Saturday, 26 February 2011

Vals in the minor

I've always loved vals above anything else, but it's taken me five years to notice something that has been staring me in the face ever since I first struggled to dance it: that a good many tango valses are in the minor. I'm really curious about this: perhaps there's someone out there who can tell us more. As far as I know, the European waltz is always in the major, the giddying, swirling dance of smiling dancers. We all know that tango vals isn't like this.

Some things I've found out recently:

The vals was danced in BsAs as early as 1810: the polka too goes back to early in the 19th century. Various local versions grew up and developed.

One of the oldest recorded vals I can find is still a great favourite, Lagrimas y sonrisas, which was recorded by Eduardo Arolas in 1913 – and it is in the minor. (Sadly, I can't find that recording on Spotify: a pity because it's a wonderfully controlled accelerando, it starts slow and gets faster and faster.) 'Tears and smiles': appropriately, the lively cheerful rhythm of the vals is tempered by the melancholic minor key.

Desde el alma by Rosita Melo, recorded by Firpo in 1920 and recorded in many different arrangements since, of which the D'Arienzo and Pugliese versions are especially well known – minor.

Orillas del Plata written and recorded by Juan Maglio, who died in 1934, minor.

Many of the great early Canaro valses including El triunfo de tus ojos, Adios juventad, Con tu mirar, Palomita blanca, all recorded pre-1932, all minor.

D'Arienzo valses may be more inclined to the major: Pabellon de las rosas, for instance, is major. Arrangers would use pre-existing material, which probably included a lot of vals in a minor key.

I ran a quick check on the waltzes of Johann Strauss: all the best-known ones are in the major. But Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Schubert, Liszt all wrote waltzes, and I can't check them all, so there might be a European precedent for waltz in a minor key. I'd be curious to know if there are European waltzes in the minor. Or is the vals in the minor an Argentine innovation?

Wherever vals in a minor key originated it seems to have settled in Buenos Aires, where that peculiar mixture of cheerful rhythm and melancholic scale are still, to many people, the ultimate in tango, the music that above all else wakes up our hearts and makes us want to dance.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

The King's Speech... and more

'His majesty's pleasure … The King's Speech sets used for gay porn

London property used to film Oscar frontrunner was previously hired for a porn film

Its distinctive decaying wallpaper and Palladian windows made it an atmospheric double for speech therapist Lionel Logue's 1930s treatment rooms in bromantic [sic] Oscar frontrunner The King's Speech. Yet that was not the first time the property at 33 Portland Place, London, has caught the eye of film-makers. Reports confirm that in 2008 it was also used as a location for gay porn film, Snookered...

The rooms are owned by Lord Edward Davenport, described on his own website as "one of Britain's most flamboyant entrepreneurs, a businessman renowned for taking chances and living a life of adventure". The £30m property was once the location of the high commission for Sierra Leone but was taken over by Davenport, who was initially hired to refurbish it, in the late 1990s following a legal wrangle. In an interview with the Independent three years ago, Davenport's press secretary boasted that the rooms were used for orgiastic parties.'

Guardian Thursday 24 February 2011

& we danced there, too...

Friday, 18 February 2011

Tango journeys

I was fascinated by Miriam Pincen's account of her life in tango for several reasons. First, if anyone hasn't watched it yet, it contains a hitherto unseen few minutes of video of Ricardo Vidort dancing with Miriam. It's from the collection of Oscar Casas, and I hope someone will twist his arm to make him release more! (Only joking.) But it's likely he has more, perhaps even a lot more.

Her comment on 'entrega' was interesting. I've seen the word defined only in relation to the female partner: 'She has good entrega', meaning she gives herself up to the dance. But I've always wondered if it also applies to the way the leader becomes part of the music (in fact how both dancers together become part of the music) and she confirms this: she says she prefers dancing with partners who surrender (entregan) their bodies to the music.

& her 'journey' through tango must be somewhat familiar to all of us. She grew up at a time when tango was no longer the passion of BsAs, encountered it when she was older, and was completely intrigued by it. So how to learn it? To learn something you go to classes, of course. So she took classes, with Todaro and Copes among others, and learned to dance a complex, display tango. But the world of the milongas really captivated her to the extent that, although fluent in display tango, she spent a couple of years watching before she dared to dance socially. Her respect for the world of the milongas is very clear.

I guess we all start off intrigued by walking to the music, move on warily to the world of high kicks and exaggerated movements (I groan at the memory of 'Intermediate Classes'!), until realising that all we really want to do is to dance close and let ourselves be absorbed into that music...

Thursday, 17 February 2011


Yesterday, in Tangocommuter's (in need of attention) garden...

Friday, 11 February 2011

Speaking of practicas...

... Oktango have just announced that from today onwards they will be opening the Welsh Centre every Friday from 6.30 to 11pm for... a practica!

