Monday, 5 December 2016

Dancing in ballrooms

Thinking over Carablanca’s 25-years of providing opportunities for tango reminded me to look again at a Guardian article I read at the beginning of the year, based on a book called Going to the Palais by James Nott. It studies the history of dancing in large ballrooms (‘Palais’ as they were often called) in the UK. I’ve not read the book, so I quote the numbers from the article. In 1953 about four million people went dancing every week. It was suggested that up to 70% of couples first met on the dance floor. It was huge. It was the main way men and women met, the main social hub, attracting many more than cinema or football. Not that the dancing was necessarily elaborate. For the most part this wasn’t really ‘ballroom dancing’ even if it was dancing in ballrooms. A witness recalled, ‘The masses are content to shuffle. All they want is to get round [the floor] tolerably comfortably.’ Chatting as they went, of course. The enchanted silence of the tanda wasn’t the norm, but then the simplicity of the dance didn’t require that kind of attention.

In 1960 the business was booming, up 10%. Between 1958 and 1962, shares in the industry trebled in value. 50,000 musicians were employed in dance bands. Astonishingly, by the end of the decade, eight years later, the business had crashed. By the end of the 1960s few dance halls even survived. Most were demolished, a few became discotheques, nightclubs, or bingo halls. It was an incredibly radical change. It’s pointed out that women had become more approachable. Couples met at work, in pubs, in normal meeting places. But the main change must have been the change in musical tastes. Most of those 50,000 musicians lost their apparently secure jobs in a short period of time as the new music developed so fast, and became so popular. & of course the dance changed with the music. Jive, or the entirely ‘hands-off’ Twist require venues, but unlike the ballroom shuffle they were practicable in smaller venues, even in parties at home. Record players became ubiquitous and you could throw a dance party in your bedsit if you had a Dansette. Big formal events were no longer what people wanted. The ballrooms were an affirmation of an all-embracing society, parties an affirmation of small groups.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Carablanca Milonga

Many congratulations to Carablanca on its 25th birthday, celebrated at its Christmas party last night. Carablanca as such hasn't been running for that length of time but it is the current form of a succession of milongas run very successfully by Diane and Danny in London since 1991 at various venues. It's a remarkable record, and we owe them many thanks for their effort to make Carablanca such an enduring success. Many of us took our first tango steps in classes run by the milonga, which has hosted every major visiting Argentine teacher. Ricardo Vidort and Gavito were there, as were many, many others. It's brought to London a vision of a place where people meet, socialise and dance tango, modelled on Club Gricel in Buenos Aires. The quiet formality of the Argentine original has never quite translated to our post-rock'n roll social dance sensibility, but Diane and Danny have worked very successfully to make Carablanca as close as possible to the Argentine original. All of us who have danced there, made friends and enjoyed the pleasure of great music and dance, owe them much gratitude. Thanks, and happy birthday, Carablanca!

Monday, 21 November 2016

Ricardo Viqueira in Cambridge

I recently got this link from a friend, Gideon in Zurich, with info about Ricardo Viqueira's visit to the UK this month. Thanks Gideon! Ricardo will give a series of workshops and classes in Cambridge, starting on Thursday November 24. The details are in the link.

Ricardo is a milonga dancer who teaches in Buenos Aires, and has taught regularly in Europe. I can't say much about his teaching as I've never taken classes with him, but he has a good reputation as a teacher. It's claimed he's developed simple and practical methods for teaching leaders to mark the step, and and for followers to understand the lead. He emphasises listening to the music, and development of a personal way of dancing.

Apart from the excitement created by dancing fast on a small coffee table (will they fall off?) this video seems to show a dance that looks rather monotonous, a relentlessly fast dance to music that has gentle and lyrical phrasing, as if the dancers are being forced to mark every beat mechanically and without fail, while ignoring the lyrical phrasing. This lack of expresion isn't generally characteristic of what I've seen of the Buenos Aires dance. At the same time, he obviously leads with great clarity and confidence, and successfully in a very confined space. If you can learn to lead and follow with that level of clarity, you can obviously adapt to a much more expressive and lyrical dance on a crowded milonga floor.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Today's tango is...

