Monthly Archives: February 2010

Whores and Dockers

Every where we go to tango in this country I seem to be from some lower order. Don’t get me wrong I don’t have some sort of inferiority complex. I am a manual worker, working class, and never aspired to be more. I am happy with my lot in life and do not get intimidated by academics or high thinkers.

This is not my point, my point is; why does tango only seem to appeal to scientists and ballerinas? Are we making it too complicated?

I have many friends who are professionals and academics, they struggle boldly to keep tango alive here, and I would not knock them or try in any way to stop what they are doing. We need go getters; people with drive, there would be no tango here without them.

I wonder though, what about the workers? (Sorry just a bit of 1970s humour) We get all sorts of people in Salsa and the older crowd that we have for tempo dancing comes mainly from the working classes, but in tango it is almost all professionals, doctors, scientists, and university professors.

Tango is a dance for whores and Dockers not ballerinas and scientists, it is a folk dance, a means of socializing, and let us not forget, in the early part of the last century, it was the only way men could get close enough to a woman to touch (unless they paid of course).

Tango in The UK and Europe has, because of the isolation of Argentina, developed its own life. The one or two teachers who learned in Buenos Aires passed their knowledge on to others who went on to teach other teachers, and so on. What we have been getting is a watered down version of the truth.

This new truth then develops its own life and those of us who try to bring what we have learned back are told that what we do is not right. After all how can all these teachers, professionals, be wrong? It must be me who is wrong.

Fortunately in recent years things have been changing, but slowly. Long distance travel is more accessible, and as people travel they see the world as it really is, not some second-hand version.

There is no professional qualification for tango teachers, this is understandable when you consider what I said, “this is a folk dance” but people assume that because someone is taking a class then they must know more about tango. This is not necessarily true, it may or may not be, the only way you can be sure is to visit Buenos Aires yourself and make a judgement on what you have seen. Be careful though, there are many there as well, who will take the tourista dollar and teach you whatever you want, whether it be salon, Nuevo, or just show tango. The milonga is the only place to see tango as it should be, but be sure to get away from the tourist traps, because all you see there are more tourists.

When I first learned tango it was as a sequence of moves, we learnt this way for years no lead at all, and not until I went to Spain in 1997 did I learn different. Even then, what I had learnt did not totally change the way I danced, two weeks in Buenos Aires changed every thing, I forgot completely my old routines, and I learnt to walk for the first time (tango walk of course, I had not lived my life sitting down). That was six years ago, I have seen many changes in the way tango is taught since in the UK, but still there are many who just want to learn moves and routines.

All the high kicks look complicated and difficult, but as someone who learned that way first, I believe that there is far more skill in the more simple looking salon style than anything you see on the stage. (Tango Passion excepted).

There are those who say that you only need to walk to the music. Well I disagree (you’d not expect less from me now would you) you need more; you need some sense of the way we move as well as a sense of rhythm. Some basic moves like ochos and giros, because in a crowd you have to do something other than stand still. But in saying all that this is nearer to what tango is all about than many a teacher will try to show you. There are many men whose heads are so filled with moves and rules that they are barely able to move. They freeze to the floor unsure what they are to do next and when they “lead” something it does not work, so that they have to explain to the woman what they wanted. If there is space, and you can lead it, almost anything is ok, but if you cannot lead it, do not stand in the middle of the floor telling the woman she is doing it all wrong. This is not what women want, they want a flowing dance, to be comfortable in the mans embrace and to enjoy the music. Ladies tell me if I am wrong.

So what I am asking for is something less cerebral, I am asking for more feeling and less show. Dance for the woman, dance with the music and with the room, but NEVER EVER dance for the audience. I promise you one thing if you do this, the women will love dancing with you, you will enjoy dancing more, and surprisingly the audience, if there is one, will appreciate you more as well.  OK that was three things; you get three for the price of one here.

Again if you disagree with anything I have said here, please leave a comment, or even if you agree. What others think matters to me, I have spoken for the ladies here, am I right?


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Nuevo anyone?

We arrived home at half past one in the morning, our trips to Shrewsbury finish later every time.

