Friday, 3 August 2018

Line Rider does Este es el Rey

It just struck me that a lot of my readers probably won't have seen this magnificent Line Rider mashup.

I've had some very memorable tandas to this mad, long-post-mainstream D'Arienzo track of 1971. It takes real musicality to dance this - ticky-ticky-fuss-on-every-beat won't cut it, flailing about is pointless, and the rules of elegance certainly aren't going to help you. On the other hand, seeing a whole room respond to the pauses in all their different ways like a shoal of strange fish is very special.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Leading Conversion Course - Playlist

This post talks you through my YouTube playlist of people I think it is helpful to watch if you are a woman who is a good follower and is learning to lead. Most of this will also be of use to anyone working on their leading; with the usual obvious caveats about who you want to dance with, how you want to dance, and what your priorities are. My own dance prioritises pleasure above prestige. YMMV. There are more videos in the playlist than the ones I'm going to talk about, and I might add more from time to time.

Léna Lamorelle

I suggest watching Léna to give yourself a mental picture of what a woman's body can look like, leading well. I hope it will help you visualise better what you want to do, without the visual confusion of a drastic difference in body shape.

Sin Palabras

Notice the beautiful walk from 02:00 and the turn at 02:17.

More videos - vals and milonga - in the playlist. You may also notice the waterfall* at 02:52, very characteristic of the French dancers for many years and popularised by Carlitos in this no-brakes vals. It took me way longer than I expected to figure out how this is done. It's fun but not necessary.

Oscar Casas

Some of Oscar Casas' teaching summaries are in English, some in Spanish. A lot of them give you simple, reliable ways to do really useful things without overanalysis. The ones with Ana Miguel are generally of higher quality, except for two essential ones with Mary Ann Casas.

Linear Salida

As an exercise, this is a staple of the Nuevo Tango teaching approach. Learn to lead back, side, and forward steps at will, then curve it and wind it up into a turn, then change direction. ("Nuevo" and what is often called "Milonguero" are essentially the same thing with a different sensibility or goal).

Note that this method of leading a cross - the 'lazy' or sideways one - is pretty bulletproof and will usually work well with beginner followers.

Shark Walk

Possibly the most practically useful two and a half minutes of tango video ever made. What Oscar does in this is everything you actually need for tango, vals, and milonga. If you are musical and sensitive to your partner, which you should be if you already follow well and you can learn to keep your place on the floor, you have everything you need for social dancing. Everything else is optional. Some people manage perfectly well with much less.

Analysis of systems

This begins with a simple, reliable way to lead a linear or salon-style cross. You can break it down further and get a lot of different options, but you'll also be completely fine if you just use this one.

Lots more in the playlist. One side note - I suggest ignoring Oscar's technical advice to followers, which he only offers when Ana isn't there.

Alexis Quezada

Alexis is a Chilean living in Barcelona and teaching in France and elsewhere with Celine Giordano. He is a 'lazy' leader, using solid technique and interesting musicality to create a very appealing, pleasurable, low-apparent-effort dance. He does practically nothing useless, superfluous or showy: watch any of it, pick something you like, and try to work out how to do it. You probably won't get it, at least at first, but it's almost impossible to avoid learning something useful while you try.

El Jagüel

The chained swoosh* at 01:05, and in general a wonderfully sensual approach to this beautiful Di Sarli instrumental. One I personally prefer to the 'mundial' style (often branded 'salon') with its intensely tedious, glossy, chilly turns.


Rocked ochos from 01:39 - and generally, this one is full of things that are brilliant in their simplicity.

Mañana zarpa un barco

Crossed walk from 00:35 to 00:41. This is technically not easy, and risky in social dancing, but it's a brilliant exercise to have on your list of things to try. The tango is followed by a calm milonga in the same video.

Milonga Criolla

I draw your attention to 01:09-01:15 and 02:08 to 02:18. Sure, I can lead those movements (the second is just a well-timed weight change), but would I ever have thought of leading them then? Admittedly both of these require an excellent partner to be worthwhile; they would be utterly wasted on someone who just follows and doesn't dance with you to the music.

