Wednesday, July 25, 2007


You met him. His dancing made you swoon. You made him laugh, and he loved your embrace. And soon, you started doing a little mattress dancing. Against all milonga odds, both of you are STILL together. How do you do it?

I've asked several long-term, happily hooked-up couples recently their secret to keeping love alive in the milonga, a "den of scum and villainy" (any original Star Wars fans out there?) where, it just so happens, your little honeybun met you!

One rather flirty man, coupled still after 25 years, stated that whatever happens in the milonga STAYS in the milonga. His wife enjoys watching him dance with women who dance well and vice versa. He enjoys dancing because he can enjoy a fantasy for a few minutes with one of his favorite partners, but he makes it clear that things stay completely platonic, that there are boundaries he doesn't cross.

Another happily comprometido (hooked-up, involved) man explained that the milonga holds the same temptation as any other ambiance. True, I said, but any other ambiance wouldn't include my being in someone's embrace. Plus, I don't recall ever pressing my cheek and breasts against my male co-workers for 10-12 minutes. This is NOT like the real world, which makes the milonga all the more alluring. However, I agree that the temptation and opportunities exist everywhere you go. (On a few occasions, men have tried to pick me up in church, the most un-milonga place one could imagine.) The point is, "What do you do with this sexual tension?"

"You just play stupid," he replied. It's natural that one's instinctual, base animal nature should awaken (schwing!) when one is in the arms of someone attractive, smells good, dresses really nicely, dances like a dream, and...excuse me...let me take a quick cold shower...but after the song is over, so is the magic.

Part of what makes the milonga so attractive is that one can enjoy the fantasy without sacrificing reality. The trick is not having this space collapse into either side. Trying to prolong the fantasy by taking it off the dance floor is a dangerous proposition, as oftentimes, under florescent lights or in the daylight, your dance god may turn out to be from hell.

Every couple has its own implicit or explicit rules. Even couples who swap partners have boundaries, (not that I write from personal experience). For example, if one partner starts to feel uncomfortable, the deal is off. Rules, limits, boundaries: these help to provide a container for the relationship. They help the partners feel respected and relatively emotionally safe.

Even tango couples who have broken up have rules. Sometimes they split up their usual milongas. You take Canning on Sundays. I take El Beso on Tuesdays. It prevents any awkwardness one may feel while watching one's ex "trabajando" (literally, working, or on the prowl) at the milonga.

Some couples prefer to sit and dance together for the whole milonga. In this case, it would be a definite faux pas to look at the man for a dance. However, should you notice that both partners dance with other people , you can feel free to look at the man.

The TG and her male consort have established their own tango rules. We have the option of dancing with whomever we wish, however 1) no dancing with anyone for more than one tanda, except for each other; and 2) we can request an embargo on dances with a particular tango partner. Let me clarify that we are both rabid about our independence, but, the notion of independence within the context of a committed relationship needs to be a little more flexible. After all, you are supposed to be sharing a life with someone.

These rules we have established don't make either of us feel trapped or controlled. Quite the contrary, they prevent milonga drama from occurring and allows us the freedom to enjoy the milonga and the tango fantasy without having to "controlar" what the other person is doing with someone else. He knows I'm not trying to pick up every Tomás, Ricardo, or...uh...Harry whom I embrace, so he can fully enjoy being with his partners, and vice versa.

He likes to say that he enjoys dancing with other women, but, at the end of the night, he is picked up and taken home by the one he likes the most. In short, the tango and the milonga keep the flames o' desire a-burnin'. We get to seduce each other again.
Restaurant: Te Mataré, Ramirez
Address: Paraguay 4062/Primera Junta 702 (San Isidro)
Tel: 4831-9156/4747-8618 (San Isidro)

When my darlin' BF was courting me (read: trying to get into my knickers), he wined and dined me after the milonga at proper restaurants for proper ladies of proper breeding, you know, places with the low lighting, tasteful background music, excellent wine lists, good reviews. Once we, ahem, moved on to "dessert" and the "cheese platter" and the "coffee", he started taking me to places like Te Mataré, Ramirez, "an exquisite banquet for the imagination, for hedonism and the exigent palates," where you can suck "lomo" (beef) juice off your partner's fingers as you watch a few actors perform erotic scenes (fully clothed, of course).

This restaurant is a haven for dirty minds. The decor murmurs "elegant bordello" with very dim lighting, sperm-shaped salt shakers on the tables, and suggestive photos on the wall. If you just can't keep your hands off your little tango alfajorcito, you can indulge in a little foreplay with footplay under the table, thoughtfully covered with an oversized tablecloth for discretion and privacy.

