Monday, 7 December 2009

Postcards from the Salon

[Update 25/01/10: The milonga at this venue is cancelled, probably permanently - they're looking for a new one]

I think that some people I talk to who haven't danced anywhere but London, sometimes assume that there are only two points on the continuum, London and Buenos Aires, with nothing in between. They take it for granted that the standard of dancing and the standard of experience in London must be at least normal, and they conclude that defensive driving, being frequently kicked and bumped, and continually having to master fight-or-flight in a zigzagging, jerking, braking, crashing, bouncing, incoherent, amusical, unpredictable dog's dinner of variously oblivious, incompetent, maddened, tense and frustrated people is just what comes with the tango territory.

With no experience of the real normal, as you might find, say, an hour away in Eton, or a few hours away in Scotland or Germany or the south of France, they're not convinced that any change is possible or necessary. It is, but they will only be convinced by experience, not assertion.

So I think it's important, and it makes a real difference, to create at least one space where people can experience an orderly floor and a relaxed atmosphere. They're trying to do this at 33 Portland Place with the “salon room” downstairs. They have a dedicated room, with a playlist that's trying hard, a notice on the wall and sweet little flyers with basic instructions. Their website is pure Flash so I can't copy and paste, but I've taken a screenshot which should be readable if you click on it. (I think the rather un-idiomatic English is because the first version was dictated by Adrian Costa).

So far, whenever I've gone there, it's more or less worked and delivered an orderly floor on which I could relax and dance properly at least 70 percent of the time. The first four times I went, I didn't get kicked or bumped even once - not a touch. There were people who didn't realise there were rules, and there were people who did but who had technical problems following them (more on that another time) but not enough all at once to screw it up completely.

It tends to work best for the first half of the evening.

I don't actually agree with the flyer's implication that this represents a particular style of dancing beyond the literal meaning of tango salon, that is, tango for a social dance hall as opposed to a stage. For example, I wouldn't, based on my own experience alone, contrast it to ‘nuevo’. Twenty-odd people on the First Friday of each month who have all said Yes to a Facebook page that says, among other things:

You will be expected to dance in an anti-clockwise route around the dance floor, not overtake, and dance appropriately i.e. no drops or aerials etc. Practice moves are not to be done on the dance floor but to the side out of harms way."
have in my experience actually delivered a very orderly and relaxing floor for at least the first two to three hours downstairs at Negracha, where the music is definitely ‘nuevo’. (Last Friday I could even live with a lot of the music). However, I understand why it makes sense to talk about it as an alternative ‘style’. It's easier for people to consider learning a new ‘style’ than it is to consider becoming courteous and competent - and if the result is the same, I'm willing to overlook a little therapeutic lying to smooth the transition.

I don't know about you but it's shocking how much better I dance, and for how much longer, when I'm not in physical fear.


ghost said...

Last Friday was particualrly interesting as it dispelled a particular myth - "It's all the fault of the nuevo dancers!"

There's simply no two ways about it, downstairs (the nuevo room) had order, flow and was pleasant to dance in.

Upstairs (traditional) on the other hand was not.

However equally clearly from 33PP is that it's not that traditional dancers are evil either*.

So if it's not a trad / nuevo thing then what's the common ground? Well the one common link between the two does seem to be an actual statement about what's expected. So there's hope.

I confess I'm still stunned at the trasnformation downstairs at Negrachas - which has been fairly described as "The Grand Melee" in the past (among other things!)

*Traditional music clearly is evil though, particularly the false ends.

Anonymous said...

There is hope. And if calling it a different "style" is the agent of change, then let them believe they're dancing a new "style".

People are so interesting...

msHedgehog said...

@ghost: Fadeouts. Fadeouts are just inane.

It did get less orderly later on, so DB who arrived later wasn't so impressed. But there were a fair few couples there early, it wasn't empty like it was upstairs. It was quite well filled.

Anonymous said...

Adrian always says in his classes that as long as you respect the couples in front of and behind you, you can dance any style (at this point we get to see him dance something interesting). However I think it works better when people share an understanding of the music so that when the music tells us to walk, people walk, when it tells us to pause, everyone pauses, and when a couple is rotating in front of you, you feel like rotating too, not because you are forced to by the 'rules' but because the music is inviting it. But this may be asking for too much...

LimerickTango said...

@Anonymous: essentially the orchestra is orchestrating.

Social Dancer said...

Next time when you or your partner is kicked, bumped, interrupted in your dance, may be injured, or at least annoyed & pissed off at someone elbowing you as they perform their sequences etc please note who the offenders are because 9 out of 10 are "Teachers".

Yes please attribute the blame to where it belongs and not on some poor social dancers regardless of their favorite style of dance.

The very people who run and teach at 33 portland place or any other 2nd or 3rd rate clubs in London when they attend the Negracha, the dome or any other popular club in London, if anyone cares to note will soon realise that these very people, are the menaces of our dance floors that the rest of us have to look out for and to avoid in order to dance in safety away from them.

These teachers whose competitiveness on the dance floors are a menace to all of us want to be noticed and since their dance is the size of their ego then they won't all fit in the same room and consequently the rest of us "The Paying Punters" get abused.

Obviously these teachers with their large egos very rarely dance downstairs at Negracha or some dark damp room with pornography covered walls such as 33 portland place hence your experiences that you mentioned here.

