Reinventing our relationship with tango in these difficult times

My own Tango life has always been focussed on small creative regular group classes, private lessons, practise and studying the music.

For a time now all of us are of course losing two important aspects of our Tango world:

  • Dancing at Milongas – including the social aspect this provides
  • Attending classes

For me personally I will miss so much the input of professionals who have been consistently guiding me for 8 years.

I have also really enjoyed travelling to Spain to learn tango – another aspect that of course is lost in these times.

My reaction has been to concentrate on practise even more than before – with my current schedule totalling 10 hours a week.

I have found a way of combining weekly themes and a different orchestras in order to sustain interest over the coming year – or however long it takes before Tango can return to normality.

It is still early but so far this is working well.

We have found that focussing on how the theme might be used in the focus tanda for that week provides a lot of material and creates good learning experiences and discussions.

In addition I have personally always used Trello to store focussed notes and video clips from lessons – this is now proving even more valuable as we are also revisiting material from recent years – exploring it with new experiences and fresh eyes.

Here for reference is an extract from just one part of one board :

Using Trello all of us can review the cards and videos in our own time, and suggest items for the following week.

I completely understand that for many dancers my approach will seem hopelessly extreme – but as I lose the input of the wonderful teachers in my life for a while I am going to take the opportunity to work even harder to build on the foundation they helped me to create.

I am extremely fortunate to have 3 talented friends to work with – all of us are enthusiastic to progress and to keep Tango in our hearts and minds as these depressing events unfold around us.

Continuing to enjoy Tango is very important to us all – it provides a sense of energy, purpose and friendship – we all need to find ways to adapt in these changing times – and this is my personal solution.

Cancelling Our Milonga this weekend – a tough call

We have had to cancel our March 8th 2020 milonga at very short notice – just 6 days to go – and to our community we just wanted to explain why:

  1. Firstly – we are hesitant to cancel or explain our views because we are not medical experts at all and we are certainly not trying to create any precedents or advice of any kind for anyone else, especially other organisers who have put so much great and consistent effort in for so many years with so little direct reward.

    We are just making a judgement call on our own upcoming Milonga based on what we know at this time, which is so very early in the Coronavirus outbreak here in the UK.

  2. We are trying to give enough notice to our dancers in the very week when the government finally comes out with guidelines (tomorrow as I write this ) which of course are themselves designed to not cause panic and have little relevance to a tango Milonga – which is not a ‘mass gathering’ (assuming they even mention those) but has some characteristics that unfortunately favour virus transmission.

    They will probably recommend not being close to strangers and washing your hands – which is fine but not very helpful to us as Milonga organisers.

  3. We are trying to learn from experience as it unfolds – especially from a recent Milonga in Italy – which was only discussed in the news today. This was a tipping point for me as I had been lacking any real tango examples until I heard about this.

  4. Guidelines in countries trying to contain more established outbreaks is to allow bars etc to be open but only if you can stay 1m away from all other people – that is a pretty open embrace.


The Italian Milonga – you can read the article here https://www.ilrestodelcarlino.it/ferrara/cronaca/coronavirus-quarantena-1.5052963

That event was 100 dancers starting 21st February – at that date Italy had only 16 confirmed cases – jumping to 76 the next day – in the UK ( Monday evening ) we have 40 today and 6 days to go to our Milonga. 

Since that Milonga in Italy they are now trying to track all participants to isolate and test them – there have been – according to Facebook communities involved – 3 confirmed cases plus 2 with symptoms –  including one who had returned to Spain.

Example FB post here https://www.facebook.com/warren.edwardes/posts/2914500265237430 

[ permission to share received from Warren Edwards this evening – who is now also cancelling his Mayfair Milonga ]

I assume that his will of course increase significantly as it is only about now that dancers would normally show any symptoms.

We are just organisers – there is nothing special about us – of course we do spend so much of our energy and time trying to create something great month after month, and now year after year – but at the end of the day we are personally responsible for our events and for your well being and enjoyment.

Basically we are  trying to do our best and this is a difficult time to make such a decision.

Of course we are not health experts at all, and by making this call we will lose all of the Milonga costs – but at this uncertain stage our financial costs are completely irrelevant – as indeed they always are to us – when compared to the well being of our Tango community and ultimately their families and friends.

This virus, like so many things, will reach some conclusion and hopefully end up as just one of those temporary newsworthy things that our pathetic media loves and  exaggerates so much because that’s a story – and good news never is.

But right now we simply don’t have enough information, or a crystal ball, to be sure on what we should do just a few days in front of our event and so we just want to be responsible and to do whatever we can to protect our community.