Reading the menu is meant to be an erotic experience, as well. From start to finish, the dishes are sure to get you hot and bothered. Just check out the name of this entrada (appetizer): Me Entrego Sumiso al Asalto de tus Pechos (I humbly submit myself to the assault of your breasts.) aka risotto-filled, erect chipirones" (squid or calamare, I think). This appetizer was a little on the small and salty side. For my principal (main course), I ordered the "Pecaminoso colita de cuadril" (sinful cut of meat - still can't get my cuts of meat down in Spanish) a punto (pink), but it came well done, I mean, dead, and slightly charred, to my disappoinment and to my boyfriend's taste. He ended up eating my leftovers. The little eggrolls on the side were cold and just sad. He chose "creamy and voluptuous" risotto nestled in an edible bowl, which he said was "pretty good". No other comment besides that, so I'm guessing that it was average. I have to say that I was rather disappointed with the food this visit. Things didn't weren't as succulent or tasty. Perhaps we'll just have to come here for dessert, wine, and a little canoodling under the table.

We didn't stick around for the show this time around, but we saw one of their productions last year in the San Isidro location, I must tip my hat to the actors who have to do this gig, because what I saw was over-the-top. It was more blatant sex, than sexy. More sensational, than sensual. A lot of groaning and talk about "culos" (asses). I guess the owners forgot about the brain being the biggest sex organ because there was no subtlety, no suggestion, which, for me, is the sexiest part of sex. In a media censorship class I had for my undergrad degree, we watched a close-up of two hands slowly unpeeling an orange. My classmates and I were embarrassed to admit that this clip was a lot hotter than watching the well-endowed John Holmes grunting and grinding his way to porn superstardom (Sigh! I loved that class.). It's all in the presentation. So, although the food was decent in the San Isidro location, I didn't leave with that satisfied, spent, light-me-up-a-ciggie feeling I should have had if the show had done its job. Then again, I guess that's up to you to remedy when you go home with your sweetie, you naughty girl.

Atmosphere: SSSSSexy and SSSSSSensual. Some of the shows can be rather "fuerte" for some tastes, almost bordering on audio-porn, so call ahead to find out what's on stage.

Service: Average

Total damage: Dinner for two with wine and water: 171 peso, and me love you long time. Kind of pricey. If you are a card carrying socio of La Nacion newspaper, you can get 20% off your tab at this restaurant. Check out La Nacion's website for details on other restaurants and businesses with this offer.

Overall: Perfect for awakening horniness, but not for sating hunger. I'd be up for trying this again for dessert after a milonga.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


Looking for a milonga that's long on local color and character and short on pretention? I'd recommend going to the Centro Cultural Tato Bores located on Soler between Vidt and Salguero on the 3rd Friday of every month. There's no exchange of currency at the door, no coat check, no dueño showing you to your seat. In fact, there's also no wood floor, no champagne, and you have to get the soft drinks and empanadas your own damn self, but that just adds to the "casera" (homemade) charm. Given its location in auditorium/cafeteria of a local elementary school, and taped signs on the wall instructing kids to raise their hand if they want something, the milonga has that casual "community center" feel that I've always loved. All that's missing is the processed-cheese-cafeteria food smell.

Before you turn up your nose thinking that you're too much of a slickster tango dancer to set any part of your 3-inch heel-clad foot through the doors of a slightly delapidated elementary school to dance with dressed-down no-namers, I'd say that this is a great opportunity to let your hair down, take off your control-top pantyhose, and witness tango maybe at its purest: in the community, with normal people of all ages who love the dance, and who aren't so concerned about making an impression.

Of course, being populated with dancers who aren't so concerned about making an impression does lend itself to some wildly varying "niveles de baile" (dance levels), mostly leaning toward the average, below average, and just-starting-out. However, I have never had so much fun, nor felt so comfortable and so relaxed at a milonga, maybe because the codes seemed more flexible here; or maybe because IT DIDN'T FEEL LIKE WORK, as in "working" the outfit and the hair, "working" the room with the eye contact. In fact, I would have been perfectly happy to chill out and watch, as I sat all bundled up in my bulky sweater, pants, and winter coat, but, hey, a milonga is a milongo, and I had my tango shoes on. One man, a friend of mine, asked me directly. Then my boyfriend invited another guy we had just met, who was sitting at our 8-top round table with his wife/partner, to dance with me. The rest of the time was spent getting to know people at the table, a rare occurence in a regular milonga.

Néstor La Vitola and Mónica Paz, both teachers here, suggested arriving between 9:00 and 9:15 p.m. to get a seat at one of the 9 or 10 tables. By 9:30, the place is usually packed to the gills.

