6 Dec 2007

Brazilian Carnival in a Car

In the present moment, Dec 2007
The final exams for my current Castellano course is next week. (Hmm, Freudian, I typed "curse" by accident).

Exams always send me into a spin. Despite the many years I spent happily cultivating the pleasures of smoking, I can go a week without having a ciggy with less distress and fewer manifestations of edginess, than the same period leading up to exams.

This entry is recognizably falling into the above mentioned behaviour. A somewhat flippant by-product in attempts of self-distraction from the real task at hand.

Here is another entertaining advertisement that has been showing on telly for a couple of weeks, courtsey of Ford EcoSport.

A parade float as a car? Hmm. But a parade float full of writhing Brazilian beauties gyrating to the pulsing rhythms of samba? A dream car! It could be a most appealing proposition to own and drive around in this dream medium of transportation. But what happens when the honeymoon period is over?

Find out from this clip below. The song by Brazilian singer Luis Caldas is in Portuguese. This time, I wasn't able to find if the lyrics are amusing accompaniments to the advert itself.

Part I of "Brazilian Carnival in a Car":

Well, cars do get dirty with all that exposure to the elements. So the owner will have to wash this car too. Oh, yummy assignment. Or, is it?

Find out in the follow-up clip:

Part II of "Brazilian Carnival in a Car":

Looks like the Brazilian Carnival in a Car is now up for grabs at the car dealership. Any eager takers?

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The light side of What's up in Buenos Aires

In the present moment, Dec 2007
Proves there is always a light note to every bad situation.

I heard an amusing story relating to the current inflation in Buenos Aires. Today after our Castellano class at the University of Buenos Aires, my classmate who is a really nice and friendly guy from Brazil, told me about his encounter on the weekend:

Last Saturday night, my classmate went with 3 friends to a cafe restaurant to chill and hangout over a couple of drinks. They ordered a big bottle of beer (Quilmes, perhaps) to share. The bottle of beer costed 4 pesos.

An hour later, they decided it was time to order another bottle. The same waiter came and served them the same beer as their first order. This time, the waiter presented them with a bill of 5 pesos. So my classmate and his friends questioned the waiter, has there been some mistake?

The waiter answered no, sorry there is no mistake. Indeed the price of beer has gone up in the hour between the previous order and the current. Increible!! Hilariously so.

Talk about galloping inflation.

A Final Quip
My Brazilian classmate finished his anecdote on this note - it was lucky he and his friends didn't order the subsequent beer more hours later. Who knows what the price would have been by then!

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1 Dec 2007

What's up in Buenos Aires?

In the present moment, Dec 2007
I can't keep silent on this topic any longer. The long-term "immigrants of tango", foreigners who gave up their lives in their country and moved to live in Buenos Aires for tango, spoke up on this topic on their blogs many months ago.

Inflation in Buenos Aires has been rampant this year. I can't say about the rest of the country but I certainly experience the ill effects and how it impacts the everyday life of the residents of BA. Over the years, I had weathered several cycles of economic recessions in 2 countries as well as seen the incredible property boom in Sydney starting in 1994. Sad to say, none of my experiences prepared me for this.

Since I arrived in Buenos Aires, the prices of everything have gone up and up while I watch google-eyed and gap-jawed.

Here are some examples of my own experiences, which I imagine barely scratch the surface of what the portenos are suffering:

1. Milongas and Classes
In June, the entrance fees to downtown milongas were generally 8-10 pesos. Barely 2 months later in August, the prices increased to 13-15 pesos. You could postulated that the increase was timed to catch hold of the high-tourist season in August. I am waiting for the next hike. With luck it will only come during "MEGACITA 2008".

Correspondingly class fees have gone up from 10-12 pesos to 15 pesos and more, in a matter of 3 months. Some classes are now 20 pesos! Within a 4-month period, I have seen 3 price adjustments in one of the schools where I take my classes. Admittedly, small adjustments each time but in total they amounted to a 50% increment...

I think more and more teachers will join the trend of holding tango seminarios. These are special topic classes apart from the regular classes, and tend to be priced higher than normal classes. The rational for charging more is that the seminarios concentrate on thematics topics, and are not held regularly. The top-notch maestros charge in US dollars or Euro.

2. We all need to Eat
I started patronising a restaurant near my place in the last 4-6 weeks. Prices have gone from 7.50 to 8.5 pesos and 8 to 9 pesos within this short period. The lady boss told me that she couldn't help the price hike since the cost of the ingredients have risen to levels she can't absorb. It is a struggle for her to stay afloat.

The prices have risen 3 times in my favourite ice-cream store. The small-size cone cost 3 pesos in June and increased to 4 pesos at the end of July. 2 weeks ago in mid-Nov, it became 5 pesos. If anyone out there reading this thinks, "oh no big deal, still cheap actually", I shall resist the urge to inflict GBH and gently highlight the maths - its a 66% increase.

One crazy week in early Oct, the prices of tomatoes rose to a staggering 15 pesos per kilos while the portenos watched with the same incredulous disbelief as the day on 9th of July this year when snow fell from the skies of Buenos Aires for the first time in more than 80 years. Admittedly, the "tomato price crisis" could have been a political maneuver in the weeks leading up to the grand election of Argentina. The portenos breathed a collective sigh of relief post-election, as the price of tomatoes returned to some semblance of normality.

3. Tango shoes
Barely 1-2 years ago, Comme Il Fauts were still the priciest tango shoes in the BA compared to the other brands. Generally speaking, CIF shoes were at least 30% more expensive than their competitors, depending on the brands in question. The gap has narrowed significantly.

