Tag Archives: The Coracle

Visitors

Many will have heard me rant on about moves people and how their tango disrupts social tango and often makes more than just their partners uncomfortable. We know that their style of learning is different and they do not learn the basics of the lead and follow.

Sometimes though what we know is challenged, our basic beliefs are proven wrong and we are driven to question what we have always known.

We had some visitors to the Shrewsbury class, they did what I often do, search out what tango is around the places we visit. They were holidaying not too far away and decided to visit The Lantern and see what tango was like in Shrewsbury. The man of the couple was an absolute beginner and so was exiled to the back room to have some intensive technique in walking and leading. For a change the numbers allowed me to stay with the main class and see what they were all learning. I had a chat with our visitor, and it seems she had come from classes that were nothing like ours, they learnt moves and little technique, but I thought that in the interval I would take her round the floor and see how she performed. I admit to being pleasantly surprised, she followed well and as I slowly upped the level, at no time was she phased.

As I have often said, women follow instinctively and I am sure that this is in part what was happening, but also I think that, despite everything, there must have been some element of lead and follow in her other classes. Our tango worlds may not always sit happily together, but, as has been proven, we can cross the divide happily, provided we remember where we are at any given time.

I do wonder though if it would be quite so easy to cross the divide for a man. My first steps in tango were all about moves, my routine based tango stayed with me through most of my formative years of salon tango. I never lost it until I went to Buenos Aires, then in two intensive weeks of dancing my tango changed forever, and my routine was lost.

No matter how hard I tried I could not recover my routine. I could not even remember how we started. I think that now, as I try to dance the music, I am unable to arrange my moves in a pre arranged order, routine simply will not fit to the music, the music dictates.

I would love to hear from men, can you go from Nuevo to salon easily? Have others lost their routine when faced with hours of salon tango? And more importantly can any men survive in both worlds?

After the class we had our usual meeting in The Coracle and had further options to explore the differences in our tango worlds. One thing that still surprises me is that women actually prefer a gentle simple dance; they do not get bored with doing the same thing, longing for more and more complex moves. When you dance the music, that decides what you should do and the way you mix up the moves and alter cadence can make even very few moves feel like an interesting dance.

We men all do it; we worry that, maybe, that was one too many ochos, or is she getting bored with not enough moves. Yes even me, we also see good dancers and think “I could not possibly ask her to dance” We all have our own crisis’ of confidence, we men have fragile egos, in this way tango is much like sex; women have complex desires but a man prefers the woman who just tells him he is great in bed or on the dance floor. 

So while I can bang on that there is no need to do more and more complex moves, and you must dance the music and the women will love you for it, the women must play their part and tell us that this is what they want, or we will just go off and learn more moves just to try and please you.

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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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Conflicting Advice

Advice given to beginners can often seem conflicting, just the advice we give about embrace and how we hold our arms can be enough to drive you to distraction, so sometimes it can be prudent to limit what we teach, and if you like, drip feed the information. Sometimes this is seen as a way of making the classes last longer, or extracting more money out of the students. Often when I give advice, I am told “but I have been told the opposite is true” I try to explain that it is more about subtleties, but only time and experience can truly teach.

The beginners class in Shrewsbury is a great success again, we arrived there to see a huge number of new students. (it is the second week, work again kept me away for the first). We did not take part in the first class as we arrived late, but as we watched I was impressed with the standard that was already being achieved.

In the interval I took a few of the new women for a walk around the room (two weeks and you could not expect much more). Those I took followed well and picked up on my changes of cadence with a good feel for the music. As I gave advice on posture and following, I was asked “how do I know from all the advice I am being given what is good and what is bad” My answer is simple, and although not definitive, it will help. If someone tells you to step here or to put your leg there, them they are not teaching you to tango, if however they help you with your posture, show you how to respond to leads and just follow, then that for me is what tango is all about.

An example: I was dancing with one of the intermediates towards the end of the evening, I led something (can’t remember now what it was) she said ” that was awful”(meaning her following) “can we do it again” this time I was not so good, so we did it again. Apart from the request to do it again, and the cheer at the end when we got it right, there were no other words spoken. Never did I say “you should be there” or “put your foot here” we learnt with our bodies. Tango is a two way conversation, body on body. In the milongas in Buenos Aires, the conversation ceases when they dance, only the bodies talk.

