30 ene 2008

Still coasting on the lull in my tango energy. As such, there’s not much to say that’s tango related. It hasn’t been a total void, as I have remained active although to a lesser degree. Call it the depressive phase of the bipolar tango chemical stew.

Came late to The Beat on Monday after an overextended, after-work nap. Got a few dances, they were generally good initially but seemed to stagnate the longer they went on, mostly due to my lack of imagination, inspiration and/or trust in myself with dancers I haven’t worked with extensively. On the instances when Homer played some alt music I was completely lost. Later in the evening he apologized for throwing me off and I told him I just don’t know how to approach that kind of music. He offered instruction the next time we meet in a practice situation. Not to dismiss anything he has to offer but I don’t know how much my difficulties can be rectified by outside teaching. Certainly, part of my issue is due to a lack of appropriate dance vocabulary, particularly with music that has a languid tempo. But I think the bigger issue is that the music itself doesn’t really speak to me on tango terms. Compounding the problem is the fact that I’m not familiar with the music to begin with, which is a situation that would make even tango music challenging for me to dance to. Homer seemingly has no such difficulties regarding interpretation. He is what I would call a master of “the moment,” which is to say he’s incredibly adept at improvising movement as a spontaneous response to the opportunities that appear from his partners and from the music. His style is very much one of suggestion and dialogue. I would say that my synapses don’t fire in the same way. If Homer’s dance is like jazz, mine is more like classical—practiced, preconceived, emphasis on precision and unity of conception. When the unexpected occurs I often have some trouble readjusting. Usually that doesn’t result in a major break, but to my partner it will be noticeable that I had intended something different. Need to work on making these moments less disruptive.

Other tango events since my last post, in brief, include Cellspace (freezing cold, lots of traditional music on Ney's end), practice with A (productive and fun, as always), the 80/20 milonga (good energy, a fun demo with Colette and Richard which included a brief moonwalk), and the All-nighter at The Beat (lots of out-of-towners). Yeah, this is me on a tango slow period. Had plans to go out on Friday as well but I got into bed after work with the intention of taking a brief nap and didn't get up until about fifteen hours later. Guess my body was telling me something. Should have guessed since I had been struggling to keep my eyes open on the drive home from work the whole week previous. Never a good thing.


20 ene 2008

I have come to the conclusion that jeans are not ideal for dancing, at least for me. Whenever I wear them I get sloppy. I don’t know exactly why that is, except maybe that denim is generally denser and more coarse than other materials. I find myself avoiding a tight collect position in order to minimize friction. Plus, I prefer loose jeans, which compounds the issue. Maybe tighter jeans would work better, I don’t know. And maybe my jeans are just a tad too long. At The Late Shift last night I was stepping on them here and there. Then again, that just might be bad technique, not being grounded enough and all that. Sometimes I would catch myself in the mirror lifting my feet off the ground in a way that appeared excessive, and it’s a pretty unconscious thing. Better work on that.

Speaking of The Late Shift, it’s only been going on for three weeks now and already it seems to be one of the most popular milongas in town. Certainly, it’s become one of my favorites. The floor is good, the sound system is good, there is ample space and the set up is comfortable. Dynamically speaking, there is a good flow to la ronda, the level of dancing is decent (at least late at night–post 12:30–which is when I tend to go) and David is an excellent dj. When I hear his selections both inter- and intra-tanda they just makes a lot of sense to me. I think this milonga will definitely become a Bay Area staple, but hopefully not at the expense of others. It’s set up to have minimum impact on places like aMuse by running later and offering discounted entry fees after aMuse closes, but I think it’s inevitably going to make a ripple at least. It will be interesting to see how next week’s All-Nighter at The Beat (personal fave) is affected.

I had intended to get there around 12:30 to take advantage of the discount but I woke up late from a nap and lay in bed for a while deciding whether I still wanted to go. By the time I got my ass up, showered, and made the drive it was close to 2, but there was still a good number of people and fresh energy in the room. I danced 4 tandas which for me is relatively copious, especially within an hour and a half. All a pleasure although as I mentioned I felt a little sloppy (damn jeans) and also not really properly warmed up. When I practice, I find that it usually takes me an hour of straight dancing before I feel pretty loose and can start to play around, and that is with one partner who is very familiar with my style.

