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Thursday, 9 August 2018

Musical chairs in the milonga


Are you a milonga gypsy?  Or do you like to return to your own chair after dancing? 

So, what's the fuss about seating at milongas?

Consider this real-life scenario (only names have been changed):

Joanne and Phil normally arrive at milongas fairly early.  Among other things, they like to take their pick of seats before the milonga gets busy.

After a hectic week, they headed out to relax at a local milonga.  Having paid the entrada and found a nice spot to sit, Harry slung his coat over his chair with his phone safely tucked in the coat pocket out of harm's way.

Many people arrived, and as the milonga became busier, each new arrival tried to work out where there was a free place to sit.  To avoid any unpleasantness, before sitting down most new arrivals politely tried to confirm with those sitting at a table, whether a place was available.  Sometimes they would get it wrong, and the recent arrival would have to gather up their belongings and find another spot.  At times, this was accompanied by some awkwardness.

Meanwhile, Joanne and Phil had been enjoying the milonga.  Returning to his chair after a tanda, Phil found someone else sitting there, engrossed in an animated conversation.  Having nowhere else to sit, and being far too polite to say anything, Phil waited patiently.  Then he realised that the 'visitor' was not only sitting on his freshly dry-cleaned coat, but probably also on his phone!  Still he said nothing!!  Instead he continued to wait ... somewhat anxiously.  (Politeness can be taken a touch too far.)

Fortunately, the phone was undamaged, and Phil was able eventually to reclaim his seat.  No harm done.  

But, could you imagine some better alternatives to this scenario?  Allow me to suggest a few improvements:

Organisers provide sufficient seating for everyone
This ensures that each person has somewhere for their jacket, drink, mints, fan, etc.

Organisers keep an eye on seating
They make the effort to indicate comfortable options for each person when they arrive, rather than leaving dancers to their own devices after taking their money.  This also prevents congestion in any one area, thereby reducing obstructions on the dance-floor.

Dancers return to their seat at the end of tandas
If you have been 'visiting' another table for a chat, you return to your seat (or go elsewhere, such as the bar) at the end of the tanda.  This ensures that the 'owner' of that spot has somewhere to sit when they have finished dancing. 
Returning to your seat also facilitates the cabeceo, because potential dance partners will know where to look for you.  In fact, sitting down during the cortina helps everyone in the milonga.  If people are standing and chatting on the dance-floor in between tandas, your line of sight may be blocked.  With everyone seated, you can easily look at potential partners, if you wish to dance the coming tanda.

PP

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Just a friendly word of advice


At a practica (or even at a milonga, heaven forbid), has a dance partner given you advice about how to improve your tango?  Perhaps it was a suggestion about your embrace, your balance, your movements, etc.  Did the advice make sense to you?  Were you successful in putting the advice into practice?  If so, did you feel that it resulted in an improvement?

Most of us do want to improve.  And, I think I would be correct in saying that most of us would love dancers in our tango community to continue to improve, so we can enjoy more of those treasured tango moments.  For that reason, we might from time to time, be tempted to provide unsolicited advice when something isn't quite working while dancing.  But quite apart from the inappropriateness of 'teaching' in a milonga where we should dance as equals, will this advice actually be helpful to our partner?

Do we have sufficient expertise to analyse and advise on movement?  Do we have expertise in the opposite role?  Are we certain that we are not responsible, at least in part, for the 'problem'?  In a practica or in class, wouldn't it instead be more helpful to provide feedback to our partner about what we are feeling, experiment together, then if advice is needed, ask an expert?

Take a look at Why most advice you get about your dancing is wrong, by Veronica Toumanova.

PP

Monday, 14 May 2018

Diaries of BsAs - Wardrobe malfunctions


Let's face it, most of us take the trouble to present ourselves well at a milonga.  We take care with our personal hygiene, do our hair and make-up (at least some do!), avoid strong perfumes (and other noxious food and body odours), and wear nice clothes.  Most of us want to make a good impression, don't we?

