As someone who has been constant over the last almost 9 years in my lack of interest in any tango that is choreographed – it really is interesting to start this personal journey now.
The initial lessons for me are really powerful, and I suppose if you have been choreographed before then they are obvious – but I never have been.
Some highlights for me as I make the first hesitant steps on this journey:
It is fundamentally liberating for the follower to actually know what’s coming next. It really changes everything for her.
If we are serious about learning Tango we all want to push boundaries and break down barriers.
In a choreographed world for the follower so many things are now ‘enabled‘ and ‘allowed‘ – she can get the most out of every moment, and move her body in way that would carry an unacceptable risk in social dancing.
I can already sense as a leader that new links to the music are opening up, in a very precise and different way from improvised dancing. This is exciting – some more elaborate, choreographed moments can certainly be brought back to the world of improvised tango that I love so much.
More elaborate footwork – for example – will not disturb her as she quite rightly has little knowledge of what embellishments a leader’s feet are doing.
Thinking about an audience is another perspective – I have cared for a while now about aesthetics – but not in this way.
In a way though it brings back a whole new anxiety – as a leader in a social dancing world I can be in the moment – move from node to node, improvise my way through the dance – and that place took a lot of effort to occupy with some confidence.
Now I am anxious that I might forget what’s next.
And in a way that makes me a follower – in that I have that mindset that I need to push beyond – am I about to make a mistake?
We need to stay in the present to enjoy the magic of Tango.
Follower’s anxiety drags us into the future.
So – I think – does choregraphy.
But it is yet another layer in this unlimited journey – and that of course is just fascinating.
I am writing this at the end of May 2020, and so we have been without our Lewes Milonga for 4 months – as we cancelled our early March event. While some organisers and teachers continued for some weeks – basically our community has lost the chance to dance and practise Tango for 3 months.
And realistically there is no end in sight.
I imagine that larger local milongas like Lewes with 60 dancers will not be permitted until the end of the year – as social distancing is a sensible precaution long after the worse is behind us – but social distancing and larger tango events are of course completely incompatible.
I worry that this might have put the validity of the Brighton / Sussex community at serious risk.
I have been so fortunate that I have been able to work really hard throughout these times, practising hard and using videos to help replace the eyes of our teachers – and now to help them work with us through online reviews. I have personally never worked so hard at Tango – and in terms of learning and continuing to develop I miss only the physical presence of my teachers and mentors.
But for the majority of our tango community this is not the case and – apart from solo work and support through online sessions – our dancers will have been deprived of the chance to dance, study and improve.
Tango of course is a difficult dance and requires constant practise and study to retain your confidence. Many of our community were already inexperienced – with less than 5 years of Tango – what kind of impact will this hiatus have on their abilities, confidence and therefore pleasure in Tango?
What percentage will we have lost? I don’t know the answer – I am just concerned.
Will we have lost any local teachers that have been working in the community for so many years? It is almost impossible to earn a living by teaching in a local community but this consistency is what a true community needs. Our teachers will have been under extreme financial stress for perhaps almost a year – if this causes anyone to give up I think we would all completely understand.
What can more experienced dancers, organisers and teachers do to make the transition back to this world as easy as possible – to retain as many as we can of what in my personal opinion was already a fragile community? How could we build it back up again? How can we make sure that there really is a well thought out series of opportunities for new dancers to develop their skills with confidence and enjoyment?
At this time we still have a long way to go – but perhaps we could consider ideas and try to be coordinated, thoughtful and ready when tango becomes possible again.
Some of my thoughts are :
Really market the excitement of Tango to new dancers coming out of a world with limited physical contact in social events for so long. Try to create a genuine opportunity for attracting new dancers that might be receptive to new social activities as life returns to some kind of normality.
Take the opportunity to look for suitable venues while they are still empty.
Start really inspiring and friendly guided practicas in smaller locations – ideally not at the weekends to avoid clashes with any of the first larger events – if they do start up again.
Support our teachers by attending their classes when they need more experienced dancers to help
As Tango DJs perhaps we could make sure that we play a higher percentage of less challenging music – suitable for less experienced people lower on confidence? A dancer low on confidence only needs a few bad experiences to be extremely discouraged.
We should all make our events as interesting and exciting as possible – even more so than before.
As organisers strengthen even more our cooperation – attending each others events and trying – as we have been – to never cause clashes. We could even plan to have far fewer larger Milongas until the community rebuilds.
