Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Podestá Godoy, cantores

This is the trailer for a recent 50-minute documentary with English subtitles, featuring conversations with two great singers of the golden age, Alberto Podestá and Juan Carlos Godoy. I saw it recently in London. Of course, sadly Podestá died just a few weeks ago, so a film in which he recalls his life, the music he made and how it was made is timely, and a great tribute to a very remarkable voice. He's extraordinary in this film, with a clear memory for the details of his recordings. & one moment he's a warm, friendly 91 year-old man and then suddenly, apparently without even drawing a breath, this voice emerges from him, as if it doesn't physically come from his lungs and larynx but directly from his heart. In the film it's recognisably the voice of Podestá, and the strain of singing complete tangos for recent public performances may not have been easy on his voice.

Godoy's conversations focus less on his music and singing, and more on some of his escapades, including an invitation to the ranch of Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar. But these two interviews give a great insight from the heart of tango at its greatest time.

It's a beautifully made film, well directed and well edited, and it's great that films like this are made while these people are still with us. It came from the Buenos Aires company laisladigital, a prolific producer of short films and commercials, including a number of tango films. One of the first Laisladigital films was the film on Tete Rusconi, A volar señores, un vals para Tete, a shortened version of which they've uploaded to YouTube.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Muma teaching Ricardo Vidort's legacy in California this October

Jantango very kindly passed on a link to some videos of Muma's visit to the US in October. There's a long radio interview, and several tracks of performances with Rafael Galante from LA. It's such a pleasure to watch Muma dance. There's nothing rushed or over-eager about her dance: it's as if she tries to step at the last possible moment. It adds a particular energy to her movements, and to me this langorous, unhurried way of stepping makes her dance more sensual. Sadly, there's been nothing at all from Ojai or Seattle, where she gave workshops. She also taught in LA, so we can only hope that videos of some of her 2015 teaching in the US will emerge.

There's just one video I can find of Muma teaching: it's during her visit to Vancouver in 2009. There's a short account of her teaching on posture (with a very helpful exercise) from her visit to Seattle in the same year.

The radio interview is nearly two hours, although the first ten and the last 20 minutes are 'filler', and it's split up with music tracks. It's also long because translation is sequential, but it's fascinating and brilliant to listen to. Muma's family background was 'golden age' tango, and it's wonderful to listen to her recollections of the musicians and the dance she grew up with.

This is a general summary. The interview begins with general family background.

00:35 She talks about Tanturi's Asi se baile el Tango and says it describes exactly how tango was danced when she was growing up. (There's a translation of the song here.) Then she talks about d'Arienzo, then Di Sarli. (A real insight into tango as it's heard in Buenos Aires. Essential.)

01:01 She talks about the importance of codigos in Buenos Aires, but implying that courtesy and respect should be followed generally. Cabaceo as a 'seductive game'. Respecting the dance floor, not barging into the line of dance, etc.

01:11 Talking about Ricardo Vidort, a great description of how he danced. Importance of perfecting the walk. As to the 'eight classes', ' all the years I spent working with Vidort I never heard him mention to me that he had eight classes'. How his classes actually were. 'It's a lifetime of practice.'

01.24 Other people she danced with.

Of course, there's more. Ojai's advance advertising highlighted the '8 lessons' as the topic of Muma's workshops, but Muma herself says in the interview that they didn't exist in a precise form, and their later publicity toned it down to the teaching of 'La esencia of Ricardo Vidort'. She explains that he believed in teaching walking and some basic material, which could be taught in six, eight, ten classes. After that it was up to those who learned from him to go out and create their own tango from these fundamentals. She also says that he wasn't the kind of teacher who wanted to claim students and get them coming back to him again and again. You need to be pointed in the right direction, but after that it's up to you to work on it.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Alberto Podestá

Sad news that the great singer died a couple of days ago. Aged over 90, he sang with Caló at age 16, then for Di Sarli, Fancini-Pontier and Laurenz among others, and he was still singing until recently. I heard him in Porteño y Bailarin a few years ago. He performed with two guitars, a format going back to the early tangos of Gardel. Of course his voice had changed, but his emotional directness was intact. It was an astonishing evening. I have a rather poor video of the event, but it does give a flavour.

I'll have his Percal with Caló on a loop all day.

P.S. There's short clip of Podestá talking about singing and his life here.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

On your axis?

I remember this as one of the rules taught when tango was danced open or partly open. But does it apply to tango danced close? I'm not sure that it does. I see couples on the floor who start their close-embrace dances standing completely upright, toe-to-toe. It looks awkward and stiff. Dancing on your axis, upright, makes perfect sense in open tango, but it looks uncomfortable when you dance close. I think it's a hangover from a different kind of tango, like the 'open V' embrace of the same era.

There's a teaching film by the late Tete Rusconi and Silvia Ceriani in which they say that '...the two bodies have one axis'. In other words it's a shared, rather than an individual axis. They illustrate it with that familiar gesture, the hands in prayer with the palms separated. Ricardo Vidort uses the same gesture (at 2:40) – it's the 'apilado mudra' – to illustrate the tango embrace. This shared axis, rather than two separate, individual axes, is much more practical in close embrace. Both films give clear and useful advice on the embrace.