We are looking forwards to starting the Milonga again when the time is appropriate and trying all always to create an amazing event for you guys! Thank you for so much support in the last year – we really, really appreciate those of you that so consistently support us month after month and give us such great, great feedback, advice and help!! 

Creating a consistent and high standard Milonga – in such a small community as ours –  is a hard task and we have been so thrilled by your support!

Lastly I am disabling comments on this personal blog because if you have any comments or feedback I would really appreciate if those could be left on the Lewes Milonga FB group so your voice and thoughts can be heard in our community, which is so important to us.

The post to leave any feedback and comments for all of us is here

https://www.facebook.com/groups/lewestangomilonga/permalink/2865409280191020/

Thank you!


See you back on the dance floor very soon!

Nigel and Jo!

Studying Tango? Good luck …

Next month it will be 8 years of throwing myself at this thing. Such an enjoyable journey, so many friends met, so many great experiences. Such deep music.

I have travelled many, many times for Tango, pushed myself, studied, studied again and sometimes – in the last year or so – actually danced with some sense of pleasure.

But despite this completely wonderful experience I do feel some disappointment, frustration and ultimately sadness. I want to work to change this.

In many ways I think that what tango is now, how it is presented, how we consume it – is fundamentally flawed.

It is the ultimate elephant in the room – where we all just ignore the presence of so much complete and utter nonsense – perhaps because everyone else does. And because we still want to believe – even though time and time again the real world knocks on our door and tells us that we are mistaken.

Photo by 7 SeTh on Unsplash

Trying to work this out I just want to think of some of the fundamental parts of the tango world, as I have experienced them, just one at a time.

Lessons

This is an improvised dance but 90% of teachers everywhere prioritise steps with little discussion of the embrace, communication or creativity.

What on earth is the point of this? If we do manage to keep learning for more than a few years then we as students have to fight so hard for even more years to escape from the collateral damage these teachers inflicted on us.

Learning patterns so you can pretend you can get through an improvised dance when a clueless person is watching has nothing to do with the beauty of feeling Tango. Yet that is what we so often get.

Milongas

So many possibilities – yet the reality for most people is an immensely unoptimised experience. Dire music, miserable environments, beautiful women who have made such an effort sitting on chairs for 90% of the evening praying that there might by a miracle be at least one leader in the room that knows something about the essence, music and beauty of tango.

And that they might possibly ask them – because it is apparently OK that they can’t ask but leaders can.

Festivals

What on earth is the point of these things? A succession of smiling choreographed professionals show us they can memorise lots of impossible things to do very quickly in 12 minutes.

Of course they can, they don’t have anything else to do and they spend months and months trying.

Who cares? Even if they made a mistake we wouldn’t notice because we have no idea what their predetermined sequence that they just forgot was ..

Choreographed performances, speeches and announcements, and through all of this beautiful women who have made such an effort are now sitting on chairs for 3 days on end rather than just 4 hours

Leaders

The gender imbalanced world of Tango means that once men know a few meaningless patterns and are not completely torturing followers they can keep getting dances and just stop learning because they don’t need to learn to meet their own limited ambitions.

Although of course this is understandable it is such a disaster for an intelligent, fascinating, difficult and improvised partner dance. But it is the reality. Especially – I think – in England.

Practise

This one I just don’t get. And I care about it so much. Because I want to practise.

If we love tango – and we want to work at it – because Tango has no valid shortcuts and we want to be better – why on earth doesn’t everyone I meet talk about how to practise, who you are practising with, where to practise – how to work, how to learn. How to sweat, listen, try, create – to make something. How to create something true to themselves.

How to break down any muscle memory of steps until they have completely gone. How to take yourself to where you have never been before. How to creatively exit in 3 different ways from this node. How to get in a zone but stay with the music. How to converse with each other. How to connect and stay connected and never ever lose it.

But they never do. They might talk about lessons, teachers, other dancers, sometimes Milongas and often festivals. They say they want to be so good at something so challenging – yet they don’t prioritise practise. They don’t work together – helping each other.

This I don’t get and I don’t think I ever will. It as if the Tango world pulled a colossal blanket over all of our eyes. It’s like a perfect conspiracy.

The perfect tango conspiracy

1 It is an improvised dance – ignore that just learn these wholly irrelevant steps instead.

2 It is hard – ignore that and don’t practise

3 It is the world’s most beautiful music – full of so many emotions that you can dance to – ignore that and have no understanding what orchestra this is, who the singer is and have no idea what they are saying – that’s just fine.

My Plan

I am going to find people who really do want to work at this thing. Great work, effort filled work. Sweat, frustration and joy – as obstacles of communication are overcome..