But sometimes, despite our best intentions things can go wrong...
  • Some time ago, I was about to leave the ladies' room, to return to the milonga.  Thankfully, one of the other ladies called out to me in Spanish: Tu pollera! (your skirt!)   Had she not been thoughtful enough to do that, I would have strolled into one of my favourite milongas with part of my silk skirt tucked into my underclothes!!   Now that would have made an attractive sight.

  • Not so much embarassing, but not a good look was a mature-aged gentleman in a nice suit happily dancing with his partner.  Unfortunately, he was oblivious to the fact that his suit jacket was tucked into the back of his trousers.

  • A few words of caution to ladies keen on wearing short skirts.  A while ago, a woman arrived at a milonga, obviously doing her best to present herself as a something of a vamp in both her theatrical arrival and the way she dressed.  Some men were immediately drawn by this, and invited her to dance.  However, her dress was so short, that her underwear was on display to all, when she took up the man's embrace.  Observing reactions around the milonga, she was clearly the source of comment.  It didn't take long for one of the organisers to have words with her.   Returning from the ladies room, she was wearing thick black tights.

  •  At a recent BsAs milonga, I was sitting out a tanda and watching the dancers, when something suddenly caught my attention.  It wasn't the male dancer's great skill or musicality.  I had to look again a couple of times to ensure what I was seeing was not what it seemed.  With great relief, I realised that it was only the end of his tan-coloured belt which I could see.  The last 10 centimetres or so of the belt had come adrift, and was hanging from the centre-front of his trousers.  Mercifully, the belt was soon tucked away out of sight.  Perhaps someone kindly told him.
Moral:
Check your attire carefully before going out and before leaving the bathroom.

PP

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Diaries of BsAs - Mission accomplished


In April, before leaving for Buenos Aires, the Adelaide tango community came together to support a very disadvantaged northern region of Argentina which had suffered devastating floods in early 2018, where the mud-brick homes were destroyed.  Our monthly Comme il faut at the gorgeous Mt Osmond Golf Club, became Adelaide's own Milonga Solidaria. 

In Buenos Aires, Hugo Maffi and Mary Aragon coordinate the very successful Milonga Solidaria whose aim is to support a different worthy cause each month.  All milonga services are donated, meaning every peso taken at the door (including donations) goes directly to where it is needed.  Last year, our very own Milonga Solidaria in Adelaide raised enough funds to buy half of the personal water filters needed in a remote community in Santiago del Estero!  Together with the funds raised at the BsAs milonga in May 2017, this meant that the goal of supplying unpolluted water to that community was achieved.  (Scroll back through their Facebook for more details.)

Last March, Hugo and Mary's milonga supported the Mil Techos para el Chaco Salteño project, raising money for two roofs in that flood-ravaged area.  This year the Adelaide tango community raised US$1,150 (about 24,600 pesos) to support that project - enough for two more roofs.  Fundacion Sí is the not-for-profit organisation, staffed entirely by volunteers, which is running the Mil Techos project.  Last week, we were able to meet with Paola and Adriana, two of the key Fundacion Sí volunteers in Buenos Aires, to deliver our donation and hear more about their activities.



Thursday, 3 May 2018

Diaries of BsAs - How do I dance at a milonga & why?


Almost two weeks of this stay in Buenos Aires have already passed, and attending various milongas (all traditional) makes us reflect on tango experiences here and at home.  Here is the first musing, with more to come:

