Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Me and Buenos Aires

Here are ten things I have actually felt, at various times, about the idea of going to Buenos Aires. [Update: in roughly chronological order, incidentally. Don't miss a (so far) quite interesting comments thread below. Also, Cherie replies here.]

1. I've read so many descriptions, from people who go there or live there. The people who adore it make it sound like a society with no place for me and no place for my values. I don't feel a pull, and I'm not going to pretend I do.

2. A twelve-hour flight at £500 to somewhere that's no cleaner than here and not even particularly sunny, to dance with other tourists? (Like, the locals are going to look at me, other than to measure my arse and my purse. I don't think so.) Huh?

3. Tango just isn't that important in my life. If I'm going to risk the electronic strip-search at Heathrow and all the other mindless security theatre, and put up with the awfulness of a flight that long, plus use up two weeks' holiday, I'd rather be going over to Seattle to see people I deeply care about and who have a genuine place in their hearts for me.

4. For a dancing holiday, I can take a train to somewhere in Europe where they dance well, and travel in comfort.

5. I understand why my teacher goes, she has many friends there, old and new, and tango is a much bigger thing in her life.

6. I also understand why you'd want to go there to study tango. It's necessary if you want to be a pro, the real thing, and have some credibility. You need to go there for an extended period, or at least repeatedly. And if you're that deeply into it, of course it would be fun too. I don't want to be a pro. Why would I want that?

7. Tango is something I do to enhance my life here, as it actually is. It also enhances my life when I go to places on business or on holiday. If it's not too far or too much trouble, or I know I'll see people I like and the dancing will be good, I even go to places specifically to dance tango. It's not something I do because I'm fascinated by or in love with a culture that I have virtually nothing in common with and feel no true wish to participate in. Sure, I like the music. I like Puccini too, but I don't want to buy his car. I think the Argentinians have some really top-notch ideas about how to organise an evening of social dancing, and how to go about the dance itself. All of them are widely publicised. But since when exactly has nicking and adapting good ideas been a problem for the English? Do you think tea grows in Yorkshire? Or that the Chinese drink it with milk? What I'm saying here is that I don't feel the pull, and if I'm not feeling the pull, it's not my time to go.

8. The other thing that's always bothered me is the way people go there, then come back and promptly vanish. I don't think it's just because they come back and feel totally let down. After all, the higher quality of dance there can hardly have come as a surprise to them. You can see it on video. And if it were just that, considering how many people do go, wouldn't they try to do positive things about the dancing here, rather than just give up? And why not do that in the first place? It seems to me that going to Buenos Aires is something people do when they're already bored with dancing tango and they want a reason to stop.  I know myself well enough to know that finding reasons to stop doing something that's good for me spiritually and physically, is something I should avoid.

9. Speaking of which, I am also Bloody Awkward, and the sort of person who feels that something there is so much social expectation you should do is probably poorly justified, like taking on giant lifelong debts to buy overpriced depreciating assets. I'm not saying it's rational, but I kind of want to keep my tango in its place.

10. I have the impression that people go there far too early; very often they say so afterwards. It doesn't make much sense to me to go there for the purpose of taking lessons. There are excellent, experienced, professional teachers within easy reach right here. Nor does it make sense to me to go there in order to say I've been, despite the obvious temptation; I've had bad experiences buying labels and it would feel like selling one. The point of Buenos Aires tango, as I see it, is the social dancing. It does make sense to me to go there in order to just dance, taking the pre-milonga lessons for orientation. But I'd rather treat the whole thing with a bit more respect, not as a gig put on for my benefit as a tourist; and, if I go there at all, go there prepared in such a way that I can have a satisfying social experience on my own terms, and not feel like a burden on other people's politeness, or as though I'm being patronised. I don't feel that I had that a year ago. I do feel that I might be about there next winter, maybe.