This will mean giving more of our time to our local community, mutually supporting each other while we try to rebuild.
Personally I am particularly interested in both the marketing opportunity and in helping with practicas and classes.
Small guided practicas – if there is a theme to focus on with really great and varied music – can be a fantastic and less intimidating way to restore confidence and motivation, to welcome newer students and to help them to transition to the world of milongas and wider communities. Of course by definition they are for fewer people and tend not to be something to travel for – so perhaps we should plan to have several?
People vary in their opinions – some suggesting that new dancers should not go to a Milonga for a year or more – whatever your thoughts on this are the world of inspiring, friendly and guided practicas are a great source of motivation after the first months of classes.
Let’s make sure they exist.
Small groups of dancers in classes and practicas might – perhaps – be allowed to take place some time before larger events – in which case they could be a valuable resource for the less confident for a few valuable months.
If a Milonga was already slightly difficult for an inexperienced dancer – it is going to be even more of a challenge if they haven’t danced at all for a year..
If our community is to stand every chance of surviving and eventually to thrive – personally I think this needs thought, ideas and planning.
In the entirely separate world of my business life this time of economic turmoil has crated so many ideas, really deep changes and so much innovation in our company. If we had stayed with our old ways we would have really struggled.
In our dance world what we don’t want to happen is that in many months time, when Tango is welcomed again by society and risk free – to breathe a huge sigh of relief and then realise we have no community left and no plans to restore it.
An interesting list for this evenings team discussions of cover versions – which ones we prefer and why – what was the cover trying to improve? Did they succeed?
Jo – Remembranza – De Angelis and D’Arienzo
Nigel – El Recodo – Di Sarli and Biagi
Deb – El Pañuelito – Pugliese and D”Arienzo
Jon – Unfortunately the selection was eaten by Archie
Remembranza is one of Jo’s favourite – and she has in fact chosen 2 cover versions ! Malerba recorded this in 1943 – D’Arienzo was in 1964 and De Angelis in 1954. I have added the iconic Pugliese version from 1956 as well as the ‘original’ from Malerba.
Personally I have played the Malerba version 230 times, D’Arienzo 100, Pugliese 46 times and De Angelis – who I normally love – only 3 times!
I chose El Recodo from Biagi in 1952 as I love playing this in a mixed orchestra 1950s tanda. There were actually 2 previous Di Sarli versions in 1941 and 1951 – this one is from 1951.
Deb chose El Pañuelito from Pugliese 1959 and D’Arienzo in 1963.
In these difficult times we have totally changed the way that we practise. Four sessions a week – and 100% using video.
On day 1 we pick a theme – like colgadas – study our Trello Cards – focussed, labelled and categorised records of our professional teachers teaching us each sequence – and start to practise them.
We video a dance where we feature the sequences we are studying, and later on we select at least 6 things that need improvement. We also are careful to praise each other where things look good – this needs to be sustainable and focussing only on weaker areas can itself cause issues.
On day 2 we work on these identified areas – comparing our efforts to our teachers – all again using video.
We then re-record a dance and compare the first versions with the second.
This is an incredibly focussed practise routine. Here is an annotated example from last weekend.
Before the pandemic we used video only occasionally, and in a very general way. This is a new level completely.
We miss the professional input of our teachers hugely – but we have enough material and have been taught enough times that when we see errors we are confident in our ability to work through them, applying the solid foundation principles that we have been taught by them for so long.
We also practise to the more open modern music so associated with Nuevo – this may seem unusual but I find as the leader that it frees up one side of my brain, that would normally be so in tune with the complex demands of the music.
Four sessions a week is actually more work than when we were attending classes and social practise sessions, as we only practised by ourselves once a week.
The difference is the focus – and the completely different relationship we have now with the camera.
As Tango dancers we always want to be moving forwards – and this certainly is producing great results even after just the first weeks – since the lockdown started.
One either benefit is that the attention to detail and the planned nature of each session makes everything stress free, and hugely rewarding and enjoyable. We often limit each session to just 45 minutes – which flies by as we work rapidly through each area.
We so look forward to being able to dance with our friends in our small practica and to being back under the watchful eye of our experienced professionals – but this has indeed proved an outstanding way to change our learning regime to take advantage of these unexpected and unfortunate times.
All feedback welcomed – on facebook please as your thoughts will reach a wider selection of our community.
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
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
[ 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
I would get on planes to find them. And I suspect that is exactly what I will have to do.
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:
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!