A contract to dance a Tanda

A phrase that perhaps we are very familiar with. This idea of the agreement. Invitation, acceptance – contract.

But a contract to do what exactly?

It is certainly not a contract to spend 10 minutes together. We can so that at a bus stop. Nor is it a contract to do what you always do – with everyone – yet again.

Surely it is an agreement to create an individual dance together.

Whatever the limitations we find in each other – we are jointly contracted to create something unique and we should share with equal commitment to that venture. Perhaps we cannot yet create what we aspire to. But with patience, focus, and listening skills we can indeed create something.

This takes so much work – it is so far from easy – just look at this image of Joâo Alves dancing this weekend at La Baldosita Milonga.

He is working so hard. Not on showing his skills to the outside world – but instead on her, the music, and what they can create together. He did this all evening – dancing noticeably differently with each follower – adjusting so many things.

In my view followers listen more than most men – if they did not they would have no idea where to move. Leaders take a while to learn to listen to the woman’s body – they have a lot of other concerns of course – navigation, safety and what to lead next to name just a few. But perhaps this is an excuse.

What I am enjoying trying to learn now is how to focus on the art. On the work that we are creating. To listen to her and then to adjust totally what I lead and how I lead it – because this is her – and this is now – and that was her response.

Creation is not a science. In the context of social tango it is an artistic miracle. Great art always asks questions and people respond in their own individual way..

What I am finding is that within this context limitations actually become inspiring. In my view Picasso created some of his most powerful and engaging work with a charcoal stick and an ink pen.

Constraints help us to focus on the art itself and not on the froth of the possible. If we do not have an ultramarine blue to share then we must instead use what we have – and with care and respect create this kind of image and not that one.

Of course if we are accomplished – and I am certainly not – we would value the experience of dancing with someone equally experienced and talented. But for the rest of us we can derive great pleasure from creating the best art that we can in this moment – in this contract – with this person and to this music.

So perhaps look for someone to dance with who wants to create something individual, something transient and unrepeatable. Someone who listens to you – and above all then changes how they dance because of what they hear.

When you find them – sign that contract.

And smile.

Who would a UK follower be…?

After a few hours this evening musing over my memories, a well known book about black swans and some old and dusty statistical books I retrieved from the bottom of a cupboard I have a discouraging discovery to share.

… there is a 94% probability that there are actually no amateur male social tango dancers in the UK who can dance tango to an impressive enough level to really inspire the rest of us intermediate learners. Not even one …

I have basically established – through years of observation – that they just don’t exist. Tango is full of myths – and the really talented, advanced, UK male social tango dancer is apparently just another one.

I admit there is quite a wide margin of uncertainty here because I cannot precisely remember how many classes and milongas I have been to in the last almost 5 years without seeing one, and even worse I cannot find an estimate of the total male social tango population in England so I just made it up ( I guessed at 10,000 ).

I also struggled with the fact that looking at is plainly not the same as dancing with – so I might have not noticed him – but I countered this by positing that it might be equally possible to look inspiring but for this to be not reflected in the experience. So in the interest of making progress I ignored both of them.

I do accept some likely geographical impact on the data as it is totally skewed to the South of England and I am unsure of the bias implications of this. Optimistically we might dream that there is a small bevy of male dancers who can in fact actually dance tango at an advanced level hidden deep in the midlands or the north? Perhaps!

On a much more positive note leaders in the UK will therefore be immensely relieved to know that I am therefore putting my plans to spend much more time on learning to follow firmly back in the same mythical dusty cupboard as my old statistics books came from – as there doesn’t seem to be much point.

Unless ….

When our teachers dance in the heat of a milonga

We watch and we project ourselves into them. We imagine what it must be like. And we smile.

They had never met – yet they can create this together. The structures, techniques and codes of tango make these amazing moments possible.

We can’t really experience it, because we dont have the technique or the years to draw on. But we feel the heat just a bit.

And we should thank them so much.

For all their effort, their coaching. For coming to our milongas. For being amazing. For being human and yet so talented. For giving themselves to us week after week, year after year.

For always being there for us.

They inspire us in a way that other professionals just cannot. They have our hearts because we have all invested so much.

