Wednesday, 30 March 2011

A tango event 2

& the winner is... (are) Irene and Man Yung, of course. Un abrazo grande is on its way to you, to be used within one month of the date of issue at a milonga of your choice!

Not all tango dancers practised on street corners. In the 1940s, some of the leading lights of Buenos Aires tango met three times a week at El Club Social y Deportivo Nelson to practise, led by the tanguero known as Petroleo, and by 'El Negro Lavandina', 'the black bleacher', whose daytime job seems to have been whitewashing. Mingo Pugliese was invited to join the Club Nelson group at the age of 12, in 1948: it's his description of the dancer who 'held tightly onto his partner and had her do a headfirst somersault'. He says the dancer was Salvador Lorenzo Piazza. (Robert Farris Thompson: Tango: the art history of love p. 254.)

(Have you seen that move yet at your local milonga? Do let me know.)

Petroleo himself was a bank clerk by day who wrote accounts of tango for his bank's newsletter: tango was respectable by now. Thompson claims that Lavandina and Petroleo 're-thought tango', and he lists 23 tangueros who met regularly at the Club Nelson to practice amongst themselves, and to develop the dance. They all had nicknames, their tango identities: one, Roberto Marcos, was called La Biblia because of his encyclopaedic knowledge of tango moves.

It's too bad Thompson completely ignores the tango of the sophisticated Buenos Aires crowd of the late 30s and 40s, and instead focuses entirely on what's usually called 'fantasía'. The fantasía dancers were the exception: they danced (according to Thompson) at dance floors where there was plenty of room, which was where Copes and María Nieves practised and found the material for their shows. Extravagant tango was an old tradition. Thompson points to descriptions of competitions: in the 20s and 30s El Cachafaz danced competitions against all the best dancers of his day, including José Méndez, who later opened a studio where he taught Mingo Pugliese in the early '50s. This kind of dancing wasn't the smooth intimate dance of the confiterias: it was a competitive display of skill, the dance of a country that had also influenced the way football was played.

José Méndez also appeared in films. I found this clip from the 1951 film, Derecho Viejo, about the life of the musician Eduardo Arolas. This is the kind of tango that was danced in the 1930s; this is old tango!

There's a kind of assumption that 'milonguero' is the old style, the old people's style, and that the dance of display and competition, 'nuevo', is new, but this doesn't seem to be the truth. The dance that is 'más nuevo', the real innovation, seems to be 'milonguero', the close-hold dance that developed in crowded clubs. Until another Thompson researches it, its exact point of origin is probably a mystery. I can only think that it is more of an emotional innovation than a physical one. It's about that union with the music and a partner that is so unexpected and overwhelming every time that we have to keep returning to it, week after week, and never get tired of it (I hope). Just when was this discovered?

Another pointer to how revolutionary this was might be found in the accounts of the dancers on the Practimilonga blog. It's clear from these accounts and many others that this kind of dance, the one all the kids wanted to get into, was strictly protected by bouncers, and under-18s weren't allowed in. Of course they all tried to cheat their way in, and tall guys were at an advantage, but it sounds serious. & of course they all wanted to be there! We've heard the descriptions of the grim 'barrio milongas', where the guys stood in the middle of the room and the girls and their mums sat round the periphery, fanning themselves and deciding who was worth dancing with. Who wouldn't want to get away from that! To get out of the barrio and into a downtown milonga, where men and women eyed each other across the floor, and danced close...

There are so many questions. Thompson does a great job, just by talking to many people and gathering memories and stories, and by digging into archives, in uncovering the African influences in the growth of tango, and his book is an enthusiastic history. Wouldn't it be great if someone could do the same for the origins of milonguero tango? It might not help us dance better, but it's useful to know where and how it began, and if no one studies it soon, it'll be beyond memory. When and where did it start? Who have been the great dancers of the milongas? Was it exclusively close-hold? The bouncers at the door: was this city regulation, or was it just because the dancers expected it? Who were the women who turned up at the confiterias to dance? Was there a generation of women then who could go out unaccompanied and choose a dance partner at will? (For that matter, who were the women who danced with the Club Nelson dancers?) Various people have mentioned clubs and confiterias: it would be great if someone could get a list, and a history of them. & so on. There are so many questions.

But anyway, I don't buy the view that 'nuevo' is new. The real 'nuevo' is milonguero.

Monday, 28 March 2011

A tango event

Found it! 'He held tightly onto his partner and had her do a headfirst somersault.'

I knew I'd read this description of a tango event in a well-researched history of tango, and it's taken me a while to re-find it. The question is: did this event occur in a) 1948: b) 1997: c) 2009?

Bonus points for answering where: a) on the set of 'The Tango Lesson': b) Club Nelson; c) Cachirulo milonga?

