Archive for the ‘Katrina’ Tag

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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“I hope to dance like you when I grow up”   Leave a comment

We have been in New Orleans now more time after hurricane Katrina hit than before. The way time squeezes through our mind resembles the way the flood waters came in and went leaving very little evidence of the biblical disaster that washed away lives, property and hopes during the hot and humid first half of September 2005.About six months ago I had a close encounter with my mortality that left me with the unsettling feeling of realizing how fragile life really is and how quickly, with the speed of light, the flame of life can go out. I don’t know if things happen for a reason, but I know that they happen. Deep rooted values, prejudices and attitudes have changed, like for example the hope that sooner or later people will give us public credit for all the wonderful things we have brought to their lives. The reality is that everyone is busy with their efforts to fulfill their own needs and desires.

Just the other day a wonderful young woman asked Valorie if she was the person who recently danced at an exhibition because she had recorded the dance and sent it to her mother. She was one of many young people having a good time at a home dance party. We know that on a good day, we can mix it up with the younger set, and go on like the energizer bunny while a lot of young feet, relieved of their shoes, throb laying on a couch.

The secret of course is that we know what we’re doing, and have worked very hard over the years to dance tango, milonga and vals cruzado, the way it has been danced in Buenos Aires since the 1940’s. As a matter of fact, we are too modest to remind us that we can teach anyone how to do it, and that we even have written a reference book on how it is done. We didn’t invent it, we learned it from authentic teachers, masters, only a handful of them, avoiding to fall by the mistaken notion that diversity makes up for better dancing. That’s why we don’t laugh nervously to hide the fact that we really don’t know why we’re doing what we just saw somebody else do. I know we don’t. Our happiness is because we love, respect and cherish the ritual of the tango and all the exhilaration that comes with it. And we’re ever so grateful that we have opportunities to dance, and that we can still dance.

I wonder what the lovely young girl would say to her mother when she sent her the video of our dancing. “I hope to dance like that when I grow up?” Of course not. I joke, I smile, and I say to myself, wouldn’t have been nice to document, archive and file away many of the wonderful memories pre-Katrina to be able to show it to those who came much later? To even remind us that no one can take away what we have danced. A poet once said, and I paraphrase, that a populace who doesn’t have myths is doomed to be frozen to death, but a community that is not aware of its past, myths and legends included, is already dead.

A couple of years ago, Buenos Aires cable channel Solo Tango commissioned a documentary about tango in New Orleans for broadcast in the Spring of 2007. They choose us to produce a living testimonial of the wonderful tango life we brought with us to the city of New Orleans in the year 2000. To show how things were before the levees breached after Katrina, flooding the city, and washing away lives, property and hopes.

Inspired by the candid question of the beautiful young girl, and excited by the desire of a group of youngsters to get involved in promoting tango activities in the region, we share this living testimony as a loving tribute to all those who never came back and also to those who have yet to come. To the ones who were part of those wonderful pre Katrina days, thanks for the memories.

Watch video in You Tube HERE

The black and gold house party   Leave a comment

House tango parties are a rarity in the largest cities of the Northeast, Midwest and West. The critical mass of dancers makes almost impossible to dance in a living room. Not so in the Deep South where the culture of tango dancing has not caught up with the global explosion. From Birmingham, to Tallahassee and all across the South, somebody’s home is likely to be the center of tango activities. Tango dancing visitors must go sometimes through extreme maneuvers to find out where the social gathering is, and wondering if, as strangers, they will be welcomed.  It seems difficult to keep the tango from getting tangled into the complex social mesh that has been called the Southern hospitality. Not so in New Orleans.

In the five years before Katrina we managed to get people to like coming out dancing to a variety of public places to dance tango, and by the time the waters flooded the city, New Orleans had a prominent presence in the national tango scene because of weekly Saturday night milongas, a couple of weekly practices and monthly dances, and an annual major festival.

In the five years after Katrina, there has been a slow recovery process where former students have taken upon themselves to offer possibilities to dance, at least once a week and a couple of times a month. But something is still missing , and it is probably somewhere where the receding waters finally went taking the life and joy of a city that care seemed to have forgotten.

That’s why we welcomed the open invitation to a Black and Gold house party at an East New Orleans home that has been rebuilt on a site that had remained submerged under 6 feet of water for weeks after the breaching of the levees. The actual invitation read, Aaron’s Black and Gold Milonga (pre-pre Saints season), 8:00 PM – till,  Aaron’s house. There’s a pool, you can bring anything that will make the party better!

The key word is “party.” And that is something we know how to do with flair and style around here. Grant you, we all had in common our dedication and personal way to love the tango, although there were a few acquaintances of the host, curious about this tango thing he talks about all the time. There is really nothing mysterious or secretive about what makes New Orleanians drive across the lake, cross the river, or get in a car and head out of the city on I-10. It is a simple formula, free food and free drinks, and of course, as host Aaron says, being with people one likes…

The Black and Gold house party New Orleans style

Posted August 16, 2010 by Alberto & Valorie in HOME, NEW ORLEANS FUN

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IT AIN’T DERE NO MORE   1 comment

We’ve been suffering from severe tango deprivation syndrome ever since the levees breached on the aftermath of hurricane Katrina and much of the tango community we had worked so hard to support was washed away by the floods that destroyed much of invisible New Orleans.

