The Latest Performances at Esquina Tango!

Carlos Canedo and Anais Haven - July 2009

Oliver Kolker and Silvina Valz (Class Milonga Demonstration) - July 2009

Oliver Kolker and Silvina Valz (Milonga Performance) - July 2009

Part 2:
Part 3:

Ney Melo and Jennifer Bratt - April 2009

No longer a milonga wuss . . .

Life is short and
it's gone in a moment,
in this night it is necessary to live.
In the nostalgic evening parties
the old times return
with this tango that takes us
like a dream with its rhythm.
Old memories, pretty women,
sweet moments from the past.

"A night of partying" (1909)
translation by: Alberto Paz

Recently, I was able to arrange carpooling with a tanguero who lives fairly close to me. The only catch is that he stays until the very end of the milongas. So if I wanted a ride, I'd have to stay through La Cumparsita. I have had a bit of a reputation for wimping out around 11:30, so this was going to a challenge. So far I've stayed twice 'til the end of the milonga - the last two Saturdays, in fact. And I wish I'd stuck it out sooner!

By the end of the milonga (for tango dancers in Austin, that usually means 1 or 2am-ish) the crowd has thinned quite a bit, and most of the dancers who are still there are more relaxed, maybe even a little punch-drunk from fatigue, and there's far more laughing and socializing. We're all a bit disheveled, hair flattened to faces, make-up long since disappeared. It's so hot no one thinks the Spanish fans are simply a decorative accessory. Many of the tangueros are on their second or third shirt. We're all dancing a bit rough. We laugh when we make mistakes and we laugh when we do something gorgeous. The more daring music is played this time of night, Nuevo and Neotango, and now that the pressure is off slightly to dance "the perfect tango", we can all be a bit more daring in our dance.

As La Cumparsita plays, a few couples find each other and pair up once again for the last dance. Whether I dance or not to La Cumparsita, I'm always moved by it - no matter how many times I hear it. I can't imagine ever getting tired of it. So how could I have missed out on this experience for so long? Even if I'm too tired to lift my feet to dance, at least I can enjoy the company and the music all the way to the end.

How your notes move me
in this Buenos Aires evening;
let the music intoxicate
to make of a tango a celebration.


My first tango workshops . ..

I finally braved it and took two workshops/classes from Silvina and Oliver while they were here in Austin. I'm still trying to absorb everything. Overall, I really enjoyed the classes and I'm continually finding ways to apply what I've learned.

Their approach to structure (which I've written a bit about in response to other posts on Tango Connections) is invaluable. They began the class elaborating on the idea that executing a lead, response to a lead, or series of steps sloppily or in a way that disregards the basic structure of the dance - and then saying 'that's just my style' or 'I'm expressing myself' - just won't cut it. There are expectations that "this movement" leads to "that response". For the dance to work socially, on the milonga floor, it has to be that way. Within the few basic movements, forward, back, open - the entire dance is built with almost limitless possibilities.

They went on from there to having dancers connect with the steps and patterns with their entire body engaged - not just an emphasis on foot work - but also on posture, core strength, looking at the amount of space you physically take up in executing a step, and trying to be as compact as possible (for maintaining the most control.) From there they focus in on smaller and more specific areas of technique for boleos, giros, traspie etc.

That's the good news.

Not all of the class time was fun.

My partner and I were having trouble with traspie/milonga steps and I asked for help. Oliver told us to demonstrate in the middle of room (in front of everyone of course). Before we could take more than 3 steps, Oliver shouted "stop!" He strode up, pointed to my hand on my partners shoulder and said:

"Everyone look at this! This! (as he pointed emphatically at my hand.) This is caca! This is what not to do! This is not an embrace - this is caca!"

At which point I wanted to curl up and die.

But I couldn't because we were still in the middle of the dance floor in front everyone. Oliver took my offending hand and placed it just to the side of my partner's should blade. He then told us again to demonstrate. While he was right, it was easier to feel my partner's lead - I was so nervous, I still couldn't follow even the most basic lead. So Oliver and Silvina split us up and danced with each of us for a few seconds. Of course I could follow Oliver a bit better because there was absolutely no hesitation in his lead - and he left no where else for me to go (honestly I was afraid not to follow him correctly for fear of being called out even more.) When we finished he told me that I could follow the steps with a more experience leader, but I was too hesitant when the lead was a little "softer" or more uncertain. In the absense of a very strong lead (which took away my options for other steps) I would shift weight without my partner out of anxiousness.

At that we returned to the circle with the other dancers. In that moment, I was certain of two things. I was never going to ask for help again and I wasn't going to dance another step (with a partner) in the class. I was sure my partner hated me and would never want to dance with me again after embarassing him.

I sat down and sat out. So did my partner.

He got his nerve up before I did, and got back on the floor. I was fighting back tears.

