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Sunday, February 3, 2008

I've Learned My Lesson

Last night was the night I finally learned once and for all that if I can't dance tango, then I won't dance at all.

No polkas, schottisches, mazurkas, Les Lanciers, or even the Congress of Vienna Waltz, which I finally figured out how to do. (I do like that one.)

I had planned for weeks to go to a period ball, Les Mardi Gras de Vampires, a Mardi Gras Ball in true 19th-century ante-bellum New Orleans style. Sounds like fun, huh? Something different.

I have never gotten over the Halloween dressing up thing, so the thought of getting all dolled up like a late Victorian/Belle Epoque-era Mardi Gras temptress and dancing sounded like something really interesting and fun. And some friends I haven't seen since before the Dickens' Faire were going to be there. (I even thought that handsome Mr. Crummles might be there. He was.)

I pulled together a fabulous outfit: part of my Halloween get-up (black and red taffeta can-can skirt, and velvet Harlequin mask with a flowery plume of colored feathers, both items purchased in Venice and cost me a small fortune), a jewel-encrusted choker I found on Haight Street with Ms. Wellspring, black elbow-length satin gloves trimmed with black feathers, a black corset (!), fishnets and my black and red Darcos t-strap shoes that I got in Buenos Aires. And my best Shus.

And Kat had done my hair today in the most perfect Louise Brooks yet. Shiny, straight, flawless. I'm telling you, I really pulled out all the stops for this ball.

I don't want to sound mean, and I know this is probably going to come out the wrong way. I don't know how else to describe it: If you ever wondered what happened to all of the drama geeks that went to your high school, this is the kind of dance where they go now. Listen, I don't mean it in a bad way. They are just the polar opposite of tango people. It was like if I went to a dance with all of the people I used to play Dungeons & Dragons with in junior high school. See, I was a geek too. I admit it.

Does this make any sense? Let's just say they are not tango people.

First I took the class. That wasn't too bad, actually. I did learn to waltz, but when they started trying to teach tango, my heart started to break quietly. I so desperately wanted to hijack the class and take it over but I didn't. I was very restrained and obedient, and learned their "tango." God.

The dance itself was pretty much like the worst dance class you ever took, but multiplied by oh, like 1,000. I hadn't the heart to turn down the one tango they played, but I should have. What's missing? The passion, the intensity, the connection. Dressing up is a very poor substitute for tango bliss.

I left as soon as I could. In my haste to make my exit, I left my second new umbrella that I bought this week in the lobby. I have spent $90 dollars on umbrellas this week. I keep leaving them places I won't return to.

My feet are throbbing as I write this. I sweated off all my perfect maquillage and my newly cut bangs are all damp. I just took two Aleve and now I am waiting for them to kick in.


Because the Late Night Milonga at the Metronome saved me. I couldn't go straight home after that ball. It's worse to have a bad dance than not to dance at all.

Thank you, Late Night Metronome wonderful leaders who danced with me tonight, me in my wacky outfit. I loved each and every one of you tonight. You gave me my passion back. You cured me.

PS. But...if someone wants to organize a fancy Mardi Gras dress-up milonga, I'm all for it.


Anonymous February 3, 2008 at 10:14 AM  

TB, I simply adore your playfulness and sense of adventure. Not to mention style. And BANGS. Sheesh! I need to take classes from you!!!

tangocherie February 4, 2008 at 6:32 AM  

I hope someone took your picture in this getup--it sounds fabulous!

Yes, a bad dance is like bad sex; none is preferable.

tangobaby February 4, 2008 at 12:07 PM  


I adore you, too, so we are even-steven there. If you came up here, we could be fabulous together. You don't need any teaching from me.

The bangs are not entirely new. They were restyled since I now have a side-part. I am going for more of the Chrissie Hynde/Pretenders bangs now than the shorter, traditional Louise Brooks bangs. It's all very important and thoroughly discussed between me and my wonderful Kat.

Dear Cherie,

I will be posting some random pics on my Flickr account, which I just set up and haven't done anything with yet. I don't have a photo of me, but some others that should be fun.

I agree with you about the second comment entirely. Both are terrible options, but bad is more depressing than none.


Psyche February 4, 2008 at 12:09 PM  

You know, in the same way that there is good, real, tango, and bad, campy fake tango, there is good period dance and bad period dance. Costume balls often involve the latter, because they're often open to all, which means they draw a lot of people who have done those dances before - the equivalent of a tango dinner show, perhaps. But don't write off historical dance altogether. When done properly, with understanding, it's really incredible. Very different in character from tango, of course, but an amazing thing in its own right. An early waltz - a proper one, before it got all ballroomified - is fabulous, like riding a rollercoaster. You spin as fast as you can, round and round the room, until your partner's strong arms are the only thing stopping you toppling over. It's easy to see how you could lose your head in such a dance. Go back a little further and you have the intricate patterns of the contradanse or country dance and an amazing sense of connection with the universe as you move in unison with a long line of strangers. Go back a little further and you have the grace and skill of baroque minuets, sarabandes, bourees and gigues. And a little further yet and you have renaissance dance, one minute slow and stately, the next athletic and flashy, but always full of opportunities for smouldering glances, peacock-like display, and Terpsichorean single combat. And the music, of course, is incredible.

