Thursday, 10 June 2010

The window of opportunity

If this blog has one theme, it's how frustrating it is to be stuck in London in a sea of publicity for visits by young, mainly show-tango teachers, while some of the best of the older generation from Buenos Aires, with a life-time of experience, teach all over Europe yet never visit the UK. When I hear of such visitors to Europe I always draw attention to them – Osvaldo and Coca are in Europe now, and will be at Tango Retiro 2010 in Sweden in the last week of July, and Alberto Dassieu will be in Switzerland, also in July – in the desperate hope that someone can get them into the UK for a few days. Alberto I know for sure really hopes to be able to visit London this July. At one time I even fantasised about a London Milonguero Festival to which they'd all be invited – all together! – but I just happened to lack the funding... (I pushed out the idea in case someone thought, 'Hey, what a good idea. I'll do it!' – but I didn't think it was advisable to hold my breath.)

There are legal problems, yes, there are in most countries, but there must be ways for visitors to teach here temporarily: Los Ocampo and the Disparis manage to visit regularly for extended, well-publicised tours, as do bucket-loads of almost-identical teachers of showy tango. Surely by now there are enough of us to make a visit by some of those other wonderful dancers worthwhile? Because time isn't on our side. The window of opportunity may be just a year or two, if that. Not that their teaching will disappear when they go, but I happen to think that contact with all that experience is really important. Learning tango isn't just learning where to put your feet.

It was wonderful to have Mimi in London last weekend: the class was well-attended and, with a better understanding of what was possible with publicity we could have had better-attended workshops too. There was certainly no shortage of enthusiasm for her teaching. & that's just London. I think (hope) there's the realisation that 'milonguero' isn't just a style of tango, one among many, but that in its native form it has a big heart, and a life of its own, that it's a very profound communion between people.

In the meantime, if the prophets don't come to the UK, the only thing to do, it seems, is to go to them while they are still able to visit Europe. Italy is their no. 1 destiny, partly because of the language affinity, and several excellent dancer/teachers have settled there. You can make several trips to Italy for the cost of one visit to Buenos Aires: worth thinking about. See you in Milano/Venezia/Ferrara/Roma/Lecce/Bari next summer? Or do you think we could manage to get some good visitors to London by then?


Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Tangocommuter,

We feel your pain - "nearly identical showy teachers" make Toronto a stop on their round every year like it was some sort of annual critter migration - and organizers have their schedules filled and resources depleted with accommodating this plague of locusts.

The teachers who can actually teach us something about how tango used to be danced in the golden age aren't invited. "There's no market for that here," one organizer said to us when we asked her why.

All we can do as bloggers and dancers is to get the word out!

Hope that your dreams about the festival in the UK become reality - and soon, because time is running out....

Irene and Man Yung

Tango en el Cielo said...

am certainly thinking of visiting Italy to dance. As for hosting milongueros and other very experienced trad dancers here- who hosted Mimi in London? Who looked after her? How many days did she stay? am interested to know, as hosting an older Argentine who doesn't speak English and hasn't been here before is, in most cases, going to be a full-time job for the duration of their stay.

Tangocommuter said...

Locusts? You've really got it in for them, haven't you! Locusts! Very apt; I'll remember that! I think the only way forward is to identify the small group who might be interested, and try to organise something for them yourself. That's in a way my current plan. At least there is one sympathetic organiser here.

Tango en el Cielo said...

To pick up on Irene and Man's comment: "The teachers who can actually teach us something about how tango used to be danced in the golden age aren't invited. "There's no market for that here," one organizer said to us when we asked her why."

In London there most definitely IS a market for it. When I brought Ricardo Vidort here from BsAs for the summers of 2003, 04 and 05, he was immensely popular. A large number of people attended his classes; and an even larger number watched him dance, danced with him, chatted with him and hung out with him. MANY of them still tell me today that they miss him, were thrilled by watching him dance, by learning with him, or just by something he said to them- some piece of wisdom or encouragement, about tango or some other part of life that they confided to him. Some people tell me they were touched by the single occasion they met him.

But we can't just bring over more people like Ricardo from BsAs. For one thing, there's no-one like him. There are few milongueros left in BsAs and even fewer milongueras. They are old and often in fragile health. They usually don't speak English. They don't have a passport. They may not use email. I could go on. And on. And on.

It took many months of work to bring Ricardo here for the first time. I could write a book just about what happened before he got here, how he (only just) managed to get here, even after all those (extraordinary!) efforts of the preceding months. And he was different from most milongueros- he spoke fluent English and had lived in other countries.

Why did I do it? Partly because I knew that his dancing would make a lasting difference to people and tango here. Partly because I wanted to dance with him. But the essential motivation was a deep friendship we had already developed in BsAs, and a sense of urgency as I knew he had a terminal illness and wanted to see England. In bringing him over, I knew that I was making myself responsible for accommodating him, looking after and supporting him, in the event he didn't make enough money to support himself, and possibly even nursing him if his health had deteriorated while here (thankfully it didn't). I knew perfectly well he would arrive with no money in his pocket, so I had to manage all his earnings while he was here, and make sure he had a place to move on to and that he bought the ticket in good time. I could only contemplate all that that entailed for a very dear friend, and I can't currently imagine anyone else inspiring me to do anything like it again.

Please just imagine adding to the above the additional help you would have to give an elderly (or even not so elderly) Argentine who doesn't speak English, doesn't know London and can't get about on their own. And who may not be able to organise their own teaching or social engagements, can't remember what they've agreed to do, and doesn't know how to use email.

