Thursday, 30 December 2010

Tango at the RFH

One of tangocommuter's new year resolutions is to write shorter posts. This is simply practical: time is always short. But this resolution has failed even before the new year begins, and I have to make time to add to what I wrote about the post-xmas milonga at the Festival Hall. There was just one point I wanted to make: it was much too short! Well, it was free, and the music was live, but one single hour just isn't enough for a tango event in the post-xmas period, particularly an event with live music. & it took many of us more than an hour just to get there!

I haven't been in London the last two midwinters, but I think there has been an afternoon milonga of a good length at the RFH, organised possibly from within the tango community. I get the impression that the event this year was organised by the Festival Hall itself, so if you were disappointed by how short it was, it's certainly worth getting in touch with the Royal Festival Hall! & please do! They must already be aware of how popular the event was, both with the considerable number of dancers who turned up, and with a large number of people listening and watching. Surely it's to the advantage of the Hall to have lots of people there enjoying themselves. I think they should have some feedback in case they plan an event next year, although the budget for a three or four-hour free event is likely to be more difficult.

But it was a real pleasure to have live music to dance to. It makes a huge difference: you can never be quite sure how a live 'orquesta' is going to play, how the music will be phrased, what the tempo will be or how it might change. Live music feels alive, and we don't get enough of it. The set was excellent: there was sufficient music in a familiar, traditional 'compas' which was straightforward to dance to, mixed in with some music that was much more of a challenge. Very enjoyable! But too short!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Happy new year - and some bits and pieces

A rather grim-faced picture of Nestor La Vitola has headed my blog for too long. Afraid I have no control over the photo chosen. Time for a change.

A happy new year to everyone who comes across this, and may your best wishes come true in a peaceful and wonderful 2011!

Just back from a post-xmas milonga at the Festival Hall. It's a great space, and one of the best ballroom floors in London. There must have been well over 100 people there to dance – and it lasted just one hour. Well, it was free. So one of my wishes for the new year is at least one decent milonga post-xmas!

Three films to escape into, post-xmas. Talking Heads Stop Making Sense with David Byrne in his massive suit: a great concert, wonderfully filmed. Then the reworking of Sleeping Beauty by the Swedish choreographer Mats Ek, which is funny, constantly inventive, colourful and full of breathtaking full-on dancing. I've got it on an old tape from TV, from the days when UK TV broadcast dance: in fact I discovered over an hour of video dance shorts on the same tape, all experimental film-making and choreography. Nobody would broadcast that here today.

& Flamenco by Carlos Sauros. I have to admit I was very turned off by his Tango which seemed to lack any real substance. I understand he went to BsAs to film Copes and Maria Nieves, but couldn't persuade them to dance together. I know people who think it's marvelous, but it somehow seems to have missed the point. Only the scene of eight-year-olds learning tango in school seemed at all realistic, and I couldn't help wondering about kids of that age being taught tango: it looked like a school exercise, a cultural heritage class, strange. But Flamenco is another story altogether. He got together some of the best flamenco singers, dancers and musicians and provided them with a succession of stages to perform on. I know very little about flamenco except I love the music, and I watch this film again and again. The emotional intensity of it is extraordinary, and the colours are warm throughout. Another great concert for the north-European midwinter.

Curious that Flamenco shows the dance as something the whole community, young and old, are involved in and enjoy, whereas tango solemnly performed by schoolchildren looks incomprehensible to them.

& a new blog on the block. Many thanks to Bora for her wonderful account of a visit to BsAs. This is her first day: a wonderful breathtaking, breathless read. A lot of the blog is taken up with detailed descriptions of classes and technique, but then one uses – well, I use – a blog as a way of keeping track of oneself: I go back to posts from a year or two ago to remind myself of what I was discovering then. Interesting how younger teachers, both European and Argentine, are working on trying to improve the interaction between partners, the mechanics of lead and follow, of the embrace. So long as the musical passion that has sustained tango for so long doesn't get forgotten amidst the details of a recently-elaborated technique. Perhaps it needs to retain some rough edges.

This email arrived recently:

'LES CIGALLES MILONGUERAS in the wonderful south-west of France from 20 to 23 May 2011 in Eauze (Gers). A meeting with a total immersion in Tango: 50 hours of dance on a parquet floor during four days, with first-rate Djs, food and lodging on-site in a 100% Milonguero spirit of sharing. The complete programme soon on our site.' (Which is here.)

Friday, 17 December 2010

The man in black

It's wonderful that Tango and Chaos, Jantango and Irene and Man Yung have done so much to widen our experience of tango tradition by filming the older dancers whose experience goes back to the 1940s and 50s.

Practimilonguero too, with videos made in 'practimilongas' rather than in milongas, that include interviews. This video caught my eye a while back.

The man in black is Nestor La Vitola. In the first 40 seconds he looks quite different from the other dancers. There's a calm assurance about his movement. His posture, like that of so many of his generation, is straight-backed but not in the least stiff, and perfectly balanced. Compared to the other dancers there's something quite formal about his posture. He doesn't look as if he's trying to sink into his partner. Some of this may be through stepping forwards with a straight leg - Cacho Dante's revelation - but how can we learn to get all that right?

The interviews show a pattern. Dancing used to start at neighbourhood dances and family events around the age of 14. The mother is often the teacher. Then at 18, attendance at salons, and close embrace tango. I particularly enjoyed Rodolfo Diperna's story of watching the good dancers and then rushing out into the street with a friend to practice what they'd seen so they didn't forget it. That's how they learned. I imagine they'd have been YouTube addicts if it had been around.

Practimilonguero also made the wonderful interview with Osvaldo and Coca, parts one and two. There's also an interview and dance with Pedro Sanchez. A pity Pedro's interview is short, but many thanks to Practimilonguero for the extended interview with Osvaldo and Coca! Que son fenomenales!

& I wondered who the woman is. Monica Paz visits Europe to teach, and has a website. She was teaching in Brussels in October. It's beginning to seem to me that if you want to meet the older – and younger – traditional dancers from BsAs it's necessary to travel to Europe. There just doesn't seem the interest to get them to the UK.

Here's Monica with Chiche Ruberto; one of my favourite milongas. I notice he dances most of it on his toes, or rather on the balls of his feet. Here's the same milonga with him at Cachirulo with Mirta Tiseyra, which is even more fluent. I like the direct energy of it.

PS> Chiche turned up again three days ago in another of Cachirulo's films, this one from the Tuesday night Cachirulo in El Beso.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Choreographing You

I know 'choreography' isn't a good word in social tango circles: performance of planned, well-rehearsed sequences, danced with great skill and watched by a passive audience, doesn't fit into the free flow of a milonga.

But in the 1960s visual artists and dancers began to see choreography more broadly, looking to renew the sense of the body by intensifying the relation of an 'audience' to the environment, to heighten self-awareness of the body in space and time. Choreographing You (Hayward Gallery, London, till January 12) is about this.

A lot of the show is like a gigantic playground, great fun for physically adventurous and curious people to explore themselves in unexpected physical activities. & at the heart of it, when the fun of tilting platforms, the claustrophobia of enclosed passages, and the effort of negotiating hanging hoops wears off, is a massive archive of dance film, 147 films available to browse. Wide-ranging: among much more, there's film of Jackson Pollock painting, the records of Allan Kaprow's 1960s 'happenings', film of Pina Bausch dancing Cafe Muller, of Trisha Brown improvising a dance/drawing, and of an extraordinary 2½ hour solo performance by La Ribot (I cheated and watched it on fast forward). An archive of film from the 1960s to the present, more than can be watched on a cold London afternoon.

In the end it palls, and it's good to move back to physical engagement with unusual and sometimes challenging environments. If our 'comfort zone' of habitual bodily and mental activities is extended, habitual reserve starts to break down in a way that never happens confronted with a normal exhibition of dance or artwork. It felt cheerful and friendly.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Teteysilvia 2

Silvia's just published another extract from her conversation with Tete here.