Because we have stayed with each other. Because we trust them. And in some small way perhaps they trust us also.

They trust us not just to be great students – but to be inspired to follow them, even when it get’s tough.

So let’s not let them down.

Matter over Mind – Unfortunately

I have had a few Damascus moments on my own road to learning Tango. The most notable was a few years ago when I realised the importance – and complexity – of the music.

In that one moment paths opened to me that enabled me to completely change everything in my dancing. Of course to do so needed more years of study –  a change of priority and a new awareness. But in that transformational moment I completely understood  the importance of the music – I realised that I was indeed wrong before – and so much closer to my goals in that at least I now understood what I needed to do.

I have consistently sought after and recognised great teachers. That isn’t a moment so much as a value. Who you learn from is so critically important, of course – but more like choosing the right road, once you have enough knowledge to even tell the difference.

But the latest moment is indeed another game changer – and it has come at a time to save me.  Or at least to give me a chance.

On the advice of one of my teachers about 2 weeks ago I sought advice from a dance trained physio. And yes – it turns out that my body is indeed beaten up.

So it doesn’t in fact default to a perfect tango posture – and asking it to do so just by thinking about it is just not going to work for more than a few seconds at a time. If at all.

But these things are so improvable. Just dont ask your mind to do it- because it can’t –

….in exactly the same way as it cannot in fact bend a spoon anywhere outside of hollywood.

Instead you in fact need a physical reset on your body. Pairs of opposing muscles can be treated when one side is too tense and the other too weak. Exercise programs can be set – and with your passion for Tango actually followed.

Deep tissue massage can break down blocks in the way that a million neurons cannot. Tense muscles can in fact be lengthened by someone who knows what they are doing – and what you are trying to achieve. Your pelvis can be put closer to where it should be.

And if – like me – you have been trying so hard with solo tango exercises and just getting frustrated – what a joy when it all comes together – when  your mind can play it’s role and your body takes it’s part because – finally – it can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Great – I hate my Tango

‘Hate’ is a strong word.

Tango means so many different things to us all. It can be a social thing,  just one ‘interest’ amongst many others, a hobby, a way to meet people – or of course it might be an all consuming passion.

For many – almost all – the passion eventually dies. For them it now becomes  ‘just a phase’ – the game is over and they feel cynical and frustrated. They might leave completely. They might hang on to a peripheral world – watching through opaque glass and feeling lost.

Sometimes – as with anything else that is so difficult – we simply lack guidance, friendship and inspiration when we needed it so much and can just feel so lost.

Nothing is constant and all of these things can change at any time – a friend or a mentor might be an important companion for such a long time. So you trust them. You need them.

Then they leave for something more important to their own lives. Or they just can’t cope with you and all your over emphasised and completely irrational focus on what is at the end of the day just one of many, many systems of movement to music.

For me there is only one constant.

Always, always there – in a frustrating emotional landscape. The fact is that I am always completely unsatisfied with my own abilities to move in any adequate way with an experienced partner to Tango music.

So – yes – hate is a strong word. But for me this emotion has been such a constant presence and without such a consuming passion to try and try again to be better I would be forever lost exactly where I am right now – in this moment listening to De Angelis – buried so deep in the endless mire of my own mediocrity.

So I welcome that feeling – the fact that I am so unhappy with the way I dance. I embrace it. I follow it.

And then I lead it – I lead it towards a place where I can be with amazing teachers, practise partners and social dancers and just get better. I lead myself and all of my emotional baggage to this largely – but not completely – imaginary oasis.

Not to talk about it. Not to understand it. Just to work hard and to dance better.

Yay.

The best ever 80’s Tango cortina – Milonga Esa Here We come!!

I am so looking forward to playing the music for the late night London summer edition of Milong Esa! Not long to go – July 22nd! 
The optional dress code is cool and relaxed – denim –  and I will be playing cortinas that are rooted in the 80s party theme .. so let’s have a party!

 

While I was on this journey of preparing cortinas I just found so many songs that a Tango addict would love the idea of interpreting ..   Move Closer, Self Control, Every Little Thing, Relax …

 

But surely – this is the all time classic.. just made me laugh so much – so here is a 45 second cortina ..  possibly the worlds most appropriate 1980s party Tango cortina..

