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The Guest List   Leave a comment

The Guest List

Early in 1996 we dropped out of the corporate and high tech worlds to pursue our new found love affair with each other and the tango. Looking into the future we reckoned that we had at least twenty years of strong legs on which to dance our way around the world. Unknowingly we become the first full time couple teaching across the USA for a span of ten years on a continuous basis.

With still a few years left on that twenty year investment of good legs, we still dance and teach, but have become more grounded in our adopted city in the South, New Orleans. Unexpected events of life have made us stop, and look back, realizing that we had never set aside the time to rekindle the memories embedded in dozens of photo albums, VHS tapes, Digital 8 and Mini DV cassettes.

One photo in particular brought back memories of an aspect of our lives that we seldom talk about, or arguably brag about. The photo was of a sign that hung on the front gate of our Silicon Valley home. It was the first sign that welcomed those who entered our Planet Tango.

From 1996 to 2000, we served as the gateway into the Bay Area tango community for many well known and a few unknown artists… We promoted, translated for, and provided work opportunities to the initial wave of visiting dancers from Argentina. We were also innkeepers and house hosts to many of them.

Name Housed Provided work Comments
Orlando Paiva Yes Yes Deceased
Rodolfo Cieri Yes Yes Deceased
Maria Cieri Yes Yes
Pablo Ojeda Yes Yes
Beatriz Ojeda Yes Yes
Andrea Misse Yes Yes Deceased
Leandro Palou Yes Yes
Pablo Pugliese Yes Yes
Esther Pugliese Yes Yes Deceased
Jorge Nel Yes
Facundo Posadas Yes Yes
Kely Landam Yes Yes Deceased
Armando Orzuza Yes Yes
Daniella Arcuri Yes Yes
Marcos Cuestas Yes Yes
Guillermo Merlo Yes Yes
Fernanda Ghi Yes Yes
Nestor Ray Yes Deceased
Carlos Gavito Yes Deceased
Pupi Castello First and only exhibition ever in the USA
Graciela Gonzalez with Graciela Gonzalez

After our relocation to New Orleans in 2000, we continued the tradition of hosting well known artists at our House of Tango and yearly Tango Fests, until 2005…

Name Housed Provided work Comments
Nestor Ray Yes Yes Deceased
Patricia Garcia Yes Yes
Guillermina Quiroga Yes
Alberto Catala Yes
Armando Orzuza Yes
Daniella Arcuri Yes
Miriam Larici Yes Yes
Hugo Patyn Yes Yes
Orlando Paiva, Jr. Yes

Those were wonderful years of non-stop tango life, a period in time when we didn’t realize how important it was to help so many artists to break into the new world that the USA was to become for tango… With a few exceptions, we have never heard from most of them again. So we don’t know if they ever felt the love, dedication and generosity that was gifted to them.

For us, their walking through our doors and in and out of our lives constitutes a collage of experiences we’ll never forget for as long as we live…

Requiem for a Niño Bien   4 comments

Requiem for a Niño Bien

Like the mythical milongueros of the golden years, who went to the milongas for the sole purpose of taking a girl out for coffee afterwards, but went home alone till the day they died, there are people who believe that some dance organizers get “rich” with tango. We don’t know anyone who got rich but over the years we’ve known plenty who have faced hardships because of their love affair with the tango. If you pay attention, there are always signs that the demise of a milonga is probably underway. At the local level it begins when organizers begin to plead with their patrons to “buy a drink, tip the waitress,” or both. It is very difficult to find businesses that show an interest in tango beyond the amount of drinks they pour or the number of menu items they serve. On a much larger scale, many well established milongas in Buenos Aires that take place at social institutions find the executive committees not interested in the good of the tango, but in the money they make without investing a peso on the infrastructure.  According to Marina Gambier, who blogs for daily La Nacion, Tangocool, a nine year old milonga at Club Villa Malcom, created as a challenging alternative at the time for many young people who were looking for a more relaxed tango with less behavior and dress codes, held a farewell party, with tears and some anger on Friday, March 22, 2013. In this case the signs were evident long before the outcome. Villa Malcolm‘s bathrooms were notorious for their filth. They were never cleaned on the days when there was dancing, and sometimes during summer classes, the air conditioning was not turned on.

