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A learning experience in Buenos Aires

By Enrico Massetti
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3


Date:    Mon, 3 Nov 1997 00:01:43 UT
From:    Enrico Massetti
Subject: A learning experience in BA, part 1

During a recent business trip to Buenos Aires, I decided I wanted to learn
tango, not as a tourist passing by, but rather as a true native Argentinean
would have done.

I started by not calling the friends that had offered help in telling me where
to go,  who to contact, and where I could find the best milongas, I rather
preferred  to ask my Argentinean colleagues I was going to meet and work with,
none of whom is a "tango fanatico", to organize for me evening training
sessions, after work, as they would do themselves if interested in learning
tango.

They, of course, contacted some of their local "tango fanatico" friends to
find out the best place for me to go, the same they would have done for a
"porteno" friend or colleague.

This is a brief summary of this learning experience.

I started asking about tango from the moment I boarded the taxi at the
airport: it was immediately clear that there are different tangos for
different markets, as the taxi driver was directing me to the show tourist
tango I had already seen before (La Ventana, beautiful show, but not really
something I can dance, not for now, at least!).  When I asked about a "tango
salon" where true Argentineans were dancing, I always received the "standard
answer": ask the hotel (... that will direct you to the tourist tango
places...).

Only after revealing a deep knowledge of the names of the tango steps, and
only when we were already arrived at my hotel, just few seconds before
leaving, the taxi driver finally gave me the name and address of a "tango
salon", the one where he goes himself to dance,... with a recommendation:
"when you invite a "dama" (lady) tell her in advance that you are a tourist, a
beginner would be tango dancer, so that she does not threat you too
badly"....!!!!!

Then there was the "learning" experience organized by my colleagues.  The
first day lesson was in a beautiful museum in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, a
very nice and unique environment.

I had a private lesson with Osvaldo, "el professor de tango", before one of
his standard group lessons (with a group of Argentinean men and "damas").  In
effect initially I was admitted only to the first private lesson, as an
evaluation, an exam, to see if I was at all fit to be included in the group
lesson.  Two colleagues that came with me, two Finnish engineers, did not even
make to the dance floor for the private evaluation (wrong shoes, no leather
sole, you MUST know this fundamental before even thinking of learning tango!).

I tried unsuccessfully to show what I knew, only to be told (without words)
that this is not how it works over there: "el Profesor" is in charge, he
showed me a couple of basic steps, asked me to dance them by myself, then with
him, then with his wife, then with his son (a 25 years old professional tango
dancer), then with his son's partner before deciding that I had enough
knowledge to be allowed to touch, even come close to, any of the portenas
ladies in the group lesson.

During the group lesson, he was always in charge, assigning me to a different
partner: as soon as I mastered the steps with the new partner, a new one was
coming. He did it with me, but he was doing the same at the same time with all
the other members of the group, as he was aware of the individual level of
each of us and was mixing us in every possible different way, always telling
what he was expecting from the assignment.  For example "this dama does not
understand "las marcas" (the commands with the right hand), you have to make
her understand it".

It was a very fascinating and unique experience, kind of having 20 private
lessons going on at the same time at different levels, I never saw anything
coming close to this in any of the many group lessons I had in the States
before or after, but, of course, Osvalvo has something like 50 years of
experience with tango.....

Part 2 continues in another e-mail... see you there!

Enrico

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Date:    Mon, 3 Nov 1997 00:02:12 UT
From:    Enrico Massetti
Subject: A learning experience in BA, part 2

... Part 2, continued from another e-mail, glad to have you back!

Oh, by the way, this was preceded by a "special assignment" I and another
gentlemen received: we had to dance back ochos with a closed door for at least
half an hour, and at least until we had learned how to dance them well
(supervised closely by his wife).  With all those beautiful portenas around, I
guarantee you that this was the best incentive to learning fast that I ever
had in my school life!!

I know that many of you could have been annoyed at the arrogance of the
professor I studied with, and could consider that doing ochos on a door for a
half hour is beyond necessity (well... maybe it was 5 minutes, but it was an
eternity for me), but I was not annoyed at all, in effect I found that the
first hour of lesson with Osvaldo taught me many basic concepts of tango (in
Argentina) than any of the hours and hours of training I had before or after
in the States never did.

I don't mean the steps and the mechanical part of it, I mean other concepts,
such as the respect for the "dama", the effort a leader has to put in before
even thinking of approaching a lady (follower), which comes from this respect,
are just some examples you can understand from the above.

