Saturday, 22 December 2012


So... I prophesied the world wouldn't end last night, and I was right! I'm encouraged to try my vision again – and I predict that 2013 will be an excellent year for UK social tango, for London tango in particular.

I'm basing this optimism on two very recent events. A milonga has just started at which the Argentine codigos are observed. Just a year ago, even six months ago, that would have seemed a very distant dream. OK, it happens in north Italy and the south of France, yes, but in the UK?

& between 27 and 30 December, Eton Tango is putting on an event, an 'Etonathon', two milongas each day, one in the afternoon, and then again in the evening. Almost too good to be true! I know it happens yearly in Nimes in the south of France, and it's very successful: people come from all over for the week. I've always been envious, and wanted to get down there -- and now it's happening just 30 or so miles from London. Eight milongas in four days. I believe it's the first time: obviously the organisers have confidence and enthusiasm. Very, very good luck to them, and I hope it will be the huge success it should be. It's always been depressing that the tango community vanishes into the darkness each midwinter, but of course everyone deserves a holiday. At last someone's had the courage (and energy!) to step out and arrange what's really a great festival. It will lighten the midwinter gloom far better than TV re-runs and seasonal fare! I don't usually look forward to the midwinter break...

Here's to 2013!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Is tango macho?

I've heard it said a few times that tango is macho. Recently there was a post on Paul Yang's blog which argued that male-led tango reflects the macho culture of Argentina. I've never been really convinced. For a start, the practice of the man leading the dance isn't Argentine in origin, any more than the Argentines themselves are Argentine in origin: both are European. An old peasant dance, partly close-hold, like something in a Breughal painting, came to court with the servants, and worked it's way up into the ballroom where it encountered a three-beat music and became the waltz. Or so it's said. Most early dances were choreographed patterns, but once people danced close, someone had to say which way they were going, and in Europe it was the men. I've read that vals and other European dances were the popular social dances in Buenos Aires throughout the 19th century.

Perhaps we use the word 'macho' in English because we don't have a word of our own for the attitude. I don't think this means that there is no such thing as a macho attitude and behaviour here. The lack of our own word suggests we've been unaware of the attitude, whereas in Spain there was such an awareness, and a word for it. If you have a word for it you can talk about it, object to it, deal with it. If you ignore the attitude it's much harder to make it part of a dialogue. 

So was tango macho in Argentina? Many of the older dancers tell how at their first (local) milongas they, the guys, would have to stand in the middle of the floor, while the girls and their mothers would be seated around the perimeter, inspecting them. The guys would endeavour to contact the girls by cabaceo, and if they failed would have to slink off the floor when the dancing started. I can't help thinking that nothing could be calculated to be more deflating to a macho attitude. Maybe that was the thinking.

& to this day no guy gets a dance at a traditional BsAs milonga unless a woman looks at him and meets his gaze. In the UK we still have the remnants of an older social dance culture, which might not be exactly macho but reflects an older social order: it's up to the guy to initiate the dance by asking the woman. In theory, of course, she can say no, but the 'invitation' can seem like an order, can even be an intimidation. & women are still reluctant to ask men to dance in the UK, whereas in BsAs a woman can look quite fixedly at a man, clearly signalling that she wants to dance with him. So which is macho, the social dance of BsAs or London?

(Interesting how a new pattern has emerged at milongas here. Women and men declare their interest in dancing by standing in an open space near the floor, where they then meet each other more or less by eye contact. No one has planned this or agreed it, it's just happened like this.)

No, I don't think that tango is particularly macho. Yes, guys usually lead. If two people dance close, they can't both lead unless they are dancing contact improvisation, a fascinating dialogue in itself. Tango could be led in a macho way, but would the leader be popular? Whereas if his lead is soft, clear and musical, if he gives his partners what they enjoy, he might get to dance a lot. & if he gives his partners what they enjoy, what they want, arguably it's the women calling the shots.

P.S. For a much more nuanced and detailed study of gender in tango and in Buenos Aires, part of Dancing Soul's thesis on the topic is  available on her blog.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Fox Trot anyone?

I was curious, having heard recordings of Canaro playing foxtrot. & of course we know from the old-timers that it used to be a popular dance in Buenos Aires alongside tango. YouTube found me this:

Fascinating! First off, I checked the British Pathe site, and the film is early 1920s, so it is silent. The soundtrack has been added, but it seems to fit the dance well enough to give an idea of the musicality.

So it's an upright and close-embrace dance! Quite unlike the ballroom version. & doesn't it look as if it could be an improvised dance? It's a walking dance with a traspie to the front and side, the sort of thing you could improvise as the music played, especially since the embrace is close: as in tango, the leader's torso would signal movements. Of course, the partner would be listening to the music too, and would know what to expect. It doesn't look like it needs to be a choreographed dance.

Wikipedia is the next port of call. Why is it called Fox Trot? Because the basic walk is danced with the feet along a straight line: the prints of a fox's paws in the snow are in a straight line. (The prints of a dog show two lines.) Fascinating! Especially since that's the effect of 'collecting'. I find 'collecting' hard to remember and practice, but think of it as stepping in exactly the place your partner's foot has just left and it makes sense, to me anyway. It's a very neat, tidy walk, stepping right under your partner. Watch any video of Osvaldo and Coca...

The Foxtrot was picked up around 1912 by Vernon Castle, from an 'exclusive coloured club' where it had been danced for some years. Vernon and his wife Irene were prominent US dance teachers and enthusiasts for Afro-American music. It was to become the most popular of social dances; most dance records up until the 1950s were foxtrot.

Two curious facts: when the Castles first introduced it they called it the 'Bunny hug' -- and then decided better. & when Decca released Rock around the Clock they didn't know what to call this kind of music, so they called it a Foxtrot. Rock around the Clock was the best-selling foxtrot of all time.

