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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/




With Just One Look - The Art of Cabeceo

 



I can still conjure up the elation I had after my first successful cabeceo at a milonga in Buenos Aires. It felt like I had finally spoken the language. Sitting at the corner of the floor, I had been waiting for several tandas (set of 3 or 4 songs), smiling and trying to look relaxed as if this was all part of the evening. Inside I was a bundle of butterflies and eager to get out onto the floor. As the music of the cortina (a piece of music played between tandas to signal the end of a tanda) finished, I tried to look casual while scanning the room for anyone looking towards me. I caught the eye of a milonguero (dancer) I had seen on the dance floor several tandas earlier. Smiling, I returned his gaze with gentle indication and gave a small nod after he mouthed ‘Bailas?’  (you dance?) to me. I waited nervously as he made his way over and held out his hand to indicate that it was indeed me that he had indicated an invitation to dance. Delighted, I led the way onto the dance floor and thus began my understanding of the joy of the cabeceo.


The subtle art of cabeceo is the traditional and respected way to ask for a dance at a milonga. As you sit and watch the dancers at a milonga, you may be fascinated at how a man and a woman on opposite sides of the dance floor can come together to dance without having exchanged a word. So the story goes, the cabeceo minimises public embarrassment from rejection and eases congestion as invitations to dance can be conducted quickly and simply from your chair. It is suggested that back in the early 20th Century, eye contact was made between two dancers and the man made his way over to the table to politely ask for the dance. If there had been confusion and the woman rejected the man, he had to leave the milonga and she had to remain seated for the entire tanda. If she accepted another dance, the man and his friends would never ask her to dance again.


Since then, the cabeceo has evolved (it is rare for a man to leave a milonga after one rejection) and has the potential to  make dancers from other countries a little nervous. Occasionally foreigners get lumped into a ´not respecting tradition’ pile because they use a direct approach of walking up to a table and asking someone to dance. Coming from New Zealand, I understand this. The tango community at weekly milongas can be small and everyone knows almost everyone so you become friends and feel comfortable asking directly.


But there are codigos (codes) to be followed and as tangueros, dancers should follow them. Adapted from websites online, here is a quick list of tips to help you understand the beauty of the cabeceo.


1. Watch the dancers. This is important for both men and women! It is a risk to choose to dance with someone that you haven’t seen dancing before for many reasons and it is not a good idea to judge a book by its cover.


2. Have your choice of partner (with back ups) decided. Of course your decision may change depending on the music that begins to play, but this should be relatively easy if you’ve already taken heed of Tip 1.


3. Use a purposeful stare without being intense. Men: if eye contact is not made or you get the feeling that you are being ignored, move on to your second choice. Women: Do not make extended eye contact with those you have no intention of dancing with. Also, make sure you indicate interest to those you do want to dance with by a smile or a simply nod of the head. NB: If you do make eye contact with someone you do not wish to dance with, make no reaction and look away.


4. Once the invitation has been sent and recieved, Men: walk over to the woman (not directly through the middle dance floor) and stand in front of the woman. Women: remain seated until the man is standing in front of you and it is clear that the invitation was for you. NB: it is possible in a crowded milonga for tandas to be accidentally ‘stolen’ due to a miscommunication between two women. Women, when it appears a man is looking at you, they may be actually be looking to the woman beside you. So it is best to wait until the man reaches you and you are absolutely sure the dance is for you.


5. When the dance is finished, it is respectful for the man to accompany the woman back to her seat before returning to his own.


Naturally, there are humourous and awkward stories that arise from when a cabeceo goes wrong, but these simply add to the colourful tapestry of the life of a milonguero.  Be sure to share them.


Websites of interest:

http://www.tangoandchaos.org/chapt_3search/6cabeceo.htm - Contains an 8-step tutorial from Alejandra Todaro on ‘How to Cabeceo’

http://www.totango.net/cabeceo.html - contains stories and discussion about the cabeceo