Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Thanks, Alberto!

'Dance the tango respecting the music; dance the tango respecting the other people in the milonga; dance the tango with feeling!'

& thanks to Practimilonguero: the full interview is here in case anyone still hasn't watched it!

Friday, 22 July 2011


Cherie wrote about feet a while back, which reminded me of some thoughts on ankles. I hope she wasn't intending to move on to ankles...

When I first injured an ankle a decade ago I shrugged it off: OK, so I'm limping but I'll ice it, and it'll get better. Well yes, it will get better, but unless you habitually walk on your hands, ankles are in a different league to sprained wrists. & an injured ankle will heal but is much more susceptible to re-injury.

& there's a further problem. We think of balance as the effect of that liquid-filled chamber behind the ear, but it's not so simple. For a start, there's a strong visual component to balance as you'll have noticed if you've tried standing on one foot with your eyes closed. Part of our fear of darkness must be uncertainty of balance. If you go to a tango class where balance is practised by standing on one foot, you can have good balance by focusing your eyes on one spot without blinking; of course, that doesn't help when you have to move. & there's a third component to balance, and that's from the knees down. The eyes and the balance organ are sensors, but the actual work is done by a co-ordinated group of nerves and the muscles below the knees. Any lower-body injury can upset this co-ordination, which will need to be rebuilt.

With hindsight, with an ankle injury that didn't clear up fast I should have gone straight to a physio, instead of thinking 'Oh, it's only a sprain...'. Sure, physios cost, but they are great at diagnosing injuries, at treating them, and at post-injury rehabilitation. When you realise how much an ankle injury costs in terms of lost health since you are partially immobilised, and lost social life since you can't go out dancing, the cost of a physio is a minor issue. Treatment is likely to include strengthening exercises related to your particular injury, and rebuilding the co-ordination that results in good balance.

As a preventative, it might even be worth getting a 'wobble board', which is often used by physios to rebuild ankle strength, or searching out ankle exercises in order to reduce the risk of injury in the first place. Probably better still, just dance a lot.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Julio de Caro: the Tango Collection

I've no idea who the Tango Collection might be when they are at home, or where their home might be, and I hope someone can fill me in on that because I'd like to keep my ear to what they do. A few months ago they released the early Di Sarli sextet album, and more recently they've brought out one of Julio de Caro. A fair bit of it is unfamiliar to me, and it's a huge pleasure to come across de Caro I've not heard before. The orchestral textures come across wonderfully: how unexpected, for instance, is the sound of de Caro's violin cornetto on Jueves. Then there's a version of Recuerdo that can almost be described as rollicking, with very clear syncopation, and incredibly clear, unhurried, structure and sound. (Wasn't it de Caro who discovered Pugliese's great hit?) I think the refined energy of the playing is really remarkable, and in a quiet kind of way it swings like mad (if that's not too much of a contradiction). The CD includes old favourites too, the version of Mala Junta with the bandoneon of Pedro Laurenz in the minor cutting across the jolly whistling of the intro. One of the things I love about de Caro is how what seem to be street sounds, whistlings, laughter, strange vocal grumblings, get collaged effortlessly into his music. In the last track, for instance, Vayan Saliendo, just what is happening between 1.55 and 2.05? It actually sounds electronic! But above all, it's just how fine and enjoyable his music is, wonderfully playful with rhythm and sound. Love it.

Ah, found them! RGS Music, at a familiar enough address, Av. Corrientes 5233 Buenos Aires, Argentina, with a website. This should be the Spotify link.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

DJ La Rubia

A very welcome Argentine visitor at Carablanca a few Fridays ago. Maybe it was knowing where she was from that made the sound quality seem unusually good, and it's hard to say exactly why it was such a great evening. The sound quality: it reminded me of how strong the music can sound without being actually deafening in volume. The choice of music was endlessly excellent: not always familiar, but always great for dancing. Without doubt a DJ with an vast knowledge of the music, who pays constant attention to the mood of the milonga and knows how to keep people moving. It was appreciated by everyone I spoke to. Generally, I think, London tangueros don't know their tango that well in the sense of being able to distinguish between orquestas, but they are well aware when good music for dance is being played, and I think that's what really matters. I hope she'll be back, and I'm sure her name will be a future draw.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Technique, again...