I rarely dance more than half the tandas at a milonga, and wondered what determines my milonga experience.  Some aspects are very practical, others are personal.
  • Venue - Does it inspire and invigorate?  Or is it boring and lacking in energy?
  • Hosts - Do they welcome you, ensure you're seated comfortably and make you feel that you belong?  Or are you ignored after paying your money?
  • Set-up - Does the arrangement allow those sitting a chance to engage with the ronda?  Or is there a separation between dancers and those seated?
I have barely sat down, but already these things are influencing my mood.
  • Dancers - Do they dance well, connect with the music and navigate with consideration to other dancers?  Or is the dance-floor a struggle, not allowing me to relax and dance intuitively?
  • Partners - Are there dancers there that I want to dance with?
  • The milonga - Does it run smoothly with high energy amongst the dancers?  Or are there some long interruptions and a generally low energy pervading?
And an absolutely fundamental issue:
  • Music - Does it call me to the floor?  Or is it often uninspiring, or even irritating?
Even before any of this has an impact, another question is how I am feeling when I arrive.  Am I physically tired or mentally drained?  Or am I energised?  The factors above may turn my mood around - for the better or for worse.

Casting an eye over these factors I notice that many of them can be heavily influenced by the milonga organisers.  Others rely on the dancers having put effort into developing their dance.

A good milonga with lots of good dancers will get people on the floor with the energy at a high, but that doesn't mean dancing every tanda.  For me, there needs to be time to watch, listen and reflect (all enhancements to learning) and, of course, time to socialise with friends.  And then there are the tandas that are unmissable, and have to be danced, no matter how tired I may feel. That might mean dancing half or at most, two thirds of the tandas, but they will be to music that I love and with partners that are meant for this music.

How you respond to a milonga is very subjective.  What suits you may not suit me.  In Buenos Aires, our favourite milongas tick all the boxes, while others tick only some boxes. In those cases, my response may very well depend on how I feel before I arrive. The good milongas will carry me along regardless ... but I'll still only dance a certain number of tandas.  I need watch-listen-reflect time ... and to rest a little, so that I can give my next partner my total focus and energy.  She deserves no less!

Bob

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Creative contradictions


Life seems to be full of interesting contradictions and paradoxes. Have you noticed that tango is no exception?

Music and lyrics
The music suggests one thing, and the lyrics often say another

Looking into the music and lyrics of tango, you might be rather surprised by the apparently contradictory elements. The lyrics of tango are highly emotive, frequently melancholy and sometimes simply tragic. On the other hand, the accompanying music is physically engaging, often surprisingly upbeat - thus beckoning us onto the dance-floor (at least with a good DJ at the helm).

Originally, of course, these lyrics were written to tell human stories that the everyday person could relate to. Perhaps the music's contribution is there to enable us to experience universal human emotions through dance - also allowing us to dance away our cares for a while?

Expressing of emotions and personal space
Publicly we experience and express emotions in the arms of another person - possibly not our life partner

It comes as no surprise that social tango brings with it seemingly conflicting demands. At the root of this, perhaps is the expression of emotion in a public place. There is also the intimate physical contact with, at times, a stranger.  When two people connect through the feeling in the music, their passing, shared intimate experience may be exposed to observation and to potential comment.

So, it makes sense that the following codes (etiquette) evolved, and still have merit:
  • Despite the intense and emotive nature of some tango music, the expression of it through dance is contained. Dancers are led by the music, so the couple may experience  a powerful response. But this is not overtly demonstrated for all to see.
  • When a tango comes to an end, the couple does not maintain the embrace in any way. It is no more than a three minute romance, with no further implications. At the end of even the most romantic tanda, the lady is escorted back to her table, the man returns to his - and that is that.
Some might reject the codigos as having no place in our modern tango world, far the Buenos Aires of old. But I find that these elegant strategies allow us to enjoy the dynamics of the milonga. We are not hampered by any expectation that the three minute romance will continue beyond the dance-floor. Nor are we concerned with any speculation by onlookers about actual or imagined romantic liaisons.

The couple and the others in the ronda
A couple dance together, but they also dance with the other couples

Social tango allows each dancer to surrender to their partner and to the music. The dance is not primarily for the benefit of onlookers, but rather for the couple's enjoyment. Abandoning oneself like this can lead to a profound sense of satisfaction and joy.

