Teaching Tango at the University!

Teaching Tango at the University!

In addition to teaching in the community, I teach tango at ASU’s School of Dance in the Institute for Design and the Arts. Formally teaching two levels of social Argentine Tango at a University is a pretty unique situation. Students receive two credits towards their degree for each, even repeatable course they take. During a 16-week semester, we meet twice a week for a total of three hours a week.

When I was asked years ago to replace a retiring faculty member, a single tango course was in place. I immediately revamped the syllabus when I first came on board. Later the advanced level was added.

Over the course of a semester I take my students on a dynamic tango journey. They begin with walking and connection games. I conduct classes on milonga, vals, musicality and a presentation on the history and evolution of the dance form. We also watch videos of famous tango couples to help my students define their aesthetic. They are also required to attend milongas and practicas in the community and participate in the student-run Tango Club.

In the short time that I have been teaching, I have seen a difference in my students in their first tango class. When I first began teaching in 2005, almost none of the students in the class had ever heard of or seen tango prior to class. Now, thanks to reality TV shows, almost all students have seen or have been exposed to some form of social dancing, including tango. They are, of course, surprised to discover that Argentine Tango as a social dance is sometimes quite different from what they have seen on TV or YouTube.

Some students are occasionally disappointed but more often than not they are intrigued by the possibilities that Argentine Tango offers them through the partner relationship. This partnership demands skills in listening and improvisation, attention and patience in order to move through the space together. In this evolving dance form they learn to negotiate, lead and respect each other and their community, and the culture of the dance itself.

With more than 80 students each semester, it really never is the same class twice. Class has been called a stress reliever and a fun distraction to the everyday, heavy course load of many honors students. Although basic templates and syllabi are in place, my students inspire and surprise me all the time and oftentimes send me spontaneously into new, exciting directions. Every semester these young students remind me how magical and powerful dance can be.

They find friendships and sometimes even love – two of my students recently married. Students tell me that they learned to be better persons through tango or found their voice through the dance. Several of them have been dancing with me their entire college careers. Life has fed their dancing, and the dance has fed their life.

It is a wonderful experience to watch them form bonds of friendship and trust. I think one of the most exciting aspects of watching my students’ process of learning this dance is that they come with honesty and openness. They are willing to have a positive experience as they challenge themselves. They laugh together and help each other. It is a reciprocal openness that I share and enjoy so much.

I love my job!
I love dancing!
I love tango!

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Salta Argentina Side Trip – (not tango related!)

My side trip to Salta – June 2011 – and nothing to do with Tango except that we did see classes advertised!I had been attracted to the idea of going to Salta Argentina for about 2 years. Not sure why and during my trips to Mendoza I had learned Salta was producing some very nice wine. But I really don’t think it was the wine that was pulling me there as I didn’t end up at any bodegas and only tried 1 glass of wine while I was visiting. (Incidentally a very nice Malbec by Los Elementos!)

This year with very little time to play we flew to Salta for 2 days. Our timing was not great as a volcano in the south of Chile decided to erupt and create major chaos in travel throughout the country.

We had an action packed trip. Upon our arrival we visited the main plaza – Plaza 9 de Julio. There we visited the Museum of Archeology (http://www.maam.todowebsalta.com.ar/  or  http://www.turismosalta.gov.ar/internacional/in/reco_maam.asp)  famous for the 1999 discovery of 3 children found frozen at the summit of the volcano Llullaillaco.  They were discovered buried at 6900m above sea level.  The little boy was the one we saw on display – I was very moved by this “mummified” little boy – not quite a mummy but a ghost to the past.  He and 2 young girls that were discovered along with over 146 artifacts buried with them are known as los “Niños del Llullaillaco”.  It was a tremendous insight into Inca culture. I was moved by the vision of the little boy in his display case, his head lowered, his clothing still colorful.  The theory is that they were from noble families and therefore, sacrifices to the gods, they were given chicha to drink (a fermented beverage) and probably lots of it.  There were also traces of coca leaves on the mouth of one of the girls.  What would it be like to know that you were pleasing your gods by sacrificing one of your own? Bailarines Folkloricos

