Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Ricardo, very slowly

The story so far... I commented that I'd been taught to lean first from the torso, either forwards, sideways or backwards, and that then the free leg needs to follow. I posted some slomo of Luisito Ferraris just to check if what I'd been taught was actually how tango is danced: the torso-first movement is visible, but only just.

I then posted another video in which torso-first is very exaggerated. This led to an interesting comment from Tango en el Cielo that when Ricardo Vidort danced his stance inclined forwards – 'he really gives his upper body to her'. I checked out the YouTube clips of him, which reinforced my own memory (from video) of how he drove forwards with the upper body. Miraculously a new clip had appeared, filmed from very close by. Although this has limitations it means that it's much easier to see details. I hope Jessica Grumberg, his partner in this video, will excuse me for quoting a very brief extract from it in very slow motion. & I hope very much that she has more video like this.

The first few seconds shows just how upright his posture was. He's relaxed, joking, but there's no hint of round shoulders. The back is straight from the lower back upwards, the head high, which means the chest is naturally well out. The second and third few seconds show how far forwards he leaned when he led forwards. He leans so far forwards that when he steps forwards his foot is still more or less under his shoulders. His partner is in no doubt what is happening!

It's quite a simple dance, nothing elaborate, but gives the sense that he's creating the music rather than following it. I always get to know the music better by watching his dance to it. In the dance of Junior Cervilla & Rachel I feel the music is little more than a background beat: substitute a different piece of music and I think the dance would be much the same.

Anonymous, you asked about how the old dancers led; I hope this suggests an answer. It looks clearly as if the chest moves before the foot. As to dancing close with shorter partners, I've been taught never to bend down, always to keep upright. 'Let your partner reach up to you'. One short partner told me she really hates leaders bending over her.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Leaning, a bit more

Tango en el Cielo mentioned these two clips of the couple dancing apilado, Pasquale Bloise & Laura Grinbank, in a comment to 'Leaning'.

Interesting comment that 'One thing that Laura's partner seems to have in common with Ricardo is that his stance inclines forward'. Pasquale Bloise is quite a lot taller than Laura, and might also be stooping a bit to accommodate her. Ricardo was shorter and very upright, and he clearly inclines forwards when leading forwards. Very good posture, back straight and chest well out, must have a lot to do with it, but I suspect that he couldn't achieve it comfortably without some opposite pressure from his partner. Interesting too that there actually might be something a leader can do to create that contact: as a leader I've experienced it coming from a partner, and felt obliged to maintain it.

There are sadly few clips of Ricardo, and most are on tangoandchaos, so I can't embed them. This clip must be the best from YouTube; I can't get enough of it, but I've included it before. However, a new clip has very recently turned up. It's in a confined space, which limits what you can see although details are clearer, but a new clip of Ricardo Vidort is good news.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Dancing flowers and the RA

Dancing flowers have been in the news recently (that is, the news one enjoys reading instead of news about fraud (financial and electoral), greed and destruction), so it seemed necessary to note one of the silliest and most delightful installations I've seen in a long time, at the Royal Academy degree show. The RA is a teaching college, and once a year the doors at the back of the exhibition rooms are opened, and it's possible to walk through to the studios at the back of the building, passing by cabinets of animal and human skeletons and plaster casts drawn by students since before Turner taught there, and see what the students have produced for their MA finals.

The studio that caught my attention had eight or so bicycles on racks. It became apparent that generators were connected to the back wheels, and the generators powered a display of fans. Following the sequence, the fans provided the wind to turn a small wind turbine that powered a loudspeaker. & on shelves under the loudspeaker were... rows and rows of dancing flowers. It obviously needed eight or so people to set the whole daft contraption in process, so I had to assume it worked. Heath Robinson, rather than Marcel Duchamp, in action.

The rest of the student show involved a fair amount of serious and interesting painting, and a rather magically quiet room of simple shapes in stone and card, reflected in simple drawings. It is strange that the simpler and more pared down the work is, the more complex and mysterious it becomes, the more questions it asks. Show ends June 28.

The summer exhibition upstairs was as stimulating and interesting as ever. The variety of it, in style and quality, always prompts interesting questions: why do I like this and not that? Why does this painting seem full of life and that one insipid? What's right here, what's wrong there? It was a great time to visit, soon after opening time on a Saturday morning, excellent light and not too many people. I didn't spent long there because I'd got back from a milonga hardly eight hours earlier, but I look forward to another visit soon. It's on until August 16.