Another dancer, one that I admired but hadn't danced with, came and asked me to dance. I declined. He chided me (very gently) for letting the experience sideline me and he asked me again to dance. This time I said yes. The first dance, I did ok - better than I had in the middle of the dance floor.

When the song ended, he asked if he could give me a small piece of advice, and I said yes, please. He told me that if I landed my steps more strongly, it would help the leader know that I was where I was supposed to be so that he could continue the sequence. He asked me to trust myself. When the music started again, I landed the steps as though I knew I was doing exactly the right step. I was still rough, but I was getting it.

The moment of wanting to give up, passed. I was back in the game. When we finished dancing, I thanked my partner and told him if he hadn't persisted, I would have given up. I still don't think I can thank him enough. By the time the milonga came around that night - my spirits were greatly improved and I was dancing with everyone - even the partner I was sure would never dance with me again.

(Pictured at the top - the embrace that is not caca.)

Giros - The Leader's Challenge

Warning: I am not a leader and I haven't been dancing very long, so this is purely opinion, based on idle observation and not a deep understanding of technique.

When I first saw the video of Tim Ferriss setting the Guinness world record for number of giros in a minute (frequently labeled "world record in tango" which seems silly to me), I kept thinking that can't be very much fun. All I had to go on was my experience of how giros feel to perform. Watching Alicia Monti race around Ferriss just didn't seem elegant or graceful - just racing. The video can be found here (feel free to skip to 4:00mn so you don't have to watch the silliness that precedes it.

Then last weekend I watched our guest teachers, Oliver Kolker and Silvina Valz perform a beautiful milonga at Esquina Tango. While I was reviewing the video (which is a little dark, unfortunately) I watched Oliver's feet executing his very fast giros. His steps, in comparison to Ferriss's, are fluid, musical and graceful - complementing Silvina's steps beautifully. The video is here:

Granted, Oliver isn't trying to set a record for number of turns - so efficiency is not his goal. But still, the difference, to my untrained eye, is striking.

It's all about the shoes...

And just for fun. . .

Music: Flaunt by Girls Love Shoes

Silvina Valz and Oliver Kolker at Esquina Tango

Silvina Valz and Oliver Kolker tango workshops and milonga at Esquina Tango.
Music: El Choclo - Angel Vargas with Angel D'Agostino


I was talking to a friend recently - a friend who dances, but not tango. More accurately, I was whinging. I've been sore, tired - not at all happy with my dancing. I keep thinking that I'm so very far from where I'd like to be in my dancing.

He asked a simple question. "Have you been training?"

I replied, "Of course, I practice every day. I have exercises to increase strength in my feet, ankles, and legs ..." etc etc

He asked again, "You're practicing - but are you training? Training like a dancer? Training like you used to?"


Oh, that kind of training. If I'm honest, no. I'm practicing like a hobbyist, and wondering why I'm not making the kind of progress I'd like - the kind of progress I used to make. I used to dance. In those days dancing meant daily drills, stretching, training in the athletic sense of the word. Training with goals in mind.

Without a picture in mind - a specific picture - of what I want to achieve, practicing doesn't have the impact it could have. It doesn't reach that next level. I'm getting stronger, little by little - but it's haphazard. Hit or miss.

Tango isn't a race - and for me (though it is for some) not a sport. But I'm starting to have specific ideas of the way I want to be able to move. There are areas where I'm still quite weak that are impacting my dancing, my ability to perform the steps I'm led. I can make excuses, but in the end, that's all they are.

This is my form of exercise - by the sheer number of hours I put into it. I couldn't take up another sport if I wanted to. So if this is going to be not just my source of renewal, connection, community, but also my source of health, wellbeing, and fitness - I need to treat it as such. Give it the commitment off the dance floor, that I try to give it on the dance floor.

I need to train.

A Writer's Tango

(I actually wrote this a couple of months ago, after missing a gancho lead and 2 boleo leads. In my defense, I had not actually learned either of those. This lovely leader was, after reading my blog, very excited to dance with me - and I with him. But I didn't have the chance to tell him how much of a beginner I was before we started dancing. He was sweet, and very polite - if not a bit puzzled by my performance.)

To my latest leader after our awkward first tanda:

Don't worry. I have to explain this all the time. My writing, in its quantity and emotion - seems to give the impression that I am an experienced dancer. I'm not. You could not have known that before we danced. I am an experienced listener of tango music - but not an experienced tango dancer.

I am a tango blogger, a tango reader, a tango pusher . . . because I am a tango dancer. I was a writer first, so I put everything I can't dance into words - and everything I can't write, I put into my dance.

Unfortunately (for my dance anyway) I write a great deal more than I dance. I wish that were not so at times.

I'd rather be dancing.

Everyone knows writers are peculiar. We take risks. We don't look both ways. We run with scissors. We go outside in the rain. We count our chickens before they're hatched.

We never hedge our bets.