Yet, a dance-floor full of couples giving unbridled expression to the music sounds downright dangerous! To avoid chaos, a couple dances with other couples in the ronda. They enter the ronda with care, the leader navigates, they move in harmony with the music, and both dancers contain their movements out of consideration for those around them. How else would it be possible for everyone on the dance-floor to enjoy themselves - without distraction and without fear of injury? When these competing demands are managed well, the ronda is blissfully harmonious. And being a part of that can feel almost magical.

Other 'contradictions' come to mind, such as:
  • the benefits of disciplined technique, in order to improvise spontaneously 
  • how a good 'leader' actually follows the 'follower'
Perhaps you can think of others ...

It seems to me that the resolution of these competing demands has actually created (rather than limited) the possibility of rich experiences for dancers. Perhaps, this could in part, explain the deep attraction of social tango.

PP

By the way, I've been reading Jordan Peterson's thoughts on Life, and reckon that what he has to say about finding a balance between chaos and order is relevant to these ' Creative contradictions' in tango. I particularly like his example of surfing in Hawaiian culture: "When a surfer mastered a wave, he was physically embodying the balance between order and chaos".
Does the relevance to social tango seem a bit far-fetched? I'm not so sure.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Spot the beginner


A: "There she is. She's a beginner - she needs some advice. I'll give her the benefit of my expertise. After all, she'll feel grateful that someone with my experience is getting her up to dance."
(Why do some people feel the need to do this??)

B: "I was pushed and pulled all over the place. He was showing off, trying to get me to do his tricks. I had no idea what he wanted me to do, and I was made to feel like an idiot with everyone watching. He was in my ear all the time, telling me what to do - I couldn't focus on the music. Then, he used the breaks in the tanda to demonstrate figures to me. I'm new to tango and simply didn't know how to deal with the situation. I love the music, the dance, the connection, but after that, I just felt like going home."

Of course, there's an equivalent scenario with the roles reversed.

The fundamental element missing above is RESPECT. A good tango dancer (not necessarily one with lots of years of experience) will respect his/her partner - won't give unsolicited advice in the milonga, and will dance in a manner that is appropriate to the partner's current ability. The good dancer will, in fact, be able to enhance his/her partner's dancing as the tanda progresses. Yes, we may want to give our partner the benefit of our expertise, but that can be achieved through HOW we dance with them.

A good male dancer, for example, will start the tanda with a new partner by walking with sensitivity to the music - monitoring his partner's responses and accommodating, in order to instil confidence. Then maybe some small backward ochos, taking time to ensure that she completes her pivot before the next step, and being very explicit with the leads. The focus is on his partner, ensuring that she is comfortable and that the communication is working. Above all, a good dancer will respond to the music so she FEELS it through his body and his movements. During the tanda he'll check that she's feeling OK. You may ask: What about him? Well, this tanda is all about HER, as he does his best to convince her that tango is a dance of love - in many aspects.

So, how could a beginner deal with the humiliating treatment described earlier? She doesn't want to be labelled a snob by turning men away, thereby possibly reducing the chances of men inviting her to dance. On the other hand, she doesn't want to feel like someone's plaything.

Think of it this way: when it comes to unwelcome behaviours, tango is no different to other social situations. If she doesn't like what's happening to her, she doesn't have to put up with it. She could say something like:
  • "I'm sorry, but I don't feel comfortable with this right now. I'd rather sit down."
  • "I'm really not able to talk and dance at the same time."
  • "Thanks, but I need to sit down."
And in future, it's best to avoid the situation by actively using the cabeceo, and avoiding the gaze of certain people. It also pays to be armed with a response for unwelcome direct approaches - commonly used on beginners. If you'd rather not dance with someone, try something simple like: "Thanks, but not right now."

BTW. What do I mean by a 'good tango dancer'?
Someone who respects his/her partner and strives to make the tanda a positive experience; understands and practises the codes of the milonga; feels, connects with, and expresses the music in his/her dancing, and has the skills to execute tango movements which are appropriate in the social, sometimes crowded, context.

So, in the opening scenario, could you spot the real beginner?

Bob

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