Thursday, 29 April 2010

The project

First off, I don't regard this as 'my' project. It would need funding, which I'm unlikely to be able to get. It might need someone looking for a research project, and with access to an academic grant, or a media company. So if you know anyone who dances tango and happens to be looking for a research project, or who has access to funding... Just so long as the resulting footage can be available on DVD, with some of it posted on YouTube for everyone to watch.

The project is to set up a series of small, informal milongas in Buenos Aires where the very best social dancers of the older-generation tango dancers can be filmed dancing in a setting that is familiar to them. Something like this was done for tango music with Cafe de los Maestros, and I think it should also be an urgent priority with dance.

Almost everything danced by the generation that learned social tango in the late 1940s and 1950s has been watched and copied, and is currently taught. What cannot be preserved, except by video, is the way that generation dances, with its roots 50 years ago, before the tango hiatus, and with a lifetime of experience. That's an inspiration, a source that can be preserved for the future with video, and which will, very sadly, soon vanish. It's not what they do so much as the way that they do it, that tenuous link with the past that needs to be preserved.

The only way I can think of filming this clearly would be by setting up a short series of small-scale milongas in Buenos Aires, perhaps late afternoon or early evening when a familiar venue might be available. Of course, the venue would need to be reasonably well-lit. The participants should be paid to attend, on the agreement that they will be filmed. Filming should be discrete and shouldn't intrude on the social dance: no one wants camera operators waving cameras around the dance floor. The set and setting need to be conducive both to filming and to normal social dancing.

It's wonderful that videos of social dance are now being made, but in a social milonga it's not always possible to give a clear idea of what is happening. Of course the cameras are never going to capture everything but they can show a lot. Moreover, as David Bailey commented recently, it would do a lot to raise the profile of social dancing outside Buenos Aires, where few people have had much chance to see what the best social tango looks like. It's never intended as a show, but it can still look marvelous, and continue to be an inspiration.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010


Sallycat posted recently about something she calls 'the gift', and the '6 classic bliss-seeking behaviours' of all the men she enjoys dancing with. I think it's a very inspiring analysis of the embrace that goes (literally) to the heart of it.

In the UK the embrace is hardly taught at all, and it's largely ignored in tango here. But then I've never found it taught anywhere, even in my brief visits to Buenos Aires. That is to say, the mechanics are discussed; this hand should be a bit higher or lower, firmer or a bit more relaxed, the contact and centre of gravity should be lower, the weight further forwards... But I've not heard anything until now about how the embrace functions between two nervous systems, what they might individually expect or need of it, what it might feel like, how we should approach it, all the things Sallycat draws attention to, which seem so basic that they are crying out to be discussed!

Sallycat talks of the embrace as if it IS tango, almost to the exclusion of music, the floor, the steps... That's very interesting, the thought of tango as AN EMBRACE, between partners who may or may not know each other, who hold each other close for a dance, enjoy the warmth and movement of each other's bodies, and then step away from each other with courtesy and humour. It seems to be such an ultimately civilised and civilising thing to do. I'd prefer to think of a trinity, of dance, embrace and music, but it's so good to focus on the experience of the embrace for a change.

Sallycat asks about our experience of the embrace, so if you haven't already found her post, follow the link. I think it's very illuminating, and it's well worth helping to define the human experience of dancing in embrace.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Tango con dos

It can be done: whether it's worth it, or even worth watching, is another story. It was always possible in jive: there's the famous Willy Ronis photo (Willy Ronis, whose images of post-WW2 southern France capture warmth and well-being, who died last year, aged 99). & I've seen some of the older dancers at the 100 Club manage it well.

But in tango? & in milonga... Here's the milonga: Rubén Terbalca dancing with 2 women a month ago, on his current European visit.

And for tango, Adela Galeazzi, Elba Biscay and Santiago Cantenys in Salon Canning a few years ago.

How can I put it? Perhaps Adela Galeazzi, Elba Biscay and Santiago Cantenys all at once might be too much of a good thing. I'd much rather see 'tango por dos', Santiago dancing with them individually!

Videos thanks to Benomano and ruse08

Friday, 23 April 2010

The legacy

While thinking about the legacy of the older dancers a few weeks back I commented that it would be great if someone could get a research grant to put on small milongas in Buenos Aires, perhaps in the afternoons, and pay older couples generously to come and dance – and be filmed.

By the usual process of coincidence, a few days later I discovered that something like this was made about five years ago. It seems to be available on DVD, and it's called Susana Tango Pial. It's a 40-minute documentary by Sandro Nunziata and Carlos Pico about La Milonga de Susana at the El Pial salon in Flores, Buenos Aires, and run by Susana Minana, who is now in her 70s. A crowd mainly of senior citizens gathers there every week to dance. The film shows the dancing and talks to some of the dancers. An old man who has returned to dancing tango after years says: “Tango enters you through your eyes and goes through your heart. But once it reaches your feet, it stays with you for ever”. Be warned! Or reassured!