Friday, 26 June 2009


I wrote above (well, below, actually): 'I found in BsAs, and to a certain extent in Paris, that partners expect to lean into each other more noticeably: you feel the contact more firmly. It makes leading more positive as there's a better connection. It also suggests an immediate trust'. This lean is slight, hardly something you can actually see in normal circumstances. Leandro Palou teaches that couples should stand one foot's-length apart, then lean together so their upper torsos meet. Of course height, posture and girth affect this, so it can only be a general rule. You hardly see it, but you feel it: instead of constant contact, you can feel constant, if slight, pressure, and you feel the need to maintain this pressure as something precious, even as a challenge. I rarely notice it in London: in London accidental contact from the torso down to the knees is more likely, which is confusing and uncomfortable. We are mostly taught in open embrace by stage dancers, and very rarely by dancers whose practice is 'milonguero'.

In normal circumstances you can't see this, but in abnormal circumstances you can. I came across this video in which it is exaggerated. This might be a useful classroom exercise, but it certainly wouldn't be practical in a milonga. & it probably works here only because the follower has a very supple back and hips, so she really reaches back instead of just stepping back.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Back to 'grach 2 (nothing about coloured lights).

When I was first learning, a teacher who'd spent some time in BsAs told us something that made a lot of sense: that your torso moves first, creating a slight imbalance that makes your foot want to follow. Obviously you lead a turn with the torso, but you also lean to the side, forwards or backwards, and then the step follows with a bit of urgency.

Leandro Palou of Tango Soul, London, confirmed this in a class last year, and I gather that he spent many hours in his teens in milongas, and got all his basic experience there before dancing in Tango por Dos. Between dances in milongas partners tell you how you can lead better, where you're going wrong, and Leandro said that older leaders would take him aside and teach him. (I remember discussions whether dancers should comment on each others' dance at milongas, but porteñas don't hesitate to do it, and it's useful. If leaders take offence at a polite observation it might suggest a problem with more than just dance skills.)

Negracha was quiet last Friday, so it was a good opportunity to check what had happened to my torso movements: you wouldn't have time to think of such things when Negracha is busy. I realised it was something I'd partly lost. I decided to check the theory against video, since 'slomo' video is a great tool, and I chose Luisito Ferraris because I've enjoyed watching his videos a lot recently. Just 18 secs.

Well, it isn't as clear as I thought it would be, but his weight certainly stays right above his moving foot, and he carries his partner with him.

I found this by chance: an interesting comparison.

Junior shoots his leg out energetically and his torso catches up with it a lot later, that's clear. So what is he leading with? It looks as if he actually didn't lead her right step, she saw it. The dance that follows (here)is acrobatic, at arms length, and both partners are for the most part looking down to see what is happening. I'm afraid it doesn't engage me. They keep to the beat but it's hardly musical or an expression of the music. It looks no more than a breathtaking display of skill. Junior Cevila is one of the best-known post-Copes display dancers; Rachel Greenberg currently teaches at Negracha.

A bit more slow Luisito. Perhaps it doesn't disclose his secrets, but it makes it easier to see what he's doing. I wanted to watch that wonderful swirling movement again that expresses the feel of the music so well. There's a slight change in posture between leading forward and backward steps, and right at the very end there's a double time he clearly leads with his torso, by leaning forwards more. I found in BsAs, and to a certain extent in Paris, that partners expect to lean into each other more noticeably: you feel the contact more firmly. It makes leading more positive as there's a better connection. It also suggests an immediate trust.

Incidentally, MsH and Arlene, if you're reading this, a comment appeared after your comments on the video of Luisito I linked (here). I was amazed.

PS: Should add a correction. I mentioned feedback in milongas, but that's not correct. Feedback in classes and in the practica area where classes segue into milongas. There are other topics for the brief pauses between dances in a milonga.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Back to 'grach

It's been a while, but CaraB was closed last night.

There was an curious moment at the end of the class, when the milonga started but the lighting wasn't changed. For about ten minutes the lighting used for the class was on for the milonga. Then someone remembered and it was switched off, and the coloured spots and flickering lights were back on. It was a curious moment because for those ten minutes Negracha looked like... a milonga! A good parquet floor, tables round the periphery, couples dancing. Ten minutes of nostalgia!