A while ago I heard about this source of tango on YouTube. I’ve only just checked it out, and I find I’ve been missing out on a good source of music and lyrics.

Paul Bottomer is a dance teacher with a background in ballroom, who went to Buenos Aires in the 1980s and studied with Maria Nievas and Juan Carlos Copes. (Separate classes, I assume, since they had their differences.) His website says he won the ‘Grand Slam of Tango competitions’ (he doesn’t say what they were) between 1990 and 1994. He still teaches in London.

He currently seems on a mission through his YouTube channel to ensure that as much tango as possible is available online, in some form of HD, with translations of lyrics and all the readily available information on each track, such as performers and recording dates. Since he studied with Copes and Nievas he must be a Spanish speaker and I assume his translations are at least serviceable. I can’t check them, but I expect they are useful to listeners in general, even if lunfardo experts and historians of tango lyrics might not always agree on the details. His channel is called ‘Today’s tango is...,’ but he often uploads many tangos a day, and not always the well-known tangos you hear in milongas. Yesterday there were five tangos, including two versions of Yo quiero cantar un tango (Laurenz and D’Arienzo). Only one so far today, D'Arienzo's 1966 Virgen de la Serranía, but it’s only 4pm. This channel is clearly a labour of love, and it’s a very welcome, ongoing effort to make the songs more accessible. It’s been going for a while, so there’s a substantial archive of songs and music. There’s also a Facebook page.

(PS: On YouTube you need to click on SHOW MORE to access the translations.)

Friday, 28 October 2016


A couple of years ago I wrote about something that got called the ‘secret milonga’. (There were a couple of subsequent posts too.) In effect it was a monthly private tango club in London to which entrance was by invitation. Consequently there was no publicity, and I never mentioned its name because I didn’t want uninvited people turning up there as the organiser would have had to turn them away, which would be unpleasant to all concerned. I wrote about it simply to point out that there is another way people can consider organising tango dancing, another template. It was a private event because that was a way to ensure that the ronda was observed with the same courtesy as in Buenos Aires. You could dance comfortably there all afternoon, no couples would block the line of dance with wild gyrations, or barge onto the dance floor without first looking to see if another couple was approaching in the line of dance. Simple courtesy! Yet at other London events that can still happen, although it is improving. The quality of dance was always excellent, as was the music, it was in a beautiful old hall and the organisers always welcomed you personally as one of their friends – which you were. In effect it was a small monthly encuentro in London. I’ve written all this in the past tense because it recently had to close down. It was called Juntos.

It’s very sad it couldn’t make enough money to continue. Of course it wasn’t intended to make anyone a fortune, but there’s only so much money an individual can lose. A beautiful hall in London doesn’t come cheap, and the booking (midday to 5.30 on Sunday) perhaps wasn't ideal. We are very grateful to the organisers whose ideals were set so high, and thank them for keeping it afloat for so long, and giving us many magical afternoons of dance and music. It’s left a mark on London tango, as has the whole encuentro movement, and people are increasingly aware how essential courtesy is on the dance floor. If anyone thinks of emulating this, I can only wish them the best of luck. It's not easy.

Monday, 26 September 2016


The music started, emotional, intense, melancholic. I wanted to dance long before I wondered which orquesta it was, as usual. Slowly, it came into focus: Troilo. Not the familiar 1941 recordings, the emphatic Troilo of tracks like Cachirulo or Guapeando that you know immediately, but later, slower, sadder music. We were surrounded by couples who appeared to be listening to a D'Arienzo milonga: slowed by the floor and absorbed by the music, especially the final track, as if I'd never heard it before, music of great intensity and yearning, I felt we hardly needed to move much. I recognised one phrase: ‘La tarde de mi ausencia’. You have to credit the DJ for playing it. It’s really not party music, 1944 recordings that get played rather less frequently than the earlier, brighter Troilo. I remembered the title on the way home. Cristal.

