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Friday, 14 December 2012

Bailar en una baldosa

Wouldn't it be wonderful for social dancing in tango communities if more teachers taught their students the skills required for compact dancing.

Some people tend towards extravagant movements during a milonga, perhaps inspired by the latest flashy performance spotted on Youtube.  Trouble is, they seem to forget that they're not on a stage!   Whether they have the requisite skills for those flamboyant movements is another story altogether. The unfortunate result can resemble a dodgem-car.

Thanks Jantango for sharing these video clips of "dancing on a tile".


Sunday, 18 November 2012

The dance-floor’s full - the music must be good!

I’ve sometimes heard this comment at milongas when feeling grumpy about the music and unmotivated to dance.  Lots of dancers are on the floor, but most are not dancing to the music.  OK, I realise that we all hear music a bit differently.  But in truth, I can see little connection between their movement and the music being played. Besides, the music is not calling me to dance.

So what could have gone wrong?  Humans naturally want to move to dance music, unless that innate response has been inhibited.  (Take a look at Tangotherapist’s blogs on The psychology of musicality & don’t miss the baby dancing!).  Perhaps something else could be amiss. In any young tango community (outside of the Rio de la Plata region) most dancers will come to tango unfamiliar with the music. So their teachers have a major responsibility to consistently expose them to it.  I mean quality tango music composed and arranged for social dancing (here are some useful guides) – not tango music intended just for listening (eg. Astor Piazzolla – marvellous music, but not for social dancing).  

Newcomers to tango are like empty vessels ready to be filled.  So if they are fed a diet of high quality danceable tango music, their tastes are nurtured, their tango growth thrives.  The music and the social dance form start to make sense - they form a coherent unit.  More and more dancers will feel the music calling them to respond in certain ways.  They may experience the wonderful union of the music, their partner and the other couples on the dance-floor, and may unexpectedly encounter that fleeting state of tango bliss.  And then they’ll want more!  But if quality dance music - one of the key ingredients - is lacking, then it’s not likely to happen.  Dancers may persist and continue to seek out that elusive tango high, but will leave disappointed.  

Those of us in young tango communities who choose to DJ bear a significant responsibility.  We can make or break a milonga with our musical choices.  In the long term, DJs can influence the musical tastes of dancers in that community.  When DJing, I love sharing high quality danceable gems of the Golden Age of tango.  I get great satisfaction from seeing dancers responding to the call of the music.  Yet DJing is not a task to be undertaken lightly.  At a milonga a good DJ chooses music suitable to the dancers, reads & influences peoples’ emotions and helps shape the event.  Take a look at Ms Hedgehog’s DJ questionnaire Was that good? and think about your milonga experiences.  

Teachers and DJs – I beg of you, don’t ignore an important aspect your role in young tango communities – that of educating and nurturing the tastes of developing tango dancers.  

Note. In the interests of full disclosure, I admit that this plea contains a degree of self-interest: at milongas I’d love to enjoy the music and dance!


Sunday, 4 November 2012

How do you like your cabeceo?

Curiously, the cabeceo seems to provoke strong reactions in some people.  Yet, it can be an elegant way of showing an interest in dancing with a particular person, and allowing them real choice in the matter.  With increased personal confidence in tango and a little practice, it becomes quite easy.  Of course, that doesn't mean that you'll always get your own way.  After all, it's about choice - for all involved!

Perhaps people who reject the cabeceo feel a little threatened by it somehow.  Don't so many of us simply avoid the things we don't understand?

In Adelaide, it's delightful to see an increasing number of people getting the hang of the cabeceo.  Some use it with apparent ease, while others are still honing their skills and may experience awkward moments.

How do you like your cabeceo?  At the beginning of a tanda which you would like to dance to, do you ...
  1. continue talking with the person next to you and then wonder why you're not dancing to that wonderful music?
  2. approach the person, and indicate non-verbally that you'd like to dance with her/him?
  3. focus on a person for a short while, so that they have a chance to register your interest.  If they don't appear interested, you direct your gaze at a different potential partner?
  4. look around the salon; your gaze alighting briefly on potential partners of interest, until one of them responds positively?
  5. stare intently at a person, regardless of whether they have clearly ignored your gaze. Continue to stare at her/him, in the hope of wearing down their defences?
Which method works for you?  What strategies permit real choice with no pressure?  Do you have other cabeceo suggestions?


