the Tango Zone

What an amazing week of live tango music!  We must be in the cosmic tango zone, because we stumbled — metaphysically if not literally — into a milonga called Zona Tango in the Balvanera barrio.  A kind of offbeat, rundown area, a funky gritty milonga in a space owned by the Carboneros Genovese Argentino.  Italian coal miners from Genoa?  Founded in 1905.  The tango zoners appear to be mostly under 30, hip, cool youngsters, lots of ponytailed guys & beautiful young women, a few middle-aged hipster intellectuals, the usual lefty mix.   A group of leather-jacketed Fonzie types were standing, beers in hand, in one doorway.  (Are they here for the music, I ask?  Of course not, says Ben, they’re here for the girls!)  No scarcity of men who can dance in Buenos Aires!  “The odds are good, but the goods are…. dark and handsome!”

The dancing was mostly traditional tango, vals and milonga, but with the exuberance of youth and nuevo flavor, so crowded it was almost a meleé, but with a happy, high-energy vibe.  When the orchestra finally started (’round midnite) the crowd was electrified.  The musicians were so young!  The lead violin (of 4 violins) looked about 16.  The group included 4 bandoneons, bass fiddle, guitar, keyboard, and two singers: a guapíssimo youth (translate:  good-looking guy) and a rockin’ mama.  She reminded me of a latina Janis Joplin, lungs on steroids.  Great music, some of it original, t all of iintense and passionate.  There was a whole contingent of Colombians there, and a Mexican who lives in Paris, in BsAs visiting his daughter who also tangos, of course.

the 4 bandoneon players in action

Around 2:00 am we had to get off the dance floor because Ben didn’t have enough elbow and body-blocking technique to keep his girl dancing safely around the floor (like a soccer player keeping defenders off the ball as he’s heading for the goal), though still feeling friendly and in the spirit of La Zona Tango.  I’m not sure when Orquesta Típica la Vidú stopped playing, we left at 2:30, tired but happy.

Friday night we met some friends at La Baldosa, a beautiful tango club in Flores, a barrio about 12k to the south of this huge metropolis.  Our milonga teachers Gabriela Elias & Eduardo Perez host this weekly milonga.  We arrived early (9 pm) to take their class which started an hour late.  (Buenos Aires time!)  They are such awesome teachers!  Gabriela  is one of the judges of the yearly international Tango competition.  They  returned last week from a workshop and performance tour in Italy.  Tango teachers seem to go back and forth to Italy like you or I would go to SF or LA.  Most Argentines are of Italian descent, the rest are Spanish, with a spattering of other nationalities, like the spots on an Appaloosa.  A “criollo” is a person of mixed Euro and indigenous blood, born in South America.

Orquesta Sans Souci

At La Baldosa we were delightfully surprised by yet another random act of divine benevolence.  One of our favorite tango orchestras was playing:  Orquesta Sans Souci!   Three bandoneons, 4 violins, piano, bass… and their awesome singer, el Chino Laborde,  himself son of another tango singer.  So happy to hear them again.  They evoke the style of Miguel Caló, from the 1930s & 40s.  We danced, and shared a table, a bottle of very decent Malbec (22 pesos a bottle)  and conversation  (between tandas) with our good friends, the beautiful poetas Silvina and Marisa, Marisa’s husband Salvatore (they spend part of the year in Italy, the rest in BsAs), and a new friend, Nuria.

Nuria & Silvina

We met a couple of years ago after exchanging 16th century style poetry on the losFansdePapito website ( fan club of tanguero Jorge Firpo).  The site thrived for a few months on some absolutely phenomenal poetry, in the style of Garcilaso, but eventually collapsed due to an invasion of people we didn’t know hacking in from god knows where.

Marisa & Salvatore

The show was over when the orchestra quit playing and the rock’n’roll break started off with Creedence Clearwater.  After 5 hours of tango we were done!

Today we’re taking it easy.  We decided to forego the 2-hour canyengue class in favor of allowing our bodies and minds to recuperate so we can go out to yet another milonga this evening!!  Next blog will be lots of pix of the city and our neighborhood.  Ciao from Buenos Aires!!