In the evening we went to a Peña – a traditional presentation of folkloric dance and music. I thought it would be something more “intimate” or “special” but they were ready for the tourists with 1 particular street, Balcarce, and almost 4 blocks of restaurants that offer “peñas” – food, drink and a “show”; could be musicians and dancers or just musicians. The songs are beautiful – they are sambas and chacareras. We were recommended to El Viejo Estacion. The food was good, the service a little slow and not particularly friendly. The entertainment was nice. There was a group who danced Baile Folklorico, Nuestra Tierra was their name – with choreographed pieces to Sambas and Chacareras. The male dress was super interesting – very “gaucho”like, boots with chunky heels, big babucha pants, vests and hats and belts. The girls were less interestingly dressed. They were in dresses, with broad skirts – they used while dancing, picking them up, whirling them about.
We enjoyed the music and the 1st set of musicians we saw were very interactive with the audience. The restaurant was almost full and seemed to be mostly with Argentine tourists. I was amazed at how the songs were all known – so many people singing along and making song requests to the musicians. The musicians and the 6 dancers joined forces for a few numbers and of course Rommel and I jumped into dance a chacarera with the dancers!

The next day we did a 12 hour excursion – all day on a bus with 16 other people, 2 Italian girls, and the rest from Argentina visiting this region. We had a fabulous tour guide – Fernando – he was like an encyclopedia.
Our day was to include 540 km of road and about 150km unpaved!!!
Our trip took us West through the Andes via El Quebrada del Torro (the gap or gulch of the bull) through several micro-climates to 4170m above sea level into another province called Jujuy and then back down switchbacks where we would descend 2000m in 33km of road!

We saw part of the train tracks for the famous Tren a los Nubes and paused at Campo Quijano at 1520m above sea level.
At 2500 m above sea level it was recommended to take some coca leaves to prevent altitude sickness. Rommel and I had prepared the night before by buying some at a little kiosko (shop) around the corner from our hotel. A baggie full was 3 pesos ($.75). SO before you judge me – I have to tell you that I did not experience altitude sickness. I also did not experience hallucinations or tripping of any kind!!! It has a funky smell to it, it can be found as a tea as well that women are supposed to love as an appetite suppressant!
It was interesting to hear that the few people we spoke to about coca leaves all mentioned it as a part of the culture, something that you do, a habit. Fernando, the tour guide, said, you share water, maté and coca leaves – you will never be without these items. He mentioned that over time with the regular use of coca leaves, the red blood cells are rejuvenated in a shorter amount of time and of course they oxygenate the blood. The coca leaf has always been used and recommended by the people who work and live in high altitudes.
At 2500 we took 5 coca leaves and placed the bundle inside our mouth, between the cheek and gum. The idea is not to chew the leaves but for them to interact with your saliva. We saw some people with huge wads in their mouths, like our tour bus driver, Marcelo! It had an earthy taste for me, like green tea!

We made our way to 3100m to Santa Rosa de Testil to see some Pre-Inca ruins, IMG 5171pre-Quechua language. They were discovered in 1900’s and the area covers about 16 hectares. The archeologists theorize that this place was a commercial center for tribes. There are some elders who are known in these parts for their part in the folklore about the site – one is Luis Santellan and the other Leopoldo Barbosa, neither of whom we met but it seemed like a good advertising plug from our fearless tour guide.

At about 3734 m we stopped in San Antonio de los Cobres for lunch. It was a town at the top of this “Alto Plano” – high plain, about 5000 habitants and mostly miners. It is uncommon to have a small town in this high plain. We were greeted with a closed main road due to a parade for the “Fiestas Patronales” – Founding Father’s Day. Some of the locals ignored us, going about their business of participating in the IMG 5199parade or meeting friends. We were aggressively bothered by a weathered older woman trying to sell us a shawl or a miniature sized stuffed llama. We were also “sung” to by a small boy who called himself “Ryan” or maybe it was “Brian”! He let me tape him and that was worth a few pesos!

