Posts Tagged ‘Salsa’

My trip to Tokyo was ill-timed for attending a milonga but not for taking a tango class.  This time, instead of a private lesson, I took a group class at the Tropicana bar/club located in the Roppongi Hills area in the Minato district of Tokyo.  It’s a high-rise, über-urban community that allows residents and visitors alike to shop, work, live and play all in one compact area. It is also where East meets West. According to my Japanese friends, the district is populated with the highest concentration of “foreigners” in Tokyo.

Walking along its crowded streets I wonder if I’m in Minato or Midtown Manhattan.  English is definitely the lingua franca here but it’s peppered with accents as colorful as the neon signs that bathe the streets in an eerie kind of sci-fi glow.  Roppongi Hills pulses to a world beat all its own so it’s the perfect place for bars and clubs.

It’s also the world beat of tango that brings me here. Tango, like Roppongi, is a small world. Connecting is easy when you have something like dance or foreignness in common.  Often times it’s six degrees of separation — sometimes, as in the tango world, it’s even less. In my case it was three degrees.

I made the first connection through Arlene Toth’s London Tango blog” http://londontango.wordpress.com/ and an introduction to Alberto Paz in New Orleans.   Alberto, http://www.planet-tango.com/, put me in touch with Yaeko, one of his former students here in Tokyo.  And Yaeko was kind enough to organize a group lesson for me in Tokyo.

We never did make that lesson – we both got lost in transportation, each of us waiting for the other at different exits of the metro one night.  I was so disappointed because I had really wanted the experience of a Japanese group lesson – just like in the movie Shall We Dance.  Dejected, I returned to my hotel.

What turned out to be bad timing for a dance lesson turned out to be good timing for friendship.  Undeterred by the mix-up, Yaeko called and invited me to dinner instead. We may have been too late to dance but we weren’t too late to eat.  That night we talked tango for three hours.  When I asked Yaeko why she danced tango, she gave me an answer that only milongeuros and milongeuras would fully understand.  “I didn’t choose tango,” she said.  “Tango chose me.”

Afraid that her passion would become all-consuming, she took some time off to study the violin.  I can understand that. Some times I question my own sanity when I find myself dancing salsa four or five nights a week.  Once or twice my friends who don’t dance have mentioned the word “intervention” in connection to my passion.

And so I too stop for a while and fill my evenings with more practical pursuits like yoga, or Pilates or cooking lessons. That is until I realize they are a poor substitute for the one thing that truly makes me happy – dance.

Over dinner Yaeko suggested an opportunity for another lesson with Luis Castro and Claudia Mendoza, who are guest instructors at the Club Tropicana.  The next night, we made sure to pick an easy meeting point and we connected with time to spare.  I joined Yaeko and her friends in a small group lesson, which turned out to be more like a master class.

Milonga was the dance we practiced that night, and the intricacy of the footwork discouraged me. I realized I had a long way to go.  I also realized that to reach this level I would have to put in some time and get serious instead of playing at it one lesson at a time.    Up till then I was learning tango with some waltz thrown in. Milonga was fast, fun and frustrating, and I would have been totally discouraged if it hadn’t been for Luis, Claudia and my fellow students encouraging me. Even the more advanced students had to work at some of the steps. We were in it together.  By the end of the evening I had managed to pick up a step or two and I felt more comfortable.

Afterward we celebrated our progress at a nearby restaurant. As an outsider I was amazed at how at ease I felt among this group of strangers. It was only for a couple of hours, but it felt like we’d been meeting there for years.

I suspect that this is due in part to how the tango world functions.  Dance is like owning a passport that grants you access to an amazing country.  And participating in tango is like visiting family. I had really thought that I missed my chance when I missed the first lesson but in truth, I couldn’t have planned things better.  The lesson at the Tropicana was a last minute suggestion. And so I’ve added a fifth lesson to my dance is life list.

Lesson #5: Dance is like life. Some things you just can’t plan…sometimes you just have to improvise. https://cafegirlchronicles.wordpress.com/2009/11/22/dance-is-life/




Photo: © iStockphoto.com/Oktay Ortakcioglu

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I used to think my dance lessons were all about timing, steps, musicality, and technique.   Lately I have come to realize that that there’s more too it than that.  The more I dance, the more I learn about life.  According to my teachers – dance is life.

And nowhere was this more apparent than on my recent trip to New Orleans where I managed to squeeze in a two-hour tango lesson with the very elegant, “man in black” – Alberto Paz.   He was gracious and patient, and I immediately felt at ease with him despite the usual stage fright I feel whenever I dance with someone for the fist time.

“There is no test,” he said. “You’re here to learn.”

Lesson #1: “Dance is like life. You have to understand that it’s not about pass/fail; it’s about getting the most out of it.”

Alberto was surprisingly complimentary at what little technique I had managed to pick up in Buenos Aires.  (Ah, me of little faith.)  He liked working with beginners, he explained, because there were few bad habits to correct.

Doubting myself – as usual – I told him that it was his excellent lead and clear direction that enabled me to dance well

“Catherine,” he said. “It’s a compliment so take it and just say thank you,” he said.