Couldn't the foxtrot make a come-back? Not the (rather absurd) choreographed ballroom version, but the neat, elegant version of this film, which I'd assume is much closer to the original? Alongside tango, vals, milonga? It seems to belong to that family of dances, even if the music is different.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

London tango: Bernhard Gehberger at Carablanca

The days when the music was live might have been extraordinary and memorable... which doesn't mean we can't have some great nights with music from CDs and laptops...

I find it remarkable how London tango has changed – improved immensely I think – really over the past two years. It's said that tango in the smaller milongas outside London is better than in the city, but maybe that's changing. A couple of nights ago the Austrian DJ Bernhard Gehberger was at Carablanca milonga in London: the dancing started at 8pm and went on till 2 am, breaking with the regular schedule of a class and a shorter milonga. & it was busy from start to finish, while in the middle it seemed that people poured onto the floor from all directions as each tanda started. It wasn't a party night: no star guests and performers, just a good DJ, a good floor, food and drink. There were a lot of unfamiliar faces: Bernard has a great reputation, and I guess that many people were there for his music. That's probably the first sign of change: people now recognise and welcome a good evening of music. For several years now, the quality of the DJ has been a regular topic of conversation.

To dance as well as I can I need to pause and take breaks, which give me the opportunity to watch. Inevitably I watched the line of dance, which was unbroken throughout most of the evening, and the line of dance was almost exclusively close embrace. (That may not have been the case for the rest of the floor which I couldn't see much.) & when I was actually in the line of dance I had few problems: it was packed, but well-behaved. I can't help wondering where this new and very welcome enthusiasm for close embrace has sprung from: it's as if people feel they've come home, and really enjoy the experience. & a lot of people have developed the skill of dancing on a busy floor. All the demonstrations of visiting teachers I've glimpsed have shown a tango of close and open embrace, but that's not what I watched on the floor. & the overall look of the floor is no longer the confused jumble of movements that (to remember a good friend's remark) resembles clothes in a washing machine. 'Tango nuevo' seems long ago.

Not that the dance has the smooth gravity of the BsAs dance. 'Gravity' is the right word, but I don't want to suggest that the dance of BsAs is 'grave' in any way, just that it's not light, it has a sense of gravity. Maybe dancers here still need to listen to Pedro Sanchez, who has just two phrases of advice in English: 'Take it easy!' and 'Listen to the music!' & what else does he need to say! & even if it is tango in close embrace a really full frontal embrace still isn't to everyone's taste. Having said that, I saw tango – some – that I thought was good by any standards.

As to the music, it was really excellent. A good DJ makes you want to dance every tanda: even if you need to sit out a tanda or two you still feel that if the right partner was there you'd be on your feet. There seemed to be a coherence to it, so at the end of the evening you feel as if you've been on a musical journey. & the cortinas fascinated everyone: 'You can hardly tell them from the tandas!' several people remarked. I happen to have the Orquesta Tipica Viktor 1931-1932 CD 'Viejo Arrabal' (ORQ316 from the Buenos Aires Tango Club) which has a mix of music, so I guessed pretty fast: this cheerful lively music everyone found so fascinating was the 'other music' that the bands we think of as tango orquestas recorded, the foxtrots, the rancheras, the paso dobles, the polkas, the shimmys, the tarantellas, the jazz numbers. It's music that's rarely heard, and such a great idea to use it for cortinas. It fits perfectly.

Here's a curiosity that a quick YouTube search threw up, a Canaro 78 released in 1932. Nine minutes of music, so about 4:30 each side of a 78, unusual but not impossible. (I've got a couple of Canaro tracks from about the same time that go on for over five minutes each, undanceable, I think, kind of symphonic tango.) Anyway, the point of this disc is that it's Canaro's orquesta playing eight one-minute extracts, a medley of tango, foxtrot, pasodoble and ranchera. Hence '8 en 1'.

So, credit to Bernard, and thanks and credit also to those who run Carablanca: it was a ten-hour day/night for them. I hope it seemed worth it to create an event like that. All I can wish for now is a weekly milonga like that in London...

Friday, 23 November 2012

The days when the music was live

Another week, another milonga... and a table with four young Argentine teachers who don't look at all bored, and who enjoy social dancing, with each other and with some of the local dancers too. I'm glad to be proved wrong, and wonder at how the thesis has provoked its own anti-thesis, its antithesis. 

Their social dance is good, but it's not altogether the social dance you see from the older dancers in Buenos Aires. It is lighter somehow, less grounded, and certainly more elaborate, more fun. It seems less firmly connected to the music too, as if the dance has become the focus, rather than the music.

I start to wonder if this is how the older dancers used to dance when they were young. It's easy when you watch them, and probably when you dance with them, to assume that they've always danced like this, but perhaps that's unlikely. I recall what Cacho Dante said about the dancers of his youth, 'When they didn’t really know how to dance, they did 20 steps; when they knew a bit more, they did 10; and when they really knew what they were doing, they danced five… but with real quality'. So the younger dancers in his day liked to be elaborate too, and as they've grown they've improved and simplified. & I wondered: in thirty years, will these young Buenos Aires teachers who dance good social tango today be dancing like the older dancers dance today? 