To the bright eyes of the visitors that have gradually returned in record numbers things look a lot better than they were. For the long time residents and residents in exile, there is an awareness about things that ain’t there no more, as well as a keen appreciation for institutions that link the present to a nostalgic past.

Our TDS gets ameliorated ever so often when people come to do bed and tango with us. We have an incredible beautiful home with a guest area that sooth the senses, a private dance parlor, and a location that’s just a hop and a skip away from glam Magazine Street, legendary New Orleans culinary temple Commander’s Palace, and the streetcar named St. Charles.

Whether our visitors are our house guests or just in town wanting to tango, we look forward to Friday nights because it includes an early dance session at an Uptown restaurant hosted by the Argentine Tango Club of Greater New Orleans, a late fried chicken dinner at Fiorella’s in the French Quarter, and a stroll to The Spotted Cat on Frenchmen Street in the Marigny.

Overflowing crowds always waiting to get in

Overflowing crowds always waiting to get in

All sorts of funky roots music can be heard there on a nightly basis. At least two bands perform each night – the first starting around 6 p.m. and the second about 9:30 p.m. Music ranging from blues to trad jazz to Latin and various permutations make the Cat a current favorite hang for many on the Frenchmen Street scene. On Fridays, we listen and dance to the Jazz Vipers. The venue is one of the few remaining places where you can hear jazz that sounds the way it was intended to be heard, on acoustic instruments in a small venue with super dirty floors.

On a given evening a parade of musical guests would sit with the Vipers

On a given evening a parade of musical guests would sit with the Vipers

Tonight, we had been looking forward to another fabulous Friday. First, newly married Tim and April from Maryland completed their week long sessions of private lessons and had their first real live tango dancing experience at Nirvana. Next, we joined Maria and Russell, fresh from their successful participation on the Tales of the Cocktail Conference and Exhibits, at Fiorella’s for fried chicken, fries and mashed potatoes. Finally we made our way to the Spotted Cat and almost had what it amounts to a serious case of the sadness. The side walk was deserted, and the music, well, it sounded Bourbon Street, amps and electronics included. As we stood there, we realized that The Spotted Cat ain’t there no more.

The sign at the door read Jimbeaux’s which is Jimbo’s in pig French, and the floors had been painted. The band stand was on the opposite side of the entrance and the bar was out of Abita Amber. It appears that as of April 30th the lease ran out and the landlord, Jimbeaux, decided to have a go at running the bar himself just in time for Jazzfest. The place got shut down during Jazzfest for numerous infractions about a day or two after it opened.

We first were introduced to the Spotted Cat by our friend Sabina whose sax playing husband Joe sat in many times with the Jazz Vipers. Gradually we became to appreciate the place as one of the most reliable live music joints on Frenchmen Street. We had to hang around for a while to grab one of those few seats by the window, while inching in for some space among the crowd of enthusiastic fabulous jitter-buggers.

The last time we were at the Spotted Cat was in March when Aaron and Rose visited from San Antonio. That night something especial happened to us. Half way through their set, the Jazz Vipers charged with their rendition of William Christopher Handy’s Saint Louis Blues. Before we realized it, we were on the small dance floor putting on one of the most inspired tango performances ever seeing at the Spotted Cat.

The memory of that unexpected last time at the Spotted Cat lingers on as the notes of Saint Louis Blues fill in the emptiness of a New Orleans institution that ain’t there no more.

The Jazz Vipers – St. Louis Blues

THE OTHER SHOE DROPETH   Leave a comment

I respect you in the morning and the check is in the mail have been forever two of the most quoted lies when it comes to highlight empty promises that people often make but have no intention to follow through.

Although it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone within spitting distance in this town, many of you readers from the blogosphere may appreciate getting a background about the lukewarm support of tango at Le Phare, how the romance came to a sudden end, the sadness began and a few things more.

The nice manager of the former Loft 523 seemed very eager to resurrect “the tango night.” He had heard so many tales about the pre Katrina tango night at the Loft, he had said when  we happened to walk by the place and see it open again after two years in the aftermath of Katrina. During that time we had been nurturing the emotional wounds caused by the bitterness and bile of a few former dancer/student/friends who for some evil reasons were “unhappy that we had returned to New Orleans.”

There was a  caveat though, and that was that the available day was Wednesday. Not good because there already was a very well attended dance in Baton Rouge which we liked to attend every now and then on Wednesdays. For the rest some do swing and others suck on sour grapes. But there was a core of dedicated dancers from the past, a number of friends who promised to respect us in the morning, and a handful of new bodies so we went ahead and got back into providing an opportunity for good tango dancing on September 17, 2008.

