Friday, 16 December 2011

Paul's comment

Paul left an interesting comment to my post On Being a Tango Commuter which I thought was worth opening as a new post, rather than leaving it in the lost world of comments. I wrote about teaching outside London:

“TC wrote: a [teaching] couple with good intentions but who probably assumed that the time for close embrace social tango in rural UK still hadn't dawned

I wonder what the good intentions were specifically and how or why they got lost or diverted along the way.

This post also has me wondering about the conditions, ingredients or possible strategies that make it possible to re-create and maintain at least in part some of the traditions of close embrace social tango in some circumstances but not in others. Is it something that can be established by a set of top-down “rules of the house” promoted by some enlightened teacher or event organiser? Or does there need to be a critical core mass of close embrace social dancers who set the tone and establish the culture as faithfully transplanted from the milongas of central BsAs?”


Thanks, Paul. I assumed their intentions were good: I think they enjoyed dance and music, and found other people who shared their interest. But I think their dance was superficial, based not so much on the dancing in the better milongas, but on what they learned from some BsAs teachers. They assumed, probably correctly, that close embrace social dancing in rural England could be a turn-off. But instead of building up simple things which people could enjoy immediately, like a good walk and simple improvisation to the music, they rushed off and taught a whole load of complex and difficult stuff. & to me, not organising or encouraging social dance was a big bad error.

I can't answer the remainder of your questions but I think it's worth rambling around some of the issues. Other people will probably have answers. The central issue is the close embrace, isn't it? This is carefully protected in BsAs by the cabeceo and by the separation of men and women in milongas. This structure gives women control over who they dance with, which allows them to be much more trusting and intimate in their dance, and a deeper emotional intensity can result, perhaps one of the main reasons people go dancing. Some European milongas have adopted cabeceo successfully, so it can work here, but it's not a format that's familiar to us. We go to a dance to socialise openly with each other. Maybe that will change with tango. Successful tango involves close embrace, and successful close embrace means a woman should not be obliged to dance with a guy just because he wants to dance with her. So tango needs cabeceo or some other convention that does the same job.

In a 'second-tier cabeceo' men mix with women, but asking for a dance is by eye contact only. This is becoming more normal in London. It works OK, but isn't quite so clear. My guess is we could manage without a formal cabeceo so long as everyone is quite clear that the most wonderfully intense tanda is just a wonderfully intense tanda, with no relation to what happens when the music ends. But my ideal for the UK would be dance floors where cabeceo is strict, with separate bar areas where people can socialise.

My experience of rural tango suggests that the close embrace itself isn't much of a problem, but there's a feeling that the social implications could be problematic. People just aren't used to it, but quickly come to realise they can enjoy a close dance and can separate at the end of it. After all, the fun in fooling around with double ganchos and pretending you're in Strictly Come Prancing isn't very substantial. People realise pretty fast there's more on offer than that.

Some BsAs milongas have rules written out but that's mainly for visitors, as everyone there understands the consensus. I think people are going to work their way to a consensus, which is preferable. It might not be an exact replica of anything in BsAs, but if it does the job, why worry? It doesn't matter what colour a cat is so long as it catches mice, as Chairman Deng Xiaoping remarked. & we're not going to develop a consensus quickly unless we discuss with each other what we want, and give constant feedback to organisers. The main thing is that everyone gets really great dances, and as the quality of dances improves it'll probably become clear that a more formal structure works best. But cabeceo doesn't work in dark rooms! Tango isn't danced in the dark, and the moody lighting might have go!

9 comments:

jantango said...

I don't know of any milonga in BsAs except Cachirulo that posts rules in several languages for foreign visitors. Locals would benefit by reading them as well.

richardslade said...

Hi,
I haven't read the earlier posts, so you might have answered this before, but where do you consider rual UK to be? Is this anywhere outside London, or just in towns outside of major cities?

You make a good point about the moody lighting. Some milongas can be too dark to properly use a cabeceo, although I've seen the majority of people trying to use it here (well outside London). The seating arrangements generally don't help cabeceo either.

As for close embrace, I've seen a big shift away form open embrace in the last few years. Close embrace and generally considerate floorcraft seem to have taken over as the main aim, at least with those tangueros and tangueros that I tend to know the best and this has been coupled with a shift in musical taste where 4 or 5 years ago, tango nuevo and neo was played more than it is now.

Dieudonne said...

"But cabeceo doesn't work in dark rooms! Tango isn't danced in the dark, and the moody lighting might have go!"