We had sat in The Coracle until about twenty to twelve, and talked about all the usual rubbish, who was doing what and with whom. There was nothing exciting that I could report here. Strangely it was after Dave left that things became more interesting, he’ll be upset to have missed it.

As we got up to leave, the conversation turned to Nuevo Tango, or more to the point what constitutes traditional tango. We stood with our coats on and carried on for nearly another hour, unable to leave the gripping debate.I think we all agreed that those who do Nuevo moves rarely if ever do them with any musicality, but interestingly, someone said that I do more moves than anyone.

This is obviously a matter of perception, I may do lots of secadas, and the odd volcada and barrida but nothing is choreographed. This I think is what makes it look like I do a lot, because nothing is set, I can do the same thing over and over, in different ways and it always looks different. (I hope).

The point is I let the music tell me when to do a certain move, not some routine that has been taught.

We had a lively debate about what is traditional tango: To me it is what we have kept from the golden age. I say kept because much has been lost and some only exists as yet in sheet music. The dancing is close, very close, it involves a lot of pivots and giros, the heels never come far off the floor. This is a style that developed in the golden age, when we had (in my opinion) the best music, there was money in Argentina and people had leisure time and wonderful dance floors.

The assertion was made that traditional tango could be what came from the turn of the last century. To this I would disagree; the music was more rhythmical, the hold was more open and pivots did not exist. This was a product of the floors that they danced on; it was not common to have good floors, often dancing on cobbles or flagged areas.

Later on in tangos history the film industry got involved and a much more open style developed, what we now call Nuevo. The distance between the couple was necessary so that they could both be seen on the screen. The big kicks and flicks again were there to look good on the big screen.

We (well most of us) are not in the movies; we go onto the dance floor for our own pleasure, so it makes sense that we do the dance that is designed to give us the most enjoyment, not something designed either for the big screen or cobbled streets.

Back for a while to the music: There is nothing wrong with a bit of canjegue along with our golden age music, it gives us some variety. We can dance to tango music from all over the spectrum, and why not? The problems come when we move into electronic. All argentine tango music follows a set pattern and because they follow this pattern we can predict what the music will do next and when it will finish. For this reason they are all between two and a half and three and a half minutes long, generally three minutes or there about, but theses are the extremes.

So how can the likes of Gotan fit into this? Triptico, for instance is ten minutes and ten seconds long. Quite apart from the difficulty of knowing what is coming next, I would be exhausted, and because the music does not tell me what to do, I would be running out of ideas. This is of course why the Nuevo crowd dance to this music; if you are choreographed you don’t want the music to get in the way of your routine.

Now don’t get me wrong I enjoy listening to Gotan and other elecronico, but tango is about the music as much as the dance (some would say more). There is some modern music that is good tango, there are good bands out there and it can be fun to experiment with new instruments and push the boundaries, but when you loose the structure you loose the essence, the dancers cannot follow and this feeling that the whole room is dancing as one is lost.

There I have gone off on one again, tango brings out a passion in us all, and to those who still want to do Nuevo I would say “As long as you feel the passion it is OK” but the two cannot mix, our social dancing is interrupted by high kicks and we do not allow the space. Nuevo should be kept to the clubs and dances that cater for it, when you mix Nuevo with traditional, conflicts happen. The traditionalists will complain about selfish dancing and music that is not tango. Often the nuevos will not be allowed the space in which to dance and will be treated with hostility. This is of course because the traditionalists need to keep moving line of dance, where as the nuevos do not, so much so that they almost become different dances.

There are places to dance in this style even in Buenos Aires, so that is why I am bemused by someone coming into a traditional club and throwing their legs in the air. This happens of course, but in my favourite club Fulgor, I have seen people thrown off the dance floor for doing ganchos. (Not physically of course, but they were asked to leave)

I think that those who do Nuevo will, in time, learn the true meaning of tango and come back into the fold, until then they must enjoy in their own time and space.

Something else that came up in The Coracle was of course my blog. I get some stick about it, it is only fair as I often give it out, but all I would say is if ever I upset or unjustly insult someone (Dave is excluded from this) please tell me. It is never my intention to cause offence. Similarly you are more than welcome to correct any factual errors or spelling mistakes I may make.

If no one pulls me up I will of course go on believing that I am perfect.