These dances hold a very special place in my heart. The fact that I left them all when I found tango doesn't make them any less precious. It's just that it's still possible to dance tango in the way these dances used to be danced - socially, with a wide range of people who really care about them and put a huge amount of time into dancing them well. I loved performing period dance, but performing a dance isn't the same as living it. And sadly it's not possible to live these dances any more.

tangobaby February 4, 2008 at 12:57 PM  

Dear Psyche,

Thank you for such a wonderfully explained and informed comment. I think my disappointment stems from the fact that I thought I was going to a ball of a certain caliber. I think the tango scene here has made me think that all dance enthusiasts are equally as serious about their particular form of dance.

Perhaps someday I will find that group that you describe because I really do want to learn these dances. I certainly read enough history to spend part-time living in the past, and I know I would enjoy it if I was with the right group of people. Also, people affecting bad English accents drives me absolutely insane.

Psyche February 4, 2008 at 2:13 PM  

I think it's very difficult in the States to find good reenactment type stuff of European history. Brilliant groups for US history, but not for European. Just as if we tried to reenact the American Civil War we'd suck at it, and have crappy Fake American accents. There are some excellent professional dance groups doing baroque, I believe, but I'm not sure about the amateur stuff. Perhaps someone will pipe up and prove me wrong in a minute.

But honestly, it's hard even in Europe to find really good early dance. There are excellent teachers, but because it's such a small hobby there are very few students who are really good at it, few few really good dancers to dance with. And the few professional ventures lack something too because the dancers are general dancers who've been taught a bit of period dance, rather than enthusiasts immersed in the period.

Maryam in Marrakesh February 4, 2008 at 6:10 PM  

I do want to see a photo of *you* in your outfit. Why so shy?

PS I would be going back to get that umbrella!

Malevito February 4, 2008 at 6:33 PM  

Hey Late Shifter,

You know, I try really hard to respect other dances and find the merits in them, but I admit it can be difficult at times. Especially with tango, which I feel very possessive (possessed?) about. So when I see ballroom competitions or a ballroom class where they perform something and call it "tango" I can't help but get a little indignant--especially since I realize that this is what most non-aficionados consider tango.

(I recall one particularly heinous incident in a milonga in BsAs where I saw a couple of carefree tourists, who obviously weren't dancers of any kind, step out onto the crowded floor and do a mock of "the walk"--left cheek to right cheek, facing the same direction, hands clasped with interlocking fingers and the arm outstretched directly ahead of them. Five steps forward, reversal of embrace, five steps in the other direction. Amazingly, the other dancers were able to navigate around them with little disruption.)

On a completely different note, who buys a ~$45 umbrella? Obviously, someone with a greater priority on style than me.

Anyway, glad you found redemption at The Late Shift. Ain't nothin' like the real thing, baby.

studio wellspring February 5, 2008 at 10:12 AM  

what an evening! i'm gald that saturday late night milonga was your prize at the end of tunnel. i'm anxious to attend that one as well.
we should go to lunch at perry's & discuss this more, but i do think we could try to bring the authentic meaningful vintage dances back in vogue. i know a lot of people who would really appreciate & get involved in it. how can we attract the right teachers to the bay area to get things started? any ideas psyche?

Cristina - madhatter wannabe February 5, 2008 at 2:06 PM  

So great to find another tango lover out there. I love argentinian tango, and that's all I can dance, I'm hopeless with everything else, but who needs anything else?!

tangobaby February 6, 2008 at 9:37 AM  

Hey guys,

Sorry for the delayed response to your comments...

Dear Psyche,

If you ever know of some very good and qualified teachers, either here or in Europe, will you let me know? I will not lose hope if you think it's possible to learn these dances in a more dignified way.

Dear Maryam,

I am cultivating an aura of mystery. ;-)

No, seriously, I hate having my picture taken. They never come out right. But I am working on my new flickr account, so maybe things will change. Check back and see.

I couldn't bear to go back and get the umbrella. I went to the museum shop the next day and bought my third one. Funny enough, the woman in line in front of me was buying her second umbrella, so I felt better about it. Now, of course, it is not raining.


I totally agree with you about the ballroom tango thing. I went to a ballroom dance competition last year (just to watch, of course) and it was super fun, really flashy and hammy/glammy, like a Baz Luhrman movie. Until the Tango. I couldn't watch it. It was killing me. First, they don't even dance to tango music. And then that crazy, stiff stork dancing and the head movements. I was dying. It was very hard not to squeal in anguish and I know I covered my eyes at some point.

I have always been interested in vintage dances from periods I enjoy reading about and watching in movies, which are quite different than the ballroom dances you see on TV.

Umbrella #3 is very secure in my bag at the moment and it is my greatest wish that I will own it forever. Umbrellas are like sunglasses--you find one that you love above all others, so that is why I have been shelling out more than usual for this particular umbrella. Plus, it has a very cool little popout mechanism and it makes a very fun whooshing sound when it opens.

Dear Ms. Wellspring,

The lunch was lovely yesterday!

Dear Cristina,

Thank you for visiting my blog! I visited yours and admired your beautiful handiwork. You are very talented!