At the moment, I'm not against it. I'll probably do it at some point, and maybe even alone. I might go there with the right companions, or to visit specific people. If there was an extra reason to go there, like a rugby match - say England v Argentina away, or Lions v Argentina away - that would be a lot of fun, and I could combine it. I could go to the match and go for a dance. With the right companions, that would be delightful.


ghost said...

About No 8.

I've had the same conversation over and over again at Ceroc
"Why don't you go to Weekenders?"
"Because everyone who goes stops dancing socially"
"But the dancing is so good"
"I know, that's why I don't go"

The Hindu's call experiencing Nirvana and then returning to earth "walking on broken glass".

I prefer the Buddhists.
"Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water".

I'm content chopping wood and carrying water where I am :o)

LimerickTango said...

"Lions v Argentina", bring it on. Velez Sarsfield Stadium here we come.

msHedgehog said...

@Limerick, Lions v Pumas, I know, that would be awesome, wouldn't it? It really ought to be a great match.

Anonymous said...

All your arguments have a ring of truth. Too many go to Buenos Aires and just visit the tourist milongas.
I went there with a local the first time, and although we did much of the tourist thing, we also saw how the locals have fun.
That is what seems to be lost over here, tango is not about competition, or constant learning, it is enjoyment and socialising.
If you are not ready then you are not, I can only speak for myself; I went there in 2004 and have returned eight times, bored with Tango? What do you think.
BTW just waiting for the plane back again.
Read my blog the next three weeks and hopefully I can change your mind.
Mi Buenos Aires qurerido.

ghost said...

"I went there in 2004 and have returned eight times"

This I think is a large part of the problem. Logistics. If I want to go to a Ceroc Weekender I don't even have to take a day off work. I can drive there. I'll get dances with the Real Dancers. Heck MsH would get dances with the Real Dancers from what I've seen. And everyone speaks English.

Going to BsAs is obviously doable and I'm glad it works for you :o) , but for many people I think it's just too much to try to do on even a semi-regular basis.

Saeed said...

Your posting on why one would want to take a tango holiday to B.A. made me smile since I hold similar opinions.

Maybe all pros or "wanna-be" teachers should go there regularly as an investment in their market-able skills, however for those who dance for personal pleasure there are many opportunities nearer to home.

There are many places/festivals in and around some fabulous cities in Europe where internationally recognised and respected tango masters offer much better value for our time and money. The tango tourists are also the locals who share equal passion and love with everyone including their guests without the need or want to measure anyone's body parts or pockets as their primary motivation to share a tanda or more.

Your suggestion of adding value to one's trip by combining tango with other passions such as sports may be a more acceptable justification for wanting to travel all the way down there for just a fortnight or less.

msHedgehog said...

@tangogales - you illustrate the point very well. The priorities that lead you to do that, I really don't think are mine.

Anonymous said...

My experience: all anyone talks about is tango. After a couple of weeks (or sooner) that gets pretty tedious.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you H.
After dancing for about 5 years I just want to go to Argentina and save BA for the last couple of weeks. Since I moved to a place of no Tango, I appreciate it more when I come back up to London and know it is not the be all or end all of my life. It filled a void and I love it, bit it isn't my life. I dance Ceroc and Salsa again. I have started Belly dancing. At least I am dancing! I will go to BA one day, but when, who knows. There is no hurry. I have a life. Do they have any scuba diving in BA? ;)

msHedgehog said...

Well, I'm inclined to be reserved, so that doesn't sound too bad; and two weeks is the maximum time I would really be able to spend there anyway. I'd probably do art museums and things. I don't really feel I should go all that way and just do tango. It must have more to offer. I've never even been to South America.

msHedgehog said...

@LT, belly dancing! That sounds fun. I like the music they use, too. I've never tried a solo dance. It'd be interesting to hear about it.

ghost said...

I wonder if people get lost in the transition between "I've never been to BsAs" and "I go to BsAs semi-regularly"?

There does seem to be an impulse to go to BsAs.

But does it make sense to do it just once? To me that feels like going to see Swan Lake. You could do it because you like Swan Lake and enjoy yourself. But you could hardly claim to have experienced "ballet" and if you were interested in ballet surely you'd go again and see something else?

