Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Cachirulo Chronicles: Episode 1: Fun in “El Beso” and courted by a semi-legend

This episode in my Buenos Aires tango adventures is officially the first in my series called ‘The Cachirulo Chronicles To refresh your memory or to bring you up to date if you’re new to the Tango Mojo community, you may wish to review that post here.

In Episode 5 of my “Adventures in BA Tangoland” entitled “Tougher milongas:how I cracked the code!”  you’ll get a more complete picture of why, with all my years of tango experience and quick success in almost all the traditional milongas I attended in Buenos Aires, I was struggling to get accepted into the inner circles of two challenging milongas, with the same nucleus of “high-powered” milongueros.  I would say that in this generation of men, they are among the best dancers in the city.  I knew from watching them that most of them would love dancing with me, if I only had the chance!  I was extremely perplexed and frustrated that in these two high-level milongas it just hadn’t been working for me.

In Episode 5, I also wrote about how discovering a new-to-me tactic for enjoying oneself in the B.A. tango world was my missing link for breaking the ice in tough milongas. 

The tactic was "Stay late and go back".  I had been delighted to have broken the ice and danced for hours with the cream of the crop at Lujos on Sunday night in Plaza Bohemia.

So let’s continue with my Cachirulo journey.

The following Thursday, I tried the same milonga, Lujos, this time in the favorite venue of most of the Cachirulo crowd, “El Beso”.  I expected it to be tough on my stamina, getting there for my 7 p.m. reservation and staying till closing at 2 a.m.  That’s a long time for me to go without food!  (I eat mostly organic food - no empanadas or pizza - and also I don't like eating at milongas.)  When I got settled in early at a pretty good table, I saw two men with whom I often danced in other milongas.  One helped me get the ball rolling.  Before long, a few of my new "conquests' from Lujos the previous Sunday night arrived.  So I had 4 strong tandas in the first hour or so. 

Also present that night was a Porteño tango professional who lives in Italy, whom I've known for 15 years.  Let’s call him “Roberto”.  Roberto had once taught a workshop with me in my tango school in Umbria.  But we hadn't danced in over 5 years, and he didn't invite me the last two times we saw each other at El Beso.  Aside from a quick “hello”, I had given up on even looking at him.  But this Thursday night at Lujos he surprised me with an invitation. 

It was funny how he invited me:  the dance floor was already pretty packed when I returned from the ladies‘ room at the beginning of a tanda. It was almost impossible to see the men’s tables behind the crowd of dancers.  I bent down to put my purse inside my larger bag on the floor.  When I did so, Roberto also bent over to catch my eye at the level of the tabletop, below the dancers’ elbows, as I was coming back up! 

Fabulous tanda. Roberto expressed enthusiasm between tangos, and so did I.  He said "I'll see you again later", but it soon got very crowded, he didn't dance again. He left the milonga around midnight.  [Note to tangueros:  even many professionals prefer not to dance when the floor is extremely crowded, choosing to dance before and after peak hours. You have that option too, and you won’t be “wimping out”.] 

Roberto had been sitting, as usual, with a few other expert Cachirulo milongueros who also rarely danced that night.  I figured that after observing my tanda with their friend Roberto and hearing his positive comments, they’d invite me.  Occasionally I looked in their direction, but nothing.  I stayed through the crowded peak hours of the milonga, rarely dancing, being patient.  I felt the usual irritation, but reminded myself that this is part of the “Stay late and go back” process, and my time would come in a couple of hours.  Around 11pm, I ordered an espresso to give me some artificial fuel till the end of the night. 

It felt like time dragged on.  Yet I enjoyed listening to the music and watching the dancers. Finally, the crowd started thinning out.  I got more invitations, and enjoyed more good or great tandas. Lots of pleasure and lots of emotion. 

But then came the most surprising part of the evening:  I got up to leave during the final tanda.  As I was leaving the milonga, the eldest milonguero from Roberto’s table was also departing, accompanied by a younger bailarin who had sat with them all night.  We walked down the stairs simultaneously, keeping our distance.  Out on the sidewalk, the tall, distinguished older man who had hardly danced asked me where I lived.  There were car keys in his hand.  He was offering me a ride home.  I politely told him the general location, and said, “It’s okay; I’ll take a cab.” He looked displeased.  But when the young man with him said he knew the owner of my building, and introduced himself as the owner of another tango house, I relaxed and I accepted the ride. 