(With thanks to Tangocaffe.)

I really like this photo. The colours are natural, good natural daylight, no obvious flash. It's a dynamic moment, Tete just stepping forward and Rosanna Remón about to shift to her left foot, their toes well behind a shared axis, which is almost visible: you could draw a line down the middle. It looks as if there's an exact symmetry of dynamic and energy, and nothing exaggerated or pretentious about it. Both are very upright in the torso. The curve in Rosanna Remon's lower back is beautiful, although it's not something many can achieve readily after the age of 11 or thereabouts. Sitting badly a lot changes that inward curve, and many of us end up slouched: the front of the body shortens, and the muscles of the back elongate, and the body wonders why it struggles a bit sometimes. But there are strategies to help re-align the body.

There's no slack in the connection between Tete and Rosanna, they've become a single unit and communicate precisely as one. To some extent they support each other with this position. & my impression is that a lot of the energy in the dance starts from this shared axis. Supporting, to some extent, your partner's weight means you need to step more firmly and clearly: the impression of energy comes from this slight resistance, rather than from just performing steps energetically. Of course, a shared axis can go beyond the point at which either partner alone is in balance. Gavito and his partners must be the extreme example of this kind of total trust, but that's unusual on the dance floor.

I remember chatting with one of the first porteñas I danced with. It was on the crowded floor of El Beso and we were standing close. Then the music started, we embraced – and then she literally fell into me, so I took a slight step back to hold her energy and weight. We ended up exactly in the shared axis and in the closest possible embrace, our feet somewhat behind an individual line of balance. It's a memory of a moment of surprise and pleasure I hope I share with other visitors who've danced in the milongas. Physical pleasure, yes, but also the pleasure of feeling so directly the trust of someone I'd known just a few minutes.

(Thanks to Florencia Bellozo.)

I hesitated a bit before including this video. I think it shows a partner 'falling into' a lead, and the lead taking a slight step backwards, but it's nothing like as dramatic as my description suggests. It's only a moment, and you have to look very hard to see it at all, but I think it's there. His step back clinches it for me, but the camera isn't close and the video quality is poor. What it shows without any doubt is how this distance at belt level is maintained throughout the dance. (Incidentally, the clip seems to have had a section edited out.) Personally I find it easy to start well, but without a lot of attention it all starts to sag as the dance goes on. I have to keep reminding myself to keep the lower back in, and the chest up.

Another big reason for including this is that the lead, Abel Peralta, is another of the older dancers who sadly passed away this year. It's good to remember I've enjoyed watching him dance with Florencia Bellozo, and I'm very glad of the videos that remind me of a way of standing and walking that is so effective in close embrace, and of that energy and enthusiasm for the music. Perhaps the best video of this couple is a long clip, starting with a very tender dance, also to the Di Sarli/Florio 'Derrotado', and showing parts of a vals tanda in Lo de Celia. (The floor is almost empty: I can't work out if it's late and everyone has left, or early and people are still arriving.) There's also a charming clip of this couple dancing a jive tanda at Lo de Celia, an improvised dance that's half tango and half jive.

(Thanks to Marina 2x4.)

Friday, 23 October 2015

Susana Ferrante and Osvaldo Roldan

Good news! Marina2x4 is uploading videos from Buenos Aires again after seven months. She's uploaded some of the best clips of real tango I've watched. ('Real' – that is, social dancing from the milongas.)

Her two clips of Susana Ferrante and Osvaldo Roldan attracted me. Osvaldo seems to have spent a lot of the past few years teaching in Europe although not as far as I know in the UK. Apart from these two clips his YouTube presence is just demos, which are slick and quick, but I get a better idea of him as a dancer from these two clips. It's neither a milonga nor a real practica, it's a dance in someone's large kitchen with a bunch of other like-minded tangueros. It's late afternoon, after an asado I'd assume, dishes and empty bottles stacked on the worktop. Alicia Pons is in the background – maybe it's her kitchen. People are drifting in to pick up their winter coats and kiss goodbye: maybe this was a month ago in Buenos Aires when it was cold and wet. Meanwhile, the tangueros have settled in for a few warm hours of dance. Que placer!

Milongas are more formal, and filming in milongas usually isn't this close up. Here you are among the dancers, and you can see that tango really matters! There's a real commitment and concentration, and it's a pleasure too of course, it's what they love doing. They put into it an intensity, an attentiveness, an energy that we'll probably never match. That goes for all the dancers in these clips; it's Osvaldo's profession, of course, but he's working at it even in a dance in someone's kitchen. I thought of that quote from Ricardo Vidort, "When you dance tango you must give everything. If you can't do that, don't dance." Posture is uniformly good. One thing I can't help noticing is the distance at belt level between dancers, which happens when posture is the classic good tango posture. In the European dancing I see I never notice that much distance at belt level. People tend to dance more upright here.

There's a great sense of the warmth and physicality of the dance. The embraces are full on, uninhibited, seriously close. (A London friend says: 'London close embrace is usually fake: it's a few centimetres short of a real close embrace'.) The camera is close up, so you can see how much upper-body movement there is, particularly in the D'Arienzo, as you'd expect. There's a range of ages, and of footwear too!