On, Thursday, April 4, 2013, milonga Niño Bien became another casualty on the downward slope of the current forty year cycle of the tango. Organizer Luis Calvo opened the milonga in 1998 at the legendary Centro Region Leonesa hall on Humberto Primo 1462. By early 2000 the Niño Bien milonga had replaced the legendary Club Almagro as the place where the old and young dancing elite gathered to excel in front of a growing foreign audience. It was the place to be, to see and to be seen on Thursday nights. And during low tourist season the locals were able to enjoy the magnificent salon with a polished wooden floor during low tourist season. The milonga organizers were getting hit on several fronts: the high cost of rent and taxes, tourists who came with fewer tangodollars, and locals who were broke because of inflation and a bad economy. It’s not known how teachers are faring. Today, with more and more Europeans “teaching” and people learning to dance from You Tube, there are worse dancers than ever on the floor. This discourages the locals even more from going out dancing. The only ones who seem to be doing well are the tango for export dinner/show venues which are raking in up to 50% of the 1.5 billion tourist tango pesos, .

We first visited Niño Bien in 1999 while escorting two ladies from Hawaii as part of a guided tango tour of Buenos Aires. The hall was a lot bigger than Almagro. It was rectangular instead of square, and negotiating the dance floor was quite an eye opener for the traveling ladies. We returned six years later during our Katrina exile tour, and we became part of a group with a reserved table on Thursday nights. At the time we didn’t know whether we’d ever be able to return home to New Orleans, nor where we’d end up hanging up our shoes for the evening. To this day we crack  a smile when we talk to our friends about fancy dancing on a crowded floor. “If people could see us now,” sometimes we whispered in between songs, “actually doing all the footwork we try to teach them in those cavernous American halls.” But today, a Facebook post read,  “I can’t believe it. Maipu 444, Villa Malcolm and now Niño Bien,” and we gasped, looking at each other as if trying to hold on to a memory that wanted to escape like the last breath of air that precedes death.

Click anywhere on the picture above to play, or HERE to watch on You Tube

We are very grateful for our time on this earth when we could set foot in Club Almagro, Akarense, and Niño Bien. We hope to have enough relevance left to be able to tell those who want to know, what it was like to be alive and dancing during those glorious years at the turn of the century.

A special thanks to you Valorie for being the inspiration to be myself.

This is how the Centro Region Leonesa salon looked like on the last night of the milonga Niño bien

Photo courtesy of Gerard Roche, a.k.a. Gerrysan

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Posted April 4, 2013 by Alberto & Valorie in PEOPLE

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At What Point?   Leave a comment

At What Point

Few people understand that embracing the tango as a way of life and as a way to make a living has exposed us to the full range of human emotions, virtues and shortcomings. We learned to understand that the way some people behave has an impact, among other things, on our livelihood… and that those who defame know exactly what they are doing.

Before settling where we are now, we traveled the length and width of this country bringing the gift of tango to countless individuals and fledgling communities.We had the unique fortune of being mentored by wise people from whom we learned that when we hear gossip about us, we need to take the high road… When we hear that people criticizes us, we must fly higher… When someone is out to harm us, we soar above the frail remembering that rats are afraid of heights.

But still, at what point someone says, “No, I have known him, her, or them for over 13 years, 13 months, or13 weeks and I have never heard him, her, or them say that, I have never seen him, her, or them do that, and I have never met anybody that supports what you’re saying,” and sets in motion the cleansing and rejection of toxic gossip and innuendo that keep a community from growing healthy?

Posted April 22, 2012 by Alberto & Valorie in PEOPLE

It ain’t there no more   Leave a comment

Sam and Kathy were part of the regular crowd at Le chat noir on St. Charles Ave where on Tuesday night the downtown dancers met for a few hours to massacre the tango.