In the milonguero’s car, the men invited me to join them to get something to eat.  I thought I’d enjoy that.  We relaxed with a bite to eat and a pitcher of clericot. Clericot is Argentine sangria.  I knew it was loaded with sugar, so I ordered a glass of red wine.  As we chatted, the young bailarin gave his elder friend a proper introduction, with his full name.  I learned that he’s a highly regarded milonguero who's been dancing for 50 years.  “He’s the real thing”, said the young man in Castellano. The milonguero told me stories from his 50 years of tango life, and I was very engaged!  He had a rather mumbling way of speaking, with lots of slang expressions (probably Lunfardo), so I often turned to the young bailarin to translate into regular Castellano. 

Finally the milonguero revealed that he had watched me dancing and followed me out to speak with me.  He said next time he'll invite me to dance and hopes I'll accept.  And do I like to eat fish and beer at Puerto Madero?  (A now-chic waterfront district.)  Oh, boy . . . the plot thickens. Anyway, I understood that I had a tanda date with this semi-legend. 

The gentlemen split the bill between them and drove me home. The elder milonguero courteously walked me to my door.  He was very tall and still looked elegant at 4 a.m. I
shook his hand and reached up to give him a kiss on the cheek.  Once inside, I felt happy about my whole evening.  It was another successful night with a tough crowd! 

But the milonguero’s promised tanda, to which I so looked forward, would only be a success if he actually kept his word.  As a New York tanguera with a few years on me once warned when one of my recent regulars pretended not to see me, “Tango men can be strange.”

Yes, this was a successful night with the Cachirulo crowd in El Beso.  But the milonga was still not Cachirulo.

Stay tuned for episode 2 of The Cachirulo Chronicles!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Tango Mojo Video of the Week: "En Tus Brazos"

Here's a simple, single tango video.. . a very special animation that some of you may have seen before, while for some of you it will be new. Credits are at the end of the video.

 As always, I welcome your comments below!

Sunday, April 06, 2014

A Sunday Rose Vine Tango playlist: Sebastian and Maria Ines, London 2010

Here for your weekend pleasure is a video playlist with two tangos, a vals and a milonga by Sebastian Jimenez and Maria Ines Bogado in a London performance in 2010. That was the year they won international recognition for Tango Salon in the World Champeonship in Buenos Aires.  Sebastian was only 18 years old!

There are two things I want to point out this week:

1) Their first tango here is "Esta Noche de Luna", a tango we've been looking at and listening to a lot lately, in Tango Mojo.  But this version is by Carlos di Sarli, with Roberto Rufino singing.  I invite you to compare Sebastian and Maria Ines' interpretation to this tango, to their "Esta Noche de Luna" by Osvaldo Pugliese with Jorge Maciel, which I showed you and discussed in this earlier blog post.

2)  Once again, I'm asking you to observe how both artists interpret the music in all four pieces.  According to a brief biography of Sebastian, he had been dancing Argentine Folkloric dance since he was 4 years old, and started dancing tango when he was 10.  At 14 he began studying with Villa Urquiza masters Carlos Perez and Rosa Forte, and in that school started dancing with Maria Ines. I would say the musicality of each of them is brilliant, and as interpreters of tango they make a powerful team!

Enjoy the playlist!  Orchestra and singer for each piece is  written on their respective Youtube pages.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, so please share in the comments section below.  If you have any particular observations about the difference between this couple's interpretation of the Pugliese and DiSarli versions of "Esta Noche de Luna", let us know what you discovered!

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Ask Helaine: Leading a smooth transition from front ocho to sandwich?

Today’s question comes from Uwe in Germany, regarding his latest assignment in our private coaching program.  We are working in a very focused and structured way on how to keep dancing and not get stuck when the floor is crowded and there’s no room to move forward!  

I thought that many tangueros could find this interesting.  If you have other solutions or observations on Uwe's question from your experience, please tell us in the comments below this article.

"Hi Helaine.

"This came up in my practice yesterday: How do you get from a front-ocho into a sandwich in a smooth way?  Back-ocho to sandwich is  no problem, but front-ocho - reversal of direction?

"Thanks, Uwe"

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Uwe, I liked your very specific improvisation question so much I decided to share it with the Tango Mojo community!  

You can solve this in two ways.  I think you were mainly interested in the second, but also looking at the first option I offer can give you a lot of flexibility in connecting these two figures "in a square meter". 

The details depend on which foot you're on when your partner finishes her front ocho.  If you do a parada you may be on the opposite foot from when you do no parada.  

OPTION 1 - Use a transition step between the front and back pivots.

I'm going to describe this so you can apply it whether she's returning from an ocho to your right or to your left:

1) Complete the front ocho so that she returns to standing squarely in front of you. That requires that you lead a small pivot.

