Monthly Archives: March 2010

Pride

Pride comes in many forms and it can do funny things to us. The other day I was walking through town following an old, bent and withered man. In the centre of town is an open square and as they do several times a year, the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, having just returned from Afghanistan,  were having a promotional drive, there was one or two military vehicles, a trailer with a recruiting officer in residence, and an improvised parade ground. Maybe a dozen soldiers were marching up and down, resplendent in their ceremonial uniforms with their instruments filling the afternoon air. As we turned into the square the old man first heard then saw the soldiers and maybe had a vision of his younger days. As we grew closer his back visibly straightened up, then his pace quickened, and gradually his stride lengthened. By the time he reached the middle of the square he was in full marching order, his arms swung high and he moved to the beat of the band. Suddenly regimental pride had taken forty years off his life, and the old man who had stumbled into the square marched out the other side like a young soldier.

We react in a similar way when we dance, we notice an audience and the chest goes out the stomach pulls in, the head comes up and our steps become more precise. This is all to the good, but pride can have its down side:

As we dance around the floor, and things go wrong, as they often do, we believe everyone is watching, suddenly there is no one else on the floor and we are the centre of attention. At this point we get annoyed with our partner and start the blame culture. “you did not follow” “that is because your lead is crap” I am sure we have all been there.

Why do we care so much? In the end it is only dancing, we are supposed to be there for pleasure, and if someone watching notices that things are not going well, could they do any better? The truth is, nobody knows what you intended, often our partner will not know either unless we tell them. How many times has your partner apologised and you did not know why? Think about it. So when you apologise for some indiscretion they similarly do not know why.

The role of the leader is to lead, obviously, but also to know where his follower is. If a lead does not quite work and the follower is somewhere unintended, just enjoy the new position, react and treat it as a new move. Tango is a dance that allows you time to think, allows you to find each others weight and even play a little, faced with something different, do not make it a moment of conflict, but instead a moment of joy, something new to play with.

Pride also plays a part in the moves mans repertoire, if he cannot keep changing his routine, someone may notice that he is running out of moves. This is the time he stops mid floor and explains to the poor bemused follower, as the fault is obviously all hers that people are noticing her lack of ability. I have news for these guys Nobody was watching until you stopped, nobody cared whether you had just done your third volcada, but what they do care about is that you are stopping the flow, and they will notice you are trying to do something you are incapable of leading.

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Who is faultless?

After reading several blogs from women, I am driven to write again on the subject of men criticising women on the dance floor.

Why do they do this? Does it cover their own insecurity? Or perhaps they really do think they are the greatest tango dancer in the world and we should all learn from them?

I am not a psychologist I can only guess, but what I can say is that it does have an effect on the women; it often drives them away,

Surly this is not what we want; I would think that men have enough of dancing with me in the classes and would prefer to dance with women. Drive them all away and I will be all they have left.

Standing mid floor giving instructions, will not only upset the woman but also all your fellow dancers. We don’t want to come across a bus stop every time we come round the floor, neither do the ladies expect to be the object of everyone’s annoyance. Whispering instructions may be preferable to standing mid floor causing embarrassment, but let’s face it the men also would not like being criticised. Some times with beginners I will offer advice on posture and stance, we can’t lead anything if our follower is not there, but I will never tell the lady where she should move or say she is a bad dancer. If something I have led does not work I will assume either I have not led it well or that the woman is not ready for this particular move. I will leave it there and try something else, after all I have enough in my repertoire no one is watching us, and we are not in an exhibition.

A good leader will feel his way to the ladies level and only exceed her level where he thinks she can follow.

I have often been asked to give classes; I decline because as a shift worker I cannot regularly give my time, also I am not trained to teach. True, most dance teachers are also not trained to teach, but here we have a teacher who is, so I will bow out and just give the beginners my time and stick to some one to one coaching.

Now the business of picking fault is not the total reserve of the men out there. This may come as a surprise, but even I am not immune.

In Amsterdam 1998 we attended beginner’s classes at Tangomagia and the way some of the more advanced women picked on me almost killed my tango career there and then. Had I not been with my wife and able to say I did not want to change partners I truly think I would not have stayed the course. So women, I know how you feel.

