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Thursday, 10 December 2015

Alberto Podestá (22 Sept 1924 - 9 Dec 2015)

One of the great singers of the Golden Age of Tango has passed away.

Alberto Podestá's talents were recognised before the age of 18 by the renowned Carlos Di Sarli, when he was asked to sing for the orchestra of El Señor del Tango. During his long and successful career he also sang for the great orchestras of Miguel Caló, Pedro Laurenz and Francini-Pontier. Todotango reproduces an interesting interview with Podestá, with insights into his long career in tango.

So many of his beautiful recordings are played regularly in milongas - and for good reason!  Here are just a few of my favourites:  Nada (with Di Sarli),  Que nunca me falta (with Laurenz) and Que falta que me haces (recorded in the 60s with Caló) danced here by Geraldine Rojas and Javier Rodriguez.

He will not be forgotten.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Milonga magic

Sometimes magic happens....

Yesterday's milonga did not get off to a good start, at all. We had returned to the King's Head Hotel for the first time since March. One hour into the milonga - only about 6 people had arrived.  Certainly, milonga numbers in Adelaide had been declining recently, and there had been a tango party the night before. Were we wasting our time yesterday, and that of our few patrons?

Gradually more dancers arrived, yet it was still a relatively modest gathering of about 20 dancers.

About halfway through the milonga, I found myself transfixed. Most people were on the floor dancing sensitively to a tanda of Demare tangos. Something quite special appeared to be taking place. I fear that this will sound weirdly metaphysical, but here goes:  I can only describe this intangible phenomenon as a very positive and serene energy linking all the dancers in the ronda. And this continued for the rest of the milonga.

Was it my imagination? Perhaps a case of wishful thinking - wanting the milonga to be a success? Yet other people at the milonga were making similar (unsolicited) observations.

Did the new furniture arrangement in the 'ballroom' influence the mood?

Were the people present so determined to enjoy themselves that their positive energy was infectious?

Was the considerate dancing of each person a factor?

Did the music play a part?

Whatever it was, yesterday some magic happened.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Milonga Q and A

Last week we conducted a brief Q and A.  We asked dancers in our group about their concerns in the milonga. Had they experienced behaviours which they didn't like, but didn't know how to respond to? From a tentative beginning emerged quite a number of issues, many to do with plain good manners!

We thought it might be useful to share the concerns and some suggested responses:

Surrounding couples are doing big movements, which are either disturbing your dancing or posing a danger. (Assuming that the norm of the milonga is small movements)
  1. At a break in the music, the man could take his partner to a safer part of the ronda. 
  2. Where the movements are dangerous to others, ask the milonga organiser to deal with it.
  3. The man can navigate to reduce the space the offending couple has, so that they have to dance more conservatively in a smaller space – but the man will always always protect his partner in doing so.
Your partner (male or female) uses an uncomfortable embrace
e.g. too intimate (e.g. man putting your right hand to his chest); stressful (pushing your right/left hand out or up too far;  man pushing & pulling as a means of leading); physically uncomfortable (gripping you too tightly; man ‘paddling’ your back as he leads).
  1. You can move your hand to the position that you prefer; if your partner complains, mention that the other position is uncomfortable; if he/she ignores that, tell him/her that you’ll need to sit down if he/she doesn’t do as you’ve asked. 
  2. If the embrace is too tight, wriggle out of it until you have the room you need.
Your partner is talking, singing, whistling, making noises that you don’t like
  1. “I can’t dance and listen at the same time”.  
  2. “I’m finding your talking/singing/noises distracting” (but not the case when a milonguera sings the words in your ear in BsAs, gentlemen!)
The music starts – couples continue to talk in the ronda
  1. Dance within your own space until the ronda starts moving ahead 
  2. If the couple ahead of you continues to talk at length, pass them on the man's left & rejoin the ronda in front.
You experience collisions, with no acknowledgement or apology

It’s good manners for the man to acknowledge a collision with a wave or nod.  In the case of a significant collision, approach the offended couple at the end of the track to apologise.

