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

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

Monday, April 25, 2005

The first digit is four 



Half past midnight. Dilemma. Leaving right now the all-night milonga and getting today's last metro, or staying up to 5 a.m and getting tomorrow's first metro? Usually it's not a dilemma at all. I feel uncomfortable in milongas and I'm happy to leave early. Basically I'm not ready yet for milongas. Indeed, I only go when I'm asked to by some tango classmate.

And here, the person who asked me to come wasn't even a classmate, she was a close friend of my tuesday dance partner's. I hardly knew her. Blonde, student in biology or something. We had just danced once beforehand, which had been enough for me to realize that, apart from being young, thin and lovely she was also better than any of my regular partners; enough to wish she would become one of these regulars.
But in the last message she had left on my answering machine she had mentioned she was not feeling too well and that she would be late.
I wasn't sure what to do. On one hand I had given my word, on the other hand she had not come yet, I knew nobody here and the "bar" had only soft drinks. Finally I did what we males always do in this case and decided to stay. (Interpret this the way you wish. Either it means that we're faithful to our word, or it means we'd rather do the most unsensible things than miss the opportunity of spending some time with an attractive creature.)

Finally she came, apologized for being late, explained she had been sick and tired but had taken a lot of pills and vitamins.

In the same situation I would undoubtedly have stayed home. Here I remembered she had left me three messages this week, and two e-mails. Always related with today's milonga, but still... I began to feel she was not behaving with me like just a tango partner.
Now she was dancing mainly with the mediocre me, despite the presence of many good leaders; after a tango or two with someone else she was immediately coming back, instead of chatting a little while with the guy she had just danced with; when not dancing she rested her head on my shoulder ("I'm soooo tired...."), when dancing she came much closer than needed for a tango...

I would have liked to respond somehow to the stimulus. Putting my arm around her shoulder, or maybe playing with her hand ("And how do you prefer your hand to be held when dancing? Like this? Or like this? Or..."). But obviously there was something she was not aware of: the abysmal gap in age. She is in her early twenties, it would make more sense for me to be dating her mother.

When I left at half past 5 she left too. We walked to the station and sat. Her head found once again my shoulder. She kept asking questions.
"-) And you and your tango partner [her close friend], are you, er...more than partners, do you see each other outside the classes?
-) No, only for the classes.
-) What's your age? I've asked your partner but she said she was unable to give even a rough estimate."
Here we are, I thought.
"-) Well, the first digit is four."

The blond head moved away.
"Are you sure? I mean, you don't look that ol..., well, I mean you look much younger, well, no, I mean..."
I relieved her from her embarrassment:
"-) You mentioned earlier that you were searching for a tango partner to take classes. Did you have a specific day or teacher in mind?
-) Er....no, no, it was only a rhetorical question, this year it's too late anyway, all the classes are full booked. And next year I'll be spending six months in the Galapagos, to study the DNA sequencing of cuttlefishes."


posted by Pablo  # 6:24 AM (5) comments

Friday, April 22, 2005

grounded 

The male teacher came to me:
"Your relationship with the ground has improved."

Minutes later, passing by near me, the female teacher observed:
"You're better grounded; see how it makes things easier?"

It made my day.

posted by Pablo  # 9:38 AM (0) comments

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Comforting words 

So here I was, sat in an armchair in the tango school lobby, reading fashion magazines while waiting for my class to begin. One of the directors, a lady who was an advanced dancer ten years ago (and still is), was chatting with two beginners. Real beginners, who had just taken up A.T. One of the two guys said something like he liked to dance in the milongas, but feared that women were not liking dancing with him. The lady made the standard reply about poor dancers with whom she had had pleasant dances. And then she exemplified: “Take Dave and Benjamin. Dave has a gift for tango, an outstanding technique. You show him a step and he picks it immediately. He has a good posture, he can dance either milonguero, open or nuevo. But in a milonga I prefer being invited by Benjamin, who is a horrible dancer. Because Benjamin dances with me, is aware of where I am, cancels his sequences if he’s feeling that I’m lost. Technically speaking he’s a poor dancer, still unable to lead anything, but he keeps trying and he will improve some day. Dave dances alone, he dances for the music and for the steps, but not for me. If I’m alert it will look like we’re together but if I’ll feel we’re not. Well of course I'll dance with him if he asks.”

The usual fairy tales of a school owner who doesn’t want to lose students, I thought. I turned the page of my magazine and began to read the Aquarius horoscope.

Here the blood froze in my veins. Not that the horoscope had bad news, but I had just realized something: Benjamin and I are in the same class, we have more or less the same age and began A.T the same year. So his level is basically the same as mine. In an advanced follower’s eyes, I’m a pathetic leader.


posted by Pablo  # 7:32 AM (6) comments

Thursday, April 14, 2005

CITA snapshots 

I did not like it when Gavito cancelled his participation, not because of illness as I thought, but just to enjoy a little longer a russian tango festival. Next time he cancels a class I booked, he'd better have a good reason. Like being dead.

