31 Jul 2007

El Beso: Part I

That night, we made our way to El Beso at Riobamba 416.

El Beso’s entrance and stairway is an immediately reminder of its name. Coated not in vermillion or burgundy, but in a shade of true red.

It was a Tuesday night milonga at El Beso, Un Morton de Tango, organized by Osvaldo Natucci and Osvaldo Buglione. The room was not filled to capacity, as June is typically a quieter month off the peak tourist seasons in Buenos Aires. Later I also found out that like myself, the portenos are not fans of the cold (de sangre caliente! one milonguero said to me tongue in cheek) and some responded to the onset of a surprisingly cold winter this early June by staying home.

I was intent on observing the dancers at El Beso, to identify good dancers and also those who would not suit my dancing preferences. In general, I prefer to dance in close embrace. I find it distressing in particular if the leader choose to open up the frame in mid-dance to do open figures, so I am always keen to avoid such experiences.

Loretta, Colin and I chatted to catch up while we watched the dancing. We had a good vintage point with front row seats. Regardlessly, I kept losing track of milongueros who I particularly enjoyed watching once the tanda finished and the crowd return to their seats en masse. My eyes furtively scoured the room, skittishly shunning any accidental eye contacts. Oh dear, what did he looked like? Was it him? Or him? Or..was it him?

After a while, I received verbal invitations from a couple of the younger men in the room. Again like my opening dance at Salon Canning, the first question that I was asked both times – do you not dance? The first invitation I declined with apologies, and felt embarrassed immediately. Because El Beso is a relatively small setting, unlike Salon Canning, it is very obvious for the leader when he has been turned away. Even though it was the men's choice to risk a verbal invitation, my rejection will result in a public loss of face for the man, and it didn’t feel good to do so. The cabaceo originated in the milongas of Buenos Aires for a good reason. The code of inviting and accepting dances via cabaceo serves a very necessary function while preserving social conviviality. I find it a graceful and effective system, and it works to the advantage of both men and women.

Not wanting to go through causing more public rejections, I accepted the 2nd invitation. To my relief, the dance turned out well.

I was keen to put a stop to any further verbal invitations. The only logical conclusion and solution is for me to actively accept some dances via cabaceo. Even more than ever, I felt my eyes to be dangerous weapons which I lack control over. There were no safe directions where they can rest unmolested. Special protective visors required, por favour. With a feeling of desperation like a punter with a last roll of the dice at the roulette tables, I simply casted my eyes in the general direction of the row of tables on the adjacent end of the room where the men sat.

My eyes fell directly onto the path of a milonguero gentleman. In all honesty, I don’t know who was more surprised, him or me. This time I forced myself to hold the locked glance. The milonguero gentleman paused, then asked silently, “bailemos?” Yes, I nodded. There was a hint of disbelief in his expression. We got up to dance but he didn’t appear all that enthusiastic. I knew then that likely he had followed up with the invitation out of politeness, since a younger lady asked and he happened to be caught in an unguarded moment.

My milonguero partner has a precise way of leading with tiny marcas which was yet comfortable. The tanda playing was a mellow one. He danced calmly and very smoothly to the music, and shortly, I relaxed into peaceful, melodic contentment with the music and into my partner’s embrace. By the end of the 2nd song, my partner was also smiling and nodding as we attempted conversation. By the 3rd song, it seemed he has completely forgiven me for any transgression. We parted at the end of the tanda. The feeling of warmth and contentment stayed with me.

“So! How was it??” Colin asked when I returned to the table. “You know, I have not seen him dance with tourist women!” I found out that my partner is a regular milonguero at El Beso. Not only does he dance only selected tandas for the night, he is selective about his partners. It is then that I understood that I had “invited” one of the more exclusive milongueros to dance with me.

Later, from one of the tango mangazines, I found out that the milonguero gentleman’s name is Abel. Always elegantly dressed, in a slightly raffish way. With Rat Pack cool, like an Italiano Frank Sinatra or Sammy Davies Junior.

