All posts by nigel

Aspiring to have enough Spanish to read Marquez

I have been learning Spanish vocabulary consistently for 6 months now – after years of intermittently learning words as a background interest and through frequent trips to Spain largely connected with studying Tango.

I have been using vocabulary lists and e-readers to source new words, and entering those into a smart flash card app that manages the testing of each word according to how well you know it.

As I reached this 6 month marker I became curious as to how far away I am from my aspirational goal.

It is an interesting task to estimate your current vocabulary.

Personally I am as of today learning just over 3,000 words in my current flashcard system – the majority  of these are very much in progress and there were many simple words I already knew and so never entered into this learning system.

I also know that I can read easy readers at the B2 level of learning without too much trouble – although of course there are always new words. These are well defined as needing a 4,000 word vocabulary. B1 are a bit easy for me at 2,000

The next level up in the official classification is C1 – which doubles the vocabulary needed to am impressive 8,000 words.

A very interesting hour of research has led me to the fact that for comprehension of written material such as a novel you need get to the level where you cannot understand only 1 in 50 words. More than that will mean you lose the meaning. This fascinated me – I had never come across these kind of statistics.

In conjunction with the fact that further research indicates that a complex novel needs a vocabulary of 9,000 words to understand this becomes super informative.

So I took out a Marquez short story and measured accurately the number of words I did not know using a reasonable sample size of a few pages. This turned out to be 1 in 15.

As the required level is 1 in 50 this is perfectly in line with the fact that I cannot yet read Marquez at all. Nowhere near it.

In the format of this particular book it tunes out that I need ( at 49/50 known ) to only have 7 unknown words on each page. At my current level it is in fact 23. Three times too many.

So drawing all this together this means that I estimate my current vocabulary is around 4,000 words. Slightly less than half the requirement for my goal.

Due to the joys of data in decent software I can see on my efforts for the last 6 months I have been consistently learning an average of 16 new words every day – or 500 a month. Again most of these are in progress rather than truly learnt.

As I have every intention of continuing at exactly the same rate – I need 5,000 more words – which will take 10 months.

But then I need to turn those into learned rather than in testing – so I am allowing another 2 months for all of this to happen – as that on average is how long it takes me for a new word to go through the different levels on my app.

So after all this it looks like one more year. This does seem super optimistic – but let’s see!

I have therefore booked out the evening of Sunday 1st September  2019 as my next attempt to read Marquez.

If it is still a struggle  – which I am fairly sure it will be – I will enjoy spending that Sunday evening instead measuring again how many words I do not know – and comparing that new figure to my current 1 in 15 and the well researched target of 1 in 50.

Till then he’s back on the shelf and it’s easy readers and slow steady progress up the mountain of learning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Killing Space Invaders with a Tango Goddess

I am a tango student and I travel to a distant world. And back. Every week.

It is at the opposite end of my universe from my world and is known as Walthamstow.

I go there again and again because there is a force there. Someone who is becoming a mentor to me and who has such a deep understanding of Tango that I will cross the universe every week on my crippled southern rail star fighter just to try again, and fail again – because that is what I need to do and that is where she is.

She  – more than any mortal – just tells you the truth. If you have the strength to take it – believe me it is what you need to hear.

Recently she has been killing my space invaders.

  • I invade her space when I simply stand – my left hip is too high so I tilt to my right to compensate – of course into her space because that is where she is.
  • I move around her – and over anticipating I tilt to my right – into her space.
  • My shoulders come forward – into her space.
  • She walks perfectly into my embrace and at the last moment I glance at her – unfortunately invading her space. Zap!
  • My connection is too high by about half an inch – she can never get to a perfect axis on her forward step – because – I am invading her space. Zap!

She is a goddess – she hates space invaders. They take away her ability to be her, to create. I come with an army of parasitic space invaders and they upset her. So she is helping me to destroy them – one at a time.

Lightsabers don’t actually go ‘Zap’ – they do something else. But I can’t spell it.