& the collision: in the D'Arienzo, the tall guy in the baseball cap takes a long backstep straight into Osvaldo's space. Unbelievable. It doesn't look as if he belongs here at all.

There's a second video of Susana and Osvaldo here. As for the dancing in the milongas, check out this video of a milonga at Lujos, also from Marina. The older generation might be departing one by one, but it looks as if they leave tango in its home city in excellent health.

Many thanks, Marina2x4!

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Silvia Ceriani in London

Silvia, who was partner of the late 'Tete' Rusconi, is in London for the week. She'll DJ at Juntos milonga this afternoon, and at Carablanca, Conway Hall in Red Lion Square, on Friday 16 October, 8pm to midnight. A good opportunity to experience an evening of music from a regular DJ at Salon Canning and at La Catedral in Buenos Aires!

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Muma in Ojai, and online links to Ricardo Vidort

I'll put this page here, at the risk of overwhelming a 'private home' in Ojai, because
 it's a cause for celebration that Muma has been invited to put this teaching together,
 and with hopes that she'll be invited to Europe (and to the UK in particular!) to
teach it here as well. Moreover, the article has a number of links to YouTube, but
nothing new. Incidentally, I wish there were 'hundreds of examples of Ricardo's
dancing on the internet'! Many thanks to Jantango for the link.

Quantum Tango Home

Tango Lab in Ojai:  October 2015

Celebrated Milonguera + Teacher

Muma Valino

— from Buenos Aires —

The "8 Lessons"  

— of Ricardo Vidort —

Monday - October 12, 2015

— at a private home in Ojai —

More Information:

  Tango Lab Overview           Muma's Bio + Background

More Links to Muma + Ricardo           Past Quantum Tango Workshops

Tango Lab with Muma Valino:  Ricardo's "8 Lessons"

Muma & Ricardo Vidort, dancing in 2001
— at the opening of "Bien Jaileife,"
her milonga in Buenos Aires
A classic milonguera and celebrated teacher, Muma Valino visits Southern California + Ojai for the first time ... on what may be her last ever tour to North America.
Muma is master of dancing tango in the intimate "close embrace" of the milongas and dance floors of Buenos Aires, where she grew up and still lives today. The daughter of a well-established tango family, the likes of Alberto Castillo and Ricardo Tanturi were frequent visitors to her childhood home, and her mother was a singer with the orchestra of Francisco Lomuto.
In her own time, Muma has been a cherished dance partner of several of the most renowned + influential social dancers of her generation — among them, Osvaldo Natucci, Fernando Hector Iturrieta, and Dani "El Flaco" García — and with these and others, Muma has helped create a vital "living bridge" between the Golden Age of tango's storied past, and the dance we continue to explore, create and enjoy together today.
In this regard, , Muma is perhaps most widely known for her many years of dancing and teaching with the legendary milonguero Ricardo Vidort, who began as a teenager in Buenos Aires in the 1940s, and passed away in 2006, after more than 60 years in tango.
Like Muma, Ricardo was a consummate social dancer whose philosophy and approach centered on the nuanced interactions and subtle pleasures of the milonga, where we gather not to "perform" tango for the benefit of any onlooker, but to share and celebrate the pleasure of being with each other, moving together in the company of friends and the music that we love.

As a key figure in the "Tango Renaissance" that began in the 1980s, Ricardo was also famous for his views on teaching and tango pedagogy — especially for his push back against those who sought to make tbe dance seem much more complex, rarefied and esoteric than he felt it needed to be in order for us to enjoy it on the social dance floor.
Rather than taking an endless series classes in the vain pursuit of an elusive and hypothetical "perfection," Ricardo suggested that dancers could find more value and pleasure in focusing on just a few key concepts, ideas, principles and techniques — a solid foundation that would enable them to enjoy and expand on a lifetime of tango — dancing, learning and improvising on the social dance floor.

One well-known expression of Ricardo's philosophy was his claim that he could convey all that one needed to know — all the essentials of tango — in just "8 Lessons," after which he would send the newly minted dancer out into the world of the milongas, to apply and refine these insights over time as they discovered and created their own unique and personal "style" — one of the milongueros' highest values.
... Alas, Ricardo never took time out to document and record the many details of his famous "8 Lessons" approach to learning tango.

But to our great good fortune, Muma was there — dancing and teaching right alongside Ricardo during the height of his influence and activity in the 1990s and early 2000s ...
And she has generously offered to share and pass on some of her unique insight into the ideas, concepts and material that she and Ricardo developed and explored together.

Most of Muma's recent visits to North America have focused on Tango communities in the Pacific Northwest — Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, Eugene — where she is a cherished presence.
Muma has a reputation as a warm and easy-going teacher, able to convey tango's nuances with clarity and grace, and who embodies the pleasure and confidence that she brings to the dance floor.
Muma's teaching has been described as "hands on" rather than analytical — less about the mechanics of any given movement or situation, and more about how we can each find and express the deeper, richer and more resonant "emotional core" of our own personal tango.

Please join us in Ojai for this rare opportunity to spend a little time with Muma Valino
and her "8 Lessons" of Ricado Vidort — an invaluable window onto Tango's
rich history, and a welcome inspiration for our ongoing evolution
+ the unfolding future that lies ahead ...