At the start of a tanda you are sitting and having a conversation
  1. If you’re planning to continue the conversation and not dance, then keep your focus on the person you’re talking to.  But, if you want to dance, chat and scan at the same time. 
  2. If someone approaches you and interrupts your conversation, simply say, “No thank you, I’m chatting at the moment” or “Maybe later”
Poor lighting makes the cabeceo difficult
Men may need to move around the room so that the eye contact becomes more visible, but not too close to your intended partner.

Your partner (both men and women) keeps telling you what they want you to do
  1. “I can’t dance and listen at the same time”.  (man or woman) 
  2. “You lead it and I’ll follow”. (woman) 
  3. “Let your body do the talking”. (woman) 
  4. “My focus is on the music and leading with my body, not on figures” (man)
Man persists with a figure without leading it effectively. You don’t understand what he wants
Ladies, you could use your body language (e.g. puzzled expression, shrug of shoulders) to show you don’t understand what the man is leading. If he persists, and you feel uncomfortable, tell him. If he ignores that, tell him that you don't feel comfortable and you’ll need to sit down.

Ladies may fear that they won't get dances if they refuse poor dancers

Is a bad dance really better than no dance?
Your dancing may be judged by potential partners before they look in your direction; dancing poorly with a bad dancer may give them an impression of you as a dancer that you don’t desire.

Ladies tending to be too nice …  not knowing how to refuse an invitation from someone they simply don’t want to dance with

Certainly, it’s helpful for experienced women to dance with beginner men.
  1. However, this doesn’t help poor ‘experienced’ dancers if they continue to believe that they can get dances without making the effort to improve. 
  2. Accept with the proviso that “from now on, it’s with the eyes only!” This can be done in a light-hearted, yet assertive manner. 
  3. When it’s very clear that dancing with a particular man would be a disaster: “No thank you, I’m afraid our dance styles are incompatible”
Note: Effective use of the cabeceo is a way of avoiding some of these problems altogether.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Random tanda thoughts

Adelaide has just finished hosting a lovely long-weekend of tango, bringing together dancers and DJs from far and wide, including New Zealand! No workshops, just social dancing. It was delightful discovering 'new' dance partners and having the opportunity to reconnect with 'old' ones.

This brought me to reflect on a sense of being somewhat short-changed at times. Allow me to explain: I would be enjoying a lovely dance with someone I hadn't seen in 12 months or so, and after 3 tangos the cortina was already playing. Or my new partner and I were just 'getting to know' each other in our first ever tanda together - really starting to connect during the second track of the tanda, and found that there was only one tango left to enjoy.

People who prefer three tango tandas often express the opinion that the arrangement allows dancers to circulate more and therefore dance with more people at the milonga. I can see that viewpoint.  However, that argument doesn't seem to work for those of us who perhaps prefer to dance less often, but with partners we really want to dance with. A four tango tanda leaves me feeling pleasantly satisfied and ready to happily float back to my table, rather than the sensation of an unfinished dish being snatched away from me by an over-zealous restaurant waiter.

I'm sure some will read this post and vigorously shake their heads.  They might even label my views as anti-tango community.  But there you are....

On another tanda note...
I recently came across this interesting background of the origin of the tanda.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Are you really there for your partner?

I was initially attracted to tango by what I saw and heard when couples were dancing. Obviously, it was an observer's response. Then, I tried to recreate what I had observed.

Like the peeling away layers of an onion, it dawned on me much later that the experience of genuinely dancing tango is largely private, unseen and incredibly satisfying.

Good technique can be taught and developed ....
... frequently listening to tango music will improve your appreciation and response....
....... both will enhance your dance a great deal.
But, in my view, they won't get you beyond a certain point unless you have the right attitude.

So .. what is your state of mind when you dance tango?

Does the music compel you to seek out a dance partner? (Or do you dance to whatever music is put on?)

.... then, are you really present for your partner?

Do you listen to your partner throughout the dance?

..... so, are you always doing your best to connect with your partner and his/her response to the music?

Is your dance governed by the music and your partner? (Or is the next figure your dominant thought?)

.... once again, do you really listen to your partner at each moment of the dance?

Are you prepared to give yourself to your partner? (This implies trust, of course.)

