Monthly Archives: November 2010

On Strictly & Anne Widdecombe

I know I have some readers not from the UK, so bear with me here; Strictly come Dancing is a TV programme here in the UK where they take non-dancing “Stars” and pair them with a dance professional and then compete for the ultimate title of winner of Strictly Come Dancing. At least that is my take on it.

Now as I am out dancing most nights and even when I am in I watch little TV, I have so far managed to avoid every episode of this circus.

This weekend however I had to work Saturday and Sunday night, so Viv was home alone with just the television for company. She, like I, had been badgered to watch “you should see xx’s tango”  is often the cry, so this Saturday she saw Patsy Kensit and Robin Windsor’s Tango, note I missed out the word Argentine. See for yourselves http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsSubO8qlCw 

Every cliché is there; The Chair, The hat, the stiletto’s even the six o’clock shadow, but what is not there is a single thing that is real AT. There is no lead, no connection, no feel for the music and more importantly what about the music; “I’m sorry”, but OMG you should be, at the risk of repeating myself, ask any Argentine what tango means to them and to a man they will either talk about the great musicians, or they will say it is all about the touristas. You don’t get much more touristy rubbish than this. Is it beyond the ability of the great BBC to play some actual Argentine Music?

OK so now I was close to kicking the computer across the room (I watched t the next day on youtube) then Viv told me to watch Anne Widdecombe and Anton DuBeke doing a Rumba,  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Goc36SOdKIA Now I am hooked and I am posting my colours to the mast “Anne Widdecombe to win Strictly”

So why? you may ask, well here goes. First of all, forget the “fact” that all these stars are novices, that is utter rubbish, although some are, most have been to some sort of fame academy in their youth. Although trained as something else, anyone who knows anything about these places will tell you that they always cover a wide range of stage skills, acting, singing and dancing. So the novice dancer argument is out of the window, except of course for one aging Parliamentarian.

So we have  professional dancers, leading some one who has at least some basic skills except of course for poor old Anton DuBeke. Now I have been around the local dance scene for over fifteen years and have come across many Annes but few, if any Patsy’s. I would not dream of putting myself in Anton’s league, but can still understand his predicament. Anyone can look good with a good dancer on their arm but to lead someone like Anne takes real skill, so let me hear it for the most skillful man on there.

Now Anne has taken so much flack, from the judges, the audience and the public. How does she respond? with great good humour. She never takes herself too seriously and although you can see she really is trying, she smiles through it all.

Can I say here and now “Anne Widdecombe, I never liked you politics, but you are never the less a STAR, and if you win I for one will be cheering”

Strictly was never about the dancing, if it were then Come Dancing would still be on the TV. No it is a popularity contest. You choose who you would most like to win, wether or not they can actually dance. Ask yourselves, who gets the standing ovations from the audience and who alone has revived a program that was dyeing on its feet.

Now lets hear it “Anne Widdecombe to win Strictly”

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The not so fabulous Bob Finch

“A respected tango dancer and teacher”; and “the fabulous Bob Finch”, were just two of the plaudits that hailed my arrival at Stokies Tango Dojo. Already a little nervous at taking a full class of students of whom I knew nothing, this did little to calm me. Could I Live up to the hype? Would my lesson plan hold out? And more important, would I fluff it?

They were a wonderful bunch and in the end we all enjoyed ourselves, but things never went quite as I expected.

It was supposed to be a group of fairly mixed students but mostly with some experience, what I got was seven very experienced dancers, three men and two women who had never danced at all and about eight or ten who had been dancing about six months.

I started with the basic close hold, with little effort we achieved what was required and soon we were ready to move just a little turning the body and feeling the lead. It soon became clear that this simply would not work; with help and suggestions from the more advanced dancers we split the class. All the beginners moved to the far end of the room to be coached by the better dancers in how to walk.

This left me with a group of about five couples to work with. I think and hope we all had an enjoyable time, and that they now have a bit more understanding of how to dance close hold.