Muma's visit to Ojai is being made possible by the generosity of our fellow dancers and organizers, DJ Ronaldo + Melinda Bread, who are hosting Muma on her first ever visit to Southern California, and who will present another invitational workshop with Muma over the weekend, focusing on Milonga Tráspie and her dancing + teaching with Dani "El Flaco" García.

Overview:  Ricardo's "8 Lessons" with Muma Valino


Monday, October 12, 2015


in a private home in Ojai

Tango Lab:

7:00 - 10:00 p.m. - a Two-Hour Seminar on  Ricardo's "8 Lessons"
          — plus supervised práctica time with Muma


 $30 / Dancer * ... (= $60 / couple)

   *   For this edition of "Tango Lab" ...

•    Active Social Dancers
This edition of Tango Lab is aimed at active social dancers in our local and neighboring communities.
To join us with confidence on Monday evening, you should be familiar and comfortable with dancing in a closer embrace — improvising tango in varying floor conditions, to a range of music, with a variety of partners ...
•    Role Balanced
In order to maximize everyone's experience and insure that we have an equal number of leaders and followers, you are encouraged to register and attend Tango Lab with a partner.
For single dancers interested in Tango Lab, please let us know your role, and we will do our best to match you with an appropriate single partner, if available ...
And while "traditional" gender roles are not a limitation — women who lead and men who follow are both welcome — we will plan on keeping to an even number of dancers so that everyone will have a partner throughout this seminar ...
•    Limited Enrollment
Thank you for your understanding that, because of the size of the room, we will only be able to accommodate a limited number of dancers for this intimate seminar in a private home with Muma Valino.

Questions + Registration — please contact:   Stephen Bauer ...

More About Muma Valino

A lifelong milonguera, Muma Valino lives and breathes the most prominent social form of Argentine Tango — as danced in a "close embrace" in the crowded clubs and salons of her native Buenos Aires.
The daughter of a well-connected tango family, Muma grew up steeped in the music, movements and traditions of the dance.
As tango reemerged in the "Renaissance" of the late 1980s and 1990s, Muma became one of the most prefered partners for a generation of older milongueros who began dancing back in tango's "Golden Age." Not only was Muma a welcome presence on the everyday social dance floors of the milongas, she was also a highly valued colleague in countless demonstrations and lessons.
Over the years of teaching with her fellow milongueros, Muma has emerged as a gifted and celebrated teacher in her own right — widely acknowledged as a master of milonga tráspie, the lively "tango picado," and the philosophy + approach of her long-time collaborator, the renowned Ricardo Vidort.
Some of Muma's PartnersClockwise from top left:
Ricardo Vidort, Dani "El Flaco" García, Osvaldo Natucci,
and Fernando Hector Iturrieta.

Above:  Muma teaching, dancing and demoing in the Pacific Northwest, 2009 - 2012 ...
this will be her first visit to Southern California

More Links for Muma Valino + Ricardo Vidort

Muma on Ricardo Vidort
Muma reminiscing about dancing + teaching with her friend, the late Ricardo Vidort.

Muma's Dancing in Buenos Aires
•  With Ricardo Vidort, at the opening of her milonga, "Bien Jaileife" (2001) ...
•  Demo with Dani "El Flaco" García, milonga tráspie at "Sunderland" (2001) ...
•  On the social dance floor, dancing vals with Osvaldo Natucci at "El Beso" (2000) ...
•  On the social dance floor, with Fernando Hector Iturrieta at "Lo de Celia" ...

Muma's Teaching
A video collage of Muma teaching in Vancouver, BC, (2009) ... and an overview of her upcoming workshops, later this month in Eugene, Oregon.

Interviews with Ricardo Vidort
Speaking on video with dancer + writer Janis Kenyon in 2001, Ricardo profiles his philosophy + approach to tango as a social art form.
Transcripts of later interviews — on his life in tango ... on learning + feeling ... and his last interview, looking back when he was in hospice.

Ricardo's Dancing
There are hundreds of examples of Ricardo's dancing on the internet, but this series is from Rome, probably filmed in the early 2000s, before he fell ill ...

More Reflections on Ricardo's Impact on Tango
From a longer article, "The Last Compadrito," by friend, tanguero + blogger Rick McGarry, from his website Tango and Chaos. Earlier in the article, Rick also shares his views on Ricardo's dancing as profiled several imbedded video clips ...
More writings on the idea of "Simplicity" in tango and Ricardo's famous "8 Lessons" approach to the dance ...
And, beginning at 00:34, a video collage of Ricardo — dancing, teaching, chatting, and having fun in the homes, cafes, studios and milongas of Buenos Aires ...

Muma's translator during her visit to Ojai will be her friend Ronaldo. A dancer + DJ in Los Angeles, Ronaldo also hosts the radio program, Tango Angeles on UBN.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Bouncy music, and the art of the DJ

'If this DJ has played any music that isn't bouncy, it must have been before I arrived' said a partner whose insights I value. She'd been there most of the evening, so it was a serious criticism -- and a disappointment.Sadly, the art of putting together an evening of tango music for dancing is a mystery to me. Of course I know what I like and don't like, and I write to explore that. Writing is a way of looking for answers.