Wonderful, but perhaps not quite what I'd envisaged. Susana Tango Pial shows ordinary people, occasional dancers perhaps. I'm thinking about the surviving superlative dancers of that generation. There are very few good videos of Pocho and Neli publicly available. There's half a tango of Osvaldo Buglione, and one-and-a-bit of Miguel Balbi, both on Tango and Chaos, and a couple of Osvaldo Centano in the dark at El Beso, on YouTube... and so the list goes on, and it's not a long one. Thanks to Jantango there are two good clips of Ismael Heljalil and Graciela Blaisten on a fairly empty and well-lit floor at Maipu 444, but often the quality is dark and mobile-phone-ish. Of course it's great that we have these few, but... more! More! It would be wonderful to get these dancers (and others like them) together to make a record, in good quality, to celebrate the best dancing of that generation. Because their roots go way back, and they've had a whole lifetime to work on it and to put into it. They really are an inspiration, and through video they can continue to inspire.

Video thanks to Amsterdamtangoclub.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

301 posts!

My 301st posting! How extraordinary. It's been an invaluable way of keeping track of myself, of articulating thoughts, of learning and communicating. &, amazingly, of meeting people, too. It's been wonderful. Thanks for reading this, thanks for all your comments.

The community of 'apilado' bloggers is wonderful: we communicate, share our discoveries, support each other, learn from each others' experience. There are friends out there I know well, and there are also friends out there I'll never meet. I sometimes wonder if 'new' dancers communicate like this... but I don't think they do. I think I would have come across their tango blogs, but I've seen nothing, no complaints about boring, old-fashioned would-be milongueros hugging each other on the floor and getting in the way of some really good voleos... & somehow it seems appropriate. We like to dance together, and we like to communicate and understand each other a bit, too. Un abrazo fuerte! Bailamos!

PS. The numbers seem to have gone awry. Google tells me this is #302.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

To each his tango

Sadly, 'Que descanse en paz' is a Spanish phrase I've learned recently, although 'resting in peace' is perhaps the last thing you'd wish a deceased 'milonguero'. According to a friend who emailed me about him today, Eduardo Aguirre, although not young, could nevertheless outlast many younger people on the floor. I'd never heard of him, although he seems to have lived and taught all over Europe, and in Turkey too, over the last ten years. But not London, I assume, and never will now.

I'm really struck by how varied tango can be. Thinking of Ricardo Vidort, Pedro Sanchez, Luisito Ferraris, Tete Rusconi... Watching the videos, it seems that Eduardo moved strongly, even abruptly. I don't see the smoothness of, say, Osvaldo and Coca, Pocho and Nelly, but his walk and posture look solid and assured: maybe his personality had forceful and direct side that was reflected in his tango. I assume his dancing in milongas, where abrupt movement can be unsettling, was quieter; like Tete, he could probably adjust immediately to the available space. There are a few videos, including teaching videos, with Yvonne Meissner.

Video thanks to Muller Patricia

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Old masters

I keep emphasising the old, and that's not some personal oddity. The historical fact is that between 1960 and 1985 the whole tradition of the milongas, where people had learned to dance for generations, faltered. For 25 years very few people learned to dance, and many dancers who'd learned earlier gave it up. Most current teachers learned after 1990 from that older generation. There's not really a generation of younger teachers who've learned through the milongas. But don't the younger dancers give us a more contemporary tango, more suited to us? Maybe, but they might not have much background in social dancing, which is what we go to classes to learn! & any learning is an interpretation, and any teacher is likely to present or distort material in such a way as to attract students. Of course, there is a way of recording the old tradition clearly so that it's available for future reference: it's called video.

& what's wrong with going back to the source, the older tradition, while it's still available? Learn from your teachers' teachers if you can! They tend to be dancers pure and simple, rather than trained teachers on an international circuit. Yes, some do teach, perhaps as much by example as by explanation. But how else do you learn dance than by watching dance and by being watched while you dance? (& by talking to your partners!) Martha and Manolo teach canyengue week in and week out in Buenos Aires with hardly a word of English between them, but you know immediately how friendly and encouraging they are, so it's easy to learn from them.

& when it comes down to it, we can get a lot from their generation that simply isn't available from the younger generation: we can get a sense of what the milongas were like, the feel of tango. & it's very evident when we watch the older dancers how much they enjoy dancing together. They don't perform for us with that vaguely disdainful expression, looking, as Tete put it, as if they have a lemon in their mouths!