We worked on the basic ocho and giro trying to break it back down to just pivots and steps, slowing everything down and keeping it simple. For some it was not quite enough, but I really needed to keep it simple because after such a short time, most were not ready to stretch it too far. More to the point though, I wanted to emphasise that in a crowded milonga there is little room for fancy steps and there is a constant need to change the way we are moving when someone gets in the way. The women also enjoyed this feeling that they had time to execute their moves and were not rushed, as I made the men wait until the pivot was complete before they made the next move. The women were also instructed to wait; it was no good the men taking their time if the women went ahead and finished the ocho on their own. To reinforce the point I asked the men to sometimes not finish the ocho but do something else halfway through, pointing out that we never actually lead an ocho, only pivots and sidesteps.

There were some misunderstandings about what we were trying to achieve, and I had some problems controlling the class. Just as well they were adults who wanted to learn, I would probably have completely lost control if this had been a group of teenagers, still I wasn’t a bad teacher for an electrician.

I left them with a few tricks of my own; a giro with a twist, and an ocho doblé as a taster just in case I am ever invited back.

In the end though, I think I learned as much about teaching as they learned about tango and hopefully everyone left happy. More importantly, there were some beautiful moves being done and everyone left with a smile on their face.

I half expected though to be told never to return, so I was more than happy to receive one or two thanks later. So I would like to say here “Thanks for having me, it was a pleasure”.

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Funny Thing

Funny how people come and go. If all the people who have been to one of our practica nights came at once, we would have to dance in the streets.

Still it was nice to see some long-lost friends again. The numbers never get too many; again we only had about half a dozen but an almost totally different crowd. Apart from one or two stalwarts I get a different bunch each time.

Our artists of the night were Canaro and Fresedo, but because of requests and questions, we in filled with some Pugliese, just to show the difference, and even threw in some D’Sarli at the end.

I just love the way Canaro treats milonga, and for some time the floor was left free for Viv and I to just do our thing. It meant I could really use the floor, a rare luxury when we have so little space. The small space does help though, for anyone who wishes to go to Buenos Aires it is good training on how to manage your dance and avoid collisions.

The question came up again, as it often does, about Ganchos. I was happy to demonstrate (and prove that even though I do not do them, I can) that to work well they should be led. And show why they should never be done on a social floor, I was ably assisted in this task by the owner of some new Comme il Faut shoes. The heels of which proved to be very much the lethal weapon that I hoped they would.

It is not supposed to be a class, but somehow that is how it always ends. That is the way I like it; teach people what they want and need rather than what I think they should learn.

Something else came up as well; the question of keeping it simple and as always it is the women who bring it up. I know that I have spoken of this before, but this time it was a woman who broached the subject to me. Men still have this mistaken belief that they must have a huge repertoire to impress the women, when all they want is a simple dance done well.

In an area as small as our living room there is not the space for big moves, it is essential to keep it simple. If the ladies are to enjoy the dance then they do not want to spend all their time trying to figure out what the man wants, ladies are naturally more musical (sexist comment of the day) so if you move to the music and show some musicality this will impress her far more than boleos by the dozen. I have been to hundreds of workshops in my time, and I doubt if there is a move I have not done (maybe not well and probably forgotten, but done none the less) but I choose to keep it simple because that is what I believe the ladies want.

On this subject I have been asked what did I learn from Jorge Garcia, I learnt to walk better is my reply, and that is exactly what I wanted, hopefully the women I dance with will appreciate the difference, and the fact that I am not putting them through an ordeal of new moves that they do not know and I cannot lead.

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Spring to Winter in Twenty four hours

Our last day in Argentina as always was just packing and cleaning. All the bedding went straight into the washer and Viv got busy cleaning the floors.

My only job was to call the taxi. Now whether my Spanish is getting better or they are better at listening I don’t know, but it all went very smoothly. Over the phone is always difficult as you cannot gesticulate or make any signals, but they even got my name right this time.

I had only one other thing left to do; I wanted to get to our shoe repair man. As he had been so fair when we had taken Viv’s dance shoes I thought I would go back before we leave and get some laces and polish. Funny enough it came to exactly eighteen pesos same price as the repair, so I felt my conscience was salved.