You have to scroll down to find the translation: the sense is generally clear, and I think the castellano is fairly straightforward if you need clarification. Tete talks more about the beginnings of salón and the places it was danced, and how it arrived with a time of more relaxed social relations between men and women, this dance in which '...the body is leading, the hands following the body's lead. In this style, so different, the body is fortunate to be able to speak when it comes to dancing'.

Interested to note that the word for an installment is 'una entrega' (i.e., a handing over or delivery).

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Teteysilvia is the blog started recently by Silvia Ceriani as the home for her archive of material from the years she danced with 'Tete' Rusconi. She's recently published her second post, the first part of an interview with Tete dating from 2003, covering his recollections of his early years in tango. Like many of his generation, he starts dancing in neighbourhood clubs at the age of 14, where he's seen tango since he was a child. He practices with friends on the street corners, and when he's 18 he can get into the 'confiterias' and salons, where the tango is 'salon', close embrace.

Probably nothing very new here, but there's more to look forward to. Silvia posts the original castellano with an English translation, so posting involves a fair bit of work and doesn't happen regularly. All thanks to Silvia for this.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Tango warmth

Tango commuting seemed unlikely on Thursday morning after what the heavens dumped on us overnight, and I envisaged a weekend keeping myself warm by working my way through all the videos on the Cachirulo site. But within 24 hours a rail route had opened up and, looking at the cold white all around, the long commute to the warmth of tango seemed a great idea.

YouTube might be a surrogate, but it's valuable. Years ago I had a serious back injury, and was given a fortnight off work. It was late June, and aha! I thought; I'll watch Wimbledon. & I couldn't. Why? Every time someone served, my back ached. I wasn't moving, but my muscles were following the movement, and it hurt. A programme on The Dancer's Body by ex-Royal Ballet principal Deborah Bull a year or so later explained that we understand any movement we watch by following it with our own muscles, and so we learn from watching the few videos there are of great dancers whose practice goes back 50 years. Sure we see where they put their feet, but we learn more than that; we get the 'feel' of their dance in our own bodies. If, that is, we think the tango of 50 years ago is still relevant!

(A correction: I said that before long we'll be uploading 3D videos to Youtube but I'm way behind the times: it's been possible to upload 3D content since July 2009, but you need the right glasses to watch it. But we'll have to wait at least a decade for life-sized moving holographic content...)

& the weekend was warm: we came out of the milonga to find the snow had turned to sleety rain. The power of dance! & the Sunday night had it's own wonderful warmth too. Neither night was crowded... OK, I should explain. Few milongas here are ever crowded in the BsAs sense, but give people room here and like children given a big space after being cooped up all winter, they'll run all over it, and bump into each other. So I should say the milongas were quite empty because of the weather, and it was a good opportunity to try to fit new possibilities to the music. It was useful to explore a much more upright walk and to explore the embrace, without having to take constant evasive action. & of course it was very enjoyable! The warmth continued on the late-night journey home between banks of snow, with Tanturi and Fresedo between my ears. & Monday morning? Ah well, Monday...

Monday, 29 November 2010


Since YouTube began just over five years ago video has become an incredibly valuable resource, thanks to everyone who's made and uploaded videos of the dancers and milongas of BsAs. Videos bye-pass the filter of 'teaching'; not that teaching is necessarily inferior, but video gives an immediate feel of the dance and its environment, the milongas of BsAs. Tangoandchaos was among the first, and over the last year or two Jantango has uploaded videos from the milongas of the city centre, while Irene and Man Yung have recently uploaded a number of videos from the 'Barrio milongas': watch their recent videos of Roberto Segarra. (More in their previous post.) We can now see a wide range of BsAs tango, just in time to acquaint us with that generation of older dancers and the kind of environment they learned and grew up in.

& now Argentines themselves are beginning to upload their own videos of their own milongas. Hector and Norma Cachirulo run the marvelous Cachirulo milonga on Saturday nights at Maipu 444, and also at El Beso on Tuesday nights. Hector's probably the first person you'll meet after you've climbed the stairs, paid at the booth and pushed through the curtain into the milonga itself: you're welcomed with a kiss or a handshake like a long-lost friend, whether you're local or a visitor, and then he'll bustle off to find you somewhere to sit, carrying a spare chair or two over the heads of the dancers if need be.

& I've just discovered that since March they've had their own YouTube channel to which they are uploading their own 'home videos' of the Cachirulo milongas. It's almost too good to be true. There's tango from the best, both on the floor and in 'demonstrations', there's rock, chacarera, and birthday dances from the great and the good, and it all continues to be uploaded regularly. Camera quality isn't great, but the spirit comes over so strongly you can ignore that. Cachirulo is one of the great institutions of BsAs tango today, attracting some of the best dancers, and there's plenty here to dip into and enjoy on these cold dark evenings!

(& watching these videos might just oblige you to try and learn Spanish, spend all your spare time and more in tango, and everything you have on interminable flights south of the equator. & why not? If you like tango it's worth a great deal to step as a guest onto that velvet-smooth floor and join in all night with the music.)

So here's Norma's birthday dance with Hector last June. Eso!

Monday, 22 November 2010

Les Cigalles 2011

MILONGUERA SECOND MAJOR MEETING of CIGALES in Provence each May at TOULON (12/13/14 May 2011) - South of France. (From the YouTube channel of Celine Deveze.)

The website is still being prepared.

PS: Please read the comments: it turns out that Celine Deveze's info is premature, as the dates have not yet been fixed.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Midwinter again...

I was talking recently to a friend I hadn't seen in a milonga for a while: she's lost her job and is struggling to make ends meet on temp work. She can eat for two days on the price of admission to a London milonga. Why does it have to be so expensive, she asked: a nice hall, a class, a bar, an excellent DJ... it all adds up. Why can't we get a private place somewhere, with a CD player and some friends who just want to dance, and bring along our own food and drink if we need it? Indeed, why not?

It might be obvious, but it sounds as if the seven nights of the Nimes midwinter milonga are run on a low-organisation, if not exactly a DIY model, as if the organisers rent the hall, hire Djs and deal with the regulations, and then put an announcement on their website. People turn up with their own food and drink. Since it's midwinter smaller businesses are closed, so I'd guess chocolates and food are brought along for sale by friends, who make some sales and enjoy the party too. It's low-cost too: £42 for seven nights, 7.30 to 3am, with a complementary drink each night. An advantage Nimes has is that it's a small city (around 150,000). The hall would cost more in a big city, but I think there's likely to be a real sense of community. It's natural for people to get together and organise things amongst themselves, and even to help each other: help us out for a few hours and come in for free. I really envy them this, but I don't think it's impossible in London. A regular, informal milonga, friends getting together to dance, might work well.

The other thing that seems obvious about the Nimes midwinter is that it's now well-known: the publicity talks about meeting up again with people, presumably from the previous year, and from other parts of France and Europe. Such a shame travel booked now for this time of year is so costly. It would be worth booking early next winter...

Wednesday, 17 November 2010


London tango becomes somewhat somnolent at midwinter, and I've been looking around for alternatives. This, from the Milonga de Angel (look for the '12eme grande semaine de Reveillon' button) in the southern French city of Nimes certainly caught my eye:
- - -
The 12th Great Midwinter Week
from Saturday 25 December 2010 to Saturday, January 1, 2011.

Book today at 06 63 90 69 18 (tables reserved in the order of registration).
Entrance: 13€; 11€ for members and 8€ for the under-25s and unemployed. For the whole week €50, or €45 for members.

A warm event that the many friends of Milonga del Angel have shared for 12 years.

