Don’t try this in a milonga, folks …

August 8, 2009

Before a stuntman does his stuff, there is always a disclaimer “Don’t try this at home, folks”. Nobody really treats this phase seriously because everyone knows the stuntman is a professional, has everything setup and the stunts themselves are indeed quite scary, its obvious that you should not try it. (Well, not all stuntmen are professionals, some are just plain stupid but thats a different story).

Often there are performances in London Milongas such as Negracha. I don’t go to there every week … when I’m not there I’m missing Tango but when I’m there I know why I don’t go that often.

Some Londoners need a bit of inspiration when dancing and unfortunately they draw their inspiration from visiting teachers and performances. Theres always a little performer in them that can’t be contained and after a performance, the dance floor is where they feel they should try some new moves they just witnessed.

Obviously not all dancers feel the need to perform, it might just take three or four bad couples on the dance floor to screw up the flow and the rest can’t dance properly.

Its a shame, what London needs are some organisers who care about floorcraft and are willing to ask badly behaving couples to tone it down a bit …


Color Tango

July 15, 2009

I enjoyed Color Tango over the two nights they were at Negracha. I’m not a fan of live music, they never seem to get it right for dancing but this group is just a step above the rest. Their music was danceable.

As expected, it was impossible to enjoy dancing on Friday, so I enjoyed Thursday night much more. The music seminar on Thursday was very good, well worth the £10 (seminar only) or £25 if you paid for the whole night. If you missed out, then you can order it from various websites such as dancetimes or tangodance101 but its more expensive (I haven’t found a UK based site yet so if you find it please send it to me).

The seminar goes over music from different eras and highlights certain artists. The DVD is similar format to the one presented on Thursday night, various band members would speak and then there would be an English translation.

Dancing on Friday was impossible not because it was packed but because of a couple of couples exhibiting poor floorcraft and crashing into people and knocking them out of the way. Dancing on a packed floor is not impossible, its just more difficult, but when you have a couple of insane dancers (maybe 3% to 5% of the total number of dancers), that makes it impossible. I remember sections of the dancer where there were no insane dancers and the dancing was brilliant. But eventually as I flowed in the line of dance I encountered those couples and had to dance very defensively as it just got stressful.

UK Tango Championships …

July 8, 2009

The UK Tango Championships was held in Newcastle Upon Tyne in February 2009. I never made it up to Newcastle, a bit too far from London.

Update – the videos are no longer available – I doubt that I’ll find much footage of the championships online but if anyone has some, please do forward it.

The winners of the Salon Tango are Timothy Hospedales & Anja Stellinger whom I see dancing in London often and are quite good.

I’m not sure who the winners of the Stage Tango are but it would be nice to see who their competition was. It would also be nice to know what the scoring criteria was and what was so special about their performance that they deserve the title UK Stage Tango Champions.

I never think stage tango is as good as improvised tango. After a while, all stage tango seems to look the same (except these two, they do look a little different to the rest of the youtube clips out there).

From Ceroc to Argentine Tango

May 26, 2009

I started dancing several years ago with Ceroc/Modern Jive. While I never did win any competitions or reach a really really high level, I can handle myself on the social dancefloor. A popular measure for skill in Modern Jive was how cool or how many moves you know. After a couple of years, I had memorised enough moves to last a dance or maybe two without too much repetition.

But then I didn’t know where to go – I could learn more flashy moves but there’s a chance that your partner may need to know that move too. Some people move to other styles, usually west coast swing or tango. I’ve not known a lot of people who move from modern jive to salsa or ballroom but there are some that do.

When I first started learning tango, my modern jive mindset was still around. I wanted to learn more moves – fast. I looked different classes of different levels and tried to find out what move they were teaching. Some schools advertise a timetable and let us know that on this date they’ll be teaching a sacada or gancho if I hit the jackpot, a volcada or colgada.

Often I wrote down a description of the ‘move’ I learnt and if I could do the move on the other side I’ve learnt another move. And maybe if I could do it in both parallel and cross system I’m getting my money’s worth of moves. I also watched youtube for new moves.

Memorising tango moves were easy compared to modern jive where every night you would also do four intermediate moves so I thought it was only a matter of time before I learnt enough moves to dance with anyone and enjoy tango.

But then the music was annoying me. Modern jive nights played popular music. Stuff I grew up listening to, stuff I could listen to on the radio and stuff my friends listened to. What were these tango venues playing? All this horrible scratchy stuff. Then I found neuvo tango music like Gotan project and it got better. At least it was modern cool and easy listening music.
Its not stuff I would normally listen to but at least if I played it at home when my friends came over I won’t feel embarrassed. There was little chance I was playing the really old stuff to my friends. How could anyone dance to that stuff? Even the teachers at the school I was going to didn’t like the golden age stuff. They were into neuvo.

