Monday, 31 August 2015

Not-boring stage tango!


Here's a thing. The performance beginning at 13 minutes in this video is the very first time I've ever seen tango escenario (stage tango or tango-ballet) done as though it were being done sincerely as expressive dance, rather than just an athletic display or pose-fest. Her dress is designed to place the action in time; they make bold use of a simple prop to tell a touching story; it corresponds with the lyrics; they even act. The dancing mostly serves it. Acting is so much better when you've got something to say. The embed should start from 13:00.


They are couple number 546, Juan Pablo Bulich and Rocia Garcia Liedo.

They didn't win; they placed second. The winning performance comes at 11:19 in section 3, by Camila Alegre and Ezequiel Jesus Lopez. I think this one is also better than the others. I watched it without feeling bored, because it's another coherent performance with the dancing appearing to serve a sincerely-held idea that corresponded with the music, as opposed to a mess of conventional tropes serving as excuses for poses. It didn't grab me as much as the one above, but it might be better technique-wise. The second embed shows the winning performance from 1:15, with the presentations before that.


All the others are much of a muchness, to me, give or take some business with clothing, and I don't have any reason to suggest you watch them, except in order to find out if you agree or not. You can find all the relevant videos at the bottom of this playlist or at Aires de Milonga.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Empathy in teachers

Sometimes you notice that someone is following their true vocation.

The ability to detect how people are feeling in themselves, independently of what they express, makes you a better teacher. It's not the same as the ability to explain things clearly. Instead, it allows you to go straight to the heart of whatever problem the student is having with understanding or execution. If you tell them how they are feeling, they will tell you what the problem is. It allows you to remove obstacles, easily, that would prevent someone else's just-as-clear explanation being any use at all.

Empathy, an unfeigned interest in other people, gets things done.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Leading FAQ

As these actually are, unlike most "FAQs", somewhat FA, I thought I might as well write down my current answers.

Why do you lead?
I like good dancing, I enjoy working on my dance, and I want to dance with the women as well. They're great. I was also really curious to find out what it felt like.

Do you find you keep trying to go the wrong way and do everything the wrong way round?
Yes, at first, but it wears off quickly. Having other people around seems to sort it out. Doing the mirror-image of whatever I was trying to do, also seems to be less common with time. The more I practice, the better I can visualise whatever it is I want to do.

Do you have a hard time remembering to keep your eyes open?
Yes, at first! But this also wears off very quickly.

How does it affect your following?
It's made it better. The very first thing it did, the first time I tried it, was tune me into the music a bit differently. The next thing was to give me confidence as a follower, because you discover what you've been doing right, especially just how magic it feels if you follow well and move well. When I started doing it more seriously, it improved my technique, making me stronger and better grounded. After a bit more practice, I started to learn how good the women are, and what that actually means, and what it feels like when they really start to get into it, which is enchanting. And I also find it improves my concentration and frees me from the pressure to do too much and try too hard as a follower; I usually feel in myself that I am dancing better just after I've been leading.

That's so brave!?
If you're already a good follower, and then you start leading and taking it seriously, you just have to accept that you're going to go back to not being very good for a while. You had the privilege of learning to follow first, which saves a lot of work. But it's still a lot of work; so if you want to do it, and you have the opportunity, you do it, and if you don't specially want to do it, you don't bother. The men seem to manage it.

How do the men react?
I have yet to encounter any negative reaction from anyone, male or female. The men I regularly dance with as a follower have without exception been enthusiastically encouraging, and they are often interested to hear my perspective and experiences as well as share their own. I have also found it's a real and particular pleasure to share the floor amicably with someone as a fellow leader and then later dance with him for the first time. Sometimes - often - they make some pleasant remark about having seen me leading.