One other thing, I have accumulated some more facts for Mike about the Dutch invasion of Britain on 5th November 1688 with some20,000 men and 500 ships. I will of course debate this further next week.

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The teacher is not always right two

I get comments these days that are more like posts than comments. I am not complaining all comments are welcomed, good and bad, but I like to reply to them all. So for the second time I must do a post in reply to a comment.

I received a comment from Jantango in Buenos Aires Teacher is not always right and feel again that this deserves more than a quick answer.

I remember the first time I was at a milonga in Buenos Aires it was at Confiteria Ideal in the afternoon. We had been taken there by our guide for the trip, who educated us about the codigos where to dance and how to cope with what was a totally alien environment to us.

We fell out some time later, which was a shame, as I think she gave us invaluable information for times to come, and although we are no longer in contact I would gladly recommend her to anyone visiting for the first time.

She had the sense to bring us early, when the place was less crowded. This allowed us to get a feel for the room and to get up and dance in the time when people were still coming in.

So how does this relate to the comment? Well no teacher I had been too had ever been to Argentina, none of them knew the codigos, none could tell me how to cope.

As more people came to the milonga, we found it more and more difficult to move, and for some reason, I had yet to learn, and we were always in the middle of the floor.

We had couple of days of this before our first dance lesson. We had been signed up with a guy called Roberto Canelo. He was not milonguero in the true sense of the word, more a stage dancer. In his early days he had been embarrassed at his local club, Club Almagro by being asked to leave the floor and watch how the true milongueros did it. He soon learned how to navigate the floor and move to the music not just doing steps, so now he passes his knowledge on at his tango school. Nothing of this was known to me, of course, I was just passed to an Argentine who taught tango, and of course to me the fact that he was argentine was all that mattered to me at the time.

With him we learned to dance milonga, how to cope with a crowd how to navigate the floor, and importantly to me, why I always ended up in the middle. He told me that old milongueros will dance to the outside of the room, taking any space left to the right, forcing any principiantes into the middle. So now I must learn that as well as protecting my partner I must defend my right hand side, I do not let anyone into this space, it is mine alone. With this knowledge I can gloat at the show dancers, principiantes and yanquis who populate the middle of the floor. He learned all this by going to the milongas, he already was a great dancer, but could not cope with the milonga floor, not until he had experienced it himself and had the coaching of other milongueros.

So when I learn that a great show dancer with years of experience could not cope at a milonga, you should not be surprised that I greet with horror the thought that people who have less than two years tango experience want to teach. You should also not be surprised that I will not go to any teacher who has never visited a Buenos Aires milonga.

Too many spend their time learning steps. In the UK we learn boleos, ganchos , baridas, but rarely do we learn about the music. What we need to do is listen to the music, as it changes cadence, we need to be aware and change with it.

Often in beginner’s classes, we are so intent on learning that our movement’s bare little relationship to the music, this is Ok for beginners, but as we get more proficient we should be dancing to the music not just doing moves in spite of it. Go to almost any milonga in Europe and you will see them; they do all the moves, awesome routines, fancy footwork, but no musicality.

In the northern hemisphere we need to learn that dancing is not about moves, this is not Strictly, it is social dancing. Tango is the music as much as it is the dance, if you do not feel the music then you are not dancing tango. The music needs to be in your mind and in your soul. If you spend all your time learning more and more moves, you miss the point, your time would be better spent listening to the music, and trying to get to know the artists.

And don’t even think about getting me back on the subject of DJs playing non tango music.

Again all comments are welcome, good or bad. If you disagree tell me why, wealth of experience comes from exchanges of ideas not monologue.


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Two left feet

Foot mix-up prosthetist struck off, yes I know you should not laugh but, how many times have people told me that they have two left feet? Now at last it seems someone has.

A prosthetist has been struck off it seems for fitting a false left foot onto someone who already had a left foot but had lost their right one.

You can read the story here.

While feeling sympathy for the recipient, you have to laugh don’t you.

I would love it if this person got in touch with me, just so that I can show that some people really do have two left feet, and hopefully a sense of humor to go with it.

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Teacher is not always right

My thanks to Arlenes tango for her comment inspiring this blog.