 

Haven’t we all been there?

 

I need a Giro ..

“Where have all the good men gone
And where are all the gods?
Where’s the streetwise Hercules to fight the rising odds?
Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed?
Late at night I toss and I turn
And I dream of what I need

I need a giro
I’m holding out for a giro ’til the end of the night
He’s gotta be strong
And he’s gotta be fast
And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight
I need a giro
I’m holding out for a hero ’til the morning light”


Apologies to Bonnie Tyler and the lyricist!

When it’s all worth it

We work so hard at Tango.

Sometimes we can get a bit lost, feel that it isn’t worth it – that nothing should be this hard.

 

But then you dance with someone and you both just smile.

Tango is often such a wistful, sad and yearning experience. But inside so much of it is a wonderful chance to experiment, to play and just to enjoy yourself and the way you are both moving so freely to wonderful music and to each other.

In these tandas we absolutely understand why we do this thing. We do it for this. To celebrate our acquired skills. To enjoy the miracle of moving as one.

 

To dance.

Dancing with a Goddess – part I

Last weekend I had the chance to dance a tanda with a goddess – someone so far advanced of me in every aspect of tango that we do indeed inhabit different realms.

And true to the tango leader wimpiness that is alas so very common – even though she told me days in advance that at this milonga she wanted to dance with me – I still did not have the courage to actually ask her. I am such a mortal.

Fortunately for me in the end she gave up waiting and cast a mirada in my direction that made it very clear that if I didn’t actually dance with her this second I was very likely to be vaporized. Or worse.

 

 

This was not my best moment – goddesses like to be worshipped and for her to have to initiate the invitation was more than a little inappropriate.

After this hopeless start I am pleased to say that for me this tanda was a whole new experience.

During the sleepless nights I had had before the milonga I had thought of what to do – how to approach this opportunity.

I made some fairly sensible plans and approaches ..

1. Do not pretend to be something I am not

Legends are full of people imitating gods, venturing too close to the sun and to their domain – and coming to gruesome ends.

Unfortunately being in the arms of a goddess does not make you a god – just terrified.

Be quiet, still and as confident as you can be – and never rush anything. In fact what you think of as fast is painfully slow to a goddess – just as what you think of as slow is kind of average. They are physically so adept that you are best to move at a pace that is the most appropriate for you – do try to vary the emotional landscape using musicality, compression and step length but stay in your executable zone as much as you can so that your lines are clean.

Goddesses don’t like messy lines – they are a sign of mortality.

2. Concentrate on the music

I have thought for a while now that the conversations people describe in tango are often not between the leader and the follower but instead between the follower and the music.

When you are with a goddess you have insufficient shared  vocabulary to say anything other than the dancing equivalent of “Hello – what’s your name?”.

But she has an almost unlimited way to talk to the music in the most complex and sophisticated ways – so try to give them space and to stay out of their way.  Then listen like you have never listened before. Listen with everything you have – apart from letting the music in your ears are nothing to do with it.

Listening to the way a goddess expresses the emotions of tango is a powerful shot of understanding. Don’t miss out.

3.  Don’t be too simple

Many well meaning teachers explain to us student leaders that a good follower will enjoy a beautiful walk more than a poorly executed complex figure.

This is true – the problem when you are with a goddess is that ‘beautiful’ has just been radically redefined. Me leading a goddess to walk for even one whole bar is quite likely to result in her conjuring up a taxi to rescue her from such a painful experience.

So find the middle ground. Of course a mortal should never try to back sacada a goddess – but if you love your close embrace volcadas you shouldn’t shy away from them just because they are off axis. The sensitivity and control in the axis of a goddess and their ability to suddenly become virtually weightless in your arms are a complete joy to experience – so don’t miss out by safely sticking to a true beginners vocabulary.

4. Allow her to look like a goddess

Remember that she is actually taking a risk here.

If I don’t give her her axis, if am not musical – if I block her from moving how she wants to then she is going to look mortal – and that for her is hell.

So above all let her be feminine elegant and beautiful – let her move in the way that only a goddess can.

5. Try to remember to breathe


Life after a tanda with Her

There are risks of course. Every tanda ends and once you have danced with a goddess dancing with mortals is always going to feel different.

