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Experiencing the traditional tango class - Tango in Club Sunderland

(Photo copyright Rebecca Travaglia)

About seventeen ladies were shuffling for positions where their elegant heels would not come into contact with another´s calf. Blood on a dance floor is the last thing that anyone wants and with 9 cm heels, there is some potential for connection if you are not aware of your space around you.  The men were gliding up and down the lines on the floor like swimmers doing lane training at their local olympic pool, continuous laps while hugging invisible women.  The concentration was tangible within the room, almost drowning out the music. I risked a look to spy on my partner and see how he was doing on the men´s side of the floor, only to find him smirking at me, having been laughing at my intense look of concentration I required to successfully adorn my ochos.

This was learning traditional tango at its best. It had been awhile since I have set foot in a tango class thanks to the festive holiday season and travel, and returning to Buenos Aires jumpstarted my desire to re enter the scene. With that in mind, I set off to my first class at Club Sunderland on a balmy Wednesday evening.  Club Sunderland was founded in 1921 making it one of the oldest clubs in the city and celebrating its 91st birthday this year. It hosts a variety of other physical activities but is famous in the tango world for its traditional milongas and classes. The Wednesday night class is taken by  Carlos and Rosa Perez, well respected teachers of traditional tango and world famous for their classes which are, put simply, all about walking.

I remember when I first started tango classes, I heard that even if you practiced walking everyday for 50 years, you still would not have mastered the tanguero´s walk, casting somewhat of a shadow on my dream of being considered a capable tanguera. But if you don´t practice, you can´t improve and I have passed evenings pacing back and forth in my various living arrangements over the years. Back in class, the large studio was threatening to turn into a sauna as the men and women began their walking and I noted that the return journey to the far end of the hall near the air conditioner, was always completed faster, allowing more time for standing in the cool air.

Rosa took us through simple walking, both forwards and backwards, before adding adornos. Everything was going well until we moved onto ochos, which are difficult to do independently at the best of times, but adding adornos to independent ochos is a sure way to induce the wobbles. I noted some women holding out their arms for stability as if to gently meditating as they made their way across the floor. I opted for the intense fixation on a far away spot that doesn´t move, which was fine until I found myself at the back of the group and kept losing my point as the backs infront of me swayed from side to side.

Often beginners are understandably eager to learn tango steps, aching to get onto the floor to see if they can remember the sequence they were given in their class. But some of the best dances I have had is while simply walking. The strength of connection and space for musicality seems limitless and the joy of doing something so simple but so connected, never fails to induce one of those tango moments for me. This class gave me an opportunity to spend time focusing exactly on what my feet and entire body are doing, encouraging internalisation before practicing this with another person, walking around the studio with no thoughts other than connection, simple adornos and the music.

Things you need to know

Club Sunderland

Lugones 3161, Villa Urquiza, Buenos Aires.

http://www.sunderlandclub.com.ar/

 

Club Sunderland has a well run website which seems to be kept up to date and is well worth checking out to see what classes, practicas and milongas are run each week. It also has information about other events at the club should you feel like a change of sport.

The Wednesday night class is long and includes an instructed part and a free part for you to practice what you have learnt. The class runs from 8pm until 10.30pm. Some people (including names like Fabian Peralta) only arrive for the second part of the class.

The class is welcoming to new people and very easy to follow even if you only speak a basic level of Spanish. Some dancers arrive only for the practica afterwards. The cost (at the time of writing) of the class and the practica was 25 pesos.  It was my experience that the men received more personal attention than the women did, but that said, if you are struggling with the adornos, Rosa will offer advice to you. This class is great to go to if you have a partner, as you spend an hour or so practicing with the sexes divided and afterwards you have the opportunity to work together on what you have learned about your walk. Be prepared to only walk. There are no steps given in this class.




Music from the heart of Buenos Aires

 

It's often lonely sitting on a plane during short haul flights. Small talk can finish rather quickly after the excitement of the free wine and cheese platters, and hence there isn't much left to do except plug yourself into your iPod and drift into a dream state while flicking through well thumbed airline magazines or staring out the window at the passing clouds.


Whilst flying over the rather aptly named 'weather bomb' rain clouds covering my home country the other weekend, I needed something to calm my nerves and take me completely away from the bouncing around the aircraft was doing. Heading into the last week or so of my time at home, my desire was to prepare myself for the journey back to the city I've fallen in love with - Buenos Aires.  Lying in wait on my iPod under the obvious name of Tango Music, is a selection of well known tracks that never fail to transport me immediately back to the cobblestoned streets and river port of Buenos Aires.