Neotango shoes are now only 10-12% less than Comme Il Fauts; prices for Aurora Lubiz's shoes are in the same league. Tangobrujo shoes cost as much as CIFs.

My highest arched eyebrow, with a chichi flicker of a smile, must be reserved for Darcos shoes. Some may recall their prices back in 2005. Well, ladies, right now their shoes cost "3%" less than CIFs.

Darcos has been engaged in aggressive promotion of their shoes. They have been churning out a range of flashy and colourful shoes in their blatant aspiration to be like CIF. I guess their present prices are a reflection of their high self-esteem. Four points of contention for me:

i) Strong-arm tactics in the shop
"The problem of many tourists is this. Don't go around to the other shops and compare and compare. You will just be confused."
- oh com'on, don't insult my intelligence. I have been a shopaholic for many more years than they have been selling shoes.

ii) Creativity, donde esta ??
- many of the other brands have their own distinctive look or some unifying characteristics for their shoes. I appreciate and respect this quality. For me, Darcos shoes lack this distinction. They are fairly pretty but empty-headed. Put in another way, they are obvious, sin imagination. Third-rated chic.

iii) Rampant overcharging
- all the tango DVDs at Darcos are selling at 60 pesos. In other music shops, some DVDs are less than 40 pesos. Making a decent profit is one thing, highway robbery is another. Or perhaps they need a better supplier.

iv) Badmouthing the competition
"We make shoes in the shop, we know shoes. We fix shoes with problems that customers bring us from other shoe shops, from Comme Il Faut etc"
- sheer bad form. I have been to many shoe shops in the city and I know a few of their salespeople well enough. Nobody has ever badmouthed their competition specifically by name. My belief is that quality speaks for itself.

On the other hand, their shoe quality has seen a fair amount of improvement over the years compared to those that I owned previously. To be fairer to Darcos, one can't be all talk and no action. So I bought a pair of shoes to test them out properly. Let's see how they go.

Do excuse the digression from the main topic of inflation in Buenos Aires.

It is one thing for the cost of tango shoes or tango classes or ice cream to rise 20-50% over 6 months. It is another thing for basic necessities to rise every couple of months. The same trend is happening to rent, food and other necessary expenses such as electricity, laundry bills etc. In the lead up to last month's grand elections, the BA government officially logged the inflation at such a laughable rate that I can only describe the attempt as "infantile". See Bloomberg report . The portenos would be laughing even harder in derision, if not for how tough living in the city is becoming. Of course salaries remain low, so many people have to work 2 jobs or more to make ends meet.

...What more next?
It is one thing to experience a minimum 20% price hike. It is quite another to watch the prices spiral upwards without knowing if there is an end in sight, or a slowing down of the inflation. I quitted my safe, stable job to come to BA and I am just surviving off my savings. Frankly, it is a daunting experience to watch your money shrink at this rate.

In a perverse kind of reasoning, I am beginning to think it is better to buy that CD or shoes that you want now, than to wait for a rainy day!

New addition, 6 Dec '07
The ever increasing heap of straws on the Argentina camel's back:

Yesterday, the government of Argentina announced a 20% price increment for all trains and buses starting from 1 Jan 2008. Granted the cost of public transportation in Buenos Aires is relatively affordable compared to other international cities. Granted that the last price hike was 7 years ago. Nevertheless, it is still an "overnight" jump of 20%. I am sure many portenos would like to see such a jump in their salaries too.

This announcement came after the October grand elections in Argentina. Monday 10 Dec has been designated by the government as the day of ascension for the soon-to-be PresidentA Cristina K.

Is this an "untimely" jump in transport cost? Should the price hike come at this moment, adding to the already relentless overall burden borne by the people? Some commentators may say in rebuttal, well, is there such a thing as a "good time" for an increase in the cost of living?

All sounds too familiar, doesn't it? Hey, "Mr Brown" look over here to this side of the world, can? The favourite dish in Argentina is the asado (meat BBQ). Any inspiration for a song? (This is an in-joke; only my countrymen will understand. Apologies to other readers, its really too complicated to explain)

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25 Nov 2007

Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay

In the present moment, Nov 2007
Last Wednesday was time for my visa run across to the border once more. This is my 2nd trip to Colonia, Uruguay. Both times I chose Colonia de Sacramento over the capital, Montevideo because its closer. The two visits can't be more different. The first time I visited Colonia, it was raining heavily. Gray, windy and freezing cold. We sought refuge in a restaurant and I saw nothing.

This time, the skies over Colonia were kissed by sunshine. Blue and clear, with the warm blue of your lover's eyes, the corners crinkled with a smile. It is simply, beautiful.

It took 3 hours from Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires to Colonia de Sacramento in Busquebus. The fast version makes the crossing in an hour. I took the normal vessel which is more than comfortable. Besides, there is no hardship in spending 3 hours on the waters on such a day like this.

The historical quarter of Colonia del Sacramento, located at the tip of a peninsular and surrounded by water on 3 sides, was declared as a UNESCO heritage site in 1995. The historic portion of Colonia is reminiscent of old Lisbon, built in the Portuguese style of houses and cobblestoned streets.

As I am writing this, "La Sirène rouge" (The Red Siren) is showing on telly. The quick glimpses of a small Portugual coast town was reminisence of what I saw in Colonia.

Colourful houses on winding streets.

The Rio de La Plata is so wide that the town appears to be coastal.

Colonia de Sacramento was founded in 1680. It was the only Portuguese settlement along Rio de la Plata and for years was at the frontline of the turf struggle between Spanish Argentina and Portuguese Brazil around the Rio de la Plata region. Similar to the British and Dutch squabble for colonial supremacy in South East Asia in my part of the world.