2) Whatever foot you have your weight on, depending on
   - whether she's coming from your right or left, and 
   - whether or not you did a parada, 
take a rhythmic beat or two (as little as half a beat - the upbeat - when you're practiced in this) to decide what weight changes are necessary for you to be in crossed-system, with both your left foot and her left foot free

Note about timing on that weight-change decision:   If the music is more lyrical, you can probably easily afford that 1-2 beat interval - or more, because both the forward ocho and the sandwich lend themselves to calm intervals.  But if you're dancing to very rhythmic music, like Biagi, you'd probably want to be able to decide in an instant and react to the rhythm. However, with such rhythmic music as Biagi, D'Arienzo, Rodriguez, etc., you probably would use an ocho cortado  rather than a smooth forward ocho. With an ocho cortado this transition to sandwich will work the same as a with a regular forward ocho from your right, because your partner also ends the ocho cortado in front of you with her weight on her left foot.

If you've led her ocho to your left side, she will return with her left foot already free, and transitioning to the back ocho to your right will be easy. (Details below*).   If she's coming from your right side, you'll need to change her weight to free up her left foot.  

After you've done this on-the-spot calculation a few times, knowing what weight changes you need (her weight change only, yours only, or yours and hers together) will be automatic, like shifting gears when you're driving a car.

3) Now that you're standing in a crossed-system position with both left feet free, you can begin the whole sandwich sequence.  

I would recommend when dancing in tight spaces to start the first step of the back ocho of the sandwich forward instead of to your left, to keep the  figure more compact . . . UNLESS you have no room to the front and there is room to the left. But the forward step will help keep you in your lane.  If you have no room either way, you’ll have to go into Option 2, below.

* As I mentioned above, if she's coming from your left it will be easy for her to go next into a back ocho around your right. After she pivots to face you, she'll just need a connecting side step with her free left foot to your right, and she'll be in a perfect position to pivot backward into the figure.  

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OPTION 2 - Use no transition step between the front and back pivots.

It sounds to me from your question like you were trying this option.  You're having her come from an ocho to your right side, and you're wanting the transition between figures to be just the change of direction between her front ocho coming from your right, and her back ocho going into the sandwich.  That is, she's coming from your right side, and you want her to immediately reverse and go back to your right.  That could be fun!

Here's my suggestion:

1) If she's come from your right, she'll end the last step of the front ocho on her left foot. You simply have her finish the final step with a small pivot so she faces you again. 

2) Important:  Observe a micropause to articulate her movements.  Keep her on her left foot, while respecting and protecting her axis all the time. 

3) Next, use torsion to lead a back pivot - still protecting her axis!  
3a) While she's pivoting backward and still in axis, make sure your own weight is on your left foot, shifting if necessary. 

4) You lead her back step with her right foot, as if she were starting a molinete around your right side.  But you stop her at the end of her step.  Make sure to “put her down" with ALL her weight on her back foot (right), guiding her to her axis!

5) Then you can do your first parada of the sandwich.

It is super critical with this change of direction in the pivot that you remember this rule:

A pivot and a walk are two distinct movements, done in two distinct moments.  They cannot be done simultaneously, or the dancer will lose his or her axis and start to fall.  
- A pivot can be done only and entirely with one's axis in one fixed location.  
- A walk is the the transition between two locations, when the axis travels. 
So these two elements have opposite characteristics: one is always stationary, the other is always transitory. They are antithetical to each other.  So always “articulate” when you lead a pivot and a walk (a.k.a. an ocho), by observing a micro-pause between these two components.

Of course this rule is critical to observe with every movement of your tango!

Have any observations or feedback?  Please share it with us in the comments area below this post!

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Do you have a question or a challenge in your tango that I can answer for you in our no-cost weekly program "Ask Helaine?" 

I invite you to submit your question on any tango topic today!  Just copy and paste the form below into an email to  Please use "Ask Helaine" in the subject line.

The fields with an asterisk (*) are required to be completed if you want your question to be chosen.

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Your Burning Question: *

Monday, March 31, 2014

Introducing “The Cachirulo Chronicles”

When I returned to Florida at the end of January, after another three months in Buenos Aires, I had promised to catch up with you on my newest Episodes in “Helaine’s Adventures in Tangoland”. Then I got so busy with coaching programs and creating video modules for Part 2 of my musicality program that my folder of already drafted episodes slipped out of my field of vision.

Some of you may remember that last November in Buenos Aires I devoted all month to training each day with my four coaching clients and going to milongas with them at night.