Wednesday, 24 October 2012

'Comme il faut' celebrates 5 years

Tango Salón Adelaide’s monthly milonga celebrated its 5th birthday on Sunday to a large and enthusiastic crowd. We’d like to thank all the dancers from Adelaide, elsewhere in Australia, and overseas who have supported Comme il faut over the years and embraced the vision that we had in 2007. That is, to have a milonga in Adelaide that as much as possible resembled the traditional milongas in Buenos Aires that we have come to love. That meant a focus on four elements that we believe make a good milonga.

We chose a 1920s golf club, with a salon that, on entering, immediately takes us back to the early Golden Age of tango. In Buenos Aires we observed some of the best hosts – Oscar & Lucia, Dany & Lucy – and came to appreciate their welcoming nature, the importance of finding seats for people and setting the general tone of the milonga. Pat modelled her DJing on the likes of Dany Borelli, Carlos Rey, and Mario Orlando, presenting the best of Golden Age music. Finally, our experience of regularly dancing in the traditional milongas such as El Maipú and Lujos, taught us the value of the cabeceo and good floorcraft.

It continues to be a great pleasure for us to see the response from local dancers sharing our love of the music, enjoying the venue, and dancing in the best tradition of social tango.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Happy Birthday, Alberto Podestá!

This living legend of tango turns 82 today and he's still singing to appreciative audiences in Buenos Aires.

Di Sarli recruited him at the tender age of 18 and later he also went on to sing with Pedro Laurenz - two of the great orquestas of the Golden Age.  For more about his interesting career, read this interview in Todotango where you can also listen to a number of his hits.  Bill recently forwarded this lovely Youtube video of a recent sub-titled interview with the great man.

When it comes to romantic tangos and valses, he's a master.  Don't Sebastian and Maria Ines capture the romance of Junto a tu corazon beautifully in this performance?


Saturday, 25 August 2012

Good intentions?

Does the following scenario sound familiar?  I'll bet it's happening in a milonga near you - wherever you may be!

A beginner dancer musters up the courage to attend a milonga after taking just a few lessons. She's thinking of watching & learning, not expecting to dance. Yet before long, an older experienced dancer approaches and invites her to dance.

Throughout the tanda he proceeds to share his advice with her, so that she may know how to do giros, volcadas, leg-wraps, etc. Being a tango novice, she politely accepts all his comments, including his urgent exhortations to go into the cross or now do a forward ocho.  In the process, she's allowed to stumble around, feeling inadequate.  I'm sure that you get the picture. You've seen it all before!

We've all been rank beginners.  I dare say that most ladies have been assisted in our journey by a more experienced dancer taking us on to the dance-floor for our first real tango.  But how helpful is the approach experienced by our novice?

It will come as no surprise that her dancing does not improve.  At the end of the tanda, she leaves the dance-floor with her confidence shaken.

One might well ask: What were his intentions?

What could our experienced dancer have done differently?


Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Milonga seating - what's the fuss?

At milongas, 
A:  do you like to sit at a table with friends & acquaintances, male & female?
B:  perhaps you simply like to share a table for two with your partner?
C:  do you prefer the singles seating arrangement, where men sit separately from the ladies?

We all have our preferences, and they may change according to various circumstances.  But are we aware of the implications of the choice we make?  As for milonga organisers, one would hope that they understand the dynamics which are created with their chosen seating arrangements.

Option A - the sociable arrangement - is popular here in Australia.  It allows people to chat freely and at length with those sharing their table.  When the mood takes them, they get up and dance together.  Sounds pretty relaxed, doesn't it?

