Sunday, October 16, 2016


When we first thought about starting Tango, I called up a local instructor to find out about classes.  Even then as a complete newbie, I had enough common sense to ask a very important question:

"What kind of shoes should I wear to Tango classes?"

And I got the most STUPID answer:

"Oh, you can wear any shoe you want!"

What the heck.  And the Tango teacher's resumé said he had experience dancing.  Some shoes are NOT suitable for dancing any dance.   You cannot pivot properly in shoes with too much traction.  Try wearing work boots or soccer cleats to Tango and injure yourself for sure.

Man Yung being "manly" went ahead and wore regular street shoes to Tango.  Now, they weren't as bad as work boots or soccer cleats, but they had scoring on the sole to make them less slippery on the sidewalk.  He was fine with them for a whole year.

"See, you can wear 'regular' shoes to Tango!  No need to shell out $200 for a pair of Tango Shoes," he said.

Lucky Man Yung and his knees of steel.

But then, one night after a milonga, he got home, took off his shoes and blood GUSHED out from the bottom of his foot.  The bad shoes and the extra force he had been using to pivot had worn a hole in the ball of his foot.

"I think you should get yourself a pair of proper Tango Shoes, you silly ass," I said while scrubbing at the bloody carpet on my hands and knees.

Now, shoes you can control, but floor, you cannot.  Same principal - a floor with too much traction will hurt you.

In the summer, we have a number of outdoor milongas in Toronto.  The floors are usually pavement/asphalt or very rough wood.  When we go to these events, I watch all the dancers dance in awe.  They make it look so easy, they dance like they usually do in indoor milongas.  How can they even pivot?  Knees of steel, or they must be taking some rockin' joint strengthening supplements.

I can't do it.  I have bad knees and I keep on telling Man Yung "Take it easy!" and "Don't do anything more than walk!" but sometimes he forgets when he gets carried away by the music.   Fortunately, now we are a lot older and more experienced, he realizes that the best way for me to manage an outdoor milonga with a floor from for me to sit it out.  Or for us to stay at home.

Maybe I'm just a wuss (just look at all those people merrily dancing on horrible sticky/rough floors like it was the most normal thing in the world!) but the quality of the floor is really important to me.

Just because a floor is "wood" or "sprung wood!" it doesn't mean that the floor is great for dancing.  I've reinjured my knee over and over again on deceptively "good" wood floors.  I remember a local milonga announcing proudly that the floor of their venue had been "newly" and "beautifully" polished.  And indeed, the floor was very nice to look at, shiny as a mirror - but with a coating of varnish so sticky we were like flies stuck on fly paper.

And then we had the experience in which we kept on arguing whenever we danced at a particular venue.  At first we thought it was Fung Shui, but no, it was the shitty (wood!) floor.  Man Yung would keep on shoving me because I wouldn't "go" and I would keep on going too fast/anticipate to overcompensate for being stuck on the floor.*

* Now that I'm leading with Man Yung following, I am experiencing the same when the floor is bad.  He thinks I'm shoving, and I think he is going too fast.  All because of the floor.

Not all the floors in Buenos Aires milongas are good either.  I hated the wood floor at Porteño y Bailarin - we only went once and that was enough, I didn't want more permanent damage to my knee.  The tile floor at Confiteria Ideal was also horrible to pivot on.  Conversely, the wood floor at Centro Region La Leonesa and Salon Canning, and the tile floor at Glorias Argentinas are slippery (maybe even overly slippery) and great for turns.  

However, even slippery floors can be hard, without enough "give" that make them fatiguing to dance on.  One of the most surprisingly comfortable floors we have found is in Lo de Celia.  It's a tile floor with great "give".  We can slide along that floor for hours without getting tired, it's like dancing on a cloud!

The quality of the floor can make or break a milonga.  Time and time again we experience new milongas in Toronto held in some unexpected places, with floors (sticky gummy wood!  painted concrete!  lino! plastic laid on concrete! COME ON GUYS, ARE YOU JOKING?) that weren't intended for the kind of pivoting required in Tango.  The milongas have great attendance the first couple of times... and then attendance drops off because of the damn floor.  We ask ourselves, "Did the organizers even try out the floor before they decided to rent the venue?"  I'm sure they must have, but either they did a very cursory trial of the floor, or they have knees of steel and they just love dancing at outdoor milongas.  I certainly couldn't handle a floor that sticky and I'm sure a lot of their patrons couldn't either.

The problem with less than ideal milonga floors is so prevalent in Toronto now I went onto the internet to see if there is something I could do with MY SHOES to help the situation.   I found the following website with lots of tips:

It has great tips for dancing on too slippery and too sticky floors AND there are ideas making shoes more slippery.  

I've tried using gaffe tape (hard to find, even online) but I find that it makes my soles more sticky.  I guess that would be good for people having problems with floors that are too slippery.

