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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Working the Barbary Coast

Last night I snuggled up on the sofa with myself and watched the 1935 film Barbary Coast, starring Edward G. Robinson, Miriam Hopkins and Joel McCrea. Whenever I see a classic movie with some snappy dialogue, I'm never surprised to see that Ben Hecht wrote the screenplay, since he's written so many other of my favorite films. This movie isn't the best showcase of the talents of these three actors* but it's a fun Hollywood romp throught the lawlessness of San Francisco during the Gold Rush.

I've been reading Herbert Asbury's account of the same subject (and you can click here for an online version). To me, San Francisco is a place where you can feel its history, even if you don't really know exactly what that history is. I am compelled to learn about the story of this city whenever I can. It makes me appreciate literally the sidewalk on which I stand, and by association, I become more a part of this place I now call home.

The Barbary Coast is one of those epithets, common enough in our vernacular, but still a phrase that I did not really understand until I did a little homework (from Asbury's book):

"The Barbary Coast is the haunt of the low and the vile of every kind. The petty thief, the house burglar, the tramp, the whoremonger, lewd women, cutthroats, murderers, all are found here. Dance-halls and concert-saloons, where blear-eyed men and faded women drink vile liquor, smoke offensive tobacco, engage in vulgar conduct, sing obscene songs and say and do everything to heap upon themselves more degradation, are numerous. Low gambling houses, thronged with riot-loving rowdies, in all stages of intoxication, are there. Opium dens, where heathen Chinese and God-forsaken men and women are sprawled in miscellaneous confusion, disgustingly drowsy or completely overcome, are there. Licentiousness, debauchery, pollution, loathsome disease, insanity from dissipation, misery, poverty, wealth, profanity, blasphemy, and death, are there. And Hell, yawning to receive the putrid mass, is there also."

The Barbary Coast was a San Francisco neighborhood that began as a popular hangout for the rich during the California Gold Rush (1848 - 1858). It was known for gambling, prostitution and crime, and this area is now overlapped by Chinatown, North Beach, and the Financial District.

According to wikipedia: The Barbary Coast rose from the massive infusion of treasure seeking argonauts during the Gold Rush. Men from Europe, Asia, South America, and the eastern United States sailed into San Francisco Bay bound for the Mother Lode, many only staying in the gold fields briefly before returning to San Francisco broke or with tiny leather sacks of nuggets and gold dust. At the end of 1849, out of a population of between 20,000 and 25,000, only about 300 were women and an estimated almost two-thirds of those were prostitutes.

Miners, sailors, and sojourners hungry for female companionship and bawdy entertainment continued to stream into San Francisco in the 1850s and 60s becoming the Barbary Coast's primary clientele. As The City exploded with the new arrivals, some with shady pasts, soon a wide variety of land sharks, con artists, pimps, and prostitutes staked out an area designed to pluck the gold and silver from the pockets of men through liquor, lust, laudanum-laced libations, or just a hard knock on the head.

Sailors in particular had cause to dread the area because the art of shanghaiing was perfected. Many a sailor woke up after a night's leave to find himself unexpectedly on another ship bound for some faraway port. When there was a shortage of sailors for departing ships any able-bodied man who wandered into the wrong saloon, or drank with the wrong companion, could wake up with a mysterious hangover onboard a ship. Crime in the streets and corruption in the government offices plagued San Francisco in the 1850s.

Nearly all drinking and dancing establishments in the area were destroyed in the fire that followed the 1906 earthquake, but within months a dozen or so were rebuilt and back in business. Between the 1913 anti-vice campaigns led by the San Francisco Examiner and the passage of the 1917 Red-light abatement act, the Barbary Coast was effectively diminished and vice activities hidden from view. In 1917 the San Francisco Police blockaded the neighborhood and evicted the prostitutes.


Can you imagine living in a place where the population exploded: from 1,000 inhabitants to over 25 times that amount in the space of a single year? When the sight of a woman would draw crowds of men because they were so rare? And it's been less than 100 years that this neighborhood was finally cleared of its visible vices.

Right now I'm imagining the opium dens that were tucked away a mere two or three blocks from our office. And walking up Montgomery Street, on my way to and from the train, where so much of this lurid history took place, now home to the staid investment houses, banks and crowds of businessmen waiting in line at Starbucks.

There is a large tango community in San Francisco. It makes me wonder if the history of this city, like Buenos Aires, like Paris, with its illicit and lust-filled past, adds an invisible essence to this place that makes tango and its dancers want to collect themselves here. I think it might.

*Favorite movies starring the aforementioned actors:

Edward G. Robinson, Double Indemnity (1944)

Miriam Hopkins, Trouble in Paradise (1932)

Joel McCrea, The Palm Beach Story (1942)

For Red Shoes...

