Friday, 28 May 2010

Happy birthday, Argentina!

...and just look at this! One of the greatest opera houses in the world, re-opened after refurbishment, to coincide with the birthday celebrations.

Video thanks to Malenatango.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010


This has just surfaced: Ricardo Vidort in the UK in 2004, and it's one of the best I've seen. Dazzling, to be honest. His posture was so amazing, effortlessly upright, and the weight forwards, so he really led from the chest. Then the style of stepping, very emphatic, almost declamatory (if you can have a declamatory way of walking.) He gives the impression of endless invention, with constant changes of directions. And his partner is well able to fly with him: my impression is that she complements his way of dancing very well. It looks great. Much to be learned for us all.

Amidst all the dazzling corridas and turns I couldn't help noticing 2:05 – 2:13: another corrida but to his partner's left side, in double time and in parallel. It looks so easy, doesn't it? & excellent film quality too: a wonderfully clear video. Many thanks, Tangocelebration.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Tango in Europe

Watching some Europe-wide tango last weekend, I suddenly realised that all the Italian partners I've ever danced with have been wonderful to dance with. Perhaps not that many, but I can't remember an exception. It never occurred to me to wonder why, but there might be a few good reasons.

Tango began (probably) with Gardel's recording of Mi Noche Triste in 1917, which combined a mixed music, with emotionally resonant poetry, with everything Gardel had managed to learn from trained Italian opera singers about phrasing, breath control, singing and musicality. (Plus, of course, his amazing voice.) This combination of a Spanish literary tradition with an Italian musical tradition was an instant and huge success. José María Kokubu thinks that the phrasing of this music suggested a new way of putting body movement to music – dancing – which was tango.

That musical tradition might not be as pervasive in Italy now as it was a century ago, but it's still there. Moreover, singing, speaking and breathing are related. It's easy to assume that breathing is identical everywhere, but I've read that breathing in Italy and Spain tends to be deeper, and sentences longer, than in the north. (Yes, someone did some research...) So when it comes to tango the Italians should have a head start. In effect, tango music is very much an Italian tradition; it just developed outside of mainland Italy.

Italians also are lucky that their language is so close to Spanish, Argentine Spanish in particular. Many excellent teachers visit Italy very regularly: Ana Maria Schapira spends quite a bit of time there, and I've enjoyed tango with her students. (I'd not like to speculate on whether they enjoyed my leading.) A number of other Argentine teachers have actually settled in Italy, Luisito Ferraris, for instance, and Mirtya Tisera, here dancing together, although they usually teach separately. Rosana Remon also now lives and teaches in Italy: here she is dancing with the late Tete, who visited Italy regularly. Mingo and Esther Pugliese now live in Italy, too. Italy's a lot easier to get to than Buenos Aires, and the food is so good...

I can't help seeing a bit of a north-south divide in European tango, with the south perhaps closer to the feel of the tango of Buenos Aires, and the north being more preoccupied, even in a close-hold dance, with technical correctness, perhaps as a substitute. I tend to look on technique as a bit like salt: you need it in small quantities, but you can't make a meal of it. The great survivors of the 1940s and 1950s Buenos Aires tango must have learned technique when they were young, and practised to get it right, but my hunch is that the milongas were where they really learned to dance, night after night, getting it wrong and getting it right, or rather, finding how it worked best for them, with a partner and the music. & tango music and dance are emotional, and we tend to be less comfortable with emotional display in the north. Tango actually gives us the opportunity to be emotional, which some of us do welcome!

YouTube gives us a seat at the best milongas to watch the best dancers. Jantango's video of Ismael is one I watch again and again. How much advanced technique does he show in his dance, and how much feeling for the music? And how satisfying is that dance to him and his partner? Despite the measured, calm appearance, I'm sure it's a deeply emotional dance.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Why Buenos Aires?

Well, why not?