Only time will tell, but for what it's worth, I doubt it. Tango was and still is a passion, a passion for the music as much as for the dance, for that generation. They grew up with Troilo and Fiorentino, Pedro Laurenz, Pugliese, Los Dos Angeles, actually in front of their eyes and ears, the sound waves direct from the instruments to their ears and their skin. Imagine it: going to a milonga with no star DJ, no playlist on a laptop, but a full orquesta led by a musical giant, performing, making that music right there and then for you to dance to! Imagine the anticipation of going to a milonga knowing that Di Sarli would be there in person with his orquesta to make music for your dance! What a buzz, what an occasion it must have been, night after night, to go to a milonga! However poor or tough or sad your everyday life, for the price of a ticket you could have amazing music, even if you couldn't dance much! Nobody is ever going to grow up dancing with that again. Sadly. The CDs show us the commitment and single-mindedness that went into that wonderful musical tradition. It was serious stuff, something the musicians worked very hard for: for decades the competition was intense, driving ever better arrangements and performances.
We're lucky to have the CDs, but we've lost the intensity of live performance. It's all too easy for music on a CD to become mere background music in a way that the presence and intensity of live performers would never allow: in turn the dance becomes lighter and more trivial. That's why I'm convinced that those hard-earned visits to Buenos Aires are so important. In the milongas there you can still see and feel some of the excitement, some of the intensity of the days when the music was live. Those old guys, and the women too, aren't just dancing to the CD: they dance with the memory of hearing and dancing to that music live. The only way to get some idea of how it felt to be there when the music was live is to go to the milongas of Buenos Aires while that generation is still on its feet. I've heard people try to argue away the importance of the connection with Buenos Aires, but we all know what it's like to be in front of live music, how we anticipate it, how powerful it can be. 

Visiting Buenos Aires is a way of touching base, keeping your feet firmly planted by opening yourself to the remaining ripples in the space-time continuum of those days when the music was live. If you ignore that background radiation the dance very easily becomes trivial, as the music becomes mere wallpaper. & once that happens, tango dies. We live with entropy so it's doomed in any case: we're just lucky there's life in it yet.

(Homage and thanks to all those who've taken those long flights, sometimes repeatedly, to the city where there's still a living memory of great live tango. You've bought back an enthusiasm that transcends any mechanical teaching. I hope more people will be inspired to visit. It might not be easy, but do we really want to live with easy solutions?)

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Enjoying tango

The floor is busy with people enjoying themselves. Mostly close embrace: London tango seems to be settling into close or close-ish embrace, rather than the open-and-closed embrace of most teachers, or that late unlamented, arm's-length Todaro-inspired dance. Perhaps it's not always the smoothest or most assured tango, or the best embrace we see here; it doesn't always look comfortable or tidy, but it is reasonably social tango. & it was a really good evening, good music, people having a good time, as it should be.
Except for one couple and a few friends. They sat by themselves looking miserable and bored all evening. I didn't notice them dance at all. Why were they there? Then someone told me they had taught the class that evening! It would be a huge joke if it wasn't, really, a disgrace. Teachers, paid to teach tango when they are too bored by it to dance, people who will only dance when they have the whole floor to themselves? Why should we take them seriously? Why do organisers pay them to teach when what they teach is at odds with the way people seem to want to dance? Obviously, I wasn't at their class, so their teaching might have been excellent social tango, but that's unlikely if they don't enjoy dancing it.
It would be wonderful to have a regular flow of real social dancers here to give classes, or perhaps we should call them 'guided practicas'. Tango as a practice, rather than as a subject or a sort of advanced skill. The Argentine teachers who make it to the UK usually speak adequate English, but if social tango bores them, what's the point? Dance is taught and learned visually, and by feel: show and copy, copy and practice, the embrace, the walk, the ways walking steps are developed and connected. Language skills aren't essential. There seems to be a frequent mismatch between what is taught and what people here need when they are on the floor. There are real social dancers who've watched and danced tango all their lives and who can see by eye, or know by the feel of it, when something – posture, walk, embrace, whatever – isn't right, and can show better ways to do it. & also show by example, by being on the floor and dancing with their students who are, after all, just other dancers. It's time to turn away from these superior teachers who are just too bored to dance with us and amongst us – and if they do get on the floor usually just want to show off. No thanks!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012


Full moon, I believe, in German. Probably the most memorable Pina Bausch work from the film, with a massive boulder midstage, and water everywhere. It's at Sadlers Wells 22-25 February 2013. About half sold out already, and the rest will go soon. Book now!

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Tango again

There's excellent tango in Napoli: I'm told Tete used to visit to teach whenever he could, and always enjoyed the city. But I stayed in Sorrento, and the last Transvesuviana, the narrow-gauge commuter train that rattles round the bay, is around 10pm.
Flying back at dusk, London and the loop of the Thames in darkness, the Shard still catching the setting sun.
& tango again.
At the first milonga after a few weeks I arrive as usual with that strange feeling that I know nothing, that I haven't a clue what to do. & then the music starts, I find a partner, and off we go. It all makes immediate sense, music and movement. Of course I don't 'know' anything, but my body is accustomed to certain movements. & it's an evening of DJ La Rubia from Argentina, who gives the feeling that she plays a lot more music than other DJs would in the same time. 'Relentless' would suggest that it's painful, when really it's a great pleasure, tango after tango, tanda after tanda, really excellent music, a lot of great versions of familiar songs, that you've never heard before. A lot of energy in the music, you want to stay on the floor. She's based in central Europe, and this summer started to tour the south, too: Sicily, Napoli, Bari. Watch out for her visits! Her music has that familiar, good-hearted feel of music in milongas in Buenos Aires; sitting at a laptop singing along to the words of all the songs, the whole evening. Tango song and music the familiar heritage of the whole nation, even if tango dance is rather marginal.
Tango again!

Friday, 9 November 2012

Benevento 2

Main street, Benevento, late afternoon.

Saturday, 27 October 2012


Mimmo Paladino is an international artist who still lives in the small south Italian town where he grew up. There's an exhibition at a villa in Sorrento which is all sculpture and installation, and I'm never quite sure what to make of his sculptures: sometimes they look wilfully archaic, sometimes just odd. It's his paintings and prints I really like. But I like these 'sleepers': I never realised they float on the water. Quite uncanny, the slight, gentle movement, in a state of suspension. (They just happened to be aligned perfectly at that moment.) Some years ago there was an exhibition of non-floating dreamers in the Round House in London, with a sound installation by Brian Eno. The villa is wonderful: not big enough to be ostentatious, but with enough space for all your beautiful friends to come to visit. & dance, of course.