Perhaps it is a matter of cultural background: I am an American living in
Florida, but before that I am Italian, as I was born Italian in Italy, and
lived there most of my life, I was raised and educated in Milan before the '68
(in effect I did take a very active part in the '68 "revolution" there).
Osvaldo is ten years older than me, and I felt perfectly comfortable with his
"authoritarian" teaching approach, as it reminded me of the authoritarian
education approach I had as a child.  In effect now we are very good friends,
as I don't see anything wrong in recognizing and following his "authority" in
TANGO.  At the same time I can understand that the same approach could be
shocking for somebody born after '68 and raised and educated in a different
more "libertarian" environment (such as the libertarian environment in which I
raised my daughters).

After this learning experience I understand WHY the Argentinean males were
rehearsing between them before going to a milonga and inviting a "dama" to
dance.

Oh, by the way, I did not go to the dance at the address the taxi driver gave
me, I'm keeping it for my next visit, and I am taking as many basic and
intermediate tango classes as I can (many very good here in Denver where I am
temporarily located) to improve to a point where during my next visit to BA I
will feel comfortable asking a "portena" to dance with me at a milonga,
without having to beg her to be kind because I am just a curious tourist
passing by.....

Any comment, public or private is welcome.

Ciao to all,

Enrico

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Date:    Tue, 4 Nov 1997 23:37:20 UT
From:    Enrico Massetti
Subject: A learning experience in BA - part 3

This is the 3rd, and last part - glad to see you again.

>From the first two parts of my little e-mail story you could have the
impression that what I got from Buenos Aires is the idea that for a man,
tango, the Argentinean way, is only a duty, and it's no fun at all.  This was
exactly how I felt after the first day of training, but Osvaldo, with his
multi-decade training experience, had all well planned ahead!  He left me with
this impression for an entire night and one day, so I could have the time to
get it (it's hard to teach new tricks to old dogs....), only to add the fun
part of tango during the second day.

If you wonder why this third part of my message comes one day later, you got
the idea....

During the second day group lesson, Osvaldo, with just one phrase pronounced
in public to the entire group, in addition to fixing a lot of problems with my
posture, let me  understand what it takes to feel like an Argentinean, and not
only how to try to look like one.  He gave me a key on how to feel the
pleasure to learn and dance tango: "senti el placer de aprender y baillar
TANGO" is the title of his training video he sold me, and it's his motto on
the advertising fliers.

He gave me also a powerful tool to easily improve the posture and the dancing
of my partners, as well as to make them feel much better after the dance.

What did he say?

Well, if you are a man (and a leader), have your tango teacher send me an
e-mail that certifies that you did the half-hour training in front of a closed
door while there were beautiful American, or German, or Italian, or Finnish,
or whatever nationality ladies in the room (or an equivalent training) and I
will e-mail the answer to you!

Or, if you are a lady (follower), you can come to dance with me (I accept
invitations), and I will apply Osvaldo's technique with you.  I tried his
secret formula on several ladies here in Denver, and I know that it works also
in the States (after a little translation into English, and minor cultural
adaptations).  You will find me at almost every tango event in Denver until
the middle of December, after the beginning of January I will be at almost
every tango event in Tampa, Florida.

Sorry, for all the other categories of sex classification, I have nothing
against you, but I follow the Argentinean way, I don't dance with man during
the milongas (and when I'm forced to do it during the training I would prefer
to dance with a lady, even if in a follower role).

Ciao to all,

Enrico

E_Mass@msn.com  -  Tango in Tampa: http://www.aaanetserv.com/tango

Anonymous BA taxi driver:  "el tango se bailla con el corazon y la cabeza"
(you dance tango with your hart and your brain - Hart first, brain second)


PS: I had several requests for phone numbers, all my teachers deserve to be
mentioned:

Osvaldo Coelho - Buenos Aires - tel: 813-0041/454-5466 (Spanish only)

My US tango teachers:

Victor and Judy - Tampa, Florida - they planted the seeds of tango in me, I
was their first Argentine Tango student,
contact references at http://www.aaanetserv.com/tango

Vicky Fields - Gabriela Carone - Daniel Trenner (visiting) - Denver, Colorado
contact references at the Tango Colorado home page (the URL is in my Tampa
page).

Master classes and workshops:

Rebecca Schumann - (New York) workshop in Denver
Miguel Angel Zotto, creator and first dancer of the show TangoX2 - (Buenos
Aires) master class in Denver

I recommend them all, they are all different, as is tango, I really enjoy to
learn from them.

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Garrit Fleischmann Nov.97
Email: kontakt(at)cyber-tango.com