What she actually does for an hour and a half is to patiently take me apart, explain it, manipulate me – show me in both roles –  and help me to put it back together again in the way it should have been in the first place.

It is a painful process – and agonisingly slow. Because I am mortal.

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.” — Yoda

So after 5 and a half years of studying Tango I am back concentrating on side steps, back steps and suspensions – and getting everything wrong.

But for 90 minutes at least a goddess is holding me and giving me the smallest glimpse of what might be – if only I can find the force within me.  And with her leading the way – perhaps I can.

Her name is Bianca Vrcan.

 

Tango – You, Her, the Music and both of your Alter egos

You have been so aware of her. There is a moment, a chance, a stillness. You ask. Your heart races. She accepts. You are scared.

She waits and then slowly walks towards you, in control of every part of her body.

She walls in your space with her eyes, stretches herself to meet you and in that singular moment offers herself to you – and you know you are both reaching for this quietly opening door that leads to a world that can  shut you out of everything mundane. Are you going to blow everything?

He is searching you with his eyes. You have been so aware of him, You sense it. You raise your eyes. He asks, and you accept. You are scared. You walk towards him, and he calmly and confidently offers himself. He lets you in and embraces you. He is so incredibly still. You feel what might be. Are you going to blow everything?

You are entering that world again. That password protected place, that all so fragile other world built on such a solid foundation of years and years of learning and hard practise.

Your partner is the key that you need to enter this other world. And that magic is a code that is written into the first long seconds of a completely silent embrace “Yes – I do understand. I am listening and I can hear you. And I am going to explore you, your dreams, myself, my dreams – and this music.”

When you try to be one with them all, with the music and  both of your dreams then everything else is silent.

Four dancers. Four songs.

Two of the dancers you can feel. Of the others one you know, one is waiting for you. Of this one you as yet have no understanding of and need to find in the silences. To liberate them all.

Your own alter ego always offers you a promise to redefine yourself. To change fundamentally what you are capable of. It wants to wake you up. This is a moment where you can see it and understand it so clearly.

You want to be there, to be suspended from time – to become the person you might have been, perhaps might yet be.

The other you is standing on a quiet shore with the person who held your eyes for a second – only to look away and offer a code to you, who embraced you and who – like you – has been working for so many years to be able to stand here with both of you on this silent beach.

They have brought their alter ego – and so have you.

No noise. Just whatever your movement and stillness create.

All four of you have earned  the right to be here. All of you have always been working for this moment. Each of you offering – negotiating – suggesting, retreating, learning, calling.

Trying.

Dreaming.

Now all of you have one hand on this door handle – and all four of you breathe in and together start to turn it.  You slowly open the door and walk together into the unknown. Into a room where perhaps all four of you can finally breathe.

In the real world this doesn’t happen.

In Tango – sometimes it does.

The Focus and Energy Balance in Tango

I often wonder.

So I thought I would ask.

If you dance Tango socially – how do you personally feel – on average – about the relative amounts of concentration, focus and energy you both put into each other, the music and the whole experience of what you are trying to create?

I do understand that remembering ‘an average’ is a tough one – but that is indeed what I am trying to understand – not the great or the terrible – but what happens normally for you.

When you dance Tango Socially - on average - do you feel you provide more concentration, energy, presence and focus than your partner?

View Results

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Many  thanks for your help!

 

 

 

Stay Outside the Tango Game

There is a game inside Tango. It is powerful and patient.

It waits for us all. You drift  in and out of it – don’t you. Most times when you step inside it – it hurts you. But sometimes you think you win – that you came out well.

You didn’t.

If you play the Tango game you are already lost. You betray everything you love about this way of life.

It lurks in milongas. It hides so invisibly in our vanity. It lies in wait in our dreams. It laughs at us.

Don’t pull that handle. Don’t play. Stay on the outside.

Tango offers so much and the game is just what happens when something so powerful interacts with all of our fears and with our fragility.

