Tag Archives: Canaro

Beginners?

When do we stop being beginners? Can we ever stop learning in tango? When do we become advanced enough to teach?

All these questions I am constantly asking, and I am afraid I have yet to come up with a definitive answer. I myself have been dancing tango for more than ten years, nearer fifteen. The fact that I cannot even put an answer on this, I think, shows what a protracted journey it has been for me.

Even after all this time I still feel like a principiante when in the crowded and well organised milongas in Buenos Aires. The porteños have tango in their blood and understand that there is more to this dance than steps, or even the dance itself. They learn the music first, how to move to it comes only with time.

Yet here in the UK, I see people who take six months of classes and then think “I can teach this”, I see ballroom teachers whose only experience of tango is from a book, teaching steps and choreography, and I see DJ’s who think that it is clever to put something on other than tango (after all it is four-four time).

I am moved to write this after comments about people learning steps, who are considered to be no longer beginners. To be more than a beginner you need to immerse yourself in the music, you need to feel the hearts and minds of the greats like D’Arienzo or DiSarli and you need to be acquainted with the milongas of Buenos Aires.

So to me those who learn routines and dance steps will always be beginners. People who learn to dance this way cannot know the joy of a pure improvised tango and until they do they will not understand.

I have seen people who have learned steps come to Buenos Aires and stand confused and unable to move in the milongas. They take a step from their routine and find that they cannot make the next; they find themselves barged and pushed to the centre where they can do less harm. Unless they are prepared to start afresh they will leave disillusioned and look elsewhere for their dancing experience.

While I am happy to teach what I know and pass on my experience, I still lack much of the knowledge needed, even after all this time and as others will tell you, I still have trouble identifying the music.

I see tango watered down all the time, as more and more people come onto the scene, all wanting to make a buck from the new sensation. The only person I know of who ever became rich through tango was Francisco Canaro, and much of that was from cheating his fellow musicians. Nobody is ever going to become rich teaching tango in the UK, the most we can hope is to cover our costs.

To teach tango here for any other reason than the love of it, is cheating yourself and your customers.

The other great “mistake” I see is teaching for its own sake; how often in this country do we get a milonga without a workshop first? We see three or four hour classes with half an hour of practice. To my mind this is all about face, when we go to Buenos Aires we will take maybe one or two classes, but dance three or four hours a night, every night. That is a ratio of about ten to one, hours dancing to hours in class.

You will never become a better dancer by listening to someone talk, the only way to improve you dancing is to dance and dance some more, then go back and just have your dancing fine tuned a little each time, then dance some more, (In the words of one of my dance teachers “Practica, Bob, practica, practica, practica”).

You could, of course, just keep going and learning steps, but then you will be learning something else, not Tango.

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Andrew and Carole

I do not often take classes in tango, there is a reason; it is not that I think I have nothing to learn, nor is it because I think I am too good. No, it is more about a belief that there are few basic steps in tango and once we have mastered them, the trick is to use them in many different ways. The best way to do this (for me anyway) is to just keep dancing and the possibilities open out as the dance progresses. (New stuff appears also out of mistakes, so we should never write off errors but learn from them as we go).

Often in classes we see the same stuff just packaged differently, every body looking for an edge, something that makes their class a bit different. In the end more advanced dancers just get bored and beginners confused.

So having said all that, we turned up for a workshop with Andrew and Carole at The Croft. I had spoken to them at a previous Milonga and seen them dance in Buenos Aires. They could talk the talk, now I wanted to see if they could put it into action.

We started with some pretty basic stuff, line of dance, feeling the music, lane discipline, that sort of stuff. It all looked good to me. We talked of the embrace, how we dance for each other and not the audience.  I was enjoying what he was saying, because it was re enforcing all the things that I also say and it is always good to hear a different perspective.

Then he got very interesting; He talked about what happens at a Milonga about the cabeceo and how the man should go to the ladies table and how to lead her to the floor. Now many years ago, I leaned the basic eight, it was taught as if this was the dance, nobody said “this is only a teaching method” nobody said that we should not be learning sequences and it took me years to break out of the habit. Bear with me here, there is a point.

It seems that in days of yore, stage dancers in looking for a way to teach tango to the masses, saw something akin to the basic eight in the milongas and used this as a training aid and it all came about from the cabeceo:

So the man walks over to the ladies table, the invitation is accepted and the embrace is joined.  Now in a happy place, but not yet on the dance floor and with the man looking out.  You see at this point there is nowhere for the man to go but back, tables are in the way  and without breaking the embrace and dragging the woman onto the floor the man can do nothing but a back step. Once on the dance floor but facing out, the obvious next step is to the side along the line of dance. From here turning into the salida to face down the line of dance the next obvious (not the only of course but the most often used) step is into the cross. You do not need to go into resolucion of course, but now you can see where this is going, and how the basic eight got its origins. My mistake and that of my teachers (all those years ago) was believing that the back step should be against the line of dance and that this pattern was repeated. Now at last I had some clarity in what were after all my first experiences of tango.