At 19:30 each evening, a cocktail will be offered to start the evening in good spirits. You will be able to eat there, and Felix will play videos of Golden age orquestas, so we can dance, eat, and chat with friends we meet up with again...

A traditional Milonga starts at 21h with music by the best current Djs. At midnight, there will be various entertainments, demonstrations of folklore, films, photos and videos ... and the famous pastries or chocolates that we will happily share.

The Great Midwinter Week every year is intimate, friendly, and classy. We enjoy all the precious little dishes that everyone will put together, and taste wines, champagne and hot drinks all night. It will bring together three excellent DJs and various entertainments.

Courses on tango, milonga and folklore will enrich this week for the happiness of those who wish to improve.
- - -
This is my translation, so you're advised to check before you rush off. It sounds too good to be true! A whole week of tango, eating and drinking for midwinter! Increíble! Why can't we do something like that in London?

Another possibility is the 13th Tangomagia festival in Amsterdam, from December 26 to December 30. OK, so we might not fancy workshops by 'Chicho' Frumboli, while Sebastian Arce's workshops on 'Sequences with use of Orbital Dynamics' sounds like rocket science, but there's a big milonga each night and, perhaps even more fun, a daily 'tangocafe' every afternoon for four hours, which costs very little.

The only problem is that transport costs soar at this time of year. 'Cheap' flights cost close to the train fare. By the time you've spent nearly £200 on return fares, plus hotels on top of that, the midnight chocolates might not seem so sweet, while the afternoon tangocafe might start to seem very costly. Why can't we do something like this in London?

Any other suggestions?

Monday, 15 November 2010

Carlos and Rosa Perez

Carlos and Rosa Perez were teaching at Carablanca milonga a few weeks ago, where I filmed them. I can't find a website for them, but there is an interview here.

Here they are dancing to Di Sarli:

Their dance to Poema is here, and to Pugliese (from the live 1985 album 'En el Teatro Colon') here.

I missed the class, but they seemed very genial, warm-hearted and modest.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

As good as it gets

I love this! Every now and again a tango video comes along that makes complete sense of everything. If you ever have doubts about tango, how it should be danced, whether you should be doing something else, what it's for, what it's about, here's the complete answer. It just makes sense.

Cumparsita, the last tango, the end of the night. Only a few couples are left on the floor, and the table cloths are being folded away. This is Centro Leonesa, so it could have been the Nino Bien milonga. Adela Galeazzi and Santiago Cantenys are dancing. They have as much space as they can use, but they aren't dancing a demo and only the camera is watching: they are dancing just for themselves. It's the last dance of the night, they've been on their feet for hours, but there's no romantic softening or slowing down about it: their dance is full-on and filled with the energy of the music, as intense as if it were the first tango of the evening. In effect it says: if you dance tango, do it full on. Put all the meat on the grill every time; no half measures.

Her feet are wonderfully fast and precise: she marks time with her feet, but there are no superfluous, fussy ornaments that get in the way of the dance as a whole, and there's nothing ostentatious about his posture or his dance. They aren't 'old generation' (although they aren't exactly young, either) but this must be about as good as it gets. I love this. It's the fluent dance of a couple who dance a lot together.

& it was her birthday. At least, according to Irene and Man Yung's blog, where I first saw it. OK, so I'm copying them, but at least I'll be able to watch it every time I open Tangocommuter, and anyway, they're in BsAs right now, too busy to notice, I hope! And they mention Adela's site: worth keeping an eye on.

And when I checked out Adela's site I found this: a video of Adela and Santiago joined by Elba Biscay. I linked a video of the three of them dancing together a while back, and I think this one is even better. If that's possible.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

A German theme

There's been a German theme recently. I was honoured to host the interview with Melina Sedo, which was very interesting and illuminating.

I watched Over your Cities Grass will Grow, a film by Sophie Fiennes (who is English, sister of Ralph), watching German artist Anselm Kiefer, who grew up in the ruins of post-war Germany, at work. Offered an extensive property by the French government, he developed a landscape of his own work, as well as a studio and library. Erudite, but also at home melting a vat of lead with a large blow-torch, or creating a mound of broken plate glass around a sculpture, a huge book made of lead. Everything is physical and on a huge scale: heavy lifting gear is needed to move the paintings. When you see the works in a gallery they can be massive, but always look refined and poetic, informed by layers of allusion. The film is still showing in London.

& I saw the Pina Bausch company in Iphigenia in Tauris, a dance set to the 18th century opera by the German composer Gluck: the 18th century, the best century for opera! Stunning: a full orchestra, a chorus of 24 soloists and singers on the sides of the stage, with the dance on-stage. To obtain a fair wind to sail to sack the innocent city of Troy, Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter, Iphigenia. When he returns home, his wife murders him to avenge her daughter, and his son, Orestes, murders her to avenge his father, and exits pursued by Furies. Of course, none of this happens onstage. In Euripedes' version, the goddess has saved Iphigenia from sacrifice, but doesn't inform her family. We meet Iphigenia some years later, and there's a sense that we are in the land of the dead. The mad Orestes turns up, and brother and sister recognise each other: it's hardly a resolution. But the music and the dance are beautiful.

& German film-maker Wim Wenders is completing a film on the work of Pina Bausch – filmed entirely in 3D. He says that 3D can show dance with an immediacy never possible in 2D. This seems to be the future: one day soon we'll upload our 3D vids to YouTube, and watch them in 3D. It won't be long now.

Jericho: Anselm Kiefer at the RA Summer Exhibition 2010.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Interview with Melina Sedó: Part III

Here's the final part of Cassiel's interview with Melina Sedó. The original German of this part is here. Melina Sedó and Detlef Engel's website is here, and their tangokombinat website is here. Their YouTube channel is here. Cassiel's blog (in German, but with a Googletranslate link) is here.


Cassiel: Next is one thing, that I always notice, and I’m including myself in my observations: how can lessons build up a leader’s self confidence? This is pretty key issue for me.

Melina Sedó
: Another difficult topic. Lots of people, especially those from northern countries, lack self confidence in dealing with others. This shows up right away in Tango as postural problems and hesitation. It might appear at first glance to be a typical problem for men/leaders, but women/followers are often too submissive or passive. There is limited scope for a teacher to address these issues in a group class, but we have, on occasion, managed to uncover the proud and communicative Tanguero hiding in the shy mouse or bad-tempered loner. It takes lots of individual attention, which you can only get in private lessons. We have spent entire privates, just talking, rather than dancing. In our usual group lessons, we use pictures and stories to get our approach across: we suggest dancers visualise themselves as kings, queens, Hollywood stars or opera singers, on the red carpet. We encourage them to exaggerate so that there is some residual left over in their dance, to allow this internal feeling to influence their outer form.

We continually emphasise that Tango is a partner dance, and that it is based on an equality of the partners; that both partners are equally responsible for the process of communication and for being active in the dance. In the past, old concepts pushed men into an over-dominant 'leader' role, who pushed the follower around and was always at fault for anything that went wrong. Women were supposed to be passive dollies, whose role was to stay in front of the leader and to maintain the embrace. That doesn’t really work, it leads to rough dancing, and just forces many educated Europeans into artificial roles which have nothing to do with their usual ways of being. This puts them under stress and holds them back from fully experiencing the richness that Tango has to offer.

My thesis, on 'Gender roles in Tango Argentino' demonstrates that the ideal male partner is not the classic dominant macho figure, but a more androgynous dancer, who knows how to be clear about what he wants, but has enough empathy to also recognise what his partner wants, and to respect what she wants from the dance. Any women who can survive and thrive in the world of Tango, will step up to their partner, and express what they want in their dance. There is certainly no room for shrinking violets.

In our classes, we take into account this modern understanding of roles, and have produced a closed loop communication system; the leader indicates a movement, waits for a response from the follower, and then follows that response. This might sound a tad esoteric, but is firmly grounded in simple, technical, biomechanical laws, more specifically on circular motion, on which we base our whole dance. More details are beyond the scope of this interview, the point is that good technique clears up lots of issues with self confidence.