My dancing still is far from perfect and still I get women who delight in picking at my faults, fortunately after this long, I know what most of my faults are and just ignore the critics, most of the time. One or two just annoy me, so I vote with my feet and dance with others. No one is perfect and believing you are will not make you a good dancer or teacher. Often in class I will spot faults in others that I myself have. This is not hypocrisy, knowing my own faults helps me see them in others, and hopefully if caught soon enough I can stop others developing the bad habits that I seem to be stuck with.

So my advice is: Women, dance only with those men who please you, if someone constantly picks on you, it is due to their inability. Better to be sitting down listening to the music than being miserable while you dance.

Men, dance for pleasure, not to show off, and if a woman does not get what you are leading, do something else. You are not there to teach but to give your partner pleasure while enjoying yourself.

When you stop trying to be something you are not, and stop trying to make your partner something he/she is not, as a couple you will look better, be better dancers, and enjoy your dancing so much more. As I often say basics danced well can look great where as bad dancing never looks good, no matter how advanced it is.

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A new respect

I have developed a new respect for the DJ’s of Buenos Aires. Every day and every night these (mostly) men  create tandas straight from their vast knowledge and entirely off the cuff.

It looks easy, all you have to do is put three or four tunes together from the same artist and from the same era with similar rhythms. Of course anyone could do it, and many over here think they can.

I decided to create a Milonga to celebrate our Coral wedding, a simple matter of putting together about twenty tandas with a Cortina between.

My first problem was with a milonga tanda, I just could not find enough tunes by D’Sarli, I had to add one otherby Firpo to my list. Several times I could not find what I wanted but after a lot of work in the end Ithink I managed it. It all looked grand until I played the whole lot together, then I realised that there were more than one or two errors.  My Fresado tanda consisted of three canjengues and one melodic tune; I had a similar problem with Troilo.

I have rewritten my list over and over, maybe I am striving for a perfection that cannot be achieved, but I know that every day in Buenos Aires this is done successfully.

This work has taken me several weeks, I think I am finally there, but I would not want to do it again in a hurry, never mind putting it together on the night, with an audience in waiting.

To some here I am the expert on the music, because I am able to name some tunes and, mostly, knowing exactly when they are to end. This though is just an illusion I create, I have my favourites, tunes that I know well. These I can name, but if you could imagine the vast catalogue that exists outside my knowledge, then try to imagine knowing all this music, when it was produced, the cadence and the rhythm, you would get some idea of the skills possessed by the Buenos Aires DJ’s.

These men were born into a world of tango, from their mothers knee they heard the tunes of  D’Arienzo Tantori and Biagi, we can try to ape them, we can work on preparation, but in the end they are almost as great as the artists themselves and they have a genius that we can only wonder at.

Footnote Jantango has just published an article about Dani a Buenos Aires DJ. Read it and enjoy:http://jantango.wordpress.com/2010/03/21/best-dj-in-buenos-aires/

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Back to basics

How do you rate a dancer? Is it someone with all the moves, someone who moves smoothly around the room, or someone who pleases their partner?

It must be obvious to anyone from my previous posts how I think, but I wonder, do others agree? I still see many who simply want to accumulate as many moves as possible and move constantly into higher classes without first mastering the level that they are at.

A similar thing happens in the salsa scene as well; we started back to salsa about six months ago, and due to the long break we have had, we started right from beginners. A few of those who started with us moved into improvers as soon as they could. We however stayed for a second term.

Now you may think that perhaps we are just slow learners, and I would not disagree, but there are quite a few others who fit this same category.

After our second term with the beginners, we moved on, only to find the same people who had been with us before now struggling. This was now their third term, so of course they must move on from intermediates to advanced. What is the hurry?

We fully intend to do another term of intermediates before we move on, we will know when we are ready and we have many more years dancing ahead, there is no point in spending those years struggling.

Can you not learn to dance well with the basic moves first? As we change partners I can tell who has rushed through and not yet achieved the basics. There is no shame in being in a beginner’s class; after all in tango as well as salsa you can look good doing the basics if you do them well, equally you can look awful trying to do advance stuff when you do not have the basics.

I can’t remember who said it but it is never the less true:

“Beginner’s want to dance like intermediates,

Intermediates want to dance like advanced dancers

Advanced dancers want to dance like the greats

But the greats always go back to basics.”

We are fortunate in the tango scene around here, in that most intermediates attend the beginner’s classes as well. This keeps them grounded and aware that we are never too good to go on learning. It serves another purpose as well, it gives the beginner’s an idea of how they should dance. This learning experience is lost however when we stand mid floor and direct them verbally to do moves for which they are just not ready.