Then I take the bus that patiently threads through the congested traffic of Napoli onto the open road between farmland, winding inland into the hills, to Benevento. About an hour. A real insight into southern Italy. I arrive just as school is closing for lunch. Clear fresh air and bright sunshine: I'm struck by how unusually energetic and cheerful and good-natured the high school kids seemed to be. An Italian, Carlucci I think, the chef and restauranteur, recently wrote that Italian schoolchildren go home for lunch: that's where they discuss their problems. I can't help feeling that this must be a great place to grow up in. No tango, perhaps, not yet.
Benevento's a treat after Napoli as there's hardly any traffic in the town centre. The main street has been pedestrianised, and the old town streets are very narrow. This tower at the town centre is magnificent, and incorporates pieces of older buildings. Buildings in the old town are like this too, carved Roman sculture used as part of walls. (I've seen this in India: the Jantar Mantar mosque in Delhi was built out of pieces of Hindu temples.) A tower like this seems to suggest many stories, just as its walls are built out of many images.

The Benevento museum is extraordinary: a bit like the British Museum in one big room. One big room full of Egyptian, Greek and Roman sculpture. Statues of Roman emperors as Egyptian gods, Greek-style sculpture made with stone from Aswan, Roman images of Isis, of the priests of Isis. Benevento at the southern edge of the Roman empire, surrounded by Greek colonies, and looking across the Mediterranean to Egypt for spiritual inspiration, and with an Etruscan past. (Nothing Indian here, although an Indian sculpture was found in Pompeii.) Pompeii, celebration of the worldly, Benevento where the concerns seem more spiritual.
There's an installation by Paladino here, the Hortus Conclusus. I really don't know what to make of his sculpture. But the prints? Here's a neat video of him making a lithograph, a print made on a smooth slab of limestone, at the Bulla workshop in Rome. Unfortunately in Italian. Bulla, I think, talks about the technical process. I don't understand what the artist says, but I like the print, and it's great to watch someone making something like that.

(Thanks to Rubieroart.)

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Javier Gramigna

I was about to post more on Italy when I noticed Cherie has favourited a video with Javier Gramigna. Took me a moment to realise he's the same Javier as in the video in the previous post; he looks different filmed with a tall woman from a high viewpoint to dancing with a shorter woman filmed from lower, but it's the same person, same style. The big difference is that this video was filmed in Rome and published on 8 October: Javier is another of the older generation of wonderful tangueros who visit Europe but not the UK. I can't help thinking that someone like this just dancing in a London milonga might have an electrifying impact: just being there, even without formal classes.
I've seen him before but never knew his name, and I think I've confused him with Juan Carlos: similar build. Both are Cachirulo stalwarts, along with a few dozen more from that generation. Understandably I don't get many dances once Cachirulo gets under way, but I don't mind sitting and watching when there's tango at this level. There's always a row of European and American ladies looking forward to a tanda with these dancers, a taste of tango at its source.
& this video led me to Marina2x4's channel, which I'd not seen before. She has about 80 of her own videos, many of Buenos Aires milongas, filmed over several years. Javier is there again, dancing with Mirta Tiseyra. Marta Fama is there too, and recent videos of Alberto and Paulina Dassieu. Juan Carlos and Lucia are filmed in a wonderfully playful D'Arienzo dance at Lujos milonga, and there are many, many more. Marina also has links to a great many other wonderful videos.
On her channel she writes: 'There are still many who remember the tango of the days before the great crisis, but who haven't dedicated themselves to teaching. & most have been overwhelmed by the existence of so many academies and professors: unfortunately those professors didn't really live the tango when it was danced so widely by the people. The majority of them come from other dances as distant from tango as rock and roll, or ballet, and even folklore.'
She's doing what she can to ensure that the tango of those who do remember the days before the crisis will continue to live.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Isabella y Javier

I love this! In the first moment I thought; this guy looks slow, ponderous, clumsy even, and look how he leans over his partner. & then they start dancing! What a delight. It's not a particularly complex dance, pretty much a repeated figure, but the easy, relaxed musicality of it, and the energy, is so enjoyable. & to me it's got heart. There's a whole army of bright young dancers who'd score far more in superfluous elegance and variety – without a trace of that warmth and affection that's so typical of the milongas.
Something I see here that I've not noticed so much in other videos is torque, how precise he is in using the energy of turning.
I don't know what to call these videos from Cachirulo. They aren't demonstrations, they aren't 'performances' either. Just two people having a great time dancing together. & the shouting from the guys: there's a lot of teasing going on. But Javier just grins, he's having a ball. & so, I guess, is Isabella.
There's one other video with this couple on the Cachirulo channel. We've got to thank Cachirulo again and again for the hundreds of videos on his channel. It's such a great cross section of that amazing milonga, Cachirulo, of tango at the start of the 21st century.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Pompeii paintings: Museo Nazionale, Naples

The paintings are made of flicks of paint, brush marks. The impression is that the painters were trained to make brush sketches. There's a lot of movement in the figures and the way they are painted: it's a lively way of painting. Great images of figures and animals in movement. There's little attempt to smooth out the marks to make a photorealistic image: a highlight is built up out of a big medium-tone mark with a smaller lighter mark within it. Some work is sketchy, a few quick flicks to create a face, some is more carefully built up, but the marks are still fluent, lively. It's fresco, so painting had to be quick before the plaster dried.
There were great Roman painters of the human figure, of still life, of landscape, of plants and flowers, birds and animals. Birds and animals must be the commonest decorative motifs; huntings scenes, dogs and deer, less common. The Romans must have loved to feel they lived in an ordered landscape, the natural landscape, with trees, temples, hills, human/divine figures (they look much the same). 
The paintings in the Museo Nazionale in Naples give the impression of being individual paintings, but of course they are the bits the archaeologists picked out. At their best they are remarkable. Scenes from myth are imagined and painted with remarkable skill. 
You could sneak this into an exhibition of Renaissance painting, and it wouldn't be out of place. The story of the minotaur (lower left) slain by Theseus. It's incredible how similar in style these paintings are to renaissance art. I don't think renaissance painters had access to any Roman painting: sculptures were being discovered, but I'm not aware that paintings were known. And it's extraordinary that often enough these scenes appear, in a painted frame, in the middle of a solid red wall. Before picture frames were invented! Our galleries of classical painting still follow this example. But occasionally in Pompeii, a single figure appears in the centre of a wall, without a frame. It can be breathtaking.
Roman painting fed off Greek painting. Apart from the wonderful vases, I'm not sure that much Greek painting has survived, but there's a huge mosaic in Naples (composed, incidentally, of the tiniest tesserae) which is thought to be a Roman copy of a lost Greek painting. (A smaller copy is in Pompeii.) 

