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October 28, 2008

The Size of Steps in Milonga

Tonight after a class, a woman who is rather new to tango, but who dances naturally and well, said that she wanted to ask me a question. Normally she dashes out of class without speaking. This was a little unusual, and apparently she had a "burning question."

She said that at a recent tango dance, a man she was dancing with told her that steps in milonga are always very tiny, and that her steps were too big. (She demonstrated, showing me a back step of about 5 inches, and saying that he told her that step was too big for milonga.)

She asked me if what he said was true or not.

I said that milongas can sometimes be very fast, and that makes for small steps. Also tango dances tend to be crowded, and that makes for small steps. So, yes, there is truth to what he said that milonga has small steps. But, I told her that she will only be able to take a step of the size that the man allows. He might guide her into a big step or a small step. It's up to him to decide that. If he has to tell her with words how to step, that can be taken as a signal that he probably doesn't know what he is talking about.

Then she said that he must have known what he was doing because he said he was a teacher. And, according to him, in milonga all steps are very tiny. I said I couldn't imagine any tango teacher saying such a thing at a dance. She said, oh no, he teaches tango, he told her so.

Well, I told her, as I said, whoever he was, if he had to use words to control your steps, he doesn't know how to dance tango, and it should suggest to you that he might not really know what he is talking about.


I think that telling women their steps must be of a certain size whenever they dance - whether you are telling them to make their steps "long" or "short" - is a crime against tango dancing. It plants the seed of an evil intractable idea that interferes with the reality of all future dancing situations. Later some other dance partner in some other situation will tell this woman to take longer steps. And eventually, if she keeps listening to self-appointed dance masters at the milonga, she will become one of those women who dance by mentally processing a memorized collection rules that they have been told by men who don't know how to dance. Some women have told me that they use one technique for dancing with one guy, and a different technique for dancing with another guy, because the men tell them how they should dance, but their rules all contradict each other.

Thanks a lot, self-appointed teachers.

Posted by joegrohens at 02:51 AM | Comments (0)

October 25, 2008

Letter from Buenos Aires # 5

To dance tango at its fullest, it helps to have a feel for its culture.

By Beatriz Dujovne: Letter from Buenos Aires # 5. Sunday October 19, 2009

My friend Celina wakes me up at noon for our daily telephone funny routine. With a smiling heart, sun glasses, and giant invisible arms I step out of my apartment eager to hug this Buenos Aires I love. At this time of the year the jacaranda trees’ bluish-lilac flowers sprinkle the city with impressionistic-brush strokes.

As usual, I head towards my office which is a lovely outdoor table at my favorite confiteria in the corners of R. M. Ortiz and M. Quintana. After breakfast at 1:00 PM, with the eagerness of a kid looking for Christmas presents, I look forward to discovering the events I will find in the newspaper. I want to go to all of them; I want to play with all my toys. Choosing between Susana Rinaldi’s recital and Sexteto Mayor grand performance is no easy task. I discard seven or eight seductive events, and choose to watch a four-hour long Argentine film “Inexplicable Stories”; it is only shown at the Museum of Latin American Art.

Taxi! Taxi! To MALBA please. I arrive three hours in advance. Oh…No…It sold out three days ago. I have been observing how people in this city consume high doses of art. I see it everywhere I go, no exceptions. I get tickets for an older Argentine film showing: “The Other”. I was struck by its focus on expressions, by its minimalist plot. The story was inside the protagonist’s mind and you either figured it out or you did not. The director does not hand meanings to the audience. The absence of background music was palpable; I loved its silence. The few sounds that are usually background became foreground: the steps of the protagonist, the noise of vehicles, and the murmur of water flowing when the main character gives a shower to his senile father. In this wordlessness the man’s sweet communication with his father stands out poignantly. The silence of “The Other” reminds me of another Argentine film I saw yesterday, a gem called La Camara Oscura; the “action” was inside the protagonist, it was easy to intuit it, what was most important was the un-said. (Does this bend for interiority and silence in these two Argentine films remind you of tango?).

MALBA is not far from Fondo Nacional de Las Artes so I go to pick up the October cultural program (more toys). The walk through Palermo among European mansions is quite entertaining.
[A note about Palermo and tango: Ada Falcon, the famous tango singer used to live in this area enjoying a high life style. She and the famous music director Francisco Canaro were lovers…until the break up. She stopped singing. She disappeared. Years later she was found in a monastery in the province of Cordoba. A few years ago a rather interesting film was made of her life just before she died].