Of course I looked it up later, and found a translation together with a link to both the Troilo/Marino and the Canaro recordings. ‘More fragile than crystal was my love...’ A bit ordinary perhaps, but the poet really makes it work with the following line: ‘Crystal your heart, your gaze, your laugh…’ Fragility, hardness and brilliance, all in a single word. & as usual the translation doesn’t do much justice to the original: ‘And now all I know/is that all was lost/the evening when I was absent.’ Even with my limited Spanish it’s hard not to think that ‘La tarde de mi ausencia’ has a kind of intensity that just isn’t there in ‘...the evening when I was absent’! The song is by José María Contursi who wrote words for several great tangos we know from Troilo recordings, including Gricel and En esta tarde gris, similar poems of loss that actually remind me a bit of Thomas Hardy’s late poems. ‘Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me...’ Hardy’s poems are much more concise, but he didn't have to fit them to a piece of piano music.

& that extraordinary music? The intensity grabs you from the first chord, and it just doesn’t let up. It’s amazing music of great variety that keeps surprising you, a masterpiece of arrangement and a great performance. There seem to be so many musical ideas in the track that the ending, a few final chords, is abrupt: after all that music you feel it should go on much longer. Tango songs often started as piano scores and I wondered how much of this variety was there in the original. I searched online for the piano version and came across this site which has keyboard versions of a number of familiar tangos, but unfortunately not Cristal. & of course I looked to find who wrote the original composition and found it was Mariano Mores, who briefly recounts his life in music here (an English translation). But what really jolted me were his dates: 18 February 1918 – 13 April 2016. It’s always astonishing when the tango past becomes so immediately present. The composer whose music I was dancing to so recently died just a five months ago, aged 98. He was 26 when Troilo recorded Cristal.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

​Mónica Paz in London, Bristol and Saarbrücken


Mónica's classes at Negracha have been moved elsewhere. Please check with Brigitte, – 07818 808 711.

After a single group class with Ricardo Vidort, the last he gave in London, I was fascinated by the tango of the milongas, and as it wasn’t really taught in London at that time I went to Buenos Aires. After Ricardo, I was looking for teachers whose hearts were in the dance and music, and the Argentine teachers who came over here were usually young ex-gymnasts, ballet and folk dancers who had learned and could teach and perform tango routines but weren’t dancers who had spent much time dancing socially. It seemed best to try and learn from dancers who had danced in the milongas for at least 20 years, which I thought would cover social dancers of the old generation who had started in the late 1940s and 50s as well as the younger generation who learned from them when tango re-emerged after 1984. I took a few classes from ​Mónica Paz, among others.

It’s really good news that she’s back in the UK next month. She took up tango over 20 years ago, and learned mostly by dancing nightly with the older guys, the generation that started dancing in the middle of the 20th century and have a lifetime of experience. Those who are still on the floor are unlikely to visit Europe now, and in any case speak little if any English. ​Mónica Paz is fluent, and a practised dancer and teacher who still dances regularly in the milongas. The tango of the milongas remains the touch-stone of tango, and you’re unlikely to get closer to it in London than in ​Mónica’s classes. Go to every one you can, whether you lead or follow! Dance practice can always be improved! People with a background in the milongas have an eye for details, they notice movement that doesn't look quite right and can suggest little adjustments that improve posture, embrace and walk.

​Mónica Paz is in the UK for the second time from September 6th to 15th:

SEPT. 7 Light Temple, Intermediate Class, 8:00 to 9:30 pm

SEPT. 9 Negracha, Intermediate Class, 7:30 to 9:00 pm

SEPT. 10 Corrientes, Intermediate Class, 9:00 to 10:30 pm

SEPT. 12 and 14 Negracha Workshops.

SEPT. 14 BRISTOL Tango West Tango Workshop 5:00 to 6:00 pm

SEPT. 14 BRISTOL Tango West Tango Workshop 6:30 to 8:00 pm

SEPT. 14 BRISTOL Tango West Milonga Workshop 8:30 to 10:00 pm

Workshops: Pre-registration required, first come, first served.

For private lessons in London: contact Brigitte, – 07818 808 711.