Alexis feels absolutely solid to dance with; he is extraordinary at creating stillness and a sense of perfect security and calm, to which the face like a decaf koala contributes less than you might think. On a good day, I remember to aim for that stillness in my own dance.

Melina and Detlef

This is a summary of a fundamentals class. The verbal explanation is in slow French with a German accent, but this is still useful to watch even if you don't understand French well, or at all. I provided a translation some years ago. They discuss posture and embrace, and then give one very simple and reliable way to lead each of a weight change, a side step, and a walk.

Their book provides very useful information about various technical options, with tips for productive practice, and the accompanying DVD includes a good way to practice pivots at home without injuring yourself. You can use it as a comprehensive course, but even if that's not your approach I recommend looking at it if you are in a position of having to teach or mentor anyone, especially yourself. It will save you quite a bit of time if you can figure out how to make best use of it - my full review and user guide is here. Check the troubleshooting checklist hidden on page 156.

Oscar Moyano

A video I find not so much useful, as motivational.  I watch this sometimes to reconnect myself with how I want to dance, and avoid getting sucked into how other people want to dance. My favourite bit is the sensual perfection of 01:35, which is how those are supposed to work.

On using video

I've made this playlist because it contains a lot of things that have been very useful to me. However, bear in mind that it's very difficult to comprehend, visually, a movement that you can't already do yourself. In case you do what I suggested above (pick something you like from a video and try to work out how to do it) I want to prevent you getting discouraged by telling you that at least all the following things will happen, and they are normal and completely OK:
  • You will spend hours watching and rewatching, just not being able to understand what on earth is going on. Tip: if you save a copy of the video using something like or whatever you normally use, and then watch it on a tablet, phone, or computer with a free media player like VLC media player, you can play it in slow motion. It will still take ages. Try to work out just part of it and go from there.
  • You will spend hours trying to do a mirror-image of whatever it was you saw, which is much more difficult than the original version.
  • You will totally misunderstand what was happening and learn something else entirely. Eventually, you will work out what it was you actually led.
  • It will just not work because crucial information is missing or something you had overlooked is much more important than the thing you noticed. You will come back to it a year later and find out what the thing was.
  • Etc. Don't worry about it. An account of my own approach is here.
* In this post I use my own English names, like "waterfall", "swoosh", and "rocked ochos" for some things that don't have established names in English. These are just my names for things that need names.  They're probably not the same names you would come up with if you didn't know how they felt to follow. Go ahead and use them if you like them, but don't expect anyone to know them. I think 'swoosh' is obvious, and 'waterfall' refers to the tumbling, chaotic sensation of following it.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Gardening gloves required

Visting maestra, dancing 'socially', whirling 10cm heels hip-high - I was severely tempted to catch one in my hand as I stood by the dance floor and hold on to it - perhaps with the background thought of expelling it via the window, like a confused September bee. I have to wonder if anyone has ever done this in reality, as opposed to imagination. Not the window part, obviously.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Octopus for a Preemie

These two amusing little creatures are my first attempts at the Octopus for a Preemie pattern. They are made by volunteers to go to hospitals. The hospitals give them to premature babies in incubators, so they can wrap their minute hands around the slender tentacles, as they would with the umbilical cord; it keeps them calm, and stops them pulling out the tubes that are keeping them alive. When they leave the hospital, I think they take them home, but the parents are advised to put them aside because they're not advisable as a toy for a fully developed baby.

The octopuses have to pass a rigorous quality inspection, and since these are my first try, it's likely they won't pass. Most people's don't. I've done my best, but I'm not sure if all the stitches are tight enough or not. But if they don't pass, they won't be wasted - they will be given to babies that didn't live. It could be that I've made them to be grave goods, which is a thing to think about next time you watch a pop archaeology programme on telly.

The world-wide list of group websites is here. I gave the Facebook link above because the UK one is down for maintenance. The Argentinian group Abrazos de Pulpitos has good tutorials on YouTube.

Some things I have learned from leading socially

A few things I have learned about dancing, by regularly dancing both roles socially for two or three years. My experiences may or may not be in common with anyone else.