Ben y Willow

No, it’s not all about the shoes!!

The only time Buenos Aires quiets down is when there’s a soccer game.  Traffic evaporates.  As I write, the score is 1 – 1, Argentina vs. Uruguay, Copa America semi-finals.  Being next-door neighbors means fierce rivalry.  Oh-oh, now they’re going into overtime.  Loud noise bursts from neighboring apartments at every critical moment of the game.  Argentines are passionate about soccer, just like they’re passionate about tango.

Tango is the heartbeat of Buenos Aires.  It was born here, and it still thrives.  UNESCO calls tango a national treasure.  Tango is rich, sultry, elegant, compelling.  What can I say about it?  My understanding is paltry compared to those who have grown up with it.  Let’s just say that the more you get into it, the more you see that it’s a huge genre of music: complex, orchestral, radiant, an entire world unto itself, with a long and fascinating history that is has been experiencing a resurgence since the 1980s.  What brings most people to that first tango class — is it the music? or the dance?  I don’t know, but once you get into it, it becomes an addiction.  A beginning dancer — a principiante – learns a vocabulary of different steps & moves which, the leader (usually a guy, but not always) puts together improvisationally as he dances.  There are no fixed choreographies in tango.  You have to practice long enough for the moves to be imbedded in your muscle memory.  After the long and awkward early learning stage (aka Tango Hell) you begin to put the moves together fluently and expressively.  Your inner response to the music is channeled through your outward expression.  Now you’re really dancing!

Let’s say you’re a woman, like me, and you don’t have the skill, the opportunity, or the desire to lead.  But the music moves you.  You are supercharged with an energy that begs to be unleashed.  In the best of worlds, you’re dancing with a partner who is equally electrified, and the chemistry between you leads to a fast-paced, dynamic interchange.  But this is not always the case.  Your partner may feel the music in his or her own way, and you must try to follow him.  After all, he leads each step you take.  That’s a basic premise of the dance.  Some teachers refine the idea by calling it an invitation.  The man invites you to take a step, you can choose to follow that lead, or not.  This brings me to my point that, for a woman, tango is all about trust and surrender.  A woman has to allow herself, to give herself permission, to be touched, held, and positioned in ways that never occur in any other social environment, and may seldom occur even in an intimate environment.

Let’s assume you accept being led, perhaps in a way that is new and maybe out of your comfort zone.  As you begin to move together, you may need to channel some of your impulsive energy into the dance floor, and surrender to your partner’s interpretation of the music.  Your energies will blend, and approach harmonic convergence.  OK, I’m having a little fun here, but it’s true. You are approaching the celestial realm of tango.

Of course this happens.  It’s really so elementary, so fundamental to tango.  The follower acquiesces to the leader’s interpretation of the music.  You are dancing through his lens: his eyes, his body, his feeling.  It’s a merging, an intimacy that can be absolutely blissful.  Two become one, for a few brief moments.  Time and space collapse around you.  You and your partner exist in a timeless bubble, alone in the universe, but not alone.

One night in Monterey I danced with a complete stranger.  It was clear from the first few steps that our styles were very different.  He seemed hesitant.  His lead was far from bold.  Memories and images flashed through me, and I compared his lead to riding a horse with an extremely sensitive mouth.  With my sometimes driving dance style, I had to back off a few notches.  I had to chill out and let my body listen for the lead.  He was humming the music softly to himself, and after the second tango, I began to make contact with his subtle but tangible lead.

We got in sync and I began to enjoy what I thought was a slow-motion tango.  He told me he had his own way of interpreting the dance, that he danced more to the melody than to the beat.   By the end of the tanda, I was having a lovely time.  We parted at the cortina, but a little while later, the DJ put on a milonga and this same partner rushed over to me.  My boyfriend mentioned it later, I hadn’t noticed, just looked up and there was the same guy, asking me very politely to dance.  He milonga’d so differently than he tangoed!  “I love milonga,” was all he said, and swept me off in a pulsating rhythmic close embrace that was close to perfection.  At one point we had our hands on each other’s shoulders, our bodies so crushed together that to have a set of arms outside our axis of balance was too distracting.  Clearly the milonga beat, with its afro rhythms, called up another side of this man.  I was completely seduced and enthralled.  After that tanda I had to sit one out to catch my breath and feel my own, separate self again.  In tango, each partnering creates a new dynamic.  If you’re lucky, it can help you evolve your understanding of the dance on many levels.