Dispense the evocative image but consider that in 2000 we were newly arrived hardcore militants from the mecca of tango in North America, and not used to see middle age women wearing tight corsets, skirts with slits up to their navels periodically landing on their rear ends on the checkered tile floor.

They sure made a splash of lace, feathers, and white flesh as they struggled to get up while Oblivion was playing on the speakers.

The deal with Sam and Kathie was that they owned the Canal Guesthouse on Canal St. just a skip and a jump from the French Quarter.

The building was reported to have been a bordello way before David Vitter was of age to become a client.

We heard that the premium ticket to the Guesthouse was an invitation to watch the Endymion parade on the weekend prior to Mardi Gras. By February of 2001 we had already made our mark in the New Orleans tango scene, and we got invited to watch Endymion. That was a big deal, being on the balcony perched over the parade route experiencing for the first time the full shock effect of the mega krewe that Endymion is famous for.

The years went by and we didn’t see them around anymore, except maybe once or twice a year at some fund raising event. Then Katrina hit the city and the levees breached, and the city flooded, and life as we had gotten fond of enjoying came to an end.

We spent the next three years dealing with survivor’s guilt, providing shelter for dear friends who lost their homes, and giving one on one moral and spiritual support to many who were lost to the world of sanity and walked with an empty gaze in their eyes.

Gradually we returned to the sparse dancing events others were trying to keep going, and one day we read on a flier that Sam and Kathy were opening Canal Place, a mini dance studio on a former flooded garage at one end of the Guesthouse‘s ground floor.

One of our former dancers started holding classes there, and soon we suggested that he go ahead and moved his Friday milonga there.

Breaking a time honored tradition, we went out on New Year’s Eve fearing the bullets falling from the sky, and received 2010 at the Canal Place. It was a very important moment because we got to reunite with strayed friends.

We held classes there for a while, and the day I was released from the hospital after being rushed there because of a severe cause of anemia, the phone rang around 9:30 pm and when I picked it up, the Friday crowd at the milonga had stopped dancing and were singing happy birthday to me. That was April 16, 2010.

Of all the places we have danced in New Orleans, not counting the ones we hosted, the Canal Place was the most nurturing and non partisan place to dance tango. The long benches on one side instead of segregated tables perhaps discouraged the gossiping, evil eyes and tongue slashing that are so toxic to tango dancing.

So imagine how heartbroken I was the other day when driving by the 1900 block of Canal Street  I noticed something odd. There was an empty lot where I had become used to see the Canal Guesthouse.

The state of Louisiana wants to build a couple of hospitals on historic grounds on what New Orleanians call Mid City, and the plans have been on a fast track despite alternative proposals and citizens’s protests. Earlier this year, the process of expropriation went into full speed, but somehow it seemed that we had been in a deep state of denial.

As I kept heading to the foot of Canal Street, I found myself mentally giving thanks to Sam and Kathy for all the memorable opportunities we had to replenish our life memories with wonderful experiences, and channeling Benny Grunch.

Photos courtesy of Canal Guesthouse
Aerial photo by Jackson Hill courtesy of Inside the Footprint Blogspot

This girl writes beautifully   8 comments

The way some people act can make us all proud to be in the tango, or truly ashamed of that…

About a month after I suffered a cardiac arrest on the way to customs at the Calgary airport, the fog that had followed the initial total darkness in my brain, began to dissipate. The panic of falling asleep for fear of not waking up gradually faded away. Physically there was no residual damage whatsoever, but the emotional scars from the incident have changed the way I deal with unpleasant people.

One day I ran into an exchange between two women on our local tango list. One had forwarded a series of long posts describing in tabloid like detail the confidential information Valorie had been sharing during the ordeal, including very intimate family information regarding my status. The other’s one line response was This girl writes beautifully, and then she went on writing that she had forgotten something she wanted to gossip about.

This girl was Sandra Miller. She is the host I never got to meet in person.

