Tuesday, 4 June 2013

By invitation only

Isn't that a bit snobbish? asked a partner when I told her I'd been to a milonga you couldn't enter unless you were on the guest list. Maybe...

It's something new in London, a milonga you get invited to on personal recommendation, not one you can turn up at and get into so long as you pay the entrance, a milonga that's not advertised, that focuses on respect and courtesy, on following more or less the codigos. & the result is that you can dance for four hours without anyone blundering into you, without having to work your way round a lesson in the line of dance ahead of you, without incessant chattering from the couple behind you, without having to take evasive action from violent dancing. Since everyone is dancing, there's little chatter to drown out the music. In other words, it's a real pleasure, with a good DJ and excellent music, too. Yes, you might encounter all those problems during an evening at most London milongas, so you could say the invitation list is an act of desperation, an extreme measure, perhaps, in defense of the great pleasure of social tango. Teachers have failed to insist on basic good manners on the dance floor, and this seems to be the answer. A wake-up call, in a way.

It's not been going long, but I'd say it's a great success. Enough people turn up to make it a very enjoyable afternoon, and the dance is almost entirely close embrace salon. And since it's in the afternoon, there's no attempt to create a reddish gloom in which dancers are half asleep: tango feels relaxed and alert in daylight. I don't know how close the organisers are to covering their costs: it's difficult. But I hope it continues and thrives, because it's a sign that there's a substantial number of people in London who want to enjoy their dance and music without disturbance.

Is that snobbish?


Anonymous said...

It's not snobbish - it's just addressing a very real issue.

A wake up call. A last resort.

We need every means to pressure people to get better at dancing - and that means non-dance things like hygeine, cabaceo, consideration to others, etc etc

Tangocommuter said...

Thanks anon. I guess it gets called snobbish by people who don't get invited...

Anonymous said...

Snobbery is when setting a standard is baseless or based on flawed reasoning.
This isn't flawed reasoning.

Pros Van Heddegem said...

Excellent idea. My teachers used to do it a few times, in Brussels, but the venue was much too expensive to do it frequently.
Pros Van Heddegem

Anonymous said...

As someone who will be town as a guest dancer/teacher, I just want to know how to get invited!

AlanJonesj said...

Should this be necessary,Tango Commuter,with a good organiser,and well- taught dancers? Leaflets were once given to the dancers explaining the codes of BA.
Sadly,some dancers here in the UK thought this was demeaning ,or knew it all already! Kind regards from Alan Jones.

Tangocommuter said...

Thanks, Alan. As I wrote, 'Teachers have failed to insist on basic good manners on the dance floor...' There's often a too relaxed attitude to what goes on, sometimes combined with the bad example of Strictly, and of demonstrations given by teachers.

& thanks Pros. The cost of venues is a huge problem in London too. Sadly, there's not much we can do about that.

Paul said...

Isn’t that a bit snobbish?

Snobbish, no; exclusive, yes. The question is whether such an approach is justified and/or sensible.

I posted a comment here exploring this theme a bit further but for some reason it never appeared. Might this have been a technical hitch or did I unintentionally fall foul of the moderation rules? It would be really helpful to know. Thanks.

Tangocommuter said...

Hi Paul. I like your distinction between snobbish and exclusive: the first is a very loaded word, while exclusive doesn't suggest a lot more than 'excluding', but both are a bit negative. It's a real shame we need a milonga along these lines, and it's a pity it gets described negatively. Much better to think of what it achieves, which is what every milonga should try to achieve, a calm, organised and courteous dance floor. It results in a very enjoyable afternoon of dance, and in the circumstances I think it's perfectly sensible and justified.

I'm sorry that your earlier comment didn't reach me: you're welcome to resend it. That's not the first technical hitch, I'm afraid. You can always email if you think something has gone wrong. & your comment today arrived twice!

Tangocommuter said...

Paul said...

Very interesting topic and post, TC.

TC wrote: you could say the invitation list is an act of desperation, an extreme measure, perhaps, in defense of the great pleasure of social tango.

I can easily understand the motivation that drive some to take the “by invitation only” approach in organizing dance events. I am also frequently appalled by the behaviour of some whose dancing is marked by an apparent compulsion to exhibit as many workshop-learned figures as possible and to ape the expansive posturing of the latest touring professional couple.

Nonetheless, I have some misgivings. First, the “invitation only” is in my experience too often associated with a particular tango school seeking to promote its own services, its teachers and its preferred touring professional couples. Second, the exclusive (perhaps not “snobbish”) approach may only serve to create an inward-looking group that has little potential to grow the community of local and competent social dancers.

