|Not related to dancing, but this is the extraordinary view from Rubén and Cherie's terrace. *sigh*|
Every newcomer to Buenos Aires tango should start with a lesson with Rubén and Cherie. If nothing else to avoid the pitfalls that beset unprepared dancers who visit the more crowded, traditional (and conservative) milongas in Buenos Aires. In addition to solid technique instruction, they also provide so much insight into the milonga culture - and to Buenos Aires more generally. I just wish I had time to have more lessons before I left!
Rubén and Cherie and Preparing for the Milongas
Even with the guidance and lessons I had with my teacher before reaching Buenos Aires, I would have had a rough time in the milongas had it not been for Rubén and Cherie. A few hours after we got off the plane, my travel mate Janet and I walked the 20 blocks from where we were staying to Rubén and Cherie's apartment. Cherie said it was fine that my friend and I sat in on each other's lessons, which was a fantastic opportunity for both of us to learn so much.
First, I danced with Rubén which, if you have danced with the man you will already know this, was fantastic. It was worth the trip just to dance with him. I was all kinds of happy after we finished the song. Cherie smiled and said, 'did you hear the clicking - all the sounds you were making with your heels?" Oops.
"Yes," I answered hesitantly. Even though in other circumstances I really enjoy my heel adornos for expressing the music, I could already sense where this question was going.
"Try not to do that at the milongas. Keep your feet quieter." Adornments that make noise, heel or toe tapping etc., as I saw for myself at the milongas, are not appreciated and will elicit a row of disapproving looks. In the States that kind of thing is widely taught and encouraged - but definitely not appreciated in the milongas we went to.
(Note: all of my observations regarding what appears to be 'acceptable' at the milongas are only based, of course, on the milongas I went to since that's all I can really speak to.)
Other moves we were warned about that aren't welcome (and that clearly weren't appreciated in the milongas we visited) - high, sharp ganchos, leg wraps, high boleos and the like. In other milongas I hear there's little to no problem with them - especially very late in the night. But Cherie had a good idea of which milongas our hosts Maria Teresa Lopez and Margarita Guerra would be taking us to - and knew moves like that would immediately mark us as ignorant touristas. Not that we could hide that fact anyway - but we wanted to be respectful of the spaces we were dancing in.
That night at Club Gricel we saw tourists from the US doing every single thing she had warned us about - and the looks from tangueros/as observing the floor was not friendly. Mostly dancers with those moves were forced to dance with each other as many local dancers studiously avoided eye contact with them. The same thing happened at the other milongas we went to - dancers at Consagrados were even more harsh in their disapproval making quite audible comments on the matter. One couple was taken aside after the follower kicked a seated woman on the first row of tables. They were strongly encouraged to leave shortly after.
Every milonga is different and has its own personality. The best advice I can give in knowing what is appropriate and what isn't is to just watch the floor for awhile. Watch the dancers' faces - and reactions to other dancers. That can tell you so much. If you're not sure, err on the side of caution and keep your feet on the floor. If the practice seems to be bigger, higher moves at a particular milonga, then, if it's led, go for it. But watch the floor for awhile first and continue to observe throughout the night. As the evening wears on, the attitude can change as some dancers leave and other dancers come in.
Back to Rubén and Cherie - they are not only outstanding teachers, but very gracious hosts. They are warm and generous with their time and attention. The services they provide, from classes to taxi dancing, are worth every penny. They are well known and very well respected in the tango community in Buenos Aires, and of course around the world - thanks to all of the international tango students who pass through. If you're going to Buenos Aires, look them up - you'll be so glad you did.
Personal Notes on my Lesson
Technique, technique, technique.
Technique advice in my lesson was much what I expected as my weaknesses are (unfortunately) pretty consistent. My hips and free leg weren't relaxed enough. Rubén's steps were so small and so fast that the slightest tension in my leg and hips caused a delay in my following. I was, in an instant, disconnected from him. My hips were also so tense that I wasn't completely pivoting when I was being led to.
I was lifting my heels too much and my back steps were too long, even when I thought they were short. In the milongas, the space I had to step was smaller than anything I had experienced in Texas milongas - even what I used to think of as crowded milongas. By the way, the leaders in Buenos Aires are masters of tiny spaces and almost never seemed to get frustrated or impatient by it. For them it seems the situation is what it is and they work with what they have. Beautiful circular movements, tiny, musical steps - I never once felt constrained by the lack of space. (Of course I wasn't the one having to navigate.)
I'm also still "breaking at the waist" in every lesson I have and I don't really know how to fix that. I can feel the problems that it causes and I'm working on rebuilding the muscle I lost in my abdomen after surgery last year - but I can't seem to hold my abdomen firm and keep from bowing my back. I'm trying to be patient and I know it will take time and consistent effort, but I'm extremely frustrated by this.