The downside to the lunch stop was that our tour guide suggested a place to eat and yet we were never told that no matter how much or how little you ate it would be 50pesos per person. This was a huge surprise to all of us. I know – 50 pesos doesn’t seem like a lot – $12 – but really – at this altitude a small bowl of soup or a grilled breast of chicken? $12??  so maybe a piece of advice – ask how much before committing!

We continued north through the Andes into the province of Jujuy.
Fernando told us that the plants – these shrubs we saw along with some cacti – don’t actually decompose when they die but merely petrify so that the land is sterile. The plants have to endure the extreme climates from day to night and the seasons.
The people at this altitude are either shepherds or miners.
We headed to our next stop – Las Salinas Grandes. A good proportion of this road Salinas Grandeswas bumpy and unpaved. Bouncing around for some time it was nice to hit paved road again and to see this flat white landscape first hand. 212 km2 of salt at about 3450m above sea level all flat in these hexagonal shapes. But not your usual salt – not from the sea but from volcano, with high concentrates of “borax” and lithium – the 3rd largest producer of borax. Lying walkable distance to the road are a few rows of little pools of water amongst the salt landscape. There are 3 ways to extract the salt – and 1 has to do with these pools! And of course Rommel and I decided that our tango feet could use a dip. What could happen? Dry skin?? I don’t think anything happened – the water was very cold. Unfortunately the few guys who were carving sculptures out of salt for tourists to buy Las Salinas Grandes with Rommelwere not friendly. And the 2 crickety smelly port-a-potties cost money to use!

We saw burros and llamas on our adventure and some vicuñas. I had seen their brother in the southern parts of Argentina – the guanacos. Fernando was able to explain the difference between these 3 very similar looking animals. He explained that the llamas are domesticated animals, the guanacos wild and very strong, able to withstand 3 days without water and able to go a distance of 35 – 40km/day. The vicuña is the “bambi” of the family he told us – however, this bambi has some wool that can’t be dyed and is VERY expensive. A vicuña gives about 200 – 250grams of wool every 2-3 years. They are protected by law and were nearly extinct at one point in time. There is a very special system in place for shearing them – they corral them. There is a large gathering of 80 + people who help to corral them and then shear them with care. He did mention that the president surely has a vicuña poncho!

As we headed into our descent we had hit our 4170m above sea level when we Highest point with new friendsfinally saw some vicuñas up close! We took our pictures at the highest point on our excursion. The sun still shining brilliantly and warmly. Some of us tired and winded but not sick, thanks to our coca leaves!

Our road to our last official stop on the tour dropped 2000m in 33 km of road – filled with switchbacks. We stopped in Purmamarca, most famous for the Mountain of 7 Colors. It was about 2000m above sea level and this little town nestled amongst a beautiful Vicunasalmost Sedona-like landscape had started out as a Jesuit Mission. We were there for such a quick stop that I never got a proper picture of the Mountain of 7 Colors. The main square or little plaza was filled with vendors – all selling the same thing. All for the same prices! The vendors inside the little stores around the plaza were a little more expensive. There were sweaters, shawls of different sizes, ponchos, socks, and mittens. By this time it all looked the same to me. I felt cross – eyed from looking at the same wares.leaving Purmamarca

I enjoyed my adventure to Salta. We got to stay an extra part of a day due to flight cancellations so although that was stressful we found a really interesting restaurant with interesting fusion/regional fare. Jose Balcarce is the name of the restaurant and I recommend it for anyone looking for something a little different. There was quinoa on the menu, chicken and fish, beef of course, pork and llama, for the adventurer. All the food had a wonderful mix of flavors. The deserts were yummy!  There were figs in almibar (sweet figs) wrapped in a thin cheese with a side of ice cream.  There was a very buttery ‘mille fueilles’ type apple desert – with a hint of ginger and cinnamon.  Those who know I don’t do dairy – don’t fret, I didn’t crossover, I just ogled! and enjoyed a bowl of strawberries with orange rind. YUM!  The discovery was to blend the flavors for a party in your mouth!