It's interesting that you're comfortable making the transition to dancing to Europe.

I agree with your distinction - the cost / effort / resources are very different.

I just wonder if this is something people the people who "vanish" consciously realised. Or if they found themselves in a no-mans land instead.

msHedgehog said...

@ghost, I think you have a very good point there. I'm not willing to invest the time and money in going repeatedly.

Going to an event in France or Germany is different - all the people there have gone there for that event, often from a substantial distance, so it seems more like going to a music festival or something. When I just drop in as a visitor in different places, that's nice too, but I'm there for more than that reason. In Edinburgh for example I was there to visit Edinburgh.

Captain Jep said...

It's refreshing to read a post about *not* going to BsAs! What is amusing when you're actually there is realising, tango isnt actually such a big deal to the portenos either! I mean, it's a big city. Millions of people. The tango scene is a tiny speck in the ocean of their diversity. If anything, cumbia is the overriding "sound of the streets". And after that, rock music / rock nacional.

Of course tango is part of their tourist culture. So if you're out in town and walking down Calle Florida that's what you'll hear. But it's a bit like us seeing a red phone box in the centre of London :)

Having said which, I wanted to go myself to see the reality behind the myth. To enjoy dancing in the milongas I had read so much about. And to do so while enjoying all the other wonderful things that Argentina has to offer.

ps I could critique some of the points you raise against going. But what's the point? I think it's refreshing that you seem to want holidays that are not about tango! By which I mean, your proper holidays, not weekends away. Well, I assume that's the case :)

pps I think you'd enjoy Berlin by the way ;)

Captain Jep said...

@ghost Comment 1

I'm fascinated by this conversation in Ceroc.

What it says to me is that you must create "flow" in all areas of your life. In that sense, does tango make philosophers of us all?

ghost said...

@ Captain Jep

Yup, I agree :o)

I particularly like MsH's desire not to buy Puccini's car, but to nick / adapt the Argentinians' ideas instead!

I've been re-reading some of the old humour articles on LT. It's interesting how much downstairs at Negracha has moved on.

Obi-Wan: "Negracha's. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious."

Newer people to LGTN honestly think I'm making it up when I talk about how it was.

Elizabeth said...

I learned so much in BA, and so much of it is hard to describe. When you experience the depth of the culture of tango...well it changes it for you. But I can relate to not wanting to go through that nightmare of travel, the expense and trouble. But you can bet I will.

Mark said...

Ten things, MsH, but really only one reason: it's just not important enough for you (right now). That's all you need.

Since I'm commenting I will also throw in -

#2: I'd like to know who can fly you from London to BsAs in only 12 hours for only £500. The quickest flight I know of is with BA with a stopover in Sao Paolo, an elapsed time of about 15 hours and costs rather more than £500.

The place is certainly no cleaner than London, but does the rubbish on the streets of London stop you living there? There are much dirtier places you could go, and it's a lot sunnier here for a good part of the year than it is in the UK.

#3: Air travel these days is a LOT of hassle, no doubt about that, but I think for some things it is worth it.

#8: I haven't heard of this phenomenon. Not in tango, not in modern jive or other dance styles. It took me a while to work out exactly how the reasoning works for those it applies to. I don't get it. I've been going to modern jive weekenders for over 5 years, many of my friends for longer, we're still dancing...

The tango here is different from that at home. I'm here to experience it. When I return to the UK I'll keep dancing.

Bored with tango? That just doesn't compute.

#9: Bloody Awkward is a great British tradition - keep it up :-)

#10: coming here too early is another one I've not heard of. You're making me wonder if I've been living under a rock for the last few years.

I guess you're aware of the LGTN discussion about a possible trip around December/January.

When/if you decide to come I'm sure you'll have a great time and I hope you keep dancing afterwards.

Anonymous said...