This milonga is part of a the governement-sponsored and subsidized project called ProgramaCultural en Barrios, and is just one of the many cultural activities offered by the Ministerio de Cultura around town. This locale offers classes in everything from percussion to theater games to screenwriting, many of which are free-a-licious, always a bonus for a thrifty milonguera who needs to save her stash for aguas con gas at the milonga and another pair of shoes.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

CHATTIN' UP...Néstor La Vitola, Milonguero and Tango Teacher (and overall nice guy)

You've probably seen a tall, bald guy in El Beso's "Lujos" on Thursday nights or Saturday nights at Cachirulo on Saturday nights, but he would not have made much of an impression just sitting there, usually with his arms crossed across his chest, and watching the dancers as he takes sips from his glass of soda. He does not dance very often because "I only dance with the people I like dancing with," and, it turns out, there are only a handful who rate a tanda with him. After working in his regular job and then teaching tango a few nights a week, he prefers to choose partners who make dancing a pleasure rather than a chore. I'd wager, though, that he would make many a tangueras' night if he took a few more spins on the floor. The man dances like buttah, providing an all-too-brief respite from the real world, AND he's a gentleman! Bonus!

Recently, I took advantage of my budding friendship with Néstor, or "el gordo pelado" (the bald, chubby guy) as my BF calls him affectionately, by bribing him with FREE pizza and blog notoriety in exchange for some of his thoughts on the tango. Free food and a chance to talk about tango for a bit? I had him in the bag.

I asked him first about the abrazo (the embrace). What exactly is a "lindo abrazo"? Women hear it from guys all the time. Guys exchange notes on who has one and who doesn't. Néstor likens a good abrazo to what one experiences when hugging a good friend; it is an affectionate "entrega del cuerpo al otro" (the delivering over or surrendering of one's body to another). This gesture may come in many forms in tango, whether slung across his shoulder, wrapped across his back and placed firmly on or near where a woman's bra-overhang would be located, or in the middle of his back, laying gently upon his spine. Wherever the arm goes, it's all good, as long as he feels the woman giving herself over to him as her partner and the music, and as long as she is on her "eje" or axis, the imaginary line that stretches from the metatarsus through the top of the head.

The tango, he continues, is the melding of two bodies into one, "a little work of art." In general, he dances for pleasure, to the orchestras he likes, and with sole intention of enjoying himself as part of a tango couple. The need to "mostrarse" (put oneself on display or show oneself) is minimal, his dancing inspired from what springs from the inside, rather than influenced by what may or may not look good on the outside. His tango, from "afuera" (on or from the outside) appears deceptively simple, but his partners FEEL peace, excitement, warmth, protection, caring. It's delicious, intoxicating, and one notices oneself forgetting everything in his embrace. Given his connection with the music, he describes humbly his dancing as just doing what he does, without regard for steps or technique. In fact, if one asked him about a step he performed recently, he wouldn't be able to tell you, because he creates steps in the moment and forgets them.

He remembers tango being present everywhere and in everything when he was growing up. Hailing from "humble roots", he recalls sneaking into theaters or confiterias (cafés) with his friends to watch and listen to orchestras play by asking people leaving for cigarettes or for the night for their contraseñas, the entrance tickets allowing audience members to come and go as they please. Saturday nights were spent listening to a tango show on the radio with his family. His parents also met through the tango, and when he was 13, he joined his parents in their local milonga. These memories helped cultivate and inform his unique interpretation of the tango and the dance. He says, "One receives the feeling of the music. These are related to life experiences."

Years ago, an Argentine in D.C. say to me that a foreigner could never dance the tango. The tango, he said, is a lightpost, a barrio, all the specifics and the shadows of memories of a culture and family that are porteñan. I never forgot what this man said, mostly because being told, "You can't" forces me to do everything in my power to prove his or her assertion wrong. So, I asked Nestor, "Do we feel the music the same way? I am not an Argentine, and I did not live the same experiences as you." He answered, "It depends on each person's story." He paused and added, "You're very close to capturing that feeling."

I couldn't help but feel like Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs, looking like an elegantly-dressed rube in not-so-cheap Comme Il Faut shoes. "Quid pro quo, Dr. Lechter!"

Nothing. No more explanation. I guessed that "capturing" this feeling depends on living my experiences and creating more memories. "You fly back to tango class now, Claaaarice. Fly, fly,, fly, fly..."

There are many things one can feel from a women when dancing with her, he notes. However, while many extranjeros (foreigners) dance well technically, "I don't feel anything from them." They perform "pasos vacios" (empty steps), and one "cannot feel alone [dancing tango]. The feeling [generated] by the music is the most important aspect of the tango." Asked for his "orquestras preferidas" (favorite orchestras), he answered, "I like the more melodical orchestras; Calo, Di Sarli, Puliese. I find them inspirational and exciting." My personal faves, too.

