29 Sep 2005

3rd Taipei Tango Festival 2005

First meeting – Thursday 15 Sept – Opening Milonga >

My arrival at Chiang Kai Shek airport at 5.30 pm was uneventful, followed by a smooth 1-hour bus ride into Taipei city. I checked into Erin Hotel at 7.30 pm and started to get ready for my first milonga in Taipei.

The Erin Hotel was strategically situated close by to the Shi-Dai Dance Studio where classes were held and within 10 mins taxi ride to the milonga venues of the Taipei Tango Festival. I descended into the basement bar and restaurant club Barrio at 8.30 pm, ravenously hungry after half a day of travel from Singapore. The Barrio has a cozy, intimate atmosphere with a nicely back lit bar area and a dance floor on the small side for the crowd tonight. It struck me as a place you could be comfortable hanging out with friends, and even in the intimate company of a Latin lover. Quizas, no? :)

Many dancers, both local and international participants at the tango festival began to arrive. The dance floor filled with elegant dancers and ladies dancing with expressive embellishments. Besides a stint in Sydney and Tokyo, and not withstanding the tango visitors transiting in Singapore, this was my first full-blown tango exposure outside of my country. I observed with interest the Taipei dancers as I have heard about the high level of dancing for a young community which only started in 2000. What caught my attention was the manner that the advanced Taipei leaders moved to the music. Slowly, sinuously and almost suspended from one fluid moment to the next. They led as if they had all the time in the world on the dance floor with their chosen lady in the shared abrazo. It gave the dance floor dynamics a particular energy at once deliberate and natural. This, I thought to myself, is dancing. Not the frantic, florid movements of other dance floors, with men and women in a rush to reach some unknown goal. Tango is not dancing a race where the winners get a prize upon reaching the finishing line. No adulating fans, no rapturous applause. Only the sweet reward of silent, intimate conversation between two bodies in motion. The sweetest drug of the senses tango dancers will spend a lifetime chasing.

I made friends with a friendly Taipei tanguero who introduced me to her friends. I danced a couple of tandas before an excited buzz fell over the club. It was time for the introduction dances by the 3 pairs of masters from BsAs: Esteban Moreno & Claudia Codega, Damian Esell & Nancy Louzan and Julio Balmaceda & Corina de la Rosa.

Elegantly spectacular, each pair of dancers with their unique style and personality transformed the dance floor and transfixed the eager crowd. The sexy and chic pair Claudia & Esteban danced with classical elegant footwork that came across with almost cerebral intensity. Claudia is surely the thinking woman’s tango role model. Damien & Nancy danced with youthful energy and lithe grace. This golden couple charmed everybody with their friendliness by the end of the festival. It was Julio & Corina’s turn. Their personalities dominated the dance floor, they moved as two continuous halves of a whole, each completing what the other started. It was as if their bodies carried within them the pure resonance of generations of dancers from BsAs who lived and breathed tango. This is the vibrating resonance I have seen from clips of the BsAs dance floor. Julio & Corina transported BsAs onto the dance floor of Taipei Barrio club that evening. I can easily watch them all night.

I danced a few more tandas before the evening drew to a close at 1.00 am. Quick round of kisses in farewell to newfound friends before returning to my hotel.

Next movement – Friday 16 Sept – Party Night

The next morning dawned and I prepared for class with anticipation. Those who know me would be familiar with my night owl tendencies. Perversely, all my class from Friday – Sunday began at the first 11.00 am slot. My quota of two classes per day would have been modest for the more able-bodied. However, two classes everyday on top of a recurring foot injury, with four continuous nights of dancing at the festival was in retrospection, my personal limit.

The Taipei Tango Festival had built itself a solid reputation over the last 3 years of inviting only first rate teachers. The 3rd Festival was no exception. The boom of overseas participants was standing testimony to the Taipei Tango Festival’s success. For this 3rd Taipei Tango Festival, Japan sent a 50-strong contingent, Hong Kong came with 19 dancers, Korea had 10 dancers, several of whom took all available class slots and attended all 4 milonga parties. Shi Li Pai! Power! There were 6 of us from Singapore, not large but decent for a community with less than a hundred dancers in total. Overseas participants made up at least a third of people at the Taipei Festival, the remainders were Taiwanese dancers. Most classes I took had an average of 20 couples, and the Taipei organizers even had to turn away people from oversubscribed classes. I am glad I signed up early for my classes!