According to her partner Ralph Bennetsen, she is a former Public Relations executive he took under his wing and helped to found the Epicurean Tango Society early in 2010. I know, because I spent almost a year of weekly telephone calls mentoring, advising, and teaching her how to be an honest promoter and a successful member of an established tango community. During that time, I sent her CDs with music for her milongas, Mardi Gras masks, and even Chicory Coffee. Such was the relationship we had developed. It seemed the right thing to do, to share the knowledge and to support a total neophyte trying to fit into an existing community. We have done many times over the years, and I don’t regret doing that with her.

Almost a month passed after my return from Calgary, when I realized that I had not heard from Sandra and Ralph. I wrote expressing my gratitude to both of them for being there to support and comfort Valorie and my daughter, and hoping that they had understood that for Valorie and Gina, the person lying on a hospital bed was a husband and a father, and that their only concern in mind was to make sure he received the right medical treatment and that he could return home safely.

I was also very happy that they had resumed their activities with success, and wished them both a very special Merry Christmas and a Happy and Very Prosperous New Year.

I wrote to Sandra and Ralph a number of times in the span of two months. They have 66 copies of our Gotta Tango books that we had shipped to Calgary to sell there, as per her request, along with a couple of dozens of Mardi Gras masks Sandra planned to sell at the Epicurean Tango Society‘s Mardi Gras party in March 2011. We wanted to a figure out a way to dispose of our books.

It has been been four and a half months, and we have not heard or read a word from either one of them. I asked for ideas and suggestions to many people I trust. I was shell shocked by the responses! Here is a sample.

– Sorry because she took a traumatic event in your life and used it to promote herself in tango. How pathetic is that? It hurts me too much to see people like Sandra use tango so selfishly to promote themselves.

– Whatever Sandra was to you before you went to Calgary, she obviously isn’t a friend to you now…

– I guess you can never tell about people by appearances. Sorry to hear that you’re having to deal with this kind of person.

– This lady sounded like a piece of work from the start. Asking Valorie to do a class while you were in intensive care? She is crazy. It sounds like you are not going to get your books back… And, tough if the post upsets her. She was your friend. She’s acting like SHE got screwed. Like you guys just didn’t keep your commitment because of some silly reason. Sorry that you have to deal with people like that.

– Unbelievable…..she was using your tragedy to gain “friends” for marketing purposes. She’s gone from my friends list. Sorry this happened to you 😦

– I did find it ‘weird’ that after your misfortune she asked to be my ‘friend’ on fb. I thought a friend of yours would be a friend of mine. I will ‘unfriend’ her immediately.

I’m very disappointed because I trusted and believed that these two were honest, ethical and decent people. I can’t figure out the reason for their behavior, what’s in their minds, or why they’ve chosen to act in such an uncivilized manner.

The odyssey tested my family’s resilience and determination in making sure I had the proper care, and that my return home was safely planned. I know that their focus on the real crisis is what saved my life. There is no doubt that they did the right thing.

I’m grateful for having lived to talk about it, and for getting to see what life might have been if I hadn’t come back.

So, the time has come to bring closure to this unfortunate chapter. Sandra Miller had the choice of acting like decent, honest, and responsible adults do. Both her and Ralph seem to have chosen to act the ways dishonest people do, and that makes me sad and sorry. We are writing off 66 books that we sell for $25. each, and the cost of two dozen Mardi Gras masks. I would have preferred to tell them to keep them for all their troubles. Instead, we feel our trust violated, and our property stolen.

The way some people act can make us all proud to be in the tango. This girl writes beautifully, but her dishonesty and lack of ethics are a real shame and she doesn’t deserve to be part of the tango world we live in.

A night Chicago will never forget   2 comments

Not long ago, tango in the US was one happily dysfunctional family. We were young and wild and we loved to visit all our brothers, sisters, and cousins at a time when tango traveling was not yet an option for the grand majority. We had begun the life of the traveling teachers in 1996 going up and down the state of California.

In 1998, some tango in-laws had opened the only salon in the Midwest devoted exclusively to the promotion and preservation of the Argentine tango. A series of life circumstances led them to work very hard to renovate and decorate a 4,000 sq ft studio on a property where an A&P supermarket once existed, before a laser tag game room, and a martial arts studio did business at the premises.