Just ten years ago tango wasn't easy to find. If record shops had tango sections, they were for Piazzola, with maybe some Pugliese. Tango wasn't that easily available online, either. But it seems that about ten years ago record companies discovered a new product they could market. It's not a kind of dance music most of us grew up with, and it's amazing how fast it has become familiar to dancers here. 

By about five or six years ago the quality of an evening's music had become a regular topic for conversation during milongas. The DJ is a frequent reason people go to a particular milonga here these days: I came because so-and-so is playing, and I like her/his music. It's also a reason I've heard for not going to other milongas. Since a few years ago, a vast range of excellent tango has become easily available, and hard drives have become huge, so music doesn't have to be compressed. I think there's an audible difference: 78s may sound a bit scratchy, but the sound quality of the music is often quite good. Heavy compression makes music dull. You might not notice it at first, but compressed music sounds dreary after a few hours. DJs put in a lot of work collecting different versions, new high-quality transfers, and the days when they played evenings with a limited range of low-quality recordings from five or ten CDs are gone.

How visiting Buenos Aires DJs organise an evening that draws you into a marvelously satisfying musical space is a mystery. It's an art that some European DJs have mastered too, but I guess that long practice and life-long familiarity with the music are a big part of it. I asked Silvia Ceriani last summer when she was in London if she had a system of tagging the music on her laptop. She laughed. 'No! I know my music!' Thousands of tracks, and she can pick out tracks to make coherent tandas, and fit them with each other. 

(I include the UK in Europe. Make of that what you will.)

So why the evening of bouncy music? It's a paradox that just when a huge range of music is available, it seems that there are DJs who play long sequences of similar music. Yes, there is bouncy tango, but to play it all evening is exhausting for many dancers, and it's a style of DJ practice that looks more to the 100 Club than to the milonga. I'm sure it's well-meant – keep it lively, keep people on their feet. I've heard it's the expected DJ style at some events. I get the impression that there's a move in Europe in general to play a much simpler range of music, whole evenings when the tempo and emotional range of the music are simplified, avoiding in particular the slower, more emotional music. It's easier to keep moving to a regular rhythm and to straightforward music, so no Di Sarli! No D'Agostino! No Fresedo! Probably no Troilo! Much too difficult! But if this is a temptation, I think it should be avoided. Perhaps you can live on beans on toast, but it would be a pity to miss out on a very much wider range of food and flavours that nourish you in many different ways. 

There's an amazing range in the music, from the bouncy to the sublime, the sophisticated to the simple, the energetic to the laid back. There's emotional music, there's lively music, there's beat music, there's melodic music. & some music – Troilo in particular – often combines many ranges. An evening of one kind of music or one tempo gets tedious. Each kind of music provides a setting for another kind, a contrast. The real genius of the DJ is in knowing how to assemble a sequence of music that keeps the ear (and the rest of the body) happy for hours, and it takes DJs with a wide and intimate knowledge of the music to make each tanda exciting, so your eyes eagerly search out a partner. DJs like that are very much welcomed by dancers!

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

'Just Dancing Around'

This is a link to a 50-minute documentary made by Mike Figgis in 1995 after five weeks filming with William Forsythe's Ballet Frankfurt during the rehearsals and performance of a new programme. I had the DVD on loan a few years back and it's great to find that it's now on Vimeo. Even greater that Figgis himself uploaded it, so it's unlikely a copyright owner is going to come and remove it just when you want to watch it. 

'It's not about steps, anyway. Choreography is about organisation. Either you're organising the body or you're organising bodies with other bodies, or a body with other bodies in an environment that is organised. There's these framings of organisation, for me. & this seems to be the challenge of choreography at the end of the 20th century.' Not tango choreography, of course, nor tango either, but this statement about contemporary dance has some resonance with tango. It seems to be a surprisingly clear statement of the experience of dancing in a milonga, the experience of how we organise the body with other bodies and in an environment which is a cultural and historical framing. Steps? It's not about steps...

& if you think 'Ballet... no thanks!' watch just the first three minutes.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

'...and the Tango was born. Come and learn the basic steps!'

It's so dismaying to keep reading this view of tango! Not that there aren't basic steps: of course there are! It's knowing that when teachers talk about teaching 'basic steps' they mean teaching patterns they call salidas, giros, sacadas... 

What are the basic steps we learn when we go to pre-milonga classes in Buenos Aires? The first two are putting one foot in front of the other, or behind it -- walking. A simple act we take for granted. But walking is not that simple in dancing tango. Why else would beginners and more advanced dancers alike at group classes in Buenos Aires spend 30 or 40 minutes at the start of each class they go to, practicing walking? Stepping forwards, stepping back, with teachers and their assistants coming round to help you get it right, to get your walking so it works well when you dance in close embrace, and so it looks good. & it's not so much about walking to the music as it's taken for granted that timing is precise. It's the way of walking that matters, the way of using energy. Simple patterns of steps are also taught, but the priority is how you walk, the basic steps of tango.

