Category Archives: Tango in Buenos Aires

2nd to Last Tango in Baires

On Wednesday night I went to a tiny Buenos Tangos class at Club Indepencia (572) which was fine– worked on sacadas with an Englishman who struck me as a nutty professor, then skipped over to 571 Peru to see El Afronte play, noticed a few people I didn’t feel like dancing with, so went back to Indepencia for Buenos Tangos/Unitango orchestra. By the time I got back to the Unitango event, the milonga there had gotten pretty small, although there was one of the big daddy dancers there, older, bald with ponytail, hulking about. I’d seen him around, mostly at img_5480Canning dancing with a cuuute brunette, so was naturally terrified of him. He sort of kept me in his line of vision as I grabbed a table, changed into my shoes, went to the baño, which is distinguished as “nice” because usually they are toilet paperless dumps, went the to bar etc etc. sort of trying to say “chill out dude let me get comfortable.” But golly, this guy really wanted to dance. Really strong telepathic message, coming, er, from over there.

Taking a breath, I turn, nod, and join him on the dance floor where he proceeds to take me for a RIDE. He had a really powerful, strong, yet warm embrace (Porteño with force) and a penchant for crouching under my stepping foot and flinging it outward, as if it were his. (This was okay because we were the only people dancing and could disobey feet-on-the-floor tango rule… plenty of space here tonight.) It was really fun to follow him, as much as I could. He gave me a lot of time between steps for decorations, which was fun, and ended songs with really hot little leggy poses, some that lifted me off the ground… and then gave me the best comment of my life: “do you have a deafness… problem?” (imagine thick Porteño accent) and I say, why yes I do, and he says “because you are very sensitive to the music.”


I hear the bottom third of music, the bass tones, so I think because musically I don’t get confused by the higher notes, I tend to focus my attention on the lows; I feel them. Furthermore, the orchestra was really nice, playing Piazzolla and Pugliese that I could recognize somewhat. Maybe this isn’t especially complex but his comment made me feel good, and made for an encouraging evening, and a noted progress on my dancing in general.


Picking on my Classmates

Last night I met a huge ego from Germany at a Parakultural class with a violent embrace– really rigid, and jerky– who got totally pissed off when I didn’t follow his “lead.” I think I suggested he’d have a better time dancing by himself and walked off.

Well. Attitudes sometimes get in the way. I know I’m no angel. And while I realize it is very challenging to learn tango as the lead, that it is a blow to virility struggle with a step, we go to class to learn things. There are awkward moments, hours, in this process. We have to accept this awkwardness, even invite it! and leave the attitudes at the door with our street shoes and cell phones.

Generally, any given weekly class in Buenos Aires attracts a different group of students each time it meets. Tango-tourists come and go, the locals move around. I have a few classes that have the same core group, but in general, I’m passing through the arms of men I’ve never seen before and will probably never see again. They are all different. There are the fantasy guys who want to wrestle you into the dramatic tango dancer he visualizes twirling and kicking around his pelvis and between his legs. Coming up after fantasy man is the timid one who leans back so far and touches you so weakly you feel that you feel like you’re fumbling in the dark. Making his way around the room, Mr. Greg Arious insists on blabbering, humming, or counting through every step– dude, will you shut UP already, I told you I’m deaf… and also there is a fair share of the cocky, more experienced dancers who feel entitled to touch you in “friendly” (and condescending) ways, such as placing palms on your hips or patting your back. I’ve grown tired of smiling this off and just walk away now.

Most troubling is the guy who is so desperate to connect in that tango way: the fluid flow of energy between two physical, working bodies, that he’s, like, gyrating and sparking like a live wire seeking ground. When you dance with him he tries to bore an incision into your chest somehow, then squeeze himself into it. This is annoying because you need the connection in order to dance well, but in this case, you want to withhold it from him, because he is not relaxed, he isn’t gentle. And most importantly, he isn’t opening to you. So you dance like shit.

I know there have been books written, and instructional videos, and other blog posts explaining the “passion of tango” and whatever, I’d be glad to read these things, as long as the prose isn’t too purple– I just haven’t yet. There are occasions when you are dancing with a great dancer and without even touching you or using muscles or movement, its like BOOM something locks into place. He holds you with this soft, but powerful ray of light: an energy channel that sees right into you and coaxes you to open up your own. Suddenly you can’t hide anything. The second your mind drifts, your axis wobbles, or you tense up, he knows. You can only give him what you have, and as soon as you don’t, this intangible matrix will say  “you’ve left me, come back.” Its pretty scary, and lovely, and it takes training in both confidence and in dance.