Our taxi driver was very chatty; he wanted to know all about Wales and why we had bought property in Argentina. He said he was surprised when we told him we had a daughter the same age as him and then the conversation moved on to stars that still looked young.

I could have done with all this intense Spanish practice when we first arrived, and not so much as we were leaving. Still the journey passed very quickly. Viv surprised me again, because as she has done before, she hears the questions in Spanish then answers in English. I think the days of me being able to have complete conversations without interruption are numbered.

Unusually there was a queue at the Air France desk, but not unusually some one was having baggage problems “don’t these people ever read their instructions” we moaned, words that would come back and haunt us.

We got to the desk and after all the usual questions, passed as always with many a“si” we got to the final one “how many bags are you checking in”, “three” we said. Our check in operator then said “Your ticket only allows for two”, “we brought three out with us”, “your ticket only allows for two”. We just stared at him, “what were we supposed to do with our case, just leave it at the airport?”

He said we could take it as cabin baggage, but there was no way we wanted to take it through Paris and struggle taking it on and off two planes, after all we already had enough cabin baggage. I had my travel bag and my computer. Viv had her travel bag and Comme il Faut’s, no it was not going to happen.

The guy said we must then pay fifty dollars excess baggage, so frustrated, and realising we could not win, I got out my credit card. He said “not here” and proceeded to lead us across the airport to the main Air France desk. There was now an irate queue, wondering where these stupid people who do not read instructions were taking the check in operator.

He left us there with a docket, in yet another queue. When the girl got to us she said “would you prefer to speak English” as this could get complex, I said “yes thanks”

Again we went through the, your tickets state only two bags, but we came with three routine. Viv said “but we are still underweight, what is the problem” The girl said “this has been the rule since March” shame nobody told us “the only exception is if you have a Flying Blue silver or gold card”. So I whipped out my silver card and, surprised, she proceeded to start typing my number and other details into her terminal. For a while I was worried as, I think my Silver status has now expired. Then, eventually she said “Sorry for the mistake” and handed me back the docket and we left without having to pay the charge.

On our flight, joining us on our row of three seats was a Romanian girl who had been on a South American tour. Seating her with us was not wise, as she was terrified and the fact that it was raining scared her even more. We did our best to reassure her but little that we said helped, and the fact that Viv is a poor flyer herself is something she cannot hide.

The plane took off as normal and started to turn to get on track, and then suddenly, about thirty seconds into our flight it dropped.  I don’t know how far or how long, but now we were in no position to reassure anyone, because now I was quaking as well. On top of my terror I now had Viv’s nails buried in my arm.

We had no more fight problems even the intercontinental convergence zone was quiet tonight; although we did have some turbulence there, it was a lot less than we usually get.

I saw a funny thing at Paris DeGaulle airport; they were selling souvenir Iffel Towers in union flag colours, I cannot think how many levels this is wrong on, and to sell them in the place that is named after the very man who said “non” to a common market application by Britain, well, it surprises me that they did not have pickets outside threatening to burn them along with our sheep.

After nearly four weeks away The Manchester terminal looked different to us, we could not work out how but it seemed smaller. Then I remembered that Air France had changed their terminal building while we were away. So instead of coming in at Terminal two as we usually did, now we had arrived at Terminal three.

I stood outside, in the rain, to call our taxi and, shivering, I realised that in less than twenty four hours we had been transported from spring to winter. Then I heard our driver tell us he did not expect us home until the eleventh. How this could have happened I do not know, but it meant he would not be able to get here for an hour and after nearly twenty four hours travel we did not need this. We retired back into the lounge for a coffee.

After about ten minutes we got a call back, seems our driver had a friend who was already out this way, so we were fortunately saved from further delay.

We finally arrived home at Three o’clock Thursday exactly the same time we had left our apartment on Wednesday. (Only twenty one hours actual journey time because of the three hour time difference)

I finished our two day adventure with a curry from the local take away; it was the perfect antidote to our vegetarian tenador libre.