I have always been a natural cynic, this makes me very inquisitive, but an absolute pain for any teachers. As a child (and later as a student) I drove teachers wild, because I never took anything they said on face value.

I had a maths teacher who never “taught” us anything. What he did do was prove things mathematically; as a consequence maths became my favourite subject after science.

So when it comes now to dance teachers, I weigh up what one teacher teaches against what others teach but never do I just accept.

As I have often said Sharon is a great teacher, but it is not necessary for her to be the best tango dancer in the world. I make no slight on her dancing here as I will explain later. You see the two are not mutually exclusive, the ability to get people to dance is not confined to those who themselves are great dancers.

Back to Sharon, there are things she teaches that conflict with my views. I would never interfere with her class this would be rude, crass, and quite pointless. She runs the class and as I have often said I have no desire to run classes, but every class I have ever been to for tango, teaches something different.

So how then do we decide what is right and what is not? Well my view is that in the end we all dance our own tango. We develop a style that is uniquely our own.

Take simply the mans left arm: The hand should be halfway between the couple, at the woman’s shoulder height and turned as if offering a mirror for the woman to look into. Now go to any milonga, and I challenge you to find more than one or two who have this perfect arm. Now the right arm should be at bra strap height but how far around depends on who taught you and whether you dance milonguero, cayengue, or nuevo, it’s a minefield.

So if nobody does it right, are they all rubbish dancers? Where do you go to escape the confusion?

In England and I think Europe in general, we talk of inviting the woman. We offer a lead and she chooses to take it. In Argentina we hold the woman in a vice like grip, the man turns his body the woman has no choice but to turn hers likewise, there is no uncertainty, no room to decide she will do her own thing.

I believe this offers less of a problem for women no room for confusion, but here in the UK women shy away from this closeness. This leaves teachers with a problem; do you teach traditional tango, as it should be and frighten off these more reserved women who like their own space? Or do you modify tango and at least get the British women dancing?

Whatever classes we attend, we bring much of ourselves to the classroom. No teacher is perfect (and this is what I meant earlier in my comment about Sharon, sorry I meant to infer nothing about the quality of your dancing) they cannot know everything, so they invite you to learn, you learn from what you do in the class, what you later practice, and from what you already knew.

When we teach, that is also from what our own experience has shown us. Rarely have I taken a class, I prefer small groups, better still one to one. This allows me to use techniques that simply would not work in a class. So I may say things which seem to contradict what Sharon has said. One should never take the words of one teacher and use them against another; of course if a conflict seems to appear clarity should be sought. What one should never do is take the words of one teacher into another’s class and try to teach one of their students.

While the teacher may not always be right, it is their class, and the right time to question is when they ask “any questions?” As I have said tango itself is not perfect, you will learn your own way.

Take what you can from the class, learn, practice, go to workshops, but in the end you must be your own tango dancer.

 Please comment, I would love to know what you think.


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In trouble again?

I wonder if I am in trouble again. As Sharon tells the women in the Monday class not to put weight onto the men while following with hands on the chests. I know the remark was aimed at someone, I just do not know if it was me or not.

Often when I give a bit of private tuition I ask the ladies to give me some resistance and will occasionally ask them to lean on me. I do make the point of course that it is for this time only and never to do this while in the main class, and certainly never when dancing.

 This is just a bit more of the conflicting advice that surrounds Tango. I like a bit of resistance, I have a need to know where the woman is. There are followers, good followers, who are very light, and while they respond well to my leads, I do not like to dance with them. I need to feel that there is a presence there; I like a small amount of weight.

Don’t get me wrong, a woman who hangs on my neck, or who I have to push around the room like some overloaded wheel barrow, is not a joy to dance with, but then I do not want to be chasing her either.

I have to take care; I do not run the classes. I never could. Running a big class takes a skill that I do not have, and besides I work shifts. I enjoy my one to ones with the beginners, but sometimes I can use techniques that simply would not work with a large class. I can say to a lady “lean on me” and when I fell that she has the feeling then I can return her to her axis, I can develop the feeling and know that she knows that this is not how we dance.

I sometimes get a lady who simply cannot get the cross; usually this is because the weigh goes back. I have used this trick of saying “lean on me” when the feeling is understood and they are back on their own axis it all becomes clear.