The optimist in me tries to think of this as progress. The realist sees a narrowing corridor down which i must progress – with fewer and fewer possibilities.

My goal now is to find a wannabe goddess practise partner who has had the same all too brief encounter with a god and is as motivated as I am to experience it again. To find someone that that wants to work and work and work so that they can again tempt the god to spend just 12 minutes in their arms.

I don’t want to push the metaphor too hard but i have been quietly thinking how mortals have tried  to appease the gods over the millennia and how they have attracted their favours.

Unfortunately I don’t have the skill or strength to build a temple. Sacrifices are basically out of the question. I am no prophet and I lack the ability to move mountains or to part the waters.

So I am pinning my foolish mortal hopes on nice chocolates and flowers.

And that practise partner.

Tango and Italy .. and another evening gone..

Another evening has just sunk from sight into the all consuming quicksand of Tango.

It all started as I was listening – for the hundredth time – to this absolutely beautiful late Di Sarli tango – Domani – sung by Mario Pomar. I just love this tango so much.

And then for some reason I thought  – why is it called Domani?

The  lyrics are Spanish of course. A bit of google translate shows that the protagonist – as usual crying in the bar – is called Don Giovanni. And once again – the orchestra  is Di Sarli.

And then I just started asking questions about the influence of Italians in the development of Tango. Fortunately I unearthed a wonderful paper by Llaria Serra :  ‘ “Italian Tango” Between Buenos Aires and Paolo Conte ‘ .  This is downloadable from here.

I just wanted to note some of the things from this paper that really interested me. There is much more of course..

  1. To quote Piazzolla himself “Sobre el tango flotan las melodías de los italianos”.
  2. The formative years of tango were 1890 – 1920 .. and Italians comprised 60% of the total immigration to Argentina before 1890.
  3. Italians were the organ grinders who first brought tango’s notes to the streets, and Italian men were among the first tango dancers.
  4. The tango had not yet reached downtown; it lingered in the suburbs, on the sidewalks, in front of the tenements where men danced accompanied by the hand-organs played by their owners, Neapolitan and Calabrese men with shiny black hair.
  5. One of the most beautiful definitions of tango in Argentina belongs to a famous composer and son of an Italian immigrant, Enrique Santos Discépolo: “Il tango è un pensiero triste che si balla” (“Tango is a sad thought that you can dance”).
  6. The harmonic structure of the first tango, according to Ucci, came from Italian opera and the Neapolitan canzonetta, with a preference for melodramatic themes of love and betrayal, and a lyrical style of violin and guitar playing.
  7. Just looking at he surnames Italian origin musicians that played tango throughout the golden age Matteucci lists 231 “bandoneónistas” (from Enrique Alessio to Marcelo Zoppolo); 138 piano players (from Juan Abbondanza to César Zagnoli); 179 violin players (from Juan Abatte to Orestes Zungri); 154 among viola, cello, double bass, guitar, flute and clarinet, and drum players; 57 poets and lyricists (from Santiago Adamini to César Vedani); and 55 singers.
  8. And going beyond their adopted names – who would have thought that Roberto Chanel’s real name was Alfredo Mazzucchi? or that Canaro – of course born in Uruguay – was actually called Canarozzo ? or that Firpo was born into a Italian family? And De Caro.. and Troilo ..

This wonderful paragraph completely intrigues me :

Today, tango in Italy has become a recreational dance. Lessons provide a meeting place for socialization but also a locus of difference in which to escape daily life. Tones of exoticism and positive otherness blend with “mysterious elements of virility, feminine beauty and sentimentality,”  and this “hybrid producer of otherness” has become an “example of a globalized postmodernity that can become an identity.”

I stopped myself – I had actually typed ‘locus of difference’ into a Google Search – but as my hand hovered over the enter key I felt the atypical urge to stay sane.

Another night, perhaps.

 

The Draw to Perform Experience

This is a composite video of Day 1 – what a wonderful summary of such a diverse series of performances.

This was such an interesting time for me. Meeting Jan, being around such artistic talent – experiencing something new.

Artists are all credited in the video – but from me a special thanks to Jan Rae, Ram Samocha and to Domenico Dominelli for creating such a professional summary video.