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!