Anyway for the second class I was sent to the back room with the beginners. We had four couples stay on and I had a chance to work with them, and perhaps give them a bit of Bob’s philosophy. At one point I stopped the class, all the ladies were smiling, THAT is what we want to achieve. You do not dance salon tango for the audience, Men you have a beautiful lady in front of you, if she looks anything less than beautiful on the dance floor, then that is your fault. Why would you care what the people sitting around think of you? You have been given, a gift, an honour, and a pleasure this wonderful woman is allowing you to dance with her enjoy her time and make dammed sure that she enjoys it as well. If you cannot lead something or your lady cannot follow it, do something else, we teach in classes, not on the dance floor.EVER.

Some conflicting advice again here; one guy was taking very small steps, so much so that when he led me I could not feel where he was taking me, now it seems Dave had told him when doing double time to take small steps and now I was telling him to take big steps. You can see how confusion arrises. I belive we resolved this one, but I would say to all who go to classes, when you get conflicting advice, Ask. More often than not it can be explained, and the more you understand the explanations the better will become your tango.

 We had a good crowd in The Coracle again, conversation ebbed and flowed. It seems I am missing out on some Facebook friends, I have since put that right, but I still find it hard to understand why anyone would want to contact me via Facebook, there is this blog, all my friends know my email address, you can even find me on google if you try hard enough. There is so much rubbish on there that it took me two hours to respond to one message yesterday, and my wife is complaining that I spend too much time on the computer as it is. Rant almost over, just to say I have turned my email notifications off, so if you try to get me on Facebook I probably will not respond. My Email however I check fanatically.

 OK another rant my spell check has just come up with this 

Reword lady

Bias words and phrases may express gender, ethnic, or racial bias. These can turn people off. Bias-free language has the same meaning and treats people with respect.

Replace lady with

  • woman

YOU HAVE TO BE JOKING!!  If I wanted to show bias or lack of respect, I can do a lot better than this.

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Endings

If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.

 OK not that sort of endings, but the sort where you finish a dance as if you meant to, not where did the music go? And not, is it ever going to end? Good dramatic endings of course depend on knowing exactly when and how the music will end. This can only be achieved if you know the music very well, or the music follows a traditional pattern. Of course if it is traditional and you know the tune as well, then there can be no excuse for not finishing well.

Part of the Shrewsbury class this week concentrated mainly on endings, and we stopped over and over, looking at ways in which we could end dramatically and with style. For me though, it is the way that the music ends which will dictate how I finish, so that listening to the music and knowing it, is the most important part. I did practice all the endings I could think of, including my Bogart impersonation, and of course I had a chance to try some new endings as well.

The class started badly for me, I sat at the back with Dave talking tango as usual. Unknown to me there was no beginners and no intermediates just one long class, so as we talked I had missed some of the point. Dave and I were asked to join in as there was a shortage of men, and I had to ask what we were doing. Keep up Bob. We all did our own dance, and being me, I did lots of secadas. Sharon now directed us to lead the woman to do the steps we had done. This was an exercise in leading, as the women had not been taught the steps we were doing; we really had to lead it. Boy! Did I give myself a hard task, not one of the women wanted to come straight at me, and they made every effort to avoid me. As I have pointed out here before tango is about illusion and the most difficult part was to get them to do almost nothing, so I got no displacement and too much activity, I guess it did not look good. Fortunately this was only an exercise and would not be repeated in the dance, it gave me some food for thought though.

Things were not going well for Bob the expert, tonight, still they could only get better. A session of no side steps was next. Dave said something and Sharon said “does anyone else not do side steps?” Fool that I am I came to Dave’s defense, and my reward was to be told to do little else but side steps. It was all good practice but again I had made a rod for my own back. There are only so many things that you can do with a side step and very soon I was drying up.

So it was with relief that I set off for The Coracle again. Back in the bar I can talk tango and sound like an expert, without having to do too much. Again we hit on the subject of dancers who just do moves, no feeling no real lead and no musicality. So now we have a new name for them, they do stuff, so now they are “stuff dancers”

On Monday I was back to my confused sexuality, numbers were more or less even and I could start the class as a leader. When another man arrived I could stand out and watch, we were revising the back ochos, so I was not missing much. I was soon allowed to re-enter the class when another woman arrived. Realizing perhaps that I was not getting much out of it and Ali, who had returned, wished to lead Sharon suggested that we change roles. Now I suspect that Ali works out and may well be strong for a woman, but I know that as a man I am not the lightest of followers and was very conscious of the fact that I can sometimes give just a little too much weight. She seemed to cope well, but I think was as glad as I was when I moved on. Not let me hasten to say that I did not enjoy dancing with her. As a follower she danced well with me, and as a leader she also did well, the problem is with me, I do not carry my own axis well as a follower and prefer to lean against someone bigger. (I did think to say big men, but that sounded just a little gay).