It made me wonder: if there is one single factor that could improve the floorcraft in London milongas, it might well be the lighting. When you dance in semi-darkness, with pools of light, and with varying colours and flickering lights too, it might just be harder to be aware who is around you. & because it is darker you feel less exposed, so you might be less responsible. In my very limited experience I don't know a single milonga in BsAs that is dark and unevenly lit, or a single milonga in London that is light and evenly lit. Simba, in that very helpful post on starting a milonga, suggests that dim lighting isn't a good idea, because people should be able to see each other: he recommends good lighting for social reasons, but I think it might be advisable for the quality of the dance too.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Organising traditional milongas

Thanks, Simba, for that marvellous photo of Humberto Primo 1462, where the Nino Bien milonga is held. It says it all, really, the neat formality of it, the tables lined up with a pathway behind them, the neatly arranged table cloths. Those table cloths might well be threadbare, even worn out, but they will be clean and freshly ironed. If the management knows you, you will be shown to one of the front-row tables, on the left of the photo if you are female, on the right for males: if you are a stranger you'll be in the second row. This formality is like a background: once the place fills up and people are dancing, eating and drinking it doesn't feel particularly formal. Then the cortina starts, the floor clears completely, and everyone awaits the next tanda, wondering what will play and whose eye they can catch, and you become aware again how formal it is. The smaller clubs feel less formal, but that formal structure is still there beneath the surface. This is confirmed by the host greeting you at the door: this isn't just an event you pay to enter.

& thanks for all the experience and advice on starting a milonga, which read like a love poem to the milongas of Buenos Aires, nostalgic because of the distance. I suspect that any milonga here will have to be a compromise, although perhaps the situation is beginning to change, with more people interested in tango. Perhaps it's becoming possible to host a more traditional milonga that covers its costs. But I think that one factor, table service of hot snacks, drink and coffee, which makes people happy to stay all night, is always going to be hard to manage here. Too bad. One day, I hope!

Saturday, 6 June 2009

The first simultaneous broadcast, ever.

An interesting and curious footnote to the posts a few weeks back on using video conferencing for learning from the older milongueros in Buenos Aires. A friend I dance with at Carablanca told me that at the bank she works in they use videoconferencing weekly with a large screen. I asked how it works, and she said it works fine (except: 'Why do we have to look at those people?'). So I outlined the idea of using VC for tango, and her eyes lit up: she thought it was a great idea. She then told me that Gardel, in the early 1930s, did a radio broadcast in which he was in New York and his guitarist was in Buenos Aires, and that it was the first simultaneous broadcast, ever.

A difficult legacy... and a good night at Carablanca

A good night at Carablanca, which means there weren't so many people there, enough to create a buzz, enough to make dancing interesting, but not enough to make leading stressful. & it can be a bit stressful when there's a lot of sudden random movement and inconsiderate dancing going on around, not to mention flying Comme il Fauts... It's great to enjoy a whole evening of dance and to come out feeling relaxed, rather than a bit exhausted, even if I'd enjoyed dancing, which was how I felt when I left last week. & DJ Jill Barrett's music kept the evening going, as ever.

So London milongas can be good, but only when there aren't too many people...

I identified my bête noir, not as the 'nuevo' in which there's nothing very new but as stage tango danced in milongas. I have it on good authority that the greatest nightmare of stage dancers, particularly in ballet, is forgetting your choreography, not knowing what comes next, like an actor 'drying up'. It's a world in which dance is controlled, absolutely. So the milonga is entirely the reverse. You never know in advance where the music is going to lead you, and the space in which you can move is constantly, unpredictably changing. It's a world of immediate, instant reaction: there's no time to think. All popular dances sink (or rise) into a state in which individuality is absorbed into the whole, into a trance of some kind, and I'd like to think that tango is the most complex of all these dances, in which the partner, the music, and the floor as a whole, become undifferentiated. Which for me is why anyone's attempt to be a star, to show off how good he or she is, to ignore the floor as a whole and the music, cut across the best possibilities of a milonga.