Then, in December and January, I continued building my experience in the more challenging milongas.  I drafted a series of "episodes" I'm calling the "Cachirulo Chronicles", named for my trials and exploration with the toughest milonga in the city!  For background to the “Cachirulo Chronicles”, see Episode #3 about my first visit to Cachirulo one Saturday night last April.  Click Here
See also “Episode #5 - Tougher milongas: how I cracked the code!”   Click Here
That one sounds promising, but I soon learned that what I had discovered didn’t work in Cachirulo.

I call it "the toughest milonga”, because it's got a very high-level of dancing and, unlike the many dozens of milongas in the city that have warm, welcoming environments, Cachirulo observes a hierarchy in which one has to EARN his or her way into the "inner circle".  (It’s literally the "inner circle", because that's where you get to sit!)  Being a very skilled dancer isn't enough to get you in; you must respect the hierarchy, and tolerate being ignored for a while, as you learn the rules.  IF you stick around long enough to learn the rules.  Not the nicest place for an "outsider" to hang out.  

Note:  I WAS being invited but I only accepted invitations from dancers whom I’d seen dance and who looked interesting to me.  While in most milongas I can open my heart and have a good time, knowing that pretty soon I’ll be dancing with the best dancers in the room, in Cachirulo I feared I would be “penalized” for dancing with the “wrong” men.  Because then I’d continue to be ignored by the dancers I preferred.

It all sounds terrible, doesn't it? "Why bother?”, I thought.  “This place is just not for me."  I hated the competitive atmosphere. It grated on my nerves.  It was not as though the women were competing with each other for invitations, but rather it felt as though the men were competitive about with whom they were seen dancing.

So I crossed Cachirulo off my list. I decided to continue attending Lujos, where I could dance with some of the same excellent, passionate dancers who were regulars in Cachirulo, but who in Cachirulo were among the offending snobs.  I posted comments about my frustration and my decision to abandon Cachirulo to both my Facebook page and an online forum I belong to about life in B.A. 

I got three significant responses to my posts, which I’ll share with you in the next few episodes.  As a result, I learned to understand and appreciate the rules of the hierarchy, and finally discovered that when you finally get "in", the experience of dancing in Cachirulo is wonderful!  It’s exhilarating.  And to me it was well worth having “paid my dues”.

I believe that anyone who loves tango and dances nicely can learn how to get “in”.

In the upcoming Episodes, I’ll share with you the progression of my story that led up to my finally breaking into the "Inner Circle" at Cachirulo.  I won’t tell you the stories just to entertain you!  Rather, I believe that my experience can help you in Buenos Aires milongas, as well as in “tougher” milongas anywhere in the world.  

The “Cachirulo Chronicles” will be laced with advice for those of you who visit milongas that can feel unfriendly, milongas where you find it hard to get invited or have your invitations accepted, but that have really good dancing, and where you wish you were already an insider!

I want to deliver this series to you before I accumulate new adventures to report to you from my upcoming trip to Buenos Aires in just a couple of weeks!  So watch my blog for the next episode of “The Cachirulo Chronicles”.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sunday "Rose Vine Tango" videos: Four by Adrian and Amanda!

Two tangos, a milonga and a vals.

Please enjoy this playlist (below) of Adrian and Amanda Costa's performance in London around 6 months ago.

The four pieces are:
1) "Cancion De Rango", Lucio de Mare with Roberto Arrieta.
2)  "No Quiero Perderte", Osvaldo Pugliese with Alberto Moran
3) "Milonga Querida", Juan D'Arienzo with Alberto Echague  
4) "Marisabel" (vals), Ricardo Tanturi with Alberto Castillo 

In these videos we have an unusual vantage point, as they were shot from overhead.  Interesting, because this assists me in showing you the "Rose Vine".

Remember my "Rose Vine Tango" theory of Villa Urquiza style tango?
The Vines are linear and transitory passages. They include walks, variations on walks, and traveling figures.
The Roses are circular and stationary figures, which can be as complex as a fancy enrosque or as simple as a few turning or stationary weight changes. They're figures you can do in a square meter.

Here's an assignment for you to do as you enjoy watching the four Costa videos in the playlist below:  
  • Identify the vines and the roses as they dance. You can just observe and think, "Vine, vine, rose .  . . vine, rose, rose," etc.  

Next, notice how basically simple the milonga is - it's almost all walks and variations on walks - just one big rose and a few more small or half-roses, most made of a variation on a simple vaivén, and the last one made of a walk!