Now, the dirt: In general, Néstor dances only for the pleasure of dancing and RARELY eroticizes the dance. Yeah, but, come on, now. Does he ever use the tango to get lucky? He answers frankly, "If I like her, I will use it to seduce her." "Oooooh," I thought, "slickster milonguero secrets!" If my BF, a self-professed "machito" (macho man - howls of laughter from me) calls his friend "muy seductor," I HAD to find out his secrets of milonguero seduction. "I may," he divulged, "use a closer embrace. I may play with her hands a little bit, perhaps touch her neck, but I will only do this if I'm getting a vibe from her." Whatta guy!

Néstor is available for individual lessons or group classes with Mónica Paz, a beautiful and statuesque Argentine tango dancer and teacher with years of experience in her own right and legs just about as long as I am tall. Both also provide lessons solo, so contact them directly for information. You can find out more about Néstor and Mónica on their cool website:

Sunday, July 15, 2007

CHATTIN' UP...Hector of Cachirulo on Milonga Seating Strategy

444 Maipu. Saturday night at Cachirulo, one of the best nights of tango in Buenos Aires. The tables are about 3/4 empty when we arrive at 6:30 p.m., our usual time, and there are a few couples taking advantage of the free space on the dance floor. The red curtain opens and closes, regulars and tourists, couples and singles come through and wait as Norma, the benevolent "anfitriona" (female host) exchanges the entrance ticket for a raffle ticket. Up for grabs in a few hours is the usual bottle of champagne. We don't stick around for that, as 9:00 p.m. is dinnertime for both of us (and goddess help the person that comes between me and my hungry stomach). Still, we manage to pack in our tangos, milongas, and valses with our usual clientele in a short amount of time. We're efficient that way.

Hector, always elegant in a suit and tie, his few strands of gray hair in place, greets us with arms outstretched, and he tells my partner to sit in his usual seat in the primera fila. Then he takes me by the hand and leads me to my seat in the primera fila, a few seats to the left of center. I had a seat right smack in the middle of the row for a long while, but, because the smoke from my neighbor was killing me, I requested a seat next to the non-smoking ladies a little farther down the row. Thankfully, it hasn't affected my dancing at all, as I'm still sought out. Now that the non-smoking ban is in effect, a move back to my original seat could be in the works, but then I would miss talking to my neighbors, which is part of the fun, so I may just stay where I am. Whichever spot I choose, though, that spot will be my regular seat. I will be able to count on that seat having my name written all over it even BEFORE I arrive. It's MINE, MY PRECIOUS...

I asked Hector about his organizational strategy, if, indeed, he had a strategy, as the seating arrangement causes a lot of consternation among many dancers, both Argentine and non-Argentine. A few Saturdays ago, I witnessed a tall blond woman, who was obviously not a local or Argentine, tell Hector that she didn't want to sit in the back. She wanted a seat in the primera fila, anywhere up front where she could be seen. Another woman I know would not pay the entrance fee unless she knew where she was going to be seated first. What gives, Hectorcito? Give a lady a good seat, will ya?

Oh, if it were only that simple, dear grasshopper...

Listen, he said, the primeras filas are reserved for A) those local regulars, who keep the food on the table YEAR-ROUND, and not for tourists who come in for a few weeks or months at a time; and B) those local regulars and regular foreign visitors who dance well. Those who fall in the second category include two fabulous Italian women who come here for 2-3 month dance stints, who come faithfully every Saturday during their stays, and who are very popular with the gentlemen.

He admits that that there are local regulars in these coveted seats who don't dance as well as some of the tourists, but they are at his milonga every Saturday night, don't cause any fuss, and are also popular with the milongueros. Then he pointed out another regular visitor from Italy, fresh off the plane and sitting one row back from the front row of seats. He said, "That woman dances very well, but I had to put her there because the women who usually sit in the front row will get angry and not come back if I give away their chairs." When those who have permanent seats leave, like my partner and I, Hector has them already reserved for those who come in with the second wave of dancers between 9:30-10:30-ish.

But what about the extranjeros/as who live here and who are STILL given crappy "ubicaciones" (locations, or, in this context, seats)? Well, that has more to do with the quality of their dancing than anything else. Frankly, they may just not make the grade. I use myself as an example. I used to get so frustrated with the seating politics. I was an OK dancer, AND I was young and pretty cute, for chrissake. That had to count for something. However, I found that I had to earn my spot by working on my dance, which was humbling. And they watched me improve, and with that improvement came my seat.

And they are probably watching you, too. I see Norma watching people's feet all the time at Cachirulo. It's sort of unnerving when you catch her doing it, but I understand now why she does it. Hector goes to El Beso on Thursday nights, not only for the ambiance, but also to watch the dancers, many of whom will be going to his milonga.

