The costume designer

It’s late Monday morning and the phone doesn’t stop ringing. If I had expected to find a quiet atelier with a designer absorbed in creative work, I was completely mistaken. Linda Ayre runs her own small business as a designer for custom dance costumes — and she is thus a multi-tasker. While we are talking, she is by turns dealing with an important client overseas, the building manager who insists on changing the locks that same afternoon, and some annoying internet issues — obstacles that everyone who runs their own operation has to deal with. Our conversation is frequently interrupted because of some urgent business or another, but every time she zooms right back to where we left off.

“I have to wear many different hats,” she says with a laugh when I ask her how she manages to stay on top of it all. “It’s the nature of what I do!” This applies not only to the way she runs her daily multifaceted business, but also to the nature of her profession. Her clients — Argentine tango teachers and performers, as well as Latin ballroom dancers — usually come to her with certain ideas. For example, they may need a costume for a showcase and the piece has to portray a certain feeling. Linda loves working with such special requirements, and she asks to hear the music. Only then — being a dancer herself — can she envision what the costume has to express and how it needs to flow. She likes women to look elegantly seductive, but not sleazy, and she likes styles that to seem to be showing more skin. “I prefer designing dresses that show legs and I always emphasize the importance of showing movement,” she says.

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Inferno Tango

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Scene from ‘Y dance?’ by dancers of ‘Conmigo Connect’. Photo by Rachel Davidman.

When Rachel Davidman and Giulio Perrone met on a flight last year from Tucson to Oakland, something between them clicked – in a creative, artistic sense. Rachel is an Argentine tango and salsa dancer; Guilio a theater playwright, designer, and director. “He was reading this book about Quantum Theory and explained to me how he wants to transform the idea of modern physics into a theater play,” says Rachel. For her part she shared with him her lifelong passion for dance both as a social dancer and as an occasional choreographer. They discovered very similar underlying experiences in dance and theater, and by the time they got off the plane, they felt they had established a deep connection.

A few months later she received a call from him, asking her if she wanted to be part of the upcoming experimental theater festival Diasporas as a tango dancer, and if she would like to put together a piece with her own group of dancers. “I was thrilled,” recalls Rachel. “It was something I’ve always wanted to do!” She carefully selected a handful of people with whom she personally enjoyed dancing and whom she trusted to share her ideas of performing an improvised piece in a rather unusual setting. “I was looking for dancers who are open-minded rather than perfectionists.”

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Claudio’s heels

What was it with these heels? Yes, what exactly was it that so mesmerized the audience about Claudio’s heels? He was wearing these tango high-heels just like all the other followers on the dance floor at the recent USA Tango Championship — except that Claudio Marcelo Vidal is a male dancer in high-heels. And that, apparently, was more remarkable than anything else, even for people in ‘oh-so-open-minded’ San Francisco.

Let’s get this straight: the fact that men are wearing high-heels in tango is nothing new. Even the Mundial de Tango in Buenos Aires, with its rather conservative rules, has accepted same-sex competitors since 2013, a fact which, of course, entails men in the role of followers dancing in high-heels.

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Highlights of the 2016 Argentine Tango USA Championship

At the end there was an astonished silence when the announcement was made that two couples had tied for first place. It was a nerve-wracking moment. There was disbelief on people’s faces followed by an incredulous murmur from the audience. The two couples who had been called back — Diego Gorostiaga and Kelly Lettieri from New York, and Adam Cornett and Tilia Kimm from Boston — stepped confidently but tensely onto the competition floor. After third place had gone to Derek Tang and Rachell Lin from Los Angeles both couples had been hoping to be called as second or first place winners, but now they were asked to dance yet another round so that the judges could come to a final decision. The music began again and both couples danced with even more verve than before. Watching from the sidelines, it was impossible to tell who would grab the winner’s title. But this time it didn’t take the judges long to make their decision.

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Tango comes to you

An interview with Christy Cote who celebrates her 20th anniversary as a tango teacher

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A most popular tango teacher: Christy Cote (Photo by Shell Jiang)

In January 1996 Christy Cote made a decision that would change her life forever: she quit her daytime job and became a fulltime professional Argentine tango teacher. She had fallen for tango when the legendary “Forever Tango” show arrived in San Francisco in 1995. She was completely captivated and ushered to see every single show for free for 56 performances after that. Twenty years later Christy Cote is now one of the most popular and successful tango instructors in the country. Among her prestigious mentors and partners she can count tango legend Carlos Gavito and stars like Pampa Cortes, Facundo Posadas, Daniel Lapadula and Eduardo Saucedo.

While San Francisco remains her home base, she has taught and performed all across the USA and even in Buenos Aires. She has appeared repeatedly as a teacher and performer at the world’s premier Argentine tango festival, CITA in Buenos Aires. She is one of the founders as well as a performer and choreographer of the all-female tango performance group “Tango Con*Fusion.” She has created her own teaching method, which has been published by Dance Vision, together with instructional videos, and has recently started her own “Associate Teachers Program.” She is also the creator of a highly successful series of Tango Boot Camps.