For "extra credit", answer for yourself, or tell us below:
    • What is it that makes Adrian's walking milonga seem so sophisticated?
    • Tangueros, how many elements of Adrian's milonga here do you already know, or do you think you can easily implement? 
    • Obviously, you can't do an all-vines milonga on a crowded dance floor.  But what could you adopt from this example that you could use?
    • Tangueras, what would you say Amanda contributes to the milonga, since she doesn't really have time to embellish?

Please leave your comments below!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Ask Helaine: What do you mean by "Don't pull us off-axis"?

This week's question comes from David in Texas:

"In our 'Insider Tango Tips from Buenos Aires' program, you tell us men:  'When you pull our upper bodies off-axis ... and make us lean toward you. ... you make us lose our comfort and security.'

"What about apilado or volcada? Or are we talking about a different quality of movement to produce those off-axis positions versus 'pull our upper body'?"

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Thanks, David, for giving me the opportunity to answer your question from its three different aspects!

1) Tango "apilado" means “piled on”, or giving body weight to each other, which requires surrendering one’s axis and depending partially on the other for stability. It creates a particular energetic dynamic in the couple.

This posture does not occur in classic Tango Salon, which is what I teach, write about, and prefer to dance.  While I prefer to dance tango mainly in close embrace, it is with each partner maintaining his own axis throughout the dance.  In Buenos Aires, I may adapt
to a milonguero who dances "apilado" , and I can really enjoy it . . . but it definitely compromises my pleasure. 

2) Volcadas are also not part of classic Tango Salon, nor are they part of Milonguero Style.  This figure is more typical of Tango Nuevo, though it originated in earlier forms of tango.  Many dancers of the Tango Salon and Milonguero Style have gone "eclectic", adopting such Tango Nuevo elements as volcadas (off-axis inward) and colgadas (off-axis outward), linear boleos, etc. Some of these movements were originally parts of older forms of tango, but were subsequently discarded, and then adopted by Tango Nuevo innovators.

Personally, I don't like dancing with volcadas and don't teach them.  Unless they’re led discreetly and with refinement, I find them aesthetically and psychologically rather vulgar.  They force the woman to surrender her weight and let the man swing her free leg open and/or forward as if he were playing with an object.  I don't enjoy the feeling in my body or between my partner and me during a volcada, and I don't like what it looks like!  If I see a man leading volcadas on the dance floor, I will usually not dance with him.  In my most recent 3 months of dancing frequently in milongas in Buenos Aires, I have encountered a total of perhaps two volcadas in all of my hundreds of tandas; it's rarely led by a strong traditional dancer.

Puente:  The late, legendary Carlos Gavito
with beautiful Marcela Duran 

Traditional tango sometimes employs out-of-axis moments, such as the "puente" (bridge), which only work when the tanguero offers rock solid support with his body, knowing how to protect the woman's spine, and the woman engages a strong core!

3)  Your question about “quality of movement” was more specifically what I meant when I admonished our tangueros to take care of their partners’ axes.

In my comment that you quote here from in the “Insider Tips”, I'm referring to men who with their embrace pull the woman off her center, and she has no choice in the matter because he uses physical force.  Excellent dancers give the woman the choice of where she keeps her weight.  I can dance with a man who usually dances apilado, remain in close embrace, but keep my own balance if he is a skillful and well-mannered dancer.  

Or I can "surrender" my weight to him if it feels good to me.  At the end I expect him to put me back in my axis before he releases the embrace, so I don't have to use muscular effort to get back to my feet from "leaning on" him.  If a man doesn't do so, it's a weakness in his leading, and creates discomfort and even an awkward moment for his partner.  

I always want to be dancing with men who understand and respect the woman's axis. (We will dedicate a whole week to cultivating the skill of “Mastering the Woman’s Axis" in the “Intimate Dynamic Dialog” section of Tango Improvisation Mastery, starting at the end of April 2014.)

When you can fully understand, respect, protect and guide the woman's axis, you can become a very fine dancer!

David, I hope that helps you understand my comments from Tip #18 in the “Insider Tango Tips from Buenos Aires”.

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I encourage everyone to leave your comments in the space below the article!

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Do you have a question or a challenge in your tango that I can answer for you in our no-cost weekly program "Ask Helaine?" 

I invite you to submit your question on any tango topic today!  Just copy and paste the form below into an email to  Please use "Ask Helaine" in the subject line.

The fields with an asterisk (*) are required to be completed if you want your question to be chosen.

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First Name *
Last Name *
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Do you prefer to remain anonymous? *  (yes/no)

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