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Little surprises

 It was time to buy a few things to bring home, so our first port of call was to be Esquina Carlos Gardel, the home of all things tacky and souveniers by the dozen.

We walked past the Abasto centre and down Anchorena. The trouble with this route is that we pass Susana Artenesal and they sell shoes. Viv has no recollection of being here before, but I assured her we have bought shoes here. The idea was just to collect advertising material and see what they had, but temptation and cheap shoes was just too much. That’s your Christmas present sorted, or wasn’t the Christmas present supposed to be the shoes from Por Vos? or was it Comme il Faut?

We managed to get one or two things from Carlos Gardel and then we set off down Sarmiento towards Callao. The variety of shops along here is amazing, we even stopped at Neo Tango but this time Viv contained herself.

The shops were huge mainly wholesale, often with a minimum purchase written on the window, that would put off impulse buyers like ourselves.

Viv was getting tired and thirsty, but it seemed unlikely that amongst all of these old tired buildings we could find anywhere that she would want to stop at. Then at 2222 we found a place called Bocado, a little surprise in the midst of chaos. We only wanted coffee but the morning promotion of three medialunas jugo de naranja y cafe con leche was just what we needed.

As we sat munching our pastries we jealously watched all the diners being served wonderful meals. The food looked and smelled delicious and the presentation was superb. There is now a note in our book to visit here again and maybe partake of a meal.

I have to thank Cherie and Janis who directed me to where I could buy some sheet music. Something I have commented on before is the strange habit of shops to group together in Buenos Aires and without direction I would never have found what I wanted.

We took the subte back from Uruguay, when we got underground there already was a huge crowd there, then it took an age for the train to arrive. As it pulled into the station it appeared to be struggling, the more so when it left. There was literally no room to breath, it took an almighty push to get us on and yet many were left on the platform. As I stood in the crush I tried my best to guard my wallet protect my precious music and stay upright. Things got no better at the next stop, more seemed to get onto the train than left, there was simply no relief until thankfully we burst out at Medrano.

I now think Janis had an ulterior motive for tonight’s get together, she wanted some more photos.

When we got of the subte at Callao there was a huge crowd around the entrance to Zivals, television crews, film crews and photographers. We never found out exactly what was happening but there was a small orchestra inside, though they were not playing as we passed. We arrived early at the pizzeria and it was packed out, but we managed to find an empty table at the back, I was watching the door but was not sure if I would see Janis arrive. We ordered beer and told the waiter we were waiting for a friend, but I decided I would go down to the front and check out the pizzas and also to be nearer the door for when Janis arrived. My timing was perfect and I got there just as she turned into the doorway.

We had a great meal (best pizza I have had in Buenos Aires) and then she attacked us with the camera again. Watch her blog for further adventures of the tango modelos, set off well against the red walls.She sent me a couple from the night as well that I have put at the end of the post.

Porteño y Bailerin was packed out and we were relegated to the back with the extranjeros, but as we have not been regulars on this visit, it was as much as we could expect.

Jorge Garcia was there and graced us with his presence and wished us “Buen Viaje” it was nice that he came over while I was dancing with Janis. We were amused that he was talking to Viv and surprised how much she understood. As it was near the start of the tanda they got up and joined us on the floor as well. Viv can now claim to have danced with one of the greatest milongueros.

A good night was had by all, although from where we were we could not see all the demos. Then again we are not great fans of them, although it would have been good to watch Flaco Dany again. Well we get a better view on youtube and we were having a socializing night, so while they all watched and stood on their toes straining their necks, we sat talking.

As we got up to leave an old flame of Janis’s was singing tango songs, so we had to wait, it would have been rude to go at that point and Janis of course wanted to say hello again. Funny how whenever you try to get away early things conspire against you.

Janis walked us to Lavalle and we saw a 94 bus coming, even though we were not at a stop she flagged it down. When they are busy the busses will not even wait at a stop but at three in the morning the drivers are much more amenable, and dare I say, even helpful. He was not at a stop, and sure as hell he was not going to stop long, there was barely time for a hug and we were gone leaving Janis on the street. Well at least we did not have time for tears.

