Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Going to Buenos Aires

A couple of really great posts by Tina at Siguiendo Mi Corazón prompted me to write about my one trip to Buenos Aires (so far). Her posts are "The Ghost" and "Tango is...que se yo"...

At a milonga this past weekend, I met a gentleman who is new to tango. He has been dancing for six months. He is going with a group of people to CITA (Congreso Internacional de Tango Argentino) this week in Buenos Aires. For those of you who may not know, CITA is organized by Fabian Salas and is billed as the "mega" tango event. This one is the 10th annual.

My first thought when this gentleman told me he was going to CITA that it was that it was way too early for him to be going. To Buenos Aires that is. But who am I to judge? Personally, going during the CITA event would be the worst possible time to go - with crowds of tourists at the milongas. I can't imagine that you could come away with a true picture, a true feeling, a true experience, of Buenos Aires and its tango culture.

This gentleman was talking about how much he was looking forward to dancing in the milongas there - talking about how crowded the dance floors would be in comparison to the milonga we were attending. Little does he know.

He was a nice gentleman, trying to draw me out of my solitary chair in the corner by inviting me to his table of friends. Shortly after our conversation, I changed my shoes and left. I was in a mood. Not because of this, but something else.

Going to Buenos Aires is like a journey to mecca. Many of us dream of going, but never do. Some are lucky/determined enough to go every year, or once every few years. I would hope that this gentleman is humbled by his trip to Buenos Aires. It can, and should be, a humbling experience.

I think some people "get" tango, and some never do. I "got it" fairly early in the process. Primarily because I availed myself of everything I could get my hands on to read about and understand "el tango". History, music, composers, orchestras, dancers - books, the internet, talking to more experienced dancers - I educated myself - and I continue to do so three and half years later. Learning and dancing. I wanted to understand, to "know". As in "knowing" versus "knowledge". I wanted it to seep into my soul and my bones. And it has, with a vengeance. I have been possessed (in the best sense of the metaphysical concept) by Tina's "El Duende".

For me, I was humbled by tango from the start. The thought of actually going to Buenos Aires in those early months never occured to me. I knew I would go eventually, but I also knew I was not ready. I had started taking tango classes two and half years earlier when I finally made the trip last April. For me, it was also my first international travel (besides Mexico). My passport was brand-spanking-new. It was a long overdue adventure for me.

Even at this point in my tango evolution, I knew I was not ready. It was a timing thing wherein an opportunity to go presented itself. I had to go. This might be my only chance, I thought to myself. I will repeat myself - I knew I was not ready to go. My dance was not ready. I had been dancing all those months in a very small community - with lots of room - too much room on the dance floor. My milonguero vocabulary was lacking. I could use up ten feet on the line of dance to do a turn. I needed to be able to do a pinpoint giro on a dime. I worked on this in intensive privates for two months prior to my departure.

And still, I was not ready. As humble as I already was, I knew I was in for more humbling, I was expecting it, welcoming it with open eyes, arms, mind, heart and soul. I did not go to Buenos Aires to dance. I was smart enough to know that I would not be doing a lot of dancing with porteñas - I expected none - and I got none - zero, nada, zilch. I viewed my trip as a learning and life experience. It was my first "real" trip to a foreign country, so that was exciting. It was an opportunity for me to take a six day intensive workshop with Gustavo y Giselle, as well as a few privates with other teachers. It was an opportunity for me to "experience" the milongas and the tango culture. It was an opportunity for me to experience Buenos Aires, the city, the people, the culture, the architecture, the history. The sights, sounds and smells. I experienced the most bizarre, otherworldly thunderstorm of my life.

With regard to dancing (or not), a friend told me the key for American men to get dances is to walk in like you own the place - it's all about your attitude. But, your dancing ability has to back it up. Mine didn't. My cabeceo sucked. As much as I had read up on it, it just wasn't working. So I sat a lot. I watched. I got drunk. I didn't "walk in like I owned the place" - I walked in like I was a friend of a friend of a 1/24th time share owner.

With regard to the G&G workshop, I knew the moment our small group walked in to Leonesa that my partner and I were in over our heads. Big time. The other forty or so students were professional dancers and teachers. That first day I got my head straight about it - I said to myself, "Self, do the workshop, do your best, and if you retain nothing whatsoever, that's okay. The experience and the workshop material will eventually sink in and you will be a better dancer because of it." And I was, or I am. The followers back in Aspen noticed a difference in my lead when I got back. It's been gradually improving over the past year - fits and starts - hills and gullies - but improving it is. I'm still working on the material from that workshop a year later.

That first day of the workshop, I almost walked back to pack my bags and fly home.

The second day of the workshop, I almost walked back to pack my bags and fly home.

The third day things started to kick in a little bit. The fourth, fifth and sixth days were much better. Lack of confidence can be a killer. It's totally counterproductive in tango - it murders a lead.

In the end, the trip was not about the dancing, it was not about the technique classes, but about the life experience for Alex. It was about "getting it". Tango made more sense to me. The milongas, the culture, the city, the lifestyle - it was but a short glimpse. I went for all the wrong reasons. I went when I was not ready. But I am still glad that I went. It changes you. It possesses you. You could probably go there, just stay in a hotel in the city for night, and fly away the next day a better dancer. It's hard to explain. I'm connected to it all - by a thread of energy.

I'm at a point now in my life now that I don't know if I will ever go back. It saddens me to "hear" myself write this. I can't see it in my life for at least another year. I would like to go back and be able to spend a month - go down to Tierra del Fuego - and see the country.

Going to Buenos Aires after dancing tango only six months, going to CITA, expecting to dance at the milongas - people (leaders) like this just don't get it. It's too bad.

(Random thought::The BsAs experience is a different one for followers - if you have been you know what I mean. I may touch on this in another post.)


Johanna said...

Alex, what you describe is "respect" for the dance. It took me SIX YEARS to get up the courage to go.

Elizabeth said...

Alex, I almost don't really even know what Buenos Aires looks like in the daytime, and if I had gone earlier, when I was not an obsessed dance freak, then maybe I would have seen the sights, gone to some museums, some concerts, gotten familiar with the streets, the shops etc.
But you are right, it is our journey to mecca, and some people, if they expect to dance, and get in on the real milonga experience, well, yes, they ought to wait.

ModernTanguera said...

As a follower myself, I am curious to hear any thoughts you (or others) have about followers' experiences in Buenos Aires. I am trying to figure out when would be a reasonable time to take a trip there and get the most out of it - although you have shown me here some of the unexpected value of going there. Thank you for that.