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Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Express yourself!

How many times have you heard these exhortations from teachers of tango:

Allow yourself to be transported by the music.
Focus on the connection with your partner and the music.
Develop your own personal style.

I believe in these statements.  So, why was I aghast when a couple in a milonga was doing their own thing (in concert with the music), executing bizarre, disturbing movements reminiscent of a stage show?

Fortunately, there were no collisions with other dancers or surrounding objects. It was not a case of Dodgems on the dance-floor.  However, their dancing was incongruous with that of other couples around them in the ronda. They seemed unaware of their disruptive influence on an otherwise harmonious dance-floor.

The person sitting next to me was more forgiving and remarked that they were simply expressing themselves. No doubt, they were dancing tango in the way familiar to themselves.  They appeared to be having a good time, and isn't that the most important thing?  It made me ask myself if I had become grouchy and intolerant of styles different to my own.  Was I being too sensitive and critical?  I think not, but that's a somewhat biased opinion, of course!

It seemed that the couple had not internalised a basic fact: Tango is, above all, a Social Dance.

Perhaps they had never been taught the skills and awareness enabling them to dance with the other couples in the ronda.  Maybe the distinction between performance and social tango had never been made clear, ie. social tango is not primarily for the entertainment of onlookers.  Carlitos and Noelia show us the difference, and the contrast could hardly be greater: performance and social tango.

Tango therapist's social tango etiquette emphasizes consideration and respect for the surrounding couples.  Why? Because surrendering to the music and your partner in an intimate embrace requires us to trust not only our partner, but also trust those dancing nearby - something we cannot do if collisions seem likely.

Here are snippets of milongas in Chan Park's documentary trailer, showing how we can express ourselves in the dance and allow those around us to do the same.

Friday, 22 November 2013

State of mind

Recently, a gentleman in our tango community shared a most insightful observation. Dancing good tango begins with your state of mind. Probably, this will come as no surprise. But how often do we enter the dance-floor of the milonga mentally unprepared?

At a milonga, do you
  • dance most tandas, regardless of the music, OR dance only when the music really summons you?
  • dance with almost anyone, OR accept invitations (via cabeceo or otherwise) only from people you want to dance with?
  • chat while dancing, OR reserve the conversation for when the music has stopped?
  • simply assume that your partner will understand you, OR focus on communicating very clearly?
  • if you're in the male role, lead tentatively, OR express your clear intention each and every step of the way?
  • if you're in the female role, try to predict what your partner will lead next, OR allow yourself to be relaxed, receptive and responsive?
  • try to impress onlookers with tricky moves, OR dedicate yourself to dancing just for your partner?
There are no prizes for guessing the correct answers! In my opinion, dancing real tango requires focus and mindfulness.

And to close, here's a challenge from Ricardo Vidort, a late, great milonguero quoted in Tango and Chaos in BsAsWhen you dance tango, you must give everything. If you can't do that, don't dance.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Happy Birthday, Miguel Calo!

Born 28 October 1907, Miguel Calo collaborated with many of the greats of the Golden Age during his tango career - as bandoneonist, band-leader and composer.

Many a dedicated tanguero would declare a milonga incomplete without a tanda of Calo with singer Raul Beron. Yet, I suspect few know that this immortal collaboration almost came to a very premature end.  Calo's orchestra was broadcasting at a radio station, and the station executives apparently felt that Beron was not up to their standards.  So, they told Calo to sack him, which he did.  But the just-recorded Al compas del corazon became a hit.

Fortunately, they had second thoughts. Otherwise, we would never enjoyed the exquisite Jamas retornaras.

Calo also recorded gems with Alberto Podesta, including Dos fracasos. And here's the goosebump-inducing Que falta que me haces 1961, performed by Javier Rodriguez and his first partner Geraldine Rojas. It's a study in restrained intensity.