From September 16 to 18 she will be in Saarbrücken.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Betroffenheit, Tarabband... and tango

Betroffenheit is the German word for a condition now recognised as PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder, the suffering human beings go through after a disaster, combatants, civilians in war, but anyone at any time. Any of us. It’s the name of a recent piece of dance theatre, which I saw a while back in London. Canadian actor/playwright Jonathon Young wrote compulsively after the death of his daughter in a fire at the family home, recording the voices in his head, the flashbacks, the symptoms we now recognise. At some point he discussed the possibility of a theatre performance with Crystal Pite, who runs the Canadian contemporary dance company called Kidd Pivot. Formerly a remarkable dancer she’s now a choreographer with a very wide interest in what dance theatre can do. & with her choreography, with her group of very extraordinary performers, it seems there’s little it can’t do.

She says that dance is great at expressing emotion but poor at conveying a complex story. The disaster in Betroffenheit isn’t spelled out: an explosion in a building is mimed. It doesn’t matter: the point is that someone, in this case Jonathon Young himself, experiences it, perhaps is accidentally responsible for it or perhaps just feels he's responsible, and we hear his voice in recorded sound as he re-experiences it, re-imagines it. He looks for solace in addiction, suggested on-stage by the bright lights and colour of variety performance, the sequined dancers, the comics. But the voices are still there, and the first half ends with confusion and near-death. This part uses mime, the second part is pure dance, the bodies of her amazing dancers conveying emotion, states, it seemed, in which even gestures intended to be comforting could seem aggressive. At the end there were only six dancers on-stage for the curtain call. I was momentarily bewildered: where were the others? I’ve seen standing ovations at that theatre before: a dozen people stand up, then a few more, maybe half the audience on their feet applauding. I’ve never before seen an entire audience, as one, immediately on their feet, applauding. An extraordinary evening.

I thought again about this while reading the Guardian piece on Iraq-born musician Nadin Al Khalidi this morning. Born in Baghdad at the start of the Iran-Iraq war, suffering then the Gulf War, the invasion and the rise of fundamentalism, she managed to flee to Sweden. Having grown up on the music of Joan Baez and her generation she began to write songs and perform. If you’re in Manchester tonight, or Liverpool tomorrow, look out for Nadin Al Khalidi and Tarabband. Tarab is Arabic for ecstasy through music. Here they are:

What links these two stories is the power of the arts to give a form to human experiences that can be overwhelming by nature. I don’t think it’s catharsis in the classic sense, much more a persistent effort at coming to terms with something. The pain cannot be removed, it can’t ever be dismissed, but with work and effort it may be possible to give some form to the problems, which makes life possible.

& tango? I’m always grateful to a friend who initially visited Buenos Aires as part of a study on how societies recover from trauma, which is how she discovered tango...

(There a quite a few clips of Betroffenheit on YouTube but unfortunately they are fragmentary, and fragmentary clips of a piece that's fragmented by nature don't really convey it, but some of the discussions are interesting.)

Friday, 17 June 2016

Far from Buenos Aires

I left a recent London milonga evening feeling a bit unsettled. There’s often a couple or two who dance competitively rather than socially, for show rather than for pleasure, but it’s rare these days to have four, five, six, perhaps even more such couples. These days most of us at that milonga go out to enjoy a relaxed evening of dance and music with friends. In the ‘nuevo’ days the floor was largely occupied by extravagant movers and would-be movers, but the performance of a similar dance in close embrace, or something that resembles it, doesn’t make it social dance, and it can feel aggressive and egotistic. A milonga is open to all, of course, and accepts all kinds of dancers, but one can be forgiven for wishing that they’d choose somewhere else.

So it was very reassuring a few days later to chance on one of Normarin1’s videos of the Alo Lola & La Yumba de Dorita milonga in Buenos Aires. It’s probably no more or less crowded than a London milonga, but magically there’s room for everyone. Normarin1 focuses on an accomplished couple, who dance entirely for each other and with effortless respect for the other dancers around them. They enjoy an intimate tanda, without the slightest effort to show off how accomplished they are. Courtesy, tango from it’s city of origin. & the track, fittingly, is Lejos de Buenos Aires (Calo-Beron).