There seems to be a misapprehension, that I don't like women learning technique. Of course I don't have problems with that! But classes are advertised as women's technique classes which, to judge by the contents, are actually classes in stage tango moves, and it makes me sad to dance with a partner who's taken those classes seriously. We all need technique, but how much technique do we need?

Someone asked me: do I, TC, get to dance with the best partners? If you mean just technically brilliant, no, and I really wouldn't want to. Do you mean musical? Yes, I'm glad to enjoy dancing with partners who are wonderfully musical. Technique, as someone said, is the finger pointing to the moon. Without the finger we won't find the moon, but we won't get to the moon if we think it's the finger.

Chris points out that the average milonguero has never taken a technique class in his/her life, and maintains that we should learn in the old way. But just how far can we copy the learning methods of the dancers who were teenagers in the 1940s and 50s? Or do learning methods need to be reinvented?

As MsH in her very clear post on Technique says, lifestyles have changed. We're talking about teenagers or people in their early 20s learning and dancing in a society where people often started work around the age of 14, and were out and about, and not sitting at desks in school. A world where there were no computers or TV to slouch in front of, or perhaps the leisure to slouch, where people most likely walked a lot more. It was a society where childen grew up with tango on the radio, and watched their parents dancing, and where they might start to learn around the age of 11, if not earlier. By the time they were 18, and close embrace milongas were the big thing, they were out dancing all night. That music and those songs have been the background to their whole lives. (I've been watching the interviews on Practimilonguero.)

Is that our world? It's certainly not mine (regrettably!) They didn't go to lessons, but did they need to? With the good basic posture, the strong ankles and good balance, the supple waist and lower back and the effortless co-ordination and quick eye of youth, growing up with the music and the dance, and with real passion and endless energy for the dance and lifestyle, did they really need classes? No! But I don't think that means therefore we don't need classes: I don't think the way they learned is an option for us. It would be great, but sadly it's just not possible. If we want to dance the way they danced we need to pick out what they had going for them, the essentials, and work to replicate or recreate them.

& how gifted, technically, are those now-old milongueras and milongueros? Do we think of them as marvellous technicians? Do you notice technique when you dance with them or watch them? So why does everyone enjoy dancing with them? Because they can dance! They have a sense of the music and movement that is truly remarkable. I think of technique as one of those things you don't notice if it's good: you notice bad technique, or lack of technique, or even too much technique. Technique shouldn't intrude.

A good leader can take any partner and get her to dance, but she won't necessarily be a partner he'll invite to dance week after week, not unless she does some serious hours of work. For example, when walking she's probably going to step backwards, rather than reaching back, and reaching back is a technique that has to be learned. Moreover, reaching back requires suppleness of the lower back, which may be lacking in anyone over the age of 25, or who has had lower back injury. If basic posture is poor, the head will be too far forwards and the chest back, which leads to poor balance in turns. There's nothing instinctive about leading a back ocho. And so on. We need to learn and practice these things.

So class work is needed and also, very often, work on posture and ankle strength to improve balance. & it seems to be generally accepted, and largely ignored, that guys are going to lead better if they learn by being led in the first place. Classes are necessary, but classes focused on good social dance – and they do exist in the UK, even if they are in a minority. And of course classes aren't everything, classes are just the beginning. You don't learn tango by going to a few classes: I don't see how you can dance tango without making what you've learned your own on the floor, by dancing lots and lots to all the songs by all the different orquestas, and with many different partners. 'You don't learn tango: you develop your own tango'. You develop tango, and you develop musicality.

Of course, some people watch stage tango and see themselves there, and seek out classes where it is taught. But, if we dance, most of us are going to dance in milongas, and my impression is that a lot of teaching isn't suitable for social tango, that to some extent classes have become an industry that thrives by making learners feel inadequate, and therefore in need of yet more classes. A mystique of tango is created, a complicated, difficult dance full of a kind of thickly-applied elegance and exaggerated sexiness that can be approached only through years of expensive classes and workshops, a perception enhanced by performances, which are usually at least part-choreographed, and danced by performers who grew up as gymnasts or classical dancers.