Trenzas, recorded with singer Raul Iriarte, was said to be a favourite piece of the late Andrea Misse. Here she is dancing to Trenzas with Javier Rodriguez.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Territorial tendencies

Have you ever been dancing, blissfully transported by the music and your partner, only to be rudely shaken by another couple colliding with you? They appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, moving out of the line of dance. Adding insult to injury, they made no sign of apology and danced on oblivious.

Humans are, by nature, territorial animals. They can exhibit aggression when someone tries to muscle onto their patch. Milongueros in Buenos Aires protect their partner and their space in the ronda.

Of course, they are not immune to feelings of annoyance when subjected to an intrusion. In the early days of tango, knife fights reportedly took place, perhaps over a woman or due to lack of respect on the dance-floor. Nowadays, the milonga tends to be a more civilised environment - on the surface, at least.

Codes of etiquette in traditional Buenos Aires milongas evolved to prevent violent encounters, and to curb other anti-social behaviours associated with the primitive part of our brains.

When even a minor collision happens on the dance-floor, the male dancers immediately signal an apology to each other.  This happens even if the dancer was not responsible for the collision. It keeps the peace.  It shows respect.

I suspect that those who don't do this in BsAs are considered no better than barbarians.

So, how do you deal with such mishaps on the dance-floor?


Thursday, 8 August 2013

Two for the price of one

Prominent tango orchestra directors of the Golden Age made use of several singers in their repertoires.  Who can forget Carlos Di Sarli with Roberto Rufino, Jorge Duran or Alberto Podesta? Juan D'Arienzo's best known singers Alberto Echague, Hector Maure and Armando Laborde also brought different qualities to the orchestra, and strongly influenced the end-product. The same could be said about most other great Golden Age orchestras. But seldom did the singers actually share the same stage.

As orchestra director, Alfredo De Angelis cleverly chose to combine the complementary qualities of his singers, more often than most. Carlos Dante teamed up with De Angelis in 1944 and in the same year was joined by Julio Martel. Recording 17 numbers together, they became the best known De Angelis duo.What a treat it would have been to see them live!

Want to hear more?  Here's a great tanda of tangos to feast upon.

And to finish - a dessert. One of my all-time favourite De Angelis / Dante & Martel valses: Pobre flor, playfully performed by the vals specialists, Julio Balmaceda and Corina de la Rosa.


Saturday, 13 July 2013

That Buenos Aires embrace #2

Ask a seasoned social tango dancer what they look for in a dance partner, and it should come as no surprise that a good embrace will normally feature in their response.

Recently, a very experienced tanguero friend remarked - with a palpable degree of nostalgia - how different the tango embrace of porteñas is, as compared to most Europeans, North Americans, etc. (I was relieved when he conceded that there were notable exceptions!) He felt that their embrace “helped create an atmosphere for a brief 3 minute love affair”.  They surrender - body & soul - to their partner for the duration of the tango.
This embrace can take various forms: left arm over his right shoulder reaching to his left shoulder; left arm around his right upper arm reaching around his back; etc.  It’s not a one-size-fits-all embrace. It has to feel comfortable for both dancers, and not compromise axis nor freedom of movement. Heights & body shapes will affect the embrace, but it should feel like a complete embrace. A word of caution: the lady’s left elbow jutting out like a sharp weapon is a definite no, no – especially on a crowded floor. 

Jantango went to the trouble of compiling quite a comprehensive series of photos of ladies’ embraces & commentary: How do you hug your dance partner? part 1, part 2 and part 3. Can you see yourself there?
And how do these embraces work? Here’s a selection of embraces in action at Lujos, one of our favourite Buenos Aires milongas

Just a final thought: I find that a memorable embrace is not only physical. It feels like your partner is 100% in tune with you. In this age of multiple distractions, isn’t that something to be treasured?
Gentlemen, what type of embrace you prefer?


Monday, 8 July 2013

Milonga Para los Niños wrap-up

It was a great milonga with such a positive vibe and lots of good dancing, and to top it off, we raised $2,300!