After about 6 months, I wasn’t learning any new moves so I changed schools. Immediately I was corrected on my posture, musicality, leading and other basic elements of the dance. Stage, the old school didn’t really spend a lot of time teaching these things. I wasn’t taught moves anymore but I felt that this time round everything was much harder. I was doing more things in close embrace and the teachers liked the music. Eventually I developed a similar liking for the traditional tango music. I didn’t learn any new moves though. In fact, I stopped using a lot of ones I learnt in my old school and even some I picked up off youtube. They just didn’t fit into the music or they made me look silly doing them.

A year after starting tango, I had enjoyed it a lot more than modern jive and now I might visit a Ceroc event once every couple of months. But it hasn’t been an easy journey and its far from over. I still get a lot of refusals when I ask a lady to dance. This never happens in Ceroc unless the lady is geniuely tired.

The music is much more important to be now – I used to dance to any song – Ceroc or Tango, but now, I only dance if the music is decent. I wish there were better Tango DJs here.

less is more

May 5, 2009

I was at Negracha on a Friday a couple of weeks back. I arrived late and didn’t make the class. I normally try to attend the class unless its being held by teachers I really didn’t like. Most of the time, I think that you will get something by attending a class. Even if you meet someone new or warmed up or got yourself in the tango mindset, you’ve got something out of the class. Whether or not its worth £2 (or sometimes more) is a different story.

Since I didn’t make the class, I wanted to warm up and dance with someone I’ve not danced before. But having arrived just after the class at Negracha means that there’ll be a shortage of women. Its strange, where do all the women go? In class, there are usually a couple of women over, but after class, there are loads of men sitting down. The music isn’t bad, but the men are sitting because the women have disappeared. They haven’t just gone to refresh themselves got there’s usually a shortage of women until around 10pm, a good 45 minutes after the class has ended.

I invite a lady whom I knew was a relative beginner. I keep my dance simple, just walking at first. She’s a bit tense but I was like that too when I started. Then an ocho or two. Not bad, she didn’t step too far and seemed to have decent control. Later a parada or a sandwich and she responds with a back boleo, low sweeping pivot and a triple tap up my leg before finally walking over my stopping leg … interesting. That was quite hard work just to walk over a leg. I try the stop again and she responded with exactly the same combination except this time the sweep was even lower. Clearly this came from some workshop or some class or maybe even a youtube video.

After the second song she said she was a beginner. I didn’t mind, and told her just to relax and enjoy the dance. No need to try and do fancy stuff. Social dancing is about having fun, no matter who you’re dancing with. We finish of the tanda but I keep it even simpler – no more paradas – theres no need for her to work so hard just to dance.

I wonder if she’s even having fun when she isn’t trying to do such fancy stuff? How much did she pay to learn to walk over a leg? She isn’t the first lady I’ve danced with that tried to go overboard just to walk over a leg.

Head of a horse

May 4, 2009

There are thousands of tangos and there are countless good songs. Where and how does one start when discussing music?

Lets start with a well know favourite:

So what do you think of the dancing? Its not bad, its got sexual tension, flirtation and seductiveness that makes tango such a sexy dance.

This is a popular song with Hollywood, you’ll see it in The Scent of a Woman and probably some other films as well. The song is called Por una Cabeza and was originally composed in 1935 by Carlos Gardel and Alfredo Le Pera.

Por una cabeza is one of my favourites. I don’t know any Spanish but when I heard the song on my Mp3 player the other day, something reached out and I wanted to know more about the song.

Here are some lyrics:

and also on wikisource.

In a nutshell, the protagonist is comparing love to gambling at the horses and although looking like a sure win all the way to the end, he  just loses out – by a head. Like gambling, he insists that he won’t do it again, but the temptation is too strong and in the end, he is still torn whether to gamble once again.

If you haven’t read the lyrics, then I strongly encourage you to do so. They are beautifully translated by Alberto on Planet Tango.

So, now after having read the lyrics, what do you think of the dancing in the video clip?

Is this song a sexy song? Can you visualise the sexual tension and seduction through the lyrics?

I can’t. But everyone feels tango differently. What do you feel when you hear that song?

To me, there is a sense of sorrow and loss. Everyone gambles on something. We all know the feeling when our gamble didn’t pay off. That if only feeling.

So what about the sexual tension and seduction etc? How does that end up in your dance? Its not in mine but then I’m no milonguero. If someone can find a video of a milonguero dancing and portraying the same sexual tension found in Hollywood movies I’d like to see it.

The shoe shine

April 12, 2009

Beginners love their adornments. For some reason at one stage or another a lot of ladies learn how to rub the foot over a mans leg while stepping over his leg during a stop. I don’t know whether this adornment has a proper name, but one of my teachers once called it a shoe shine.

