, I don't practise (cf my recurrent complaints about my lack of a practise partner) and I forget the steps. This time I was expecting that maybe, in the end, immersed in tango, I would gain some more permanent skill.

Expectations are one thing, reality is reality. By the way, reality being "Even above my greatest expectations" is a cliché that for once you won't read in a tango event report.

First, the middle of nowhere was indeed  miles away from civilization (you know, phones, restaurants, shops...). The flyer said "5nminutes from the sea" and listed many hotels ("in the immediate vicinity"), but it had to be understood providing you have a car. After my first spaziergang from the workshop place to my hotel, I realized that attending warm-ups, classes and practicas would mean having to walk 15 miles a day.

Then, the weather was not that nice for a July month. Wind and rain were on the agenda. ("Last year the weather was so beautiful", said a student who had attended the first edition). The first night, the alternative was either defying the hurricane and walking 2 miles in the darkness to reach the milonga, or watching the sport channel on TV with a beer in my hotel room. From then, and for the remaining nights the matter was settled, I didn't even considered going out any more.

So, the morning warm-ups being skipped, and all (but one) the evening milongas being unreachable, there remained only the classes.The teachers had perfectly tuned the men/women ratio, and they also made sure that everybody changed partners very frequently. One award to them. As for the content, it hadn't been detailed in the flyers. Had it be the case, I would have reconsidered my subscription, because half the material had been presented by these teachers in previous week-end workshops they had given beforehand in the city, so I had already seen it . Well, re-learning and revisiting shouldn't be bad for me, but in this particular case it is stuff that I don't like: candombe, estilo milonguero, all the tango that I hate because the woman is glued to me and I can't see my feet.

The (one!) milonga was nice. I appreciated very much the cortinas, because at the end of them a (pre-recorded) voice was announcing the next tanda ("...and now, three slow tangos by Pugliese...")

By the way, the entire workshop was indeed great. Had I been a normal guy (owning a car, appreciating the closeness of estilo milonguero...), I would have attended a 30-hour workshop (instead of my actual 8 hours) and enjoyed this week like the other students did. 

posted by Pablo  # 12:55 AM (0) comments

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Tribute to a tango partner

The class had begun twenty minutes ago, and I was struggling with oneof the followers, trying in vain to reproduce the sequence that the oldargentine maestro had just demonstrated. I was thinking that this evening would be another useless class where I'll be pretending that I'm leading something, the followers would be pretending that they're following what I'm leading, while the truth would be that each of usare just doing our half of the sequence, without really taking care of what the partner is doing. I was thinking that my already long list of forgotten sequences would become even longer. I was getting sad.

And then she entered. A tall, thin demoiselle. And young. Much younger than any of the ladies in the class. Nobody knew her, it was her first time in this place. She was new in the city. She was new in the country. She was hardly familiar with our tongue, but she had been hooked by tango a few months ago, and she knew that this evening there was a class here, and then a milonga. She had come a few weeks ago from a little town on the Volga, in Russia.

Of course I didn't know all this by then. But I had caught her eyes, and was trying to say "Please don't begin to dance with another leader; I'm coming to you." Easier said than done by the way, because bad luck had it I was in the opposite corner of the room. Yet I was lucky, no other guy moved to her. Maybe the fact that we were the two only people there wearing jeans lured my rivals into thinking that we were already partners.
During the milonga after the class, for the first time I danced 90% of the time with the same partner. And for the following two months, I attended the city milongas without having to dress well,to eat tons of mints, to be polite with everybody, to look nice, to keep a constant smile, to beg all the ladies for a dance or two,to chat with boring people, to dance only with the followers nobody else wanted to dance with.This time I could ignore superbly all the people, I could ignore the glances of sitting ladies the same way as they usually ignore mine.I could choose to sit when I did not like the current tanda, and to wait for my favourites songs before venturing on the dance-floor.
Because this time I had my own partner.

Also, finally, finally, I could practise. I could try a sequence time and again and miss it time and again. I could do walking steps for an entire tanda, I could try things I hadn't ever learned. She would always be there for me.
Not, by the way, that she had not tried to find a more skilled partner. She had gone to a few select milongas, the ones I have heard of without even thinking of going there. The milongas where the big guys go.She had danced with them, and some time later she had told me how quickly they had let her know that she was still a beginner, that she would have to learn much, much, before considering dancing with them again. Kings of the tango just have to snap their fingers to get a partner for a tanda, they can afford being rude with beginners.
And indeed she was a beginner, with only a few months of tango. Mainly dancing, not many classes as she could not afford it. Her giros were everything but circular, and hips/torso dissociation was a concept unknown to her. But she had balance, she had a flexible, young body, she never anticipated a step and always fully relied on her partner.

Another thing that helped us is that there never was any kind of attraction between us. She had an uncared, not soft at all skin, as well as a rough, caterpillar-driver russian face. For my part I am bald, fat, and old enough to be her father.So we were dancing completely relaxed, there was no tension at all in our abrazo, even when the sequence required a close one. In our tango there was nothing but tango.

She was always the last one to leave the milongas, dancing to the last minutes with any leader, while the little me was sitting in a corner, sweating, exhausted (old age, you know...), and slowly recovering from the last milonga tanda. She tried to collect any tango CD she could, and many people gave her some of theirs, because they knew she hadn't much money. Everybody in the (usually selfish) tango community who knew her, liked her. I saw teachers refusing her money after a class, and milonga promoters inventing an improbable "under 24 discount" when she told them that she had not enough money to pay the whole entrance fee. She wanted to know the composers, she wanted to know the singers, she wanted to learn the leader's part, she wanted to improve as much as possible while she was still there, and she knew that with a tourist visa she wouldn't be there for long.

Now she's back in Russia. I fear there won't be much tango for her there. Yet in our last encounter she was enthousiastically speaking about a milonga in Petersburg, hoping she'll be able to attend it.
Good luck young lady, I'm glad we've been partners for a few weeks. Be happy and keep dancing if you can. Maybe, you're the future of tango in Russia.

posted by Pablo  # 1:57 AM (0) comments


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