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...