Perhaps the real highlight for me is early on. An older guy dancing with a young woman in red appears in the background from behind the woman who sticks out her tongue at the camera, and they cover a metre or two of floor, fast and gliding effortlessly, fitting totally with a phrase in the music. You can’t see the feet, as often happens at milongas there, and your perception is of torsos floating smoothly and energetically, anchored out-of-sight at floor-level.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Ricardo Vidort: list of links

Ricardo Vidort passed away in May 2006. I’m still hoping the website will appear this year, but since Jantango told me that much of the material is already online I thought it might be a good idea to put together links to all the available online material. I hope this will make it more accessible.

I’ve divided the links into three sections. First (of course) links to dance, dances in milongas first. My problem is finding the original link, which I’ve used wherever possible, but I simply don’t have time to go through all the repostings to find which is the first. & I’ve tried to put them in chronological order, but there’s not always adequate information. If any of these links are to your material and you’d like me to use your original link, tell me. & if I’ve missed anything, or got something wrong, please let me know.

After the dances, films of Ricardo talking, and finally links to transcripts of interviews. For these two sections we owe Jantango a lot of thanks, as she's given us a great opportunity to ‘meet’ Ricardo and hear him talking.

This isn’t all the material that exists. McGarry filmed frequently in the milongas, so it’s likely he has more than the six clips in Tango and Chaos, and his recordings are good quality for 2001-4 video in dark places. (In fact he says it was hard to start writing about Ricardo because ‘...there’s so much video’.) I know of two private sources which haven’t been made public for various reasons, and there’s certainly more from his teaching tours of the USA. However, I think these links to material that’s already available give us an excellent picture of Ricardo and his dance and I hope this collection will be useful. I used to think there wasn’t much material and I was surprised how long this list became! There are seven clips of Ricardo dancing in milongas, in addition to the demos and some wonderful videos of him talking, so it is an extensive and valuable archive.

1) As an introduction, here’s Muma talking about Ricardo (with subtitles). Muma danced and taught with Ricardo for a number of years. This is a four-minute extract with subtitles from Jantango's 24-minute interview with Muma for those who can follow castellano, as it's without subtitles. A lot of thanks both to Muma and to Jantango for making this available.

(Updated 30/05/2016.)


The earliest and best (I think!) are from milongas in 2001. These are all rather fragmentary and the video quality isn’t great, but the dancing is.

2 Ricardo and Muma dancing Cuatro Palabras in 2001. Sadly incomplete, but wonderful.

3 Milonga Bien Jaileife, Buenos Aires, July 2001 1

4 Milonga Bien Jaileife, Buenos Aires, July 2001 2

5 Just for completeness: Ricardo at Club Latino. This video is from Jantango’s private videos, and this is a copy. However, it’s only a very general view of the milonga floor and Ricardo hardly appears.

6 Rick McGarry’s chapter on Ricardo from Tango and Chaos. This contains six of his videos of Ricardo in Lo de Celia between 2001 and 2004. The text is McGarry’s recollections.

7 Hector Brea, Ricardo Vidort, Oscar Casas, Mary Ann Casas, and others at a rather empty milonga in Confiteria Ideal. Filmed by Ney Melo & Jennifer Bratt in 2003. Part 1

8 Confiteria Ideal part 2.


9 These two videos are from an event at Centro Leonesa to celebrate Ricardo’s 64th year of tango, so perhaps around 2003. Ricardo Vidort and Miriam Pincen: this is the well-known dance to Canaro’s Chique in Centro Leonesa. Undated.

10 This follows on from the previous video at Consagrados. Ricardo and Myriam are joined by Oscar & Mary Ann Casas, Osvaldo & Coca Cartery, Ricardo Viqueira & Mariana Hernandez.

11 Ricardo and Myriam Pincen dancing in Centro Leonesa (fast forward to 4:19.)These two tangos are cut into a short film on the history of tango.

12 Ricardo and Vilma Martinez in Centro Leonesa.

13 It’s said that Ricardo Vidort and Osvaldo Cartery were friends at the time they were developing their tango, and used to practice together. It’s wonderful someone was around with a camera when they reprised that practice.