Cassiel: A more personal question: I tend to hold back a bit, perhaps be inhibited is a more accurate description, with double time steps. Perhaps it's for fear that I might run my partner over. So I tend to avoid using double time, what would you suggest to help with that?

Melina Sedó
: Ha! That‘s a great example of what I said: good technique builds self-esteem. I hope the readers don‘t get the impression that that question was just a set up.

Cassiel: Hmm, even if I'm not particularly macho, my basic strategy when things go wrong, is that it's all the leader’s fault.

Melina Sedó: That’s just b*******. There are loads of mistakes that followers can make. If that wasn’t the case, they would hardly need lessons, would they? But to get back to your question, we use the body’s natural movement, counter body rotation, to prepare for each step, forward or back, in parallel. This means that you have an additional channel of communication, which allows you to propose a movement, which your partner will have plenty of time to respond to. If all you do is push faster, all you get will be bigger strides and heated looks from the follower. Have a look at our teaching video:

[In French. MsH has a translation on her blog: it's here.]

This is just one part of our summary of a five day workshop in Tarbes, which illustrates some of our concepts. The counter body movement comes towards the end of the clip. And there is even more on that in our classes.

Cassiel: What are your views on short teaching videos, even YouTube videos?

Melina Sedó: Well, any talented, educated person can learn some things from well-made videos, even short clips on Youtube, so long as the person can process visual input well. Naturally, this method of learning will lack any sort of feedback and subsequent correction, which many people require in order to learn, especially if they don't have a good sense of their own procipriation or are beginners. Even a good video is no substitute for a good lesson, though it could well be better than a bad lesson. We looked after a practice group in New York, using a mixture of video and written instructions. They wanted further instruction in our approach and there was no one around who could help them. It is possible, if you really have no other options.

Cassiel: And the inevitable question: are you a tango addict? What is your score?

Melina Sedó: 248: 31 Milongas, 8 of 19 possible 'yes' answers. ***

My high risk of addiction to tango comes from the number of milongas I attend, though they are almost exclusively for business purposes. In the past twelve weeks I've probably visited a milonga just for fun four times. I tend to dance very little at milongas, apart from demos, because I so seldom get asked to dance or because I‘m just too tired after teaching all day. Sadly, that’s what comes of making my hobby into my job; nowadays I seldom get a chance to really dance. It‘s a pity, but it‘s bound to change again in future.

Cassiel: Dear Melina, thank you so very much for taking the time for us. What do you want to add, the last words should be your own. What do you wish for, for Tango?

Melina Sedó: For myself, I wish that Tango stays with me till I'm really very old indeed and that I never lose my pleasure in it. And for the Tango itself, I hope it grows and prospers, rather than stagnating and that it provides pleasure for ever more people. We mostly covered issues in development and education in this interview. We shouldn’t forget, how many people find something positive for themselves at classes, or at a milonga.

Tango can make us feel happy and satisfied.

[*** Cassiel refers to his 'test for addiction', which is to be found here.]

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Melina Sedó and Detlef Engel dancing

I've also been meaning to post some links to Melina and Detlef dancing. Here they are dancing in Salon Canning. As far as I'm aware, very few visiting couples ever get to dance solo at any of the main traditional milongas in Buenos Aires.

& here are two recent videos: to D'Arienzo and Di Sarli, both at the Autumn Tango in Eton, UK.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Interview with Melina Sedó: Part II

Many apologies for not getting Part II of Tricia Bruce's translation of Cassiel's interview with Melina Sedó onto Tangocommuter for almost a week. I've just been very busy with non-tango stuff. It happens.

Once again, Melina Sedó is to be found here, and Cassiel's original German version is on his blog, here. If you have any comments or questions, do leave them as comments, and Melina will answer you.

Tango teaching is very new: none of the acknowledged 'milonguero' dancers ever went to classes - the very idea seems ludicrous. Before the current interest in tango, there was very little organised teaching, so the best way to teach a lot of people in the context of a culture in which tango isn't mainstream might not be obvious. These days, most teachers decide to teach 'steps': repeatable patterns of foot and body movements. It's a mechanical approach: it is necessary to some extent, but perhaps rather misses the point of tango. Melina and Detlef's approach, starting from musicality and improvisation, and encountering 'steps' as examples, rather than as the dance itself, might be a better way to encounter the world steeped in tango music of BsAs 70 years ago, in which those we call 'milonguero' grew up.

- - - -

Cassiel: Let's turn to another typical Tango situation, which has a similar scope for causing issues, albeit with completely different causes. Take any workshop at any festival. How do you agree the topic, or theme? What are the typical issues you find amongst the participants? How do you address them?

Melina Sedó: Well, that’s another whole heap of questions in one. I’ll start with how we agree the theme. We send out our list of workshop themes, which comes sorted in priority order, with Fundamentals, Improvisation and Musicality right at the top. We don’t do workshops which just cover steps, or figures. Steps tend only to crop up at the end of our workshops, as examples, or when we are working on improvisation.

We also rule out lots of potential themes; we never teach ways of moving that are not suitable for the Salon, or which require breaking the embrace. Any organiser who just wants us to teach figures, and who isn’t interested in our work on fundaments, would probably be better off engaging other teachers. There are plenty of other teaches who are prepared to do just that.

This does tend to mean we exchange lots of emails before an agreed theme finally emerges. Naturally there are always organisers who want to cram everything in to a weekend, and those who are looking for the latest Nuevo figures. My job then becomes, to tie it all down to something do-able, which plays to our strengths and so that anyone who attends all the workshops can see how the material covered in each workshop builds on all the previous ones. Typical Themes include:

• Walking in the embrace
• Walking with elegant variations
• Improvisation with pivots, ochos and linear turns
• Savouring Tango: Discovering Tango danced slowly, with savour
• Elegant variations of the cross
• Tango Milongero: improvisation around the ocho-cortado
• Salon Survival Guide
• Musicality: Expression and dynamics of movement
• Musicality: Rhythm & Melody
• Vals - the music

The trickiest question for us is always about different levels. Many organisers expect each workshop proposal to come with an indication of what level of experience is required to attend. We don’t really have any regular concept of levels of experience required; only occasionally do we have to set out a level of experience required to attend. Generally, we just announce the themes and let each couple decide whether they are ready for that theme. We tend to find couples in our workshops have a very wide range of experience, from beginners to professionals. This really isn’t an issue for us; in each workshop we start with the basics and build up from there. At each point in the workshop, each pair can decide whether to accept more input or continue to work on the material that they have so far.

Take, for example, our workshop on elegant variations on the ocho. We start with the axis, techniques for pivoting, ochos as a combination of steps and pivots, communicating a simple ocho (forwards and backwards) in couples, one or two examples of using ochos followed by musical variations. So, a beginner couple can stick with the simple ochos, while more advanced couples explore further possibilities to apply these techniques. Couples who come to our lessons are seldom looking for advice on more figures, it’s not unusual that we would work with the more advanced couples on details of communication and technique which they have discovered for themselves within this workshop format. This means that everyone can learn at their own pace, and take responsibility for their own learning. If everyone in the workshop appears to be struggling with the material, then we can refocus on a subset of the material, or even change the focus entirely.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Interview with Melina Sedó: part I

I got a surprise email from Cassiel, a German tango blogger, asking me if I would be willing to post on Tangocommuter a translation of his interviews with Melina Sedó. Not only willing, but absolutely delighted! Melina Sedó and Detlef Engel are known as among the very best European teachers and dancers. Moreover, they are kept extremely busy: I read that their schedule for 2011 is already booked solid. This is wonderful news because it means that a serious, large tango community that values an elegant, musical, close-embrace tango is beginning to develop in Europe.