We managed to survive through the holiday season which this town takes very serious, focusing on family and friends, and even took in an unusual amount of thunderstorms and even a snow fall. The word lukewarm kept defining the support the community at large gave to arguably the best floor, the best ambiance, and the best music available to indulge in the intimacy and exhilaration of the tango. Yet, Mr. Nice Manager kept assuring us that all was good, that he enjoyed the small group, and that the rumors that a hip hop DJ wanted to move in on us were unfounded. Then came the last minute email, “it’s not you, it’s me.” The other shoe dropeth. The party line is that the finance people (nobody’s ever seen them, but they do exist, don’t they?) were not happy with the meager $150 tango dancers were dropping at the bar every Wednesday.

I have another theory. Two weeks ago as I approached the bar counter I was shocked hearing a most offensive racist statement regarding Mr. Nice Manager who was even closer to the wingnut than I was. Somehow the racial rant was about, and I paraphrase, how Mr. Nice Boy Manager got to have an education, a job and a good life because of the money that the federal government took away from the Mayflower families coffers midway through the twentieth century.

The “it’s not you, it’s me” email continued, “I regret to inform you that after my meeting today, the managing partners for Le Phare have decided that Tango Night isn’t what we’re looking for on a Wed. Night.”

I think that Mr. I Carry a Card That Proves That My Ancestors Arrived In The Mayflower got Mr. Nice Manager pissed. Thump, kaboon, and the tango got kicked out of Le Phare.

Posted April 1, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in HOME

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WE DO THE FAT TUESDAY   Leave a comment

The Rex Procession has been the highlight of Mardi Gras day since the Rex Organization was formed and first paraded in 1872. While there had been celebrations in many forms on Mardi Gras before that time, the Rex Parade gave a brilliant daytime focus to the festivities, and provided a perfect opportunity for Rex, King of Carnival, to greet his city and his subjects. The Rex Procession today is true to the long tradition of rich themes, elegant design, and floats built with traditional materials and designs. Most of Rex’s floats are built on old wooden wagons with wood-spoked wheels. In recent years the theme and design of the parade have been suggested in advance of the parade with the publication of Parade Bulletins, designed to give the public a glimpse of what will roll from the Rex Den on Mardi Gras day.

Themes for the Rex Parade historically have been inspired by the worlds of mythology, art, literature, and history, and draw on the rich images of ancient cultures and faraway lands.

The 2009 Parade Theme, “Spirits of Spring,” is true to that tradition. As New Orleans continues its process of renewal and rebirth, the 2009 Rex Procession illustrates the universal appeal of that theme, with beautiful images of Springtime and renewal. From Persephone to Poseidon to Eostre, ancient cultures created legends, myths, and festivals celebrating the arrival of Spring after the harsh winter. Flowers, butterflies, and bears awakening from hibernation—all are portrayed in this tribute to the renewing joys of Spring.

Our first order of the day is to pick a costume we will wear all day, then we head downtown to catch the end of the Rex parade on Canal Street and finally we walk around the French Quarter heading to our lunch destination at Pere Antoine on the corner of St. Ann and Royal. This year we have seen the crowds reach the level we were used to before Katrina. The sun reigned the entire day and we lived to do the Fat Tuesday once more.

Mardi Gras and the Rex parade

2008 UNA NOCHE DE GARUFA   Leave a comment

December 27, 2008

Tonight’s the Night! Una Noche de Garufa.

This is the time we all come together to break bread, and raise a glass to the passing year, and the year ahead, to each other for having survived another year to dance a tango!

9 PM – ???
Delish Buffet!
The Best Tango Music!
Midnight Champagne Toast!
Hats and Horns!
Woo Hoo!
Dress Up!
Una Noche de Garufa!
The Country Club of New Orleans

Listen to Una noche de garufa by Ricardo Tanturi

It was a balmy New Orleans winter night. Thankfully there was no fog to impair comings and goings to the Country Club of New Orleans. The grand old house was lighted up, a beacon for the revelers. La Mariposa had it all decked out. The tables were set, the banquet laid. Another year had passed, and we came to celebrate the tango and friends.

Though our ranks may be depleted by a heart breaker named Katrina, we put on our glad rags and smiles, and embraced one another.

Once a year we come together to break bread, to take a meal together, to lift a glass or two in the name of friendship and tango. Then tables and chairs are pushed back, and Tangoman cranks up the music. Dinner conversation gives way to the embrace moving us around the floor to the heartbeat of the tango.

Midnight comes, and free flowing Champagne uncorked. Toasts given to those gone, and to those here missing them; eyes shining and bright. We have lived another year to dance another tango.

Thank you one and all for making this first post Katrina Una Noche De Garufa possible again.

This year end tango party started in 2000 at Pierre Masperos. Then one was held at Antoines in the amazing Japanese Room. And the best ones were held on Octavia Street at The House of Tango. There was also a great one at The Latin American Club on Magazine Street. As ever, intrepid hosts and ring leaders Mariposa and Tangoman, planned, cleaned, shopped, hung decorations, cooked, organized, provided music (live and the best recorded tango), invited all to participate, and had a hell of a good time!

This year as in years past, together we laughed, we cried, we ate well, we drank deeply, we danced until our feet hurt!
Hope to to see everyone all through this coming year, and at its end we’ll come together again!

Con cariño y amistad,
La Mariposa is Valorie Hart and Alberto Paz is the Tangoman