I liked it when after their class Nito and Elba made an improvised demo, Nito dancing a whole tango blindfold with a black handkerchief on his eyes.

I did not like it when I learned, some days later, that it was not improvised at all, that it's a choreographed routine they've been dancing for years and years.

I liked it when Marisa Quiroga, at the beginning of the class, went to everyone with a bag of candies.

I did not like it when, at the end of their class, video-tape time came, Sergio Natario and Alejandra Arrue danced two full tangos without doing even once the sequence they had just tought us.

I did not like it at the CITA opening milonga when all the argentines kept chain-smoking (Well, not when on the dance floor).

I liked it when Alejandra Hobert shared her birthday cake with the students.

I liked it at the restaurant, near the end of my stay in BsAs, when the waiters knew my name and what I wanted to drink, without my having to tell them.

I did not like it when my hotel room TV proved unable to catch the tango TV channel. I had
to buy a little transistor to at least get the 2X4 (FM 92.7) radio.

I did not like it when Osvaldo didn't show up at his class, leaving Lorena and an assistant do the teaching.

I did not like it when I had to pay a 10 peso entrance fee at Confiteria La Ideal, when locals pay 6 pesos (and half of them 2 pesos).

I liked it at Confiteria La Ideal, when a portena sat at my table, began chatting with me, gave me useful addresses in town and invited me for a dance.

I did not like it when Julio and Corina forbade us from filming the sequence sum-up, explaining we would find it on their brand-new DVD, available for 60 dollars.

I liked it when I was shown how to prepare yerba mate.

I did not like it when I sipped it through the bombilla. How bitter!

I did not like it when the last ten minutes of each class by Osvaldo and Lorena were used by Lorena to advertise both their new tango school and her sister's tango dresses.

I liked it when I went to Zival's and found a Pugliese CD that includes A Evaristo Carriego,
a song I had been searching for one year.

posted by Pablo  # 4:19 AM (0) comments

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Fake 

Most teachers at the CITA had assistants to help them dealing with the numerous students (sometimes 40 people) and to be partners of lone people, in case the class was gender-unbalanced.

I have only good things to say about them, (they were nice, patient, competent -well, except for foreign languages maybe- helpful...), so I'd rather relate what a fellow from my CITA group told to me during the common dinner we had alltogether each evening.

During one of his classes this day he had no partner because one of the lady had hired a taxi dancer, thus unbalancing the group of pupils. So, one female assistant came to him and played the role of the follower. She indeed played a role here, i.e. she wasn't following his leading, just pretending so but actually was doing the sequence by herself. And each time they finished the routine she would tell him "Very nice! You're leading it perfectly!".

Probably she had been instructed to be a nice girl, to cover the mistakes done by the leaders, to
make people happy with the class, but here she was going too far. My friend has many years
of tango under his belt, and can make the difference between a follower who follows and one who just fakes it. He's the patient type of guy, but nevertheless he got more and more irritated, as he knew he was making minor mistakes and when he asked the girl for corrections he would have preferred by far actual corrections rather than the repetitive "You're doing it just fine!" he got.

More over, he can speak spanish (although he didn't here, as the girl was fluent in english)
and so he was able to understand what another assistant told to the girl near the end of the class:
"Try to really follow him once in a while, because you're not faking so well, he might notice something."

posted by Pablo  # 7:07 AM (0) comments

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Ground Zero 


I went to the CITA desk and asked for a taxi-dancer (taxi-mujer, in this case) for four classes where I did not want to see all the nice teaching ruined by an american partner (typically a fat, unskilled, assertive lady who came to Buenos-Aires and booked an advanced class because her neighbour in Fifth Avenue, NYC, did so last year and she felt jealous). Well, no, the real reason is I felt unsure about my own abilities for these classes ( three intermediates and even one advanced) and thought I would probably need an helpful partner.

Each day I got a different girl, but basically they were all very similar:

A flexible body, making effortless hips/shoulders twists,
Axis and independent balance, never using me as a support,
Instant reaction time for following (whatever I may lead) and adjusting (to my changing the abrazo, or making larger steps…),
Never anticipating anything,
During giros, stepping on the beat and with evenly sized steps.

While in the classes I liked very much these partners, because for the first time I could concentrate on my own mistakes. Also they were patient and supportive. Yet they were clearly not outstanding, they were just flawless. Neither elegant like Lorena nor playful like Alejandra (Arrue).
And now I’m wondering why all the followers can’t be like this. All the aforementioned qualities are nothing special after all, and should be the standard requirements of the random follower, the “ground zero” of tango skills for any woman who has been taking A.T. classes for one year. Yet, out of my nine usual partners (and who have from one to ten years of experience in A.T), four would fail the first item, and six would fail the second.


posted by Pablo  # 3:18 AM (3) comments

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