As I said in one of my first messages, it's about the bottom line. Popular male and female dancers draw more male and female dancers which, therefore, brings home the bacon. Mmmm...I love to hear that bacon sizzlin' myself, so one can hardly blame him.

The worst thing a woman can do when she is given a seat that's not to her liking is to get pissed off. At the very least, ask calmly and and respectfully, if there is any way the host would consider giving you a better seat. If he or she will not relent, then accept what is given to you, or leave (This second option will probably do more harm than good, by the way.) If you accept what is given to you week after week, month after month, and you take classes to improve your technique, and, still, the dancing gods do not bestow upon you the place which you feel you deserve and/or a night filled with wonderful tandas, then perhaps you should consider that this particular milonga is not for you. Perhaps the level of dancing is just too high for you at the moment, and you need to reconsider other milongas where the dance level will allow you to dance and have a good time...which is the whole point of coming here in the first place, right? Why be miserable?

Think about Darwin's survival of the fittest. The baddest-ass animal is going to get the first and the biggest bite. Cachirulo is a place where good dancers from all over the world, who care about the dance and not just steps, go to dance with good dancers who care about the same thing. This milonga is VERY difficult to break into for the average-to-below-than-average dancer who comes into town once a year and who is relatively unknown. It is even more difficult for the aforementioned dancer to break in if he or she is unattractive. BUT it would be a VERY good opportunity for a dancer to sit and watch the dancers, which is an education and a pleasure in itself. I learned a lot this way: feet placement, abrazo (embrace) styles, embellishments.

Please keep in mind that the seating arrangement you see at Cachirulo will probably be different from the arrangement at Canning, or El Beso, or La Viruta (Thanks, Elizabeth.). Each dueno (pronounced duenyo...can't figure out how to get the little doohickie that goes over "n") has his or her own criteria. So, as the Good Book says, the first will be last, the last will be first depending upon the milonga.

And that, my friends, is the law of a jungle called Cachirulo.

Friday, July 13, 2007


OK, so if it seems like I'm all over the place on this issue, it's because I'm struggling to understand the influence of THIS culture upon my body and my person, and I will probably grapple with these issues for a long while.

This is such a pressing issue for me for several reasons:

As a practicing psychotherapist, I have seen and continue to see women with body image distortions all the time, whether culturally-based or originating in childhood abuse, for example. I am driven to read and continue to deepen my understanding of why these distortions are so prevalent. Men have body distortions, too, but I think women have more at stake. Women are so identified with the body - childbearing, menstruation, breasts - but, I believe, from my tiny experience in Buenos Aires, women are so much more identified with the body HERE, or maybe I've just become super sensitive to how women are perceived. Good god, just turn on local TV and flip through Gente or some other celebrity-watching magazine, and you'll see what I mean.

My beef is not with the idea of having surgery; rather, it is with reasons WHY people go so willingly and with great enthusiasm under the knife. What is the ideal one tries to live up to? Our own ideal? But what exactly influences our image or images of the ideal? Most people want to look like someone else (yes, I'll have Julia's lips, Jennifer's hair, etc.) which may explain the reason why many people with plastic surgery end up looking the same to me.

BUT, if it makes one look and feel better, people say (including me), why the heck not? Everyone should have the freedom should do what they want with their bodies. True. I really DO believe this, though it may not sound like it. I have even been planning my future boob lift, doing a test-run in front of the bathroom mirror by shifting upward the skin above my breasts and gazing upon temporarily perky boobage. Then I think, geez louise, breasts are SUPPOSED to make their slow journey toward our knees as time goes by. But then I see Nacha Guevara in a local production of "The Graduate" with 25 year old boobs on her 60-ish year old body, and it makes me go hmmmm.... Something else that makes me go hmmmm is a Southeast Asian woman dying her hair blond and getting blue contacts (I have seen it. Life in L.A.), but WHY pick blond hair and blue eyes? Perhaps to seem more exotic than her normal Southeast Asian self by turning herself into a Eurasian? Freedom of choice? Do we really have a choice? If you CAN do it and WANT to do it, they why not? Would a white Argentine go have nose surgery to have a flatter, more "indigeno", nose like mine? If not, WHY not? I really don't know the answers, but I'm asking the questions...and I think the questions are just as complex and loaded as are the answers.

I also struggle with my own exoticism here. It's a label that the Argentines have given me. EXOTIC...not necessarily pretty or beautiful, but exotic. What does that mean? Exotic new plant species found on a recently discovered, uninhabited island? Like one of those women in a Gaugin painting? Beautiful, yet silently hanging on a wall? Exotic like one of those wierd colored dogs their creating in Japan? To me, this word smacks of different, other, "them" and not "us", a curiosity, a novelty-again something to be observed.