As most travelers discover, a trip can be more enjoyable if a little effort is put into learning the basics of the language of the region. While music is arguably described as a 'universal language', listening to the music of a different region can also increase the spectrum of understanding a traveller can have when immersed in a new city. As music, memory and culture are inter-twined (to put it simply), it can enhance a travelers knowledge and sense of a city or country before even visiting.


So I have collected a play list of songs that you might enjoy listening to before heading off to Buenos Aires. This list is by no means definitive and is not a list of the Top 10 of all time. It is a way to introduce Tango music to your world and who knows, you might just hear your favorite amongst the tango music played at one of the tango shows.  There will be some of the songs that you connect with and others that don't create a response within you. Some may encourage you to look up the lyrics and others might make you cringe. As music tastes are subjective, I'm open to people commenting on this post to express their favorites, songs that they think epitomized Buenos Aires for them.


So go ahead. Plug in your iPod while you're driving or ironing or next time you're flying, and let the tango work its way into your blood prior to your visit to this fair country.


TANGO

Aníbal Troilo: Quejas de Bandoneón.

Juan D'Arienzo - Pensalo bien

Miguel Caló - Que falta que me haces

Angel Vargas  - Tres Esquinas


VALS

Alfredo De Angelis/Dante y Martel - Pobre Flor

Osvaldo Pugliese - Desde el Alma

Pedro Laurenz - Mascarita


MILONGA

Edgardo Donato - Ella es asi   

Edgardo Donato - Sacale Punta

Francisco Canaro - Reliquias Porteñas

Juan D'Arienzo - Milonga, vieja milonga


MODERN

Otros Aires - Milonga Sentimental

This contemporary orchestra has taken a traditional tango and re-interpreted it by adding electronica beats.


Dancing under the evening sky at Milonga de La Glorieta

 

 

 

(Photo credit and copyright Rebecca Travaglia)

 

When the weather starts warming up and the trees start to grow their lush canopy, every

evening of the week brings the strains of the bandoneón floating through Barracas de Belgrano.

This beautiful park is located in the northern part of the city and was designed by the famous

French Argentine landscape architect Carlos Thays. An old bandstand nestled amongst the

sheltering trees on the corner of the cobblestoned roads 11 de Septiembre and Echeverría, is

the location of Milonga de La Glorieta.


This milonga is the only regular ´al fresco´ milonga in Buenos Aires which runs all year round.

During the winter months, the milonga is held on weekends, with dancers braving the bracing

cold weather to dance, often in coats. From November, unless a summer thunderstorm brings

torrential rain, a milonga is held every night of the week. It is a beautiful old outdoor venue

where milongueros and locals meet, share mate and laughter in an informal and friendly

environment.


Free from the constraints of seated milongas, milongueros gather around the

sides of the rotunda and take advantage of each tanda. The ambience is relaxed as evening

falls and the street lights cast a gentle glow and the smooth tiled floor fills with dancers. While

the floor has the usual colourful tango stilettos, many women choose to dance in their

street shoes, having decided on a whim to join the milonga. As the evenings become warmer

with the onset of summer, it is not unusual to see women dancing in sandals and Havaianas. 

 

 

There is no dress code here and jeans and sneakers are more common than flowing dresses.

While there are a team of regular dancers who go, this milonga often has a large turn over of

tourists and visitors to the city who come to dance. It's a good introduction milonga if you're out

and about showing the city to someone who needs a quick injection of tango (not uncommon with 

those who are officially addicted to tango) and it is refreshing to enjoy such an informal gathering of

tango dancers.


Each milonga usually begins with a one hour open class at 6.30pm. The milonga runs until

10pm or 10.30pm (depending on the day). There is no set fee and a donation hat is passed

around during the later part of the evening. The milonga is held because of the owner´s love

of tango and his wish for everyone to have the opportunity to enjoy and dance outside in this

wonderful city. Visitors with cameras are welcome and encouraged to stay and watch the

dancers.  For those visitors to the city who wish to experience a little bit of tango barrio-style,

pack up a picnic and head down to the park to sit on the grass and watch the magic of tango

under the evening sky.


Getting there:


Located in Belgrano and a block away from Buenos Aires´ Barrio Chino, there are multiple

options for public transport to Barrancas de Belgrano.