I think my first visit was driven by curiosity: I'd seen the Confiteria Ideal in film, I loved the music and the dance, and I just wondered how a visit would work out. I'd also watched Tete and Sylvia on YouTube, and since they never came to London and it seemed impossible to find their travel plans, I hoped it would be possible to meet them there and take classes. (It was.) I rented a flat, so I knew that if the tango didn't work out I could just sit and read for a few weeks. I expected it would be excruciatingly embarrassing at times, and very rewarding at others, and it was. I imagined I'd dance all night every night: it never occurred to me to wonder, before I arrived, with whom? I found it a difficult, vast city (a lot bigger than London), functional but somewhat run down on the surface, with a lot of joy and misery in it, and with many extraordinary buildings. And everywhere I went, incredibly welcoming people, and not just in the tango community. I guess tourism is a new phenomenon there: during the lifetime of almost everyone you meet no one, or very few tourists, ever visited Argentina. Meeting visitors may be an affirmation that the country is a normal part of the world, and no longer isolated. Anyway, it's a remarkably hospitable place.

As for tango, I think the experience is different for visiting guys and girls; strange! In any case, every individual's experience is going to be different. With one exception my experience was of the milongas in my vicinity, which are well-known and where there are usually a few visitors. My impression is that a visiting guy has to be an excellent leader to get much dancing in that gentle, undemonstrative, highly musical dance of the downtown milongas. Whereas if his partner can follow a lead comfortably, she's likely to find she'll be kept quite busy. 'Milongueros' are humans, and curious about visiting women who look as if they dance well. I think the women are curious about visiting guys, too, but their situation is different, and understandably they are less eager to put themselves in the arms of someone they don't know and haven't danced with before, on a crowded floor. Or else, they can find better partners than me.

I first went to explore, and it was useful, so a return visit seemed inevitable. I had contacts, I knew my way round a bit, I felt I could build on the first visit. & I got what I needed: some very experienced eyes on my way of walking, of stepping, of standing. Argentine teachers in London seem eager to thrust amazing, inventive steps at you, but the teachers I looked for were more likely to watch quietly, and their brief comments were very helpful and illuminating. Or, like Pedro Sanchez, they'd go over something absolutely basic again and again if they weren't satisfied: they know from very long experience how it ought to look. Exactly what I wanted and needed, and something not so easy to come by in London. More than that, when someone like Alberto Dassieu encourages you, you really feel you have a contact you have to live up to. & there's an enjoyment of tango that gives it value. Does tango matter that much to me? Like most of us, I guess, yes and no. I love it, it's given me a lot, but it's not part of my life to the extent that it is for Pedro or Alberto, and I can enjoy other lives too. However, it's usually true that the more you put into something the more you get out of it. & the music sounds better there: a truly proud, strong music. I don't know why it just doesn't quite ring out like that in London. Nothing to do with the volume.

So do I want to go back? I guess the answer's obvious. There are teachers there who told me 'Remember, you have friends here!' My first real encouragement in tango was Ricardo Vidort whose wholehearted, good-natured enthusiasm for that close embrace and musical dance, encouraged me: sadly he's no longer around, but his lifelong friend Osvaldo Cartery still is, and I've yet to meet him. & I was introduced to Muma, who gave me her card at a milonga one evening and said to call her, and I just didn't have time. & I've never been to Lo de Celia, or Gricel or... There's much to go back for. Only... I was welcomed so warmly that I'd be ashamed to go back and still not be able to talk much, so I'm having to work on that. Lenguajero might prove very useful.

So my conclusion, for what it's worth, is that for a guy who likes the older tradition it's worth visiting for the teaching, and for a girl it's worth visiting for the dancing. Of course I'd be interested in other views on that. This posting was prompted by Ms Hedgehog, and by Tangocherie's reply.

Incidentally, those tango-enthusiast taxi drivers everyone talks about. Why did they never pick me up? Well, once or twice. Mostly I got Cumbia and Latin rock. Which was what I heard on the streets too. & I was told that while very few people have an active interest in tango, the tango songs are a part of everyone's cultural heritage. Those complex, beautiful poems are widely remembered, just as we all remember songs like... 'She loves you, yeah, yeah yeah'.