Then there's my shape. Well, I have short legs, an average sized bosom and don't really have a small waist, but here I am in pilates in mad pursuit of one. I consider myself an intelligent, discerning individual, not prone to give into cultural pressures, but I have inadvertently and inevitably, so it seems, been sucked in. What I do in response, once I snap out of my urge to fit in, is to open my closet to look at my crazy collection of vintage clothing from thrift shop days in the U.S. and tell my hairstylist to cut my hair really short. I become, once again, unabashedly, different, but in an organic way, in a manner which originates in me and not the culture. And then I feel great, whip up some peanut butter cookies, and go dance.

All of this has sort of made me re-evaluate and explore my own idea of femininity and what it means to be a woman. North Americans, for example, are not feminine, from the comments I have collected from Argentine men. We are too opinionated, too ready go after what we want, too independent, and too eager to EAT. I have heard from more than one Argentine woman that she doesn't eat at all or she eats very little, and they say it with pride. When I say I love to eat, they look at me like I have 3 heads. You mean, you don't have a salad for lunch?! What do you mean you eat those little cookie things that come with your coffee?!

Here's an interesting anecdote I heard from a North American male friend/tourist in Buenos Aires: He goes to the gym to work out and comments to an Argentine friend who is also working out there that the women are so slim in this country. The Argentine says it's because they don't eat, but, unfortunately, they're always in a bad mood. My friend asks which would he rather have: a slim woman who doesn't eat and is in a bad mood, or someone in a good mood, eats, and is not slim. Well, hands down the answer was a slim woman who doesn't eat and is in a bad mood.

I guess it's different for me, having lived here for a little over 2 years straight. In general, I don't hear all this from women who come here for tango fixes for weeks or several months, but, living here, moving around in the culture and listening to Argentines, I definitely think that the collective psyche, if you want to call it that, has more of an opportunity to impress powerful images and beliefs upon you. Perhaps I was more immune to it in the States because of my social group, a bunch of iconoclastic, outside-the-box thinkers, so these were non-issues for me. But move a person to a place where one just starting to form a social group, or, as a friend of mine put it, looking for one's tribe, where even WORDS have gender and gender roles are more clearly delineated (with tango, it becomes a little messier, and I'll be writing about this in the future), and I think one becomes a little bit more sensitive to this type of bombardment.

This is now THE END of Weight and the Milonguera, thankyouverymuch, but feel free to continue commenting.

Monday, July 09, 2007


Did I say something in my last blog entry about taking care of oneself? OK, OK, I completely let myself go this holiday weekend (July 9=Dia de Independencia) enduring the Patagonian winter weather in Bariloche, Argentina. Didn't dance tango at all, but froze my ass off and compensated for all the calories my body burned struggling to keep warm by relishing some killer hot chocolate at the confiteria in Del Turista, one of the biggest producers of chocolate in the area. LOVED IT!

And tomorrow...I pay...and the next day...and the next day....

Thanks so much to all who commented on my last blog entry on weight, and still others who commented about men and the milonga and about my strange obsession with cleanliness. It's so nice to know someone out there is reading my musings! I feel the love...

I just started reading Susan Bordo's collection of essays on the body, culture, and feminism called "Unbearable Weight," the perfect book for living in beauty and youth-obsessed Buenos Aires and for our theme on weight and the milonguera. Reading it has given me more food for thought.

I was involved in the theater and the art modeling world for a bit while I was still in the States. In both venues, as an actor and nude figure model, I was to be looked at. The audience or class saw every my dimpled thighs, my protruding belly when I was PMSing or not, my slightly sagging 30-something breasts, but never once did I feel as on display and objectified as I do here in Buenos Aires and, specifically, in the milongas. Isn't it strange that I should feel more self-conscious dancing with clothes on than contorting my naked body on the model stand? I can't even think about putting on a bikini here without grabbing a sarong to wrap around myself. At the pool, I try to figure out the best way to untie my sarong and get into the pool 2 feet away without exposing my belly. What is the deal?!?!? I have become a neurotic Argentine.

This transformation happened slowly. At 5 foot 3 and 1/2, I used to weigh a healthy 123 when I arrived 2 years ago. I worked out but didn't kill myself at the gym, ate healthily, but people still described me as "gordita" or slightly plump or fleshy. I never heard this from my theater friends or from artists back home. I just heard that I was beautiful, and I believed them. I even FELT beautiful, empowered, womanly.