If we try to walk in close embrace in the same way we walk on the streets, or the same way we step backwards in daily life without reconsidering the way we walk, our tango will be awkward, insipid, and probably uncomfortable to our partners. It's a different kind of walking, and moreover we need to learn how to make each step count. This is tango from the inside, not just the superficial appearance of tango footwork. It's never insipid, it doesn't look awkward, and it's unlikely ever to feel uncomfortable.

Monday, 22 June 2015

More from the milongas

I've just updated this post. The videos I thought had been removed are still there: I posted the wrong link. As I said, they aren't the best videos, but altogether they give a good view of a very enjoyable milonga. & a friend has just sent me this link to a series of videos of the Lo de Celia milonga posted by EQZ tango DJ, with posts of some excellent music too. This started at the beginning of the year, and is ongoing. So now we know how people dance in Buenos Aires!

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Blog list problems on Blogger

No sooner have I found a way out of one problem on Blogger when another pops up. I can't update the blog list. Many people have reported it on the forums. Google's 'expert reply' in 2013 is that they are working on it night and day, but I have yet to find their answer. It's suggested that the problem is because individual computers manage cookies/filters/scripts and security measures differently. (So I guess it gets dismissed as 'user error'.) If anyone has found a simple answer please let me know.

I wanted to add one blog This is European DJ Konrad Krynski's blog about tango music and its stories.

I also need to update the address of the Realitypivots blog, the story I've always enjoyed of living on a smallholding in the woods of North America while maintaining a connection with tango. The scene has shifted to Thailand, and the new address is here. In reply to David's comment, I've done what I can to push the Ricardo Vidort website onto the net, but it's not up to me. However, I'm told that much of the material is already available on the web, though not collected into one place.

Saturday, 13 June 2015


I was delighted to find this clip recently.

It's a short quote from a TV documentary made in 1999, in which Royal Ballet soloist Deborah Bull explored four kinds of dance; hip-hop, swing, belly dance and tango. (I wrote about this clip here, before I found it.) The tango programme includes a sequence with the author and broadcaster Clive James who was then a regular tanguero. A pity the whole programme isn't available. In this clip one of the earliest tango dancers in the UK, Christine Denniston, teaches Deborah to walk, and outlines some of the background of social tango.

Sadly, perhaps, the programme ends with a highly choreographed tango performance: I could wish it ended with Deborah happily lost in a Buenos Aires milonga. I watched it before I started classes in London, and the insights of this clip in particular stayed with me. & I've read that Susanna and Cacho amazed Londoners with just how close together they danced...

Interesting thought: Christine says that because there were relatively few women in Argentina in the years when tango evolved, men had to work out how to please the women they danced with, as women had plenty of choice of partners. The pressure to evolve came from that need. Currently in London the opposite is true; there are often many more women than men. It follows that there is less pressure on men to improve their dance, as they can usually find partners, although this must be offset to some extent because men who do dance get more practice.

(I've worked out how to embed video! It used to be straightforward until a software upgrade a few years back. Since then, an HTML embed code pasted into the text editor has been simply published as embed code. A few weeks ago it occurred to me that I should try inserting the embed code into the HTML editor rather than into the text editor. Either that, or write in the HTML editor from the start.

& someone asked if I knew how to enable comments. It's under options in the post settings on the right of the 'compose' page.)

Monday, 8 June 2015

Some videos of Ismael Heljalil

I was totally astonished to see a couple of videos of Ismael Heljalil dancing with María Nieves at La Nacional a few months ago. Surely that's not the María Nieves, the tango queen of Broadway, and long-time partner of Juan Copes? The María does still dance, but recent videos of her don't greatly resemble this María, who is almost certainly younger. (The María was born in 1938.) I've never seen Ismael Heljalil outside Lo de Celia, looking frail in a heavy sweater which I assumed protected him from the airconditioning, but there's no doubt it's him in La Nacional, looking well and minus the sweater.

I first saw him on TangoandChaos. At a time when there were few videos of salon tango on YouTube, TangoandChaos suddenly electrified many of us with a series of videos of traditional tangueros from the then distant world of the Buenos Aires milongas. So this is what tango looks like in Buenos Aires! We'd heard about it but never seen it. The very first of these videos was of Ismael Heljalil in Lo de Celia, and the music was No Me Extraña of Pedro Laurenz. McGarry wrote a thoughtful introduction to the video and the music. As he says, there's no 'real giro', but what strikes me is that it is a dance full of turning. The opening phrase is about thirty seconds, and the couple calmly turn back and forth in one corner of the floor, and the dance continues like this. It's a dance suited to confined space, and of course the constant turning gives the lead a mental picture of the space around. 

(Apologies: this isn't from the T&C site, as the video there loads slowly -- it was set up before YouTube got so good.) I still love to watch this clip, and I still find No Me Extraña (along with Paisaje, also from Laurenz) just marvelous music. 

I enjoy watching clips of the complex and energetic dance of Ricardo Vidort. Ismael's dance may be deceptively simple by comparison, but as an example it's less intimidating. The content of the dance is the way he dances, rather than the steps he uses. It's not a particularly slow dance, but wonderfully effortless, smooth and unhurried, energetic, and calmly precise on the beat. The more recent clips of Ismael with María are more of the same, but in La Nacional, which is well-lit and more open than Lo de Celia, so the dance is clearer. I enjoy watching this María: I like her simple elegance, nothing superfluous, and her total attention to the music.

