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Showing posts from August, 2012

Building a Better Tango Scene, Take 2

Perhaps the local dance scene isn't all that you would like it to be? You could complain, you could move towns, you could stop dancing altogether (??!!) or you could progress from being a tango consumer to being a tango scene builder and try to build a better tango world.

This doesn't have to be a big commitment or even a big deal. You could help new dancers or visitors to feel welcome, help organizers to clear up after their milongas occasionally...every little bit helps.

Perhaps you'd like to do a little more to help things along? Here are some ideas.

Support Promotional Events

We've been lucky in Welli that the Argentine Embassy has organized lunchtime milongas at the railway station with live music provided by 4XTango. This is a GREAT opportunity to get tango into the public eye. Consider taking a break from dancing at these events to chat to people who stop and watch. They're more potential new friends, right?

Encourage New Organisers

A fact of life is that everyon…

Little Leaders/Tall Followers

There are more men wanting to follow, these days, and more women leading, so it seems timely to highlight that tall or heavy followers have a lot of leverage over small leaders, leading to smaller leaders experiencing headaches and painful necks and shoulders.

The follower needs to have excellent technique so as to be as light as possible but still with a positive connection. The slumping, slouching and heaviness associated with poor technique, in combination with the taller followers' leverage, will only lead to 'morning after' problems and probable visits to their favorite osteopath.

So, if you're a taller man or woman and would like to try following one of the Leading Ladies then you need to be aware of this, and do your best to be a light follower by at least trying to reach through the ceiling with the back of your head. For more detailed help on technique then ask a teacher, and if they can't talk about technique then perhaps find a better teacher.

Posted wi…

Cabaceo in a small tango scene

I originally wrote this a couple of years ago and decided that it needed a refresh, based on a conversation with a newbie a couple of nights ago.

New Dancers
My new dancer said that two men from her class had gone to their first milonga recently and had been turned down by women because they had asked the ladies rather than using cabeceo. They were new and they were being brave at their first milonga, but they simply didn't know about it.

Our local scene is not so large that we can afford to greet new dancers with disdain. More grace on the part of the ladies might have made these newbies feel more welcome and encourage them to come back!

Some might say that it's their teachers' responsibility to ensure that they have all the tools necessary for the milonga. However, good manners cost nothing and a kind word could easily help ease new dancers into this new world.

Lighting at milongas is THE critical element for cabeceo and whereas Argentine milongas have ALL the lig…

Respect Yesterday, Build Tomorrow, Love Today

Here's a link that I find really interesting from a historical perspective:

The dancers are performing demonstrations and include:

Carlos "Petroleo" y Alejandra
Raúl Bravo y Haydée
Antonio Todaro y Tití (his daughter)
Pedro Villafañe y Alejandra
Kalisay y Tita
Oscar y Beatriz
Omar Boragno y Marta
El Lecherito e Isabel
Fame y su compañera
Fulto y su compañera
Hector Ruso y su Señora
Arturito y su Señora
Virulazo y Elvira
Miguel Balmaceda y su Señora
Roberto y Angelica
Molina y Teresa
Cocco y Mercedes
Chamorro y su compañera
Coco y Betty
Rocha y Delia
Pedro y Chola
y otros...
There are some big names from tango's history, here, and while one can read a great deal on the web about the legends of the past it's difficult to reconcile what one reads with videos such as this and others. Their audiences are very impressed and they appear to be very good for their time. But now? Not so much. Perhaps their dancing away from these performances is much better?

It's a reminder, I think, to danc…

Starting Out as a Tango DJ

Have you ever wished that more of your kind of music was played at milongas? Maybe you'd like to try being a DJ? Today's DJs tend to be tomorrow's organizers and it's always good to have a number of experienced, confident DJs in a dance scene.

As far as gathering music is concerned I regularly check demos on YouTube, not for the dancing but for the music. If I like it I'll check my collection in case I've missed it and then buy it from iTunes. I like to pay for my music and iTunes has mountains of tango music now.

The great thing about online music is that you get to sample the first minute for free. I only listen to the first 30 seconds, usually, because I want my dancers to be enthusiastic and if they're not captured in 30 seconds then it's probably not going to happen.

You'll be able to spend happy hours sifting through Donato, Pugliese, Canaro, Troilo, Biagi, Rodriguez, Calo, D'Arienzo...there are soooo many great songs!

The big thing is to…

Our Teaching Phrases

Our teaching phrases change over time as we find better ways to describe the same thing. Here are our current ones with some clarifying text for both leaders and followers. These apply to both close-hold and open-hold. The only difference between the two is that open-hold is much more demanding to dance well, whereas you can stumble around the floor equally in either close or open if you have no idea what you're doing. Here they are:

"We don't teach steps, we teach Posture, Connection and Movement."

- "Stand up tall, build a bridge"- Build a bridge to your partner with your chest, rolling forward from the ribcage upwards, no more than 1-2 inches/3-4 centimetres. The bridge has to have strong foundations i.e. soft floppy knees won't work. Try changing weight a few times with soggy legs and see if your partner even notices it. Try it again with strong legs. SURPRISE!