Tango itself is already full of individual aspirations and disappointments. It doesn’t care about you or your fears. It has no concept of your aesthetics or of your successes and failures.

When the game calls look the opposite way – look to your partner and to the music that calls you. Keep learning. Never quit.

Stay true to yourself. Stay with the floor. It will always be there for you.

Hearing not Listening in Tango

I was at Leroy’s class today and he said something that really struck a chord. He said that he hears – whereas others just listen.

I thought this was really an interesting concept. Don’t just listen to your partner -that doesn’t change anything – instead – make sure you hear them. Work harder.

Once we become a reasonable standard of course we want to listen. It is all about our shared dance – the music – and how we interpret it and communicate with each other. So we listen – of not with our ears – but with our bodies,

She – or he – may not have much to say. Or they do – but they speak very quietly. Or perhaps you aren’t the kind of person they normally show themselves to on a first date.

Or they have a lot to say – and they are saying it to you – but you really can’t hear them. How frustrating is that – I am actually trying very hard to talk to you and you can’t hear me. You are on the wrong frequency.

Or – if you can hear me you don’t take any notice. You just blunder through it all.

You listened but you didn’t hear.

Leroy was I think saying that he hears everyone. The quiet ones, the distracted ones, the loud ones, the people he doesn’t normally feel a fit for. The incoherent ones,

He listens so well that he hears them all.

And then he acts.

I am sure we can imagine a farcical situation where both tango dancers are listening so much that no-one is in fact saying anything at all. But to me this is not normal – I think reasonable Tango dancers are both trying to hear and to communicate.

But they might be listening instead.

Tune yourself to hear …  Listening is for Wimps.

Dancing in the Eye of the Biagi Storm

Students like me often respond to Biagi in mysterious ways. Ways that frankly – given our experience levels – are borderline suicidal.

I am talking here about rhythmic Biagi of course – we all know them – amazing, exciting sides like Humiliación, Indiferencia, Pura Clase and perhaps the most challenging of all – Bélgica.

As leaders the default is that we up our energy levels – we try to catch the cuts. We run and run to keep up with him.

But he is always an annoying half beat and a wry smile ahead of us – unless we have 10+ years of experience.

In our practise sessions recently we have been working on dancescapes for individual composers – especially to D’Arienzo and Biagi. And with Biagi I have been concentrating for months now on lowering the energy and finding the humour and playfulness that he offers us.

Last week we recorded this session – and I was so interested to watch it.

It seems to me that I have learned – at least a bit – to change my approach – to be patient and playful – and not to chase the cuts. Of course I can see a million errors – practise videos show all as it is – that is their value – they have no concerns with our self perceptions.

But it is calmer. So much quieter than I used to be. Simple movements – often just syncopated walking – always repeating, allowing the follower to relax more and more.

And the result of this lower energy – this calmer approach to Biagi – is that my partner Jo is able to follow this naturally, and to smile, relax and join in the game. She has time to be neat and beautiful with her feet – to laugh with me, and with Biagi, at the endless fun of improvised Tango.

And that  – surely – is what we as student leaders are striving for?  To help her to enjoy the dance.

Tango, Poetry and Spanish

Recently I have been trying to understand what makes Spanish tango lyrics so beautiful – when their English translations are normally less than inspiring.

I suppose there are some obvious linguistic differences –

  • Spanish has softer consonants and longer vowels, and this helps the words to flow easily.
  • Spanish requires verb conjugations, so it’s easier to create rhymes in Spanish, which makes it an ideal language for poetry and music. And for that reason when we are translating back to English we often  find it impossible to generate a rhyme in quite the same way – if at all.
  • As a descendent of Latin, Spanish also builds upon a long heritage of music, poetry, art and culture that contribute to its overall romantic essence.

To me the Spanish of Tango often seems to me to be in some way clipped – like modern Latin American fiction it often uses the rhythms of small words that leave big spaces for your mind. Spaces into which we fall, and are invited to fill with our thoughts. An english translation often feels more cluttered – and less inviting to our imagination.