I was lucky enough to catch her at the “Tango USA Championship” while she was waiting to be called to the judges’ panel, and this is what she revealed about her long and astonishing career:

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Tango for girls only

Tango moves

The first time I attended a local milonga in Albany I noticed a small group of young girls sharing a table. They stood out because they were so much younger than most of the other dancers at the event that night. They also appeared very well-behaved for people their age and were presumably well educated. With keen eyes and obvious know-how they assessed what was happening on the dance floor and seemed very eager to get a chance to show off their skills. However, nobody asked them to dance, and their interest in what was going on around them grew visibly less. Finally one of them got up and approached the host, hands on hips: “Mister Magee, what did you tell them?” she asked briskly. A bit taken aback he replied: “I told them to ask you to dance before they had a drink and not after!” That didn’t go down well with the young ladies — nor had it with the gentlemen. They didn’t want to be told when and how they could ask the women to dance, any more than the girls appreciated the well-intended suggestion, since they ended up not dancing all night.

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Festival Mania

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The pressure is on. Which tango festivals should I attend? My e-mail gets flooded every day with invitations. So does my Facebook page. Everybody I know has either lately been to one or is planning to go to one. Tango Festival in Istanbul, Tango Festival in Albuquerque, Tango Marathon in Boston, another Tango Marathon in San Francisco coming up next month, Montreal Loves Tango (well, missed that one!), and then the exotic Tango Festival in Puerto Rico, offering milongas on the beach! Last month Austin and Denver, and don’t forget to register for the one in San Diego on New Year’s Eve!

One of my long-time friends and favorite dance partners confided that he attends one festival per month. He has made a special arrangement with his employer to work overtime during three weeks of the month so he can take off during one week to travel to a tango festival. Since this eats quite a bit into his expense budget, he has found ways to travel cheaply: He stays at low-budget motels outside town and he offers his services as a taxi dancer for workshops where a shortage of leaders is a common problem.

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Glamour in the Province

On a recent hot summer night an almost surreal scene presents itself in the upstate New York hamlet of Annandale-on-Hudson. Nestled among the tall trees and wide meadows of Bard College — a small exclusive private liberal arts and science school — appears a huge construction called the Spiegeltent (translated as “Mirror Tent”). This large traveling tent, constructed of wood and canvas and decorated with mirrors and stained glass, arrives every summer at this otherwise quiet and isolated campus, and becomes the stylish setting for exotic cabaret shows, live Jazz concerts, and dance events.

From early July through mid-August the Spiegeltent — a more familiar sight throughout Europe as well as in cities such as Las Vegas and San Francisco where it was used by Teatro ZinZanni — draws an astonishing number of people, not only from nearby smaller towns and surrounding rural areas, but also from as far away as Massachusetts and New York City. As it does tonight.

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“The Real Deal”

I’ve been dancing Argentine Tango for about six years, and all this time the music and the orchestras have remained somewhat of a mystery to me. I do understand what it takes to be a good Tango dancer and what to look for when I watch someone perform. I’m far from perfect myself, but I have learned how to walk, how to follow, how to embrace my partner, and how to look reasonably good on the dance floor. I like to express myself to the music and I do have my favorite composers, Carlos di Sarli and Osvaldo Pugliese among them, but my knowledge of Tango music hardly extends past the standard pieces that are played by DJs at most milongas. I’m embarrassed to say that after all this time my knowledge of Tango music is still very basic. There are pieces that make me want to get up and dance, and there are others that don’t speak to me at all, and that I don’t mind sitting out. At most milongas where the usual standard repertoire of Tango music is played I have to admit that I’m quite happy and content to listen and dance to the same “canned” pieces over and over again.

However, I can’t help but be amazed at how the vibe changes when a live orchestra plays. This is how it should be, I then think to myself. This is how it was in the early days of Tango when there was no recorded music, and instead the orchestras were at the center of things and were the real stars of Tango. If you’ve ever watched the YouTube video of Juan D’Arienzo conducting his orchestra (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Z5qEKxfmm8) you’ll understand what I mean.

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125 Years of Tango

National Museum of Dance, Saratoga Springs
National Museum of Dance, Saratoga Springs

In the northeastern part of New York State, a three and a half hour drive north of New York City and about halfway to the Canadian border, is Saratoga Springs. Once a popular health resort for the upper class with natural springs and expensive spas, it is nowadays still famous for its world-class horse races which draw a different kind of crowd to this distinguished town every summer, causing the locals to leave their lavish mansions as a playground to the moneyed aristocracy where they can relax after an exciting day at the race track and indulge in the comfort of an old world style atmosphere.

What many people don’t know is that Saratoga Springs is also the home of the National Museum of Dance. It is located in a historic building formerly known as the Washington Bathhouse in Saratoga Spa State Park, just outside town. The neo-classic building houses a substantial archive of photographs, videos, costumes and other artifacts, and in its galleries are three permanent exhibits on display as well as yearly rotating exhibits.

The most recent one is dedicated to Argentine Tango and it is called “125 years of Tango – A Walk through the History of the Dance”.

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