Ah, the buildings... Palacio Barolo has to be the ultimate. It was designed in the early 1920s by an Italian-born architect obsessed with the Divine Comedy, and the entire building is designed as a model of Dante's triple world. 100 metres high, and crowned with a lighthouse (God). I still haven't visited it, so there's definitely something to go back for!

Video thanks to Malenatango.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The weather in Toulon this coming weekend.

To anyone it may concern: the weather in Toulon this coming weekend will be warm, min. 17, max. 22, but there will be showers on Friday and Saturday. ('Showers' on that coast are usually what we'd call downpours.) Sunday and Monday should be warm and fine. Not a grain of volcanic ash in sight, and the BA strike is off. Bon voyage!

Saturday, 15 May 2010


Wonderful! Amazing! Almost too good to be true! Slowly, all too slowly, videos of Ricardo Vidort are appearing on YouTube. This one is particularly amazing: Ricardo Vidort leading Osvaldo Cartery. There's the story in Tangoandchaos that Ricardo taught Osvaldo on the streets when they were both kids, and there's a brief clip of them dancing together, but this one is new. It looks like a class in a dance workshop: some very fortunate students had Ricardo and Osvaldo there at the same time.

Video thanks to Tangotradicional.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Tangos in Buenos Aires

I was wondering how some record could be made of some of the wonderful improvised dance of the older generation in Buenos Aires, and the only way I could think of was for someone to get a bit of money together and set up a milonga there where the older dancers could be filmed – and be paid for being there, instead of having to pay to get in.

So it's wonderful that Irene and Manyung managed to film some of the older dancers on their recent visit to the city. Of course! I missed the obvious. These are people who will dance in front of your camera if they like you and trust you! Not that money's a bad idea, but it creates its own problems. A dance you do for enjoyment suddenly becomes a paid performance, and there's going to be the suspicion that the film-maker is making money out of it, and we're all inclined to believe that films make lots of money! So there can be mistrust, too. But Irene and Man Yung dance themselves, and love the dance, and that's reason enough for them to want to film it. There are three or four recent posts on their blog, which are great to read, and full of the most wonderful videos. There must be around three dozen videos altogether. Some of the dancers are really well-known: some probably aren't names even in Buenos Aires. But how good they are! I really enjoyed Oscar Omar Denico, and there's also a Cumparsita that is just amazing (it even has Elba Biscay leading Adela Galeazzi in the background). I hope you've already found all this but, if not, you might be missing an insight into how much fun a night out in Buenos Aires can be, and how much wonderful tango there is there.

I can't resist embedding one of their videos of Alberto Dassieu and Paulina. This just has to be the best video of them ever, better than the others because it's in a social dance, and it's not a display. So it's the real thing, and moreover the camera can follow them closely along the line of dance. The floor isn't crowded - and it's really well lit! Amazing that those folk in Buenos Aires can have so much fun without disco lighting! (Anyway, bright light helps prevent you from getting sleepy.)

I love that. Thanks so much! & please go back there again soon!

PS. Alberto should be on a teaching tour of Europe this summer. I'll post any dates and places I hear of. And Osvalo and Coca Cartery will teach at Tango Retiro in Sweden between July 26 and 30, and probably elsewhere: that's the only booking I've heard of so far.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Craneway Event

I just found this: a film by British artist and film-maker Tacita Dean, of Merce Cunningham, the extraordinary old man of American contemporary dance, rehearsing his company over three afternoons in a former Ford assembly plant overlooking the San Francisco Bay. I love watching contemporary dance on stage, and the opportunity to watch the less formal process of the choreographer in person creating a performance, in a film made by a very creative film-maker at Cunningham's invitation, is almost too good to be true. Cunningham died, aged 90, soon after the filming was completed.

It's being shown at the Frith Street Gallery, 17 – 18 Golden Square, Central London, between 13 May and 23 June. There are three screenings a day during the week, and two on Saturday. Details are here. No entry charge is mentioned, and the gallery is normally free.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Learning leading

Someone asked me recently where I learned to dance. I mentally scratched my head and replied, only half facetiously, 'YouTube'. I should have suggested a rephrasing of the question, because 'Who did you learn from?' is much easier to answer. Actually, I often wonder how I ever learned at all. Watching struggling beginners I wonder how I managed to get from there to having any confidence at all on the floor.