I see that Irene and Man Yung's tango blog have anticipated me in this: their posts on their recent visit to Buenos Aires show the warmth and happiness and good-heartedness there is in the tango world there these days. It's a really wonderful time for the older generation! They were right all along! The dance and music they loved so much in their youth – and through which many of them met their partners – and which they lost for most of their lives, has come back for them to enjoy again late in their lives, along with reasonable political stability and material prosperity. Irene and Man Yung have posted a number of photos and videos. The videos of Alberto Dassieu are of course wonderful, and Coca and Osvaldo Cartery's dance to 'Poema' at Ideal is simply sublime: tango is the dance of love, and love, as we know, means tenderness, intimacy, warmth, as well as passion. & don't miss the link to Adela Galeazzi and Jorge Garcia's jive. Jorge is 'El Flaco' Danny's elder brother, and I watched his jive with an open mouth last December: I'd never seen anything like it, and most definitely not in a septuagenarian!

In the UK we have a particular problem: recent legislation makes it terribly difficult and expensive to bring visitors to teach here, even for a short period, so it's worth considering a visit to Buenos Aires to enjoy tango, and the best of teachers, there. I've already linked many of the older teachers like Luisito Ferraris, who now lives and teaches in North Italy (easy to visit for a vacation). Here's a video of Ruben Aybar and Cherie Magnus, whose website is here. Ruben's tango goes way back. Like Luisito, he dances with enjoyment and generous good-hearted warmth, as well as an easy facility. It would be wonderful to see dancers like this on our floors in London!

Video thanks to Macfroggy.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Cherry blossom and milestones

My first blog was on LiveJournal, and my first post read:
April 11th, 2007 01:39 pm Cherry blossom fully out. Beautiful. & I planted the trees in a sleet storm ten weeks ago...

April 11 2010, and there's no sign of cherry blossom: it'll be another two weeks. & a milestone, nearly: this is my 298th posting as Tangocommuter.

Bridge to the Tango

Daniel Trenner is a granddaddy to us all. His first visit to Buenos Aires to learn tango was in 1987, after ten years in various forms of jazz dance. By the early 1990s he was there with a video camera, recording a wide range of the tango dancers he had met, recordings that were edited into a ground-breaking series called Bridge to the Tango. They included teaching videos by Mingo and Esther Pugliese, Rodolfo and Maria Cieri, Miguel Balmaceda and Nelly Argaraz, Tete and Silvia, Puppy Castello, workshops with Gustavo Naveira and his then partner Olga Besio... (But sadly, it seems, nothing of Ricardo Vidort.) A few years ago it was announced that Bridge to the Tango was closing down, and I rushed to buy a few more of their VHS cassettes. The visual quality isn't great, and the verbal translation (rather than subtitles) slows everything down, but you get teaching material from some of the greats. Before YouTube, it was all there was, and it's still wonderful material.

I've just noticed that Daniel Trenner has added a blog to his new website, with several very thoughtful entries from last autumn called 'Homage to the Followers'. There's also a wonderful piece on Jean Bruno, who Trenner also filmed in Buenos Aires. Bruno was born in 1925 and started dancing in 1941, truly 'Golden Age'.

There's also a link to the store: 'Bridge' is no longer running off VHS cassettes (for obvious reasons) but a number of the cassettes are still in stock and still available. & it seems that Trenner is going ahead with digitising his archives with a view to re-releasing them. Wonderful!

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Days of Being Wild

The first film Wong Kar Wei directed and wrote. Audacious for any film, let alone a first film, to be so visually restrained: no costumes, no vivid landscapes, in fact hardly any landscape at all, since the horizon is hardly ever more than ten feet away. Hardly any colour either, and very little light. How is it that he can make a shot of a girl in a car on a rainy night so powerful, so desperate? He doesn't seem to write characters in the usual sense: his 'characters' are needs, attempts to satisfy and control needs. He seems to write about despair, anxiety, dissatisfaction, things we identify with very directly. The power of understatement, of things that aren't said: we know his characters from inside, elaboration isn't needed.

Made with the Australian cinematographer Christopher Doyle, who also worked with him on his next four films, Ashes of Time, Happy Together, In the Mood for Love and 2046. (& filmed Rabbit-Proof Fence in between.) I've managed to watch them all, in reverse order.

It's this kind of desperate intensity and visual power you remember him for, and I hope he goes back to it. My Blueberry Nights was disappointing, and the most recent completed film is on YouTube, a nine-minute short called There's only One Sun which I found so uninteresting I can't be bothered to link it.

Jean-Luc Godard's most recent film is also on YouTube. It's called Une Catastrophe (this is a link), it was finished in 2008, and it's just 1 minute 10 seconds long.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Kontakthof, Van Gogh... and tango

(The connection is linear: they came one after the other.)