All of us, in time will develop a repertoire that suits our style and ability to remember. The moves we learn and carry with us are a product of each of our personal styles; these things develop with time and patience.

The point is though, to try and learn moves just for their own sake, is pointless, and in the end will be fruitless. If your body is not ready and your abilities not honed, then you will just be going through the motions, you will always struggle and in the end will just forget what you have learned.

Take this from someone who has been there, someone who has in the past had a massive repertoire, learned all the moves, but in the end, lost it all and went back to basics.

Viv and I have been dancing together now for, I think, sixteen years. Not all of it tango, that is true, but for most of that time we have done tango in one form or another. My personal tango journey has seen me stop and re learn time and again until we saw how it should be done, in Buenos Aires. I am more than glad to pass my experiences on to others to save them time on their personal journeys, but for those (and I can understand the need) who need to travel their own route, I will wish them well and help if I can, for I am sure that in the end they will come back to tango as it should be, basic, flowing, line of dance, and with the music.

I am constantly reminded that the scene here is growing at a meteoric rate. This is due in no small part to the fact that we are all learning the same things from a proper syllabus. The teacher we have is trained in teaching, not someone who has just picked it up, and we are learning traditional tango, danced to traditional music, line of dance and for our partners.

Our group now has over one hundred dancers, I was taken to task for saying it is too small to split, despite the number I still think this is the case. As a group we need to stick together, while we are together dances will be successful, the group knowledge will increase, and more importantly we will attract more and more dancers into the fold.

After all is this not what we want? For the whole world to enjoy this beautiful dance?

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Sexism ?

A few years ago at my work someone jokingly organized a rear of the year competition. I never heard any complaints, not from any of the women employees or for that matter from the men who were targeted by this contest. I write this just as an illustration of how both men and women have always rated each other in terms of sexuality. It is obviously a very subjective thing and in the end can only be the opinion of one over another. It is harmless fun and I suspect it goes on in every place where the sexes mingle, so I greet the following news item as yet another example of the world going barking mad

: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/oxfordshire/8553365.stm

Fourteen male students from a University of Oxford college have been suspended over allegations about the sending of sexist e-mails. It is believed the e-mails sent at Hertford College contained a secret list grading female students. The 14 male students have been suspended from the college while an inquiry is carried out. The university said it takes the allegations extremely seriously and will investigate fully.

Is it any wonder that genders no longer know who they are, that relationships break down and we no longer know how to interact with each other. Men have always chased women, who knowing that in the game of sex women have the upper hand, and they have always played hard to get. We know it happens, to try to deny it is fruitless.

What are we looking for? To stop the mating game completely? Some would like to see us all as one androgynous breed, without sexual organs or physical differences. This thankfully will never happen, my wife and daughter both like shoes and pink things, to my bafflement. I however like engines, and watches which baffles them equally. My wife cannot reverse park, I cannot find things in the fridge. She can’t read a map and I won’t ask for directions. All these things we accept, we don’t make issues of it, Men are after all from Mars and Women from Venus. That is the reason we have been married for thirty-five years: we know and accept we are different. When the world accepts that we are in fact different, not unequal, not one better than the other, just different, perhaps more relationships will survive, and the world will be a happier place.

As always, I welcome comments, does anyone know if there is more to this story, or is it truly just more PC lunacy? Am I alone in thinking that we should be able to describe people accurately and matter of factly without being accused of bias, sexism, racism, sizeism (name your own ism)? I know that I court controversy here, but where do we draw the line? are we to reach an Orwellian state of mind where there is only one word we are allowed to use? Or can we go on with the most colourful language in the world, accept we are all different and just be happy with each other?

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Tango Tyrant?

Some one said to me that my views come across as extreme, I hope that is not so. My presentation is always on the jokey side, I never take myself too seriously and I hope my readers do not either. That is why I always ask for comments and there is an open invitation to anyone with my email to drop me a line if they think I have said anything in any way upsetting. That does not however mean I will give up editorial control, what I say here is my own thoughts, comments, unless abusive or spam, will always be published whether or not I agree with them, but I will change my own words only if they upset or seem to suggest something other than I intended.