My classes were mixed levels of level 3/4/5. There was also a beginner’s package with level 2/3 classes pegged at newer dancers and advance level 5/master classes for the truly initiated. My experiences at the classes were excellent and I gained many important insights on tango over the 3 days. My favourite class was conducted by Julio & Corina on the anatomy of the movement. Corina spearheaded this class and led very useful exercises to isolate and loosen up bone and musculature, concentrating on the feet, ankles and hips. Our bodies felt limber and released from tension for the 2nd half of the class. With the sense of calm and harmony in one’s body, it was easy to move in this state. I began to experience the concept of contramovimiento at the heart of Julio & Corina’s teaching and dancing. I could extend my stride with little tension in my body and hips. It was something I had never experience before, with my body’s predilection for accumulating stress and tension. I felt borne again at the end of the class. Strangely relaxed yet sensorially receptive, as if I had just spent the last hour and a half at a spa instead of working hard at a tango class.

That evening, the 2nd milonga Party Night was held in a huge dance hall at the Taipei Youth Activity Center. It was still fairly early when I reached the milonga after 9 pm, dancers were still streaming in after dinner. The lighting was a little bright at first, in contrast to the typical intimate setting preferred by most tango dancers. All was put right once arrangements were made to switch to blue lighting. The hall was at once imbued with a blue glow which provided visibility yet flooded the room with a novel, almost avant-garde atmosphere. Cool intensity, slow burn.

I was delighted to bump into my friends Colin and Loretta from Sydney and Hong Kong on the dance floor. We became good friends after the pair visited Singapore tango community the year before. One of the pleasures of dancing tango is the chance to meet up with good friends wherever you go, be it Asia, Europe or BsAs. The world is your playground with the tango mecca at the heart of Buenos Aires. Just as pilgrims on the holy Haj circumambulate around the Kabba seven times in religious ecstasy, tango dancers circulate anti-clockwise on the dance floor of Buenos Aires in facsimile, experiencing their own private unison of harmony and joy.

I had a number of dances that night. A personal observation on the Taipei leaders I had the opportunity to dance with, since I was on Taipei home ground after all. Irregardless of the level of my partner, from decent to advanced, the Taipei leaders struck me in the way they listened to the music. The best experiences for me had always been in experiencing the musicality and expressiveness of my partner. Not in the fancy execution of steps in a showcase of technical expertise, although of course experienced leaders transmit with great skill a seamless lead to create a joyous and comfortable dance experience for their partners. The Taipei leaders had more than a fair amount of musicality in their makeup and were at ease in expressing themselves musically. Was the Taipei tango scene a magnet for the artistic and musically inclined, I wondered to myself? It seemed that way, or at least it was my good fortune to experience.

The milonga was interspersed with tandas of salsa, meringue, a chacarera dance and an impromptu lip sync performance by the inimitable Corina de la Rosa which wowed the crowds. The combination of musical events gave the party the right mix of energy and fun for dancers to let their hair down on this 2nd night. Everyone had a whooping great time.

In the mood – Saturday 17 Sept – Chinese style milonga

I went to my classes feeling a little worse for wear the next day. Too much dancing, too many late nights, too little sleep and too many cigarettes!

The day passed quickly. I was looking forward to the Chinese style milonga at Leofoo Hotel that evening. I took out my favourite eggshell blue vintage Cheongsam from the 1960s and put up my hair for the evening. A few finishing touches to my toilette before I completed my assemble with vintage pearls and brooch set. It was happening again, I could feel the subtle shifting in mood and bodily nuance to that bygone era of glamour and elegance.