The interview is in three parts, of which this is the first. The rest will follow over the next few weeks. The German version of Part I is here. Translation, many thanks to Tricia Bruce.

* * * *

Today’s interviewee needs no introduction from me. Melina Sedó & her partner Detlef Engel are internationally recognised Tango teachers. On 2nd Sept 2010, Melina spent over three hours talking to me though the medium of Skype.

We agreed to focus on “Teaching Tango”. The interview is divided into three sections:-
1. Introduction and teaching Tango to beginners
2. Workshops, such as those held at Festivals
3. The role of self confidence in Tango

Melina & Detlef live in Saarbrücken, Germany, when they are not travelling on behalf of Tango

This article is an accurate record of our conversation, with very light editing from Melina. The original text was published in three parts on in German. This version was translated by Tricia Bruce, with kind permission of Melina Sedo & Cassiel.

For convenience and economy throughout the English text, “he” and “his” is used to refer to both men and woman.

Part A

: Hello, Melina, it’s great to finally get some time with you. Shall we just plunge straight in?

As I prepared for this interview, I wondered how best to describe you. Not that we would need to, but I’m still interested. Tanguera? DJ? Tango-teacher? Tango professional? All these are accurate, but scarcely sufficient. How would you describe yourself?

Melina Sedó: Hi Cassiel. Thank you for inviting me to this interview. In Tango, I do all those roles, but I would describe myself principally as a Tango teacher and organiser. Although, of course, at the moment, the hours I spend on organisation, preparation, travel planning and marketing, bookkeeping and contact management far outweigh the hours spent teaching. ;-) In my heart, I’d say just Tanguera, but these days I just don’t get enough time.

Cassiel: Just roughly, then, how many hours do you spend on average on Tango each week. (Can you even give us any kind of rough idea?)

Melina Sedó: well, for me, all the organising counts as Tango. Most weeks, we spend two full working days in a car, train or airplane, travelling for Tango; I’d probably say six days a week, and sometimes, those are very long days, morning to evening, and long into the night.

Cassiel: Is Tango still fun, for you, after so many, such intensive years? Or do you find yourself tiring of the intensity?

Melina Sedó: The dance is still fun, as is teaching, DJ-ing, organising. But, of course, I’m often pretty exhausted, and, above all, tired of the constant travelling. I would love to spend more time at home, but, at the moment, that just isn’t possible. And when we do get a free weekend, it’s not unusual for us to hit the road again, to visit another festival, just for fun. And yes, nowadays, that doesn’t happen much, simply because we just don’t get that many free weekends. There’s no doubt about it, that it’s a huge challenge and not something that I see myself doing for ever, certainly not at this current level of intensity.

Cassiel: How do you relax, do you get any time for hobbies?

Melina Sedó: My favourite hobby is to lie on my sofa and read a book. Or watch some DVDs in the evening. When I can find the time and energy, I love historical fantasy role playing with my friends. I’ve also just started a University distance learning course, which is bound to take many, many years.

: Distance learning? What are you reading?

Melina Sedó: A Masters in Modern European History and Literature, which I’ve always wanted to study.

Cassiel: That sounds very interesting, but we’ve got to leave that there and turn to Tango. We agreed that this interview would focus on “Teaching Tango” We had to choose a focus, or I would have needed days for this interview. Would you like to start with a definition, or shall I get started on my questions?

Melina Sedó: Well, it’s very sensible to narrow the focus, because I enjoy writing and will produce lots. We don’t want to bore your readers, so let’s get going with your first question.

Anibal Arias

A brief note to point to Jantango's post on Anibal Arias, who died recently. She draws attention to his album, La Guitarra Romantica del Tango, which is available here as a download from Digital7, and can be listened to on I think it's wonderful solo guitar playing, and all the tracks are tango favourites. A great musician, sadly little known outside the tango world.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Leaders and followers?

In the BBC Argentina programme Ignacio Varchausky says something that I found quite curious. He made a number of very interesting remarks, and this one really struck me: '...we have so many outstanding individuals (in Argentina) but as a whole we don't do great as a society, and I think that has to do with the identity issue...'

Tango music has always struck me as very lacking in any kind of 'star' cult. If you didn't already know, would you be able to guess, from the music, which instrument Fresedo, or Miguel Calo, or Lucio Demare played? We all know that Pugliese played piano, but could you guess that from the music? The piano is always there, if you listen, but it only predominates for brief passages. Listening to his music, you might perhaps guess that Troilo played bandoneon, but perhaps only because his phrases are so distinctive, so different from the rest of his orquesta. The ensemble is what seems to matter above the individual: the individual voices are very meticulously balanced so no one voice, no matter whose it is, seems to predominate. Contrast this with jazz: when you listen to the Dizzy Gillespie Allstars there's little doubt that Dizzy Gillespie plays trumpet, and the same is probably true for most jazz bands and orchestras. Kind of Blue? If you didn't already know, you might wonder if Miles Davis played trumpet or sax, but the group is generally there to accompany: to duel with the leader on occasions, but usually to play something of a subordinate role.

Perhaps many outstanding musicians have made a remarkably harmonious society in the orquestas of tango.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

World Routes: again

'So tango is still telling Argentines who they are, just as it did 100 years ago. That's amazing.' (Banning Eyre, presenter.)

I've just listened again to the BBC tango programme from Saturday, and I've become very appreciative of the thought and discernment that's gone into it. It focuses on four contemporary musicians, and plays their music, recorded especially for the programme. & it's made by a musician and broadcaster who is there simply to find out more from the musicians he talks to. It's very refreshing.

Particularly welcome is the emphasis on contemporary musicians who are deeply involved in the long and extraordinary tradition of tango. Piazzolla gets mentioned a couple of times, but that's all. It ignores the attempt, popular a few years ago, to modernise tango by taking a superficial element or two and adding an electro beat to it.

Interesting that the four musicians involved – Adriana Varela, Ignacio Varchausky, Cristobal Repetto and Ramiro Gallo all mention tango in connection with Argentine identity. For Varchausky ...'tango equals identity' and he says that identity is an issue for Argentines, who see themselves as 'Europeans in the wrong place... we are Latin Americans but we are not, we don't belong here... Tango is a very lucid mirror of this issue...' Ramiro Gallo (violinist, friend of Varchausky and co-founder of the Orquesta Escuela, and a big presence in the film Si Sos Brujo), who now leads his own quintet and who seems to be an inventive composer and arranger, to judge by his quintet's four CDs, says: '...Tango... is a way of life, and is a way of knowing who I am and who the people around me are...'

Gallo closes the programme with a 14-piece tango orquesta, assembled for the programme. I think there's only one piece of music not recorded directly for the BBC... and that's a recording of Gardel.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

World Routes: Argentina

This is a link to the first of two BBC Radio 3 programmes on the music of Argentina, which is about the music of Buenos Aires, tango. The second programme is about the music of the Argentine Andes, and will be broadcast next Saturday.

This link may not open outside the UK, but it's worth a try!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Silvia Ceriani

Silvia was the dance and teaching partner of 'Tete' Rusconi, who died suddenly in January. They started working together in 1996, when she accompanied him to Wuppertal to help train the Pina Bausch company for performances of Nur Du. Since then they've taught throughout Europe, in Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, Holland, Spain, Belgium and Sweden, as well as the USA.

Silvia has now started a blog, teteysilvia.blogspot. She has notes from classes they gave, her own writings, and pieces written out from what Tete said; his thoughts on tango were clear and full of insight. At present she says she's working on notes from a class from 1998, and I look forward to seeing this on her blog. Silvia is fluent in English, and everything appearing on teteysilvia.blogspot is in Spanish and English. Having lived at the heart of tango, she still has a life outside it as an artist and writer, and creator of websites, and is in demand as a DJ too.