Regarding the "play" aspect, I still have difficulty feeling like I can experiment with other dancers (especially in a milonga) because I am always cautious about trying to keep things comfortable, and it's almost like I don't know if I have permission to make things more challenging. And given my tendency to be a reluctant dancer I don't offer people the opportunity to get too familiar with my approach. I suppose it might help if I was more open to dancing beyond one tanda at a time with anyone, but I remain resistant to that if only because I am so tied to Argentine etiquette. I just hope that doesn't give off the impression that I'm blowing anybody off. At this point it is very rare for me to have a dance experience that is unbearable because I am already so cautious before I consent to dancing it pretty much guarantees a good experience; I only go out when I know it will work. In this regard I feel very close to something Carlos Gavito said, as quoted in Paul Pellicoro's book on Tango:

...I swear to God that I enjoy every single tango I dance. That is why, when I go to a milonga, I don't dance the whole night. I dance a few selected tangos. What is important is that I always dance well. [...] If I can't find the right partner, I won't dance. If I don't like the music, I won't dance. So, to describe to you my best tango moment is impossible, because for me every tango is a best moment.

Words I live by, in tango and beyond.


18 ene 2008

Feeling much better now, enough to get back out on the floor, although to be honest I'm still kind of riding the winter tango blahs. Nevertheless, managed to get some really good practice with A last night. Both of us have not danced much lately and had some rust to work off, but also felt pretty fresh mentally speaking. Worked out a new turn which just kind of came out of nowhere. "That's really nice!" A exclaimed after I repeated it a few times. Had to figure it out after the fact. I love those moments when new things just happen. Although they will never have the purity after that initial discovery. Subsequently, it becomes something "learned" and as such exists as a predetermined part of the repertoire. But that's okay. Always nice to have a different manner of expression.

On Monday I went to one of the "Farewell" milongas for Roberto Riobo at La Cumparsita. At the time I was still having difficulty with my back and only consented to one dance, with M, who just got back into town. We had only danced together on one occasion, and this after several years of missed opportunities. I really like her as a dancer but at times I have a little bit of difficulty because her steps and her resistance are so light, and I think she reads my lead a bit differently than I intend it. At times I completely lose track of where she is, where the weight is on which foot. I think this is all still just a calibration issue and something that will correct itself with mutual familiarity. To be fair, on this occasion we danced to what I found to be a particularly difficult tanda. First off, it was Pugliese, and I may have mentioned this before but though I love his music I CANNOT dance to it, at least not in a way that leaves me satisfied. And this was not easy Pugliese, not the stuff from the 40's. No Mala Junta here. One song in particular was completely unfamiliar, almost all strings, all rubato, slow, no discernible rhythmic underpinning – very elusive. When it was over M and I had a little chuckle over how amorphous it was, how little accessibility it offered to dancers.

Aside from the dance with M I sat and watched, as I usually do. Roberto performed one song which got stretched out to three by audience demand. Always a joy to watch. He's playful and quirky but can also put on his porteño face and project some intensity when he wants to.

This weekend, hope to get out there again. Maybe play around with that new turn a little.


13 enero 2008

Another weekend devoid of tango. The weather is gorgeous here in the Bay Area, unseasonably mild as the meteorologists describe it. Gives me a chance to recuperate. Right now I'm sitting in the Village Grounds café in Berkeley, one of my favorite wifi/java hotspots. Really wanted to go to the Turns/Lapiz workshops at La Pista with Marika & Avik, and to Roberto Riobo's workshops on Saturday but decided to pass to let my back heal. The cold is, fingers crossed, pretty much gone now. The back is better but still tender, especially when I sit for a while. When I get up I have to walk at a forward angle. Maybe I should consider this good exercise for apilado posture.

I did manage to get a few (very gentle) dances on Friday, when I visited Marcelo & Romina's milonga in Lafayette. They are good friends and mentors to me, and I credit Marcelo in particular as being the one who has most shaped my foundation and general philosophy of tango. They are freshly returned from BsAs, where they spent the holiday with family. In the meantime they squeezed in some performances at Salon Canning and La Ideal which I think showcase their current emphasis on elegance over flashiness (which they are also capable of).

Tomorrow (Monday the 14th) will be the Farewell Milonga for Roberto at the Slovenian Hall. Barring anything drastic I plan to be there. Whether or not I dance remains to be seen.


10 ene 2007

Recurrent maladies: this cold is like a loser trying to impress a date by attempting to scam his way into The French Laundry without a reservation.

"I made my reservation nine months ago, you must have lost it! No? Oh wait, that guy on the list, that's me, that's my code name. No? Come on, man, I'm really trying to impress this girl, I know she's the one, don't you believe in romance? No? Truth is, I'm dying, and before I go I want to experience the finest meal to be had on this cruel world..."

Also, I re-injured my back lifting a box yesterday, and now I teeter from an amorphous stiffness to sudden shooting bolts of electricity that make my knees buckle and my vision go white.

These are not ideal conditions for dancing :(

Ah well, they say you can practice by visualization. Here's something to visualize and aspire to. Perhaps the dancer who closest embodies the way I (try to) conceptualize my approach to the music. Gracias, maestro...