And that's not all.  Lucy and Frank's Gitano Milonga preceded by a Gypsy Bread-Making Workshop in May raised $1,000.

The Para los Niños foundation which supports  the two foster homes (Civil Los Horneros and Hogar Siand) will shortly be transferring those much-needed funds to BsAs. $3,300 will make such a difference in the building plans of the foster homes.

Here's a Youtube video of Hogar Siand and some photos we took of both homes during a visit in May.

We're so proud to be part of such a supportive tango community. Well done, Adelaide!

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Lust in the milonga

In between the songs in a tanda, Pat’s partner said, ‘Your husband must need glasses, letting you go out dancing on your own’, which simply brought a bemused smile to Pat’s face.  Of course, it was simply a piropo, which women can expect to hear often from local men in the milongas of Buenos Aires.

But this isn’t the lust I’m talking about, nor the more pointed invitation for ‘un cafecito’ after the milonga, that foreign women may receive.  

I watch the women dance, and focus on one, as I notice her pivots, the contact her feet have with the floor, her embrace, the way she responds with elegance to her partner’s leads, the occasional under-stated decorations that enhance rather than interfere with the connection, the one-ness she creates with her partner.  My desire kicks in: “I must dance with her!”  So begins the chase.  If she has seen me dance, then hopefully I’ve measured up.  But now, the cabeceo is all I have left to convince her to take a chance.

Then there’s the lust that hits immediately, when the tanda begins with Fumando espero (Di Sarli/Pomar), La abandone y no sabia (Tanturi/Campus), or Lo pasao paso (Di Sarli/Rufino), and to these I feel that I must dance – they are tangazos!  Now there’s a desperate search to see whether one of my regular partners, who I know will dance this well, is available.  And again, I must put my trust in the cabeceo at a distance, hoping that she feels the same.

The tanda finishes, and the lust is sated.  I can return to my seat, and for a while, savour the 12 minutes that my partner and the music have given me.  The feelings of delight and satisfaction will last all night.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

I like to watch ...

More often than not, I dance no more than 7 or 8 tandas in my 3 hours in milongas in Buenos Aires. I do that partly to conserve my energy for a) the music I really like, and b) the women I really want to dance with. Any single tanda is both physically and mentally taxing, so when I dance I want to put all the meat on the fire.

So how do I spend the rest of my time in the milonga apart from sipping on my mineral water? I listen to the music and I watch the dancers. Sitting at a table at the edge of the ronda, I feel part of the milonga, even when not dancing. But as I watch, I also learn. Of course, I watch the ladies’ pivots, their embraces, their responses to their partners, in order to guide my ‘cabeceo’ in future tandas. But there is more.

I watch the men – their rhythms, changing dynamics, playfulness, intensity; how they protect their partners, how they move their bodies with their partners; and I note small variations in movements that I regularly employ. I notice how their dancing changes with different orchestras, with the emotion of the singers, with the ‘light and shade’ in a piece of music. Not all men dance this way, but those that do are worth my intense scrutiny.

I often wonder about men, and women, who dance every tanda. Might they be missing an opportunity to observe and learn from others?  My advice: STOP. LISTEN. LOOK. LEARN.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Budding tango relationships

No, I’m not referring to those fleeting relationships typified by an invitation to have a ‘cafecito’ after the milonga. For those unfamiliar with this euphemism, the expectation is to share more than a cup of coffee! 

She has observed & approved of his dancing and his conduct in the milonga.  He, too, has noticed her elegance and entrega. So begins the game of visually seeking out the other for the first time.

Still metres from her table, he approaches, maintaining eye contact, thus confirming their agreement to dance.  Only then does she rise from her seat, in a heightened state of anticipation, wondering whether her observations will be confirmed when she accepts his embrace.

As she places her upper body against his, his embrace encloses her into a respectful cocoon of safety and comfort. She relaxes and they begin to move together to the music.  