One balmy Chicago night, precisely Saturday, June 6, 1998 we culminated a week long series of workshops with a memorable tango party at Tango nada mas. As weeks turned into months, and months turned into years, the family grew apart, feuds developed, and people went their separate ways creating their own micro communities, shoving the welcome signs in the attic of oblivion.

As time went by, many memories vanished, including the overwhelming elegance of Tango Nada Mas, the carefully selected tango music, and the way we felt for these members of our tango family for whom we had the most sincere affection and friendship making their happiness ours.

Then, just the other day, looking for something else, it was such a enormous surprise to find a videotape containing some great memories of our Chicago visit that we had long forgotten, but after watching it, we’re almost sure that Chicago will never forget… Just in case, here is reminder.

A Night Chicago Will Never forget video

Kissing her, he wept   1 comment

The life of a tango dancer revolves around dancing but when the legs claudicate and the chest aches because the heart is not getting the blood it needs, the life of a tango dancer can become a pathetic facsimile of a day without sunshine, or the frustrating experience of a one legged man at an ass kicking contest.

For him the monthly Sunday dance had become a palliative during the unsettling days, weeks and months that followed the realization that years of smoking and Big Macs had occluded the femoral arteries in both legs, and had clogged the coronaries that feed the heart with slimy plaque, the kind that eventually stops the heart from getting blood.

He sat more tandas than he danced, and he mostly danced with his accommodating, faithful and unselfish life partner. People had begun to talk about him in the past time, saying kind things, greeting him with special affection, and reminding the newcomers about his past achievements and accomplishments.

That’s why it came as a surprise when he came in walking with that unmistakable porteño gait, smiling and greeting everyone before taking a seat at the table always reserved for him and his lovely partner. Not sooner than the milonga tanda ended and the jazzy cortina helped clear the floor, the trademark sound of the Carlos Di Sarli orchestra filled the cavernous salon with the sounds of El ingeniero.

There he was, holding her hand and heading for the floor. He stood up straight, embraced her and took a deliberate step to his left bringing her with him in his embrace. Holding her on axis, he closed with his right leg, switched axis while feeling her pristine and tasteful decoration down below. He then took two forward steps clearly marking the crossing of her feet, left over right. Two more steps, an arrepentida and she was interrupting her turn to his right with a quick rock step. As she changed her direction putting her weight on her right leg, she crossed her left foot and they glided to a resolution to end the phrase. Once again they went through the smooth salida but now he locked his left foot behind his right on the third step sending her on a quick diagonal to his left.

As she stepped forward initiating a turn to his left, he quickly brought his right leg behind his left and then opened with his left to his marking a change of her direction to his right. On the ensuing forward ocho, he stepped forward with his right displacing her and initiating an enrosque. As she went around him, he did two weight changes by locking one foot behind the other one, and stepped with his right on her forward step displacing her again and finishing the right turn with the classic 6-7-8 medio giro.

The second song of the tanda started and once again the elegant salida got them going around the floor again. This time when reaching the cruzada position he crossed his legs, left foot behind right and positioned himself on her left side. He then brought her around him to his left in what looked like a circular salida. As she opened with her right leg he advanced with his right to displace her, and as they turned to his left, he exited the turn in cross feet receiving her outside cross, or back step. This was definitely an unexpected turn of events. The friends of old times may have had flashes of the times when seeing them dance the night away was as expected as rice and beans on Mondays.

As the forth song of the tanda ended, someone exclaimed, “Pretty amazing to see them dance this way and then to hear that he had his heart worked on just 5 days ago! His doctor would die if he new what he was doing way too soon! But, the tango dancer only lives because of his tango.” That may have explained why after they finished the tanda he lowered his head and kissing her very softly, he wept through the long cortina.