Tenacious tape (used for tent and waterproof clothing repair) was one method that works for me but it's quite expensive.  One box of Tenacious Tape (around $6.00) suffices for taping the soles of two pairs of ladie's shoes, or just one pair of men's shoes.  It makes slightly sticky floors a lot better but it won't transform really rough floors into ice rinks.

Sometimes there's nothing you can do about the floor.  All we can do is to pray for organizers to try out their floors before they launch a milonga, or ask for a second or third or fourth (or fifth!  Or ask us!) opinion, because it is better not to start an event on a terrible floor, than to start and then watch the milonga fail just because of floor issues.*

* Man Yung says, "Irene, the problem isn't the floor.  It's our LACK OF EXPERTISE.  If we were more EXPERT dancers, no floor will stop us.  Look at all those people performing on the road in San Telmo and Calle Florida!

Show Tango on a floor like this???  You must be kidding me Man Yung.  Knees of Steel!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

"A six headed man eating monster on one side, and a whirling vortex of doom on the other"

A.K.A. Scylla vs. Charybdis.  Take your pick.

In case anyone wants an update:  I'm STILL working at leading.  The latest Man Yung imposed torture training method: Leading with torso only. 

As in "Irene, stop shoving me with your bird arms, they are puny and useless anyway, try to lead more accurately by pointing your body in the right direction.  And use telepathy more.  Stop rolling your eyes.  It'll work if you love me enough."

Amusing as this is, this is not the point of this post.  I want to talk about how I tried to navigate to a win-win resolution on a milonga dance floor that is clearly, for me, a lose-lose situation.

I really want to follow the line of dance.  On the outer edge of the dance floor.  You know, like the milongueros do, because they are cool and they know what they are doing. But you can't do much if you want to keep that track.  You gotta behave yourself.  Walk a bit, turn a tiny bit, ocho cortado.   That's it.

"Why aren't you doing your back sacadas?" Man Yung says impatiently.  "You look great doing your back sacadas!  And the triple enganche gancho combos I taught you!  How about those?" 

Hmmmmmmmm......  Can't really do those fancy moves unless I want to send all the little old people dancing calmly and quietly on the outside track all flying.

That means I'll have to hazard into the inside track.  Or WORSE, spin like the dreaded whirling dervish in the dead centre of the floor.  Along with all the other loonies who are either 1) doing the same kind of movements as I am and really need the space, or 2) can't navigate worth a damn or 3) both. 

I go to the middle of the dance floor and do a couple of back sacadas.  I narrowly miss a couple of people.  Some guy tailgates me continuously, and another spins and kicks so hard with his partner they are exactly like that jagged saw teeth image I read on Tangocommuter's blog.  But that's ok, people who dance in the middle are used to bumping.  I use Man Yung as a human shield and it's all normal because that's what they do to followers in the middle.  Not an eyebrow is raised, much less an evil eye.

But I have a shining hope: there must be more to a follower leading than bad navigation skills.  I secretly try to steer us straight on the outside track.  But for some odd reason I can't even go straight.  This Irene leading Man Yung combo is definitely listing to the left no matter what the f*** I'm trying to do. 

On the bright side,  I am doing some killer left turns!  If I'm going to have a signature move, that's it.  Turning endlessly left.  I know about fifteen different ways to do it, WITHOUT PLOWING INTO ANYBODY AND WHILE FOLLOWING THE LINE OF DANCE.  I can see where I'm going, and Man Yung is kind of on autopilot because he is heavily dragging us to the left anyway.  Yay!

"Goddamn it Irene," said Man Yung.  "The milonga is half over and all you have been doing is turning left.  Where are all the movements I've taught you?  They're all going down the drain!"

Back to the middle I sulkily go.  Tailgater on the left, saw teeth on the right, and me spinning endlessly left in the centre with some random back sacadas thrown in.  Hey, Toronto leaders, don't laugh.  If I'm anywhere in your vicinity, that means you aren't doing too well either!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016


Some dancers think that the fancier the dancing, the better. 

"Simple is boring!" they say.  They complain if the tango performances they see don't have something body-contorting/death-defying/jaw-dropping/eye-popping.  They take classes not for basics or for navigation ("That's so BEGINNER"), but to learn complicated and flashy moves. 

...And then they go and do the stuff they just learned on crowded dance floors.  Enthusiastically and without any regard for the people they are barrelling into.  Thanks a lot.

It's probably useless showing them this video.  They are too busy practicing helicopter spins and triple enganche gancho giros (whatever that is) to pay attention.  It's a video of two of the biggest Tango maestros in the world....dancing simply.  And it's stunning:

Osvaldo Cartery and Elina Roldan dancing simply to a simple vals

They don't know or understand that it takes more experience and skill and musicality to break it down and make every movement expression and emotion.  It is actually easier to do a set of steps than to flow and be free to respond to every nuance of the music and to the changing conditions of the dance floor around you.


Alberto Dassieu


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