In case you haven’t been taught it before, I’m sure there are many videos on youtube teaching it (problem is I don’t know its name) but here’s a video of Osvaldo commenting on a student doing it to him it in the first 15 seconds of the clip (this video is part 3, you may want to view part 2 first to get some context on what happened previously).

Unfortunately some women with poor basics (especially beginners and improvers) compromise their balance and posture when walking over the man’s leg and trying to do adornments. Some get tense, some have poor balance and feel a bit wonky and start to lean into the man.

People don’t notice you rubbing your foot, what they see is you shaking like a tree on a windy day.

If you must do that adornment, the focus should be on you lifting your leg/knee, nice and clean and stepping over elegantly — and obviously to the music. There should be some contact with your foot and my leg – otherwise you’re just waving your foot around in front of me and looks even worse when you’ve got a wonky structure, and gazing down at your feet since you don’t know where my leg is, you don’t know where to step over.

One of my roles in tango is to make the women look and feel good. Why do you insist on doing the opposite?

Empty your cup …

April 1, 2009

There’s an old story about a student learning martial arts from a master that I came across a while ago. I don’t remember it exactly but I’ll adapt it and post it here.

One evening before giving a lesson, a Milonguero is enjoying a bottle of fine wine when a tango student approaches him to discuss tango and hopefully get some advice to better himself. This student has been around and danced many tandas with all sorts of women and learnt from many famous teachers.

The student proceeds to tell the Milonguero of his experiences and all the different techniques he knows and he can do 99 different ganchos from the turn and knows all the different orchestras and then proceeds to the different teachers he’s had and how he’s looking forward to learning something from the Milonguero.

The Milonguero sits quietly and listens. After a while, he begins to slowly pour wine into this student’s glass. The glass slowly rises and fills up. But the Milonguero does not stop. Wine slowly begins to spill onto the table and eventually splashes onto the floor.

The student quickly yells “Stop! The glass is full, you cannot pour any more in!”.

The Milonguero responses, “Yes, that is true, just like you, the glass is full. Unless you come with an empty glass, how can I give you anything? No matter how fine this wine, it is all wasted”.

Here’s another version of this story which isn’t as good as the original I read many years ago. And I’ve came across other adaptations but they all share a similar story.

I attended a class the other night and although the sequence taught was focused on sacadas and giros, there was a detailed discussion on dissociation.

After the class, I was chatting to a friend who say that she learnt nothing from the class and thought that the men were rubbish. We dance. She is as straight as a brick.

A lot of students in London approach classes with a full cup expecting to fill it even more. The problem is not with the teachers who fail to add more to their cup, its with them not letting anything in. There are some who genuinely want to learn from a particular class or teacher – don’t waste their time if you can’t empty your cup.

Stop bashing the London teachers

March 31, 2009

There seems to be a lot of bashing of teachers in London. If you dance in London, you can see that its not brilliant and you could direct fault at the teachers. But I don’t think people should. I go to several teachers and they are all lovely people, both on and off the floor.

They all have good posture, musicality, leading, floorcraft, knowledge of tangos and milongas and so on. Unfortunately their students may not.

But then whose fault is that?

If someone drives over the speed limit and crashes, who do we blame? Do we blame the instructor? No.

Our teachers, like driving instructors, over a period of time pass on everything they know to their students. The students, being adults take what they’ve learnt and apply what they’ve learnt in the real world without the instructor.

I’ve been asked to return to the line of dance in class when I’ve strayed a little. Whenever a sequence is taught, we’re always told to start and end with the line of dance, listen to the music and look after my woman.

When a kick/gancho is taught, we’re always taught to look out for the space around us.

We’ve all had another couple crashing into us. We’ve all been kicked. (I’ve even been kicked up the bum on a crowded floor!)

I’m sure the perpetrators know exactly that they’ve been doing.

When we drive we know what the road rules are. We may get fined when we break them. How come some don’t on the dance floor? What can we do to get people to remember what their teachers say in class and not just the sequence that was taught? If we come across a crap driving instructor, we find a new one. If you tango teacher is crap, then why are you sticking with him/her/them? There are plenty of good ones in London. The questions then might become how do we know a teacher is crap and why are you still with them?

Yet another blog on Tango in London

March 31, 2009

Have we got enough Blogs about Tango in London? Probably, here’s yet another one …

Will I bring anything new? I hope so, otherwise there’s no point starting another blog.

Will I bring anything different? Probably not since the few that around are very good already.

Am I as experienced as any of the other dancers? No, I’ve done less than 2 years (as of 2009) so if you ever ask me about something and it conflicts with the other bloggers, their advice is probably the way to go.

Here are some other active blogs on the London Tango scene (please let me know if I’ve left you out or feel free to add it to the comments):