Lesson #2: Dance is like life. You have to give yourself a little credit.”

I decided that the next time someone paid me a compliment, I would own it.

I would say: “It’s mine. I worked for it.  I deserve it.”

As the lesson progressed, the steps started to feel different – they started to feel “right.”  Alberto’s small tweaks were making a big difference to my comfort level.   But just to be certain, I asked, after a particular sequence of moves, “Is this right?”

He tossed the question back at me, “Does it feel right to you?”

“Yes,” I said.  “I can definitely feel a difference.”

“Then, it’s right,” he said, then added: “Never ask a man his opinion. He’ll never tell you the truth. If you ask him if something looks good, he will always say yes.”

As naive as it sounds, it came as such a revelation that I actually asked Alberto if I could write that piece of wisdom down before I forgot it.

He laughed, put his arm around my shoulders, and gave them an affectionate squeeze . “But you already knew that!” he said.

Lesson #3: “Dance is like life, It’s about how you feel and not how someone else makes you feel.

Probably the hardest lesson of all was just learning to slow down.  Tango, more so than any other dance, requires the dancer to be in the moment, wait, and savor each step. However, I sometimes I approach tango as something “to do” rather than something “to dance.”  I want to make sure I do all of the steps whether I enjoy them or not.

As Alberto so eloquently put it as I rushed through my steps of our last tango together, “Slow down, you always have time to make a step, but once it is made you can never take it back.”

Lesson #4: “Dance is like life. Make every step count!



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Care for a bite?

Athough I have been in a dating no man’s land lately,  I have to confess that I haven’t been quite celibate.  I did unexpectedly stumble upon a tiny oasis in the non-dating desert one night this past summer.  It happened at a local salsa club here in Montreal.  I really didn’t feel like going, but a friend had asked me to teach him salsa in preparation for an upcoming wedding.

So thanks to him, I picked up my shoes, plucked up my courage, and headed for the club. It was crowded for a Monday night, but since it was early we caught a beginner group lesson.  Many dance clubs offer lessons at the beginning of the night, and it’s a good way to meet people and scope out potential dance partners for later in the evening.

What usually happens is this: a practice session is set up so that the men on the outside of the circle rotate every few patterns or sequences. The women are on the inside of the circle. It’s a good system because you’re able to dance with a lot of different people.

That evening, during a break, I noticed a young man staring at me.  We exchanged smiles and a slight greeting. Later, we danced a couple of times during the rotation.

After the group lesson, and few solo dances with my friend, I was ready to leave.  I was packing up my shoes when this young man approached me and struck up a conversation.  He was so natural about it and so at ease that after a few minutes I’d almost forgotten we had just met.  He was open and enthusiastic, and there was this sweetness about him.

Men in this younger age group don’t carry a lot of baggage.  Life hasn’t yet taught them to be cautious and calculating the way it does some of the men (and women) of my generation.  The course of the conversation with this young man was so refreshingly different that I couldn’t make up my mind if wanted to kiss him or pat him on the head.

We talked about travel, career and life in general.  His question about my three life goals caught me off guard.  I hadn’t thought about that since – well since I was his age really.  His short list was action oriented whereas mine was more philosophical.  He wanted to take time off to travel, start his own business and learn as much as he could about life.

My short list included dwelling in tranquility, having more time, spending it  wisely, and not squandering any opportunities along the way.   I’m not quite sure that he “got it” because when you’re young you always think you have more time.

Later, he offered to drive me home and I accepted.  As he pulled up in front of my building, he asked if I would like to go for a walk.  It was a balmy night, and the stars were out. I thought it would be a shame to waste such a night especially when it was one of the few nice nights we’d had all summer.  And so I accepted, but I had to do a few things first like change, use the bathroom and pick up some bottled water.

My building is like Fort Knox, with security cameras everywhere and a vigilant doorman.  So I felt comfortable inviting him up to wait for me while I did what I had to do. Max, my doorman, gave me a little smile as my guest signed in.  I returned his smile with an “It’s not what you think” look.

Except that wasn’t quite true, and I wondered if that look was meant more to convince me than Max.   I had never done anything quite like this before.  The good angel on my right shoulder whispered “Lead us not into temptation” while the fallen angel on my left shoulder shouted ”Yield to temptation! It may not pass your way again.”*

We never did go for a walk that night.  We ended up drinking iced tea on my balcony and wishing on all the stars we saw. I felt like I was back in high school.

Finally he leaned over and whispered, “I wish I could kiss you”

“You’re in luck,” I said, “because granting wishes is my specialty.”

All kinds of wishes came true that night.  He had wanted experience and got it.  As for me, it was a night well spent with someone I didn’t know from Adam.

*Robert A. Heinlein

Photo: © iStockphoto.com/oliverwolfson

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Laissez le bon temps rouler!Coming soon posts from New Orleans to Tokyo and a few places in between.

PS if any one knows of any good places to dance  Salsa or Tango in either of these cities, I would love to hear from you!

Photo: © iStockphoto.com/kiskamedia

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