Sunday, 2 December 2012

London tango: Bernhard Gehberger at Carablanca

The days when the music was live might have been extraordinary and memorable... which doesn't mean we can't have some great nights with music from CDs and laptops...

I find it remarkable how London tango has changed – improved immensely I think – really over the past two years. It's said that tango in the smaller milongas outside London is better than in the city, but maybe that's changing. A couple of nights ago the Austrian DJ Bernhard Gehberger was at Carablanca milonga in London: the dancing started at 8pm and went on till 2 am, breaking with the regular schedule of a class and a shorter milonga. & it was busy from start to finish, while in the middle it seemed that people poured onto the floor from all directions as each tanda started. It wasn't a party night: no star guests and performers, just a good DJ, a good floor, food and drink. There were a lot of unfamiliar faces: Bernard has a great reputation, and I guess that many people were there for his music. That's probably the first sign of change: people now recognise and welcome a good evening of music. For several years now, the quality of the DJ has been a regular topic of conversation.

To dance as well as I can I need to pause and take breaks, which give me the opportunity to watch. Inevitably I watched the line of dance, which was unbroken throughout most of the evening, and the line of dance was almost exclusively close embrace. (That may not have been the case for the rest of the floor which I couldn't see much.) & when I was actually in the line of dance I had few problems: it was packed, but well-behaved. I can't help wondering where this new and very welcome enthusiasm for close embrace has sprung from: it's as if people feel they've come home, and really enjoy the experience. & a lot of people have developed the skill of dancing on a busy floor. All the demonstrations of visiting teachers I've glimpsed have shown a tango of close and open embrace, but that's not what I watched on the floor. & the overall look of the floor is no longer the confused jumble of movements that (to remember a good friend's remark) resembles clothes in a washing machine. 'Tango nuevo' seems long ago.

Not that the dance has the smooth gravity of the BsAs dance. 'Gravity' is the right word, but I don't want to suggest that the dance of BsAs is 'grave' in any way, just that it's not light, it has a sense of gravity. Maybe dancers here still need to listen to Pedro Sanchez, who has just two phrases of advice in English: 'Take it easy!' and 'Listen to the music!' & what else does he need to say! & even if it is tango in close embrace a really full frontal embrace still isn't to everyone's taste. Having said that, I saw tango – some – that I thought was good by any standards.

As to the music, it was really excellent. A good DJ makes you want to dance every tanda: even if you need to sit out a tanda or two you still feel that if the right partner was there you'd be on your feet. There seemed to be a coherence to it, so at the end of the evening you feel as if you've been on a musical journey. & the cortinas fascinated everyone: 'You can hardly tell them from the tandas!' several people remarked. I happen to have the Orquesta Tipica Viktor 1931-1932 CD 'Viejo Arrabal' (ORQ316 from the Buenos Aires Tango Club) which has a mix of music, so I guessed pretty fast: this cheerful lively music everyone found so fascinating was the 'other music' that the bands we think of as tango orquestas recorded, the foxtrots, the rancheras, the paso dobles, the polkas, the shimmys, the tarantellas, the jazz numbers. It's music that's rarely heard, and such a great idea to use it for cortinas. It fits perfectly.

Here's a curiosity that a quick YouTube search threw up, a Canaro 78 released in 1932. Nine minutes of music, so about 4:30 each side of a 78, unusual but not impossible. (I've got a couple of Canaro tracks from about the same time that go on for over five minutes each, undanceable, I think, kind of symphonic tango.) Anyway, the point of this disc is that it's Canaro's orquesta playing eight one-minute extracts, a medley of tango, foxtrot, pasodoble and ranchera. Hence '8 en 1'.

So, credit to Bernard, and thanks and credit also to those who run Carablanca: it was a ten-hour day/night for them. I hope it seemed worth it to create an event like that. All I can wish for now is a weekly milonga like that in London...


Irene and Man Yung said...

Dear Tango Commuter,

Funny the timing of your post - we were just talking about how even the worst bumper-car open embracers in Toronto have changed for the better. We were astounded on Saturday when we saw a Toronto Tango veteran of several decades, who used to adamantly execute dangerous show tango moves on the dance floor and could never seem to apply the brakes when people were in his way... dancing close embrace! Ditto for some "Nuevo Tango" dancers, they seemed to have all adopted close embrace overnight - and they are even taking it easy on the high kicks, volcadas and colgadas.

A positive sign for tango!