Understandably so. Who would want to give up land under your feet and skies over your head as magnificent as this?

Up the road. Just a normal weekday lunch with friends and family.

Beautiful day, beautiful people. MOUTHWATERing cars.

To me, bougainvilleas are the stunning visual extravaganzas of the Mediterranean.

It also reminds me of home. Of the bougainvilleas we have in our garden of this exact colour, in the house of my Papa and Mama.

A totally charming cafe restaurant slightly off the main section of the historical quarters.

I must try it the next visit.

My visit to the Museo Del Azulejo (Casa Portuguesa), The Tile Museum. Inaugurated in 1988, it is a typical Portuguese construction of the 18th century. The walls, a beam and part of the floor are original. The collection houses French, Catalan and the first Uruguayan tiles. The Museo is not big and the tile collection fits into 2 small rooms. Perhaps some visitors may be disappointed. But I enjoyed the visit. Look what I saw!

El Azulejo en la Arquitectura
Rioplatense en los Siglos XVIII y XIX (18th and 19th Century)

Pas de Calais

I was able to take photos of these few tiles because at first I didn't see the sign that photos were not allowed :P

Azulejo estannifero de archilla modelada, sellada, pintada con oxidos de estano, cobalto y/o managaneso, con plantilla calada, mano alzada y/o arista, Francia, 1840-1900.

Such tile decorations were all the rage during the era, used widely to beautify walls, floors, windows etc. I was told that the tiles were imported into the country through Montevideo and then to other cities and town. The winds of fashion changed at the turn of the 20th Century, and inevitably the importation stopped.

Here are the seals of the French tile makers.

I only got as far as the French tiles before I was caught with my camera. All the tiles shown above are French.

The tile plaque of Paseo de San Gabriel. You can see a prevalence of such tile works throughout town.

Other tile works showing maps of the town and the Rio de La Plata.

Colonia de Sacramento revisited
Colonia de Sacramento is a lovely place, a perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires. Before I visited, some reviews said there are not much to see or do in Colonia.

Perhaps, if what you are looking for are a checklist of "sights" to cover. However if you just want to enjoy the feel of a relaxed Sunday afternoon by the sea free from the urban jungle, a day out basking in the sunshine dining with friends and family and enjoying life, this is where you can come, any day of the week.

The "riverview" proved too tempting, I spent the rest of the afternoon outdoors at the restuarant El Torreón relaxing with my cigarettes. Such are the pleasures of life.

Final note for the road

The day in Colonia was exactly what I needed to relax and take my mind off weightier worries. A old dance injury made a reappearance a month ago. The first time when it happened 2.5 years ago, I was out of action a good part of 6 months. Thinking of the slow recovery and struggle I had to go through to regain strength in my foot makes me shudder. To date, my foot has not recovered. I still can't wear heels.

I hope, like my experiences in visiting Colonia, my foot injury will once more see the beautiful sunshine after the rain.

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17 Nov 2007

A Whole Heap of Tango Festivals

In the present moment, Nov 2007
Recently it seems that everywhere I turn, I am surrounded by a dizzy array of upcoming tango festivals in Buenos Aires. Likely this is a growing phenomenon compared to before. Below are just a few.

These festivals work in the favour of visitors with limited time in BA. Classes and performances by tango maestros lined up to maximise time and with sufficient English to make them accessible to visitors. Of course usually the workshop fees are higher. Nothing comes without a price, as we all know.

Just finished is "Pulpo Tango Week", 10-17 Nov 2007. Organiser Norbeto Esbrez's nickname El Pulpo means The Octopus. Look for the cute octopus icon on the festival website and follow it to Norbeto's website. You can see videos of his dancing and the reason for his nickname.

New addition, 20 Nov '07
Next up are 2 festivals held at almost the same time, but with different market segmentation.

1st is the "1st Festival Internacional de Tango Queer in Buenos Aires", 26 Nov - 2 Dec 2007.

The motto of the festival is "bailar tango sin que los roles esten fijos al sexo de quienes lo bailan", which is to dance tango without fixing the roles according to gender" ie. the exchange of roles in the dance "(Intercambio de Roles)" .

The website says this is why the festival is not oriented exclusively to same sex partners, but to all those who support this approach and promote the respect of this diversity.

I find this concept very interesting and am supportive of it. From time to time, one wonders what could be the lines of tango evolution in the next douple of decades? A possiblity could be the mutual influence and interfusion of "styles". A more lateral prediction on the "next big trend" in tango could be this interchangeability of roles during dance. I am laying down some money on the latter

The 2nd is the " IV Festival Bailemos Tango in Buenos Aires" from 25 Nov - 2 Dec 2007, organised by Johana Copes, daughter of Juan Copes. The festival promises a bit of everything, tango performances and classes, shopping tours, ranch visit, gaucho's traditional show etc. Appears to be styled in the manner of BA tango "package" tourism organised by teachers from home countries of visitors and also offered by some local tango professionals.

The months of November and December are peak tourist seasons in BA for visitors from United States and other countries. Likely the above 3 festivals were timed to coincide with this traffic.

Next in line for December is the "Maraton de tango" held at the city of La Plata about 60 km south of the city of Buenos Aires. This is a tango campover on the weekend of 8-9 Dec 2007.

There don't seem to be a website for this event, so I have posted photos of the brochure and contacts of the organisers. This event may be targeted at locals rather than visitors. At least not visitors who don't speak the language.

For milonguero dancers, the "2nd Internacional Encuentro of Tango Milonguero" will be held from 11-18 February 2008. This festival is spearheaded by Susan Miller and Maria Plazaola as well as other well known milongueros. This would be my festival of choice if I was a visitor to BA, not primarily because I like the style. How do I put it delicately...some of these milongueros have many many years of experience...

