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:

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