How do you find the floorcraft?
Some places are obviously much harder than others. It does take practice, especially to avoid getting too close to the couple in front. I started out at emptier times and places.  It takes miles on the clock to be able to deal with the cognitive load of leading, responding to the follower, and keeping track of where other couples are and how they are moving. That's one reason why there is always so much you can do in practice that you can't do in the milonga. If the floor is chaotic and stressful and generally hard to deal with, my technique will be weaker and I'll make a lot more errors, my improvisation will be much more repetitive, and I'll deal with it much less gracefully if I accidentally do something I didn't know how to do.

In some places, it's very difficult, and in others it's easy, but I find I can deal with it; better or worse depending on the difficulty level.

Do you always lead?
No, it depends on the situation. To some milongas I go to to lead, to some milongas I go to follow, to some milongas I go to do both. In that case, I usually start the milonga leading, then switch, and sometimes at that point I will change my 'look' in more than just the shoes. Sometimes I decide when I get there.

Which do you prefer?
Supposing other things to be equal, I usually say that I prefer following because I'm much better at it. I don't think I have enough experience at leading to say whether one is more fun that the other under ideal conditions. I'm finding leading very addictive, perhaps because I've had less experience, and therefore improvement with work is so much more noticeable. The process of discovery is also fun in itself. And the social side is fascinating. At the moment, I'd say that they are very different states of mind and it is a bit like saying whether I prefer steak or icecream. It depends on so many things. Equality is not equivalence.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Sir John Taylor's Top Hat

When we lived in Manchester in the 80s, my Dad was a partner in a law firm called John Taylor & Co. The firm's founder, John Taylor, had written the definitive technical book about contracts for buying woven cloth. He gave many lectures on the subject, and was knighted "for political and public services in Blackburn" (Supplement to the London Gazette, 11 May 1937). In case you are wondering, that is the same Blackburn, Lancashire as in the song, and that's where John Taylor was from, and where he originally started the firm. He had an original approach to practice development, arranging to work on the morning shift in a textile mill before going into the office, which is why he understood things like how many faults per square inch you could customarily have before cloth became 'seconds'. He died in his 90s, without retiring, perhaps a decade before Dad joined the firm.

As the textile industry completed its decline, the firm merged with another one and the offices of John Taylor & Co were cleared out. My Dad felt very sad about the loss of the firm's history and brand, which had been very well known and respected for generations. He rescued some things that would otherwise have been thrown away; a few documents, I think, that didn't mean much any more, and Sir John Taylor's top hat.

It still lives in its original box.


The leather box is in very good condition; the largest strap is worn and flaking, and the handle is worn, but all the buckles undo quite easily with no stiffness.

The box is lined with deep pink velvet, and the hat has some tissue paper inside.


On removing the paper, I discover that Sir John's bow-tie has also been preserved. My Dad thinks that a top-hat and bow tie may have been required wear at the Cotton Exchange, so it would make perfect sense for Sir John to keep them at the office. And when he eventually died, there they stayed. The Cotton Exchange was where the weavers and spinners went to make deals with the Liverpool merchants, and was probably the reason why the firm opened an office in Manchester after beginning in Blackburn.


The maker's label reads:
Scotts
Hatters to H.M. the King
1 Old Bond Street, W.
London


However, in the top, not only Scotts' name is given, but also the name of Alfred Pellett Ltd of Manchester. So perhaps Sir John was measured for the hat in Manchester by Pellett, and the hat ordered from London, or even manufactured or finished in Manchester by Pellett as some sort of licensee for the Scotts brand. Of course he could have ordered the hat in London - we know for sure that he went there at least once, to be knighted - but in that case I don't see why it would have Pellett's name. At any rate, the initials JT have been added, proudly embossed in gold. I suppose Scotts offered some personalisation as part of their service.

I also don't see any dates here. Scotts as a company existed at least from 1890 to 1963, and the words "The King" only make sense between January 1901, when Queen Victoria died, and the present Queen's coronation in 1953.


Finally, I lift out the hat.


I suppose that the material is silk velvet. I'm curious about how it's made. I particularly admire the top; the circular nap seems to have grown that way, like the crown of an animal's head. There are no visible seams.


