“Are you definitely coming down?” asked Tamara on Facebook “After 4 years we are finally going to meet. Yipppppppeeeeeeeeeee!”
It all started back in March 2007. Fred Buckley, Double Trouble (Cathy M. and Kathy K.) and I wrote a dance called ‘My Heart Won’t Let Go’ to a song by Canadian Country Singer Jake Mathews. Fred & I made a homespun video of the dance for YouTube which to our amazement received numerous hits (as of this date there have been over 187,000 hits) with lots of comments, some from dancers in Buenos Aires. A year later when my husband Michael and I were considering visiting BA the connection was made with Tamara but the actual reality did not come about until November 2013. A combination of traveling to one of the most visited cities in SA, meeting up with relatives whom my husband had never met and line dancing finally made the trip to Buenos Aires irresistible! Lack of Spanish added a little trepidation!
We had heard Buenos Aires described as the Paris of South America and on our first foray from our smart rental apartment we could see why. The European influence on the architecture is very obvious and impressive and as it was springtime everything was in full bloom including one of my favourite trees, the Jacaranda. It is a city made for walking, full of museums, art galleries, park squares, outdoor cafes and restaurants; there was so much to see and do.
However, my first great excitement had to be the workshop I was giving the day after we arrived organized by Tamara’s instructor Angeles Fernandez Madero. Angeles and her husband Bodi have one of the top country music bands in BA ‘MAX’ and have been playing professionally for 25 years. They headline the annual country music weekend festival in San Pedro, a must-go-to for local country music fans and others from as far afield as Uruguay. About six years ago Angeles started teaching very simple line dances to the country music fans and from that humble beginning she now has her own western dance studio (attached to her home) and teaches ten LD classes a week either in the studio or in the city of Buenos Aires itself. Aside from her fame as one of the singers in the band, everyone who spoke to me commented on her excellent instruction but maybe more importantly the sense that Angeles really cares about her dancers and “her classes are so much fun”, they added.
I was the first international instructor the local line dancers had ever encountered and Angeles had not been sure what the response would be but one class ended up being three classes and lots of excitement!! The line dance focus in BA is definitely on country music and western gear, the cowboy hats are indeed an integral part many of the dance routines. The perception of the outside world is that tango is King (or Queen!) in Argentina. However, Argentinian beef and leather goods are world renown and it is the South American cowboys, the Gauchos, who tend the huge cattle ranches. So the interest in everything western including clothes and music is not as strange as it might initially appear.
So I came prepared with dances to country music and my favourite chequered shirt! I also learnt a little bit of Spanish; I could manage to count to 8 (no further as I didn’t need to!), direct left, right, forward, back, half turn, quarter turn and that’s about it!!! Thankfully there were a few dancers who could speak some English and were happy to translate. Although I was not quite sure what the translation was when I periodically heard roars of laughter at something I said!!! Notwithstanding there were lots of smiles and enthusiasm and a real keenness to learn, from the beginners who had just been dancing for a few weeks to the more experienced who had been dancing for around 5 years. There were quite a few teenagers and also young parents with their children, in fact all age groups. The dancers particularly wanted to dance ‘My Heart Won’t Let Go’ with me; it is the equivalent of ‘Tush Push’ or ‘Black Coffee’ down there and is danced to alternative tracks as well as the original song.
Alec Hunt, the congenial coordinator of my next line dance experience, took me to downtown Buenos Aires to a tango studio where I met up with Cynthia Nadel and the Honky Tonks. I taught a few dances and again they wanted to dance ‘My Heart Won’t Let Go’ with me! I should add that both Angeles' group and Cynthia’s dance a number of other dances that I’ve written or co-written but it all started with the one! Cynthia is a delightful individual with the most wonderful smile; she is a self-confessed lover of western gear who learnt her first dances from videos. There are now three instructors who work with her and teach classes in and around the city then they and their dancers get together for a weekly session in an all-age disco! Yes, you heard me correctly. From 11-midnight they line dance in the disco and at the stroke of midnight Cynthia teaches an easy dance. The dancers (including dancers as young as eight) informed me that the disco-goers love the session....so maybe an idea for other instructors -- check out your local disco!
But I still had a couple of line dance experiences to go; I met up with a small Uruguayan line dance group in an Irish Pub in Montevideo for their monthly country music night and line dance! This is organized by the President of the Uruguayan CMA Raul Tejeiro for his music enjoyment and his wife Ana Elisa’s line dance pleasure! LD is in its infancy there but they have a very keen young instructor in Fabiana Rodriquez and enthusiastic dancers so I am sure it will grow.
The grande finale was the monthly line dance party in BA organized by Angeles. This is held in a large hall and includes a meal, performances by the band,(what a pleasure to watch them), lessons (courtesy of me that night, I tried ‘Lets Chill’ in Spanish but I have a feeling I might have said ‘Heat it Up’ instead!!) and line dancing on the outdoor patio under a clear sky full of stars. What a wonderful way to complete my line dance experiences in South America. I now have a whole new group of South American line dance friends and my Spanish vocabulary is expanding! Our line dance community is certainly also expanding, what a wonderful way to see the world.