The Leofoo Hotel was already packed with dancers in a wide array of Chinese styled costumes when I arrived late; I scanned the restaurant to look for my friends. There was a single early bird couple on the dance floor. A scant ten minutes later, as if responding en masse to some unheard signal, seventy percent of dancers milled onto the dance floor. What had appeared to be a good-size room suddenly shrunk to elbow room proportions. Mr Koji Kyotani, renowned bandoneon player from Japan, stepped up the intensity on the dance floor with masterful renditions of Pugliese pieces. The atmosphere was primed for performances by the visiting international dancers. The show opener was by our host and organizers of the 3rd Taipei Tango Festival, tango dancers Daniel Liu and Stacy Jou. Followed by 2 sets of dancers each from Japan and Hongkong and a pair of dancers from Korea. Japanese dancers and tango teachers Akiyoshi & Noriko Tanada pulled off their performance with split second precision that was amazing to watch. This was the Japanese homage to perfection, achievable only by hours, days and months of pure hard work.

There was a sense of completion at the end of the evening as months of preparation culminated in this one night for the international dancers. The restaurant was filled with people chatting animatedly and taking photos with friends and the masters as keepsakes of this special night.

Finale – Sunday 18 Sept – Grand Milonga with Masters show

Oh, a note here to readers who are waiting for descriptions of the many attractions of Taipei. You can stop looking, there aren’t any here. Nada. Simply because I didn’t manage anything else except slept very little, took classes, smoked and danced tango in equal proportions. The vague feelings of regret (National Palace Museum) and guilt (Taipei 101 Tower was nearby) would have to be remedied on a future trip.

I shall launch directly into the Grand Milonga on the evening of Sunday 18 Sept. I was ready early and went ahead to the Sheraton Hotel to secure a table for our group. Imagine my surprise when I saw the long queue of people who were already waiting patiently at the entrance of the Sheraton Ballroom. This was the night every dancer had been waiting for!

At 7.30 pm the ballroom doors opened to admit streams of people dressed to the nines. Good-looking men impeccably dressed to melt feminine hearts. Beautiful women drifted past in clouds of soft perfume, sheathed in silks and gorgeous high heels, with charming smiles that lingered in their eyes as they danced with the men. Live tango music by the iTango Orchestra began to drift through the ballroom. In no time at all, three hundred elegant dancers circled the dance floor, dancing with shimmering restrain and grace. The dance floor was the biggest and most crowded I had experienced, yet conversely, the sense of privacy between two people was intensified. Enveloped in this sea of dancers, I entrusted myself into the embrace of my partner.

The moment we had all been waiting was almost upon us. The air was thick with anticipation as the MCs paid acknowledgements to the guests of honour, officials and patrons of the arts gracing the event before announcing the Masters Show.

The room dimmed.

The silhouette of Claudia & Esteban emerged from the shadows, Claudia’s footwork sublime in classical poise and acuity. Her feet weaved a subtle, smoldering allure as the couple danced across the floor. Their tango was pure sophistication with velvety depths.

With the entrance of Damien & Nancy, there was an abrupt change in mood. The petite figure of Nancy struck one pose after another with increasing sensual intensity as she approached Damien. The couple embarked upon a sizzling performance that must have raised the ambient temperature by a few notches.

Finally, Julio & Corina appeared on the floor. This magnificent-looking couple’s aura and presence was undeniable. Their carriage was supple with that special resonance as they swirled around, like a pair of alpha lion and lioness circling one another with grace and power. A tour de force performance indeed!

The dance floor was quickly reclaimed by dancers as the Masters Show ended.

To my amazement, four hours of dancing at the Grand Milonga passed in a blur. Surrounded by the husky seductive vocals of the lovely singer Cat Peng, I lost my bearings on the dance floor early in the evening. I can’t tell how many times we had circled the room, since everything had since merged into sensory moments in time. The only thing that mattered was the sweetness and magic of tango all around us.

Full moon on Taipei

Incredibly, as if 4 days and nights of tango were not enough, at the end of the Grand Milonga, hardcore tango dancers piled into various cabs to continue dancing under the stars at the park. It was bright with the Mid-Autumn full moon as I looked up at the night sky – what an unusual and memorable way to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival.

As tango music filled the night air, the mood was languid and filled with contentment as we danced into the wee hours of the morning.

I shall end by according much credit to the hard work by the organisers in making the 3rd Taipei Tango Festival a fabulous success. Thank you for giving us such a wonderful tango experience.

Taipei, goodbye until next!

Belinda Tang
Sept 2005

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