My views and my heart are very much with traditional tango but allsorts are tolerated here, the community is not big enough to split. You will not get me doing tango to non tango music, but if others choose, so be it. Expect me to be sitting down though.

On the subject of extreme views I have just read a very interesting article called Tango Tyrant. I desperately wanted to comment, but in the way of these things, when you really want to comment, comments are not allowed.

So hopefully I will not be in too much trouble if I quote bits of it here.

Our Tango Tyrant said many of the things I do, but as is so often the case, he also says things to which I would not agree like “A proper Milonga should have a curtain at the door” while this is often true, surely you cannot decide on a places authenticity by one piece of soft furnishing. I could go on about where we agree or not, but this is not my point. My point is that, tango is different things to different people, we can comment gently, we can advise, correct even (to a limit) but we should not be rude or forceful.

People reading my blogs may get the impression that I can be a bit of a Tango Tyrant, I hope I am not. My methods are more softly spoken; I will dance with a woman and slowly introduce some complexity. If she goes off on her own I will let her this time but then take a more firm hold, if she fails to follow I will try again or something else. The Milonga floor is no place to teach or to lecture.

Fortunately now in this part of the woods ladies are taught to follow and not taught complex routines. This does not mean all women follow well here, we do get wilful women, who enjoy tango in their own way. While I find it frustrating at times, they seem to enjoy it and if I stood there lecturing them, they would not want to dance with me, if they stayed with tango at all. No, by constantly giving good lead and waiting while they return after their excursions I think they will in time become good followers rather than resentful as they could if I were  more aggressive.

Catch me on a bad day and I can seem aggressive, this is an unfortunate side effect of having to work long hours. When I arrive at a tango class after being awake already seventeen hours and after four hours sleep I hope that my followers will understand and forgive me.

There must be rules, in everything you do and everywhere you go there are rules, so why should tango be different, but to call us the Tango police or even tango tyrants is unfair.

I like to think we keep discipline in an informal way, with a smile on our faces.

Correction should be done gently and with a smile, leads firm but definite, and instruction limited to the class.

I hope I do not come across like the man in this article, if I do you should definitely tell me.

This is the address of the article; I just hope I have not contravened some copyright laws by including an extract here in blue.

http://www.jivetango.co.uk/GettingStarted/LaDulce.html#Tyrant

Friday night found me back at Neg’s and very jolly it was too. I took my camera for a bit of shoe porn and had a fine time adding to my collection. I lingered uncharacteristically long upstairs (ain’t I getting brave?) happy to watch the dancers and enjoy the music, while chatting to Bb the Wise and Ms Domestic Wildlife. With my eye way off the cabecea ball I was startled to be asked to dance. The gorgeous young Turk smelled of cinnamon and spoke honeyed words in response to my apology. I could have eaten up every last baklava bit of him. But I’m on a strict connubial diet, so I went downstairs to join the LGTN group for some fat-(chance) burning. As I rose from stowing my camera behind the bench, a man I’d never seen before asked me to dance.

He had the most gracious embrace-approach I’d ever come across – wordless yet warm, his focus so soothing I found my breathing synchronizing with his. Was this the Holy Grail, CONNECTION? Before we’d even touched hands?

Things deteriorated rapidly after that.

(After one track)
TT: “Where did you learn these things you do?”
LD: (Noting the beetling of his brow)
“If you mean my mistakes, I assure you I make them up as I go along.”
TT: (Unamused)
“That’s the trouble with the teaching here; you haven’t been taught to follow. ”
LD: “Sorry. I’ve only been dancing three months.”
TT: “You can be taught to follow in three hours, but you need one-to-one tuition. You’ve been in group lessons, haven’t you?
LD: “Guilty as charged.”
TT: “There’s no point dancing with beginners. You won’t learn anything but bad habits.”

Other things he said:

  • Too many people are getting into teaching and dancing tango without understanding enough about it
  • Most milongas have no business calling themselves by that name
  • British dancers are afraid of close embrace
  • Followers who apologise are just getting retaliation in early
  • The British give blanket veneration to Argentinian dancers; many don’t deserve it.

Experienced dancers I have spoken to admit there is some truth in TT’s statements. But why did I endure his head-shaking admonitions through three tandas? Because I glimpsed the possibilities inherent in following a very confident and creative lead. But a milonga is no place to malinger, so his rate being the going one, I arranged a lesson.

As always you comments are always welcome here.

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