Anyone contemplating it would need to consider the effect on their time, their job/work, home, relationships.
And then they would probably decide to go and visit their friend in BsAs instead!

I suppose if you know someone who lives in Italy that may be a different matter, as you could bring them to London for a short time, buy the return ticket for them and just devote those days to being with them and organising their life. But then you would have to try to cram lots of classes and appearances into that short time, and the benefits to London tangueros as well as to the visitor would be much more limited. I would guess that the person who brought Mimi to the UK probably invested a huge lot of time, trouble and money in her visit, even though it was quite short. And probably wouldn't have considered it if Mimi were not already a personal friend.

But do please keep the discussion going. Who knows, maybe something will come up, unexpectedly...

Tangocommuter said...

Wonderful to get such a reply. I personally owe a huge debt to Tango en el Cielo for that one evening I spent at a class led by Ricardo. The invitations to Ricardo were magnificent and brave, and a suitable tribute to him. I hope that book about his visits will get written!

However, there is a slight misunderstanding. I've never contemplated bringing anyone from BsAs. The 'window of opportunity' I refer to is the presence in Europe of dancers like Osvaldo and Coca, and Alberto Dassieu, who have passports, are comfortable with travel, visit regularly and who are even regular users of email, whose health is pretty good for their age, and who are also experienced teachers. They are on our doorstep and we haven't invited them in.

Nor would I consider trying to set up prolonged visits. These days it's so rare to have a visit from a dancer of that generation that a visit of more than a few days just seems pointless. I just think a short visit is better than ignoring them altogether.

There was a big interest in Ricardo five or six years ago, and possibly if he were to reappear miraculously, there would be now, because he was a very engaging person and spoke excellent English. There is currently some interest in the kind of tango he taught, but I don't think it's very extensive. In the five years since his last visit, there's been little teaching of that kind of dance, particularly to beginners, here. Meanwhile we've been swamped with the 'locusts', the hoards of near-identical teachers of some kind of show tango, while the showiest 'tango' has become popular on TV, and has probably changed the general perception of what tango is. In the UK, there's a generation of dancers that has little concept of the kind of tango taught by Ricardo. Even in the community that dances close embrace, my impression is that few have much interest in those with a lifetime of experience, which I find incomprehensible.

It's different in Europe: Europe, from Sweden to Italy, is where Ricardo's generation has continued to teach.

That's what I find so frustrating. Even infuriating.

Tango en el Cielo said...

I think you'd have enjoyed last night's demo by Jorge y Maria Dispari. Apparently their 11 workshops are already full. Villa Urquiza style rather than milonguero, but definitely trad (and anyway the distinction's a fine one, does it matter?) and not old enough to have danced in the "Golden Age" but they could have been one of the few to continue dancing throughout the lean years of the 70s and 80s. I think you've mentioned having met them in BsAs? Evidently they're available for inviting to London and able to organise their own tours- Claire didn't know them before this visit. Jorge has a FBook page with 5,000 "friends" so no lack of marketing skills there!

Andreas said...

I think one important thing the people you mention can bring to the UK tango scene (or any other, for that matter) is a sense of sanity, as an antidote to all the foolishness that is going on with what is passing as tango in many places. I go crazy whenever someone carries on about (social) tango as "artistic expression". It's a bloody folk dance, for god's sake!

Tangocommuter said...

Not sure I agree with you about the 'bloody folk dance' but otherwise, yes. Osvaldo Cartery in particular has a wonderful way of being ridiculously funny one moment, and full of tenderness the next. Few dancers are that playful. What I think that generation can do so effectively is cut through the pretentiousness of acrobatic tango. On a good day I think that pretentiousness is just beginning to wear a bit thin. Mimi seems to have blown away a few people here: maybe people will welcome a bit of real heart instead of tinsel.

So if you know of any way we can get them here, please tell me! Or just get them here: I know many of us will sign up for the workshops.

Andreas said...

I think we are talking about the same thing.
And "folk dance" is a good thing in my book. Tango was not designed by some artist with a vision, or by a comittee trying to create some accessible bestseller dance to market. Tango evolved, and like anything that evolved has substance (culturally, structurally and technically) that easily outstrips anything that people design for whatever purpose. Parallels to this can be seen in the material sciences, for example. The holy grail is mimicking naturally evolved structures because they are superior to anything you can come up with in a lab.
Also...while it may be argued that social tango is "art", I find that way lies madness - or rather, pretentiousness, as you pointed out. We need to lower our brows, so to speak. Tango is a simple thing.

Tangocommuter said...

OK, yes! Tango is simple, but simplicity leaves room for emotional and physical complexity. I'd call characarera a folk dance; it's simple in music and movement. Yes, tango's not an artistic creation like the dance of Pina Bausch. (Who loved tango...)

But the real point is: how can we get some of those tangueros of the older generation to the UK!

Anonymous said...

Find a sponser, sort out some of the best non show dancers and hire a nice location. give yourself a large lead time and then let the Tango grapevine go to work.
You would be beating them of with a stick near to the due date

Tangocommuter said...

Thanks anon! OK, so, #1: find a sponsor! Any ideas?

One of my reasons for persistently drawing attention to the presence of these older visitors in Europe is to prompt sponsorship. Without help, we're not going to get very far. It's not hugely expensive, and anyone's welcome, from an individual to a big corporation. If they can help us bring some great old tangueros to the UK, I'm sure we'll all be willing to say how wonderful they are!