8 ene 2008

Didn't make it to The Beat, regrettably, especially after having told a few very good dancers we would meet there. One of whom I have never had the opportunity to dance with but whose style and poise I have long admired. But this is how it is with me. I have literally gone years with the intention of dancing with someone without ever having the right opportunity. Even now, there are several very prominent followers with whom I haven't had the pleasure of sharing a tanda. I don't think this is particularly the best way to go about it, it just builds the anticipation to a point where it would be difficult to live up to. Even so, I am rarely disappointed when we finally get together on the floor. Hopefully, it's the same on her end.

Had difficulty sleeping the night before, still had some residual pain in my back and had some odd rumblings in my belly. Woke up feeling like my guts were doing la ronda. Not severe, like a Troilo milonga tanda. Pretty mellow, say, a Canaro set. Good enough to go to work, but not good enough to plaster on a cheerful demeanor for my coworkers. Stomach slowly settled as the day wore on. Post work, had the intention of making it to the práctica--after a nap. We all know what a bad idea that is. Of course, I didn't get up in time. Ah well, the body needs what it needs and I've learned it's always best to listen because it will let you know.

Feeling better today but uncertain. It seems the m.o. for the currently circulating pathogen is to attack in waves. It's almost as if a bunch of different ones made a pact and have decided to back each other up. As such I'm not letting my guard down.

In the meantime, here is a link for a clip I've been much admiring lately. It's of a couple named Roxana Suarez and Sebastián Achaval doing a demo in Seoul. Disfruta!


7 ene 2008

My weekend:

Many hours in front of the tv under the covers in my sweats.

-Man, The Last Samurai is actually pretty bad, huh?

-So I guess triple axels are getting pretty routine in women's figure skating.

-I can't believe Jurassic Park is 15 years old. I remember the first time I saw The Graduate it was about 25 and that seemed ancient to me for some reason. Come to think of it, that was probably around the time that Jurassic Park was released. I am so old.

-Futurama rules.

Nighttimes I managed to tumble out of bed, hop in the shower and head to the call of the bandoneon. Saturday night was the inaugural Late Shift milonga at the Metronome, hosted by David and Mariana. I got there around 1, there was a good crowd circulating. D & M cozied up the place a bit by dragging a couple of couches to the sidelines and were serving hot pot stickers when I arrived. Everybody thought I had come from aMuse but no, I was just being cheap by waiting for the after 12:30 discount ($7, opposed to $10). Stayed until about a quarter past 3, later I would hear they ran about half an hour longer. Good music, good vibes. Plenty of space on the floor which assisted in a good flow.

Sunday to La Taza in Oakland, again a gathering I would describe as "intimate." Spent most of the time chatting with Mariana and got some insights into follower perspective, which always intrigues me. Danced my only dance of the weekend, one and a half milongas (D'Arienzo) with Elaine. Both of us were recuperating from something and taking it easy. Had a decaf and chocolate mousse which was decadent but perhaps a bit too rich and sweet for me, should have cut it with water or milk or something along those lines.

Tonight, will attempt The Beat, but will see how I feel...


5 ene 2008

Yesterday morning, the Richmond/San Rafael Bridge was dancing. Not so much a tango, though. More like a rumba, or maybe salsa. Lots of hip movement. Sitting at a standstill I watched the gray waves churning below, the waters of the bay leaping up towards the span like suicides in reverse. My head and stomach spun as the road shuddered and twisted beneath my car. Was late to work, sick from the motion as well as an impending cold which made my throat and sinuses feel like they had been dragged along asphalt, and also aggravated the tenacious back pain I've been nursing for a week. Much to my dismay, I found that even if I wanted to go home and recuperate I was stuck, as the bridge shut down in both directions shortly after I had disembarked. Not surprising, as I drove past an overturned big rig near the end of the westbound side--heard there were two in the other direction. Also, flooding all around me, in particular to the north which closed those roads. Got through the day with Airborne and Advil, then after clocking out I wend my way towards the East Bay by heading south, GGB to SF and then Bay Bridge east. Along the way, since it was convenient, stopped by Val 16 to pick up some dulce de leche and some alfajores. Later, would enjoy same with some nice hot maté (Taragüi, Sin Palos, which I feel is smoother than the regular kind and has much less powder). Today, feel significantly better, hopefully enough to attend the inaugural Late Shift milonga at the Metronome.


2 ene 2008

Well, that didn't take long.