But consider the following scenario: 
A wonderful tanda of Calo beckons and someone (let's call him Trevor) from one table wants to dance with Jane from another table.  But she is engrossed in conversation with friends.  She is showing no interest in dancing, despite the great music.
  And to make matters worse, the tables crowded together mean that she has her back to him.

What does he do?  What would be socially acceptable?  What would you do?

Well, Trevor wastes no time.  He approaches Jane's table, interrupts the conversation and asks her to dance.  Taken by surprise, she doesn't know what to do.  She hadn't been wanting to dance with Trevor, or with anyone for the moment.  But now she's put on the spot.  Refuse or be nice and go through the motions.

No, the problem was not entirely due to the seating layout, but it is all too common with Option A.

Option C, on the other hand, is an arrangement entirely aimed at facilitating dancing.  It allows milonga attendees to signal their availability and intention clearly to potential partners.  Obvious body language will indicate whether they're interested in dancing.  The rules of engagement are clear-cut.  Nobody is imposed upon.  Socialising with those sitting nearby is not precluded, but the main objective is dancing.

Does Option C seem a tad daunting?  Perhaps a compromise with Option A would suit?  Tables can be arranged around the dance-floor enabling friends to socialise or focus on the dancing.  When the music inspires, it's relatively easy to scan the milonga for a potential partner.

Choosing Option B sends a pretty clear message of exclusivity of the couple.  Enough said.

Sometimes the venue imposes limitations to seating possibilities.  However, milonga organisers should be mindful of the social dynamics, including potential difficulties which they may be creating unintentionally.  As for the attendees, good manners are good manners wherever you may be.


Sunday, 15 July 2012

Not a rehearsal

Lately we’ve been scratching our heads about a strange phenomenon.  Some people spend their precious free time and their hard-earned money taking tango lessons.  Then they spend more time and money attending practicas in order to improve their skills.  But when it comes to milongas they are rarely spotted. 

Are they perfecting their walk and ochos before inflicting them on a partner at a milonga? Are they waiting to complete their latest course of yoga or pilates to improve their core-strength and their balance? Are they aiming to nail those navigation skills so as to avoid the possibility of collisions on the dance-floor? Might they be just a teency bit scared of the milonga and all that it entails?

If you identify with this at all, then allow me to share a few words of advice. Take a deep breath and just do it!  Do it as often as possible.  Your skills and your confidence will improve by putting yourself into the thick of it.  Practicas are useful, but they don’t prepare you for the cut and thrust of a milonga, especially one with limited real estate.  

Life’s not a rehearsal. Don’t waste another minute!


Sunday, 8 July 2012

Aníbal Troilo aka Pichuco aka El Gordo

Anibal Troilo maestro of the bandoneon, composer and orchestra leader was born 11 July 1914.  So significant was Troilo that a law was passed by the Congreso de la Nacion Argentina in 2005 to commemorate this date henceforth as El Dia Nacional del Bandoneon.

It has been said that Troilo was perhaps slightly less technically proficient than some other bandoneonistas.  However, his sensitive interpretations of many great tangos, which he played with such delicacy and soul are unforgettable. They give me goose bumps. Just watch him - his impassive facial expression belies the emotion he conveys to us.  And listen to him, especially the very last part of Suerte loca on Tango & Chaos

If you want to hear more of Troilo, treat yourself to these tandas

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Imagine if ...

While chatting with Pedro Sanchez, he made the strong statement that it is the women who set the standards at the milonga. In other words, the women determine the behaviours which they are prepared to tolerate from the men who want to dance with them. Take a moment to think about that and the implications.
How would milongas change if the more experienced female dancers were not prepared to accept invitations from those men who are guilty of one or more of the following …
·         blatantly interrupting conversations to invite them to dance
·         pushing and pulling them around the dance-floor
·         often causing collisions
·         ignoring their personal hygiene
·         attending the milonga in the same clothes they would wear to a barbecue?
Imagine a milonga where all the men ….
·         use the cabeceo, allowing women some real choice
·         communicate the lead subtly with their bodies
·         protect their partner and respect other dancers on the floor
·         make an effort with their personal hygiene
·         dress for a special occasion - the milonga.
Is this just a fantasy? Is it achievable? When all is said and done, I believe that it comes down to self-respect and personal standards.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

There's a woman in your arms!