Subte Linea D (Subway) runs through Belgrano. Take the subte to station Juramento. From

here, walk back one block until Echeverría and continue down this road until you reach the

Barrancas de Belgrano park. La Glorieta is on the right as you turn the corner. The subte

usually closes between 10.30pm and 11pm so if you plan on staying until the end of the

milonga, you may need to take a taxi to return to the city.


Taxis are readily available on Avenida Virrey Vertiz (the main avenue below the park).


The park is also on the following bus (colectivo) lines: 29-42-44-55-60-63-64-114-115-118

 

The webpage is http://www.glorietadebelgrano.com.ar/glorieta/index.html  but seems to always be constantly under construction.

Tips for tango classes in Buenos Aires

(Photo credit and copyright Rebecca Travaglia)

The small, barely furnished living room felt cosy on an unusually humid spring eve. A murmur of disbelief went through the group as we saw what it was we were to learn. He delicately pointed his toe while wrapping his leg around the girl's before gently displacing it and causing a sweeping motion into a backward ocho. The first attempts by us students ended with dissolving into giggles - relieving the nervous tension that usually accompanies learning new steps.  My partner and I tried attempting the step slowly, to get our head around the mechanics of it all, but it just ended with my partner hopping on one foot as I tried to make sure my front leg was in the right position. Our teachers stepped in to take us individually through the step, giving us individual attention before letting us attempt it together again.


It's the type of tango class I always imagined. 6 friends gather once a week to take lessons from the professional dancers of the group. The teachers are attentive but relaxed, alternating between watching intensely and suggesting improvements, to singing loudly with the music and playing air-bandoneon giving students time to practice the step alone. Mate (tea) is often passed from person to person, during the step-explication as we stand in a circle around the demonstration. Usually one of the girls of the group had baked cookies or a cake and would bring it along for us to nibble at throughout the evening. Each of us has gathered for our shared enjoyment of dancing tango, but it was also an opportunity for us to spend time together as everyone's hectic schedule usually left little time for friendship catch ups. This is a way that we can all be together, laugh and enjoy the company of close friends, while doing something we all share an interest in. This reflects the warmth of the Argentine spirit to me and I feel so happy to be a part of this group class.


There are so many opportunities for classes in Buenos Aires that it can be overwhelming to know where to start. The amount of different styles, teachers and venues can be enough to drive a new tanguero crazy. Developing a favorite teacher can be difficult in a short space of time and trying a huge amount of classes can be exhausting for both you and your wallet. Here are some recommendations and tips to think about before you take your trip down to this wonderful city:

 

Beginner?

No problem! Plenty of classes cater for first timers. The Milongas Maldita and Bendita cater to first timers in their class before the milonga.  There are also many recommendations for private instruction from teachers who speak english and offer one off classes or week long intensive instruction. As long as you stick to classes for principiantes, you ll be welcomed!


Talk to your local community before heading out.

If you have a set amount of time here, I suggest that you go easy on yourself and sample a few of the styles or recommendations from your local tango community who have visited Buenos Aires before. Definitely talk to fellow dancers, use chat forums, research and watch videos to see if the teachers you have found, have the style that you like.


Check out the classes before milongas.

This is definitely an easy way to fit in a class while making friends and enjoying a milonga. Most classes are 1 to 1 1/2 hours before the milonga and occasionally have guest teachers who are well known dancers in the community here. The added bonus is that you can get to know some of the students in the class and guarantee yourself some tandas during the milonga. The class is also included in the price of the milonga so it makes the whole evening worthwhile.


Check availability of your favorite teachers.

Like most of us, you'll probably have some favorite star tangueros whose classes seem unattainable for many reasons - expense or availability. Often these stars are off traveling or teaching in Europe or the States so be sure to check their availability before your trip to Buenos Aires. Maybe you'll be able to catch them in your home town rather than in Buenos Aires. Don't be afraid to plan some classes before leaving and leave some spare days for those spontaneous recommendations while you're here.


Private or Group?

There are a lot of pros and cons for both of these types of lessons. Private gets you the attention to detail approach and can allow you to really focus on those little things that affect your dance rather than focusing on learning a new passage of step. Group classes can be a lot of fun, a chance to make friends and also to try newer steps you may not have tried before. Private lessons are obviously more expensive than group lessons and most visiting dancers prefer to take a mix of both in order to get the best of both worlds. Open group classes also give you the ability to dance with a variety of other people during the lesson. There are also specialized group classes catering solo to men or women's technique. This is an opportunity to really focus on your half of the tango and practice steps and techniques with your own kin. Most teachers will offer both options so get emailing if you want to get individual classes. It is better to plan before hand incase they are already booked up the week that you arrive. Also, it is best if you can confirm your individual class with the teacher, whether it is via email or telephone, a few days before your first class. It is better to ensure they have remembered me than to turn up to the first one and not have the teacher arrive.