New addition, 24 Nov '07
I confess my reservations about adding news of this particular tango festival, "X Festival Buenos Aires Tango", which is to be held from 22 Feb - 2 March 2008. The website for the upcoming festival gives the date and nothing much else at this stage, not surprisingly so since its still a few months away. You can go to the festival website for 2007 to have a look at the festival activities. The reason for my reluctance to list this information is because I heard an unconfirmed rumour that it may not take place to avoid clashing with MEGACITA 2008. Will update once there is a more reliable source.

The blockbuster tango festival in BA is undoubtedly CITA (Congreso Internacional de Tango Argentino). Next March is the 10th anniversary of CITA - "MEGACITA 2008", 15-25 March 2008! Just imagine the avalanche of visitors descending on the city.

The promotional material says "Singles welcome and guarantee to have a partner at no extra cost". I wondered how the organisers were going to manage this until I saw on the website it says there will be taxi dancers at every milonga. Put on your meters, radio taxi dancers!

For those visitors staying on after MEGACITA 2008, the "Tango Festival for Ladies" organised by Mariposita will be held on 23-30 March 2008. Festival exclusivo de technica para la mujer with clases de technica, clases especiales, milongas, practicas and shows.

Va a llegar Un Monton de Tango Festivals en Buenos Aires!

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9 Nov 2007

Son Mias! (They Are Mine!)

In the present moment, Nov 2007
From time to time, I will scribble about the mishmash & knickknacks that catch my attention in Buenos Aires. Its impossible to live in a new place and not relish the interesting stuff that cross one’s path.

Fresh, exciting and often, irreverently hilarious. Just one whiff of such an intoxicating concoction, and I am hooked like a junkie.

Por favor: May the divine powers save me from ennui & mind-numbing mundanity…

Well, this week the newest commercial for Cervesa Brahma (cervesa means beer, Brahma is the brand) started showing on telly. It shows a young guy walking down the streets hand in hand with his girlfriend, while he passes by throngs of beautiful women. We hear the thoughts that run through his mind…

I did a search and found that the lyrics go roughly like this:

Sos mía, soy tuya! en casa tengo Brahmas y el kamasutra. Soy tuya, policia, colegiala, enfermera. Son mías, yo puedo con todas tranquilas… Son tuyas, tu suegra reclamo tu anillo (this line I am not sure)… Somos tuyas, te esperamos todas en la ducha… Soy viuda, heredé una fortuna y es tuya! Son mías, Japonesas, Francesas e Inglesas… Somos tuyas, sabemos lo que a vos te gusta, soy tuya, hago todo lo que a vos te gusta… Mi amor! ¿en qué pensas? en Nada!…

Here goes another attempt at translating:
(please pardon the mangled bits)

" Guy: You are mine..
Girl crossing street: I am yours! At home I have Brahmas and the Kamasutra.
Girl, quick-change artist: I am yours, policewoman schoolgirl, nurse!
Guy: They are mine, I can with all in calmness…
Café crowd chorus: They are yours, your mother-in-law claim your ring…
Girls in the gym: We are yours, we all wait for you in the shower…
Swanky mature woman: I am a widow, inherited a fortune and it is yours
Guy, about the girls on the bus: They are mine, Japanese, French and English…
Girls outside café: We are yours, we know what you like
Girl from posterboard (in my opinion prettiest girl of the lot): I am yours, I do everything that you like.
And finally, his girlfriend: My love! What are you thinking?
Guy: Nothing!… "

While the theme may not be anything exceptional, the hilarious lyrics along with the cheeky approach produced a most amusing result. For some reason, most beer commercials worldwide are brimming over with creativity and wit :P

It may be tempting to generalise that commercials say a lot about the country. However to date, having lived here for only 5 months, with limping language skills to boot, certainly does not entitle me to make any kind of observation about Buenos Aires culture worth two hoots.

...and thanks to drawing the short straw in the gene pool (a sad case of alcohol intolerance), I can’t even describe to you what Brahma beer taste like…

What I can say is this. Many young guys and girls walking down the streets of the city of Buenos Aires are attractive. It is apparent some degree of effort has gone into their appearance. Looking good is important to portenos young and old, male or female. The attractiveness quotient here is high, perhaps a lot higher than the other cities I have visited. Either that or I am susceptible to the good looks of the Italian & Spanish mix

More than this on another day perhaps!

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6 Nov 2007

Que me Gusta

In the present moment, Nov 2007
Milongas in Buenos Aires are social occasions and more, they are opportunities for bouts of lighthearted flirtation or potential romances. Ladies who have danced in BA would have discovered, Argentino men will shower any fairly decent-looking gal (regardless of age and race) with a flurry of compliments. The Italian blood runs deep

I had a few, usually from portenos old enough to be my father. There are a couple that I remember which went more or less like this:

Case 1
"Your eyes are so pretty. I want to take a photo of them and keep it in the shirt pocket, next to my heart."

My private reaction
awww…how rather sweet. Especially said by an above middle-age porteno who dance the most divine valses.

Btw, I would have dissolved into laughter if the same lines came from a younger guy, Argentine or not.

Case 2
"How well we dance together. I want to enter the Campeonato Mundial with you!"

My private reaction
a fit of hilarity when I finally understood...

Actually for Case 2, I didn’t understand exactly what he said at first - I thought he asked if I came to BA for the Campeonato Mundial de baile de Tango (World Tango Championship) held in August yearly. I kept replying in broken Castellano "No, no, I didn't come to BA for the championships". My porteno partner (another above middle-age gentleman) finally had to ask my girlfriend to translate for him and by then, he was rather exasperated at the “waste” of his fulsome compliment :D

Now, there is an amusing column featured monthly in the tango magazine B.A. Tango with the title

Que me Gusta
Frases lindas que dicen los hombres en la milonga.