I have, of course paraphrased what Andrew said, no doubt there are some errors, but to me at least, some things are now made clear. We did more of course and some of the vocabulary of tango that has mystified me was also explained, but the simple things are what I remember most.

What followed the class were some wonderful tandas, and when Andrew asked what we would like, we asked for some Canaro. Now I do not know if he reads this or if he just knew, but next came Poema and we just had to dance.

I have to thank Andrew Carole and of course Jo for a wonderful evening. The music and ambiance were as close to Buenos Aires as I have been in this country. I especially want to thank Carole for the dance, although I still struggle with the musicality of Pugliese. Why is it whenever I get the best dancers I always get the difficult music? Must be Murphy’s law again.

I caught some  of the end conversation between Jo and Andrew and if I read it correctly there should be a return milonga. Soon? I hope.

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Funny Thing

Funny how people come and go. If all the people who have been to one of our practica nights came at once, we would have to dance in the streets.

Still it was nice to see some long-lost friends again. The numbers never get too many; again we only had about half a dozen but an almost totally different crowd. Apart from one or two stalwarts I get a different bunch each time.

Our artists of the night were Canaro and Fresedo, but because of requests and questions, we in filled with some Pugliese, just to show the difference, and even threw in some D’Sarli at the end.

I just love the way Canaro treats milonga, and for some time the floor was left free for Viv and I to just do our thing. It meant I could really use the floor, a rare luxury when we have so little space. The small space does help though, for anyone who wishes to go to Buenos Aires it is good training on how to manage your dance and avoid collisions.

The question came up again, as it often does, about Ganchos. I was happy to demonstrate (and prove that even though I do not do them, I can) that to work well they should be led. And show why they should never be done on a social floor, I was ably assisted in this task by the owner of some new Comme il Faut shoes. The heels of which proved to be very much the lethal weapon that I hoped they would.

It is not supposed to be a class, but somehow that is how it always ends. That is the way I like it; teach people what they want and need rather than what I think they should learn.

Something else came up as well; the question of keeping it simple and as always it is the women who bring it up. I know that I have spoken of this before, but this time it was a woman who broached the subject to me. Men still have this mistaken belief that they must have a huge repertoire to impress the women, when all they want is a simple dance done well.

In an area as small as our living room there is not the space for big moves, it is essential to keep it simple. If the ladies are to enjoy the dance then they do not want to spend all their time trying to figure out what the man wants, ladies are naturally more musical (sexist comment of the day) so if you move to the music and show some musicality this will impress her far more than boleos by the dozen. I have been to hundreds of workshops in my time, and I doubt if there is a move I have not done (maybe not well and probably forgotten, but done none the less) but I choose to keep it simple because that is what I believe the ladies want.

On this subject I have been asked what did I learn from Jorge Garcia, I learnt to walk better is my reply, and that is exactly what I wanted, hopefully the women I dance with will appreciate the difference, and the fact that I am not putting them through an ordeal of new moves that they do not know and I cannot lead.

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Dancing the music

The time from our Saturday milonga to the Chester class on Monday seems an age. Of course we have a social dance on Sunday in Connah’s Quay, but these dances have now become just a fill in to the main event.

There is the usual scramble before we depart, ensuring we have the right shoes (I need my heels in case I have to follow). Then we are off again. Outside the Groves we see Katrina on her mobile, I say “hurry up we must dance before the class”. As there is only quarter of an hour before the class starts, I want to have a chance to make things up as soon as possible, but she gesticulates and mumbles something while carrying on with her phone call. That was the last I saw of her that night, what happened and why she did not come in I do not know, I do hope I get another chance to dance on Thursday.

When the beginners’ class starts there is again a shortage of women, so my heels will again come in handy. Some of the men looked rather worried, this is a fairly new group and they would not believe that I was going to dance the woman’s part. As things turned however a couple of women arrived and I could then join as a man.

The problem as always with the early class is that people arrive after the class starts and soon more men arrived, so after a short period sat out I again rejoined as a follower. The guy who had looked so worried was after all soon dancing with me.

Things continued fluctuating throughout the beginner’s class but in the main after this I led.

Something that I always notice is the difficulty that ballroom dancers have with tango. The fact that they are acquainted with the mechanics of motion and are able to move with the music seems to help little. Ballroom dancers lead from the hip and this posture of leaning back is totally at odds with the forward posture adopted by tango dancers. While I acknowledge this is Sharon’s class, her concern is with the whole class and can not devote too much time to one person. Maybe next week I can spend some time with the ballroom ladies and get their posture sorted.

In the improvers class we again worked on the giro, my problem as always is steps, so I have to take care to do the move that Sharon has taught and not just make something up as I usually do, and run the risk of confusing every one.

We also spent some time moving to the music, this is something all the British have trouble with, unlike the Spanish and Argentines, who will move to any music without training and still look better than us. We can learn steps and we can do them to the beat, but this is not the same as interpreting the music through dance. Learning that you cannot do the same thing to Canaro as you would to DiSarli is not something many teachers here put emphasis on, I take my hat off to Sharon for trying, and daring to be different.

As usual at the end we had some practice time. I managed to dance with most of the women, but it was only Sharon with whom I managed to redeem my self for Saturday.