Welcome to San Francisco!

(cue Tony Bennett)

The loveliness of Paris
Seems somehow sadly gay
The glory that was Rome
Is of another day
I've been terribly alone
And forgotten in Manhattan
I'm going home to my city by the bay.

I left my heart in San Francisco

High on a hill, it calls to me.

To be where little cable cars

Climb halfway to the stars!

The morning fog may chill the air

I don't care!

My love waits there in San Francisco

Above the blue and windy sea

When I come home to you, San Francisco,

Your golden sun will shine for me!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

When You Can't Write, Read

I've been out of sorts lately and may be catching the office flu that's been going around (just in time for my favorite milonga and holiday weekend, hooray!). I have a thousand ideas for posts, but they are not writing themselves these days and so have been getting dusty inside my head.

So, until I can connect my typing to my thoughts, here are some incredible posts I've been lingering over lately:

La Nuit Blanche's beautiful and emotional The end of the affair, the beginning of another and her inspiring collection of quotes in On steps, music, and tango

Tango Cherie's realistic view of Tango: The Dark Side

La Tanguera's witty exercise on Tango Shoes and what they say about you

Tango in Her Eyes: What Those Tango Lyrics REALLY Mean!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

And Still They Tango

Here is the perfect way to take a mini-vacation and enjoy Buenos Aires and tango culture for a few minutes, courtesy of National Geographic.

This multimedia presentation is also a great introduction to the dance for friends and family who have not been bitten by the tango bug...yet.


Thanks to Alex Long for sending out the suggestion.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Daddy's Little Girl

"Sweet" may not be the first word that comes to mind when you think of tango. But this video may be the sweetest tango you ever see in your life. It's Silvio Lavia and his daughter. Thanks to the Tango Baka for posting it first.

Friday, August 17, 2007


Feeling and longing are the motive forces behind all human endeavor and human creations.
Albert Einstein

Happiness is the longing for repetition.
Milan Kundera

It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them.
George Eliot


I danced the best tandas of my tango life last night. It's very hard to be back in the real world today. I am full of sighs.

Besos to my lovely Thursday tangueros.


Please visit http://flickr.com/photos/30377048@N00/ to see Alex Long's beautiful tango photos. His contact info is there too.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

"San Francisco Tango Life" Video

If you haven't seen this little video before, you're in for a treat. Features local tango teacher Glenn Corteza. (Click on the screen above and it will take you to YouTube.)

I'm not a makeup blog, but...

as a former makeup artist (is there such a thing?) and confessed makeup junkie, people are always asking me what I like and what I use. So since I'm here already, I think I will just mention a product or two once in a while if I think it's worth buying.

(This sort of post might make me lose the last of my male readership besides my dad, if the shoe thing didn't already, but these are topics I spend time thinking about, so there you are.)

I was in Neiman's the other day (they have the best cosmetics department in Union Square, IMHO) and finally spent some time in the Shu Uemura boutique. I was curious to see why a $25 pair of fake eyelashes is better than a $3 drugstore pair, and I have to say that in this instance, I'll now pay more for a better product.

If you are an eyelash enthusiast like me, you'll feel like a kid in a candy store at the Shu counter. There are so many styles to choose from, and you'll convince yourself that you need most of them. I bought three different pairs, the adhesive, and the super cool applicator that is curved to the lash line for an easy application.

The biggest difference I can see between these lashes and the cheapies is the way they're sewn onto the strip. The band holding the lashes is much more substantial, giving more support to the lashes and therefore an easier application. I think the band also makes the lashes hold up better, meaning that you can get more uses out of them, which brings the cost down if you look at them on a per-use basis.

You should brush them out with a dry mascara wand after each wear and gently remove the glue. Don't get them wet.

Happy winking!

The Tango Closet

Come on, I know you have a tango closet too.

Perhaps for me it's a holdover from Halloween, but I think part of the fun of tango is the dressing-up part. When I took belly dance classes, I had all kinds of harem pants, silk tops, coin belts and finger cymbals and scarves and veils. And the henna kit for the do-it-yourself henna tattoos on the hands.

When I joined the Stanford Fencing Club (a short-lived pursuit due to tango conflicts), I immediately ran out and got my own foil, padded jacket, glove and mask (there is nothing grosser than borrowing someone else's fencing gear and still-damp-with-sweat face mask).