Jorge says goodbye to Los Galeses

An act for which I should be censured

                                                                                         Jorge says goodbye to Los Galeses

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iMilonga? is that what you call it?

We set off for Plaza Bohemia in good spirits, we have not seen Gloria this trip, and expected the usual welcome, although we did not expect there to be a crowd we did expect a milonga.

Our first problem was leaving the subte, the escalator was out of action, but we wandered around and eventually found another way out. We set off down Corrientes and the first thing that occurred to me was, we could take a taxi home straight up Corrientes. This was, of course, absolute rubbish, Corrientes runs into town not out. It was at this point I realised we were going the wrong way, all that turning underground had disoriented me, so we turned again and set off once more for Maipu.

When we arrived at 444 there was a crowd outside and they were shutting the door. “you are too late” they said. We said “but we have come for La Susheta, it starts at ten” We were then informed that Gloria had stopped about two months ago, so much for the tango guide.

Monday night is pretty flat, that is why normally we go to an early dance, and now we are left with little choice. We could go to Gricel, but we do not know the bus to take from here. There are then only two choices, La Catedral or Canning. Canning tonight is Parakultural, they mess about too much, have demos films announcements and we never enjoy it. So thinking we have nothing to loose, and that it is very close to home, we decided on La Catedral. Even though we had been told it was all nuevo here we thought at least we could have a dance.

It started well enough just ten pesos entrada, although the entrance looked more like Strangeways prison than a dance hall. We had to climb stairs to get to the dance, there was a lift but it was out of action and the stairs were half concrete and half steel, as if the building had started to be demolished and they had changed their minds.

At the top of the stairs I realised that they had not, they just never got around to finishing the job. You could see right up to the roof structure, any sign of finish had been totally removed and the place was filled with rubbish. Cable drums for tables, milk crates for seats and planks for benches. Nobody came to give us a seat so we chose our own, bought a beer and sat down. The dance floor was an utter disgrace, I kept my street shoes on, but Viv who had brought Comme il Faut shoes with her had real difficulty as they got stuck in all the cracks and ridges.

The music was not constructed in any sort of tanda, if you can imagine Canaro and Pugliese played back to back. It was hard to know when to dance and when to sit down. Strangely though we were quite enjoying it up to this point. The floor was abysmal but there were few dancing and mostly they were trying new things or teaching on the floor. But because there was room we just danced past.

Someone came and started arranging chairs at the back of the dance floor and left a guitar there. We thought we would have live tango but the chairs were moved to the front and everyone got off the floor. The guitarists were good to be fair and if they had allowed it we would have enjoyed dancing to their milongas, but they did not allow us room and never said we could dance.

So we sat there getting hungry. There was food on so I went for a menu, there was quite a choice, so when we decided I went to order. The guy at the kitchen said we could not have this food, it was the delivery menu and took me back to the bar and gave me the menu from the bar. Now I know I am just a stupid extranjero, but apart from the prices which were slightly dearer but did not include the delivery charge, I could see no difference. So we sat with the new menu but no one came to take our order, but we did notice that it said at the top that non of our food contains meat. After last nights vegetarian meal we thought better of it and just went hungry.

At this point the guitarists had stopped and the folk singers had taken over, suddenly we were transported back to 1975 and the Mucky Duck folk club. Viv was now in fits of laughter, she would have been able to contain herself but then they started reading poetry, in spanish, of course. Now Viv was close to wetting herself, tears were running down her face and her nose was running. Everyone else in the room looked deadly serious.

Already we had offended looks from locals, some had left in disgust. It was time to leave before we were thrown out and possibly acosted in some dark alley for failing to show respect for something we did not understand.

So if you want to dance tango whatever your style, I suggest you try somewhere else. I do not know what you would call La Catedral but whatever you call it, don’t call it a milonga.

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Big Issue

We thought we would do some last-minute shopping and took the subte down to Callao. I wanted to head straight for El Ateneo but Viv saw Zivals and wanted to go there instead. Well Zivals was closer and I never argue with a woman about shopping.