.... and is it your intention to make each part of the dance pleasurable for your partner?

If so, and if your partner is doing the same, then chances are that you may both experience a lovely connection.  You know the sort I mean?  It leaves you floating on air at the end of the tanda (and just a teensy bit sad), as though you were returning to reality from another dimension.

So, what do YOU want when you dance tango? Just a bit of fun on the dance-floor? Or do you want more?


Sunday, 9 August 2015

What tango tales these walls could tell!

Recently a friend came across photos of some historic cabarets & nightclubs of Buenos Aires - haunts of many great tango bands. Sadly, they were demolished in the name of progress. One, eventually replaced by a supermarket!

Ever wondered what Pabellon de Rosas, the popular D'Arienzo vals, was about? Well, this collection of nostalgia is also thoughtfully peppered with videos of compositions dedicated to these legendary venues.

On a more recent note, many will remember the milonga venue Maipu 444 with great nostalgia - demolished just a few years ago to make way for yet another bank. It didn't have the architectural merit of those old venues, but oh, what memories those walls held.


Wednesday, 17 June 2015

How are your conversation/tango skills?

Recently a relatively new member of our tango community was asking me about the cabeceo and tango etiquette. As we chatted, he commented on the strong similarities between good manners relating to conversation and tango.

This got me thinking, and I decided to design a little quiz.  Here goes:

Before trying to engage a person in conversation, do you ...
  1. look at them first to see if they might be interested in engaging with you?
  2. tap them on the shoulder and expect them to want to talk to you?
If that person is already involved in a conversation with someone else, do you ...
  1. interrupt that conversation and take over?
  2. wait until that person is 'free' & looks interested in talking to you?
If you start talking with that person ...
  1. do you really listen to them?
  2. are you planning what you want to say next, while they are still speaking?
While speaking with them, do you ...
  1. talk at length, without allowing them opportunity to engage in the conversation?
  2. express an idea, listen to their response, and then respond to that?
How did you go with the quiz? (My preferred answers: 1, 2, 1, 2)

Does it sound like tango to you, too? Perhaps you might think of something to add to the quiz.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Fermín (a real tango movie) - revisited

Oliver Kolker's experience of tango in the United States (2005) provided the stimulus for the film Fermín. As a dancer of tango and actor, raised in Buenos Aires, Kolker was puzzled that at the time, North Americans loved the dance, but didn't appear to like the rich, traditional music of tango. Because of their limited exposure to the music of the Golden Age, he speculated that it hadn't reached their hearts and souls.

Such was the beginning of a chain of events which led to the genesis of this captivating film - his remarkable script and directorial debut, where the central character, deeply troubled by his past, expresses himself only in lyrics of tango. Here's a revealing chat with Kolker, for those who understand Spanish.

The movie Fermín was released last year, and we were very fortunate to see it when it screened in Buenos Aires.  It had lost none of its impact when we saw it for a second time (with sub-titles, this time), as part of the wonderful Tango in the Spring event  in Canberra. Although deeply moving the first time, seeing it with sub-titles revealed so much more of its depth.

Surprisingly, getting hold of the DVD while in Buenos Aires this year proved to be difficult. None of the normal retailers had it in stock, and some had not even heard of it! However, an internet search revealed that the DVD can be purchased online.

Calling the company, who should reply? None other than Oliver Kolker himself (Fermín's writer and co-director, as well as the actor who played a key role at the beginning)! Later, when the door at the company's address was opened to us, we appeared to be faced with the young Ciempies (the character played by Kolker in the movie - so called, because of his fast footwork on the dance-floor).

If you haven't yet had a chance to view this gem of a movie, or would like to see it again, here's a chance to get your own copy with sub-titles in English, French Russian and Turkish.

When visiting Buenos Aires, don't miss the atmospheric Bar Los Laureles which featured in the movie.  Here's a photograph taken while we were enjoying live music, dinner and later, dancing, at Los Laureles.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Ebb and flow in Buenos Aires milongas

Do you arrive at a milonga with high expectations?  Who will be there, the quality of the music, the venue, the amount of dancing you will enjoy, etc.   Will everything just be as it was before?