Which translates more or less into:
Because I like it
Pretty lines spoken by the men in the milonga.

This monthly column features the submissions by female readers, who are the likely recipients of these chat-up lines in the milongas. Those published get 2 free milonga entry tickets!

Here are a few inventive or interesting ones:

"(To xxx): The next time my wife asks me for a public retraction of the flattering comments I tell you, I'll get divorced and marry you"
"(A xxx): La proxima vez que mi esposa me pida una retraction publica por los piropos que te digo me divorcio y me caso con vos"
(March/April 2007)

“You are so pretty that when I look at you, I take a wrong step”
“Sos tan linda, que al mirarte me equivoco el paso”
(...hmm.. useful for men with more charm than dancing skills?)

“With your dance and joy you entered my life, and I don’t want to lose you”
“Con tu baile y tu alegria entraste a mi vida y no quiero perderte”

“To dance with you I have to line up, but the wait is worth the prize”
“Para bailar con vos hay que sacar numero, pero la espera vale la pena”
(May 2007)

“I want to dance the last set of the night and take with me the perfume of your skin”
“Quiero bailar con vos la ultima tanda de la noche y llevarme el perfume de tu piel”
(August 2007)

You may think these lines are corny or just right down silly. But judging from the title of the column in B.A. Tango, obviously the delivery is done correctly by the portenos :D

P.S/ My intial interpretation of the title was incorrect, so it has been rectified.

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20 Oct 2007

Female embellishments: Part II

In the present moment, Oct 2007

Living up to her reputation as a mature and experienced dancer, Milena Plebs offers good advice on the attitude towards adornments (see preceding blog). It sparked off my own thoughts.

Many women are concerned about making beautiful and as many embellishments as possible. One reason of course is it an aspect of preening in the dance, the natural desire to look asethetically good. The other motivating factor is another aspect of preening, of showing that yes, I am capable of making these technically challenging moves. So hence, I am a better dancer than those who do less "moves". The desire to prove oneself in this manner gives rise to the anxiety mentioned by Milena.

Looking deeper into this topic: now, exactly what are female embellishments?

For me, the answer is - embellishments are one way of expressing the female voice in the dance.

The Female Voice
To me, embellishments are important in this context only - in that it is my expression of what I feel from the music. It is the female composition on the music.

One doesn't add embellishments in the dance "just because one can". We are not Sir Edmund Hillary climbing Mount Everest here. Women who understand this point are the wiser.

So, why do some embellishments done by one dancer seem so marvellous, while embellishments by another dancer are at best ho-hum?

Because the best embellishments seem exactly right for the section of music that it was done for. In short, embellishments are born from the woman's musicality and creativity.

A Question of Substance
Expressing myself in the dance is important.

For a start, remember that adornos are only one way of having a female voice. For the woman, there are other means of self-expression in the dance than making "visible" adornos. For example, the quality of my movement. The feel of my body in the mood of the music. Personally speaking, these qualities matter more to me than adornos, because my dance partner can feel these transmission from me, whether dancing in close or open embrace. It is the bodily pleasure in the dance that I want to enjoy, that I want to give back to my partner.

When I was young, I once read that Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923), celebrated french stage actress, had a quality of voice that she could bring her audience to tears by reciting the alphabet. This statement was etched into my mind, although it was many years later that I fully savour its meaning.

The female maestro who I admire can transmit beauty in the dance simply by moving. Its not even her walk. Its how she moves. It is her.

Style is nothing without substance.

Now, what about the actual adornos themselves?
Adornos are nothing without musicality.

To train to do adornos cannot be separated from learning to express one's musicality. Perhaps, the only way to develop musicality is to dance and practise a lot. Most importantly, really listen to the music when you are practising the adornos. Listen to different orquestas, recognise the sentiments expressed in the music, experiment with how it feels on the music when you do different movements and how to time the movements.

But how to gain the ability to execute the move?

Thats what those tough technique exercises are for. They train your body in the movement, before one attempts it in the practica. Then, practise till the adornos do not interfer with your partner and the dance.

This is what Milena Plebs meant by "It is good to work on decorations so that they form part of the global dance, without interrupting the energy by doing them and keeping the connection with the partner at all times."

Finding Your Own Voice
In the first 2+ years of my dancing, I was almost stubbornly anti-adornos. From the start I believed I need to concentrate on the fundamentals long and hard. I felt the embellishments can come later on. My reasoning was that if I have the fundamentals, it shouldn't be very difficult to pick up the embellishments at a later stage.

Much later on, from doing technique exercises and from watching female dancers with excellent musicality, I started adding simple adornos to my repertoire. True enough, the simple ones were not terribly difficult to pick up (I didn't say I am doing them well).

What I discovered to be more important and challenging is to express them to the music. To grasp the right timing, with embellishments that are appropriate for the sentiments of the music, within the framework of the dance proposed by my partner. In short, finding your own musicality.

For myself, often I find enough gratification in expressing my joy in the music by quick rythmic taps to accent points in the music, rather than feeling it is essential to pull off something complicated and showy. Because my primary goal is to enjoy the music with my partner, respecting that my partner has a musical composition in mind, and to be in time for what is proposed so that the musical dialogue flows back and forth between the two of us.

At the end of the day, Milena put it best in her advice to us ladies:

"A time arrives when one relaxes, no longer worried about how many and how various embellishments one does, and paradoxically, they (the embellishments) begin to flow naturally, they respond to an inner security and an enjoyment of the female dance role."