She's off on a tour of America later this month. A very experienced teacher in her own right, she says 'I would like to share everything I've learned'. She has friends and well-wishers in many places, and I hope that we can expect her back in Europe before too long. It would be wonderful to see her, and experience her lively energy in London.

P.S. I might have misunderstood what Silvia said about a class from 1998. This video appeared on her YouTube channel today, and it's probably what she was talking about. It's a memorial to her dance partner, with video and photos from different times. Strange to see a lean Tete in the older footage.

Video thanks to Silvibook.

Monday, 4 October 2010

...and back

A milonga with a succession of partners I love dancing with, and then a sunny morning. Two things that make me feel good. And on a sunny morning remembering a series of wonderful partners the night before. But it doesn't last. By the time I'm heading south, again, this time homing in on the south coast whence I commute to dance tango, rain is falling and I delve into my .mp3 player for consolation. Fresedo, then Orquesta Escuela. But it's just a distraction from the gloom, it deadens the pain of separation.

Since someone asked a while ago, I'd like to make clear there's no connection between Tangocommuter and TangoCommute. According to the latter's website '...passion for peace is a new dance movement expressing compassion and connectivity during the evening commute in city centres worldwide.' No questioning the ideals behind it, but I'm not quite sure that dancing tango in a train station at rush hour, without (from the viewers view-point) any music at all (and in fact to a soundtrack of announcements), really conveys a passion for peace. If it works, I'm all for it, but it's nothing to do with Tangocommuter. Mine is the hard graft of getting through train stations to reach somewhere I can enjoy dancing.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Avignon II

Hang in there: normal service is about to be resumed.

Yvon Lambert was given an old palace in Avignon to run as a gallery. It happens. He's obviously a hugely successful businessman who also has a real understanding of and sympathy for the work he collects, buys and sells.

He used the palace for a Barcelo exhibition this summer. The pots! A huge table of slashed, smashed, punched, grated, cracked pots, some with bricks shoved into them, broken half-dry so they half-bend, half crack, slashed almost to complete destruction. And often beautifully painted too, with horses, fish, vegetation. Painted pot-sculptures. They feel warm to look at. So many things have happened to them they almost feel human. Photography not allowed.

Jasper Johns: 'Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it.'

The hang is immaculate. Everything is done to make the work – paintings, sculpture, pots – look as wonderful as possible. Everything has space to live and breath. Sense of absolute respect for the work. & the palace itself is worth the entry price.

Paso Doble is showing, a film of a performance by Barcelo and Josef Nadj, who's a choreographer of mime and dance. It's been performed several times. This is a very abbreviated version.

Barcelo is also in the Great Chapel at the Papal Palace, showing paintings made on massive slabs of clay. Clay, basic matter, turning into sea life, clay colours soft and glowing in the indirect light. They are built onto metal frames, but are often cracked. Difficult work to move around. Also a pot, but not so much has happened to it.

This painting is in the Little Palace, photography allowed without flash, but the light is murky. Late 13th century, the time of the Troubadors; two couples, with a musician emerging from bushes on the far left playing a double pipe, entirely surrounded by vegetation. Seems typical of the era: the Pope's private rooms in the centre of the massive stone palace are painted with groves and with people in the forest: even in the 13th century people lived in cities and dreamed of living in dense forest. The painting suggests a romantic tryst, but would you want a musician along to proclaim your presence to the entire neighbourhood?

Saturday, 25 September 2010


The Avignon festival was originally of drama, but these days it takes in dance and the visual arts. This year, the lucky artist was the Majorcan, Miquel Barceló. An artist of prodigious energy, he recently covered 300m2 of a chapel in the cathedral in Majorca with a terracotta mural. He was also commissioned to cover the interior dome of the United Nations building in Geneva with an immense mural.

The first you see of him is outside the Palace of the Popes. I was curious how the good folk of Avignon react to an elephant balanced on its trunk. While obviously a photo opportunity for tourists, it seems a place where young locals choose to meet. & I was delighted to find that the elephant has become a sort of patron deity of the local break-dance community.

Ban des Vendanges 2010

Ban=proclamation, as in 'bans of marriage'. Vendanges: an event of unimaginable significance, the harvest of grapes for wine. At the 'ban' the grapes are ceremonially pressed and the juice shared out. Then, of even greater significance, there's a free tasting of Cotes du Rhone wine for an hour. Free, but you are expected to buy a tasting glass, €2, tastefully engraved, and it feels polite to suggest some interest in the wine that is being poured into your glass. Just pretending to read the label on the bottle is sufficient. & there are stalls with great local food too. A real big picnic. & if you feel you are wandering around a little unsteadily... don't be alarmed, it's not you, it's everyone else.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Heading south II


It's difficult to conceive of huge wealth. The houses of the very wealthy tend to be hard to see, and anyway everyone needs somewhere to live. There's a limit to how much you can spend on a car or a horse, and valuable artwork is kept well out of sight. But there's one visible item that speaks of huge amounts of disposable income, and that's yachts. Saunter round the marinas of the Baie des Anges: these pictures are of Antibes, probably rather second rate compared to Monaco or Cannes. Most of the boats are motor cruisers: they look rather like cross-Channel ferries with luxurious trim, and are often almost as big. Some even have a heliport with a helicopter waiting for... well, nothing that important really. Just so someone can take to the air, look down perhaps on their very expensive floating hotel.

Yachts, with sails, are something else. & this one is something else yet again: the Maltese Falcon. I was fascinated to read some years ago that, with new technology, the old technology of wind and sail is becoming feasible again, without the sweat and the huge crews involved in the past. But it was suggested as a way to economise on the costs of cargo transport, not as the toy of an unbelievably wealthy individual. I checked out the Maltese Falcon on the net: it was built in 2006 for somewhat less than $300 million, and it's now owned by hedge-fund manager Elena Ambrosiadou. It's said that you can hire it for around $400,000 for a week: I guess that includes the crew. There's room for 12 guests, and there's an on-board gourmet chef. & it's technically so sophisticated that it can be sailed single-handed.

At another end of the scale is this, which has the dignity of being built simply to go as fast as possible. It's not the kind of deck you'd feel comfortable sunning yourself on with a dry martini: there aren't even any hatches to be battened down.

Not like this, which could well be from an old film about the Caribbean. (Some serious contre jour here.)

& then there's this piece of sheer elegance. But it's a bit sombre; all the trim, the masts, even the sails, are black. It would look distinctly spooky on a clear sunny day and a bright blue sea.

& this is where my disposable income might just about find a home! Anyway, it's the only one of these I could actually handle. I believe these little boats are still in use in the seas and inland lakes west of Marseilles.


There's a saying in India that you'll settle where you like the water, in which case I should live in Vence. Water from a limestone spring spurts from taps and fountains, cool and fresh. It tastes wonderful, and it's claimed to be naturally safe to drink unchlorinated, and it's certainly done me no harm. But there's no discernible tango in Vence, so that's that. Even though it's a beautiful hillside town just 20 miles inland from the Cote d'Azur, with truly delicious water.

The town fortress became the town hall, and is now an exhibition space. Yvon Lambert, a native of Vence, has become one one of the most remarkable collector/dealers in France, and was offered the exhibition space to show some of his collection this summer. A marvellous show. You might not always feel at home with the work he shows, but you'll never think it's insignificant or trivial. & it's always marvelously displayed, with real sensitivity to the work itself. This sensitivity seems respected by the artists: there are several wonderful pieces made for Lambert by artists he represents, among them Anselm Kieffer, whose vast landscape dominated this year's Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy.

& life goes on in Vence as you'd expect.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Heading south

I've been longing to get away. But 'south' is 'le sud' not 'el sur': this is one long post with subsections so you can skip over it easily. But the pictures are nice.