The clerk at Fondo Nacional hands me a free ticket. Events are free here. I give her a puzzled look. “Are you attending the Molocznik interview about Jauretche conducted by Horacio Embom? It is about Peron and the intellectuals”, she said. I knew none of the first three persons she mentioned. “Sure” I replied. If I gain one additional iota of understanding of this complex Peronist phenomenon that is quite alive today, it will be worth it, I thought. I do gain new perspectives but, as usual, I am fascinated by the human environment. This audience is highly opinionated and impressively knowledgeable. They insist in expressing their views, even when the moderator wants to redirect the focus away from them.
It would take too long to relate the content of the presentation. But I cannot resist reporting on just one jewel: when the interviewer asked Molocznik when the revolutionary Peronist movement died, someone from the audience answered the question before the invited guess had a chance. And he did it loudly: “When Evita Peron died. Evita was the left hand and Peron was the right hand”. The speaker thought it was an oversimplification but basically agreed with him that Eva Peron was the physical link to the masses.

[A note about Peron and tango: Peron was a dictator, a Hitler sympathizer who was brought to power by the working class led by his wife Evita. Peron lifted the ban on the Argentine lunfardo [slang] in tango poetry. The European-loving ruling oligarchy had banned the popular lunfardo to cleanse the language. Tango singers on the radio found cleansed lyrics to sing. There was no choice about it.]
On my way home something big and unusual calls my attention. It was an actual size war tank with an inscription on the side: “Weapons of Mass Instruction”. The body of the vehicle was totally made of old books. At first I thought it was a truck where old books were sold. No. It was an art piece with a political statement parked along the curb around the feria artesanal of Plaza Recoleta. The sign was on the street side, so taking its pictures became a bit suicidal as it required zigzagging among fast traffic in never ending motion.

I love that this city’s habitants are so politically aware and so eager to express their opinions. Creativity is very much in the air around here.

I enter the lobby of Recoleta Cultural Center and pick up the program of events. At any time you are likely to find an interesting program happening here. At this moment the closing of a week-long jazz festival is taking place. It has gone on from the 15th through the 19th of October. Yes, people of Buenos Aires like all kinds of music and dance. Cumbia is danced as much if not more than tango. Shall I go to the jazz event? No. Enough for today.

The colonial Iglesia del Pilar looks mysteriously attractive tonight. Its lighting transports me to the early 1700s when it was built. Its open doors show off the splendor of the shining gold altar. The sounds of the evening mass reach the street as the church is full to capacity and people have to stand in its front yard.

I watch the surrealistic picture of hundreds of devotees standing just a few steps from hundreds of others with mundane and artistic concerns. They stroll around in artsy attires, body adornments and tattoos. Some have their palms read by interesting looking Tarot specialists. Some are eating street food. No popcorn or hot dogs; mostly home made goodies and freshly squeezed juices.

I notice that the outdoor tango dancers, permanent features of this plaza, are already gone. They will be here again tomorrow afternoon. So will the accordion player. So will I. Same place, same time. Same appointment with daytime bohemia. Feeling a sense of communion with the light, the energy, the jacaranda trees, and the vitality of those around my “office”. I have a personal relationship with the staff of mature professional waiters that are so gifted at learning customer’s habits, who say hello and good bye in their very own personal way. One greets me with a kiss on the cheek. How can I explain this kissing between a waiter and a customer? It is Buenos Aires!

Posted by beatriz at 03:59 PM | Comments (0)

October 24, 2008

Florin & Markita

YouTube - Physics Tango

My friends Florin and Markita are entering this video in the AAAS Dance Contest. The more people who watch it, the better their chances.

Check it out.

Posted by joegrohens at 01:28 AM | Comments (0)

October 22, 2008

and i quote

'I got a dance ain't got no steps, y'all.
I just let the music move me round.'

- Preston, Billy. "Will It Go Round in Circles."

YouTube - Eric Clapton and Billy Preston - Will It Go Round In Circles

Check out Clapton's solo. He plays licks, by the way - the equivalent of dance steps; but he uses them to improvise. On the other hand, he and many other rock/blues guitarists have "written" solos that they repeat note for note when they perform.

And check out Billy Preston's dance.

Posted by joegrohens at 12:52 AM | Comments (0)

October 21, 2008


Originally uploaded by Ligadier Truffaut

Well, if this image has been taken down, I'll just take matters into my own hands:



Great photoshop hack.

If this were real, I think it would weigh in Palin's favor, and work against Obama. Especially his Latin heels and flamboyant gestures. First Joe the Plumber compares Burak to Sammy Davis, Jr. Now this.