Her concluding statement "I believe also that, many times, less is more......."

What about for the Men?
By the way, many of the same aspects apply to the men too.

Doing a lot of figures (no matter how well you lead them) and embellishments do not equate to musicality in dance. At best it was exercise on the dance floor. At worse, not only are you ignoring the music, you are ignoring the musical communication that I am trying to have with you. To put it in a not-so-nice way, you are actually "dancing" only with yourself.

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19 Oct 2007

Female embellishments: Part I

In the present moment, Oct 2007

This Sunday 21 de Octubre is El Dia de la Madre (Mother's Day) in Argentina. It is not intentional on my part but this month's musings have a strong female favour.

My thoughts on the subject of female adornments was sparked off by Milena Plebs, who wrote her views on this in her column in this month's El Tangauta:

"When taking tango classes, women request a lot to be taught embellishments. That is to say, the foot movements added by women, that are not, specifically, a response to the movement proposed by the leader"

"I perceive a lot of anxiety in a great number of the women attending our classes to learn to do embellishments. Many, pretty, varied and complex as possible!"

Milena Plebs, Page 35, Oct 2007 issue of El Tangauta

Milena went on to explain that early in her career, she too was preoccupied about how many decorations she was able to "put in" when dancing, feeling that her partner always "did more" than her... (since) the responsibility and complexibility of the creative part and the leading of the dance lies with the man.

Then she says "It is a priority to work on the basic technical facets of tango before devoting ourselves to decorations. Without a good base, balance, connection and response to our partner, we are not prepared to beautify our dance." She points out there are 2 groups of female embellishments: those done by the woman during the dance that should not interfere with the man, and those during the moments when the man pauses, giving opportunities for the woman to do embellishments.

Milena continues "It is important to be alert to the environment and to grasp the timing in the dance floor, so as to not over-extend ourselves.....without interrupting the energy by doing them and keeping the connection with the partner at all times"

"Choose the ones that feel comfortable to you, and it is better not to repeat or copy what others do.... At times one can see women that do too much, perhaps that is part of the anxiety that I mentioned before.."

And finally, her observation is this:

"A time arrives when one relaxes, no longer worried about how many and how various embellishments one does, and paradoxically, they (the embellishments) begin to flow naturally, they respond to an inner security and an enjoyment of the female dance role."

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14 Oct 2007

For the Ladies (Women’s technique classes)

In the present moment, Oct 2007

Technica para mujeres
There are a number of group women’s technique classes held regularly around Buenos Aires. I will list the most popular ones. These classes range from fairly well attended to very crowded.

By comparison, there are far fewer men’s technique class. Harder working ladies perhaps? :D

Besides your dancing shoes, do bring socks along too because often the classes will switch between the two. Although dance sneakers are ok, some teachers prefer their students work in heels if possible. Heels can be more technically demanding of course.

Try to wear pants instead of skirt to class. Choose comfortable stretchable clothing. I won’t recommend jeans for this reason.

You can get some ideas for adornments from the exercises lead in class. But beyond a brief explanation perhaps, don’t expect the teacher to break down “the how” of the adornos.

Aurora Lubiz
Aurora’s energetic classes for women technique at Escuela Argentina de Tango (E.A.T) appeal to ladies young and older. Pint-size Aurora lead the classes through a series of adornos exercises. Often a bit too crowded for my preference.

Carolina Bonaventura
Classes at Mariposita attracts a fairly young crowd. Carolina pays a lot of attention to working the core to build strength, so be prepared. Well, strong lower pelvic muscles are always good for women. Male readers, just take the statement at face value. Please.

Caroline starts 3 classes for women technique per week from Oct. She says the Monday class will be the most technically challenging. Wednesday class is intermediate in difficulty level while the Saturday class would be the “easiest” of the lot.

Rosana Devesa
Besides exercises, Rosana’s women technique class carries a relaxation component which is influenced by her background as a professional therapist.

I like Rosana’s class. The approach and energy is different from most other women’s technique class. She is my teacher in the milonguero style.

Twice-weekly women’s technique class at D.N.I are popular and crowded. I often think the premise is simply not large enough to accommodate the sheer number of devout D.N.I followers!

Once-weekly class is lead by the female teachers at Tangobrujo on a 4-week rotational basis. Each teacher has her own style of leading this class. For example, one teacher may decide to work on a thematic basis eg. working on boleos. Another teacher may lead strengthening exercises instead.

See A Handful of Handy websites for details of the schools above, and how you should go about getting the current class schedule for each.

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9 Oct 2007

The Women of Tango

In the present moment, Oct 2007

From time to time, there are defining moments in our journey.

Today, the women of tango walked into my life. The female singers I mean.

Before today, beyond a cursory acquitance, my familiarity with the female singers of tango was sadly limited to Ada Falcon (see the section on “Yo no sé que me han hecho tus ojos" in Música del Alma). I don’t know why I never felt the urge to expand my repertoire beyond the male singers. Sometimes, things fall in place naturally when we are ready for it.

Well, earlier today I was happily shopping for tango music and chatting to the nice lady helping me in the shop. For some reason, one after another, female tango singers kept popping into the picture. Starting with Ada Falcon. Next came Azucena Maizani. Then Mercedes Simone. A while later, a record was playing and I managed to identify Libertad Lamarque singing. No mean feat since I can count on my 2 hands the number of times I have heard Libertad Lamarque.

Finally, the lady bought out a CD “Se Va La Vida – Tango Ladies, 1923-54”. It has the range of era in tango music that I like. I even liked the cover. Sadly the CD was a bit pricey so I didn’t get it.