He suggests simple movements, intuitively assessing her responses. She feels his responses to her. They gradually become familiar with each other’s idiosyncrasies, nuances, musical sensitivities and imperfections. During the 12 minutes of the tanda, they begin a non-verbal conversation which slowly gains more depth - the start of a journey of mutual discovery to be continued at a future milonga when their paths cross again.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

The Uh-Oh Moment

I don’t mean the Occasional Uh-Oh! moment
… the one that we feel when dancing with a new partner, in particular – those times when communication fails a little, and an opportunity for improvisation presents itself.

I mean the Serious Uh-Oh!
… when you’ve watched the dancers at a milonga, assessed someone as a good choice, successfully cabeceoed, taken up the embrace, taken the first step, then suddenly thought, “Uh-Oh!” … or even “Oh-No!”  You realise that your partner has a poor embrace: too tight, too loose, or can’t walk well, doesn’t pivot, pulls you around, and you come to the conclusion that this will be a long 12 minutes. 
You’ve misjudged your selection, so now you have to deal with it.  As a man, you need to quickly assess what your partner can do, and do your best to make the dance a success – keep it simple, give her the time she needs, make adjustments so that ochos work, etc. As a woman, you can forget about surrendering to the music and your partner. This situation warrants self-preservation tactics, i.e. good technique to maintain your balance and a readiness to take evasive action, if required.
Then there’s the Ultimate Uh-Oh!
… when the behaviour of your partner suggests that the dance may need to be cut short.  For example, dangerous movements in the ronda:  frequent collisions due to inconsiderate navigation, high boleos or sweeps by the woman; inappropriate personal behaviour.   

In such cases, it’s reasonable to have a few tactful words with your partner at the end of a piece of music, and essentially put him/her on notice (remember, we’re talking about the Ultimate Uh-Oh!).  Should the behaviour continue unchanged, then it’s appropriate to end the dance at an opportune moment; regardless, the man should escort his partner back to her table.

Maybe we should, in fact, value the Occasional Uh-Oh! moments because they are the ones that define every unique tango conversation with our many partners.  They’re not ‘mistakes’, but rather opportunities to adapt our dance in a way that will enhance the experience with our partners.

We know you’ve had them, so how have you dealt with your Uh-Oh moments?


Wednesday, 1 May 2013

That Buenos Aires embrace

What is it that typifies the tango embrace in traditional milongas of Buenos Aires? 

Firstly, no fear
No fear of one's partner. No apprehension about whether you will make mistakes. No concern about what onlookers may think. It's about surrendering to your partner, the music and the moment.

Becoming one with your partner
Mould yourself onto your partner's body, without compromising your axis. The embrace is relaxed, secure and comfortable for both, and not crippled by poor posture.

Man's embrace
While she 'stands up for her man' with a relaxed, good posture, his embrace provides security, conveying confidence and certainty. This allows her to surrender to the journey - his gift to her - knowing he will protect her all along the way.

You embrace your partner as though you really mean it. Let them in to become as one. Make a commitment for the tanda. There should be no 'maybe'.

You may also experience this elsewhere - not just in Buenos Aires. It is certainly how I like the embrace. What are your preferences?

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

How small can you go?

Murat and Michelle have done it again! 
Another amusing video with a message about social dancing. (Shame about the leg wraps.)

Are you up to the challenge?

Friday, 22 March 2013

How to choose a dance partner

Ever found yourself dancing with someone and regretting it?  Were you unsure of what went wrong?  Do you still have no idea of how to prevent a recurrence?

I'm a firm advocate of the cabeceo.  However, this elegant form of invitation won't help you choose a dance partner.  It's actually the last step of the process.

First of all, you have to hone your powers of discrimination.  Know what you want, and shop around!

Once, in a Buenos Aires milonga, a tango friend asked how I identified the men I wanted to dance with?  In other words, those men whose cabeceo I would return. What was it that I looked for? I hadn't analysed my criteria before, but it got me thinking.