Tango is subtle and ephemeral.  It can only be approximated on film.  While watching tango is inspiring, it’s not dancing.  Each dance exists somewhere in time and space and cannot be recreated, like the moment of falling in love.  People who habitually get stuck in their emotional baggage, who can’t shake the past, might not enjoy tango.  Every moment is new and unpredictable, but your familiarity with the music balances out the equation.  The music grounds you and allows you to let go, like an invisible guiding hand.  One of the joys of being a follower is this not knowing.  It’s very Zen:  beginner’s mind.  You have to let go completely.  Don’t try to anticipate the next step.  Allow yourself to be taken by surprise!

Willow with legendary Tango teacher Raúl Bravo

We are so fortunate to be able to study tango with Raúl Bravo.  At 77, he has not yet learned to slow down on the dance floor!  There are very few maestros of his generation still around & still teaching tango — he’s been at it since 1955.   Raúl is totally unpretentious and a dazzling dancer.  Gracias, Maestro!  Check him out on uTube!



SF to South Carolina

My name is Willow and  this is my tango travelers’ blog.  I travel with my companion & dance partner Ben.  Dedicated to all of our friends & loved ones who insisted we keep you up to date on our adventures!

Our last night in SF:

Sending us off are my son Ode eating a celebratory Mud Pie:

And my daughter Autumn (on right: a master blogger herself and my inspiration) and  Ode’s girlfriend Dana (on left):

Yes, they will make him share!

But I have to go back in time, because before we left for Buenos Aires we had a blissfully hot, humid & salty 10-day family vacation in South Carolina.  This is the Hall gang at the grave of Ben’s illustrious grandpa William Outz who was sheriff of Edgefield County for 30+ years:

We splashed, swam, played, cooked, played cards & lounged on the beach for a whole glorious week.

It was so hot & humid that stepping outside instantly fogged up your sunglasses.  I loved it!  Much fresh seafood was consumed, and many variations on pico de gallo were prepared only to disappear immediately.  A group of 14 can really put the hurt on the food!

After our week at the beach we spent two days & nights in beautiful, historic Charleston.  What an amazing city!  We did the horse carriage tour of the historic quarter:

took the ferry to Fort Sumter (first shots fired in the Civil War):

browsed the French Market, took a bike-taxi ride to a seafood place right on the waterfront where the food was to die for!  and the setting!  a balmy, tropical, night:

Before heading back to the West Coast we went to a milonga (a tango dance party) out on Folly Island, on the edge of the wetlands that border Charleston.  Where else can you find such a unique blend of art, history, tango (and great jazz and blues), cultural mixing, ocean & wetlands?  I would go back to that town in a hot second!  Even though you can’t buy a drink in the historic district on Sundays.

We finally left SF after spending half the night in the airport, trying to catch a few winks with other random fellow travelers in the check-in area which of didn’t open up till 4:00 am (of course the airline told us to be there at 3).  Arriving in Miami mid-day, we left our carry-ons at the airport and took the bus to South Beach.  We ate yummy Cuban food (plátanos fritos!) while a thirst-quenching thunderstorm moved in, passersby crowded into the little café, and the sound of the rain beat a habanera on the roof…   I sucked down a mango mojito and Ben had a beer.  Yet another Paradise found!

Later, about 4 hours after our flight was due to depart at 9 pm (Ben calls it a clue when there’s no plane at the gate), LAN flew us to Buenos Aires.  (Travel Tip: LAN is definitely the best way to go to BsAs.  Roomier seats, more leg room and they feed you!)

I will leave you till the next post with a photo of the Plaza Italia, a few blocks from our apartment in the Palermo Botántico neighborhood of Buenos Aires:

Ciao! y hasta la próxima.  Next post will be all about Buenos Aires!

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