Irene and Man Yung

Tangocommuter said...

Hello again, Irene & Man Yung, and thanks for the comment. An interesting and very welcome change, isn't it! I guess it's been happening over the past few years, and now it's becoming really noticeable. Wonderfull to be able to dance on a crowded floor to good music without unpleasant accidents.

Many thanks for all the videos you've posted, especially the recent ones of Osvaldo and Coca. Looking forward to an account of your recent visit to BsAs: I wasn't able to get there this winter, but look forward to a visit next year.

Random Tango Bloke said...

I guess this is one of the advantages of the current popularity of "elegant tango salon" style at the moment.There does seem to have been a consistent stream of teachers arriving this year in london.

The trouble is that whilst it is a form of close embrace - the UK version feels a million miles away from the nice "milonguero" style embrace I like.

So there has not really been an increase in folloers I like to dance with. Hope time will change that.

Tangocommuter said...

Agreed, RTB. But at least the floors are calmer than they used to be.

I believe the consistent stream of teachers is down to Cite Tango, an organisation that has a permit to employ non-EU citizens, and that the type of teachers they bring over reflects the taste of the organisers, who manage the paperwork, and book tours. I've contacted them about bringing over some actual dancers (as against dance teachers), and I've mentioned names. There's no objection in principle, but they'd need couples, rather than individuals, with a reasonable level of English too, which isn't easy. As it is they are booked up six months in advance, so there's more of the same to come.

But I think 'milonguero' is more than an embrace: it's a way of moving not only with the beat of the music but with the flow of musical phrases too, and for people who aren't that familiar with the music – most of us – that's not easy. Having said that, it's not uncommon to find partners who are at ease with a close embrace and who seem to enjoy the music too. But I don't think this way of moving is something that can be taught in a formal sense: I just hope those of us who've experienced something of it in Buenos Aires will dance widely enough for partners to get the feel of another kind of tango, and begin to expect it.

Random Tango Bloke said...


From what I gather the "promoters" follow the current the trends in order to make the whole thing financially viable. The only trouble with that is that the more you only give people one thing - the more they will get used to it and expect it and the more risk it is to try something different. I hope they will take your suggestions up on bringing over "dancers" rather than teachers.

The embrace is a fundamental part of the dance. The elegant salon tango is based on a flat on (2 boobs)contact rather than a slightly offset "mould".Personally I feel it is completely different and totally changes the way you want to dance.

Tangocommuter said...

Thanks, RTB, but I'm not sure I follow you on what you say about the embrace. I don't think there is any such physical thing as 'a milonguero embrace'. I'm reminded of a curious dream I had a while back, of arriving in BsAs some time in the future, and finding people arguing about how the old milongueros used to hold their left hands. Well, there was no one way, they were all a bit different! & I think the embrace differs a bit from dancer to dancer: some are a bit more open, others more full-frontal. & I guess their embrace would vary a bit depending on their partner too.

I was talking about this with a friend who's danced in BsAs over many years, and all she could say about the 'milonguero embrace' was 'It's so soft! It's very, very soft!' I think it's qualities like this, rather than any simple mechanical, physical setup, that we should be thinking about. Softness, and musicality - and a lead that is soft without being limp.

My own memory of dancing with partners there wasn't of any particular style, but of a sense of total commitment and a warm trust, which brought with it an expectation: 'You asked me to dance, so make me dance!' I think we can earn that kind of embrace here, too, but our partners need to feel that kind of softness and musicality. Then it makes sense.

Chris said...

"I believe the consistent stream of teachers is down to Cite Tango ... I've contacted them about bringing over some actual dancers (as against dance teachers)"

That interesting, but TC, but I wonder how you envisage actual dancers earning enough even to cover the air fare. I'd have thought the reason CiteTango brings only teachers is that only teachers can earn enough money here.

Tangocommuter said...

You abbreviated my quote, Chris. As I wrote: 'I've contacted them about bringing over some actual dancers (as against dance teachers), and I've mentioned names. There's no objection in principle, but they'd need couples, rather than individuals, with a reasonable level of English too, which isn't easy. As it is they are booked up six months in advance...' Earnings, sufficient at least to cover the air fare, were mentioned. I was hoping to be in BsAs this month, and was looking forward to trying to arrange something, but I've had to postpone my visit.

Given UK laws, Cite Tango has to be a business: I don't think there's any other way to employ non-EU citizens. I think things are slightly easier on the Continent, but I doubt if it's much easier.