Practise – the thing we all should be doing but mostly aren’t. From now on I am going to chase this down – somewhere in the world there has just got to be a group of hard working people who see through the tango myth that surrounds them and want to actually work hard and get better at an improvised dance?

Surely.

No?

I would get on planes to find them. And I suspect that is exactly what I will have to do.

Ladies Tandas at the Lewes Milonga – the Music

I just wanted to explain my thoughts about Ladies Tandas at Lewes, from the point of view of the music.

Firstly there are three in each Milonga – and they are always in a consistent position – straight after the Milonga Tanda. I also announce them – and the heads up also tells you that the next Tanda is a Ladies Tanda, and what the orchestra is. This allows everyone thinking time to decide who to ask.

I try to be very consistent with the music that I make a Ladies Tanda.

  • Always more lyrical than rhythmic
  • Never too complex
  • But always with some emotional depth

Why is this important? Because the lady is taking a chance to dance with someone that perhaps they don’t know, and presumably they want to dance with.

I want them – and the leader – to feel confident that the music is not going to boring or dull, or stupidly complex.

As an example here are the first tracks of the ladies tandas in our March Milonga – with links to quickly listen to them if they are not immediately familiar to you:

Cantemos Corazón – Carlos Di Sarli & Roberto Florio

Recuerdo – Osvaldo Pugliese

Corazón Encadenado – Francisco Canaro

These are all beautiful songs – but they are even paced and not technically challenging. And as always the tandas are consistent with the first track – on which you base your initial decision.

Asking a leader to dance is already  an interesting moment – let’s make sure that the music supports both of you in your efforts to find enjoyment and perhaps a new social dance partner.

Tango Tandas – of 4 or 3?

When I first started playing music at Milongas a few years ago my instincts were to go with what I think if as the ‘Modern Way’ – where Tango tandas have only 3 songs but there is one more Tango tanda before the Vals.

Traditional : T T V T T M

Modern : T T T V T T M – 3 tango sides in each tanda.

At the last minute I was persuaded to stick to tradition.

A few years on and from now on when it is my own milonga I am going with the ‘modern’ system. Here’s why:

  • For those waiting for a dance there is a much faster turnaround
  • If you love the dance you have you will love it for 3 songs or 4
  • If you really love it you can negotiate another tanda and have many more chances to end up with 6 songs
  • If you aren’t getting on 4 songs can feel like an age
  • I can play a significantly wider selection during an evening

So that’s my route for the next few years – tango tandas with 3 songs and one more of them every hour or so!

YAY – let’s enjoy …

De Angelis – The Singers

As we learn more about ourselves and our Tango the music itself becomes a more and more important part of our emotional response.

For all of us it is hard enough to learn about the orchestras and the individual tracks they recorded. But in addition I do feel it is so worth understanding more about the individual singers.

The first singer in De Angelis’s orchestra was Floreal Ruiz, and others included Carlos Dante, Julio Martel, Oscar Larroca, Roberto Florio, Juan Carlos Godoy and Roberto Mancini.

At the Lewes Milonga on Sunday we will hear the orchestra with Oscar Larroca, Carlos Dante, Julio Martel and Godoy – from the 40s and the 50s

As De Angelis himself did I would like with this very short post concentrate on Tango itself – rather than Vals.

I have picked 2 of my favourite Tango tracks from the Sunday milonga – both from the 1950’s

Entre tu amor y mi amor – with Juan Carlos Godoy

Lágrimas De Sangre – with Oscar Larroca

To me these are both spectacular – wonderful to dance to – rich in emotion and so true to Tango. They show so well the impact and versatility of these amazing singers.

I do hope you enjoy dancing to them as much as I will.

Featured Orchestras – An Explanation of what this means at our Milongas.

At the Lewes and Tango Revolution Milongas I will each month be featuring an orchestra. As this sounds a bit academic – and it isn’t at all –  I wanted to briefly explain this.

Although I play music that often extends past the golden age – because I love to dance to that full orchestral sound and because there is so much amazing music into the 50’s and even beyond – apart from that I am in so many ways a traditionalist.

 I follow the time honoured rules – such as always playing at least one Tanda – and almost always more – from each of the big 4 ( D’Arienzo, Troilo, Pugliese and  Di Sarli). I follow the established format of TTVTTM. I don’t play Nuevo. Our Milongas are inclusive – welcoming to all, and encourage the Cabaceo. 

What the featured orchestra means is simply that I will play two Tango tandas within the 4 hours from that Orchestra. I will chose tandas that show the different sides of their work – because to me that is the interesting part.

A featured orchestra will always be outside of the classic top orchestras –  because they will often already be repeated in a 4 hour Milonga – out of respect and more importantly because their music is amazing.