  • There is a tremendous range between OK, good, and great followers, of which they are almost all totally unaware.
  • Leading poor followers is very difficult; it requires a range of skills, resilience, and physical training.
  • Leading OK followers is fun, especially if they are interested or enthusiastic and easy to be with.
  • Leading good followers is more fun, especially if, etc.
  • Leading great followers is amazing, and you don't feel like you have to do anything, and whatever you do do is totally effortless.
  • There are a lot more than those categories.
  • Don't bother raiding the cool guys' “harems”, they're disappointing, dance-wise.
  • In a good ronda, under good physical conditions, with good followers, leading is cognitively much less demanding than following. The difference is dramatic. Getting the basics to a good standard is quite a lot of work, but if you can do that and then stay within what you've mastered, good and great followers will dance with you, and it is effortless.
  • It is possible to flirt with the table of glamorous Dutch lesbians through the medium of another woman's body.
  • There exist men who are both hot and good followers. Hang on a minute –

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

The Biagi Pandas

I said Biagi seemed never to have recorded a bad or boring track.

I take it back. The ones with Carlos Acuña sound like Biagi trying to sound like Troilo, and the result is the auditory equivalent of one of those videos of 20 baby pandas falling over in different ways. I'm glad he didn't continue in that artistic direction.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

On social maleness

mikeintonbridge, in a comment on the previous post, says an interesting thing:

As a man who likes to dance with both women and men, and to lead and follow I confess I don't think much about what my choice of clothes says about that. It's fascinating to learn how much more this means to a woman - or perhaps just to this particular woman.
I can't make general claims about other women who do this. I may have thought about it more carefully than most, because the subject interests me.  However, there are a few ways of looking at that difference, if we assume it exists.

One is that women generally have a lot more choice of look within the range of what counts as usual female clothing, so automatically we have to make some choice. All clothing means something. While men have to go quite far out of the usual, or be unusually thoughtful and sophisticated, to do anything beyond dressing either well or badly.

A second is that in this context, a conflict exists for me that is, as far as I can see, much less marked for men. When I originally floated the idea of a talk, Ray reframed part of my thought as "can a woman lead [and remain socially female]?". 

As is so popularly observed, gender and sex are two different things; while sex is more-or-less  biological, gender is a social concept, more-or-less performative, and what that peformance consists of can be anything - it depends on the particular place and time and social context. You can perform the gender society assigns you, or another one, to a greater or lesser degree, and other people can accept that performance either more or less. And there is obviously no reason to expect that the kinds or levels of work to perform any given gender in any particular context will be equal; you can't even assume that there are only two genders. Humans can, and do, assign themselves and each other to as many different classifications as they happen to feel are required to understand their world.

In my specific context, it is easier for a woman to perform male gender than for a man to perform female gender. I can do it almost accidentally to a surprising extent by just skipping some tedious tasks that advertise peformance of female gender, like painting my toenails or the customary depilation and exposure of the legs; if in addition, I ably and publicly peform a male-gendered task, I am half way there, and need to think about counteracting it a bit (such as with earrings).

When I lead socially I become, in certain limited but noticeable respects, socially male. For example, as soon as I started leading socially, publicly, to a barely-acceptable standard, I had a strong sense that my social presence and social boundaries were treated with more respect. Of course, the effects are incomplete, and unreliable. But they seem quite noticeable to me.

So I can, and therefore I must, make a choice whether to counteract or to enhance that social maleness with my dress - and there are sacrifices involved either way. The deep, instinctive sense that I sacrifice a valuable social masculinity, and that what I get in return is less valuable, is one of the things that I struggle with in deciding what to wear.

The bottom line is that it takes quite a lot of good dancing, of feeling loved, of the meditative high and skilful challenge of following, quite a lot of pleasant male bodily presence, connection, and attention, quite a lot of male appreciation, even admiration, to counterbalance that sensation of people just mysteriously acting like you actually matter. Even though I love all that stuff. There's a trade-off, and the answer isn't always the same. It depends.

While a man who follows is, socially, just a man who follows. (Men who follow - is this false? Ray suggested that, at least for gay men, it's a bit more complicated than that. I'd be interested to read about how it's false - or not - in your experience).