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

My right arm

Talking with a partner recently who's not danced long, but has a lifelong (literally) love of tango music: 'In one class I was told to hold my hand like this, and in another...' A not unfamiliar story. I reply: if you ask me, classes can be useful, but don't take anything you hear as scripture. What matters is what works on the floor, what's comfortable for you and your partner, what helps you dance together with the music. Hard advice, since if you pay for a class you expect to get The Truth, and it takes a while to realise that what you pay for isn't necessarily any use whatever. It happens. Perhaps the only 'scripture' in tango is that there is no scripture.

The embrace is a particularly complex area since every body is shaped differently, is a different size, has different habits of movement even within a similar pattern of steps.

My right arm has discovered this of its own accord. It's sometimes been blamed for holding a partner too tightly, which is uncomfortable, and I realised that, curiously, the complaints increased with the height of the partner. Shorter partners never had any problems, while a tall (taller than me) partner I danced with found it the most uncomfortable. All the same, other tall partners were perfectly comfortable.

I've also danced with one of the older generation of UK tangueras, one of that fabled generation who found their way to Buenos Aires in the late '80s, a generation with more than two decades of tango under their belts. (There aren't many of them, and they know each other well.) & when I dance with this lady my right arm finds it's completely redundant. I don't need it at all: it simply floats off her back, when we're walking and even when we're turning. True, she's not tall, and she moves very easily, although no longer young. I'm guessing that it's a matter of trust; I know from the embrace that she'll follow effortlessly, and this makes for great dances. So perhaps it's not entirely my fault after all!

I wonder about other dancers' experiences of right arms: your right arm or your partner's right arm. I'm curious about our collective experience of right arms.

PS. When I said that there's no 'scripture' in tango, I was thinking of the embrace, which is going to vary with every partner. I wouldn't want to suggest that everyone is entitled to do as they please on the dance floor! & there is scripture in the form of videos, particularly of the older generation.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Comments on comments on comments on...

Chris, thanks for taking up the problems of openness, but I'd distinguish between criticism, which I welcome, and derogatory remarks, which are close to character assassination. As Mari says, you shouldn't use someone else's blog for such remarks. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm the publisher of Tangocommuter, so I believe I'm legally responsible for everything on it, whether I write it or not, and I don't want to be sued for defamation, or even involved in defamation. Ever. (& I was once threatened with legal proceedings for something I wrote... True.) So I've got to be able to draw a line. & why shouldn't I be able to comment on comments? I didn't say that anything was Unacceptable, just that it's unacceptable and discourteous to slag other people off (to use basic English). It happens too much on the net. I'm sure you'll agree.

I linked the video, but Janis has drawn huge attention to it, and got everyone watching it.

I didn't say much about the dancing, but I was curious about the music, a very contemporary, blues-influenced piece. Definitely not golden age tango. Watching the clip again I'm struck again that Pancho leads a heavy, fairly basic dance that feels more like canyengue and seems to suit the music very well. I don't think you could dance a more elaborate 'classic' tango to music like that; it just wouldn't feel right.

Pancho chose the music, and invited Allison to dance with him. The video was made by the Cachirulo milonga, and uploaded by Héctor 'Cachirulo' Pellozo. The thing I like about Cachirulo is that it's never, ever po-faced. There's room for laughter there, as well as for the intensity of great tango. It certainly feels like the friendliest place I've ever been in. As Tina, who has long acquaintance with it, says: 'Cachirulo is a family, and Pancho is one of their own, and this is his "thing". His way.' So why focus the blame on Allison? As Anon says, '...this is meant to be a fun performance between friends, right?' & why not?

I still hope Jantango will withdraw her comment, or replace it with a more reasoned one. I have to say that I can't leave any future comments like it on this blog. But otherwise, of course, you're all always welcome!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011


I read Melina's recent post announcing that she was enabling 'comment moderation' because of anonymous threats and insults. I've begun to realise that Tangocommuter is about the only tango blog of my acquaintance that hasn't enabled comment moderation. (Perhaps I should try harder to annoy people.) I've never seen the need for it, and I like to be an open house where people can say what they like, and it's worked well. There's been a bit of trivia but there have been a lot of great conversations, and lots of interesting feedback. Three years of it this month, and nearly 400 posts. & anyway I've never had to wonder whether a comment is acceptable or not... until last week.

I didn't want to mention names, but everyone else has, so OK: Jantango's comment on the Cachirulo video. Of course I can simply delete that comment myself, but that feels too easy. (Thanks, by the way, to La Reina and Joli for your comments: thanks for making me laugh out loud.)