14 Copied from Tango and Chaos: Ricardo with Alexandra Todaro. Worth including here because it loads faster than on the site. YouTube wasn’t available pre-2005 when McGarry was developing his site.

15 Part of this is from Tango and Chaos, but this particular version is longer. Ricardo dancing with Alejandra Todaro, and teaching (presumably) Rick McGarry.

16 Ricardo and Anna Maria Ferrarra dancing in Rome. An extended video, with two tangos and two milongas. Probably 2004-5.

17 Ricardo and Liz Haight: Poema

18 Ricardo and Liz Haight(?): Tigre Viejo

19 Ricardo and Liz Haight: Denver 2005 This seems to be the same dance as in the previous video but from a different camera. Poor quality film, with bleached-out colour.

20 Ricardo with Jessica Grumberg. Orquesta Tipica Victor, 'Negro'. A class or practice rather than a demo.

21 Ricardo and Jill Barrett August 2004 in Southampton I think.

22 Ricardo and Jill Barrett August 2005.

23 Finally, a compilation Myriam Pincem posted two years ago. It starts out with a demo in Centro Leonesa that I hadn’t seen before. It’s a new video to me, but unfortunately it’s quite badly filmed, very dark, and the dancing is obscured by captions telling us that it’s Ricardo dancing with Myriam.

This is followed at 1:50 by what might be another version of the marvellous Chique, Ricardo with Myriam in Centro Leonesa. I’m not sure. It includes Ricardo and Myriam entering the floor, so it’s a more complete version than the version posted by chrissjj which I linked to above (no. 9). Otherwise, it’s generally poorer quality, so it could be from another camera. Oscar Casas posted the video of the group demo which followed Ricardo and Myriam dancing Chique that evening (no. 10), so it’s possible that the version Myriam posts here is different and comes from him. Chique is followed at 5:39 by the demo I’ve posted as no. 10 above.


24 Jantango’s marvellous 17-minute recording from 2001 of Ricardo talking about tango… and life.


25 Jantango’s 2003 transcript of Ricardo talking about his life in tango. Previously published December 2003 in El Once Tango News.

26 Jantango’s transcript of Ricardo talking about tango as therapy. Previously published in September 2004 (Issue 44) in El Once Tango News (London) by Paul Lange and Michiko Okazaki.

27 An entry in Jantango’s blog: Ricardo talking about dancing in a milonga.

28 Another entry in Jantango’s blog, Ricardo again talking about dancing in a milonga. Previously published December 2004 (Issue 45) in El Once Tango News (London) by Paul Lange and Michiko Okazaki.

29 Jantango’s transcript of Ricardo talking about tango a month or so before he passed away.

30 The last conversation: Ricardo talking at the end of his life. This was made at the hospice in New Mexico where he died, by Camille Adaire RN who was putting together a documentary called Solace: the Wisdom of the Dying. This is a link to the full documentary.

31 Finally, as a summary, the video tribute to Ricardo, put together by Oscar Casas and others.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Carablanca and the Guardian

Some good sense about social tango has appeared in a national newspaper. An article in the Guardian about social dancing features Carablanca (the milonga, not the horse). It isn’t without errors (the milonga isn’t called La Carablanca, it offers good beginners classes rather than ‘tasters’, and it’s as laid-back as anywhere else about same-sex couples even if there may be fewer of them) but it’s great that a visitor notices that social tango is more about inner experience than outward appearance, and in reported conversations dancers say the experience of connection is what really matters to them. It’s great because people usually think of tango as outward show: nothing wrong with that, but a crowded social dance floor just isn’t the place for it.

A few days later the same paper published an article on actor Don Cheadle and his forthcoming film about Miles Davis, Miles Ahead. Don Cheadle is also a musician, and he comments on the experience of playing with a group of musicians: ‘I just love the experience of sitting in a room with people who can play... The fun of all these disparate voices coming together, all different walks of life, all different socioeconomic whatever, then you start playing music and all of that goes away... Everybody’s following, but nobody’s following. Everybody’s leading, but nobody’s leading. It’s an experience that’s unlike anything outside it. That’s the most fun I’ve ever had doing anything.’ All of which sounds familiar, but perhaps it’s not really surprising that the words of a musician describing improvising jazz echo the experience of dancers improvising tango.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Tango and copyright

Many thanks to Anon for the following comment:

'The linked pirate site indeed has a huge archive, but the legality of the stored material is strongly questionable to say the least.