Posted June 26, 2010 by Alberto & Valorie in PEOPLE

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Celebrate Tango Week NYC, July 19th – 26th, 2009 was proclaimed The Official NYC Argentine Tango Week by Mayor Bloomberg & the City of New York ! This year’s Elegant Black & White Tango Ball was the place to see and be seen on Saturday July 25th at Stepping Out Studios 37 W 26th Street. By the time the clock stroke midnight, a capacity crowd was primed for some amusing entertainment after having danced for a solid two hours non stop.


Sid Grant and Gayle Madeira as the Tin Man and Dorothy

The 3rd USA Tango Champions! Alberto Paz and Valorie Hart

Guillermina Quiroga and Junior Cervila

THE STAGE COMPETITION+   Leave a comment

The Stage Tango competition had four finalists who performed their individual routines for the judges and the audience. Here is the complete presentation from the judges vantage point.


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The judges made their decision, and their decision is final, however you can make your own and decide which couple is your winner. Click on the Leave a comment link at the top of the post and write 1, 2, 3 or 4.

Posted July 24, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in Out of town, PEOPLE


Our ride to Manhattan was smooth and short. As we went in, we were given our registration papers. A number was affixed on my back, lucky 120. Then we were directed to the warm up room at Stepping Out Studios, 9 stories high on West 26th Street between 6th and Broadway. There was a conglomerate of nervous smiles, polite greetings, and last minute rehearsals.

Master of Ceremonies Sidney Grant went through the logistics and one of the participants suggested that all the dancers form a circle and hold hands as a symbol of the camaraderie that tango brings into people’s lives. The twelve couples ready to compete were,

120 Valorie Hart & Alberto Paz USA/USA
121 Colleen Liddie & Richard Isaacs Canada/USA
122 Jean Fung & Mark Greenglass USA/USA
123 Emily Vartanian & Pawel Cheda USA/Poland
124 Antoinette Tomai & Johnny Tablada USA/USA
125 Catherine Nicodemo & Edmund Fu USA/USA
126 Chino Hara & Yoshi Adachi Japan/Japan
127 Suki Shorer & Ramzi Edlibi USA/USA
128 Amy Zhang & Barry Black USA/USA
129 Selena & Alberto Hoyos USA/USA
130 Sarah La rocca & Lexa Rosean USA/USA
131 Ninah Beliavsky & Joseph Samaha USA/France

Antoinette and Johnny

Antoinette and Johnny

Valorie greets Amy

Valorie greets Amy

Pawel and Emily

Pawel and Emily

Valorie with Alberto Hoyos from Orlando, FL

Valorie with Alberto Hoyos from Orlando, FL

The format of the competition called for three rounds of four couples each dancing three tangos. DJ Carlos Quiroga spun Di Sarli, Biagi and Malerba pieces selected by judges Torres and Cervila.

But first the participants were introduced to the audience and had a warm up dance.


Video courtesy of RoseUnderMyWindow

At this point we haven’t been able to secure videos of our own round, but here is a sample of what it looked like had you been there.


128 Amy Zheng & Barry Black – USA/USA, 129 Selena & Alberto Hoyos – USA/USA, 130 Sarah La rocca & Lexa Rosean – USA/USA, 131 Ninah Beliavsky & Joseph Samaha – USA/FRANCE

The Judging Panel would be judging 4 different areas: musicality, circulation, walking style and the consistency of the embrace

The 2009 Official Judges: , Junior Cervila, Guillermina Quiroga and Jorge Torres

After the rounds were danced, the judges retired to deliberate and when they came back we heard the names of those who would return the next day. We did it. Our happiness was beyond description. We were among the finalists who will be dancing for the championship Friday night at Stepping Out Studios in Manhattan.

The hope endures, and the dream lives on.

2009 Salon Finalists

120 Valorie Hart & Alberto Paz USA/USA
123 Emily Vartanian & Pawel Cheda USA/Poland
124 Antoinette Tomai & Johnny Tablada USA/USA
125 Catherine Nicodemo & Edmund Fu USA/USA
128 Amy Zhang & Barry Black USA/USA
129 Selena & Alberto Hoyos USA/USA
130 Sarah La rocca & Lexa Rosean USA/USA
131 Ninah Beliavsky & Joseph Samaha USA/France