How about going to Argentina, not just Buenos Aires. You know, Mendoza, Patagonia, Patagonia again, Bariloche, maybe head up north for a bit, and then spend a few days in Buenos Aires, walk around, take a lesson or two, if you fancy, and go dancing in the evenings. And enjoy.

tanjive said...

I conclude alot of your reasons are about "it is not important enough". tha is fair enough.

"It seems to me that going to Buenos Aires is something people do when they're already bored with dancing tango and they want a reason to stop. I know myself well enough to know that finding reasons to stop doing something that's good for me spiritually and physically, is something I should avoid."

I am glad you don't want to give up, but feel the last line is only true if the premise of the first sentence is right. I would take the opposite view, that people go because they are interested and not already bored with the dance. May I inquire did you start to dance some tango in Europe because you were bored with the dance? To me that is the same. Bored with the dance and bored with the quality of dancers around you are two different things. I think some leave since they get disappointed with the dance at home on their return from BA or Europe. I know after 5 trips in Europe in 2 years I got a little disappointed in the average level in UK. I did not need to go to BA to feel that. My choice is then is give up, be more choosey but reserve some time to encourage a few to improve. One person cannot change the community but you can find enough of what you want to dance.

msHedgehog said...

@Mark, all interesting points. The 'no cleaner than here' is just that temporary relief from big-city living is one possible reason for going on holiday to lots of places, but it's not a reason for going either here or there, obviously.

@Anon, indeed, but on that basis I'd probably choose Ecuador or Colombia, and the coast rather than the city.

@Tanjive, The 'already bored' thing is just one possible situation - it's my way of saying that it's often the last tango thing people do. The visits to Europe do indeed include a high quality of dance, which is one reason I go, and they're also congenial in other ways. Essentially they're the same thing as weekenders, in my view. But it's not quite the same thing as going to BsAs: Cherie for example in her reply to this post, seems to regard all such things as 'disney' tango - and although I'm not 100% confident that I understand that argument - you had better read it yourself - I don't think that the quality of dance is relevant to it.

ghost said...

@ Mark

“I've been going to modern jive weekenders for over 5 years, many of my friends for longer, we're still dancing...”

You still go weekly to your local venue?

I’d be hard pressed to name anyone who’s been dancing Ceroc for more than 5 years and gone to weekenders who dances weekly at their local venue unless they’re / have been part of the organization – DJ, demo, taxi, teacher etc.

From your blog
“Hello, my name is Mark. I'm a dance addict. The current focus of my addiction is Argentine tango. It used to be modern jive and it could have been west coast swing if I'd found a class I could get to regularly. I tried salsa for a while and then "discovered" Argentine tango in September 2008. Things haven't been the same since.”

That’s not unusual. Ken’s written about on Learning Tango. Sadly the trend is to gradually give up Ceroc

Mark said...

@ghost -

I still get to my local modern jive night most weeks. I don't often do the classes any more but I go for the freestyle time after the class. That to me is social dancing.

Or rather I did before I came to BsAs for an extended stay. My usual week had 3 or 2 nights of tango, 1 or 2 of west coast swing, 1 or 2 of jive for a total of 6 nights dancing. When I return home I expect to pick up the same routine again. And no, I'm not a DJ, taxi, teacher or otherwise connected to any organisation.

I used to jive 3 to 6 nights a week. Then I started to branch out into other dances. Tango, WCS and jive appeal in different ways. WCS and jive are currently on hold but I don't plan to give them up.

ghost said...

Fair 'nuff. Yes that's indeed what I meant by social dancing. Glad you're getting the best of both worlds - simply put, among the people I know overwhelmingly that doesn't happen :(

"WCS and jive are currently on hold but I don't plan to give them up."
Friendly warning; I could well be wrong in your case, but you could find yourself fitting back into my statistics again and giving up MJ socially for good within the next couple of years. I hope you don't, but like I say I've seen very few people beat the odds. Maybe knowing this will help :o)

Anonymous said...