And when I started dancing tango, I began to amass a collection of clothes that ultimately grew into its own tango closet. A closet with a life of its own. When I would go shopping, I'd compartmentalize what I saw into either, "Gee that would be fun for work," or "Boy that would be great for tango!" If I had to choose, the tango outfit got purchased first. You want to be prepared for every mood on dance night, right?
Le Chemin du Tango has an interesting observation on how we dress for tango. I'm much more casually dressed for a milonga than I used to be, except for the shoes, of course. I dressed up a lot more in Buenos Aires because I felt I could get away with it. Lots of my tango clothes now just hang out and wait.

And oh boy, here at the office, the UPS guy just delivered my new swing dance shoes and skirt that I ordered online. I'm dying to go into the bathroom and try everything on but the pleasure must be delayed until I get home...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


To begin again...

It's been a while since I started on my tango adventure, so I haven't had the experience of being a complete newbie for some time now. I've had lots of other novel experiences dancing tango, but now I'm reliving the feeling of starting something anew. Mostly those feelings of complete enthusiam, exhiliaration, confusion, and impatience with my incompetence.

I've decided to start learning swing. Primarily East Coast Swing and Lindy Hop. Last night was my second class in Lindy Hop and my fourth class in East Coast Swing.

For quite a while now, I've been completely devoted to tango. I've never even considered learning another dance or even seen the need to do anything else. I haven't wanted to.

And then, a few weeks ago, I was walking through the park on the way to the de Young Museum, when I heard the most incredible sound. Big Band music wafting through the treetops. I followed the sound as it got louder and louder, to find the source of it alongside the museum and a gathering of dancers bopping like mad. It was obvious they were having a blast. I never made it to the museum.

They were offering a free beginning class in just a few minutes, so I stayed for the lesson. And I had a ball, too.

I realized there was something that I was missing but I hadn't known it until then. To have a dance that's a little wild and crazy, where you can laugh and be funny and silly. Tango is many things to me, very important things, but wild and crazy and silly--definitely not.

However, learning these dances has not been easy for me. I don't remember learning tango as being so difficult. I don't get the lead. I get mixed up on the counting. Mostly I feel like a dork. But I can see the fun times that are ahead in my future, and hopefully that will keep me motivated until my feet can do what they're supposed to do.

I used to think that learning another dance would interfere or even take away from my tango technique. That it would distract me from my mission. Now I feel completely the opposite. Now I think it will make me appreciate tango even more.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Blogroll That Keeps on Growing

Work is starting to interfere with my blogging.

I've just discovered yet another blog that I will be checking in on quite frequently, Le Chemin du Tango. There are many blogs about tango in Buenos Aires (and rightly so), but my tango daydreams are set elsewhere. This Netherlands-based blog is well-written and interesting all the way through.

Sunday in the Park with Tangobaby

So, how was your weekend?

I'm lucky enough to live near one of the most beautiful parks in the world, Golden Gate Park. Sundays are turning into a bit of a bonanza for me because, in addition to the Botanical Gardens, the deYoung Museum, and the hopefully soon-to-reopen California Academy of Sciences, there is a free Lindy class and dance in the morning, followed immediately afterwards by tango in the bandshell.

Yesterday I danced for about 4 hours. The always sweet and obliging Mr. T. was there (my partner in the youtube video) and M.J. and I passed him back and forth like a badminton shuttlecock, only letting him rest long enough to get a sip of water. I always fear that we will wear him out, but he seems quite tireless despite his busy dance card.

This bandshell is 107 years old! What a grand backdrop for our tango exploits!
Designed by the Reid Brothers in 1899 and named for Claus Spreckels, the bandshell stands on the site of the 1894 Midwinter International Exposition in Golden Gate Park’s Music Concourse. The Italian Renaissance-inspired terra cotta and sandstone bandshell held its inaugural concert on Admission Day, 1900. Seriously damaged in the 1906 earthquake it was closed following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Dancing under the shell of this lovely old space, with the afternoon's dappled sunlight upon you and the boombox blaring those classic tango melodies is really something to look forward to.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Way Out West

Guaranteed to make you smile!
A classic scene from one of their best films.

A perfect* day in San Francisco

A slightly foggy, cool Saturday morning.

1. Wake up (always a good thing).
2. Throw on some clothes and go with a friend to Ella's for breakfast.
3. Get parking (!)
4. Share one of the famous sticky buns, chicken sausage benedicts and ricotta pancakes with strawberry sauce. Unbutton top button on pants.
5. As you're leaving, find out in the SF Chron that it's the 85th anniversary of the historic Castro Theatre and all movies are only 25 cents that day.
6. Speed down Divisadero and make it just in time for the 11am show.
7. Get parking (!)
8. Win a baseball cap in the pre-movie trivia contest because you answered the trivia question about Oliver Hardy's nickname (Babe).
9. Watch Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny, Tweety and Sylvester, and a Tex Avery cartoon.
10. See Way Out West, one of Laurel and Hardy's best films, on the big beautiful screen at the Castro Theatre.
11. Listen to all of the children giggle as you crack up laughing with them. Little kids love Laurel and Hardy.