When I arrive at a milonga, I sit and watch the dancers for a while.  I make sure I don't look like I want to dance, until I've identified some possibilities.

Some key considerations for choosing whose cabeceo I would accept:
  • Does he dance to the music? Does his response to the music make sense to me?
  • How is his embrace?  Does it look comfortable?
  • Does he appear to dance for and with his partner?  (rather than trying to impress onlookers)
  • How are his navigation skills?  Is he respectful of the other dancers? (rather than viewing the dance-floor as his exclusive playground)
  • Has he made some effort to present himself appropriately for the occasion? Or does his dress and grooming suggest no respect for potential dance partners and the event?
Other factors may well come into play, but let's call these my minimum standards.

When dancing in a familiar milonga, filled with familiar faces, these strategies may be unnecessary -  I already have a good idea of potential dance partners.  However, if you have regretted your choices in the past, you may find my tips handy.

I would be very interested to hear how other ladies identify potential dance partners.

Gentlemen!  What about you?  How do you choose?


Thursday, 14 March 2013

Manos brujas

Happy Birthday, Rodolfo Biagi!

Nicknamed Manos brujas (spellbinding hands), some would say that Biagi's playful, staccato and upbeat style was critical to Juan D'Arienzo achieving such success, and bringing tango to a huge number of dancers.

In 1935, at the tender age of 19, Biagi was recruited as the pianist for D'Arienzo's orchestra. And what an energising impact he had! The story goes that one night D'Arienzo was running late for a gig, so the orchestra started playing without him, with Biagi setting the pace.  The public went wild and the rest is history.

It's interesting to compare Biagi's style in Paciencia (1937) with Fulvio Salamanca's in No mientas recorded only two years after Biagi had left to form his own orchestra. Both are D'Arienzo tangazos with excellent pianists, but Biagi stands out for me.  It's as though his fingers are smouldering on those piano keys.  Yet his restraint keeps us wanting more.

Here are Dany and Lucy, organisers of El Maipu (one of my favourite Buenos Aires milongas) dancing to Biagi's Quiero verte una vez mas after the crowd has gone home.

But best of all, are Biagi's playful valses. Who could possibly resist Dichas que vivi?


Saturday, 23 February 2013

Cabeceo between the guys

At last, a light-hearted video on dance-floor etiquette!

Take a look. You may recognise someone: The Over-Excited Follower, Mr Oblivious, Mr Show-Off, The Social Guy, etc.

But beware ... one of these people may just be you!

(Thanks, Nihada, for finding this gem.)

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Osvaldo Pugliese

Who has not fallen under the spell of Pugliese's music? Even if you are one of the few who haven't, you may still enjoy this brief but beautiful video collage of the Maestro's life, thoughts and music.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

What really matters

Some developments in the world of tango make it all too easy to lose sight of the essence of the dance.   Youtube videos of professional dancers performing amazing sequences proliferate on the internet.   Students of tango can be easily seduced into wanting to emulate such riveting performances.  As a result, some teachers seem to cater for perceived customer demand and feel that they should teach tricky tango moves.

I'll be blunt.  For people really interested in tango (the social dance), this approach is a useless distraction.  In my experience, it tends to result in a superficial experience, at best; a battleground of arms and legs, at worst.

On the other hand, the satisfaction and joy which comes from a deep connection with a partner and the music is magical.  Who can forget that sense of being at one and completely in the moment.  This is something to be treasured, when it happens.  The often-used image of four legs, one heart is so apt.

Dancing as one may seem simple, but can be difficult to achieve - even without distractions!  We should be completely carried by the music, which may be unfamiliar.  Body-control is required, yet we need to be relaxed, not worrying about what's coming next.  We need to be comfortable in the embrace.  Leading and following are subtle - yet crystal clear.  This results in improvisation and creativity, but not at the expense of one's partner.

So, focus on what really matters.
Dance as ONE.  Dance to the MUSIC.  Dance in the NOW.


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