Inspired by the appearance en masse of these grand dames of tango in a single afternoon, I came home and looked up the singers on Todotango and sampled their songs respectively. I enjoyed the write-up on the singers, the descriptions of their voice and what characterized their singing. I have added the links, you can read about Rosita Quiroga, Azucena Maizani, Mercedes Simone, Ada Falcón, Libertad Lamarque, Nelly Omar and Tita Merello.

In particular, 2 anecdotes from Todotango caught my attention. The first was a piece of “tango tabloid”☺. Many singers of bygone eras also starred in movies. The same phenomenon happened in the East. Anyway, Libertad Lamarque starred in over 20 movies in Argentina. During one shooting, a harsh argument arose between Libertad and the actress Eva Duarte. It was said that after the incident, difficulties to Libertad Lamarque’s career sprang up and she had to emigrate to Mexico. And yes. This is the same Eva who latter married a man named Juan Perón. At the time of the “fight” she was already linked with the future “El Presidente”. Read about the woman Eva Perón loved to hate in "Two Tough Dolls".

The second was a touching letter to Rosita Quiroga from Yoyi Kanematz of Japan, a lover of tango music, written in 1970 in his anticipation of Rosita Quiroga’s visit to Osaka. It holds an account of what tango music meant to the author in the last days of World War II.

Grand ladies of tango, I shall enjoy getting to know you better in the coming days.

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25 Sep 2007

A Handful of Handy websites
(a.k.a How to get info in Buenos Aires II)

In the present moment, Sept 2007

I was distracted by the coming of Spring!

Now to continue from where I left off.

Salon Canning – Well, actually it is the website of Parakultural. Of the hugely successful milonga organizer Omar Viola who holds the Monday, Tuesday and Friday milongas at Salon Canning (also a Saturday milonga at San Telmo, Peru 571 since April ‘07).

Information is updated regularly. The month’s coming attractions are all laid out, with line-up of performers and teaching schedules pre-milonga. Not sure who performed 2 Fridays ago?? Find them in the archives of recent months’ events.

Escuela Argentina de Tango (E.A.T) – school with a large assortment of popular teachers such as Aurora Lubiz, Jorge Firpo, ‘El Flaco” Dany etc. Many salon style teachers, a few nuevo style teachers. Main website is on the spartan side. But wow, the downloadable monthly schedules are good!

Now expanded to 3 venues - Galerias Pacifico, Rodriguez Pena 1074 and Recoleta (new, Aug/Sept ‘07).

The main venue is at the Centro Cultural Borges at the upmarket shopping mall, Galerias Pacifico, in the microcentre (cross streets Viamonte and San Martin). The school is slightly tricky to find but you will get there at the end after transversing a few galleries in the Centro Cultural Borges.

I can't resist a mention of the building itself. Galerias Pacifico is a historic building from the late 1800s in the style of Bon Marche in Paris. After falling into disrepairs, it was renovated to the present form and re-opened in 1992. Above is a photo of the famous glass ceiling of Galerias Pacifico.

D.N.I – Pablo Villarraza y Dana Frigoli’s hugely popular school on Av Corrientes. 4 main pairs of teachers including Pablo & Dana. Of the "schools", DNI is probably the most cohesive in terms of similarity of dance/teaching style. The other “schools” are more teaching venues with a loose medley of teachers, like a box of chocolate assortments.

Practica X – popular venue in Abasto for practica on Tuesday nights. Frequent haunt of nuevo style dancers and many nuevo teachers. Well updated website.

Porteno y Bailarin – downtown milonga venue notable for its 2 adjacent dance floors. On the other side of Av. Corrientes from El Beso, 2 minutes stroll. Okie website but sometimes late with info. Well, at least the past month’s archives are available.

There are 2 other popular school/venue to look out for:

* Mariposita – boutique hotel & teaching venue in San Telmo. Another loose assortment of teachers, but not exclusively of nuevo style. For example, Milena Plebs of classic salon style held classes from Jun-Aug ‘07. Unfortunately the teaching schedule is not available online at the moment.

Leti, mother of Carolina Bonaventura is often the de facto manager of the estudio y hotel. And yes, the place is the brainchild of mother and daughter Bonaventura.

* Tangobrujo – Classes held upstairs, shoes and clothing shop downstairs.

Assortment of nuevo style teachers, including Gaston Torelli, Federico Naveira & his sister Ariadna Naveira, Matias Facio & Kara Wenham etc.

Website has nice flash animation. But sadly thin on info besides the address.

For Mariposita and Tangobrujo, you have to look at El Tangauta for the monthly teaching schedule. Even then, its better to get hold of those “slips of paper” (See A Confetti of Paper )

If I come across other useful websites, will add those later.

New addition, 30 Sept '07
La Viruta - the swinging tango nightclub scene of BA, at Armenia 1366 in Palermo. Its said that many a tango wedding were made on its dance floors ☺. DJ Horacio Godoy (brother of Mora Godoy) is one of the organisers, kingpin teacher and a-larger-than life personality in the house.

One either likes it or not. Regardless, La Viruta is part of the tango scene. Frequented by all, from milongueros like "El Flaco" Dany to the young nuevo tango crowd. At La Viruta, you will find nuevo teachers dancing adjacent to absolute beginners. Personally I think that is why navigation is notoriously poor.

Entry is waived on Friday night after 4.00 am, so its a popular spot where the night ends for many dancers winding down the big night out with friends or waiting for Saturday breakfast.

Undeniably a popular venue for nuevo tango classes. Salsa & rock & roll also part of the repertoire. Information on the website for classes is updated.