And then there is the Lunfardo issue – the local prison slang of Buenos Aires full of sexual innuendos, references to drug dens and speakeasies, and melancholic verses expressing pain and destitution.

Lunfardo is a barrier to us both in the complete lack of understanding of a word – but perhaps more dangerously that we don’t understand at all what a ‘Mariposa’ [butterfly] really meant in Lunfardo – so we don’t know what we are missing. But we know we don’t get it – because it just doesn’t make sense.

Or we sort of get it  – ‘Mina’ – yes its a mine but it of course in Tango is a beautiful woman as precious as a jewel – but still as Europeans in 2018 we are not so likely to  understand the historical context and  pejorative implications.

And they can imply all of this in just one short word.

So for all these reasons – it’s not my native language, it rhymes better, it sounds easier and it is packed full of Lunfardo and historical context – I am just not going to get it and no translation that could be sung to the same music is ever going to work as a lyric for that melody.

But to me there is something else – something I feel quite strongly but I can’t easily explain.

It is to do with an emotional emphasis – that in some way the Spanish word in Tango sometimes seems to call up an emotion that explains something – whereas the English word just stops with the thing itself.

The example I often think of is the iconic Pugliese album – ‘Ausencia’ – and that amazing image of the rose on the piano because once again Pugliese was held by the authorities and so the Orchestra was playing without him.

Layers upon layers of meaning. But my point here is more basic – I can’t really find any other way to translate ‘Ausencia’ than with the English word ‘Absence’.

I cannot imagine even the most talented of British bands singing a song called ‘absence’ – I am sure someone has – but to me ‘absence’ is what gets you a bad mark at school.

I think this is a good example that brings many of these things together. Ausencia is indeed full of longer vowels and softer consonants. There are layers of meaning. Not in this case Lunfardo – just a context that it is hard to recapture.

So you are absent, in English we are inclined to write down a bad mark and move on to something more interesting – in Spanish we ask.. and desperately want to know .. why?

Going back to Nuevo

For the first time in many years I find my interests turning back to Nuevo.

The focus will not be the music – but the open embrace and the creativity. And because of that – even the music will for sure need revisiting – because we need boundaries – we need to understand where we are. We need a focus.

Tango will aways surprise us – of course. But this does indeed feel strange. I have invested so much time in the music.. night after night, week after week, month after month. For so long.

And now I seem to crave the creative possibilities above all else. This has been happening for a while now in all my tango – questioning each moment – trying to find new expressions.

Is this in fact a retreat? Am I finding it all too difficult? I recently had a lesson where all of my confidence was damaged – I felt useless. Am I just seeking a way out?

It would be a strange way out – if that is what it is – because I have always felt that to dance Nuevo really well is a huge challenge. Dancing it badly doesn’t interest me. But the music is so simple and inviting isn’t it – expressive, emotional, and simple structures..

I don’t know where this is going – but I seek creativity and playfulness in Tango. And maybe Nuevo can become a welcome inspiration if I can use it well.

It might be that what this interest is telling me is that I need to totally up my game in the open embrace.

Let’s find out.

Friends and Tango and a Very Warm Welcome

Creativity is amazing. Talent is inspiring.

The skill to make people welcome is a rare and special gift. A barman in Seville opens his doors to talent – he smiles and he talks to us with his eyes – and we enter his welcoming world.

Life – just sometimes – is amazing. Everything we believe in is shown in a brief light to be so very worthwhile.

Our friends amaze us. People fascinate us.

And for that spontaneous, unplanned moment we are so very human. We celebrate each other. We are alive.

Away from everything that is so fake we share a moment that is based on nothing but warmth, friendship and talent.

A barman opens his doors and they come. They play, sing, dance and listen. They appreciate – they share a small and intimate space – they create together something so ephemeral and so very special.

Thank you. All of you – you make me feel so very, very alive.