- "Weight on your heels or mid-foot"- Weight on your heels or m…

Proto-Feminism and the Woman's Role in Tango

Many nuevo and tango dancers resort to set-piece choreography and hip-turns etc largely because of a fixation on the "woman's role" and "man's role" rather than the simpler concept of leader and follower.
This is assisted by the arrival of large numbers of ballet and contemporary dancers in tango over the years, all of whom are very good at expressing musicality when solo but are not accustomed to the tango concepts of lead/follow and one body/ four legs.

A popular phrase among well known female teachers and performers is "I believe that the woman's role is 50% of the dance". This is usually translated into the woman leading on occasion, changing weight when she wishes, and suggesting new directions by her movements when she turns. The result is an "after you, after me" approach to dancing where both partners dance slowly while each interprets what the other intends.

I believe this has come about because of a misguided application of…

Womens Technique Mens Technique

I'm by turns amused and frustrated when I see classes advertising women's technique (whereas I'm usually just amused by classes advertising a 'new' style of tango). In my mind's eye all I see is a room full of well-intentioned women earnestly practicing how to dance really well on their own, but whom I'd never ask to dance.

Learning to both lead and follow quickly establishes what does and does not work in terms of the simple body mechanics of fitting two bodies together within what is quite a rigourous musical structure (I'm obviously not talking about tango nuevo music here). The techniques taught in these classes may look good on YouTube to an inexperienced eye but they look and feel utterly dreadful to myself as an experienced leader.

The irony of all this is that I am a popular leader in every city that I've danced, but I couldn't have become the dancer that I am today by dancing with the women who attend these classes. I've danced …

Dance With Nice People

One of my most important pieces of advice for our students is to dance with nice people, and be less concerned about whether they are amazing dancers or not. The principle is that if you dance with people with whom you are simpatico then you gain a larger and larger pool of simpatico people in your dance scene. No-one gains from elitist snobs having undue influence in a dance scene. I think that we've all been there and in many places that is still the reality.

Beth and I have experienced a wide range of attitudes in milongas in a large number of countries and cities. Our preference when arriving in a new dance scene is to "fly under the radar" rather than be introduced as teachers, in case we are seated at the Top Table, if one exists, and to allow us the freedom to identify friendly people. This is because we usually become popular after we have danced a tanda or two, and usually popular with the wrong people.

We've danced in several cities in the past year wher…

Leading Ladies

We frequently meet women who have become flight risks from tango because they have been dancing several years and want to improve, but are frustrated by the small number of men who wish to improve.

Similarly we meet many women who wish to dance more than they do, often waiting for 40 minutes to an hour at a 2-hour dance. This is not a case of 'learn to dance better' because many of them dance better than, for example, the Young Pretty Girls (YPGs) at the same dances who often are being danced off their feet.

We advise these women that their development as dancers and/or access to increased dancing time relies on them either learning to lead, or being prepared to follow those women who do. This is unwelcome news for most women who began tango expecting to dance with men, but it's the reality in a world where women are generally the majority at any milonga.

The men, by comparison, can afford to be complacent about their dance ability because they are always in demand, no m…

Tango Etiquette

I read and hear all kinds of tosh regarding tango etiquette by people who should know better. A few people have tried to shoe-horn things into Wellington tango over the years because "that's how they do it in Argentina." Most people have been too sensible for these ideas to take hold, but new people are made to worry far too much about this kind of thing.

What those people and websites don't tell you is that it's not all roses in Argentina, especially for women. Women in milongas in BA are expected to sit and wait until a man comes within range, rather than move to a better location or walk around the room to improve their chances of getting a dance, as the men are able to do. Shall we import that one, too? And women leading? Not in BA unless you're at a gay milonga.

The following is my view on a few of the etiquette standards that people try to introduce from time to time. I think that etiquette needs to fit our culture, otherwise we risk living in 195…

Dance Your Personality

It still seems incredible to me today but a few years ago in the depths of tango politics when the local scene was on a knife edge, I was taken aside for a coffee and told that I had to change the way that I danced.

The guy's rationale was that I was an influential dancer and because I danced in a manner that I think of as 'expressive' it made new people think that tango was danced only that way, whereas the all-night basic-8 close-hold shuffle (with minor variations) was in fact the One True Way. Oh and could Beth and I please not express our affection on the dance floor quite so much, because the hugs and chaste kisses were quite excluding? All these things were apparently causing people to drop out, or not take up tango in the first place.

I was flabberghasted and realised that someone I had considered a close friend was not in fact a Natural Friend at all. He was UnNatural, as it were! Of course, one of the reasons that people were not dancing tango so much was the…

Tango Politics and Natural Friendships

Many people in many countries complain about tango politics and how the world would be a better place if everyone was simply a bit nicer to each other.

A more constructive approach to politics is to accept that politics is part of everyday life, and concentrate on growing the local scene and developing natural friendships, rather than waiting for the arrival of a happy happy joy joy world.