Not to dismiss the María who, it's said, claimed her success came without ever taking a lesson. 'The first time I danced the tango, it entered my skin through my feet, passed from my skin to my blood and through my blood to my heart. It requires no acrobatics, you simply have to devote yourself to your heartbeat.' & her comment on a recent Mundial del Tango was brief: 'Menos aire y mas piso', '[There should be] less air and more floor'. 'Tango acrobatics' is an oxymoron.

There are also two excellent videos of Ismael in Maipu 444 from Jantango and three tangos in Lo de Celia from Isa Negra tango.

Friday, 29 May 2015

17 tangos at Lujos milonga

I've just noticed that Tangotradicional videoed 17 tangos at Lujos milonga in October 2012, over two nights I think. A while back I wrote that it would be wonderful if there was an online camera at Lujos so it would be possible to drop in at any time and watch the dancing: it's not quite happened yet. I wrote '17 tangos' but the 17 clips include rock and chacarera, and sadly many of the tangos are shortened, but it's still a treat to watch much of the dancing here. 

Lujos is one of the top milongas for dancers, and the tango is usually as good as it gets. The venue is more spacious than El Beso, and it's much less of a hothouse. There's a lot less chatter than in Normarin1's videos, which are of some of the more sociable milongas, so the dancing is much more focused. For video the great advantage is that the lighting is good, and (unlike El Beso and Lo de Celia) there's usually space on the floor and around it. Apart from La Nacional, there's nowhere else I know that you can get such a good view of what some of the best social tango looks like at home. There was always a solid core of the older generation, and in these clips I recognise familiar faces, among them Ricardo Suarez, Javier Gramigna, and of course, Oscar Kotik, who organises it with Lucia. 

Marina2x4 also has videos of tandas at Lujos. 

P.S. Apologies, I made a mistake and linked this to the Abretango channel, so I was puzzled when the videos weren't there. In fact all those videos are still there -- on the Tangotradicional channel. More or less the same people, I think, so it wasn't an unreasonable error. I'm delighted to have found the videos again. A great pleasure to watch.

Friday, 15 May 2015

More chest!

At the end of a tanda I asked the Very Experienced Partner about the need for a lead to be decisive without being in the least rough. 'More chest!' was her immediate, clear and memorable reply, without hesitation. 'More chest is never rough!' she added.

She made it sound so straightforward, and yet... It's easy enough for leads to remember, at the start of a tango, to straighten the back and shoulders, breath in and hold the chest forwards, but imperceptibly it all slumps, the initial good contact with the partner deteriorates, and leading can become more awkward. Tango developed among people whose posture was naturally good, who weren't slumped at terminals all day, who walked a lot more than we usually do. Most of us don't have good posture, we tend to be round-shouldered, our heads habitually inclined forwards, our lower backs curved out, as they are when we sit at desks and tables. It can be a submissive, despairing posture.

Good yoga, Pilates or Alexander teachers can help correct this, and get the back straight and the head stacked on top of the vertebrae. It's essentially the body's natural posture, the position in which it works best and is least prone to injury (lower back injury in particular), and it's really the only good starting posture for tango. Or any other kind of dance: if you go to the stage door cafe at London's dance theatre, Sadler's Wells, you'll start to notice two species of human, those who have straight backs with their heads in line, and... well, sadly, the rest of us

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Juan Carlos Pontoriero

I was devastated to get this from a friend yesterday:
Lovely film of Isabella dancing with Juan Carlos.
Unfortunately, I think he died around 15th April. I heard he was attacked on a bus on the way home from El Maipu & had a heart attack.
My teacher had just been sitting at the same table, talking to him earlier that night.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015


I love this!

Sometimes I come across a tango video that really lifts me up, and this is one of them, uploaded very recently, although the milonga was in 2012. Many thanks for it, it's a real joy. 

(I still can't embed videos: the embed code gets printed in the post, with no video in sight. It's a pain!)

& I notice how much 'dip and lift' energises this dance! It's one of the clearest examples of what a good friend and teacher kept saying to me: Con el cuerpo! Con el cuerpo! [Dance] with the body! Meaning, not just with the feet. It's decisive and tender, physical and very gentle.

It's uploaded by Isabella Szymonowicz, who has a wonderful tango blog which I'd never noticed before. At a casual glance I read her posting on Juan Carlos Pontoriero (with whom she's dancing in the video), some clear and simple instructions on how to write a tango, and a really valuable link to a US site from which a pair of high quality suede stick-on soles, backed with an industrial-strength adhesive, can be purchased for about £16. & they ship internationally. Almost too good to be true. Other interesting possibilities for your shoes there. 

& other interesting posts on Isabella's blog. Oh yes, and an excellent interview with Alicia Pons.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Dos porteños tocando el piano

This link is here so I don't have to go looking for it again. Two extraordinary musicians from the same time and place, Buenos Aires.

