Sunday, 24 August 2014

Between tangos

'I really like the twiddly bits...'

Hmm. Well, I've written about why I don't, but perhaps in negative terms. To try and say something positive for a change: a little earlier I'd been watching a couple dance, marveling at the smooth energy of two people moving, totally  involved with the energy of the music, two individuals totally absorbed like one with the music. There's something really heart-felt in that. Nothing elaborate, nothing to disrupt the energy and flow of it, even in the confined space of the dance floor. It was entirely personal, without the slightest element of display. I try to dance tango because when that connection happens it leaves me really fulfilled, like almost nothing else.

Of course it's not what you do, it's the way you do it. Learning to dance like that takes time and devotion, but spending time learning to walk well and to stand well is time well spent. Dance like that shows how seriously people have taken it; if you put that much into it, you get so much out of it. Dance like that is really beautiful to watch -- and there are a few dancers in London who can dance like that, mostly people who've been to Buenos Aires, listened to what they've been told, watched, and managed to bring it back with them. But only a few.

That simple elegance of doing something really well, with energy and without the slightest ostentation, took my breath away. Needless to say, it was pretty much a twiddly bit-free zone. At worst, twiddly bits are vanity and a distraction, a displacement activity, perhaps a way of doing something other than opening your heart to your partner and the music. It's hard to dance like that if you have to carry vanity with you. 

(PS: Tango Addiction's musings on Legwrap Land, also published today.)

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Bienvenido a Mónica Paz!

Excellent news that Mónica Paz is to visit the UK early next month. She's been a regular visitor teaching in Europe and the US for quite a while now, so a visit to London is long overdue. 

There's a long list of Buenos Aires women who have danced in the milongas for many years and have learned their tango in the arms of the older dancers whose tango goes back to the end of the Golden Age, Muma and Myriam Pincen with Ricardo Vidort, Silvia Ceriani with Tete, Susanna Miller with Cacho Dante, María Plazaola with Gavito (these are the partners they are most associated with, but their dancing goes much wider). Then of course, Ana María Schapira, Alicia Pons... There are many more, and all are teaching, many, like Mónica Paz, sessions before milongas. I say 'sessions' rather than classes, because 'tango classes' have come to suggest learning tango steps rather than learning to dance tango. 

Women who go out regularly to dance always have an interest in men who dance well, and thus an interest in getting men to dance better. Nothing new here: a good many of the veteran tangueros recall being taught by their mothers and aunts, even before they practiced with their friends.

These pre-milonga sessions in Buenos Aires typically focus first on posture, the walk and the embrace. Mónica, like Susanna, María and Alicia, usually works with several 'assistentes', so men and women both get a chance to work with experienced dancers on getting the best posture, embrace and walk. When these have been practiced there will probably be a sequence of some kind, and practice in extending it in different ways, but these are classes in dancing, not classes in tango steps, and they are useful. Mónica's take on this, the 'practilonga', is to bring a bit of the formality of the Buenos Aires milonga into the practica, which is helpful to visitors who want to get the most out of their time there. 

Mónica currently seems to have just two dates in the UK, Tango West in Bristol on September 7, and Corrientes in London on September 13. I hope more can be arranged: here is someone who can convey the feel of the tango of the milongas of Buenos Aires, and the way people dance there. 

Her website is here, and this is her YouTube channel. All her interviews with the older dancers are on her Practimilongueros YouTube channel.

Finally, here she is dancing with a great dancer and a regular partner, Chiche Ruberto: lively stuff, and great energy. He's one of her interviewees on the Practimilongueros YouTube channel.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Between tangos

'This milonga is so dark. Don't you find it dark in here?'

I do.

'It shouldn't be so dark, should it? The organisers encourage us to use cabeceo, but they keep the lighting so low it's difficult to see people clearly. & we're supposed to be aware of other dancers on the floor, and be courteous to them, but even on the floor the lighting is poor.'

It definitely is.

'& it's not only you and me. Everyone I've asked says it would be better if the lighting was improved. It's really poor.'

Poor lighting makes an evening of dance more difficult: at least, that's what I think, and I'm not alone. Our organisers struggle around with lights and ladders and colour filters with the aim of giving us a better evening out – and much of it may be wasted effort. It's normal enough in Buenos Aires just to turn on the lights and play some music to get the milonga going. A few venues have some areas where lighting isn't good, but it's rarely at a seriously low level. It's normal to use the existing lighting, just as it is. Club Sunderland, also used as a basketball court, has bright, possibly mercury vapour overhead lights. In some venues, the lighting might be subdued, but it's never at a low level. 

One of the best London milongas is an afternoon milonga in daylight, and I've never felt that it's inferior to a dimly-lit evening milonga in any way: the dancing is usually better, there's no loss of intimacy, it's more comfortable. It's an old-fashioned idea that we can't enjoy an evening dancing unless the lights are dim. It's really not practical to run a milonga in semi darkness.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Los Anarquistas

While rooting around for early tango recordings I came across Socrates Figoli, the 'payador anarquista', the anarchist folksinger, a recording said to be from 1906. It didn't strike me at the time that it was extraordinary that his voice ever made it onto disc. I'm not sure when recording started in Argentina, but his must have been one of the very first Argentine recordings, and indeed one of the very first recordings ever, if the date is correct, as mass-produced recording anywhere hardly went back ten years then. & he was presumably a political and social outsider.

I also came across a modern recording of a 'tango anarquista', 'Guerra a la Burguesía', written in 1901. It didn't sound much like a tango to me, and I assumed 'tango' might also be used in a Spanish (flamenco) sense, as a kind of song. If you search YouTube for 'tango 1909' you come across several versions of the opus 165 n° 2, Tango, by the Spanish composer Albéniz (1860-1909), who had been encouraged by his teacher to draw on Spanish folk and dance music. There's also a 'tango' written by Joaquín Durán, a close contemporary of Albéniz. I've read that there's not much connection between the flamenco tango and Argentine tango – but I'm not sure that holds if you go back to around 1900.

Anyway, a 'tango anarquista' written in 1901. Perhaps it's no surprise that there were 'anarquistas' in Argentina: they were fleeing Russia, eastern Europe and the rest of Europe too, and where else for refugees, political or otherwise to go than to Argentina? It was an idealist movement: maybe in the new world workers could establish ideal societies. The recent recording of the tango anarquista on YouTube is illustrated by some fine black-and-white drawings by an Italian anarquista refugee of the time. There are a number of studies on the internet of the anarchist movement in Argentina, in Spanish. It's plausible that the barrios from which tango emerged were those where the anarquistas had settled. It's also plausible that 'tango' was less clearly defined at the end of the 19th century. 1903, and the first performance of an arrangement of El Choclo by a society orquesta in Buenos Aires seems to mark the emergence of tango into wider society, where its growth was pushed along by the development of the recording industry.

& I remembered I'd read about another 'anarquista' recently: Andrés Cepeda (1869-1910). It's here – scroll down to 'The divine poet of the jailhouse'. A fascinating story of a petty criminal, anarchist and poet who wrote most of his poems in jail, songs which were set to music and recorded by his friends Gardel and his accompanist, José Razzano. 'Of the first fourteen recordings made by Gardel in 1912, five were authored by Cepeda.' But his songs are love songs rather than political, and in Cepeda's case this might be a complicated story.