I'd rather support folks who put in serious effort to transfer, preserve and (legally) sell tango music, such as those at Tango Tunes.

Or, if you'd want to recommend free (but still legal) way of spreading of Argentine tango music, how about linking tango radios, such as Argentine Tango Radio?'

You allege this is a pirate site: can you show that? I only know it has been online for some years. When I revisited it recently I assumed it would have been taken down long ago if the content is illegal.

I'm not sure how copyright works. I think in British copyright law copyright on music expires 50 years after recording. I seem to remember the Beatles 'Love me Do' came out of copyright a few years ago, and some aging rockers moaning about losing an income. However, it seems that if a record company has re-released the music, they (but presumably not the recording artist?) retain the copyright for another 50 years. I believe Argentine law used the same 50-year copyright period, and a few years ago this was extended to 70 years. I heard there's been opposition to this change, and a legal challenge on the grounds that the music (presumably tango) was already in the public domain, and had been taken back by private owners – presumably meaning the record companies.

& what is the position of people like Ignacio Varchausky in Buenos Aires, who is digitising tango, and putting high-quality tango on sale? Can he do that legally, if the tracks are already claimed by a company?

I'll add a few more links below. I'm glad to have a good collection of CDs, mostly from stores in Buenos Aires but some bought online here, and I enjoy the excellent quality. At the same time, I'd resent it if the music has become a corporate asset, to be exploited for the benefit of shareholders who most likely know and care nothing for it. People talk about protecting the performers in their old age, but I'm not sure if tango performers have ever been entitled to royalties from record sales, although one would certainly hope so. Performers now have contracts which include royalties, but I'm not sure if that would have been the case in Argentina 60 or 70 years ago.

Personally, I think the principle of 'public domain' is a great one and Project Gutenberg, a massive archive of free downloads of out-of-copyright books, is a wonderful affirmation of it. Scanned and proof-read by volunteers, it's maintained on donations. You can go into a bookstore today, and buy a brand new, legal copy of, say, a Dickens novel. I'm sure you can buy a legal download online too. But the same material is there in the archive, free, and also legally. (great catalogue and excellent advice) (El Bandoneón series) (Buenos Aires tango radio) (Tango Digital Archive: Ignacio Varchausky's great project to digitise and make available tango recordings.)

(& of course there's plenty more...)

Monday, 18 January 2016

Endre's comment

Thanks to Endre for this recent comment on my previous post on tango in London: 'Our community in Budapest somehow has the same symptoms you've just described. Related to the beginner leader drop out I use a simple but effective approach. It helped me and it helped some of my friends being desperate.' Thanks, and welcome, Endre! Good to hear from you. I'll try and add your blog to my Tango blog list, but I've had problems with that recently.

He links his comment to a post on a tango blog, Endretango, I hadn't noticed before. Endretango's native language may be Hungarian, but the blog is available in English, French and Spanish, and the English version is excellent. He advocates making a dance with an unknown partner a necessary part of every milonga evening. I already do this as much as I can, and I think many of us do it, but I've never thought of writing about it here, so thanks for putting it into words! I don't make it a rule, but I like to do it, of course. & why not, when you see the ladies standing waiting hopefully for a dance? I've had great dances and made new friends like that. After all, one of the great things about tango is that you can have an amazing dance with someone you've not met before.

(I should have made it clear in my post on London tango that I don't go to all the milongas, so when I said I didn't notice less experienced guys turning up, I was referring to a limited number of milongas. I hope those guys are are out there and busy on other floors.)

