Monday, 26 June 2017

Good news

It's so rare that something sounds too good to be true and is neverthless true.

From February 2018 the Norwegian budget airline is starting scheduled non-stop flights by Dreamliner from London to Buenos Aires. It will take about 13 hours, which is amazing. Even more amazing - outside peak holiday times the cost is under £600...  Just be aware it'll cost another £25 to put a bag in the hold, and you still won't get anything to eat, but it's still much faster and cheaper than anything else that flies.

Booking is already open.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

One-metre Pugliese

Pugliese isn’t easy. It's often more complex than other tango, and we don't hear it so much. One tanda a night if you’re lucky. Late Pugliese was composed and played more for listening than for dancing. He had a long career: he was just 19 when he had a hit with Recuerdo in 1925, and he was invited to perform at the Colon Opera House after the fall of the military in December 1985.

I was dancing Pugliese with a friend recently, and we started talking. ‘I remember a visit to one of the milongas in Buenos Aires’ she said, ‘and I danced to Pugliese with a local guy. It was incredible. We hardly seemed to move more than a metre or so, but it seemed that all the complexity and emotion of the music was in that one metre. At that time Pugliese was the opportunity for the wildest dancing in London, so this experience really stayed with me.’

I looked at YouTube for examples of one-metre Pugliese. There are plenty of teachers’ demos, exaggerated performances on empty dance floors. I also came across Pugliese’s milonga for Fidel Castro, which I’d never heard before, politically a dangerous composition given the time and place. And I came across some amazing dancing too. It was wonderful to remember again just how marvellous the late Alberto Dassieu was. A teacher, yes, but he danced demos as a dancer in a milonga. Watching him in these clips you could almost sense invisible couples around him, denying and then opening spaces as he dances among them, lost in the music with his partner, his wife Paulina. It’s so great to remember them enjoying evenings in an over-crowded El Beso, dancing one-metre Pugliese on a packed-out floor. Of course there wouldn't have been much point in filming it, there was nothing much to watch, but it was obviously very satisfying emotionally. Here they are performing in Centro Leonesa in 2008.


 


This is slightly different, a demo during a workshop. The feeling of intimacy and tenderness is so clear.
'Muy bien', as he says quickly at the end. There are several other clips of the couple giving demos in milongas, but this seems the clearest and most intimate. There's also footage of them dancing Pugliese in Lujos
Milonga from Marina2x4, but it's from Alberto's last years, and I don't find it easy to watch. (Incidentally, I see she uploaded a 30-minute interview with Pedro Sanchez just a few weeks ago, but only in Spanish.)

According to Tango and Chaos Alberto was the teenage protege of the Villa Urquiza maestro Luis Lemos in the late 1940s. More than any other dancer of his generation I find his dance looks taught, even ‘drilled’, unlike the more casual-looking dance of his peer group. I get a sense of an entire system, a social code that includes posture, movement and sensibility, feeling for the music as well as attitude to a partner and to everyone else in the milonga, to society. His dance itself is mannered and still instinctive, intuitive and absolutely precise, full of deep respect, and equally full of enjoyment. Granted he’d danced to Pugliese all his life, which helps! But the movements he and his partners, whether his wife or a student, make, whether on a crowded floor or an otherwise empty studio, are precise, relaxed and at the same time quite formal, and always inextricably part of the music. There's a brief biography of Alberto in Todotango.

From watching Alberto’s dances I get the sense of how significant and how wide, culturally, the tango tradition was. He was a great teacher too, and I think there’s everything to be learned from watching and enjoying these few clips we’re so lucky to have. & perhaps the most hospitable, open-hearted and encouraging person I’ve had the good fortune to meet.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Dancing in small spaces

’It’s so crowded tonight’ said my partner. I glanced around. At a guess there was room for twice as many couples. ‘Not really crowded’ I replied. ‘It’s just that many people use a lot of space.’ I remembered dancing – trying to dance – on a heaving floor at Cachirulo in El Beso, when it was underground-like and really hard to move at all. Likewise at Salon Canning, a larger floor that could be very densely packed with dancers. Then I remembered the garage photo, a milonga in someone’s garage in Buenos Aires! I don’t know how many couples, shoulder to shoulder, happily moving to the music. But where did I see it?

Miraculously it turned up a few days later in the Practicaelbeso blog. I think 15 couples are visible, but that’s only part of the floor. In a garage. It’s hard to tell just how big or small the garage is, but in any case the couples are very close together, and they all look happy!















In turn, this reminded me of a wonderful London milonga, Tango al Fresco, ‘tango in the park’, and how, very sadly, it’s ceased to be run. To cut a long story short it relied on a wooden floor that could be packed away when not in use, and a group of volunteers who worked to set it up in Regent’s Park in June and July. It was very popular, an al fresco tango picnic twice yearly, and non-profit-making as the money taken went to planting trees in the park. The floor was a bit bigger than most garage floors (it had to be stored in a garage when not in use) but it could get tightly packed. & because there was often so little room, dancing had to be close and tidy. It was a pleasure to dance alfresco under the trees with such a crowd, and many of us miss it a lot. I briefly checked out photos of bandstands in the London parks to see if they could serve as milongas , but they don't look big enough. Dancing in small spaces isn’t entirely unknown to London tango.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Good ordinary tango

It’s taken me a while to write about this video. It was filmed late in the evening in a well-lit milonga and lasts between 15 and 20 minutes. There aren’t many couples left on the floor, so it’s easy to watch the people and see how they dance. There are two tandas, the second a lively vals, starts around 10:10.