Currently at 115, milonga people tell me that I'm "mas linda" now that I've lost weight, but I feel that have become a slave to the scale, a slave to 1/2 portions of everything, a slave to the damn mirror. Eating one medialuna has become like committing some mortal sin which must have its corresponding penance at the gym. Having dessert after a meal is to be restricted to only special occasions. Honestly, I'm the same size, but, as I wrote in my last entry, I rearranged the furniture a bit thanks to thrice weekly pilates sessions and 1/2 portions. Do I like myself with my new bod? To tell you the truth, yes. Working on my core, which one of you mentioned, I have now begun to see tiny, microscopic rips in my abdominal area. My thighs are really strong now, and I have better posture. It's rather nice. It's an accomplishment. So, yes, I do like myself and my new bod, which is a good thing. Do I like myself better? Not necessarily, as my new proportions have now forced upon me the responsibility and pressure of maintaining all this, which I accept, but, honest to god, sometimes I wonder if its worth it and why the hell I'm doing this (besides the obvious health aspects and the trickle-down benefits for my dancing).

I believe part of it is my wanting to fit into my new country, which is especially difficult for me since a) I look nothing like your typical North American person - aka - any of the Friends castmembers (I am Asian of the Filipino variety. Do they know where the Philippines is? No. As far as they know and care, it might as well be a small country attached at the hip to China. And how many people of color have appeared on Friends?); and b) I don't look portenan. So, if I am not identified with North America or the Philippines or Argentina, then with which cultural group do they identify me? I'm sort of the odd-ball person that says she's North American, but really she's got slanted eyes, so we'll just call her Chinese or Japanese or Korean. They're all in the same part of the world anyway.

Filipinos have a different body type. We are, in general, shortish and roundish. I happen to like my short, roundish brown body. I find it sensual, but compare me to a thin portenan, and I might as well be called overweight. I also refuse to grow my hair, which, to the dismay of my hair stylist, I have cut every 3 weeks within an inch of its life. He tells me every month that I need to little wisps on my neck, but I find them incredibly annoying because they grow out within a few days of being cut. According to him, my haircut, sliced and diced and sometimes standing on end, does not reflect the Argentine idea of femininity here, which is basically long. But these women end up looking the same to me. Their bodies look the same; their hair looks the same; their clothes look the same. No one stands out. To me, I don't see beauty; I see generica...except for maybe Moira Casan and Susana Gimenez, whom I see as examples of a new species of humanoid - part flesh, part botox, part silicon - both Argentine celebrities and obvious "hinchas" (fans) of the surgical knife.

Perhaps, I have been trained to see "beautiful" and "sexy" in another way. I love form, in all its shapes and sizes. Alberto Giacometti's pencil-thin figurative sculptures are quite striking and hauntingly beautiful, but I love the roundness of Botero's painted figures. Watch me in Crate and Barrel, and I gravitate toward roundish vases. I find round absolutely beautiful, and I don't think round necessarily means un-fit. I have overheard Argentine men say, "Oh, she's not pretty, but at least she's thin." Thin. Does thin mean healthy? Not necessarily. Thin means, well, thin with no noticable pockets or ripples of fat. Does thin make for a better dancer? Not necessarily. A thin woman who is not in physical condition can drag a man down just as much as an overweight woman can. Worse, a thin woman can feel absolutely weightless, in the negative sense that there's nothing there, no substance, no body. And what's tango without body?

I think Geraldine, a fabulous tango dancer whose last name escapes me, has a banging body. Not thin by any stretch of the imagination, but exuberantly curvy. (Thanks to the reader who mentioned her name in her comment!). But, while watching her dance one night a few years ago, an old milonguero and master teacher told me, "Baila bien, pero, ojo, no es flaca" (She dances well, but notice she isn't skinny). Wouldn't it have sufficed to have mentioned that she dances well? Why throw in the "flaca" business?

And look at our beautiful older actresses: Helen Mirren (Good god, she looked hot at the Academy Awards. She has got it ALL going on.), Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep. These are positively radiant, physically beautiful, and NOT FLACA! And the best part is that they're not trying to squeeze themselves into tiny Spandex or Lycra strangely-cut contraptions like some of the milongueras do here. What is THAT all about? I'm not saying that a 50 year old shouldn't rock a minidress, but not one that makes one look like she is trying to recapture the glory days of her youth. It becomes something sad, even tragic.

As I said in my last entry, each person should whip their body into its best shape, not the shape dictated by milongueros, or magazine ads, or cultures. I am, while still roundish and shortish, close to excellent shape for my body-type.
Sure, I have my trouble spots, but throw on a sleek black dress and some cute dance shoes, and I am good to go. I think sexy radiates from the confidence in knowing one's body enough to accentuate the positives and gloss over the slightly- less-than-positive. It comes from an ability to accept one's physical limitations, working with what one has right now, and being able to carry everything onto the dance floor of life with dignity and integrity.