Kontakthof ('courtyard for meeting') is the first Pina Bausch piece I've seen on stage. The setting is a bare dance hall. Originally (1978) it was created for 27 untrained performers aged 65 and over, just local people. Untrained but not unrehearsed: the piece, which is 'dance theatre', is long and complex. The gestures and acts we perform in dance halls, the preening, clothing adjustments, plays for attention, rejections, even our unexpressed thoughts and desires, which would normally remain unnoticed, are the substance of the piece. [PS. There's little actual dancing.] It wasn't made clear at booking that two groups were performing at separate performances, and I found I'd booked for a group of teenagers, 14+, a later idea, it seems. I'm not sure the bare dance hall and the music, German 1930s dance music, sounding (except for the vocals) rather like tango vals, really suited them, and they have much less 'history' to bring to the performance. Pina Bausch grew through the harsh post-war years, and her vision of human nature is unsentimental and unsettling.

Van Gogh I could hardly see, they've packed the show with so many 'customers'. You see the backs of heads of people trying to see beyond the backs of the heads of people crammed together looking at a Van Gogh. The drawings were easier to see, and I liked them. There's a kind of compulsiveness in them, skies filled with thousands of tiny dots, but I suspect that these textures are an attempt to suggest colour in monochrome drawing. The energy in the drawings is magnificent. The drawing of a cypress seemed much more direct and forceful than the modelling (literally) of it in paint. I was surprised to be less impressed by the paintings. I can't help thinking of Cezanne, who also looked at southern landscapes and people. But Van Gogh died at 37, at which age Cezanne was still a relatively clumsy painter. Only in his 50s did Cezanne start to make those astonishing constructions of line and colour, which seem both solid and insubstantial, and which take my breath away.

& tango (at the Crypt) confirmed my observation a while back that dark and unevenly lit dance floors host the most careless dancing. I was told there was a lot of bumping and a lot of complaining about bumping, and I was hit by people taking long steps backwards. I'm all for the socialising area being dark, but the floor needs adequate lighting. It's so obvious! It's not rock'n'roll, where people dance on the spot! Leaders need to be able to register clearly and in brief glimpses, and often out of the corner of an eye, where all the nearby dancers are, what they are doing, and even their skill levels. In the dark, with a partner, people can ignore the possibility of other people being around, but that adds to no-one's comfort. & the (recent) addition of a glitter ball is truly depressing...

Friday, 2 April 2010


I have the reputation of being a milongaphobe, but I don't dislike milonga at all although I dance it reluctantly and (I think) unconvincingly. I like the music, but not as much as tango or vals. A partner once told me she often finds it difficult to get a leader for milonga so I wonder if milongaphobia is a common affliction. Is there an element of wit or light-heartedness in milonga that's somehow a problem? I don't think it has much to do with the speed of the music since I dance vals in double time without hesitation. Teachers convinced me early on that milonga is a separate, different dance, with different 'steps', and I felt I had enough to do with learning tango 'steps', so I didn't bother. & now it suits me to take a break. No, no, it's milonga! But watching some of the older Buenos Aires dancers has been very reassuring. For instance, isn't this wonderful? (A pity the picture gives away the age of the dancers: just watching the first twenty seconds of their feet you'd never guess.)

When it comes down to it, milonga isn't a separate dance, or tango danced fast, but tango danced to a milonga beat. Some figures work better in tango or milonga, but it's hardly a separate dance. It wasn't until I took a workshop with Adrian and Amanda Costa that I realised that most milonga isn't necessarily relentless and fast but, like tango, can have its pauses and musicality: thanks! & I've watched older dancers in Buenos Aires whose milonga seems very slow, but is full of feints and pretences. Once you catch on to what they are doing, it's actually quite funny to watch.

Pocho and Nelly's dancing is beautiful, no other word for it. It's breathtakingly musical, unhurried, passionate, assured. Seguro, seguro! & for once the film is well made, technically good quality, with a clear whole-body view. It's sad that there are relatively few videos of this couple on YouTube. I don't know how old they are, but they must be among the last survivors of the generation that learned tango around the 1950s. There was a tango hiatus until the late 1980s: they may have continued dancing, but not many people did, so they are one of the last direct links to the dance of the golden age, and good video of them should be really important. They've done a few teaching tours of the US, so maybe there's more out there. A pity someone can't get funding to rent a venue, perhaps in the afternoon, and pay dancers of that generation generously to attend a few milongas, where they could be filmed well, dancing socially and solo. Sadly, there's not much time left.

Here's another older couple dancing a fast milonga in El Beso.Once again, there's nothing technically difficult (except that calesita at 00:58): it's just incredibly well done.

Videos thanks to Grznik and Tangaso.