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!
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.
Lightsabersdon’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.
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.
Meeting Jan Rae and being part of Draw to Perform was such a great experience.
Photo Credits – these are the work of Manja Williams
I learned so much – about Tango, Jan, myself and a small glimpse of what performance art is.
I also saw how really talented some people are in an art form that is not that familiar to me. Confident. Expressive. Creative. Natural. Emotional. Atmospheric. Challenging.
All the things that if we are not careful we can just miss from our own Tango. What a criminal waste that is – given the intensity of the dance and the opportunities for communication and sensuality that it and the music present to us.