The other side of this, is that despite needing to establish this connection with your partner in order to dance well, as a woman (and a between-the-lines-reading American one, at that) it is also a little difficult to know whether or not your partner is about to get the wrong idea… Is he starting to think about making the beast with two backs? I mean, we practically already are. For this reason I am starting to really appreciate the more formal milongas with men and women seated separately, and you get to return to the comfort of the girl-side of the room after the tanda, safe from any sexual advances. In the hipster milongas, the line isn’t so clear and you don’t know when you’re off the hook or when you have to start inching away. Everyone knows the meaning of “gracias”: “thanks, now get lost.” And gracias for that.

I’d like to give a shout-out to yoga. I don’t do it despite having a best friend who is a certified Ashtanga & etc. instructor and whole group of fanatic yoga people for friends. I’ve found that most of my favorite dance partners practice the zen zombie stretching and sweating, and as a result they have great posture, _very_ open energy channels, and an innate ability to relax, and help me relax too (huge feat, I can tell you).

El Dia de Enamorados con Analia y Marcelo

I’m sort of in love with Analia Vega and Marcelo Varela. They are a brilliant couple with a hefty tango resúme and so warm, funny, and clear. With Lucas DiGiorgio they teach my favorite class on Monday nights at Rodriguez Peña 1074. It’s an advanced class so I always get babied but, maybe that’s um, why I go!

This past Saturday night they performed at a lovely Valentine’s Day milonga at Peru 571 which I think is– rather basically– known as the Buenos Aires Club. The milonga there was eye-candy, the band, Sexteto Milonguero, excellent, and Analia y Marcelo were amazing. Here is a close-up clip of one of the more intense bits of their performance– Marcelo gets a little carried away. Each time I watch it I get goosebumps.

And here is another:

Milonga Initiation at Niño Bien

Last night I went to my first milonga at Niño Bien, which is a very famous old-fashioned dance hall where all the weathered milongueros go to dance with women who know what they’re doing. I went to watch, have a glass of wine, avoid eye-contact, but also see what the cabaceo* sequence really looks like.

As an American Sign Language user, I am particularly drawn to the non-verbal linguistics of tango– how communication is put into effect by listening and responding to each others’ bodies, how the cabaceo can simplify, condense, and replace a whole conversation in just a manner of eye-contact or a nod. Is there another instance where body language, sensitivity, facial expressions, and tacit openness carry the same weight as in the deaf community? Oh, yes there is, but can we not talk about that for now? This blog is rated PG.

I buy my ticket and enter the packed dance hall and the organizer seats me not on the women’s side– its too full– but sort of off to the corner on the men’s side. I enter just as a tanda** is ending and the dance-floor is clearing out. Just about everyone stops by my table to kiss and greet the blond sitting across from me, who turns out to be Deby the American-turned Porteña who also operates a B&B! I’d read her blog a few times and had heard of her so it was kind of ironic I was plunked down at her table.

trippen_sandals1 Even though I was hoping not to try to dance out there, I started to feel bad because I was wearing my big wooden Trippen sandals and I felt like everyone in the room was staring at them. So quickly, under the table I slip on my little beat-up practice shoes and feel a little bit more comfortable.

Between tandas everyone goes and sits down at their designated tables (I kept wanting to clap at the end of songs, such is the theater of this place) and my god, I’m surprised at how closely the women’s section resembles a giant flock of harpies… or hungry beasts at the zoo. They are fanning themselves, flipping hair, gossiping, pointing, and seeking a cabaceo. When the music starts again, couples having connected from opposite sides of the room somewhat magically join each other on the dance floor. Duchamp’s Mile of String comes to mind.

One man who may or may not have been a milonguero comes up and asks Deby to ask me that now since I’ve removed my sandals, will I dance with him? I tell him um, no, you’d better not… Deby reprimands me for being shy so I dance with Mike, who is thankfully across the room, and then I have to accept the other guy’s second invitation, which resulted in a tanda that was one note short of disaster. I’m a little like “told you so” but whatever. Gotta start somewhere. I dance once more with Mike who tells me I should try yoga to learn how to breathe.

I felt kind of brave for going to Niño Bien, alone, knowing that I was going to be a misfit and that I would need to straddle the line between being very modest (and realistic) by saying “no” and also being polite and accepting invitations. I often wonder to myself “Why do I do this? Why am I trying to learn tango?” None of my friends do it nor have much to say about it, so its not about them. I haven’t made many friends or had a ton of fun in the New York tango community either. Nevertheless I want to learn tango because it is a way of socializing that I want to be sure I can do as I get older and frustrated or bored with communication as usual. For me tango is a sort of third language after English and ASL. Talking and writing and partying in English has its limits, as does the visual nature of sign language, which combines spatial linguistics with strong non-manual expression to say things that English just cannot. Tango is a language of feeling that is communicated more directly than any verbal language, and when done well, I can only imagine what it must feel like.


* a cabaceo is an invitation to dance that is initiated by the man by making eye contact with a lady from opposite sides of the milonga. She can then nod to accept the invitation or look away to refuse it. The exchange of furtive glances saves the man potential for embarrassment. In the hipster milongas, the men and women aren’t seating separately so the men have to sortof wander around looking for a dance, which is sortof sad.