The raised edges of the brim are beautifully done. In this picture you can also see the only sign of damage. The hat has certainly been worn a fair amount, but perhaps it was reserved for special business - remembering that it was left in the firm's offices, not at Sir John's home.



I also admire the box, and how it's perfectly adapted to the shape of the hat.



The only thing I have done is gently lift off a little dust with a microfibre cloth. Otherwise I have touched it as little as possible and put it back in the box.


If you know anything about the manufacture of top hats in London or Manchester by Scotts, Pellett, or anyone else, I'd be interested to hear it in the comments or by email at the usual address.
______________________
1 This is probably the right citation: "The KING has been graciously pleased, on the occasion of His Majesty's Coronation, to signify his intention of conferring the Honour of Knighthood upon the following: — ... John Taylor, Esq. For political and public services in Blackburn." That's a bit vague, I was expecting "services to the textile industry". I'm curious as to what the 'political services' were - it might or might not mean that he served in some public office in Blackburn, perhaps as a councillor. In the next issue, 15th June 1937, we see him travelling to Buckingham Palace to receive his honour. The Gazette search is pretty good once you get the hang of it.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Go outside and look now

Look towards the sunset right now and just above the roofline of a house as far away as the other side of a car park there are Venus (big) and Jupiter very close together (small, higher, to the left - or lower and to the right, if you are in the Southern Hemisphere - no, wait - it seems like that should work but I am not sure there is anywhere you could actually see them from). My binoculars are not achromatic, and my eyes are not perfect either, but in the twilight I can see one, maybe two moons of Jupiter; and convince myself that Venus is a fat crescent, like the lady in Midsummer Night's Dream, with her belly toward the Sun.

TITANIA

    Set your heart at rest:
    The fairy land buys not the child of me.
    His mother was a votaress of my order:
    And, in the spiced Indian air, by night,
    Full often hath she gossip'd by my side,
    And sat with me on Neptune's yellow sands,
    Marking the embarked traders on the flood,
    When we have laugh'd to see the sails conceive
    And grow big-bellied with the wanton wind;
    Which she, with pretty and with swimming gait
    Following,--her womb then rich with my young squire,--
    Would imitate, and sail upon the land,
    To fetch me trifles, and return again,
    As from a voyage, rich with merchandise.
    But she, being mortal, of that boy did die;
    And for her sake do I rear up her boy,
    And for her sake I will not part with him.


A passage the context of which had made little impression on me as a youngster. The speech was much stronger when I looked it up just now, compared to what I remembered.

Update: most readers will have missed that because it took me so long to fix the formatting, but the bright thing at at 3 o'clock from the Moon right now (or 9 o'clock if you are the other way up) is Saturn, and in my binoculars it is an oval blob, not a circular blob like Jupiter is.

Monday, 22 June 2015

58, crore, and 27

This is brilliant. I've known about crores and lakhs since about 2001, although I always have to look up what they are (one lakh is a hundred thousand, written "1,00,000"; one crore is a hundred hundred thousand - or ten thousand thousand, or ten million, written "1,00,00,000"). If you don't know them already, you will meet them a lot if you start reading articles about bribery and corruption in cricket. But this video gets way better than that. My favourite part:

"and I think that's one of the best things about linguistics, about being human, about all of this, someone on the other side of the world, something that they will consider absolutely normal, will completely blow your mind".

Sunday, 7 June 2015

The Travels of Tuneage - Dark Eyes

It appears that the words of the song known as "Dark Eyes" were written by a Ukranian poet called Yevhen Pavlovych Hrebinka, who published a Russian version in 1843, possibly as a compliment to the woman he later married. It was then set - it doesn't seem clear by whom or when - to a waltz written, probably in Russia, perhaps as early as the 1810s, by a German (or possibly French) composer called Florian or Feodor Hermann.

First, here's the playlist link for this post, in case you want to open it in another window and just let it play.