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Reminders about finding housing in Buenos Aires

What you see on the internet is rarely what you get. The pictures always look nice and big too! I have also found that it doesn’t matter how many questions you ask unless it is in print somewhere, like a contract, it won’t exist like you think it does. Even sometimes the contract doesn’t matter because if you are renting a place, it has probably been lived in many times over by the time you get to it.

I have had several experiences of renting places and sometimes due to urgency and sometimes in good faith I have rented sub-par situations.

My most recent situation has left me very angry, disappointed and disillusioned as I guess a situation of this kind would to anyone.

And instead of totally complaining I wanted to advise and well, there might be a little complaining.

Firstly and I think probably the most important thing you can do when trying to find a place to stay in Buenos Aires is to try to connect with as many people as possible in the tango community and ask them about the places you are thinking about renting. Try to find someone who has stayed there or someone who might even go check it out for you.

Try to know as much as possible about what you are looking for.

How often is their housecleaning? What does it include? Does this include a change of sheets and towels?

Is there construction going on in the building or on the street?

Are there pots and pans, silverware, glasses, mugs, etc?

Often times there are things that maybe even the owner doesn’t know about. Take the time to take a careful look around to see if the place meets your needs. Know that once you pay, and usually it is in cash, that you will not get that cash back. You may get a portion back if you decide early on that it is not going to work. And portenos are very good at trying their best to rectify the situation in order for you to stay.

Now a note to those who are renting to Tangueros.

Most foreigners who are traveling and are staying for more than 1 week are expecting a certain level of comfort. Of course, I don’t speak for all those who are visiting but some of us.

If I wanted to stay in a very inexpensive place or even in a hostel living situation than I would choose this and I would expect a certain standard. I must also mention that I have stayed in very nice hostels over the years and have been very pleased. However, if I am paying $40+ / night I would expect to have a clean place to stay and proper plumbing. I would expect the toilets to flush, the shower to function more than a dribble, and the house to be clean. Clean meaning that there is not a layer of dust all over the place. If there are futon beds and the actual frame is broken so that when you lie on it you have a piece of wood in your back then it needs to be dealt with. If a bed is going to be on the floor it would be best for this to be stated.

I know that every house has its peculiarities. I refer to things such as how the lights may work or how far to turn the hot water or only turn on the hot water. Whatever they are these should be outlined in a booklet or told to each new person coming to the house. Kind of like a list of house “rules”. These should include how to use the heat or the air conditioning.

It is amazing to me how much the tourists are being taken advantage of in Buenos Aires. I have family who live there and who have lived there their entire lives who claim this as well.

With all this being said, I just ask that as a tourist you become informed and as an owner or vendor who is offering a service that is needed that all aspects be taken into consideration.

You don’t need to be taken advantage of as a tourist, a visitor, remember to be as clear as possible as to what you want and do some asking around. 

 

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1st USA Tango Competition in San Francisco, CA

I never thought I would be here talking about my experience at a Tango Competition.  I have poo-pooed the thought of competing in Argentine Tango for all of my tango career – until now.  I have been a strong advocate in promoting the dance form as a social dance, as a folk dance, not as a competitive sport!  or so I thought that was what it meant.

So Rommel Oramas asked me to join him as his partner in this Tango Competition.  At first I was furious and continued kicking and screaming for the most part for many  months until I did obviously, eventually, give in.  It was just something I didn’t think I wanted to do and didn’t want all those people who knew me as a social dancer to think I had crossed over to some other side! 

April 21 – 24, 2011 was the first officially sanctioned Tango Competition in the USA, Sanctioned by the Office of Festivals and Central Events of the MRamada, Rommel and Brianinistry of Culture of the Government of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires. 

There were 25 couples who registered for the Tango Salon part of the competition – this included Rommel and myself. 

Tango Salon has a few key rules:

1) The Couple, once formed, may not be separated while the music plays. This means that they may not be break the embrace, considered as the tango dance position.