I was thinking about this after reading Golondrina's post An aspiring leader, about learning in general, and in particular about women learning to lead in order to improve their following, which put many thoughts into my head. I thought of posting a comment, but comments shouldn't go on for a whole page, so I thought it would be better as a post instead. Thanks, Golondrina!

For a start, leading and following don't seem to be just physical mirror images: they seem to be different states of mind. The lead role is intentional: although passive to the extent that it's controlled by the music, and also dependent on the spaces in the floor, it is intentional in choosing direction, following the music, using the available space, and using momentum to keep the partner in enjoyable movement. (& yet these still seem like reflex actions!) I can't really say what the woman's role is, and obviously there's the intention to follow the music and often to help the lead to keep out of harm's way, but in general it seems to depend on intentionality being held voluntarily in abeyance.

When I started to learn, a teacher forcibly led male students, in order to show them how to lead. It was not only uncomfortable but, I felt, completely useless. Leaders need to know what movements they are leading in their partners, but actually taking, or being forced to take, the partner's role doesn't make that clear, certainly not at a beginner's level, certainly not with fairly complex choreographies. It takes time. So I left that class... and stumbled into YouTube.

I was lucky. YouTube was just beginning to accumulate enough tango for it to be possible to watch various kinds of Argentine (and other) tango, so it enabled me to see, and to decide, fairly quickly, the kind of tango I wanted to learn, even the kind of tango I felt I'd be able to learn! I'd already had one precious group class with Ricardo Vidort, the first Argentine teacher I met, who made it clear that tango was danced in close hold, that it was musical and that it was very enjoyable. I was glad to find a few examples of that kind of tango on YouTube, among quite a few that were neither in close hold nor musical, and didn't look particularly enjoyable...

YouTube also makes it possible to watch the tango you like over and over. I find I have problems in group classes: I never seem to be able to watch the tutors' demo enough. I thought I was just slow, and I probably am: one London teacher told me that if he sees a movement once, he can recall it and copy it immediately, and I'm nowhere near that level. But I think my 'slowness' is also a response to the complexity of what is going on. In a class I can pick up what my feet do, and my partner will do much the same, and we can put them together in some kind of imitation of our teachers. But it doesn't feel like dancing. When I watch a video I first work out my own steps, then start to work out how my movements are going to move my partner. I try to lead this with an unsuspecting partner, and it's probably a total flop. I watch the video again: ah! In addition to the left and the right, and the forwards and backwards of it, there's also that turn of the foot, that lift of the shoulders, that twist of the waist at the same time as... Suddenly the point of these details becomes clear, and the next time I try it, it'll be more successful. Soon it becomes second nature and I can start actually dancing it, seeing how it can be used to express phrases in the music. Here too, the video is invaluable: I can go back and watch how Alberto Dassieu, or Ricardo Vidort, or Tete, move with the music.

Not to say that interaction with teachers isn't useful, but I find it's generally more useful on a one-to-one level when observations on the basics of walking, standing and turning can be very helpful and illuminating. An experienced eye can look beyond a problem with, say, a turn, and see the defects of walking and posture at the root of the problem. In Buenos Aires I found Cacho Dante and Mimi Santapa, even in group classes, particularly helpful in this way.

That generation, of course, or at least the men of that generation, learned by dancing with each other until they were basically competent, and probably continued to work over things amongst themselves. I remember that scene in The Tango Lesson where Pablo Veron shows Gustavo and Fabián a new move, and they promptly lead and follow it with each other. I guess it's always been more usual for men to take the follow role in practice than for women to take the lead role, but I'd hope it is equally useful.

PS. To avoid confusion, I should point out that, in addition to my YouTube addiction, I went to a lot of classes too, particularly those offering good basic teaching, while avoiding those specialising in tango acrobatics. But watching a lot remains fundamental. & we're lucky to have the possibility to watch, too.