He is one of my favourite milongueros to watch, I enjoy seeing his style on and off the dance floor. In particular, I am always fascinated by how he does amazingly supertight hiros on the spot, one after another, smoothly, calmly in control. I see Milonguero Abel often at the traditional milongas. He never has a shortage of older, but always pretty and sexy women to dance with. He does not often dance with young women, even the Argentine ones. At least as far as I can tell, unlike some other milongueros, I have not seen him dance with young tourist women.

The tanda with Milonguero Abel was a fortuitous accident on my part. But it would seem I have some ways to go with the cabaceo yet…

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30 Jul 2007

Con Amigos

Serendipity and friendship appeared hand in hand the next day after my first milonga outing in Buenos Aires.

An email from a good friend, the vivacious and charming Loretta, came out of the blue. Loretta and her community in Hong Kong have just finished orchestrating an exhilarating round of workshops and milongas for the visit by young maestros Javier Rodriguez & Andrea Misse. This year in May, Javier & Andrea made their first stop for their Asia tour in my own community (see here), followed by the cities Hong Kong, and then Seoul. Not surprisingly, the response to Javier & Andrea was overwhelming in all 3 countries. Classes were sold-out; legions of fans in each community turned up in full force for the milongas held for Javier & Andrea’s visit.

News from Loretta filled me with delight. Loretta, together with Colin from Australia, have arrived in Buenos Aires for more dancing in the aftermath of Javier & Andrea’s workshop! I first met Loretta and Colin when they visited Singapore a couple of years ago, and we have remained friends ever since.

I couldn't believe the spot-on timing for their visit to Buenos Aires, since I didn't tell them I was coming here. It couldn't have worked more beautifully. Tango and friendship comes naturally. Being surrounded by friends in the shared enjoyment of a milonga is like having your extended family around you. A decent dance floor, great music, good dancers and good friends. What more can one ask for?

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20 Jul 2007

La Primera Vez

Early June, 2007

The first few days after I arrived in Buenos Aires were clouded with jet-lag. Lamely, I would dozed off before 9.00pm. On the 5th day, I was resolute tonight I shall venture out to the milongas in Buenos Aires!

So on Monday night, I took out a gold and lace top and dressed with some care. I decided to head out to Lo De Celia as my first milonga in Buenos Aires, since the down to earth atmosphere may be a good place to initiate my entry. I was filled with some trepidation on the way there. Will I be able to communicate at the basic level? Get a table, order drinks, ask questions?

Finally, I reached Humberto 1° 1462 and rang the doorbell. There was no response. I suddenly noticed the 1st floor of the building was dark. With dismay I realize that there is no Monday milonga at Lo De Celia. The information I found on the internet was outdated. Newly arrived, I hadn’t manage to get hold of any of the popular milonga guides such as El Tangauta, La Milonga Argentina, Buenos Aires Tango or even the myriad smaller publications like Diostango, the tango pocket guide Punto Tango etc.

I hailed a cab to go back home, with a sense of anticlimax. On the way back, the cab driver convinced me that instead of heading home, the place to be on Mondays nights should either be Salon Canning or Club Gricel.

Slowly, I walked through the doorway of Salon Canning on the other side of town in Palermo, just before the midnight hour. Despite my trepidations about the inability to communicate, I was shown to a seat in the front row without much ado. As I walked pass the tables to my seat, it must be my overactive imagination; it felt as if many pairs of eyes are looking in my general direction. After a furtive scan of the room, I saw a couple of other Asian faces. 2 guys in their twenties or thirties. No other Asian females. Perplexed, I thought to myself, aren’t the milongas in Buenos Aires filled with tourists? So why am I the only Asian female at this popular milonga…

I watch the dancers with fascination. So many good dancers! A mixture of all ages and a smaller proportion of milongueros. A face in the crowd popped out – I spotted Osvaldo Natucci. The distinctive way that he danced was unmistakable. With a “tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick” energy that seem to have an almost compulsive edge. As if the world moves at twice the speed for him than for everybody else.