Endretango has a link to El Tango y sus Invitados, Tango and Guests, a site I'd visited before but never explored. It's difficult to navigate and I can find it only in Spanish, but it has links to a huge resource of music, including the collected recordings of Pedro Laurenz (it seems there are more early recordings than those available on the two usual CDs), Miguel Caló, Fresedo, Di Sarli, D'Agostino, Tanturi and D'Arienzo (a massive 998 tracks apparently) and many others. Working out how to use it isn't easy, and the downloads are in a compressed .RAR format, which might need another software download to decompress, but there's a lot of music at the end of it all, in .mp3 format at between three and four Mbs per track, which is reasonable. Having said that, we may well already have and know the tracks we really want to listen and dance to. The late tracks of Caló with a bouncy electric bass, and of Fresedo in stereo, are more like curiosities, but I've found excellent tracks from the earlier period that I wasn't aware of. (There again, that's probably an indication of my limits!) But when you hear one of those tandas that sound familiar but you can't place, you might find it easier to identify it as, say, Fresedo, but slightly earlier or later than the usual tracks.

The downloads include a discography for some of the artists, so it is a really useful archive. But I'm not sure I'll know what to do with 998 tracks of D'Arienzo! That's about two days non-stop listening...

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Thinking back

The year-end is a time for thinking back, and I've been talking with friends about their impressions of this last year in London tango. A major mid-week milonga, the Dome, closed this year, and I suspect others aren't doing well. Is tango here beginning to decline?

People often say there are too many events, and looking at the excellent London Tango Calendar, which covers mainly central London milongas, it's obvious there's plenty to keep us busy. On Wednesdays and Thursdays there are normally three events, and on Sundays five. On some Sundays there are as many as seven.

The Dome had been operating for 16 years, and was part of tango memory for many of us, but it hadn't been doing well recently, made worse by unhelpful moves by the landlord, the pub downstairs. Tango events don't sell beer like other dance events, and the management eventually decided to promote the beer. It's hard to say why it hadn't been doing well recently, but with three other events that evening, there were alternatives. It was a spacious but run-down venue, and when I first stumbled round the floor there, 'floorcraft' meant making sure your partners heels never went near any of the dozen-or-so holes in the floor. The floor was repaired, and it was a friendly place, but never particularly attractive.

One friend pointed out that there are now more milongas outside central London (we're beginning to see our own barrio milongas!) and also outside London itself. These aren't covered in the above listings. A few years ago you probably had to come into central London to dance, and you probably still do if you want the best music and dance, but you might well find local alternatives now. The scene is less centralised.

A very noticeable change is that a few years ago there was a highly organised conveyor belt bringing young, athletic teaching couples from Buenos Aires on teaching tours of the UK. This has disappeared. To judge by the Tango UK listings, most of the teaching here is now by local residents, some of course from Argentina. It costs a lot to bring teachers over and money has been tight recently, and perhaps people feel more confident about their dancing: these days we're more likely to feel we can manage on the floor without regular classes, and that we can get through an evening without a pre-milonga class and the additional help of meeting everyone beforehand. &, of course, the visitors tended to teach some form of 'tango fantasia', which was far removed from the reality of how people actually dance when they go out now.

A further good sign: one friend pointed to a number of excellent young women dancing now. This is certainly true, and it's a great sign. On a few occasions this year I've danced with young women I hadn't seen before, and I've enjoyed some great dances; thank you! Their musicality is assured, their posture and embrace are good, and they've learned to move well. However, I haven't really noticed the excellent new younger men who they'd no doubt like to dance with, but that's tango. It's always likely to take men longer than women to get to a level where they can feel confident on the floor, even if they are interested in the first place. As ever, many start out but there are many drop outs, too. But at least a lot of teaching is more geared to social dancing now, and newcomers are less likely to be misled into trying to master stuff that's not much use to them on the floor.

London tango has improved a lot, and at its best it's become much more recognisably social tango. It's no less popular, although it's still a niche in the general dance scene. Evenings of good music are appreciated more than ever, and the dance seems to be settling down here. But milongas will die away if they don't entirely satisfy their customers and if there are alternatives: it's just a natural part of growth. The music has to be good, the venue has to be adequate and accessible, the time of day has to be right (particularly at weekends), the day of the week needs to allow space in the schedule, the particular type of milonga needs to find enough supporters. Given central London rents on top of that, it's tough going for organisers of regular events. Good luck to them!

& best wishes to the entire tango community for many wonderful tandas in 2016!