Last night, the Hangover Milonga at La Pista, hosted by Ney, fresh from his travels eastward. A limited number of dancers in house, but he kept the chairs empty by evoking "Texas Rules": at least five couples dancing at all times, and since it was follower-heavy no leader gets to sit while a follower is waiting, else he calls last tanda. Was still coddling my back but felt much better about my dancing. I'm thinking perhaps the amount of free space affects my overall dance in a way that goes beyond the physical, that when I'm in a crowded room with difficult energy my mental focus gets stretched to the point where everything ends up functioning at a very low level. It's definitely a consequence of my reluctance to dance. You'd think I'd have accumulated enough experience to deal with tight spaces by now. Then again, it's not so much the amount of space as the consistency of flow. Give me a packed floor that moves well and I'm okay.

(Followers: unless you've had the chance to lead in a difficult space – though you may be sympathetic to the leaders' plight – you have no idea how difficult it can be. I know a top-notch follower who is of late devoting practice to leading, and after a night on a difficult floor she was flushed with exasperation as I've never seen her. "When you follow it's always so easy," she said. "Just close your eyes and dance. But leading... the middle of the floor is chaos, and the outer lanes don't move!")

But we all know leaders who can make the best of any situation, the ones who just seem to carve a path through the maelstrom and emerge as easily as through a fog. I don't know exactly how to do that, obviously. Some part of me suspects that you have to be willing to use your partner as a kind of wedge and that's not something I'd want to do. I've spoken to some leaders about this and voiced my concern about protecting my partner and being mindful of her space, and the responses I've gotten tend to indicate that they don't really worry about things like that. Which is not to say they don't take good care of their partners. They take responsibility for the couple primarily by dancing well, that's all. Simple, no?


1 ene 2008 - SATD (another tango neurosis).

Winter seems to be that magical time of year that saps the desire to tango. I've been feeling pretty burnt out lately, and in retrospect I have gone through tango funks during this season for the past few years. In conversation and in observation of noted absences it seems I'm not the only one. Also, when I was in BsAs this past June the tango scene was particularly slow. (I asked my friend Negracha, a prominent milonguera, if it was always like this at this time of year and she replied that while it's usually slower it was particularly bad this year). Porteño y Bailarin only had one of their dance floors open, and La Nacional had no more than ten people in attendance--including the performers--on the two separate occasions I visited.

What is it about winter? Is it that we're all just tired and cold and would rather stay at home? I think it must be more than that, because that wouldn't account for the blah feeling once we've--or at least for me--already made the effort to go out.

Right now, it's more than just an emotional/inspirational funk for me, though. Lately I've been having increased difficulty concentrating. Not just on my partner or even my own movements, but with the entire floor, the people around me, and even the music which I'm generally pretty familiar with. It's probably the last that is most troubling. My expression has trickled to a feeble vocabulary of utilitarian movements and my dance dynamic has been flatlining. I can't even remember most of the myriad possibilities that I've learned over the years, and what's worse I can't even seem to open myself up to exploring new possibilities, or even feel curious at transitional moments in the dance where ideally I'd think "what if?" And in milonga I can't play with the rhythm like I used to, I can't even seem to connect to the habanera on a basic level.

All I can do at this point is ride it out and trust that it will pass. But there is a part of me that wonders, do I even care all that much if it does, or does it really matter? (Obviously, the answer is yes to both if it's an issue at all, even if it's not for some part of my psyche). This part of me, the voice of apathy, has hindered me in just about everything I've ever gotten involved in. I'm sure it's the same story with everyone. I'll discover something and get really excited about it so I pursue it with brio, then all of a sudden the fire just peters out and I more or less just drop it. So far, tango has been one of the longest-lived of my passions and I guess that makes it more precious in a way, makes me more codependent on it. Because without tango I have no idea what I'd really feel passionate about. And a life without passion... well, the poets and the philosophers and the grand storytellers have expounded on that subject a lot better than I can right now.


So last night was the New Year's All-nighter at The Beat, and a grand time was had by all. Lots of ladies looking lovely, decked up in their fancy evening dresses and assassin heels. Dapper gents in their status wear. Me in my "once a year" suit, more for show than for practicality and comfort. Rina spiffed up the place with lots of little details, streamers at the entrance and various decorations hanging from the walls, and generally kept things functioning efficiently with that "Russian matron" energy of hers. Michelle kept the food stocked and presented with flavor and flair. The djs--Alli, Dan and Ben--keeping the energy moving in ways that were never predictable. Champagne at midnight, a somewhat timid rendition of Auld Lang Syne (assisted by a big poster of the lyrics put up by the always-thinking-ahead Dan), circulating kisses and best wishes. Coffee and cake at two for the ever grateful, fading diurnals. Me dancing relatively poorly with good partners and enjoying it nonetheless, just glad and appreciative for the sharing. I blame the aforementioned funk and the suit and the shoes and the fact that I did a leg workout the day before and my back was killing me. Those don't sound like excuses, do they?

At any rate, I wish everybody a great 2008, may your good tandas last five songs and your bad ones last two :)