Trouble is of course that when someone else comes into the class and tries this, it does not work, often the leaders have not yet fully developed how to lead the cross and assume that it is the ladies fault.

Sharon is very tough on the class, and sometimes it is misunderstood, but we cannot have everyone teaching at the same time. A bit of humility is needed, as you dance around the room concentrate on your body, what you are doing wrong, not your partner. I am not saying ignore your partner, you must know where they are, you must respond to what they do or where they have their weight, but do not criticise or try to teach.

In the after class salon I dance with as many women as I can  and what I find most annoying is when they say “but I was told to put my foot here by…….” In the class it is Sharon who is teaching, women should respond to the mans body, not his voice.

We did more Vals in the intermediates, there was a shortage of women again, so the men had to put up with me getting very close and intimate. They never dared to tell me where to put my feet, often the lead was not quite right, so I was not necessarily in the right place, but the next time they got it right. As I have said before “I am not the best follower in the world” If they can do it with me then surely they can do it with women who are always women.

So my message is clear “women, go where you are led even if it feels wrong” and men “if the woman is not where you want her you be, it is most likely because you led her there”.

And finally, if someone directs you verbally on the dance floor, tell them to “shut up and dance”. (I did put it a bit more crudely when asked).

If you have any views on anything I have said, post a comment. I may or may not agree but open debate is always better than monologue. After all I can’t be right all the time, can I? Of course if you think I am you could tell me that as well, but I will only get more big headed.


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Second Bangor Tea Dance

It had snowed all night, but it was not heavy enough to stop us. We had arranged to take Katerina with us, and I had joked to Viv that if she tried to cry off, she should tell her it is far worse in Siberia.

We had allowed plenty of time and as we travelled along the A55 we realised that we would be quite early, so against my instincts I tried to drive slowly, but we were still three quarters of an hour early outside Penrallt Baptist Church. We still had a parking place to find, but this would not take long.

As we turned the first corner we passed Sharon walking up, she had not yet arrived herself.

When we got in my first job, as always, is to make Viv a coffee (hang on, wasn’t it me doing the driving?)  Anyway, Sharon was in a state of stress and not ready for us. She must have snapped at me because she apologized for it, rather sweetly later. I honestly never noticed, it must be because I have lived all my life in families full of women. The thing is I know I am of little use at times like this, so I made the coffee and got out the way, and ate the sandwich Viv had made me for lunch.

All the usual Bangor crowd soon arrived, along of course with Anna and John, always great to see these two, their energy is what I think keeps Tango Bangor going, along with them they brought Leo, who sat there happily googooing.

When the class started there was the usual excess of women so Viv was let out holding the baby. I don’t know who looked the most happy Viv or Leo.

This did not last though, as the class struggled to do double time to a Vals beat (there are a lot of absolute beginners here) Leo got fed up with a substitute mother and decided he wanted the real thing back. This sort of ruined my first dance with Anna, but I know my place in this pecking order.

As usual after the class everyone stuffed themselves with cake, and it was hard to drag anyone away from all the lovely food to dance. It also makes it very hard for me, still struggling with my weight, though I admit to partaking of the odd crumb or two. Ok a big slab of chocolate cake and coated end of the chocolate Swiss roll. Somehow I always seem to drop a pound or two whenever I fail, so I am not too upset at my lack of discretion.

Soon enough we were all dancing, one or two of the first timers were a bit nervous as I took them on the floor, but I was gentle with them. I find it incredible here that people who have never danced before will stay and enjoy the social afterwards, and the men will actually ask the women to dance. There is hope out there with our student generation.

Bangor is unusual in the dance scene, in that as it is a University Town the crowd tends to be much younger than in say, Chester or Shrewsbury. Although they are, or maybe because they are younger they are full of enthusiasm and lacking any inhibitions. The fact that Viv and I are so much older seems to worry them not at all.

A great time was had by all and I am saddened to see that I must work the next one on 6th March, it was a good run but as any shift worker will tell you, you grab these things when you can.

On our drive home I was able at last to unleash the horses, that is, until the snow again pulled the traffic into another disorderly queue, with my wipers battling against the rising spray.

We had to get home you see, because we were out again at Ewloe social club that evening, for the Finches the dancing never ends.

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