Practicas

Some places offer a group class before a practica, which functions in a similar way to a milonga but the floor is filled with people practicing steps, rather than only dancing. Again, this is an opportunity to try a group class and relax in a less formal setting to chat to other people who may have recommendations for other teachers.


Accommodation/Room mates

If you are staying at a tango hostel or guesthouse, be sure to get to know the people you are staying with. They too will probably have recommendations or suggestions and it is also fun to head to a group class with someone else so you can discuss it afterwards or even practice together. The more, the merrier!


It's common to hit the ground running when landing in Buenos Aires and it's not uncommon for people to rush at the tango scene like a bull to a flag and fill their days with classes and milongas. The crash usually comes after day 6 when the body gives up and the mind can't take in any more. Remember to take it slow, enjoy the classes and not overwhelm your mind with too much learning. The brain also needs rest in order to internalize the classes so pace yourself!



Video Series: Tango Nuevo with Mariano 'Chicho' Frumboli

VIDEO SERIES

There is a plentiful amount of tango videos out on Youtube.com. Most performers are videoed while dancing at milongas and these are posted for everyone to enjoy. With amount of tango videos available online, it can be hard to find something inspiring amidst online lessons and blurry cell phone recordings with distorted sound. With that in mind, from time to time we´ll post the best of what is currently circulating the tango world, or feature some timeless videos that still inspire many tangueros around the world.

If you are unfamiliar with tango and wish to get a grasp on what it is before heading to Buenos Aires, keep a lookout for the videos explaining different styles and different music. Be warned though! Tango is very addictive and you may find yourself scouring youtube.com for videos of your favourite dancers late at night and listening to Pugliese as you walk to work.

(Photo copyright and credit Rebecca Travaglia)

TANGO NUEVO

Tango Nuevo is a term used to describe a dance form and also a style of music (also referred to as 'tango electronica') the exploded onto the world stage with bands like the Gotan Project and Bajofondo. If you want to incite some serious discussion within the tango world, mentioning tango nuevo is sure way to get some words flying across the table. There are many who have a passion against tango nuevo, often referring to as ´tango for export´, and stating that tango nuevo has lost something of the true essence of tango, filling it instead with flashy moves. Others feel it is one branch of the evolution of tango, where artists take risks and create change. 

While the terms Neotango and Tango Nuevo are often used to refer to a style of dancing, its founders emphasize that the term expresses the evolution of tango since the 1980s. They refer to the term as a way to describe a method of analysis and teaching that was developed during the 1990s by Gustavo Naveira and Fabian Salas which focused on applying the principles of dance kinesiology to tango. The style involves a fluid movement between the open and closed embrace style and can even involve breaks of the embrace. A more flexible embrace allow figures such an overturn ochos, linear boleos and volcadas to be performed with greater ease.

Mariano ´Chicho´ Frumboli is described as one of the founders of Neotango or Tango Nuevo. He is well known for his improvisation skills and interpretation of the music. With a strong musical background, he responds to the rhythms and melodies of the music, expressing it through variations in speed, movement and steps. While his footwork is intricate and involved, he also places importance on the intimacy of the embrace.  (source: Interview in El Tangauta 2009)  His partner, Juana Sepúlveda, has been touring and performing with Frumboli for several years. They often perform at European festivals.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ga1dUZm6lbc&feature=youtu.be

This video is a little older - first posted in 2008. It features Frumboli and Sepúlveda dancing to the music Bajofondo.  Bajofondo is a band from Rio De La Plata, with members from both sides of the rio (Argentina and Uruguay). While their early music is seen by some as part of the evolving music genre ´Electrotango´ (combining acoustic tango music with electronic beats), Gustavo Santaolla explains that the group do not consider what they do to be electronica or tango music, but music created from all the genres that are present on the musical history map that belongs to this part of the world. Inevitably this includes rock, pop, tango and electronic. This song, ´Borges y Paraguay´, is from their third album ´Mar Dulce´.

Links of interest:

http://www.bajofondomusic.com/ar/home

http://www.gotanproject.com/