** a tanda is a set of 4 or 5 songs of a similar musical theme, played as a set. It is expected that two people will dance the entire tanda together, but if you decide to leave a dude in the middle of a tanda, you’ll be considered very rude, but one shouldn’t have to suffer through a set of fourish songs that is going horribly. It sort of ruins the night for a man because then he will be frowned upon because other ladies will hesitate or refuse to dance with him.

That’s it for the vocab. lesson.

La Boca

La Boca is so cute! As long as you avoid La Caminita, the tourist promenade populated by so many waiters waving fliers and street tango dancers kicking and passing hats that you can barely enjoy the scenery. I am thinking of commissioning a filete artist to paint a sign to hang around my neck reading “¡No Graciás!” with the hope of deterring the aggressive walking advertisements from demanding things of me in broken English.

Regardless, it was a beautiful day and along the way to the Fundación Proa, I found that the people were just as happy to be photographed as the brightly painted buildings and sleeping animals.

Jennifer Meets TangoGod & also Finds Strong Coffee

img_4822The stuff they sell in the grocery store doesn’t smell like coffee at all and once brewed and consumed it shoots through your body like a ballistic missile, sending you running for the baño before you’ve even emptied half your mug. Dangerous stuff. So yesterday, when a waft of something delicious and familiar hit me nose, I was delighted to find an outpost of  Est. General which one of the Chowhounds had mentioned when I posted there asking them for some advice. THIRTY SIX PESOS later (my most significant purchase yet) I had a 1/4 kilo of stinky, stinky coffee beans.  This morning, I woke up early! Eleven!

Then, when I got to class at Brujo a tattooed blond who seemed to know me sauntered up to dance and lo and behold it was Mike whose blog is the most honest and informative assessment of learning tango in Buenos Aires. He has been a hero in dispensing candid advice about being here, what to avoid, what not to miss, so it was awesome to meet him, though its always a little bit awkward when someone from the wwwdot becomes an actual person.

In the Once neighborhood, which becomes a little bit like Canal Street sans Chinese folks, I buy some turquoise leggings that turn out to be sort of itchy and camel-toey. Nope, not posting an image

Rodriguez Peña 1074

Ever get the feeling that the teacher is dancing with you, like,  a lot?

Maybe because you’re the worst one in the class?

Me too! This is why I don’t bother taking private lessons. In almost every lesson I go to, I get taken aside and told NO NO No No no okay, mejor, ok no, NO, mejor (better)…

Last night for instance: I was getting a lot of attention from not one but both teachers and I must say, I felt like a big dork.

The class was in a basement, with a sticky floor (bubblegum! on it!) and everyone was dancing killer (dudes, why are you _here_?) and the teachers were of course very… nice to me. After we “warmed up” so they could gauge the level of the class, which I affected significantly, we focused on some body technicality which means, as simple as it may sound, it is not: walking around the room alone.  Tango is about walking–you’ll hear this shouted from every rooftop–and is reviewed frequently in classes of all levels. So here we were, making sure we weren’t leaning, weren’t allowing our hips out in front of our shoulders or vice versa, using balls of feet etc etc. and… the teachers were surrounding me.


Lucky me, I get all the attention. I really like these two teachers though, didn’t write down their names but its easy enough to look up. The both had great senses of humor, a lot of patience, and did a lot to help me relax, which is just about as important as walking properly.

They taught s a new step to work into our practice, and we set to work on that. Eventually everyone changed partners enough that someone had to dance with me because they’d all danced with each other twice. There was this amazing guy Eugene from California with whom I danced, which was awesome– he could nail the step in question, as far as I was concerned, and this is the best way to learn. (Now I understand why people hire taxi dancers. It must be helpful, if a little humiliating or slightly weird).

I got to dance with a few other people– some funny older ones who hummed through the songs, a few lady-leaders, ending up finally with a brightly-dressed goofball named Enrique who figured out that I too am a goofball, and we started goofing around with tango dancing which is exactly what I’ve been looking for! yes! Laughter! I’m going back there. Rodriguez Peña 1074. No idea what the place calls itself but if you ask me it should be called salon taffy floor.

I’ve taken a few nuevo classes at Tango Brujo lately, which is full of Americans including some recently laid-off New Yorkers whom I recognize from practicás at Sandra Cameron. AJ, I think his name is? has been down here for about two months and while he could tear up the floor in New York he’s pretty smokin’ now. AJ if you ever read this, sorry if I’m getting your name wrong and sorry I was afraid to dance with you. I’m too short, too!

Regardless of all the awkward feelings it all is really fun and despite the moments in which I nearly run out of the room, the classes, the other students, and the teachers are really there to teach you things, and if you keep working on the walking, concentrate on following your partner, and smile a lot, you really do start to improve.