Whoever the real woman dancer is, she has some good arm & shoulder development.

(Yes, I know it's not tango. I don't know why the photographer tagged it that way. I suppose it's probably cha cha, international style.)

Posted by joegrohens at 10:17 PM | Comments (0)

October 20, 2008

Romanian Tango

Argentine Tango at Ki Dojo of Florence

Ki Dojo has a good article here on Tango outside of BA - on this page, Romania, discussing Jean Moscopol, Titi Botez, Maria Tanase, Christian Vasile and Gion.

Posted by joegrohens at 08:30 PM

October 18, 2008

Horacio Ferrer

Horacio Ferrer
Originally uploaded by Nauzet Acosta

Beatriz wrote about seeing Horacio Ferrer recently in BA.

"I just saw for the second time the operita Maria de Buenos Aires. Awesome. Ferrer ar 75 reciting the poetry he wrote in 1964 without reading."

Posted by joegrohens at 02:47 PM | Comments (0)

October 15, 2008

Yo queria bailar. Carlos Gavito, vida, pasión y tango

Yo queria bailar. Carlos Gavito, vida, pasión y tango, a new biography of Carlos Gavito, written by Ricardo Plazaola, was published in February in Spanish. An English translation is expected late this year.

Publisher's web site

More information

Author Ricardo Plazaola is a journalist, and the father of Maria Plazaola, Gavito's last dance partner. Mr. Plazaola came to know Gavito through his daughter, and interviewed Gavito during the last months of his life.

Gavito was a specialist in pithy reflections on the tango, and I expect this book to have a lot of classic quotes.

Dice Gavito, y Plazaola transcribe: "Yo bailo el silencio. Bailo lo que hay antes de la música y los que hay después. Bailo nada, bailo eso que es como una intención".

Gavito says, and Plazaola transcribes: "I dance the silence. I dance that which comes before the music and that which comes after. I dance nothing. I dance that which is like an intention."

Posted by joegrohens at 01:31 AM

October 11, 2008

Letter from Buenos Aires # 4

Letter from Buenos Aires # 4. October 10th. 2008
Beatriz Dujovne

Sadly, Enrique Binda’s seminar came to an end last night. If you have followed my letters you know that he is a true historian of tango’s beginnings, as well as an expert in tango developments in the 1920s (also a collector of music of that era). I felt so enlightened about yesterday’s materials that I feel inclined to share my notes with those of you interested in tango music. As a dancer I tend to think that the best of tango belongs to the golden era. Not so.

Binda noted and illustrated (with available and unavailable recordings) that from 1914 until the beginnings of the decade of the 1930s, musicians were major protagonists of orchestas. He compared an alfarero [ceramicist?] who models his art with his hands infusing his soul in it, to a worker who makes bricks in an oven using a mold. Both use similar basic materials but the former gives his product soul and the later does not. For more on this, you may consult www.todotango.com, click “cronicas” and look for Binda’s articles.

In the 30s, as orquestas became larger, the role of the director and arranger acquired more prominence than that of individual musicians; thus great directors and great arrangers emerged and the individual expression and soul of each musician became anonymous (with exceptions). The sheer size of the orquestas demanded the roles of arranger and director. Binda placed the beginning of these changes with the orquesta of “Edgardo Donato y sus muchachos”; the name itself lumps all musicians under the anonymity of “muchachos” [men]. It would take years for a Piazzolla to give weight to individual musicians again, as was the case in the 1920s, the period we are studying.

What made yesterday’s class abundantly rich for me were the pieces Binda brought from his private collection. What a privilege to listen to them! How exciting to realize that from 1910s through 1927 tango was in its period of most rapid evolution!

We listened to “Mocosita” (1926), a bandoneon duo (Maffia and Laurenz), the richest and sweetest of the duos recorded during the 20s. We realized that just these two musicians (Mafia and Laurenz, so different in style and yet so complementary of each other) sounded like an entire orquesta (it would not take much to add four instruments and have an orquesta, the De Caro sexteto, as it actually happened).

Next he played “Campanita” (1927) by Orquesta Pacho, suggesting we pay special attention to Vardaro’s superb violin free interpretations.

Orquesta Firpo (1927), in “Dicha Pasada”, features violoncello; the piano freely acts as a commentator; another example of experimentation with new timbres and freedom of expression during this decade.

We listened to the same orquesta in “Inglesita” (1927) paying special attention to the richness of the music.