It recalls Ucello's Battle of San Romano, which is perhaps a millenium and a half later and much more formulaic. Here, the horses are in movement and at all angles, and the figures are interlaced in a complex image of war, often linked by where fighters are looking. It's quite extraordinary. It's a reminder that our view of art is conditioned by what has survived, not by what existed. I've read that the use of blue to suggest distance, along with smaller figures, was a Chinese innovation from the T'ang dynasty, around 900CE. Not so. It was there in Pompeii 1,000 years earlier.
The human figure, often partly or completely unclothed, is very much the central motif: human or divine, there's not much different. They are painted with wonderful warmth, and they almost step out of the paintings. & the Museo Nazionale is a wonderful space for the work, the more wonderful that it has windows that open and you can step out onto big balconies and refresh your gaze by looking out over the city. It makes the paintings less of museum pieces and more part of contemporary life, where the background sound isn't the hushed tones of a museum but the sound of the streets below.
& in Naples there are just two paintings of painters at work: in both, the painters are women.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Milongueros: the Via Emilia Documentary Festival

Good news! Milongueros can now be seen on the Via Emilia's own site. This is the link. Happy viewing!

PS Vedi e vota: watch it and vote! Registrati: send your email address and you'll receive an access code for the voting. (With the usual caution that the access code might end up the wrong side of your spam filter.)

Milongueros needs your vote! Vote Milonguero!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012


Finally someone's made a film about the social tango of Buenos Aires, and got it released. In fact it was the finalist at the Via Emilia Documentary Festival, and it was released on YouTube, free for everyone to watch, yesterday. Some scenes are in Maipu 444, so clearly it's been some years in the making. There's some wonderful dancing. A lot of the time the dancers' feet aren't shown, so there's a real emphasis on torso movement, the wonderful smooth flowing movements that follow so closely and effortlessly the phrases of the music. If you've never had a chance to visit the milongas of Buenos Aires now's your chance to meet Ricardo Suarez, 'El flaco' Dany, Alberto Dassieu, 'El Nene' and many more, and when people ask you about 'tango', it's easy: just direct them to this film. & if you know the milongas and the dancers you'll be grateful to remember them through this production. Sadly it's subtitled in Italian, since it's an Italian production, but the heart comes through.
(Thanks to viaemiliadocfest.)

PS. The two comments say that this film has been withdrawn, but it's more than that: the whole channel, the Via Emilia Documentary Festival channel, the (presumably) official festival channel with some 20-odd documentaries on it, has closed. It doesn't seem as if as if this film was an illegal pirate version. 

I guess there are two possibilities: that they are working on their channel in order to upgrade it, or that (more likely) there are unforeseen copyright problems. Either way, it's very frustrating that when a really enjoyable film on the best social dance in Buenos Aires appears freely, it mysteriously vanishes again. 

I don't think this is the only such film that's unavailable. It seems crazy that people go through the labour of love to put these things together and then there's no DVD deal to get returns on the investment, and certainly little chance of a big cinema release either. So the film disappears and might never have been made.

Alfredo 'Tape' Rubín 2

Of course, I should have checked YouTube before I wrote about Alfredo 'Tape' Rubín. Everything's on YouTube these days, on seven year-old YouTube. 

Here's one I liked a lot. It's a performance in a small venue, with a back projection. The song is Calle, Street, from the 2004 Reinanoche album. To judge by the back projection it's about what happens in the street, and the captions suggest it's about political protest during the military period. ('Los 30 mil', I guess refers to the desaparecidos.) I can't follow the words well enough to check that, although the they are fairly clear. (An advantage of not having a full tango orquesta.) It's well put together, and a beautiful song. & a cool cat wanders across the stage. 

(Thanks to Tinch77 )

& this one is unplugged, on someone's patio, with a pink watering can; life in the city. An alfresco, spontaneous performance, without amplification, with the drawback and strengths that brings. 

I shouldn't have compared him to Goyaneche, but there's something about his delivery, the emphasis of the spoken voice rather than an actual singing voice. His voice is light compared to 'El Polaco', but I still think it's a good tango voice: that is, it has heart, it has conviction, it has passion. Whether it is in some abstract sense a 'good' voice is irrelevant.

(Thanks to Puentealsina)

Could you dance to this? You might not want to dance to Calle, but there's danceable music too. Without the steady beat of a bass, piano and bandoneons maybe it's harder to think about, but there are tracks on the CDs that make you (i.e. me) want to try. Tango began like this, guys with guitars writing songs for the people. The arrangers and orquestas came later. Hunt around on YouTube, there are more.