For some reason we ended up looking in the DVDs at the English films and were amused by the title “Enrique V” to those not familiar, this was “Henry V”. Viv said “I don’t understand why they translate names”. Someone else was having difficulties and as he was an English speaker he tried us for help. His name was Mathew and he hailed from Cape town though by his accent we guessed not a native. We found out he was originally from Windsor and was here for the Tango, so we had a lot in common.

I did the “your from South Africa, you must know” thing I am afraid, and although it is a big country, the tango scene is still quite small. So although Brigitte is from Johannesburg and Mathew from Cape town, he did know our friends. It seems they both work in the travel industry so the links are closer than we thought.

Mathew had brought travelers cheques with him and was having trouble changing them, we made some suggestions though I am afraid we never use them so despite knowing our way around we do not know the best places to exchange travelers cheques. We told him we would be in Porteno Y Bailerin tomorrow and that it was only a block away, but I think he is being guided to places nearer to where he is staying and not well enough versed in travelling the city yet to navigate here at night.

We had hoped to find some sheet music for our friend at home but we had no luck either here or in El Ateneo so in frustration we went to a very nice cafeteria on Santa Fe and Callao (where they also do not sell sheet music). We had a glorious piece of apple crumble that we shared, it was far too expensive, but hey we are on holiday and it is getting near the end. So we sat in the window luxuriating with our expensive confection, looking out at the street life.

On the corner a young man paced up and down accosting every passer-by trying to sell them a copy of Hecho en BsAs their version of The Big Issue, nobody was  taking him up on his offers, hundreds passed him by, most trying their best  not to even acknowledge his existence.. I felt guilty sitting there at a table having spent nearly £10 on something we really did not need and watching him struggle to earn pence. He was after all not begging, he was selling a magazine, I have an issue with people who just stand with their hand out but this guy, at least was making some effort.

So I went out and      a) Kicked his dog and told him to Fuck off.

or                                     b) paid more than the cover price for a magazine.

Choose your own ending and which would a local have done?

I never got my sheet music although we did get some presents and we still seek some raffle prizes, but what exactly we are after will only become clear when we have it.

This post is in danger of becoming too big so I have decided to creat a new one for the night.

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More photos

Despite an early night we did not get up again until midday, I think all the exercise is catching up on us. As well as the hours of dancing, we walk for miles. The only way to really get to know this city is to see it at ground level, pace the streets and know their names, tourists who travel everywhere by taxi, may well enjoy everything at a faster pace, but will never know the streets. The down side of course is that we can only keep this pace up for so long, I am getting to the point where I need rest and a night not disturbed by whistling collectivos and bikes with no exhausts.

We stayed in today as Jantango wanted some more photos for her series “How do you hug your partner”. I rushed out to buy some provisions from the local panaderia and deli, only to forget all about them when she was here. Still there should be enough to sustain us now until we leave. Only a couple more days to go, where did the time go? Before we know what has happened I will be back at work and hosting more Gresford Practicas.

Janis got all the photos she wanted and she now agrees that we have the perfect looks for radio. I think stardom now awaits both us and our new curtains.

As it was Sunday we returned again to Club Fulgor, all the old crowd welcomed us and wished us “buen viaje” when they left. We arrived much earlier than we usually do so that by ten we were starving and as it was our last night here treated ourselves to pizza. My ability to communicate is getting better, and I spent some time with Ruben explaining what was on the menu, you see “completa” could mean just about anything and it appeared at least twice. Nothing really fired Viv up so we settled for Pizza con jamon y tomate, buen cocido and for once we got just what we wanted. One item on the menu amused us; in an attempt to translate they had put “chesse and jam” the spelling of cheese probably just a typo but ham, I think was what they meant, not Jam.

We danced tango, practiced some of our new milonga stuff, learnt from Jorge Garcia ,we danced Paso doble merengue and cumbia until we were ready to drop. We stayed almost to the last tanda as we could not bear to leave and as we left we said our last goodbye to Roberto Ruben and of course Mariana, who now has now learnt our names and a bit of english, she said “I will miss you” as we left.

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