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!

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