From the link on this page, go to the La Viruta website. Either click directly on "Tango.milonga" on the mainpage or navigate further to the tango section, by going to the sections on "clases", "shows" and "novedades". The monthly seminario "specials" are listed under the latter.
New addition, 2 Oct '07
Above I have added a photo of the event poster this month at La Viruta. You can click on the photo to enlarge it for easy reading. Every month I will update the photo so that dancers from outside of Buenos Aires can lay their hands on this info.

New addition, 3 Oct '07
Hmm. This piece is taking on a life of its own.

La Marshall - Wednesday nights after 22.00 hs at Maipu 444 in the microcentre. Same sex gay & lesbian milonga but the crowd is not exclusively so. An interesting constrast, La Marshall is held at the same venue as the traditional milonga Cachirulo on Saturdays. Website is updated.

In Sept '07, La Marshal held its own Campeonata de baile (Tango Championship).

Basic Spanish for the non-English websites
Lunes - Monday
Martes - Tuesday
Miercoles - Wednesday
Jueves - Thursday
Viernes - Friday
Sabado - Saturday
Domingo - Sunday

1. If you see "de 21.30 a 0.30 hs", it means from 9.30 pm to 12.30 am. Buenos Aires often use the 24-hour time format.

2. "A partir de 19.30 hs" means from 7.30 pm onwards.

3. "Toca" means playing of a musical instrument or orchestra.

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23 Sep 2007

Spring comes to Buenos Aires!

In the present moment, Sept 2007

Friday 21 September was El Dia de la Primavera, the first day of Spring. Spring Day! Hurraay!!!

Spring Day was also El Dia de los Estudiantes. On this day, school was out for University and high school students. Masses of young happy people gathered at the parks of Palermo for a day of fiesta in the outdoors, having picnics, music, chatting to friends. Basically having a great time in celebration of Spring. This congregation at the parks of Palermo is a tradition here.

On the streets of Buenos Aires, many young women clutched sprigs of flowers as gifts of spring. It was a sunny day, filled with heaps of sights, movement and sound. The vibrancy of Spring and general revival of life in the city was infectious. A kind of euphoria filled me. The terrible winter in BA has lost the battle, its cold talons, my imprisonment for the last 3 months no longer torments. My body felt free at last!

In addition, the language barrier was beginning to lift slowly. I understand enough in the tango classes to make it an enjoyable experience once again. The way is free to take more classes.

This 2-fold sense of liberty fill me with hope for the future. Suddenly, I had a feeling. These coming months in BA will be some of the happiest days of my life...

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14 Sep 2007

A Confetti of Paper
(a.k.a How to get info in Buenos Aires)

In the present moment, Sept 2007

At some milongas and practicas in Buenos Aires, one is hit with a shower of slips of paper with information about upcoming events of the milonga, other milongas, clases & seminars, advertisements on shoes, clothes, apartment for rental etc etc. The list goes on.

Rather than being a total waste of paper, these slips are a useful source of information. Because often they are the only means of getting the most updated news on a monthly basis, short of actually dropping into the establishment. Or calling up to ask, especially if the option isn’t available for the linguistically challenged.

In this age of internet penetration, we rely heavily on websites as an essential source of getting info. But Buenos Aires doesn’t work this way. Some teachers, milongas or shops do not have a website. Or more often the case, the info listed is outdated. Here in Buenos Aires, that means last month’s info. Be warned about this, because this month’s schedule is likely to be different.

One has to understand a basic fact of the Buenos Aires tango world. Events are often planned from month to month and not 2-3 months ahead. It is just how it works here, so accept it.

In other cases, some websites have simply stopped working. As one of my friends here, a Korean girl named Rey says “all the info one needs is found HERE in Buenos Aires”.

So for tango visitors coming to Buenos Aires without time on your side, look out for these confetti slips of paper. In addition, arm yourself with the tango publications big and small (see previous post La Primera Vez). Else you should pop in the shop or school to get the new schedule for the current month. By the way, there is a scrabble to get the 3 larger tango magazines “El Tangauta”, “La Milonga” and "B.A. Tango" in the 1st week of each month. Yes, the mags are not released at the end of the preceding month. Or at least they only become widely available in the 1st week. Everyone zealously guard their own copies at this time ☺

But a word of warning, in case some readers takes these 3 tango magazines as the absolute tango bible guide. Although they cover the main scope of information, it is not a total comprehensive listing. Or, on occasion the current month’s schedule published is not accurate. For "El Tangauta", it is better to rely on the schedules published by the schools or the personal adverts of the teachers. The schedules listed via days of the week under the section "Tango Guia/Clases" can be invalid.

Just to illustrate the extent of variability, the teaching schedule for 2 popular schools of tango, DNI & Escuela Argentina de Tango, changed month to month since I have arrived. Why? Because teachers are going overseas for teaching and festival assignments. Otherwise they have just returned after months of teaching abroad. Understandably the timetable has to shift accordingly.

Occasionally, changes to the teaching schedule/venue happened after the monthly submission deadline for adverts to the tango magazines. You could double check the overall schedule with teachers or the establishment once you are there for classes or milongas. People are generally patient with such questions. Better yet, just ask for the updated schedule and you will be given yet another slip of paper to add to your growing collection of paper heap.

Despite of what I said at the beginning about websites, there are some good ones. That's for my next entry.

Footnote: If all fails, you can always download your monthly copy of El Tangauta online ☺

New addition, 2 Oct 07
You can also check out 2 other tango publications online:

La Milonga Argentina - Sadly (because its really quite colourful) its drawback are 2-fold. The online issue is at least 1 month late. And mostly in Spanish.

Punto Tango - The pocketbook guide. Issue is updated! ...though all in Spanish.

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