I went to BA for the first time after dancing Tango for 6 years. I did not have the impulse/interest/compulsion to go, and a lot of concern/fear/timidness about not being "good enough" to dance with the porteños. What I discovered was that I was plenty good enough, that there was so much more to BA than Tango, and so much more to Argentina than BA.

In addition, the insane socializing hours and the incredible hospitality of the locals made my three visits truly memorable.

msHedgehog said...

@Johanna, now that's the kind of thing that actually can make it sound attractive. But I really feel there's no hurry.

Anonymous said...

"I really feel there's no hurry."

I was in BsAs just a few months ago and since then at least two people I danced with died. It makes me feel in a hurry to go back.

BsAs has reduced my enjoyment of London milongas - but I don't regret it.

David Bailey said...

Now _this_ is what I call a thread :)

I started the LGT discussion thread because I think, now, that I'd quite like to go see the place.

I completely understand MsH's point-of-view, and being more than a little bloody awkward myself, I share it, to a point. I don't believe going to BsAs will transform my life, and I doubt it'll do a vast amount for my dancing - at least, not for the 1-2 week trip I'm considering.

To your list, I'd add:

#11: Some people who've been there come back and witter on endlessly about it, and often have a massively-inflated boost to their self-worth, simply from having been in the rarified air of BA. SmugTangoTourists, I shall (from now on) call them.

msHedgehog said...

@David: I personally haven't ever met anyone who behaved like that, so I have nothing to say about it. On the more general point, I agree that a short trip is unlikely to make a huge difference to a person's dancing if you look at it as a technical thing - learning anything physical takes a lot more time. But it seems to me that it can make a major difference to the furniture of their mind - to how they think about what they are doing, what is possible, and what they are aiming for. And because following is more cognitive than it is physical, I think that explains why sometimes people feel that it makes a very detectable difference to women. For men it could do the same - obviously the resulting change would take longer, but a short experience can have a big influence by changing someone's perception internally.

ghost said...

@ MsH
"But it seems to me that it can make a major difference to the furniture of their mind - to how they think about what they are doing, what is possible, and what they are aiming for."

My concern with this is that given the short time scale and possibly combined with a certain degree of inexperience, it would be easy to end up with a "faulty" (for want of a better word) outcome, not dissimilar to the card trick prediction or Lincoln's joke about "you've got you facts straight, but you've come to the wrong conclusion".

Anonymous said...

"What is amusing when you're actually there is realising, tango isnt actually such a big deal to the portenos either!"
as a porteña, i totally agree with captain jep comment.
and don't forget that Argentina is not only Buenos Aires. if you go to the north of the country most people listen folklore,
and even in buenos aires "cumbia" or rock and roll are more popular than tango.

Jo A said...

Just because you can do something it doesn't mean you have to. It is amazing the number of things it is possible to do nowadays, and the small number of things it is worth doing.

Before chosing a holiday destination I always weigh up the size of the insects there. I suspect BA has some whoppers.

Anonymous said...

Now I am back from Buenos Aires I can do a proper reply, and it is here
Sorry but it runs to nearly 2000 words.

koolricky said...

Hi there.
I just saw this comment now. I agree with everything it has been said here but there are magical things that you get in Buenos Aires that you simply won't get in Europe.
What about getting a cab at 5am from a milonga going home and having a taxi driver that tells you about San Pugliese and about he gave him lifts many times from his place in Palermo. What about coming from a class in Boedo and on the bus having a guy singing quietly your favourite tango (probably better than many professional singer in acclaimed tango bands).
Little things, but maybe those same little things that made me happiest whilst I was there.
The other thing one should really think about is that Buenos Aires is not tango. I worked in two hospitals whilst I was there, spoke to hundreds of people and nobody danced tango! And you may say that to go to a nice city you can go to many in Europe. And then again, I can't argue on that one.
So, there you go, it's only my opinion!

Chris, UK said...

> wouldn't they try to do positive things about the dancing here, rather than just give up?

Many discover the reason they don't find the dancing they want in the UK, and this leads them not to give up but dance elsewhere instead. That's a positive thing for them.