Every community of interest that has been around for a few years has politics, because people accumulate history with each other. Tango in Wellington has had politics for years. Salsa has had it for years, ballroom has had it for years, my sister's celtic music scene has had it for years. Politics are quite normal in communities of interest and the key is one's attitude toward reducing their harmful effects.

In the early days of tango, anywhere, the scene is small and everyone tries to get along to varying degrees. This is a bit difficult because we can't be natural friends with eve…

Planet Teacher and the "Top Table"

Travelling as much as we do we tend to see patterns repeating themselves in various cities around the world. One of these is Planet Teacher, a place of rarefied atmosphere where reality takes on an altered perspective.
Another is the Top Table phenomenon. These two patterns tend to go hand in hand. It's an understandable human behaviour, but while they are good for the egos of those at their centres they don't do much for the development of the local dance scenes. There's not a lot of dignity in them, either.

It's a really big deal for a lot of people to be seen as teachers. I've actually greeted people at our practicas and had them tell me in their first breath that they are a teacher from another town. It sounds a bit sad and needy, but there you go.

Some of these people lose perspective by knowing more than someone else. They seem to feel that they have achieved membership of an elite, and we see many of them in various cities lose interest in dancing wi…

Style, and Leading/Following

I tend to agree with Rick McGarrey on a lot of things, and this is one of them. Style? Really? Is that different from posture, connection, musicality? Or is it just a means of selling you something? Milonguero, Villa Urquiza, Tango Nuevo, Neotango, Apilado...Good grief....

Tango is straightforward as long as there is a leader and a follower. They are two sides of the same mirror, and learning one means that one has largely learned the other. It's a bio-mechanical relationship based on simple rules of posture, connection and movement. This simple relationship makes it very easy to lead and follow complex movements at a range of speeds to fit tango's expressive music. On-axis, off-axis, it's very easy and straightforward as long as there is one leader and one follower, and it's also easy for the partners to change roles mid-dance if they wish.

Moving from the lead-follow model to an interpretive model with a "man's role" and a "woman's role&…

Dancing Well with Everyone

I get a lot of comment that I make most of my partners look like really good dancers. There's no special skill to this. Just pay attention to the basics, whether one's partners do or not. Stand up tall, chest slightly forward, walk to their centre, dance with their feet. The last one is the most important.

All I need from them is the feeling that they are trying to follow and won't guess too much.

If my partner strides confidently around with a lot of attitude, guessing every step and without any respect for my axis or our connection...I don't usually dance with them very often.

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Hometown Teacher Syndrome

A common complaint of tango teachers is that their local scenes don't recognise the teachers' ongoing improvement, and still think of them as Bob and Jenny from down the road, whereas they themselves feel that they are actually accumulating more knowledge and experience and becoming more valuable as teachers. This becomes a problem if one is trying to earn a living in one's hometown as a tango teacher, but if one still has a day job then it's just a burden to one's pride.

Living in a relatively small tango scene as I am, I'm reminded of this quite often. I'll be dancing with a newbie (or experienced dancer) who hasn't been taught much more than nudge-and-guess, and who cheerfully pulls me off axis with every un-led weight shift and overstep, while gaily telling me that I have "such an unusual style". Oh dear. At times like these I console my bruised ego with my being a popular leader in whatever country I visit, and and having enjoyed the …

First principles and learning at the end of the world

This blog arose following an exchange with a new friend who lives in a small city in the US. He's struggling with learning this amazing dance and is frustrated by being so far from good teachers.

I put together the following advice for him, which I have found to be consistently true in a range of countries.

You may feel that you are at the end of the world, tangoically speaking, however if we can become good dancers in New Zealand then you can certainly do it from Smallville, USA.

Private lessons are the only way to learn, group classes simply don't work. Our first trip to BA had us doing 30 days of 2 x 2-3 hour group classes each day, followed by hours of dancing every night. We took classes from a range of teachers of different ages and styles. None of them covered the essentials of posture, connection and movement.

We kissed a lot of frogs before we found our prince, and we have been focused on private lessons ever since.

You also need to be prepared to kiss a lot of frog…

Building a better tango scene

Patient reader, before continuing let me reassure you that most tango scenes are friendly. We travel for tango a great deal and have danced in many countries and, with a couple of notable exceptions, tango people are usually welcoming and sociable.

However a recent email from a new friend in Massachusetts, an experienced dancer but new to tango, prompted a reply which resulted in this article. Building yourself a friendly, welcoming dance scene is quite do-able, and most people are very capable of doing so. There are some very simple rules:

Don't dance with people who make you feel bad. Dance with the nicest smiles in the room.Treat everyone that you meet as a potential good friend. This is where the Natural Friends concept kicks in: if people are cold and snobby then it's easy to be offended and hurt, whereas if one mentally takes a step back and considers, "Wow! We are REALLY not meant to be friends!", then some of the heat is taken out of the hurt, there is no bl…