Sometime in the late 18th century the Rue de l'Enfer, Hell Street, on the Left Bank in Paris, disappeared into a big hole. The Left Bank is built above underground quarries, and the authorities began to realise that the entire Latin Quarter was about to follow the Rue de l'Enfer into the abyss, so a vast underground cathedral-like structure was constructed to support it. Something to reflect on over a coffee on the Boul'Mich.

Evening: Paris feels warm, content, cheerful. London after work can feel restless, even self-destructive.

The night train.

Long ago, before the advent of the TGV, much long-distance travel in France was by night train. Now that you can have breakfast in Paris and lunch in Nice night travel hardly matters, but a limited service called Lunea survives, using the old carriages with couchettes and sieges inclinables to some destinations, at least during the summer months, although not every night. The Paris-Nice train is a real pleasure; waking up to sunrise on the red porphyry crags of the Esterel, then the crawl round the Baie des Anges in the bright morning sun is a real treat. The train runs non-stop Paris to Toulon with a brief halt in Lyon, presumably to change drivers, as the entire run is ten hours. & it really feels fast. In the TGV you lose the sensation of speed: there's little noise and the ride is totally smooth. But the older carriages aren't soundproofed and you know you're going fast, really fast. It's half the speed of a TGV and a lot more exciting.

The Baie des Anges seems to have little to do with celestial beings. I read that 'anges de mer' were a kind of shark that used to be common in the bay.


Ah, and today was Rivertango in London. The air would have been fresh and cool, but not too cold, the sun still warm, and the floor full with partners I know well, and know by sight. There would have been a demonstration of high kicking. & Tango Siempre playing a set, too. Great music, and their Pugliese sublime for a dance too, no doubt. But me, I'm heading south.

L'expulsion des Roms

This has been the big issue of the summer. The papers are full of it. The local paper (in the south, which tends to be very right-wing) sent a reporter to Romania to comment on their condition at home, which was said to be pitiful in that they longed back to the days of Ceaucescu when everyone had a little: now the Roms have nothing. The reporter found this heartbreaking, but the implication is that Romania should look after them better: then they wouldn't need to come to France. The Roms, as Romanians, are EU citizens, and entitled to travel for work, but if they are 'sans papiers' they can be expelled.

It's a sensitive issue. France still remembers another expulsion on ethnic grounds – of the Jews during WWII: there are monuments in many towns to recall the names, and ages, of those rounded up and deported. The government denies the Roms were specifically targeted, but leaked documents have contradicted this.

Sarkozy has an election coming up, and his polls rating is low. Critics suggest this has been done to snatch votes from the far right. It also distracts attention from 'l'affaire Woerth': M. Woerth, while Budget minister, was alleged to have helped the L'Oreal heiress, Liliane Bettencourt, one of the wealthiest people in the world, to evade taxes. & she is said to have made huge donations to M. Sarkozy's campaign: envelopes stuffed with cash have been mentioned...

Liberation is the French Guardian, but wonderfully concise. It protests predictably on the treatment of the Roms. It also published an analysis of the language used. The government said that it took action to protect the security of it's own citizens, that this was the heritage of the Revolution, which guaranteed 'surete': but a historian points out that the 'surete' guaranteed under the Revolution was security from arbitrary arrest and detention. He says that the idea of the state guaranteeing security from civil unrest is relatively recent. He's a member of the 'committee for vigilance over the public use of history': what a fascinating idea! The 'public use of history' should be monitored closely, indeed.

Anyway, expelling the Roms in order to protect French citizens from civil unrest seems totally disproportionate. People sometimes found them a nuisance, but no worse. But the idea that 'security' can be used to justify almost anything the state (or a politician seeking re-election) wants to do... that really is troubling.

Flaubert to George Sand, 1867: '...I came across a camp of Bohemians established near Rouen. [...] The great thing about it was that, although they are as inoffensive as sheep, they excited the hatred of the bourgeois. [...] That hatred is very profound and complex. It's the hatred people have for the Bedouin, the heretics, philosophers, the solitaries, the poet.'

Friday, 17 September 2010

Pedro milonguero

I've just heard that a Dutch student and friend of Pedro Sanchez has set up a website for him, at Pedromilonguero. If you've met Pedro and learned from him, please post a testimonial about what he´s like as a teacher and dancer.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

More Pedro!

'El milonguero' Terry has just got back from BsAs with three videos, which he's asked me to upload. Two are of Pedro Sanchez, and the third is of Alberto Dassieu dancing with Eva Garlez.

We scratched our heads to try and translate exactly what Pedro says, and then Jantango very kindly stepped in with a translation, and put us out of our misery. Thanks, Jantango! I think it's well worth doing, as Pedro is very passionate and very clear and very articulate and very compelling about what he thinks, and it's well worth trying to understand what he says. (This is the third version I've uploaded: I think I've got it right this time!)

Apart from that, Terry quotes his notes on what he learned from Pedro. Listen to the music, and dance with your whole body; and he says that the lead/connection in the embrace should come from the sternum or just under, not high on the chest.

The second video is of Pedro dancing a vals with Ali. I'm always amazed at how effortless and simple he makes it look. This is how you dance tango with 60 years practice.

The third video is of Alberto Dassieu in his little studio at home, a demonstration of how to dance to very slow tango. Alberto is a close contemporary of Pedro. I gather that he grew up at the heart of the Villa Urquiza style in the late 1940s.

I took a number of classes with Pedro and with Alberto last winter, and I spent time with both of them at Plaza Bohemia. Alberto always goes out with his wife, Paulina, and they would invite me to sit at their table and talk, as best I could, about the dancers and the music. These videos really bring back to me the classes and those milonga evenings.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Getting things wrong

A great series of instructional videos is appearing. They are hilarious because they are just so imaginatively made. A pity that getting things right is never as funny as getting things wrong!

Video thanks to superchachi2010

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Learning tango 2

Just a thought: there is a dance that's improvised to music, that many of us are familiar with from childhood, and certainly from our teens, by which time it IS social dance; that arm-waving, body-writhing, jumping dance of discos, clubs and parties everywhere.

Has anyone tried it to tango music? I have, but what I do is conditioned by what I've been taught to do to tango music. But it occurred to me that it would be interesting to see what people with no knowledge of tango music would improvise to it. & then it occurred to me that this might be a good way to introduce people to tango music. The activity is a familiar one, but the music is unfamiliar, so it would be necessary to listen to it, to find the beat, the compas, and then possibly feel the melodic flow of cadencia too, and respond to it perhaps with the torso and arms. In any case, to explore this new music with the body. A teacher who knows the music should be able to suggest, by body movements, what is going on in the music, and ways to respond to it. Learning directly with the body rather than through a verbal explanation might be a useful path for people who've never listened to the music and who want to dance to it. The dance itself, the embrace and ways of movement possible in the embrace would still need to be explored, of course. & this could be extended to vals and milonga: here's something different, try and work out for yourselves what is going on. What we find out for ourselves we usually know better than something that's explained to us.

If anyone's ever tried this, or tries it, I'd love to know if it works.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Watching dancing

Sitting watching the dancing at Carablanca on a recent Friday evening: it's started to look and feel really good. A good proportion of the couples were in close or close-ish embrace for most of the time, they moved round the line of dance well, and the dance in general is beginning to look quite smooth. In general I enjoy watching social dance a lot more than I enjoy watching 'demonstrations', especially when it's fluent, and it looks intimate and suits the feel of the music.

Carablanca has a long history in London tango. It started at the Welsh Centre in the early 1990s, and moved to Conway Square recently. I'd really like to write a history of it, with the tango stories of the people who work each week to make sure we have a good time, as I'm sure there are some interesting ones there. Maybe in the future. It's developed, with the thoughts and suggestions of many people over the past year or so, into something that's beginning to look like a traditional BsAs milonga, and the dancing is going that way too.