Saturday, 29 September 2012


You say Vesuvius, I say... Vesuvius the classical name; Vesuvio in modern Italian.
You can climb it, but it's a long way. Buy a bus ticket at the Pompeii Sclavi station on the Circumvesuviana railway. The bus takes you about half-way. (Incidentally, the countryside around here is incredibly messy: rubbish, domestic and building, gets dumped everywhere.) Half-way up you transfer to a bus-jeep which takes you lurching up through the beautiful National Park forest. When that peters out you climb the last ten minutes up to the crater. Vesuvio is about 4,000 feet. My water bottle exhales a brief sigh as I open it.
A short lecture from a volcanologist (included in the ticket), and you are free to wander around. Go early: it gets crowded. It's a huge hole in the ground. Not much more really, but really huge, awesome, with vertical sides, a massive 600 metre-wide cannon. In the last eruption (1944) it managed to block its vent with 8km of rock. But the magma chamber is still there below that, and as the pressure builds up, more gas is produced. All you can see on the surface are a few faint whisps curling into the morning sun. Look closer and you see deposits around the vent, foul-looking yellow and brown: a message from the inside of our beautiful planet.
Before 1944 it used to have minor eruptions every 20-odd years, but now it's blocked its own vent. It could erupt from the side, which has happened before. With all that gas and magma building up, pyroclastic flows are likely, travelling at up to 100 miles an hour at 600 degrees celsius. Or it could simply blow its top off. Last time that happened on any scale was the Indonesian Tambora in 1815. It was heard up to 1,000 miles away. Naples is hardly 1,000 miles from London, but in Indonesia the sound would have travelled across the sea: travelling across land, and the Alps, would probably reduce the bang. In 1816 there was no summer. The temperature hardly got above freezing.
But the real threat might not be Vesuvio but the Campi Flegrei ('flaming fields') caldera, a 'supervolcano' a few kilometers west of Naples. The Vesuvio vent is 600 metres across. The Campi Flegrei caldera is 13 kilometers across. Much of it lies under the bay of Naples. The earth goes up and down, there are vents and frequent tremors. Between 1968 and 1972 it rose more than 1.2 metres, and in the mid-80s the entire area was evacuated, but there was no eruption. The earth started to subside. Over the past eight years it's been rising again. Scientists have been trying for years to get the consent of the Naples authorities to drill down into it to find out what is going on, but there has been concern that drilling into it could precipitate an eruption. Fears seem to have been put to rest, and I believe drilling is beginning. Campi Flegrei was regarded by the Romans as the mouth of hell.
The effects of a major eruption in Europe would put any damage to the economy by bankers, speculators, the last government (whichever one it was), in the shade, in some very deep shade indeed, not to mention under the covering of a thick blanket of ash. The loss of life could be horrendous. In the Naples area there are plans for the emergency evacuation of some 300,000 people, but 4.5 million people live in that area. The chaos of 3 or 4 million people fighting to escape. & the likely damage seems to be calculated on prevailing wind direction, so check which way the wind's blowing before you visit. I certainly wouldn't want to live in the area. I've been in a few minor tremors and I wouldn't want to feel the ground shaking under my feet in Pompeii.
...a huge hole in the ground:
yes, those are trees on the
scree slope inside.

Thursday, 27 September 2012


I've just noticed a post by Silvia Ceriani on her Tete y Silvia blog from a while back. It's about a recent album called Reina Noche by Alfredo Rubin. The guy has a great tango voice, perhaps a bit like Goyeneche. He's the author of the poems, the singer too I guess. & poems they are, the old tradition of poem and music renewing itself in the present. Voice and guitars, like the beginnings of tango cancion 90 years ago, simple and direct, without the expense of a full orquesta. Well worth checking out Silvia's post (and the music). Some beautiful things about the milonga, about El Beso, and she's gone to the trouble of making a full translation of the poem Regín from the album, complex, allusive language.
It's on Spotify Alfredo Rubin – Reina Noches. I've been listening to it all evening. & it would be interesting to dance to, too. Very spirited milongas. Nice. There's a couple of other Rubin albums on Spotify too, so a few evenings of new tango music. Very welcome.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The invisible worker

This blog is mainly so I don't forget things: things I read or see, events, things like the sequences I learned from Tete and Silvia, their advice and the kind help of other teachers too. 
& things like this quote from an interview with Jean-Claude Carrière, who collaborated with Bunuel on the script of many of Bunuel's later films, the ones in French, including Belle de Jour, Diary of a Chambermaid, and that extraordinary last film Bunuel made, That Obscure Object of Desire, which sees a world in which car bombs, planted by obscure (Catholic) religious sects, go off in the streets with monotonous regularity. It seems a little less far out now than it did in 1977 when it was released. Looking down the list of films he's scripted on IMDb I find many titles I've enjoyed watching over the years. & he's still at it: two more films were released this year. 
"When a good idea occurs, it has been prepared by a long time of reflection. But you have to be patient. We all have what I call the invisible worker inside ourselves; we don't have to feed him or pay him, and he works even when we are sleeping. We must be aware of his presence, and from time to time stop thinking about what we are trying to do, stop being obsessed about answers, and just give him the room, the possibility, to do his work. He is tenacious, you see. He never loses hope." 
Encouragement to us all. 

Friday, 21 September 2012

On crossing the street in Naples

My first night in the city after a long day's travel from a 6am dawn in the south of France: I go out to find my first Neapolitan pizza. But before I can get to it I have to cross the street.
I stand and watch, my jaw dropping, as a wild stream, a slew, an onslaught of vehicles, like a stampede of wild horses, pours across an intersection, a dense volcanic rush of cars interwoven in impossibly slender spaces by scooters. & into that maelstrom step a young guy and his girlfriend. They are chatting to each other. They pause a moment as a scooter brushes past them, walk on in front of an onrushing taxi that brakes momentarily. It's as death-defying, cooly nonchalant as any high-wire walk. They reach the opposite pavement and walk carelessly on, just as the little red man turns to green, and the tidal wave of traffic comes to a halt. They weren't the only ones: other people too were simply wading across. That's how you cross the street in Naples.
There aren't that many little red men to help you: often enough you just have to walk. I kind of got used to it, but I have to admit I'd often run the last few paces, which must have shown me up very obviously as a tourist. I never saw Neapolitans run. They walk, as if disdainful of the traffic, of the risk of death. In London I'll walk into traffic, but it's because my head has seen the speed of oncoming traffic and the distance across the street, and I know for sure I've got time. That's calculating, it's not daring the traffic to give way. & it works, assuming the oncoming driver isn't talking on a mobile and arguing with a passenger while lighting a cigarette. Ah, Napoli.
& those scooters. Nowhere else is not wearing a helmet the norm. In Napoli, men and women, often enough they don't even wear a helmet to protect an elbow, as you sometimes see in other parts of southern Europe. It really is death-defying, without a safety net, a kind of reckless bravery, an insouciant self-affirming pride in not being safe.
The pizza was excellent.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012


Great to read recently how Melina challenged a poor dancer, was rebuked for it, and was pleased to see later that he'd taken the criticisms to heart and was trying to improve.