I will normally be illustrating different singers or different decades. If they are strong in Milonga or Vals I may also play one of their tandas in that genre. But only if it is truly great to dance to – the dancers mean everything to me.

Please don’t worry if you are not yet that concerned with the music! There are over 20 tandas in a 4 hour Milonga – you won’t notice and please just enjoy the dance, the Cava, the cake –  and the company of your friends.

But if you are interested in learning more about the music – just watch the heads up display – and there will always be a post before the event announcing who the featured orchestra is this month – presenting a side from each of the tandas and adding a bit more context for you.

I hope you enjoy this approach. Increasing our understanding of the music improves our dancing and our respect for the amazing musicians who made this whole thing possible.

It adds so much to our amazing tango world.

Starting a new journey – Studying Individual Songs in Great Depth

I have always been thrilled to watch the great performers being able to improvise and leverage the individual track they are dancing to.

It’s like they know every note.

In one of those moments we all get in Tango I now realise that this is because they actually do. They really do know every note. They aren’t pretending they do. They really do.

And this took a heck of a lot of focussed listening. It isn’t some freaky genetic gift or super hero talent – they put the work in.

They can improvise with such great speed, inspired creativity and heightened enjoyment precisely because they really do know exactly what is coming – their focus is free to emotionally respond to it – and how to express that with their partner.

So I am starting this journey. I guess that I will need to listen to each track 500 times to be anywhere near where I need to be. And to avoid going crazy I decided to work on this with 3 different songs.

Based on the songs I have chosen that is already going to take 8:34 * 500 which is 70 hours of listening.  If I can be disciplined I can do this 6 days a week – we all have off days – and on those days I listen to them all 3 times. That is mathematically fairly neat – it is going to take 6 months of effort.

So – now to the songs.

Criteria for selection :

  • They get played in Milongas. We all want the chance to show off a bit after so much effort – don’t we?
  • They are emotionally complex.
  • They vary in rhythmic and melodic sections.
  • They vary in emphasis between piano, strings, bandoneon and – where there is one – the singer’s voice.
  • I actually wanted a majority of instrumentals as I thought after a few hundred listens the words might irritate me.
  • There are frequent pauses and still areas.
  • They aren’t Pugliese tracks – I couldn’t survive listening to the same Pugliese track 500 times in a row, 6 days a week for 6 months. No one is that strong.
  • They are tracks I just love to dance to.

So here they are – with – just for interest – the number of times I have listened to each one at home to date ..

El Último Café – Juan D’Arienzo & Jorge Valdez (97)
Pura Clase – Biagi ( 275 )
Felicia – De Angelis ( 223 )

I am going to fall asleep to these songs. I am going to wake up to them. Eat and drink with them. Walk with them. I plan to waft around the room to them pretending to be Carlitos.

Wish me luck!

How do you actually communicate that you enjoy something in Tango?

We do this for pleasure. Don’t we?

We go through the mill, play the game, go through so many years of learning, we negotiate embraces, steps, the complexities of the dance floor – and  we try to avoid defaults.

We try always to listen and to respond – to not just do what we always do.

We move in a way that is how this music – and this person – makes us feel. To enjoy it.

But when your partner really gets it right – how do you actually communicate that – so they understand and change their dancing to use that knowledge of how you feel?

How – in Tango – do we simply say – “That was great”.

More of that please.

In the moment. So we can build on it – so it makes a difference.

By the end of 9 minutes we should be ready for fireworks – we both understand what the other person enjoys. And of course by exclusion what is average for them.

Sometimes I think we can just smile. If the connection is special for sure a smile will be felt. When there is little noise everything is communicated.

Perhaps a slight embrace change?

What a shame if we don’t work this out. What a blunt experience if neither of us learn what the other enjoys fast enough to offer more – to build on that foundation of understanding of what we enjoy.

We have to show them – in the moment – how – actually – do we do that?

Why didn’t I understand that last year?

I frequently find myself a bit fed up because I finally get something in Tango and then realise that great teachers have been telling me that for years.

Why didn’t I hear them?

The problem – I now realise – is that there is no “finally” in Tango.

Especially with the big concepts – like connection, the embrace, energy, focus and musicality.

I did hear them.

And I am sure I tried to improve.  But I was only at the skill level I had, so exactly the same word and even similar sentences of patient explanation – could only be interpreted by my mind according to the experienced and remembered feelings of my body.

It just isn’t possible to understand the depth of these huge concepts using words alone – exactly the same word – “connection” – just has a completely different meaning to a professional than it does for someone like me with not yet 6 years of study.

We think we understand – it is an explainable word – but we don’t. We have to crawl there day by day – and when we make a noticeable improvement we tend to think we have “got it”.

We haven’t.