In 1927 Victor recording company started putting together its own orquestas; one of them is the “Orquesta Ferrazano”; from it we listen to “Viborita” composed by Eduardo Arolas.

What delighted us the most was “Poker de Aces” (1927) by Orquesta Pacho with Vardaro in violin. Unanimously we thought the violin was the center of the orquesta. The violin carried the orquesta in its shoulders, someone commented. If there had been an arranger the violin would not have freely “flown” in this personally expressive manner.

Pause for a cultural commentary.

[I am writing from an outdoor table at confiteria La Biela, my “second home” in Buenos Aires. At this very moment a waiter, Luis, comes out of this venue to bring me two chocolates and shake hands. We laugh, as this is part of an evolving story. Indeed, a few days earlier I reproached he had not brought me chocolates with the cafecito. He immediately brought two, “one for each of my eyes”, he said, since he knows I do not eat chocolate but like to look at them. Today he is working inside but saw me and decided to come out and say hello. We then chit-chatted about the financial world disaster in that familiar way which are so characteristic of tango lyrics].

Back to yesterday’s class. We listened to Cobian’s orquesta, which discography is small. We disliked the voice of Fiorentino in “Charlatan” (1928). He covered Vardaro’s extraordinary violin playing which Binda compares to a football player who moves the ball with dexterity in the field as the circumstances evolve.

“Domino” (1928) is one jewel that fell into oblivion, one of those compositions that were not re-edited, that only collectors like Binda own.

“Flores Negras” by De Caro, is a beautiful tango recorded many times. We all went Ahhhhh……

The moral of the story is that by 1928 there was an incredible richness in the music, many timbres, many ways of playing tango.

Next a surprise: “La guitarrita” by Sexteto Di Sarli, excellent orquesta, danceable, which was not successful in the 20’s. Truly Di Sarli. Binda says that Di Sarli’s recordings of this time show that he knew what he wanted in the 20s; it is the closest to the orquesta of the 40s. Di Sarli had to wait years for people to like his music. Di Sarli was always Di Sarli, Binda says.

On the contrary, D’Arienzo’s 1928 shows D’Arienzo was not always D’Arienzo. In 1928 he did not have his own aesthetic conviction. Binda does not appreciate the acceleration of the music he introduced. Even more, he opposes the titles assigned to him as “El rey del compas”, “Salvador del tango”, the director who took tango “from the head to the feet”.

Once again Binda shows us how tango’s history is filled with myths. The mythology goes like this: tango was nothing until De Caro in 1924. Then it became nothing again until D”Arienzo saved it in 1935.

The day is beautiful here. I will devote the rest of the afternoon to watch people at this outdoor venue. I am observing an interesting human flora and fauna. The ones alone have their heads leaning back trying to absorb all the sun they can. The ones in company (80% of them) are leaning forward talking with animation, gesturing. Everyone faces the sun. I am the only specimen with my back to the sun. They seem unconcerned about the carcinogenic effects of sun exposure. Who are the locals and who are the tourists? This is the solitary game I am about to play now. I have never played it systematically. I will report on how you tell apart a local from a foreigner in the land of tango in a future letter.

I am wondering…What in the bits of my cultural commentaries suggests to you that this is the city where tango is not just a dance, where it is part of a culture which, by its very nature has nourished the dance for over one hundred years?

Posted by beatriz at 02:20 AM | Comments (0)

October 08, 2008

Arrabal Tango Club

Originally uploaded by Alyne Dagger
Some Second Life players are creating tango scenes.

See Flickr: Tango at Arrabal and Arrabal Tango Club


Originally uploaded by quicksilver.barzane

My first moments in Arrabal Tango Club.

I discovered yesterday that Second Life, the virtual role-playing environment, has a location for tango: Arrabal Tango Club.

I am not very familiar with Second Life, myself. I have an avatar, but have yet to spend much time exploring it.

The Arrabal Tango Club is nicely designed. When I teleported there, my avatar was clothed in black. I walked into the bar. I passed another female player on my way in.

At this point I'm trying to figure out how to get my avatar to sit on a bar stool. I have no idea what will happen when I try to dance tango.


Is anyone reading my blog involved with this SL location? I would like to know more about how it got started, and who plays it. Are the players tango dancers in real life?


PS - Check out this video of animated tango dancing that the creators of this SL world made when they first launched it. It's incredible.

Posted by joegrohens at 07:10 PM | Comments (0)

October 06, 2008


Originally uploaded by Karalis
now, to me, this image says "tango"....


Posted by joegrohens at 12:33 PM | Comments (0)