*After the movie, find out that you got a parking ticket for $35 because the wheels on your car weren't turned into the curb enough as they're supposed to be when you're parked on a 3-percent grade, according to the ticket. (I left my protractor at home.)

So the movie actually cost me $35.50, but it was still a great day in my book.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


More photos to inspire you.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Another Window into Tango

I love Flickr. It's definitely a place to get lost in, never knowing what little treasures you'll find to delight the eye for a moment.

Today, I found Nadasdy and some soulful photos that truly capture the essence of tango. Enjoy!

A Little Bit Different, A Little Bit The Same

I'm happy today. My Thursday nights are getting better.

It used to be that Thursdays were my favorite night of the week. The milonga at the Verdi Club has been my refuge and my alternate universe. After I got back from Buenos Aires last year, I realized that my tango world had exploded wide open and my dancing life would never be the same. And I wasn't sure who I would want to dance with or where I would go to replicate the feeling I had in Argentina.

And then I started going to Verdi and it was the closest thing I could get to reliving Buenos Aires for a little while. It was my touchpoint. But something has changed over the past few months and the atmosphere there seemed to evaporate. For me, it was harder to be there and be disappointed then not to go at all, so I stayed home. To be honest, I felt lost and displaced.

But last night I went back, and things are feeling better there. The crowd is still not what it used to be and I know there are several reasons for that, but now I'm hopeful that everything's going to be okay again. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to be swept off my feet by not one, not two, but three dancers who made it a perfect evening. One partner is completely new to me, but we danced two tandas with a short break in between. We were both almost speechless because it's like we've been dancing together for years.

A few times, we laughed a little, but mostly we were quiet and enveloped in our own little world of tango. What a lovely little world it is.

Godspeed, Endeavour

While it didn't make front page news yesterday, at 6:36pm EST, the space shuttle Endeavour had a successful lift off from Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. What I didn't know about this mission is that we have now our second teacher in space.

From NASA's website: STS-118: Build the Station. Build the Future.

Twenty-two years after first being selected as Christa McAuliffe’s backup in the Teacher in Space Project, Barbara Morgan will strap into space shuttle Endeavour as a fully-trained astronaut. She is one of five mission specialists in the seven-member crew.

Many of us remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard about the space shuttle Challenger and the tragic loss of its entire crew. I was on my way to school, listening to the radio when the report came in. I cried in the car. Even though the news was sketchy, you just knew in your heart that there would be no survivors. There had been such excitement for that mission because our first teacher, a role model for children (and adults), would accompany the crew into space. Our nation's heart was broken for a time.

When I hear about these shuttle missions, I feel such respect and admiration for the men and women who devote themselves to exploring the boundaries of our world on our behalf. They are our emissaries into the future.

You can keep up with all of NASA's missions and even see the crew aboard the space shuttle on NASA TV. Sometimes I like to listen to the audio and pretend I'm helping out in Mission Control.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Fred Astaire And Rita Hayworth

This is the dance number that makes me tear up a little every time I see it. It's so lovely and graceful and sweet.

LaMaleva Tango Tutorial: Caricias - Embellishment

Here is one of the embellishment tutorials I mentioned below. Obviously I'm not the first to discover these beautiful feet on YouTube, but I'm glad I finally did!

The Queen of Embellishment

Embellishments are my tango fixation at the moment. The dainty, sexy flourishes that make some tangueras the stars of the dance floor. When I watch other women dance, I can't help but watch for their embellishments.

I am at an impasse regarding embellishments. I feel comfortable enough now to follow most of what I am lead (or maybe that's just my impression) and technically I know that I should be able to add these lovely movements when I want to. I know most of the songs I dance to, and most of my dance partners are familiar to me.

But I freeze up...and instead, do nothing! How do I break the embellishment barrier? I'm a little bored with myself.

I've heard of Jennifer before and seen her advice column. I just discovered her tutorials on YouTube, which have inspired me even more, although I know I will need something more than a video to make me feel like I can do these moves and not look like a klutz.

Jennifer's skills are impressive and her moving feet (and shoes!) are gorgeous! I'm hooked!

She also has a written tutorial outling the basic do's and don'ts of embellishments, a nice feature.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Most Amazing Dance Sequence You'll Ever See

I've watched this routine so many times and it never ceases to delight me. The Nicholas Brothers outperform and outclass everyone, IMHO. And they look like they're having such a great time. From the movie Stormy Weather with the beautiful Lena Horne.