A few weeks ago, a chance encounter with Pedro Sanchez at La Nacional led to a number of meetings and animated conversations with him. He’s a milonguero, a lovely man, a teacher, a bit of a philosopher and uncompromising in his personal values.

Some of his strong beliefs about tango, the dance, were simple, yet quite profound:
When you have a woman in your arms in a milonga, your bodies are touching. You are cheek to cheek. What do you feel?  There should be a desire to give yourself to your partner, to share with her the emotion that you feel coming from the music, and to communicate your intentions with your body. All very intimate & intense stuff.  (Of course, we must remember that it’s only for the duration of a tanda, otherwise life would get unnecessarily complicated!)
By accepting this description of the dance, a few thoughts inevitably follow:
> Embrace a partner like you would a lover, otherwise why dance with him/her? 
> Why dance with people you simply don’t want to dance with? 
> There’s no room for self-importance. We need to be open to the other person. 
> Personal hygiene and dressing well show regard for your dance partners. 
> Do you want to simply ‘dance’, or do you want to move with passion?
And now for a few final words from Pedro:

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Survival of the fittest

Buenos Aires milonga organisers are facing significant challenges due to closure of major venues, paired with high inflation. Last night while walking from the Subte to La Nacional, one of the local dancers was remarking that a popular Friday night milonga at La Leonesa (Entre tango y tango) was discontinued, effective this week. This was due to further increases in the venue hire. She had heard that this would have raised the milonga entrada to a ridiculous 40 pesos, quite beyond the pale for locals.  However, later through a reliable contact at La Nacional she discovered that the crisis at La Leonesa had been averted, presumably through a compromise. In fact, the organisers of Entre tango y tango were distributing discount vouchers at La Nacional to boost their flagging attendances - not the only good milonga which has experienced an attendance downturn due to forced increases in entry costs.

So what are the characteristics of some of the current survivors of these tough times? Lucy and Dany, organisers of the successful El Maipu (Monday nights at La Nacional) have certainly captured and maintained the formula. It’s all about consistently delivering a quality milonga experience with a personalised high care factor. This seems to have a magnetic effect, attracting discerning dancers who value the quality experience.  They know where to get more “bang for their bucks”, especially in these difficult economic times.   However, the consequences for other milongas are unfortunate.
When the budget is tight, experienced dancers don’t want to risk wasting time and money. They value quality above quantity.  If a milonga is too expensive, has inconsistent music which changes mood mid-tanda, or bizarre musical choices,  inconsiderate/unskilled dancers with poor floor-craft, indifferent or unwelcoming organisers, then it may not survive the current climate. One of these factors alone may be enough to turn people off, and the word spreads.  

Perhaps milonga organisers elsewhere in less challenging circumstances should take heed of the hard lessons being learned here in the Mecca of tango.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The times they are a changin'

Buenos Aires milonga venues continue to undergo involuntary change and attendance patterns fluctuate. So we’ve been talking more about the factors which can make a milonga succeed or fail. Maipu 444, formerly home of Cachirulo, El Maipu, Lujos (on Sunday) and Sentimental y Coqueta, was sold off and closed over a year ago. It is now the stuff of legends. People who experienced those heady days sigh with regret at the loss. Just over a week ago, the intimate El Beso was closed down due to the absence of an emergency exit. Certainly understandable, but that competitive, hot-house atmosphere will not easily be replicated elsewhere.