One of life’s lessons is that high expectations can lead to disappointment.  On the other side of the coin, it is good to be open to pleasant surprises. 

Things change - nowhere more so, than the milongas of economically-challenged Buenos Aires:

Last year, Milonga de los Consagrados (Saturday) was not hugely popular.  Probably, it was a financial struggle for the organisers.  Recently, I was told that they had had to quickly replace their regular DJ who had called in sick one Saturday.  Dany Borelli (one of the best!!) stepped in the breach.  Apparently the response was so overwhelmingly positive, that Dany now has the gig.  Attendance has probably doubled due to his excellent music. Venue is lovely.  Level of dancing and navigation: average.

Lujos on Thursday at the intimate El Beso venue continues to be a personal favourite, where the music is very good, the level of dancing high, and I can usually count on several of my favourite dance partners attending.  Yet, as they say, timing is everything!  Last Thursday, a critical football match between arch-rivals Boca & River put a spanner in the works.  Attendance was down.  Fortunately, however, there were enough playmates in the sand-pit.  Let’s see what happens this Thursday when Boca and River have their re-match.

Lucy and Dany’s El Maipu on Monday is also a long-standing favourite for the same reasons as Lujos.  Lucy and Dany create such a warm and welcoming environment.  Despite the crowded dance-floor, people are very considerate, and collisions are a rarity.  Yet, even there, things have changed.  Although, there are new faces, numerous familiar faces are absent.  Is it due to increasing entry costs?  Maybe that’s why some of my regular partners now dance less often – some only once a week.   El Maipu on Wednesday is a fairly recent, brave and very good addition to BsAs milonga options.  However, at this early stage in its life, it’s struggling to get enough dancers to guarantee its future.  

Friday night at Obelisco Tango has changed a lot.  Last year, the floor surface was dodgy and the lighting made the cabeceo difficult.  But a couple of locals recommended it this year.  Sure enough, the floor has been replaced and lighting improved.  Great music is provided by DJs Vivi La Falce and Dany Borelli. Numerous dancers I know and like are regulars. 

So, what’s the take-home message from all of this?  Things change constantly here, for a host of reasons.  If you come to the Mecca of Tango, do your milonga research.  And when you choose a milonga, go without rigid expectations.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Eye spy

The tanda has started, and couples are already on the floor, blocking lines of sight for an effective cabeceo. That’s one of the challenges in a busy milonga, when you wait for the music to start before deciding who you’d like to dance it with, or even whether to dance at all.

Now, a small window of opportunity has been created, and I can see the woman I want to dance with. Did I detect interested eye-contact? Was that a small inclination of her head in acknowledgement? Too late to be certain, because the gap has quickly closed again. Better keep my eyes in that direction to see if she’s doing the same, poised, ready to confirm an agreement to dance …… or maybe she’ll be looking elsewhere now. The gap has opened again. She is still looking for me. We both nod decisively and smile. The dance is ON! ……. and we have yet to meet for the first time.

Try this in a crowded supermarket, a theatre foyer, or a school parents’ meeting, and it’d be seen as inappropriate flirting - you’d soon be put in your place. However, the accepted codes of behaviour at an Argentine tango milonga work within a different set of parameters. Not only is this behaviour O.K., but it is seen as THE respectful way to arrange a dance partner for the next 12 minutes. It’s all about context!

What a pity that so many tango communities outside Buenos Aires adhere to the view that the cabeceo is too hard, and direct approaches are expected. Tricky it may be at times, but unachievable it isn’t. It just takes persistence, modelling, and a bit of self-confidence – that’s what it took for the cabeceo to become the norm at our milongas.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Milonga para los niños - gifts that keep giving!

Ever heard of the gift that keeps giving? Well, the Milonga para los niños fund-raiser last Sunday was a great example.

It was a cracker of a milonga, to quote one of the participants, with the positive energy in the salon lasting right through to La Cumparsita.

Winners of the raffle will be enjoying their generously donated prizes (shopping voucher, wine, CDs, perfume and books) for time to come.

Cash donations from various individuals and Adelaide tango organisations were gratefully received.