The title of this waltz is given by Wikipedia and others in French as "valse hommage", but this pianist, Alexander Zlatkovski of Alaska,  calls it "Recollection", which seems to me like a reasonable translation. His research has found one account saying it started out as a march and was changed to a waltz by the composer, which is interesting in relation to what happens later, although he's not at all convinced.



The result - perhaps with a minor rewrite adding some gloomier words, since Hrebinka and the young lady seem to have got on fine - was the song popularised by the Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin. The title Очи чёрные is written in several ways in Roman letters, but most often as "ochi chornye". A similar version is played by violinist Albert Sandler in this Pathé clip (not on the Youtube playlist).



At about the same time - 1915 to 1920 - it seems to have been rewritten with English words by an British Italian composer, Adalgiso Ferraris. He made one big change; the rhythm. Here's Al Bowlly singing. Rhythmically and melodically, and minus the over-drastic changes of speed towards the end, this would be a sweet tango, a bit like Rafael Canaro's French ones. It doesn't have enough oomph for me, and it's too dominated by the vocalist, but it's quite nice.



Ferraris is also the credited on this '78 by Harry Parry and his radio sextet; but they're taking it in a totally different direction, dancewise.



Toto, I don't think we are waltzing any more.

Nor, apparently, did Louis Armstrong, or his percussionist:



That's the one that started me making this little collection, when Deborah Segantini posted it on Facebook.

 So, we get lots of different versions, each artist adding their own riffs to complement the simple and memorable tune.

Django Reinhardt called it "Les Yeux Noirs".



This French movie version of Les Yeux Noirs, is a waltz again, with accordion. But only until the end of the vocal line. Then it changes at 1:50 and goes for the 'gypsy' sound.



This bombastic performance by the Red Army Choir does the same thing. Eventually.

There's also a German waltz version which seems to be just a translation - Schwartze Augen - of Chaliapin's hit, and, in my opinion, need not detain us, not even on the playlist. I far prefer the drunk-sounding jazz one from the soundtrack of Das Boot.

Chet Atkins' version follows Les Yeux Noirs in starting out as a waltz and then changing after the first minute and doing something else.



I can't really compare all these very different styles of music. But of all the ways this melody gets extended and enhanced, I think Francisco Canaro's B-tune in Ojos Negros is exceptionally good. Instead of brilliant variations on the tune and rhythm, this beautiful tango - with Roberto Maida singing the Spanish words - adds a second melody the equal of the first. As far as I know, the second melody is original to this piece - if anyone knows otherwise, do put it in the comments.



Now, let's meet a totally different sound world. This one was written in Sundanese (the language of the western part of Java) by an Indonesian composer Ismael Marzuki in honour of his wife, who was from round there.



It actually reminds me, a bit, of the more lyrical kizombas (kizomba is the "angolan tango" that I sometimes play at work to drown my colleagues' wittering - check it out on YouTube. It varies a lot).

 Panon Hideung comes in a Karaoke version, with dancing. Go on, click.



You may already be wondering what this song is called in Japanese.

It's called Dark Eyes. The title is written 黒い瞳 and pronounced Kuroi Hitomi. Embedding is disabled on this version by popular 50's crooner Frank Nagai, whose singing I must say is lovely. I thought I had the wrong thing at first, but then realised it does the reverse of what Canaro does: the words have their own, different melody, and Dark Eyes doesn't come in till 1:38, with the instrumental section. There's a very regular ballroom tango beat.

Once you know how to copy/paste the title, you can quickly find versions with the "Dark Eyes" melody sung. Here's a Karaoke one. I notice "J. Iglesias" is mentioned in the opening credits. Investigating Julio Iglesias' involvement with this particular tune is left as an exercise for the reader. there are probably lots more directions we could go in.

I will sign off for the night, however, with this indescribably sweet Japanese choral take. It's a waltz to begin with, then changes, like Les Yeux Noirs. It seems a lot of mid-twentieth-century French songs have versions in Japanese, and that may well be where this came from.



Special thanks go to Deborah Segantini for the idea and to Hidemi Asano for her Japanese research.