It has to go, no "might" in this case. We need to see who we want to dance with, and make eye contact in order to invite them.
The idea of "moody lighting" works in night clubs to help men sneak up on women in the dark.
In tango as you stated, women need to be empowered to choose freely who they want to dance with.

Tangocommuter said...

Thanks Jantango. I've got a photo somewhere of a similar list at Sin Rumbo. I wonder where you think similar lists should be posted for locals to read...

Hi Richard. I meant deep local, village and small town local. Interesting you've also noticed a shift towards close dancing recently. I've certainly noticed it in the few London milongas I go to, but I wondered if my sample was too selective.

Dieudonne, absolutely!

Cinderella said...

So far I've been quite sure that I know what 'cabeceo' is. Now I'm not so sure anymore. Could someone please define it (how it is properly done, which seating arrangement is required etc).
So far I've prefered what you call 'moody lighting' to a lot of lighting and I think the cabeceo has worked pretty well with me even if there wasn't too much light. Perhaps I've missed a lot...
TC writes: 'The central issue is the close embrace, isn't it? This is carefully protected in BsAs by the cabeceo and by the separation of men and women in milongas. This structure gives women control over who they dance with...'
So far I've thought it is the woman's choice who she wants to dance with and if she wants to dance in close embrace anyway, no matter whether the leader has invited her using the cabeceo or some other form. She can always say NO, right?

Tangocommuter said...

Congratulations, Cinderella! You seem to have found or achieved the consensus that gives you what you want, great dances with the people you want to dance with. & congratulations on saying 'no' to dancers you don't want to dance with, and for leaving if you can't get dances you want. Paul asked some questions, and I said I couldn't answer them, but it seemed worth putting down some thoughts, and seeing what other people think. Thanks for what you wrote.

I'm always going on about lighting. It's surprising how much of a difference it can make to a leader, particularly if the floor is light-coloured. It makes it much easier to see, just in a glimpse out of the corner of your eye, what space is available on a crowded floor, what other couples nearby are doing. & if your cabaceo is across the floor, Buenos Aires-style, then a certain amount of light is helpful. Subdued, perhaps, but not bright or dark. My favourite milonga remains Maipu 444 in Buenos Aires. As you can see from videos, the floor is light-coloured, and the room lighting very clear and even. It used to be a pleasure to dance there even when it was very crowded. Alas, it closed down earlier this year.

Tangocommuter said...

Francesca of Tango Cumbria emailed me this and agreed to let me post it as a comment:

On the subject of close embrace dancing, cabeceo etc. We dance traditional Milonguero style here in Cumbria & also in Newcastle. Our teachers Liliana Tolomei & Santiago Leon teach that style to enable us to dance in Bs As Milongas. I've been there 5 times now, so it's becoming a bit of a habit! It's the only way to develop your dance so it frees you up to be versatile & dance anywhere.

I've found London Milongas very unfriendly, yet I can dance all night in other countries. I'm now quite alarmed & offended if some guy walks down the hall to ask me to dance & I feel I have to accept otherwise it'll embarrass him. The codigos give dancers freedom.

Keep up the good work, hope to meet you on a dance floor sometime.

Un abrazo del norte,

Cinderella said...

Thanks for congratulating me, TC. I was very lucky in having had a wonderful and experienced 'guide' for some time, who showed me what it takes for a woman to have a good time in a milonga.
I think, in European milongas a woman needs to clearly show what she wants - socialize or dance? You cannot do both at the same time, can you? I cannot expect someone to invite me (using cabeceo), while I'm chatting with my girlfriend.
Paul asked: "Or does there need to be a critical core mass of close embrace social dancers who set the tone and establish the culture as faithfully transplanted from the milongas of central BsAs?”
Yes, I think so. And in some places we are lucky to have such people.
I understand what you say about the lighting. Of course, it's much more difficult for you leaders who want to use the cabeceo and find a safe way dancing, both across the floor.

Chris said...

"As for close embrace, I've seen a big shift away form open embrace in the last few years."

There are a few places in the UK where I see the same - mainly because they previously had classes but few regular milongas. But I think in the UK overall there has not been a significant shift to close embrace. Open hold is still the preference of almost all class teachers and new pupils. Doubtless this is due largely to the fact that most newcomers are brought in by what's called Argentine tango on TV e.g. Strictly Come Dancing. That gets about 10,000 as many viewers per week as does close embrace dancing in milongas.