Successful bidders for the silent auction will be looking forward to a diverse range of donated activities in the near future: massage, catered long lunch, Japanese calligraphy workshop, sailing, year-long milonga & practica ticket, 2 rounds of golf, private tango lesson, Porsche tour & champagne breakfast, yoga & relaxation session, gnocchi making workshop, French lesson & breakfast, astrological consultation and the making of a dress for tango. Sharing these with others will simply add to the fun.

Then there are those who successfully snaffled and are already enjoying the exquisite Igora stole, tango shoes, Leopard  necklace & earrings, Chinese tea & fan, Moroccan tea lights and wine packs.

Most important of all, the final amount raised in just one afternoon - $3,800 - will shortly be put to good use in some very needy Buenos Aires foster homes, making an ongoing positive impact on the health, education and welfare of those children.

Adelaide may have a relatively small tango community, but it has truly punched above its weight!

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Can you feel it?

While driving the other day, I put on some dance classics of Pedro Laurenz. As I was listening and enjoying the music (Recién, Como dos extraños, etc.), I turned up the volume a little.

Suddenly the music’s impact on me changed completely. No longer was I merely listening, I was feeling. The volume had not been increased excessively, but the effect was remarkable. Previously, I had been able to hear and appreciate the instruments and singer quite clearly, but with a small turn of the dial, the emotion of the music took over. My response to the music was no longer cerebral, it had become visceral.

No wonder I don’t feel inspired to dance even my favourite tangos at a milonga, if the volume is too low. Perhaps this statement doesn’t apply to everyone, but I believe that the desire to dance is primarily physical and emotional, rather than a cerebral response. The music should invade your body, pick you up and carry you away.

Some folk, it seems, will dance to any music. They’re up on the floor, in the embrace, ready to dance, before the tanda even starts. Internally, I shake my head, puzzled about what they might be feeling. If they are feeling! Perhaps tango for them is more akin to physical exercise. To each his own, I suppose….

Then you have the analytical approach. This dancer tries to extract and express every musical nuance in a tango. This dancer has a bad case of Too much musicality.  Is anything gained by intellectualising the dance like this? What is the point of trying to score as many musical points as possible in one tango? Does this approach contribute to social tango?

Dancing tango is simple – simply dance the feeling.


Monday, 26 January 2015

Happy Birthday, Ricardo Tanturi!

El caballero del tango was born 27 January 1905, and was in his prime as a pianist, composer and most prominently as a band leader during the Golden Age of Tango. Collaborating with the popular singer Alberto Castillo, and then the more romantic voice of Enrique Campos, his orquesta produced numerous classics which I find simply irresistible. No traditional milonga is complete without Tanturi!

Perhaps the best known of these classics outside Argentina is Una emoción which featured in the credits of the film Assassination tango.

Listen to DDP's Favourite Tanturi Tandas which feature links to DDP's lovingly crafted translations of the lyrics. Tanda of the Week also treats us to a number of Tanturi treasures.

And for the more visually-oriented, take a look at milonguero Rubén Harymbat & Enriqueta Kleinman dancing to Recuerdo malevo (Tanturi/Castillo), and Carlitos Espinoza & Noelia Hurtado performing to Calla bandoneón (Tanturi/Campos).

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Getting the music #2

One good way of improving your tango is to listen to Golden Age dance music - a lot!

You start hearing, feeling and responding to more and more elements of this rich, multi-layered music. Ah, what a delicious pleasure it is to dance with someone who really gets the music.

But what about all those fabulous, danceable tangazos which are sung? What might you be missing if you don't understand Spanish, or in many cases Lunfardo? Some people dismiss the lyrics as unimportant. I've even heard tango lyrics derided as merely variations on the "She done him wrong" theme. But there's so much more to these stories of the barrio. I've found that having even a small inkling of the story to which I'm dancing totally enriches my tango experience.

Fortunately, a number of dedicated and talented souls are opening these doors to non-Spanish speaking tango enthusiasts. Take a look and get lost on the blogs of Poesía de Gotán, Tango Decoder and Embrujamiento.

Look up some of your favourite tangos, and then see if things change for you next time you dance.

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