But just so we don't get too many illusions about ourselves, it's worth delving into the archive Jantango is building up, just as a tango 'reality check'. One thing that's amazed me over the past year is just how many wonderful older dancers there still are. It's wonderful that video can reveal to us people whose names are little known and who still look amazing. Here's such a couple, dancing oblivious to what seems an unsympathetic background. They show skill, playfulness, great elegance and real enjoyment... isn't that cool?

& of course this is the kind of milonga I'd really like to see, although this was filmed nine years ago and sadly it's no longer possible. Jantango identifies Ricardo Vidort and Muma, Carlos Gavito, Miguel Angel Balbi, Elba Biscay, and others I've not heard of. I thought I spotted Mimi there too. Wonderful to watch all these great tangueros on the floor together.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Pedro again!

It's the 75th birthday of Pedro Sanchez on August 27th. Feliz cumpleaños, maestro!

& to judge by a couple of recent videos he's in fine form. One video is an interview, a 'Pedro talks' in his upstairs room, but there's no translation with it. & then there's also a brief, all-too-brief, video of him dancing. I love this: it's probably totally incorrect to laugh while you're dancing, but you can laugh after you finish, so why not during the dance itself?

Great video. Two people really enjoying themselves. A pity part of it shows waist level, rather than heads or feet, and mirrors are an opportunity to show the full picture in a confined space, but it's one of the most joyful tangos I've seen.

& when I found this I also came across the teaching videos Pedro made in 2005. I heard about them a few years ago, but couldn't get hold of them. I meant to ask in Buenos Aires, and completely forgot. Anyway, they appeared recently on YouTube, which is great news. However, I can't help feeling that they're a bit limited since Pedro teaches without a partner. It's actually a bit frustrating, trying to work out what he's leading, and where he's leading his invisible partner. I guess it's possible to work it out, but it could have been so much clearer if she'd been visible. I just wonder if he could be persuaded to revisit with a partner the material he covers in those videos, because it would be incredibly useful. It could be slotted into the existing videos, or uploaded as a separate piece. His explanations are simple and clear, and really deserve a more complete translation, and with a visible partner this could be excellent teaching/learning material.

There are also three wonderful dances with TangoCherie, but I don't think they necessarily cover what he taught in the class sessions. Probably not: more likely he's responding to the music, and would find it hard to dance something to order. It really is great to have the three classes, and three more tangos from Pedro available to watch: there are too few.

&, as ever, what he says is wonderfully clear and to the point. He starts the very first class by saying, first of all, feel emotion! Tango milonguero is very emotional! Emotional, not theatrical! & then he starts to talk about posture, very simply and straightforwardly. I assume that when he says the dance is very emotional he means that it is a response to all the emotion in the music: I hope someone out there can clarify this. To me, emotion distinguishes the golden age tango.

& this is what I was trying to clarify to myself in an earlier post: we are not so familiar with the emotional language of tango music, the 'cadencia', so this emotion tends to be lacking in European tango. You can be taught steps, but '...nobody can teach you the feeling', as Gavito said. But at least it can be pointed out. Unlike Pedro, who talks about it at the beginning of his first lesson, most teachers don't even refer to emotion. Many of us are drawn to tango because of the music, but responding to the emotion in the music isn't so straightforward, particularly if it's not pointed out to us as really important. Pedro's dance is clear and doesn't look elaborate, but one of his regular partners told me that there's constant flow of emotion in his lead. Or perhaps that should be; his lead is a constant flow of emotion...

These are the teaching videos: tango 1, tango 2, milonga. & the dances are: tango, tango vals, milonga

Video thanks to milongueromateo. & the classes were uploaded by Macfroggy. (Macfroggy? I wonder who that could be?)

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Am I missing something?

OK, I think this image would cause howls of protest...

...while this image might well be illegal as a poster...

but this image is a movie poster we've had to look at for three weeks now:

In any other field this might be suspected as product placement. & why is it assumed that glamorous, wealthy stars waving guns will attract people to see the film? It's bad enough that guns are so high profile in films. The gun = power, strength, solutions; it's as if you don't need to think, all you need is a handgun. A bad message, a dangerous message. But should handguns be visible like this?

Incidentally, I came across the US poster for the film: it's a decent piece of graphic design, sort of late-1950s: there's only one gun and then only as a silhouette.

Monday, 16 August 2010


I've been listening to Troilo a lot recently. There are some 40 albums available for listening online, but so little information is given that it's hard to know the date of the original LP or 78 releases(1). The album-cover photo usually gives a clue: the chubby-faced young man with slicked-back black hair becomes heavier-faced until we reach the unmistakeable 'El Gordo', hair no longer so black, but still slicked back. Some of the recordings are in stereo, another clue. & the later recordings, from the 1950s onwards are often as a quartet, since dancers were abandoning tango, and orquestas are expensive to run.

I could recognise the music of D'Arienzo, Di Sarli and Pugliese early on. Pedro Laurenz I discovered late one night on the commute back from a London milonga three years ago, when my ear picked out Paisaje from some mixed tracks, and I played it over and over, amazed at the orchestration. But although I recognise pieces by Troilo, until recently I've not found his music so easy to distinguish.

& for dancing he's definitely not easy. For a start, those rhythms are complicated. 'Makes me think of Joaquín' a partner remarked recently during a Troilo tanda, thinking of a few hours spent with musician Joaquín Amenábar exploring how the same rhythmic phrase can get repeated, with variations, within a single track. Milonga is directly rhythmic, closer to 'steps' and to our own dance background, with less phrasing, fewer melodic lines. Robert Farris Thompson (2) talks about the rhythmic intensity of Troilo's 1962 recording, with his quartet, of the milonga La Trampera; '...habanera at fast tempo, jazz bass, art guitar, even a phrase from old samba...'(3). & it rocks, in an elegant musical way. A pity it didn't stem the tide of rock 'n' roll!

Troilo's rhythms are complex, but on top of them in his tangos there's sensuous lyricism in the phrasing, which demands a different response. Phrasing is the aspect of tango I have most difficulty with. Rhythm is a common dance experience, and keeping a basic beat is hardly a problem, but phrases in tango mean thinking in terms of melodic sequences of more than a few beats, thinking ahead to the end of the phrase, with variations of intensity and speed within it. Phrasing has never been mentioned in any class I can remember: I first came across it in Tangoandchaos, the idea of dancing with the feet to the rhythm and with the body to the melody, the phrases. We learn steps and sequences, and if we're lucky we learn about rhythms, but phrasing may be too indefinite, too subjective, for classes. Maybe Joaquín could teach it, alongside rhythm, if he had time. I think it's a feature of good Buenos Aires tango, which doesn't mean we can't live without it. And yet.

& it's difficult. Just watch those milongueros and see how smoothly they follow the phrasing of the music with their upper bodies. It looks wonderful, and very satisfying too, but unless you know the music really well, a phrase can be half finished before you get your feet in place to respond. Rhythms are easy to recognise, but without (and even with) some musical background, particularly in the Italian folk and opera traditions, which were so important to tango, it's hard to respond to those singing phrases that follow the breathing of a sung line. Almost all tango starts as song, and watching the old dancers is like watching singing with the body instead of the voice. (& maybe with the voice too...)

Until five years ago, to watch Buenos Aires social dancing meant a long and expensive trip: these days it's beginning to be possible to to see how social tango looks simply by logging into YouTube. Unfortunately these days we never get to see or meet these older salon dancers in London, although they visit Europe regularly. Ah! I'm re-re-repeating myself...

Here's Troilo and his orquesta. I guess this was a few years before his death in 1975.

Video thanks to elmundoalreves1.

(1) On Spotify. The dates are of the UK CD releases I think. (2) Tango: the art history of love, pp. 132-3. (3) On the 1962 Cuarteto Troilo-Grela album, Pa' Que Bailen Los Muchachos. (Apologies for the footnotes!)