A more open approach would involve more explicit advertising about the kind of dancing event being organized which includes some mention of what is considered acceptable (or not) on the floor. But, of course, taking this approach provides no guarantee either and there are obvious risks. To illustrate, I recently attended a small dancing event organized (and publicly advertised) by two committed social dancers. On that occasion, leaflets were distributed on the tables that gently reminded those present to respect the codes of social dancing by, for example, avoiding big expansive movements that might reduce the comfort of or possibly endanger other couples on the floor. Most more or less complied. However, one visiting couple proceeded to exhibit a veritable floor exercise that produced a rapid succession of soltadas, sentadas, enganches, ganchos, piernazos, reverse sacadas that effectively created a clear force-field around them in this tiny venue. It was one of those occasions where intervention by the organiser was desperately needed.

For me, it seems clear that organisers who are keen to promote social dancing need to take a much more pro-active role in establishing the norms of social dancing. This would involve repeatedly pointing out both to newcomers as well as inveterate class-goers the basic difference between social tango and stage tango .

It strikes me that this is particularly important in those territories where well-established tango schools continue to peddle a self-serving version of tango de salon that is everything except social.

Tangocommuter said...

(Paul sent a second comment which didn't get through to me. We exchanged emails about this, and when he sent his comment a second time he prefaced it with a note about the problem. I can't alter the text of a comment, so I've posted it myself without his note, adding the usual 'Paul said...')

Thanks Paul. First, your misgivings. I know about only this particular 'invitation only', which is absolutely against incorporating classes and demonstrations. It exists just for people to get together and dance with respect and courtesy towards each other. As to the formation of an 'inward-looking' group, I don't think so: I recognise many people there from other milongas.

A point here. Tango grew through the milongas in the barrios and the centro of Buenos Aires, so in a sense it's home soil is 'inward-looking' groups, which by some accounts were quite exclusive, so there's a good precedent! In any case, it's not at all a closed group. As people are invited in, they invite others too.

As to organisers taking a more proactive role, I agree, but I think it's hard to be at all confrontational. The Buenos Aires organisers manage it, but they have the authority of their entire community behind them, and probably a lifetime of dealing with difficult circumstances, they have practice in survival. But there's at least one open milonga in London that on a good night increasingly attracts the better social dancers, which seems to have a snowball effect. Without any intervention from the organisers (as far as I'm aware) this milonga has become a good social event, and it seems that dancers of fantasia, nuevo, escenario, whatever, no longer feel comfortable there.

Chris said...

TC wrote: "this particular 'invitation only' ... is absolutely against incorporating classes and demonstrations."

Not absolutely, TC. _Here's a demonstrations at that milonga_ in February.

Tangocommuter said...

This particular 'invitation only' is absolutely against incorporating classes and demonstrations, but its patron, 'El Flaco' Dany, wanted to give a demonstration when he visited.

Anonymous said...

After having experienced London tango, I can fully understand the impetus to have an "invite only" milonga.

My observations on the London tango scene: as a tango enthusiast who doesn't live in the UK, I have often heard negative comments about the London tango scene. Recently I had a one-night stopover n London that happened to be on a Friday night - there are two milongas very close to each other on Friday, and I was advised by a local that one of them was the best milonga in town. It turned out to be a nightmare of bad dancing, like a surreal scene from an indie art film full of outlandish characters. Not to mention a somewhat unwelcoming atmosphere to a visiting dancer.

Tangocommuter said...

Hi anon -- you may have been misdirected! Yes, there are two Friday-night milongas, and I think I know which of the two you visited. Since you are anonymous you could have mentioned its name! A quick check on Tangocommuter might possibly have helped you enjoy your evening more: have a look at this recent post:

Having said that, milongas do feel different from night to night, and any judgement is going to be subjective too. For instance, if you don't get dances it's easy to feel that a milonga is unfriendly. It's always more difficult going to a milonga where you don't know people.

Better luck next time! (Btw, if it's better than London, where do you usually dance?)

Anonymous said...

Hi, thanks for the tip on Carablanca, it sounds more like what I consider a reasonable milonga . . . I went to Negracha that evening. I did suspect that I might have been, as you mentioned, misdirected.

You're certainly right about subjective impressions of a milonga . . . and often in bigger cities with many dancers you have to go several times so people become familiar with you. Having said that, I've had very favorable experiences in "big" cities such as Montreal, Milan, and Hong Kong.

The tango community where I live is very small with a low level of dance (not better than London, but not worse than Negracha! lol), so I often travel for tango.