It was a pleasure to watch how the dancers are dancing to the music. Like a lost traveler upon sighting an oasis in the desert, I was so eager to observe and absorb everything on the dance floor. Since I had no great intentions of dancing, I did not change into my shoes. Well aware that the invitation to dance was conducted via cabaceo in Buenos Aires, I was careful not to look at anyone directly in case I inadvertently solicit or accept a dance. Occasionally I stole glances around the room and my eyes slided immediately away from any men that made eye contact with mine. To those who initiated verbal invitations, I declined gently and excused myself on the grounds that I shall change shoes later.

A friendly English girl who has been in Buenos Aires for the last 4 months struck up a conversation with me. We enjoyed an entertaining chat about her experiences at the milongas since her arrival.

3 odd hours passed in a flash. An Argentine who knew my new English friend came up to our table. He was middle-aged, dressed in a black jacket with modern cutting and style and spotted an earring in his ear. Even I did not understand the words, it was clear from his gesticulations and expression that he was aware I have not dance the whole night - does she not dance? Yes, I do. So! He was insistent that I must not spent the night without dancing. My excuse of the shoes failed to work this time. I was nonplussed. My friend whispered that perhaps I should entertain this invitation just once to give face to this particular gentleman. Feeling somewhat at a loss, I changed into my shoes and danced a Pugliese tanda.

Immediately after, another dancer more casually dressed struck an invitation and I was on the dance floor again. It was clear from the beginning that I was dancing with a salon-nuevo style dancer. Of course he must be equally aware that I dance milonguero-style. He turned out to be an excellent leader, with very clear lead with full contact of his chest. I felt secure in his embrace, I could feel he waited for my full transfer of weight and firm contact with the ground from one step to the next. I enjoyed a figure-intensive tanda, fairly exhilarating in view that it is out of my usual repertoire of dance.

This was how I ended my first milonga in Buenos Aires at Salon Canning in the wee hours of Buenos Aires. In a good mood but somewhat confounded. One can’t just sit out the night and watch the dancing in the milongas of Buenos Aires, no?

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8 Jul 2007

Shoe-Fleur: a footwear fantasty!

Besides tango, my passions have always been elements of renaissance beauty and intellect. What I refer to is the co-existence of art, intelligence and creativity in various combinations. Such was the magnificence of the Renaissance period. It is also the source of my love of oriental art, from Song furniture to peachbloom ceramics of Kangxi era.

Witness the existence of beauty. Beauty without the additional element of intellect is still undeniably beautiful of course. Beauty inspired by the creative spark, is to imagine the statue of Venus de Milo awaken with the kiss of life. Imagine the warmth of her milky skin, the supple strength in the column of her legs, her soft breath perfuming the air as Venus speaks...!

Day to day, I hope for such moments. To become hyper animated. When it happens, I am in the gripe of excitment beyond control. Captivated in wonderment. My mind is stimulated by the concoction of chemicals rushing through the bloodstream. It comes to life in a frenzy, the neurons in my brain firing in ten thousand million tiny gun salutes. The rush of emotions and the senses. Mmm, yes.

Today, it was an article on the work of photographer Michel Tcherevkoff which delighted me: "Shoe-Fleur: a footwear fantasty".

Using flowers and leaves as raw materials, Michel Tcherevkoff fashioned them into a collection of shoes, transporting them from the relms of fantasy into book form "Shoe-Fleur".

He decided to craft each invented shoe from a single variety of flower or plant:

“I decided early on that I wouldn’t mix different types,” he says. “Every shoe and handbag [most of the shoes in the book have matching purses] would be made from one particular plant or flower.”

The delicate beauty of the shoes and whimsical delight of his creativity is entirely wondrous. The whimsicality makes the girl in me smile with great glee. While the sheer wit of his creations appeals to my intellect and femininity.

From September 6, the collection of prints from the book will be exhibited at the Museum of Art and Design in New York.

It makes me wish for a moment I had relocated to New York instead of Buenos Aires :D

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