Too soon again it was time to leave; I need my beauty sleep if I am to get up at five, but will be rested and ready before Saturday’s milonga.

If you enjoyed this, leave a comment. If you did not enjoy it, leave a comment.  All opinions are valued and without them I will only get bitter and self opinionated

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You Tube ?

When I noticed a lady getting kicked in the practica, I of course intervened. A secada is supposed to be a replacement; there is no force attached, and definitely no kicking or pushing. Now our perpetrator replied that he was not doing a secada, but something he had seen on you tube.

Of course this was not tango and I told him so, his reply was that this was a tango guy doing it. I was getting nowhere here and this as I have often said is not my class, so for now I let it lie. I hope he will not try this again, words will have to be exchanged we cannot have the ladies kicked.

This brings me to another subject altogether; It seems that for some You Tube is a legitimate teaching device, I think that this is wrong on two levels:

Firstly; anyone who has tried to learn any type of dancing from videos, discs, or the net will have found eventually it does not work. Your screen will not pick up your faults. You may well assume something is correct and nobody will be there to put you right. Tango uniquely is more about musicality, posture, and a conversation between leader and follower. How on earth can anyone hope to learn this on their own, what you see in tango is mostly an illusion, we invite our followers to move and make the world believe we have moved them with our feet or whatever, see this on you tube and of course you will believe the illusion and try to copy. You tube does not teach you how to lead, how to stand, or how to move.

Secondly and even more importantly, the internet is democratic. Anyone who happens upon this blog that does not know me, only has what I say here as evidence of who I am and what I know. This applies to the internet in general, anyone can put almost anything (decency aside) on to you tube. I could put a film on there telling the world of my financial qualifications and my answer to the world’s financial crisis; would you all close your deposit accounts on my say so? Would you sell me all your gold for a pittance just because I was on Youtube? I think not, but for some reason anyone who posts videos of tango is deemed to be an expert. Some may well be, others not, but the one thing all these videos have in common is, you cannot learn tango from them.

I can’t make Shrewsbury this week, so the normal lively debate from The Coracle will have to go unreported. My next post may have to wait until I have something more to say without the Coracle chat I will be short on ideas. Of course if anyone wants to suggest a topic, I am sure to have an opinion.

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Music and Movement

If you are a certain age and English (I do not know if this applies to Scotland and Wales) you may remember a time when there was only one radio in your school. This was located in the headmaster’s office and every day at eleven the teacher would come in with a large board with feet and a speaker in the centre. This would be plugged into the wall so that we could all listen to the BBC.

Sad the things you remember, Racheal Percival, Marjorie Eele and especially William Appleby, the presenters of “Music and Movement”. We would all sit or stand doing dance like movements all at the directions of these wonderful presenters. Sadly these days are long gone along with the light service on which they were broadcast.

Thursday night and the beginners were allowed for this occasion to stay with the intermediates. We were lined up on either side of the room and recreated “Music and Movement”. My side of the room were instructed to move to the rhythmical music while on the opposite side they moved only to the lyrical.

Roles were reversed and everyone suddenly started to feel the music. When we coupled up we were instructed to dance with someone of our own level so that it did not matter that we had so many beginners.

So we were asked to just dance to the music as we had been doing, it looked not too bad to me, but stuck in the body of the class it is difficult to tell. Next the ladies were asked to do what they felt to the music. Although hard leading from the front and difficult for the men to follow everyone coped well. The class moved much more slowly when the women led, there was more emphasis on the lyrical, less rushing around, dare I say, more feeling. So next we were asked to discuss with our partner what we had done and then cooperate and do the next dance.

We changed couples and repeated the exercise; still the men do not get it. When asked they say “when we do some thing lyrical the music has already changed”. This of course is why we need to know the music, and why we need the traditional tango that follows a pattern.  We men are simple creatures, keep the rules simple and we can follow them. Introduce complex tunes, mix up the rhythms and we are unable to cope.

So what have we learned?; when it is lyrical, slow it down; know the music, really know the music; and when we slow it down and feel the music the ladies love it.

I have the feeling that some like to make Tango something complex, foot positioning, the embrace, posture, all must be just so. Of course the embrace is important, posture likewise, but everywhere I go now I see people who are getting in an advanced state of stress over a dance. We dance for enjoyment, few classes I have been to have been this much fun and few if any have so reached what tango is all about.

Back at The Coracle we discussed this, how we had thirty people now moving to the music, dancing with each other and yet the room moved in a big wave, not creating gaps nor log jams, simply because we were listening to the music.