It reminded me of a recent incident at one of our local milongas. A couple had been creating some disturbance for a few weeks. Theirs was a kind of nuevo - maybe we should call it Todaro tango - but badly done, a few moves of great centrifugal violence, during which she seemed to have not two but dozens of pointed heels, like the teeth of a circular saw. I used some creative floorcraft on a number of occasions to make sure I was nowhere near them. & there were injuries.

A week or so later they turned up - and halfway through the evening I suddenly wondered where they were. I hadn't noticed them, but they were still there, actually trying to dance salon tango! Not well, since their wild nuevo had hardly concealed the fact that they actually knew very little. But at least they were no longer in anyone's way. & they were spending time watching the floor, and pointing things out to each other. Needless to say, they never danced with anyone else.

Thinking back I'm certain that at least one of the two people who run that milonga had had some serious words with them. Both organisers are forthright and plain-spoken people, and anyway no organiser wants anyone to get injured at their milonga. The change was dramatic. This couple was forced to recognise that their dance was inadequate, but they obviously liked tango, and came back and made an effort to change. 

It`s not unusual for organisers in Buenos Aires to ask people to leave if their behaviour or dance doesn't suit the milonga, and I`m glad that it's becoming more common here. It`s also an indication that the quality of dance is improving: our milongas are no longer anything goes. And although no one will challenge nuevo done well and with regard for the floor, the norm at least where I dance has become a kind of salon, often partly open, but recognisably salon.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Ricardo Vidort: the statement

Jantango recently published the full text of a `statement' on tango by Ricardo Vidort: I found an extract from it a while back and quoted it without knowing where it was from. It seems so clear and definitive, and it's great to have the complete version, and to be able to thank Paul and Michiko for putting it together in the first place. It shows how much he thought about tango, as well as dancing it. Perhaps I shouldn't say this, but in a few short paragraphs it makes most of this blog redundant... The reference to the fourth chakra confirms what I'd already understood: that Ricardo thought more widely the longer he lived. I also heard that became interested in T'ai Chi late in life and found connections with tango. I know there is a lot more about him: videos that have yet to be released, and conversations on tango and on mortality from his last years. He lived with dying for quite a time, and was aware of it rather than trying to shut it out. He was not only a dancer who is a great model, but also a human being who thought about life, a philosopher. I do hope more of this will come to light soon.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Cacho Dante in Asia

'Louis' kindly left this comment on my post a day or two ago:

'In case you have some friends coming to Asia in the near future, this is just to let you know that Cacho Dante will be coming to Hong Kong, Seoul and Singapore during October-November. I understand that this will be the first time he is coming to Asia. This was made possible thanks to my good friends in Hong Kong.'

The post is a year old now, a year old to the day, as it happens, so I thought I should drag the comment out into the open in case anyone is in Asia, or thinking of going there. 

I took Cacho's classes a couple of years ago. I found him very disciplined and methodical in his teaching: he also takes trouble to observe everyone very carefully, and advise them on walk and posture. The stories he tells on his website suggest a lively, fun-loving guy, but he takes his tango teaching very seriously, and the classes are concentrated, hard work even, and an excellent preparation for long milonga nights. I've seen young portenos from those classes dancing in the milongas, and I thought they looked good. Tango teaching in classes is something new, but I believe that Cacho, balancing exercises with social dance with teaching sequences, has got it right. It's all in the approach: he's not teaching you to show off, he's teaching you to dance well, and he expects you to take him, and tango, seriously. Very, very welcome. The 'good friends in Hong Kong' who invited him are to be emulated!

His website has been updated and now has links to his YouTube videos, and photos of Cacho with his students around the world.

PS. Here is the blog page with dates from the organisers of the tour. 

Thursday, 16 August 2012

'El Flaco' Dany and Lucia Mirzan

So the tide has come in again. I may well be – I hope I am – the last person in Europe to catch up with these videos. They've been around for up to eight months, with many viewings. I hope I'm the last person to see them just because I hope everyone else has already enjoyed them.
It's such a beautiful, imaginative idea, to take El Flaco Dany to ten cities, film a brief class with him, talk to him about orquestas and dancers, and then a brief reaction to the city. The first city is Bucharest, and after showing a short milonga sequence and explaining it, he sits down with Lucia Mirzan and remembers the D'Arienzo orquesta and its performances. He then talks about a dancer he knew – Gavito – and then his observations on the local Romanian music, which impressed him. To date, there are three other videos covering the orquestas of Troilo, Pugliese, and Di Sarli, three singers, and the dancers Juan Carlos Copes, Osvaldo Zotto, and 'Puppy' Castello and their partners. Some well-chosen clips of these orquestas and dancers fill out the picture. The cities so far have been Tel Aviv, Frankfurt and Istanbul, and I assume that London will be among the other six videos still to appear, since El Flaco and Lucia were there recently. I look forward to these relaxed and informal conversations about music and dance, and to El Flaco's stories. The subtitles are in excellent English and seem to be accurate. It's a wonderful project.
Of the classes, the blog says that they present '...the basis of Flaco Dany’s milonga technique, as a reference in finding your own milonga style.' I particularly like that phrase 'as a reference'. This is material to be used as needed, not merely copied. (Well, as if anyone could copy El Flaco...)
The videos are on YouTube, but are collected on this page of the Flacodany blog.