It’s a typical evening in a typical milonga, perhaps not one frequented by visiting dancers. The feeling is calm, relaxed, unhurried, but still slightly formal. They’ve been there all evening, eaten (many milongas serve meals), enjoyed a glass or two of wine, chatted with each other and friends, danced whenever they felt like it. It’s great to get such a clear view of ordinary people at the end of a regular night out dancing in Buenos Aires. I think none of the better-known tangueros are among them. The casual ordinariness of this milonga makes me nostalgic! It's a wonderful great room to spend an evening in.



Each dancer is different, but it’s what they have in common that I notice. It’s a pleasure to notice how they embrace, often with attention, carefully, tenderly. It’s never casual: it’s an important part of the dance. I remember classes with the late Tete Rusconi and Silvia: even when they demonstrated a step, even a simple side step, they took a moment to settle comfortably into the embrace.

It’s a pleasure to notice how the women step. With many there’s what looks like an almost obsessive ‘collecting’. Why is this practised so emphatically? The energy in the dance often doesn’t come from dancing fast, it comes from the way of dancing and it’s there even in slow tango. When you collect you add a complication, an extra distance for your feet to travel, which means you have to move your feet a little faster and with more determination, and that creates more energy. And, truth to tell, if women don’t collect, they might waddle! & guys too! Collecting brings the feet together at the mid-point of balance. Without it, your partner starts to lose sense of where your feet are. & of course, collecting makes a dance look good, which is important. Tango, whether fast or slow, shouldn’t look inelegant. Taking too many short cuts won’t make you look better. Collecting is the most basic, essential 'ornament'. We learn collecting early on, and it tends to get forgotten early too. If your teachers don’t insist on it, you might need to look for different teachers! It's basic tango technique.

I immediately notice how, almost without exception the men step onto a straight leg. The leg you step from is flexed, pushing the weight onto a straight leg. Watch the clip and try to find anyone who doesn’t step onto a straight leg! Again, this is practical – and it looks good. It’s practical because it makes for a firm and clear lead: a bent knee absorbs the impact of the foot coming down, so the lead is less distinct and energetic. Stepping onto a straight leg also keeps the body upright. If you step onto a bent knee, to some extent you’ll slouch around the floor. That means your upper body contact with your partner isn’t so effective, and your lead isn’t firm. & slouching doesn’t look good! I remember Cacho Dante insisting on remedying the bent knee in his classes, but it can take a long time to change bad habits.

Women are taught to reach back with a straight leg and it looks great when they do, but it’s problematic, especially if they have lower back issues. The main thing is to avoid an ordinary stepping back because it’s often not far enough for your feet to be out of the way of your partner stepping forwards. Also, if you simply step back your torso jerks backwards and down, pulling the lead forwards. The mechanics of dancing in close embrace!

& I notice how the guys stand upright, even when dancing with much shorter women. As Tete used to say, keep your head upright or you’ll get dizzy when turning. More basic technique.

We can learn and practise the basics of how these people stand, embrace and walk, and with care we can dance with the same calm, simple elegance that leaves room for intimacy. By and large it’s a calm, assured and graceful dance. Even when they dance fast in the vals tanda they never look hurried. Of course you can dance some kind of tango without getting these basics completely right, but it’ll look better, work better and feel better if you do.

The general feel of the floor is relaxed but slightly formal. Maybe Buenos Aires milongas are no longer as formal as they used to be, but there’s still a degree of formality, a kind of basic courtesy, which visitors need to take stock of. We’ve forgotten social dance as a formal occasion, and the kind of courtesy that went with it, even though in the UK it died out as recently as the 1960s. Dance to us now tends to be celebration, jumping up and down, release. Compared to Buenos Aires we have plenty to celebrate. But if the music resonates with us and if we listen to it and want to dance to it, we should make an effort to be aware of the feel of it. You don’t get tired of of the music, however many times you dance to it, do you? It’s a great expression of love, joy and sorrow, of feelings of togetherness and loss which are common to us all. It’s worth making an effort to hold on to and practise the basics of, standing, embracing and walking, as whatever your tango is it will work better, look better and feel better if you do. Getting used to a social dance that has room for a level of intimacy and a depth of shared feeling can only be a good thing.

The video is from the latitudobuenosaires channel. There are a lot of videos there, but most of the recent ones are of teachers giving demos. Helpfully there’s a playlist called Milongas de Buenos Aires. Most of the 184 videos you’ll find on that playlist are over 15 minutes long. It’s a huge archive. I spent time on this one clip because it’s so clear, but there’s a similar one from the Circulo Apollo. There’s more to be discovered, maybe even with better dancing. But what can ‘better dancing’ be? The tango in this clip is full of feeling, attention to the music, and graceful movement. Can we ever ask for more than that?