These organisers all succeeded in finding alternative locations, relocating mainly to larger venues in Alsina, as well as the bizarre choice last year of Villa Malcolm for Cachirulo (Saturday). However, the timing of these changes has been unfortunate. Milonga entradas have not been quarantined from local inflation (Subte fares rose from 1.1 to 2.5 pesos overnight, taxi flagfalls that not long ago were 3.4 are now 8.7 pesos, quality ladies’ tango shoes from 400 to 650 pesos in the last year). Paying 25 – 35 pesos just to enter a milonga is making locals, in particular, think twice about how many milongas they can afford to attend.  It seems that the combination of price increases and venue changes may be taking their toll, at least for some milongas. On the other hand, others are thriving. The question is why.
By the way, this one continues to be one of our favourite milongas:

Friday, 6 April 2012

The Gift

The woman had been dancing for only a short while, but had the ability to give herself to the tango & her partner. Later, she told a friend: “It felt like I was being taken on a tour of a village that he knew well, pointing out the important and interesting places to me, the places that he loved. It was like receiving a gift.”

The man obviously knew the music well, knew its changing dynamic, its different emotional highpoints. The woman was prepared to listen to his body and move with his energy. He felt privileged by the trust that had been given.

No figures and sequences, no choreography or show, just two people, the music, and entrega.


Friday, 30 March 2012

Vegetarian tango!

Do you want to avoid being treated like an item on the supermarket shelf? What's vegetarian tango?

I always look forward to the insightful chats with milongueros which Mónica Paz posts on her blog.  This time we are treated to Oscar "Cacho" Dante reflecting on tango. He's a gem with an amusing turn of  phrase, like those quoted above.

For the record, I love my greens. But when it comes to vego tango, I think I'll pass!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The importance of detail

After our tango class, R (one of our students) was at home relaxing; watching snowboarding competitions on TV. A remark from one of the expert commentators resonated with him so much, he felt the urge to share it with us today. 

"What's really important is to do the small things really well".

Thursday, 8 March 2012

One of the great voices of tango

Enrique Inocencio Troncone would have celebrated his 99th birthday on Saturday 10 March.  Never heard of him? When Ricardo Tanturi  needed "a different voice" to replace the distinctive and most successful Alberto Castillo, he knew about Enrique's abilities. But before joining Tanturi's orquesta  Los Indios, Enrique needed to find himself a suitable stage name. Thus emerged the romantic and intense combination Tanturi and Campos.   For anyone interested, Todotango provides an interesting insight into how and why the stage name was chosen.

Enrique Campos' voice became another significant instrument in Los Indios, one of the great and very popular dance orquestas. Occasionally, I've heard a few dancers complain that they don't like dancing to sung tangos. Some say this is because they can't understand  the lyrics.  But you don't have to understand a word of Castellano to get the feelings throughout La abandoné y no sabía, Una emoción, Oigo tu voz and Recién, to name but a few. Thanks to Derrick Del Pilar you can simultaneously listen to these great tangos, read the original lyrics & the English translations. And as for dancing the emotions of Tanturi con Campos, Javier Rodriguez and the late Andrea Missé's performance of Oigo tu voz in Sydney last year gives me goose-bumps.


Thursday, 16 February 2012

How do I tell him?

Sometimes we float on a cloud of blissful ignorance. Most of us are afflicted by some form of myopia.  Yet ignorance is no excuse in the eyes of the law. Just try to explain to a police officer that you didn't know about a speed limit.

OK, at most milongas the organisers won't impose a fine for anti-social behaviour, but most socially aware adults would certainly disapprove of those who make us feel uncomfortable.There tends to be a fairly common understanding in social groups about these matters. Lacking the courage to confront a person directly, people often grumble about the offending behaviour amongst themselves.

Are any of these "oversights" familiar?
> Too busy to take a quick shower before heading to the milonga?  No problems, just spray on some deodorant or cologne.
> No time to iron a clean shirt?  Easy, a T-shirt will do.
> Forgot to brush your teeth?  Just pop some breath mints.

Sorry, that's simply not good enough in this intimate dance. Your dance partners won't enjoy being subjected to that, despite your superb dancing skills! Most of them will simply be too polite to say anything to you, but that won't stop them from thinking it and having second thoughts about dancing with you!

On the other hand, those ladies and gentlemen who make an effort are considerate to those they dance with.  Looking and feeling good also helps boost the confidence.  And in this dance, we can all do with that!