You – the whole wide world – are welcome to say what you like about tango on Tangocommuter; that it should be danced like a cancan, on stilts, spouting pseudo-Argentine nonsense, dressed like chickens and definitely off the beat. I'll disagree with you, but let's talk about it. But derogatory remarks about other people definitely aren't acceptable.

Jantango, most of us entirely agree with your views on tango. We're on your side! We respect your experience and knowlege. But one of the things you admire in your Argentine hosts is their tradition of courtesy and politeness. You've tried hard to become a porteña: can't you adopt that too?

Moreover, you got it wrong. You don't know the milonga: I hear you never go to Cachirulo. You don't know what the arrangement was that evening, and you don't know Allison. We always look forward to your tango comments, but this kind of comment makes you no friends.

So I won't delete your comment myself, but I invite you to delete it. Simply log in, go to the comment and click on the little dustbin icon. It's easy, it'll disappear. Think about it. & write to us about tango.

Tangocherie recently wrote a long and very heartfelt post about the corruption of tango as a result of visitors' attitudes. That kind of comment is really valuable.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Melingo in London

So, that music, 'bluegrass meets canyengue', that so intrigued my ear with a refreshing, heart-felt sound, even if it's not the sound of the golden age, which after all was quite a while ago...

It's always interesting to hear music developing. It's what music has always done. Musicians have always listened, and helped themselves to what suits their own paths. As Jean-Luc Godard (who's borrowed a few things in his time) said: 'It's not where you take it from that matters: it's where you take it to'. Or did he take that from Picasso?

Thanks, Ali: the music in that video is a track called Luisito and it's on Daniel Melingo's second album, Tango Maldito, available as a download from Amazon. It's the most interesting growth of tango music I've heard. Orquesta Escuela de Tango Emilio Balcarce has done wonderful work in getting golden-age musicians to train young players, and they play golden age tango with real individuality, but it's still the old music, the old arrangements and songs. Gotan Project spoiled (to me) the music by bringing in the inflexible beat of the drum. Melingo, '...bohemian of Buenos Aires, and so of the world', writes his own music, and sings his songs with a classic quartet; bandoneon, bass, violin, guitar. He looks back to the songs of Edmundo Rivero and Roberto Goyeneche, who he sounds like. Fascinating music and song, even if it's not really played as music for dancing.

& it so happens that the Melingo quartet will play at the Barbican in London on April 6 as part of the wonderful La Línea festival that highlights the best Latin music each year. Curiously, they are the support act for the singer Yasmin Levy, who explores Judeo-Spanish song and Flamenco. To put all that into one concert!

Most of the YouTube videos of Melingo are from a 2001 concert, and the balance isn't good, but this one is a neat animation, and the music is well recorded. & here he is again, talking about his music and singing. See you at the concert!

Oh, and the Melingo website is here. In English, and a fun read.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Allison at Cachirulo

Here's Allison having a great time on the floor at Cachirulo in El Beso just last night. Last time I saw her dance was with Pedro Sanchez and it was... a bit more restrained.

& that music! Bluegrass meets canyengue! I like it, but canyengue appeals to me. Canyengue is fun.

PS. I love it that the 'demos' at Cachirulo are always the local folk with some event - a birthday, an anniversary - to celebrate. They aren't all perfect, although the best are fantastic. (Refreshing after some of the demos from professional teachers we get in London...)

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Vals in the minor, again.

Chopin! Thanks to Halbert for answering my query as to whether there were waltzes in the minor in European music. I was thinking about dance music, so I looked at the music of Johann Strauss, Director of Music for the Imperial and Royal Court Balls, rather than at the music of Chopin, the melancholic exile, music that wasn't written for the dance floor. Halbert's link in the comments might not work (Blogger doesn't make links in comments easy), but there's an extract here, while spotifiers can listen to the entire, very familiar, Waltz No. 7 in C sharp minor (Op. 64,2) of 1847.

And thanks to Chris, UK for the link to the Arolas version of Lagrimas y sonrisas on Audio AM. While on that site I found a version of Pabellón De Las Rosas by Arolas, also from 1913, which is in the major except for the ending. & I also found a version of the Champagne tango by Roberto Firpo from 1914: listening out for major and minor I realised that it starts out in the minor, moves into an effervescent major – and ends once more in the minor. Which I found amusing.

I explored the sadly short life of the wonderfully gifted Eduardo Arolas a year ago.

I'm fascinated by these old recordings of tango music from very nearly a century ago, recorded before the days of the electric microphone (around 1928). The sound quality isn't great, but there's a freshness and direct simplicity about the music. It was new music then: Pabellón De Las Rosas was written by José Felipetti who was born in 1890, so was only 23 when it was recorded. Manuel Aróztegui, composer of the Champagne Tango was born only two years earlier.