I hope to try again Thursday and catch up with those I have missed.

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Gridlock

Another of Sally’s recomendations is the Rosedahl, so I thought we would have a relaxing day there. I spent twenty minutes with the Guia T trying to decide which collectivo to take. In the end I gave up, we are on holiday with plenty of time, it is easier to walk, and more healthy.

As we walked through the gate a dog passed through as well, obviously this one could not read, as a big sign said “Perros No”. We sat and ate an apple drinking our Jugo Pomelo and watched ammused as a warden tried in vain to catch the dog. When she had finally given up the dog, who obviously could recognise dog lovers, came and lay down behind our bench.  He was a mangy beast covered in sores and scratches. He also seemed to spend most of his time in a state of arousal.

The gardens were full of maintenance people and we were moved on by a guy with a strimmer. He did not want us hit by flying gravel. The dog followed. We relocated to some benches by the waters edge, and Viv carried on reading. In time a family came past, they made the mistake of stroking our faithless dog, now he was theirs. We watched again ammused as they attempted to get rid of him, even calling one of the wardens over.

As we sat, suddenly we were sprayed with bird droppings. Just at that time a couple suddenly appeared to help, with tissues and water. What we did not realise imediately was that said droppings arrived from the side and were not of bird dropping consistancy. Viv had the wearwithall to put all her things back into her bag and close it. I allowed the woman to offer my wet tissues but would not let her touch me. The ladrones soon gave up and went after other prey, but the stuff they had sprayed on us stunk.

We moved away and eventually found somewhere else to rest. I left Viv reading and explored a little. There is another exit over the water on a bridge that looks almost Japanese. On the far side of the bridge I saw our dog again whimpering, it seems he never found a new owner, had we been more permanent here I would have taken sympathy on him, but I do not think Philippe would have thanked me for lumbering him with a dog.

We walked back past the zoo, and on the back fence was a big poster entreating us not to abandon our pets. Was this aimed especially at me?

As I have said before, for those who do not know, almost all the streets here are one way. The one we were travelling up now was no exception other than although the traffic was all facing the same way, non of it was moving. Aparently if you make enough noise with your horn people will get out of the way, but not today. Further up the street some cars had turned around, trying to drive against the flow causing even more chaos. About the centre we saw a furniture van delivering a bookshelf, I thought at first this was causing the holdup, but the chaos continued in front, and the two guys delivering were laughing with a sort of schadenfreude.

When we got to the next junction it all became clear, in typical Argentine fashion, they were repairing the road. The whole of the junction was being resurfaced, but noone had posted signs at the ends of the roads, so there were two streets full of traffic with nowhere to go. All they could do was sound their horns and overheat their engines. No one had the where withall to get out of their car walk to the end of the street and tell the drivers coming up what was happening, and to simply turn around.

For our nightly dance we return to Viejo correo, literally the old post office. There have been some alterations here, the cieling has been covered with some sort of splatted concrete and the old facimily of La Boca has gone, also alot of the paintings are missing and there has been some general rearanement.

I was dissapointe with tonight, the tandas were arranged in a completely random fashion and the standard of dance was awful. There was much changing of lanes, people running into the back of us, and just inconsiderate use of the floor. Considering that it was not crowded the dancing was very difficult. Friday night here was one of my favourites I think I will have to cross it off my list.

There was even one guy who was doing some very fancy nuevo stuff, big lifts, ganchos and stuff. The problem was he was completely out of time. When there was a milonga he was almost there, but when Canaro was played, he did not slow down a bit. We left for an early night.

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Basic eight and more

OK so last night I took the Chester class. I had planned to do something about the lead and the embrace, but Sharon had asked me to go over the basic eight in preparation for the coming year.

There was one guy who was fairly new, but in general everyone including the new guy was very soon doing the eight with no problems. We went on to make it a seven, leaving out the back step, but this was never going to fill two hours.

I decided to ask if anyone had anything they wanted help with, and everyone either said ochos or giros.  We spent some time going over the steps of the giro, until someone asked the killer question “if tango is improvised then why do we learn steps?” it was as if I had planted the question. Now I could break the moves down into their basics and show that any ocho or giro could be started or finished at any point. The lady must wait for each lead, because the man may not go the way they think he will go.

I then gave them something of a demo; I chose a fairly new partner and asked her forgiveness for what I was about to do. I played Poema by Canaro, I think one of the most beautiful pieces ever written.  I then proceeded to ignore the music and do every move I could think of, it was horrible, she hated it, and every one could see that she was struggling.

I apologised again and asked how it was for her. Now I asked for a second chance, Poema again, but this time I listened to the music, we did nothing but walk, but changing speed and direction as the music dictated. She was happy, we looked good, our audience enjoyed it and I did not even lead an ocho.

I set the class back to their tasks, telling them not to lead just giros and ochos but fill in with walking and feel the music. I picked my drink up as my mouth was dry and when I turned back everyone was dancing, not as in a class, not practicing , but just dancing.

At this point I gave up teaching and just left the music on. I no longer had a class, but a group of Tango dancers.

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