Saturday, 28 January 2012

I like the way you walk

Is this the highest praise that a tango dancer can receive from an old tanguero?  I believe so; what do you think?  Of course, the embrace and the dancer’s posture are all part of this judgment.
You would think that since walking is something that we do every day, that this would be the easiest part of tango, yet I am convinced that achieving a good ‘tango walk’ is the hardest.  However, if you get this right, then everything else flows easily …. because so much goes with it – balance, strong axis, good embrace, clear lead-follow from the body, close stepping to your partner, effective contra-body rotation.
So why do people have so much trouble with the walk in the embrace?  For a start, they are in an unfamiliar position physically and mentally – in front of and chest-to-chest with a partner.  This in itself creates some anxiety, including the leader’s fear of stepping on his partner’s toes.  Bodies become tense – shoulders, back, arms – defeating any chance of walking normally.  On the other hand, with a relaxed body and a forward advance of the leader’s torso before he steps, there is little chance of him getting near her toes. A leader who leans back, or dances totally vertical, has more chance of clashing with his partner’s legs or feet, because he is keeping her in his space.
Walking in an embrace requires trust - trust that the follower will move with her partner’s lead, and trust that the leader will follow her. The embrace is something that shouldn’t be broken – whether it’s during a simple walk or a complex turn.
Musicality is the next level that needs to be built into walking; confident musicality and confident walking are mutually dependent. Apart from walking on the beat (but not necessarily every beat), musical walking means an injection of energy corresponding to the phrase of the music.  It needs commas & periods, acceleration & deceleration, suspension & relaxation.  If the movements correspond to the music, then you get good, confident walking. It will simply feel right!
There’s another quality that can be added to the dance - resisting the urge to step on every beat. This doesn’t imply that the dance stops at various moments, but rather that the ‘pause’ has value.  It’s a response to the music, which can include small decorations or a gentle body movement into the next step.  Think of a conversation – the silences can be powerful, just as the pause in tango can be.
In some ways it’s no different to a respectful conversation: I say something – she listens - then gives me her response - I pay attention and wait until she finishes talking - before I have something more to say, etc. Such are the essentials of a satisfying conversation, or a deeply satisfying tango.
A controlled and elegant tango walk, combined with a strong sense of where the music is taking you, contains the essential elements of a beautiful tango.  Jorge & Samantha Dispari illustrate this in a post-class demonstration; the film quality could be better, but the impression that it made on me is indelible.


Monday, 2 January 2012

Ladies in waiting

No, this isn’t a reference to serving the royals, but rather a key element of the dance. Anticipation by followers is a hazard for their leaders and can destroy the timing & interpretation of the music that defines each tango; it also affects the leaders’ balance & posture as well as making them tense & watchful – not great for improvisation. I’m talking about guessing at what’s coming next & stepping into it, rather than intuitiveness with regard to timing & rhythms that comes with long experience.

So what can help women wait for the lead (a proposal) instead of moving ahead of her partner? Maybe looking at some possible causes will provide some clues. I’d suggest that it begins in the woman’s head – does she have confidence in her own skills and trust in her partner? From the beginner, who can do no more than walk well with good posture, to the dancer who has a broad range of well-developed skills, she needs to have a sense of self-belief – a belief that she can do what she does well - regardless of the partner (provided, of course, he can lead effectively). This confidence will translate to her being prepared to wait for a clear, well-timed lead – after all, rushing ahead can mean the moment is lost, whereas if she takes her time, the man has no alternative but to wait for her.

Clearly, this assumes that the man leads in a manner that will generate trust in his partner. He needs to quickly assess what his partner can do well, and dance within that range in order to make it an enjoyable tango for them both. He also needs to subscribe to the principle that he leads (proposes), the woman follows (listens and then responds in her own time), and he follows her (when the music invites). Which sounds very much like the leader needs to listen to and wait for the follower!

In fact, it’s that constant & well-timed two-way communication between the two bodies which can result in a truly satisfying tango.

So what can you (leader or follower) do if you find yourself dancing with a partner who doesn’t wait?


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