Sunday, 5 August 2012


Internet searches are a bit like the tide: you never know what's going to turn up amidst a mound of flotsam and jetsam, and YouTube recommendations are similar. Amidst a recent list of videos that YouTube thought might appeal to me I found genavel1's channel, which includes a whole archive of films of the 'Todaro era', of Antonio Todaro (1929-1994) and his followers.

The film of Todaro and his nine year-old daughter Títi has been on YouTube for a while, and this archive also includes him dancing with her aged perhaps around 13 or 14. The films are undated, but the dates of Todaro and his daughter would suggest that some of the filming goes back to the 1960s; many of the women are wearing short skirts (which may not altogether suit them). The locations look 'underground', barely decorated except for posters on the walls, but the lighting is very poor. & either the filming was silent or the recorded sound was so poor that the sound we hear was added later, so what we hear isn't necessarily the music the couples are dancing to. & I assume it was film: 8mm or Super8. Home movies! The dancers include Todaro, 'Petroleo', Raúl Bravo, Miguel Balmaceda y Nely. 'El Famoso Arturito, inventor de milonga traspie' is also there (ever heard of him?) The more recent clips have recorded sound, and these may be from the 1980s/1990s, and include 'Puppy' Castello dancing with Graciela Gonzalez.

A random look at the clips shows a familiar enough dance. What fascinates me about the dancing in these clips is the extent to which the women are empowered: their energy and input and determination equal that of their male partners. It really is a 'no holds barred' dance. It must have been fairly revolutionary and, like the short skirts, suggests profound changes in Argentine society since the early 1930s. It's not stage tango; it's too lively and disorganised for that, although a lot of skill and practice has gone into it. Nevertheless, I assume that stage tango is a refined version of it, replacing the audacious joyful fun of the original with a simulacrum of bored passion and sophistication. Despite the poor lighting, there's a real sense of enthusiasm, and people having fun dancing. Which doesn't mean I'd want to be anywhere near them on a crowded floor!
It's not the dance of contemporary milongas, which have gone in a different emotional direction. The affectionate embrace of milongas today is one of the great attractions of tango to many of us, and you don't see that in these clips. At the same time, this is part of the background to contemporary Buenos Aires tango. Many of the older dancers didn't go near Todaro and his academia, but others did, and this kind of tango would have been seen around, and I think everyone would have been aware of it. Tango and Chaos has a piece on Todaro that seems to sum it up very clearly. He doesn't actually say that Celia Blanco, who runs that most 'traditional' of milongas, Lo de Celia, was Todaro's student, but I'm sure I've read that she was: I wonder if that's her in the picture. Todaro might not be an obvious influence on the dance of contemporary milongas, but I'd assume he's there, and he's certainly there in the dance of dancers like Geraldine and Javier, and a host of alikes. To dance his tango requires ability, and a lot of practice, as well as a certain desire to show off. Innocent fun when you have space, and all your friends encouraging you, although many of us have other preferences.
I can't help wondering what happened to 'Títi', Todaro's hyperactive beanstalk of a daughter. I guess she'd be in her 60s now. Hard to think that she'd have turned her back on tango. 

PS: The clip of Todaro and his nine year-old daughter is on Babaz's channel, which I see also has this clip  -- of Charlie Chaplin dancing tango. Hilarious, and much too short.  

Today's the day!

Saturday, 28 July 2012

El Beso

Jantango made this comment to my post on El Beso:

' posted the announcement on July 26 that El Beso will reopen in August. No specific date was mentioned. All the milongas are returning home.'

-- which is good news. Being somewhat sceptical I'd assumed that a relatively undeveloped property, only two floors in a city increasingly of high-rises, at the central intersection of two major thoroughfares, was probably the subject of real estate negotiations for humongous sums of US dollars. I'm happy to be wrong, but I'm curious about the return of all the milongas. Maybe larger, less crowded floors aren't so attractive, or maybe they are just more expensive. Maybe the expansion of dancing over the last decade or two has levelled off, and larger floors simply aren't needed or economical. Or maybe there's a concensus that this intimate dance is more at home in small venues where people are closer, both on and off the floor. Cachirulo successfully managed the move from Maipu 444 (small) to Villa Macolm (large), but maybe the event becomes more impersonal with a lot more people. I'm in no doubt which of the two venues I prefer, and it's certainly not the larger one.

Monday, 23 July 2012

The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra

I guess we all have a sense of who we think of as the greatest living human, and Nelson Mandela must be at the top of most people's lists. I can't argue with that, but Daniel Barenboim comes extremely close for me. He's one of the world's finest concert and recital pianists, he's also general music director of La Scala in Milan, and of the Berlin State Opera.

He also argues passionately for Palestinian rights, and has been called a 'true anti-semite' by bewildered Israeli politicians. With the late Edward Said he set up the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra of Palestinian and Jewish youths playing music together, which he directs (in addition to all his other careers). It's wonderful that the BBC invited the orchestra and Barenboim to perform at this year's proms – and to perform all nine Beethoven symphonies, the entire cycle, two each night this week, with the ninth on Friday coinciding with the opening of the Olympics. It's an extraordinary accolade.

I'm pretty sure I saw the orchestra from the top of a bus this morning, a large group of cheerful-looking young people with instruments in cases outside the old Commonwealth Institute, obviously waiting for a coach to take them somewhere, presumably to the Royal Albert Hall to rehearse Beethoven's fifth. What a week for them! I heard part of the broadcast this evening: it sounds like a smaller orchestra than any of the great Philharmonics, but the equal of all of them for intensity, enthusiasm and commitment. It sounded great.

Barenboim was born in Buenos Aires and tango was some of the first music he heard. He records that it was his parents' music when they relaxed and went out dancing, the songs they sang at home.