An Argentine Affair

The world knows that Argentina is beautiful. Its European-influenced architecture is stupendous, the arts and theaters are of international repute, the fashion is sophisticated, and its inhabitants are simply gorgeous. In Buenos Aires, porte–os (citizens of Buenos Aires) work hard and play even harder. They go out and party until dawn, take breakfast and then go to work. I truly wonder if they are biologically blessed with a gene that allows them to go through life without sleeping, or if it is because of their infamous coffee that they can sustain such stamina. Surely enough, Salsa has found its way down to this party town known by some as the "Paris of the South." Even though Salsa has a relatively short history there, porte–os are already yearning to dance on the clavŽ.

After the performances with Liz Paredes and her dance company at the Sala Pablo Picaso Del Complejo La Plaza.

Argentine dance instructor, Liz Paredes, was so inspired by New York Style Mambo when she visited the Big Apple that she felt compelled to bring this sensation to her country, along with the support of fellow instructor, Jacqueline Casadidio. When I accompanied New York maestro Jimmy Anton to Buenos Aires last August to give a week-long intensive workshop on New York Style Mambo, I was extremely impressed by the intelligence and attentiveness of the dancers. On the night of the orientation which took place at Club Sals—n, Jimmy gave a long speech about the history of the clavŽ to a crowd of over 300. During the entire time, every single soul in the club stood still and listened astutely. Their concentration level was so high I felt like we were in a university lecture hall instead of a Salsa club. Argentines are not only interested in the steps and technique of Mambo, but also in its evolution and style. Throughout the course of the workshops, the students were remarkably perceptive and asked insightful questions. I recognized these were the children of the great Tango, and since most of the females were ballet trained at a tender age, they were fast learners and exceptionally poised and graceful. Words like "spastic" or "awkward" do not exist in their vocabulary. They did not take it lightly when it came to studying the theory of the clavŽ ö all the classes were conducted with live clavŽ and congas as background music, which was highly enjoyable. Coming from New York, I took much for granted. Through working with this shrewd group of students, I realized that the beauty of Mambo comes from a complex period of development and seasoning. Until you understand its roots and rhythms, you cannot truly fathom its ultimate beatitude.

As usual, Jimmy impressed everyone with his intricate shines and his elegant style of dancing. His command of knowledge about Mambo gained everyoneâs respect. He brought with him years of teaching and performing experience, spoke eloquently, and danced with gusto. Furthermore, coming from South America (Peru) and a soccer fan himself, Argentines feel very much akin to him. As for myself, I abandoned all self-consciousness and survived with my "Italo-Spanglish" shamelessly during the workshops. There is no better learning experience, in terms of linguistics and tutorship, since I had to think twice as carefully before I regurgitated the words out of my mouth while they patiently digested my every piece of information. It was a great pleasure to work with such a high-quality class, and through teaching them I learned to be a better student.

The biggest challenge for us was living on less than 5 hours sleep every night. For a person who loves to sleep and play, Buenos Aires can be a tough town to endure. Over there, people do not go out until 2 or 3AM. Every night we went out club hopping with the local instructors in the wee hours of the morning and danced until the crack of dawn. A few hours later in the morning we had to be ready for the workshops. Had it not been for the invigorating cafŽ chico, we could never have done it 8 days in a row. It makes me laugh every time I remember the night I was dozing off in the Caribbean Club when Jimmy suddenly said we had to perform in 5 minutes flat. I barely had time to compose myself when "Timbalero" came on and he threw me onto the dance floor. It was the most spontaneous floor show I have done, and when you are performing (somewhat deliriously) at 4 oâclock in the morning, you just have to pray that your body will not fail you. Fortunately the enthusiasm of the crowd brought me back to life and before I knew it, the song was over. When we made our way back to our spot we were mortified to find our organizer, Liz Paredes, in tears. My initial thought was that our performance was disastrous since I was practically dancing in my sleep, until she muttered emotionally "El baile es muy lindo," and we all cracked up.

Besides the club performances, we also performed at the Sala Pablo Picaso Del Complejo La Plaza as special guests in the Primero Encuentro Nacional de Salsa en Buenos Aires along with other remarkable Argentine dance troupes. In addition to Salsa, the program included a variety of Latin dance numbers including Samba, Afro-Cuban, Cha-cha, Rumba, and of course, the Tango. Jimmy and I did his signature Cha-cha routine "El Pito" and a Mambo to Tito Puenteâs "Picadillo." The audience received us with open arms and the organizers treated us royally. It was an unforgettable evening about sharing and mutual appreciation that holds a special place in my heart.

Any free time we had was spent sightseeing and eating. Like most tourists, we visited the notorious Recoleta Cemetary where the remains of Evita lay; the colorful pedestrian walk, Caminito, whose name is made famous by Carlos Gardelâs famous Tango; the Casa Rosada, which has been the palace for numerous Argentine presidents; and of course the ravishing Tango clubs in bohemian San Telmo. Argentina boasts of its prime cattle, their beef is so delicious that even their MacDonaldâs and Wendyâs burgers are of excellent quality. There are also superb pastas since most of the immigrants in Argentina came from Italy. Even at 5AM on a cold winterâs morning, you can still find a number of cafeterias open or people selling succulent parrilladas (grilled meat) on the streets. What can I say? This city caters to night owls and serious party animals who must not go hungry after a long night of wild dancing.

Argentina is undoubtedly a country with a lust for life. Its beauty not only lies on the surface, but is also reflected by the intellect and the grace of its people from inside out. It has all the potential and ingredients to create a prominent Salsa arena. With a natural eye for the aesthetics and passion for dancing, Salsa will surely flourish in style. We brought from New York the message of the clavŽ, and took home with us the most precious memories.

Originally posted on in 1999 by Winsome Lee