Friday, 24 April 2015


I'm enjoying the soft, gentle, almost hesitant embrace of another London partner... and suddenly feel something is missing. I experience a wave of nostalgia for the portena embrace. I don't remember ever dancing with a portena whose embrace I could describe as soft and gentle, certainly never hesitant. Not a single one. I could describe the portena embrace as direct, strong, emphatic, even confrontational, but not soft or compliant. A portena embrace seemed more like a challenge: 'You want to dance with me, so make me dance!' Warm and direct, nothing uncomfortable, nothing apologetic. You might not notice this when you're watching, but I think it's something you're likely to feel if you dance there.

I get the impression there's a whole industry built up around 'decoraciones', even though they aren't much use in improvised social dancing. I never noticed this industry in Buenos Aires, where teaching seemed to emphasise the woman standing up to the man, so to speak, an emphasis on a firm, positive embrace. No compliant partners who seem all too eager to follow there, and I often felt I had to work to get a good dance, I had to put energy into a clear and positive lead. There's an element of resistance, and I can feel nostalgic for that toughness, the sense that an equal energy meets my energy. We meet on equal terms, and I'm challenged to prove myself. So even if the resulting dance doesn't go far (there's probably not a lot of space to move in) it feels full of energy. A very positive lead and follow is essential if you want to move together in a small space, and when you get it, the dance doesn't feel like a 'lead and follow' situation, just two people moving as one. That's the magic of it!

Of course, women can be shy about close embrace with partners they don't know – and so can men! In a Buenos Aires milonga the only opportunity a man and woman have of being together is on the actual dance floor, which encourages them to be more direct, more open, when they dance since the social situation is limited off the floor. Adapting to the different height of partners isn't always easy. But I think the real problem is a kind of teaching that just teaches patterns of footwork, ignoring a good walk and a good embrace, the art of putting emphasis and energy into each step, which are a priority in social tango classes in Buenos Aires.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Stepping back.

Women step back too, or at least they ought to...

London tango seems to me to be between eras. Generally, people learned and still learn to dance in 'open embrace' (which isn't an embrace at all!) That's inevitable at present. In open embrace you're in contact with your partner with your hands and arms so it simply doesn't matter how you walk. But when you embrace your partner, torso to torso, the whole dance changes. How you walk suddenly becomes important. Perhaps teaching here hasn't caught up with this change in the kind of dancing.

This becomes particularly obvious when I dance with a partner I've not met before; I step forwards and my knees bump her knees. Oh no... She assures me that in her beginners' classes there's a lot of walking, but I suspect it's an emphasis on walking to the beat, rather than on posture and the mechanics of walking suited to close embrace. My partner is walking backwards as you would in normal life: her knees come up a bit, and then as each foot goes down her torso jerks slightly backwards. Which is fine in normal life, but it's a dangerous combination to anyone dancing close with her. Maybe she's been told and it simply hasn't registered that it's important, or maybe walking just hasn't been taught in the classes she's been to.

(I remember the story Christine Denniston tells in a short film about tango: she was taught to walk at her first class, and went home and practiced it every evening for a month. It was years ago now, and she didn't mention who taught her, but she practiced it to perfection: when she went to Buenos Aires she says she fitted in easily as a dancer.)

It's simple enough to step back in tango. The woman reaches back with her foot, to some extent straightening her leg. Her other leg, the leg her weight is on, might flex a bit, which can give energy to the step. It's not stepping back in the everyday sense, it's reaching back. Well done, it looks great, energetic and purposeful. Reaching back has a second effect: as you reach back, your torso pushes forwards, which means the embrace is firmer: perhaps this is how the really close embrace of the Buenos Aires dance arises. The pivotal point is the lower back, and perhaps that's why this aspect of tango gets ignored here. If your lower back is weak, 'reaching back' might feel uncomfortable at first. & if you are hesitant about committing to close embrace you might not want to push your torso forwards.

In Buenos Aires it's taken for granted that tango is danced close, and even complete beginners are expected to dance close. I've been to all the group classes and pre-milonga classes I could, and in all of them walking can take up the first 30 or 40 minutes of a 90-minute class. It's walking to the beat, and also correction of posture and the practice of walking. Cacho Dante gets his assistants to take a separate class for newcomers, where they only walk. He's strict about it; until their walking is good, they don't join the main class. Some very beautiful dancers come out of his classes, dancers who look at ease, effortless and comfortable even in crowded milongas, as they've been well drilled, from the basics of walk upwards. Sadly, I've never spent long enough there to become that well drilled. & I think Cacho allowed me into his main class out of politeness: I suspect he really thought I needed a month or so with his assistants, practicing just walking.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Ricardo Vidort website

There were several comments about the proposed Ricardo Vidort website, which was laid out by Jantango, and remains currently unpublished. I got some news about it a couple of days ago. The email I received isn't altogether clear, but I understand that translation has taken time: there are a number of interviews which had to be subtitled in English, and texts which have had to be translated, as the site needs to be bi-lingual. The good news is that much of this has now been completed, and it's possible that it will be available later this year.

I'm afraid the problem isn't uncommon: if you work at something out of love, it's easier for other things to get in the way, family commitments, illness, other work. It's a bit sad, but money does focus the mind! Anyway, I understand that the project is well on its way, and I hope we can look forward to seeing it fairly soon. I've suggested it could be published chapter by chapter, as work is completed, rather than waiting for everything to be finished. Let's see what happens!