That kind of tango is worlds away from the social tango of the milongas and the wonderful, intimate conversations that can happen there in the course of a tanda.

Saturday, 2 July 2011


Every now and again an interesting conversation starts in the comments and seems worth expanding into a post. I recently posted on 'lead and follow' and made some brief comments on technique in the last para. It was clear to me that I was talking about the kind of technique taught in 'women's technique' workshops: the eight different kinds of ornaments to clutter up your dance with, the five subtle ways to trip up your partner when he leads ochos... I exaggerate: 'I'm sorry, the jokes could have been better', to quote Bogart. The problem with writing is that it's usually clear to the writer what is meant, but misunderstandings are always possible.

Technique. A ballet dancer can't function without a lot of technique. Interestingly, I've heard it said that Nureyev's technique was relatively poor since he began dancing rather late, but he made up for it by his passion, expressiveness and musicality. 'He seemed to inhabit the music with his body' it was said. If he had been an amazing technician and no more, we probably wouldn't remember him.

How much technique do we need to dance tango? I quoted Ney Melo recently: 'You do not learn tango; you develop your tango'. So does 'learning technique', as against developing it in practice, have any value? After all, what we discover for ourselves is part of us. Of course, the requirements for lead and follow are generally different. As to musicality there's an excellent account by Terpischoral here.

Leonard Krause, an American who claims a background of ballet and contemporary dance, and thus a trained dancer's awareness of the body in movement, wrote a fascinating description of the late 'Tete' Rusconi teaching:

'During one advanced class, there were not enough women to partner with the men. So Tete ordered an assistant to round up some women in the hall. One of the women dragged in was about five foot seven in height, and appeared to weigh nearly four-hundred pounds. I danced with her, and her lack of self-confidence was evident...

'Tete said that leads should adjust, and that what he was demonstrating (and all of his dance, for that matter) is independent of whom he dances with. He started pulling women randomly from the class into the center, and started dancing with them. He looked over in the direction of the large women and signalled her to join him. She gave him a sheepish look and came slowly toward him... As she was walking toward him, I could see that he was paying attention to how she was walking. When they joined together in the abrazo, the first thing that Tete did was to slowly lead her in a slide-step to the side, permitting him to get a feeling of her center. From there, Tete could lead her in all of the steps that he had been demonstrating in the class...'

So, that inexperienced beginner could dance an advanced class adequately with no real technique lesson. OK, yes, she needed Tete to lead her...

Krause has three conclusions: '...a good lead can dance with someone with little-to-no Tango experience... and make the woman feel connected, successful at dancing Tango, and loved in a deeply spiritual way.

'The second conclusion is that Tango classes have jaded many leads and follows into thinking that Tango is about being marched through the paces: from ocho to boleo, to sacada and so on... Tete explains that such thinking detracts from the true experience of Tango...

'The third conclusion is that most group Tango classes for follows tend to be a waste of time. If a sequence is properly led by the leader, a follow will 'get it' and follow. The ones who really need to learn the sequences are the leads, first by learning how it feels to be led in it.'

(It's the most insightful account of Tete's teaching I've read, and it was good to remember just how fine a teacher he was.)

Melina Sedo said in a comment that there's often plenty that women can do to make it easier for them and their partners to enjoy their dance. They can work on posture, balance, maintaining axis. Essential stuff. This kind of technique class teaches what you need: that, and a good lead.

By contrast, I recently danced again with a partner who has taken too many 'group Tango classes for follows' to heart. It was a dispiriting and potentially dangerous experience. She twists away from me when I'm trying to lead a turn, because there is some esoteric ornament she's trying to insert. She paid for those classes, she believes in them, but it's made her stiff and unresponsive. Looks are prioritised over feeling, a flashy display is preferred to an intimate conversation although I, as her partner, actually cannot watch what she's doing. One thing this partner, and perhaps many others, didn't take away from those classes is that the home of these ornaments is choreographed stage tango, and that social tango is a different world.

I was glad I had danced earlier with a partner who enjoyed a few moments of intimacy, and who found time to add a bit to the dance, without disrupting the flow of the music.

An Argentine (I don't know who) said that if you can feel your partner's heart beat, that's tango.