The Welsh Centre is at 157-163 Gray's Inn Road, London WC1X 8UE, and entry is only £3 for the evening. Details on the Oktango website. I hope it will be well used! It's a great floor to dance on, and there's a bar upstairs.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Comments on comments

Sound systems: as I said in my original post, I'm sure many London sound systems are of good quality. The problem is the arrangement of the speakers, and it's no good relying on two speakers at one end of a hall. The volume has to be turned up to reach and to overcome the inevitable loss of sound, and then people who aren't dancing start shouting at each other to make themselves heard. I take Chris, UK's point about the limitation of house systems, but streamed audio is now possible, and I look forward to the day when neat, efficient speaker systems deliver adequate sound all over the dance floor, preferably without wiring. I agree with Charles Long that good quality sound is really important. If sound is well-focused it can change the dynamic of a milonga.

Several people have agreed that less teaching is good. My feeling is that London tango could do with many more practicas, guided or otherwise. After all, even in 21st century London, men can't dance on street corners with other men, and won't be able to until tango is vastly more widely known and accepted. We all need more secluded places to practice in. Then it should be possible for the dancers to invite in teachers to help and comment, rather than teachers running classes. Then dancers engaged in dancing would call the shots.

& Jantango tells me that Maipu 444 has closed. The upstairs room that housed seven milongas a week has been sold, along with the parquet floor that has welcomed the soles of many great names of tango. It's like losing a friend, even though I can't claim to be at all well acquainted with the place. No more videos on the Cachirulo YouTube channel with the familiar red and black tablecloths! Or maybe the tableclothes will move to Villa Malcolm, where the Saturday night Cachirulo Milonga will relocate, along with the house video camera.

PS: Melina has left a long and very interesting comment here as a reply to what Chris, UK said. There was a problem of emphasis in the translation, and she clarifies the kind of help she and Detlef try to give, to enable people to dance more easily together.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Tango correctness

Back early last November, here, I was delighted to post a three-part interview with Melina Sedo, who teaches tango along with her partner, Detlef Engel. Just last week, Chris UK left a comment on it, which has set me thinking. I hope Melina and Chris won't mind if I repeat the exchange, which is preceded by something Melina said in the interview:

"There are loads of mistakes that followers can make. If that wasn’t the case, they would hardly need lessons, would they?"

Chris replied: 'Melina, girls generally don't need lessons. Take a look at the great social dancers of the BA milongas, almost none of whom took a lesson in their life. Is their dancing full of "mistakes" that need your lessons to correct? Of course not. A typical girl having an affinity for the dance needs only a guy who can dance well. She can learn all she needs to know by dancing.' (As usual, the context matters: Cassiel said he believed that when things went wrong it was the leader's fault, and Melina is replying that it's not that simple.)

'Take a look at the great social dancers of the BA milongas, almost none of whom took a lesson in their life'? This seems manifestly untrue. True, they didn't go out to classes, pair up with men they didn't know and be dragged into leg-wraps and ganchos: that kind of class hardly existed when they were young, and their mothers wouldn't have allowed it. But all the accounts (listen to them on Practimilonguero) show that tango was THE popular dance of the 1940s; it was danced at family get-togethers, at parties, at neighbourhood festivals, as well as at local milongas. So where did everyone learn? The answer seems to be: from their mothers. Many accounts by dancers who grew up in the 1940s mention mothers as the source of their dance. The basics of tango were learned to the radio around the kitchen table, while the boys who'd already learned a thing or two (from the same mothers) would be out on the street corners swapping moves with each other, and perfecting their style. 'My dad didn't care much for dancing, but my mother really loved it' is a common sentiment.

The local milongas seem to have been very formal: the men stood in the middle of the floor trying to make eye-contact with the girls sitting with their mothers around the floor. I'm rather glad I've never found myself in that situation.

So, no, you can't really say that the girls never took lessons, that all their wonderful fluency came simply from the embrace of the right guy. Romantic, but unlikely. But at the same time, is it right to say that 'There are loads of mistakes that followers can make'? 'Mistakes'? By what canon of correctness? Perhaps something has gone amiss in translation here. I can think of more or less effective ways to lead or follow: of more or less comfortable, or pleasing, or even acceptable. But 'mistakes' suggest a rigid right-and-wrong reminiscent more of ballroom, where the judges mark you down for your 'mistakes'. (A system that's sadly creeping into tango via the 'mundiales'?)

And even if we think in terms of effective, comfortable, pleasing, acceptable lead-and-follow, we're likely to end up with identical dancing. Look at the YouTube videos of Ricardo Vidort, and compare them to videos of Osvaldo Cartery. Could their dance be more different? & yet they grew up as lads together, practicing with each other on street corners, but they found what worked for them, how best they each could follow the music with a partner; they found what their partners appreciated, what didn't go down well, what felt good, and that became their tango, and it was different from each others' tango. Or from anyone else's. Perhaps there's an anti-authoritarian streak to tango.

Osvaldo y Coca Cartery in their Practimilonguero interviews talk about the increasing similarity of the tango of young dancers, and they use the word 'clones'. Perhaps that's the result of too many classes, of too much tango correctness.