Monday, July 02, 2007

WEIGHT AND THE MILONGUERA: The Good, The Bad, and The Fugly

OK, so did I have problems with my weight before I came to Buenos Aires? No. Did I have a problem with body image before deciding to live here? No more than the usual neuroses women have. Fast forward a few medialunas, plates o' pasta and "damn, people, don't Argentine women have hips?" later, and you've got yourself a weight and body obsession. How I long for the days when "Rubenesque" and cellulite were in style and accepted, when it was a GOOD thing for women to be, as Missy Elliot says, "big bone-ded". It meant you ATE. It meant you had money in the bank to feed yourself and your family.

So, is the Tango Goddess going to go off on a socio-economic rant? No, I'm talking about weight, people. I'm talking about poundage, kilitos, as Argentines say. It's pretty well-known that Argentine women are obsessed with their weight and how they look in general, which is cool. It's nice to take pride in oneself. The TG, herself, likes to groom, but, damn, those oversized sweats and flan look good sometimes.

I, thankfully, do not have a weight problem, but, you know, it takes effort now to maintain my weight now that I'm getting older. Like most women, I battle with those stubborn 2-3 pounds that give me that (loveable) muffin top when I wear my jeans. However, deciding to live in a society that is SO self-conscious (and I have lived LA and the DC area, so I KNOW self-consciousness), has turned my battle into a war (must be all the damn therapists here talking about making the unconscious conscious).

Now, what does weight have to do with the milonga? With tango? EVERYTHING, I have discovered. First of all, everyone--both men and women--are looking, studying, observing you the moment you walk into the milonga. They are looking at what you wear. Is your stomach hanging out? Are you busting out of your Lycra/Spandex dress? Got a new butt-lift? The milonga is a sensual world, and that means you are on display. You are to be looked at. And, hey, let's be're doing some looking yourself, aren'tcha?

Along with the emphasis on the visual, the milonga also emphasizes the kinesthetic. How do you move? How do you feel? You are overweight? You will most likely not be invited to dance if the milongueros do not know you and your dance. You have a body that is "cylindrical," meaning you don't have a waist? Dancing with you will be called a "mudanza" (moving a house). You're feeling puffy from the water weight before your period? Been eating too much asado? Your partner will feel it, too. You don't have energy to support your own weight because you don't work out? Your partner will be hating life supporting your weight during the tanda. I have heard these lines used by milongueros to describe women in the milonga, including me! I once told my dance teacher that I was about to get my period, and he groaned and said, "It's going to be a very difficult lesson." They notice when you've lost or gained a few kilos, and they have no qualms about telling you. It's harsh, man, and I absolutely hate it. Why can't we appreciate inner beauty? Haven't they seen those Dove "real beauty" campaigns?

Unfortunately, in life, it's all about the outer package, and no one can avoid making automatic rash judgements based on the sensual. Sure, you get to know someone and then realize what a fantastic individual that person is, but how much time does one spend in deep conversation on the dance floor? In one of my many arguments with milongueros about this weight theme, one will inevitably bring up the fact that I, too, have my wierd prejudices. For example, I absolutely cannot stand guys with doughy-sweaty palms. It's just gross. It's like sticking your hand in, well, skanky, sweaty dough. I also have a thing about really thin guys. I mean, what do I hold on to? Yes, it is a fact that the woman should not rely on the man completely to sustain her, but, still, I like to hang on to a little meat. It gives me a sense of containment and security (calling Dr. Freud).

Tango is, indeed, a very physical dance. There is very little between you and your partner's flesh. You feel his body. You feel his bones or belly, the 5 o-clock shadow he didn't bother to shave, his hands, his chest, and, yes, sometimes, his trouser snake. When he puts his arm around you, he feels every inch of you. That little bra overhang, the pleasant squishiness of your waist, the softness or roughness of your hand, the silicone breast implants you got 8 years ago that have hardened to cement, your weight. EVERYTHING.

That weight has an effect on his dancing which, in turn, has an effect on the dance you share with him, which, in turn, has an effect on you. I am not proposing everyone should be walking around like Kate Moss clones, god forbid. I am suggesting, however, that women take more responsibility for 1) their own dance and 2) their own bodies. Do yourself a favor and whip your body into it's best shape for yourself and for the sake of your own dance, your own life. Dancers train because it makes their dance better. Their muscles are supple. They have more stamina. They radiate energy and good health. And, yeah, sometimes, they lose weight. Sometimes, like me, they just redistribute their weight, rearrange the furniture a little bit. Skim off a little belly here; add a little booty there.

Dancers don't depend on their partners to make them dance, but dance WITH their partners, adding their own unique signature to the tanda they share. Tango has EVERYTHING to do with the physical and sensual, with how one takes care of and carries oneself. And THAT is beautiful, baby.