2) For the position to be considered correct, the body of one of the members of the couple must be contained all the time by the arm of the other member. It is understood that, in certain figures, this may be flexible; but not throughout the duration of the dance.

3) All movements must be made within the space allowed by the embrace between the members of the couple.

4) The Jury will take into account the couple’s musicality and walking style as fundamental to the score.

5) Within these parameters, the couple may carry out all the popular figures, including barridas (sweeps), sacadas al piso (drawn to the floor), enrosques (twists), etc. All other figures typical of stage tango such as ganchos (hooks), saltos (jumps) and trepadas (climbs) are completely excluded.

6) Couples, as in a dance hall, must constantly move counterclockwise, and may not stay in the same point of the choreographic space as this would obstruct the movement of the other dancers in the dance floor.

7) None of the members of the couple may lift his/her legs beyond the line of the knees.

And we were off and running!
Upon our arrival we were given a number that became our number for the duration of the event – #3. We were placed in a group – Number 1 – and on the first night danced with 5 other couples to 3 songs chosen ahead of time and told to us while we were on the dance floor. 

Each night started off with the Stage Tango Dancers doing their performances and then when they were done they continued with the Tango Salon category.  Each night Rommel and I were couple #3 and danced in the first group!  Each night we kept passing! 

Saturday night was a grueling night when after all the groups went they asked set up another group for a tie-breaker without telling any of use who the tie was for.  Rommel and I and another beautiful couple were in this tie-breaking round.  We had to dance to 2 songs. 

We passed!

There were 12 couples in the final round on Sunday.  12 of us past to this last round.  And this was an exciting time – 2 groups of 6.  Again in Group 1.  It was a “tanda” of 3 songs that were great for dancing, we knew the orquestas and we liked them. 

We didn’t get 1st, 2nd, or 3rd but it was an extraordinary experience.  Most of the couples were from California, there was 1 couple from Boston and 1 from New York. 

We found out from the judges that we came in 5th.  And I was complimented on my feet! 

Overall, I am glad to say I did it.  I feel well-equipped to talk about competition from new stand point. 

I did try to do some research on Tango Competitions because I remember when I started to dance tango – they didn’t exist, not that I had heard of.  And I did find out that 2010 was only the 8th time doing it in Buenos Aires – and this is the “world cup” or the World Championships – http://www.tangobuenosaires.gov.ar/campeonato10/web/en/tango/festival_mundial.html

I know the organizers of this festival and championships are looking forward to doing it again and having it grow and I am sure there will be more sanctioned championships throughout the world. 

The experience has added to my Tango experiences.  I can see myself training future competitors.  And I think the competition adds a dimension to the dance form that was completely unexpected – which is – to show others musicality, grace, endurance, beauty, connection, understanding of the dance form in the tradition of line of dance, respect for the floor and the other dancers – and all this can be done without having to be a show tango dancer. 

See 2 of our 3 dances in the 1st round of the final day of competition:

http://youtu.be/hRsCC4JwlXE
 

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GREAT FEST – and now more Practica!

THANK YOU!
To all who came to the ASU TANGO FESTIVAL and to the TANGO 101 classes. Everyone had a wonderful time even through some glitches. As ASU Tango Club’s first festivalTAngo FEstival they learned so much and are excited to host again next year.
I have posted a link to the VIDEO of Rommel and Daniela’s in-class Demo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BFM0ujIJkqY
I hope that the reminder will keep your enthusiasm for learning this dance.

PRACTICA del Desierto

I want to continue to recommend practicing your tango. And tonite is a great opportunity to do just that! Rommel Oramas and I are hosting our monthly Practica in Old Town Scottsdale at ART of Dance Studio. In a casual and fun atmosphere you can practice your dancing, meet nice people and ask questions about your dancing to Rommel or to me. We like to feature an orchestra to help in hearing and understanding the music of the Goldn Age of tango and tonight’s orchestra will be Enrique Rodriguez.

Tonite at 8pm starts a class and at 9pm starts the practica until 12:00ish!

Art of Dance is located at 7077 E. Main Street in Scottsdale, AZ 85251

Keep dancing!
 

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