And we never look before we leap - or how would we have the nerve to write anything?

We fall.
Truly. Madly. Deeply, we fall.

We open ourselves up to as many new and different lives as we can. We want to see from other eyes - different eyes.

Following, in this way, is perfect for me - so I can see the dance through your eyes. Through your body, your skin. I still see my dance - our dance, the dance we make together with the music and the floor and the dancers around us.

But in our connection, I can see a little bit through you.

A writer's dream.

Thank you for the dance.

when worlds collide

My tango world . . .

When I finally decided, after a few months (okay, years) of deliberation, to take up tango - I couldn't find a single person to go with me. My husband, my friends, and coworkers all gave me various forms of the polite "no, thank you." So when I entered the world of Argentine tango, I entered essentially alone.

Though the prospect caused a significant amount of anxiety, I eventually found it to be exhilarating. This was completely mine. I would have to conquer my fears on my own. There is power in that ... an energy. There is more to it though, even than the feeling of self-sufficiency that's gained. No one knew me in the tango community. I could enter this new world of people, connections, friends, without a preconceived notion of who I was, without the undesirable baggage of my past. Work stresses, financial worries, fretting about my dogs/cat/house/laundry/phone bill - whatever... left at the door. It felt like a vacation from my life.

On that level, the classes/practicas/milongas were a relief. A time to let go of everything else and be in the moment. No past, no future - just right now. This partner, this music, this floor. Nothing else. I'd go home feeling lighter, calmer, yet energized. Sometimes elated - floating through the door, without a thought to my sore feet, tired back, and ever more common lack of sleep.

Soon, however, I started to feel something else. A greater and greater divide between my tango life and the rest of my life. My husband, family and friends, who would all patiently wait for me to "get back" to my life on the outside. The divide caused a feeling of emotional drift. While I'm at home/work/grocery store/bank/dinner/whatever - I'm missing tango, a lot. And while I'm in my tango time, I find myself wishing I could share the experience with my husband, my friends and my family. I think this is what makes me such a tango-vangelist. A selfish desire to share the experience of connection and music with those closest to me.

For almost 5 months I've been maintaining two almost separate lives - my tango life, and my everything-and-everyone-else life. Starting this month however, things are going to change. People from my non-tango life will be crossing over into the tango world. I can only hope that it will have the kind of effect on them that it has had on me.

At the thought of my tango world finally being populated with people from my non-tango life, something else has happened. From my perspective, because it's doubtful anyone will notice the slightest thing, I will have a past. I will have presuppositions, assumptions, another identity superimposed on me-as-tango-dancer. For the first time, I will have to be all-of-me, present with all of the things that means to the people who know me outside. No separate compartments hidden away on either side of the line.

One life.

Then there's the other side of the coin. . .

I've already had a coworker catch a glimpse of me during a practica. She said she didn't know me at first - it took her several minutes to place me. I know I look different when I dance. I couldn't feel so different without at least some of that showing on the outside. When the self-conscious/doubting/apologizing self (that artifact from the outside world) finally drops away - I feel like a different person. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and I don't even recognize the image. I wish I could be her all of the time. My milonga self. I wonder, will they accept her, milonga-me? Will they question the transition? Analyze it? Or will they see the possibilities.

How long before I see the milonga-person in these friends from the "outside?"

I can hardly wait.

Today's music La Esquina by Federico Aubele

Yes, I know. Another Aubele song. *sigh* Can't help it - woke up with this one on my mind.

(translated by xiurell at )

Y los años van sin poder soltar
And the years go by without releasing
los recuerdos del ayer
yesterday's memories
así mirándolos pasar y volver
seeing them going and coming back
los recuerdos del ayer
yesterday's memories

A través de la esencia
Through the essence
de mil jazmines se filtra todo tu calor
of thousands jasmines all your warmth slips through

Los pétalos de tus labios
The petals of your lips
buscando sobre los míos
looking in mine
apagar su sed
extinguish its thirst

Noches de verano
Summer nights
en la esquina de Begrano
at Begrano's corner
navegando a la deriva
sailing to the drift
hasta el amanecer
till dawn

Sembrando melodías
Seeding melodies
en la noche infinita
on the endless night
lo llevo bien guardado
I'm keeping it well
ya lo sé
I know it

Y los años van...
And the years go by...

Las vidrieras han cambiado
The windows have changed
y sin embargo ya aun te pienso
and nevertheless I still think of you
Casi sin querer
almost without wanting to

y soy actor y espectador
I'm an actor and the audience
en mi memoria yo te siento respirar
I feel you breathing in my memory

Noches de verano
Summer nights
en la esquina de Begrano
at Begrano's corner
navegando a la deriva
sailing to the drift
hasta el amanecer
till dawn

Sembrando melodías
Seeding melodies
en la noche infinita
on the endless night
lo llevo bien guardado
I'm keeping it well
ya lo sé
I know it