Thanks for the comments on the previous post:

Game Cat: funny you should mention First Friday, exactly what I had in mind! I think DB and First Friday have already gone a long way, not only by organising events but also by their interest in a 'milonguero' way of dancing. But I can't think of a smallish milonga playing decent music in central London that could be 'infiltrated'. The Wine Bar comes to mind, and I'm sure Nikky would be delighted if we all turned up there. Did you have one in mind?

Thanks, Janis, for reminding me of the rules at Cachirulo. Actually I'm not really in favour of rules and excluding people. I'd hate to turn up at one of my regular milongas to find a note reading: 'No close-hold dancing! No turning on the spot!' It's a pity it became necessary at Cachirulo, but at least it remains a very popular event with local dancers.

If a small milonga gets going in London its name and advertising would suggest its orientation. As I see it, size matters. Dancers who like big moves will avoid small spaces and go for large popular places where they can be seen to perform. I haven't been there much, but I think dancing at the Wine Bar is generally pretty good: everyone is aware of the space limitation and everyone tends to treat everyone else well. & I think it's easier to apologise to people, if necessary, for the lack of space, and ask them to keep their movements small. If they don't like it they won't come back, but at least it won't seem personal.

DB: I agree it might be possible. But I must say profitability wouldn't be a great concern, although lossability certainly would. It would be brilliant if something like that could cover its costs from the start. & sorry I didn't recognise you for a moment last week after Carablanca: tangocommuters get in a panic about the last train!

Thursday, 4 June 2009

A difficult legacy.

It's said that tango is popular world-wide now because of Copes and the popularity of his show, first in France then on Broadway, in 1984. Without that, it's possible that tango now would be danced in a just few milongas in Buenos Aires, and we simply wouldn't know about it. If that's true, thanks, many many thanks!

But the downside is that our sights have become fixed on stage tango. If our teachers aren't stage tango dancers, their teachers probably were. Getting instruction from dancers who have never danced on stage or been taught by stage dancers, whose entire background is dancing in the milongas, is really difficult. A few of them live in Europe, and others visit Europe from time to time. Most of them would never dream of teaching anyway: they dance because it's their social world, it's what they've always loved to do for a night out.

Stage dancers are quite different. They are trained dancers, often with backgrounds in contemporary, in ballet; quite a few come out of gymnastics. They are trained from childhood in display, in showing, even in showing off, whatever gets applause on stage. They are often trained teachers too, and what they teach us comes out of this world, the world of the stage rather than the world of the milonga. It's more than just the 'steps', it's a whole mind-set. Hence, I think, the volume of complaints about 'floorcraft': MsH and her jivetango friends aren't the only people I hear loud and clear. Floorcraft doesn't concern stage dancers, with their well-designed choreographies, but it was vital in the old milongas of BsAs where you wouldn't get to dance if you weren't competent, and dancing well didn't always mean displaying a huge repertoire of flashy steps.

That's the difficult legacy: stage dance.

In Paris recently I learned some simple turns from Tete and Silvia. I've seen these often enough in videos, and they are used frequently in BsAs milongas. They can be done in little space, and they enable leaders to turn 360 degrees and see what space is available. They are simple and elegant, but I'd never learned them in four years of classes in London. I'd been taught giros, with saccadas at every step and a gancho or two thrown in, which take a lot more room and a huge amount of practice to look even remotely effortless, but not simple, practical moves that evolved to suit crowded dance floors.

MsH's friends aren't responsible for the problems they complain about. I'm sorry to say that I don't think their attempt to analyse the dance, the type of music, the shape of the floor, is going to help. I think that turning our (since I'm one of them) backs on the big London milongas and starting a small milonga (or two) is the only thing to do. Small, because it won't cater to so many people, and there won't be room for big moves. Just small friendly gatherings where people, friends, can get together for evenings to enjoy dancing together, and gatherings that can invite dancers who have long experience of the milongas, to teach. They won't be trained teachers, but they'll have spent a lifetime watching and dancing social tango, and they know when it doesn't look right, and why. & they have a warmth and love of tango that is really encouraging.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Osvaldo and Coca

Thanks to Tango en el Cielo for the link to this video of Osvaldo and Coca dancing milonga. A much gentler style than that of El Flaco, and one I personally can learn more from: El Flaco is hard to follow! & I notice clearly how Osvaldo leads with his torso before moving his feet. Definitely something I need to learn.

They taught in Turin in 2007, but I doubt they are still travelling.