I am afraid I got a bit passionate when the subject of teachers came up; it seems after a very short time everyone thinks that they can teach tango. I hear it all the time in classes; beginners try to teach other beginners who have had one less class. Someone who went to a workshop now has all the techniques to teach what they have learned and after less than a year people rush off to set up their own classes.

To be good enough to teach takes a long time, or as in Sharon’s case a lot of work. To teach Argentine tango without knowledge of Argentina is a falsehood and, apart from one notable exception I know of no one who does it well without that knowledge.

I was sitting on the radiator while this went on, and I cooled down when I moved, but my feelings remain the same, I know those who can teach, those who have the knowledge and those who have the experience, and as such I know those teachers with whom I would not take a class even as an assistant. We left it at that, even those who sympathise with my views cannot fully understand without knowing Buenos Aires so there was little point in pursuing it any more, there will always be those who dance tango and those who know tango, I like to think that I may one day become one of the latter but those who have never visited the city of tango never will know tango.

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Men with big feet

This week we had some hints and tips for dancing to Pugliese. Now my views on Pugliese are well known, I don’t like dancing to the later tunes although I do enjoy listening to them. That said we were dancing to the early stuff and the strong rhythms and changes of pace gave us an enjoyable interlude.

One of the things we were doing was a very slow cross. Dave was asked to demonstrate with Sharon, it looked good. ( I reckon they had been practicing) However somebody noticed that Dave’s forward step moved out slightly, he said it was because he had big feet. Now you know what they say about men with big feet? Yes, they wear big shoes. Still it gave us some ammunition for some ribald comments later in The Coracle.

When these ribald comments arrived I did notice a wry grin on Alison’s face, is there truth in the rumours I wonder? The talk as usual revolved around tango, and the music. A comment by Dave I think deserves more exploration “The music is not an optional extra” The porteños dance because they love the music, and when I see people dance here to non tango, I wonder; how can you say you love tango without a love for the music? If it is a desire to become like something from Strictly, then this is not the place for you. Sex on the dance floor? Well I have news, in all my years I have only met one woman who was looking for a boy friend. There have been one or two romances, of course, but these are the exceptions. Those women who come alone usually have a husband or partner at home, and are just out for the social buzz. I seem to be popular with the ladies here (something new for me) I think that they are secure in the knowledge that I am very married, and look for nothing other that a good dance. The growing popularity of Line Dancing proves my point, there is no opportunity to get together there, so it ends up predominantly women, salsa likewise, you are together barely long enough to exchange names. Tango is the only dance where you socialise with a partner long enough and in an environment where you can get to know each other. So we meet and dance, enjoy each others company and the closeness of our bodies, safe in the knowledge that we will leave separately and that the relationship is just on the floor, nothing more..

 But what about the music? I hear you ask (go on ask me). It has to be enjoyed, women often close their eyes, not just so that they can follow better, but to better enjoy the music, I believe. If a man does not feel the music, does not move with it and just enjoy, then the woman cannot possibly respond well. Again as we danced to Pugliese great pauses happen and a lady with whom I was dancing (herself not much more than a beginner) commented that she loved the way I slowed down with the music. Come on men, this is not rocket science, to move with the music, to feel what the composer was saying, this is dancing. Dancing is not throwing her in the air, doing great big voleos or ganchos, trying to impress with your huge repertoire will just frustrate her, let her know that you feel the music, now that will impress.. It has taken me years to come to this conclusion. Years when teachers taught me moves, years when I learned kicks and flicks, and years when women probably hated dancing with me. Years wasted in not understanding why we dance, love is on the dance floor, for three minutes you love the woman you are with, but she will never know unless you also love the music you are dancing to as well.

Seems my post about the Shrewsbury Tango Rent a Mob has been taken too seriously. We had a very robust debate about the name. It looks like people do not like the Mob Idea. We had various suggestions as to what it should be called, and I thought it was just a joke, Is the world ready? I ask myself.

It had to happen one day, work and dancing just do not mix. Some times when I am not working there is not a venue anywhere where we can dance, this Saturday our friend Steve was performing at Llay British legion, another great artist Bill Dennis was performing at Ewloe, hard choice, but they were trumped by a milonga at Pant, Three venues where we could go. So where did we end up? I came home from work and fell asleep, not waking until quarter to nine. By the time I would have showered, changed, and driven there, it would have been time to come home. So for the first time I failed totally on a Saturday night. Viv did not wake me because she said that I needed it, she was right, of course, but I still missed the dancing, the music and all the three-minute romances.

I hope to make it up Monday night.

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