Personally I have never been bothered by social dancers who dance for pleasure regardless of what style they dance. If there has been an accident with a social dancer that has been it: -simply an accident, rather than fighting off some thugs (male or female) who think they are entitled to own the floor as and when they wish even at the cost of abusing everyone else there.

Thank you again for another well chosen topic that give us all cause to notice what goes around us at our milongas.

ghost said...

@MsH - true and chaining song into song into song is also not nice. Clearly tango music is evil regardless :o)


@Social Dancer
While what you're saying might be a factor, it's not the whole picture. Downstairs at Negracha a year ago was a warzone. Tango self defence
was written because of it. Something fundamental has changed and clearly it's not that the teachers have all left.

Game Cat said...

Anon and LT - I agree using the music can help (though some can be more diversely interpreted than others and therefore less effective, e.g. Pugliese).

SD - Based on own observations, it's non-teachers who cause most of the traffic problems, either because their floor craft isn't good enough or they don't care enough.

To the more general point, I am dogmatic about how to get better:

1) Men - Improve floor craft skills. Period. Yes, I know the only source of "live practice" is in a milonga, but you can still ask your teachers, drill at home, go to practicas.

2) Women - Don't accept dances with experienced men who should have better floor craft. Not only will men get better in the long term, but it will improve the traffic for the rest of us in the near term. Personally I don't think women do this enough (but hey I'm happy to be wrong on this).

Am interested to hear what people think - is it possible to exert peer pressure (within common decency of course) on men with bad floor craft to get off the floor until they improve ? The usual nodding to acknowledge a hit doesn't quite send the right signal. Thanks.

ghost said...


It reminds me of driving.

When I'm driving I often wonder at the stupidity of pedestrians.

Yet when I'm a pedestrian the same actions suddenly seem perfectly reasonable and I wonder at stupidity of drivers.

The three dancers with the worst floorcraft I know all think of themselves as likeable, reasonable guys. It's truly bizzarre to watch someone literally smash into another couple and try and start a fight on the dancefloor over it, and then off the dacnefloor see them shaking hands, giving hugs, asking how people are etc. It's almost like they become possessed or something!

I never met anyone who'd admit to going to milongas with the intention of causing harm and chaos all night. And let's face it why would you? If you really want to take part in a Grand Melee talk to these guys or insult large groups of Millwall supporters!

So the short answer is "no", I don't think having a quiet word on it's own will help. They'll just do mental gymnastics later on to reinforce why they're right. Talk to two guys who've been in a heated disagreement and they'll usually both explain to you why they're right and the othe guy is wrong. It's just the way we're wired up culturally at the moment.

I think it's a matter of raising the overall awareness.

Interestingly they all also seem to be very focussed on specific aspects of tango. So clearly if everyone is doing good floorcraft it's in their own interest.

It will however usually work on more reasonable people who are simply unaware. But again I'm more in favour of something written down as it has more credance, is probably clearer and they can reffer to when they come back next week.

msHedgehog said...

@anon - it would definitely helps if there were a broadly shared understanding of the music because it would make everyone's predictions of what everyone else is going to do are a lot more accurate. I think Adrian has a point in saying that that is not necessarily the same thing as style. But I also agree that his point doesn't really apply until there is a sufficiently common perception of what the music is saying and therefore what sort of thing would be a reasonable interpretation of it.

@gamecat - Frankly in most cases I don't feel qualified to judge whose fault it is. There certainly aren't enough men who are SO good that they can successfully protect me on a bad floor, to keep even a very small number of women dancing for one evening. Most people are trying and consistently failing to protect me, often because general chaos leads them into bad decisions. I think Ghost is right - raising the general clue level is what works.

I also agree with Andreas's argument elsewhere that floorcraft is not seperate from learning to dance in a non-mechanical way. It doesn't make a lot of sense in isolation, which is probably why most people who are trying hard to avoid the bumps still fail to do so.

Social Dancer said...

I am sorry to say that I can read a degree of pomposity serving for self elevation in your contribution.

I reiterate that our popular busy clubs often suffer during milongas because of many egoistical supposedly called "teachers". In their absence, the very same dance floors are safe, friendly, moving smoothly and without irritation without any abuse for the paying customers/ dancers who just want to have a pleasant evening out dancing socially.

The most inexcusable is when the very same poor victims who have paid for their private lessons/crash courses/ workshops/ seminars/weekend courses here and abroad etc then get further abuse thrown at them in such circles for not knowing about good floor crafts!! Please let us have a degree of integrity and state the truth as we see it rather than the way we wish to see it!

When there is an elephant in the room it is silly if we try to call this just one of many factors why we see an elephant in that room!

ghost said...

@Social dancer

You make an interesting point. Clearly it doesn't match with either Gamecat's or my own experience.

I have danced at Negracha for several years now. In that time I can't remember a single occassion when a teacher has either collided with me or been a "near miss" situation. Perhaps you are right that if we had collided they would have adopted an attitude, I don't know.

On the other hand I've had plenty of bumps and near misses from non-teachers, many of whom sadly have adopted an agressive attitude. Or indeed have behaved aggressively to other dancers after collisions.

Certainly 9 out of 10 collisions are not with teachers in my experience.

And this has been my experience at all the London Milongas I've been to.

So my experience differs. And while I can accept in principle that there may well be some teachers with terrible floorcraft, I find your assertion that all social dancers are polite on the dance floor after collsions simply does not match what I've seen and experienced. Perhaps as you said earlier they are all students of these teachers? I don't know.

However the point remains. Downstairs at Negracha and 33PP have changed without a mass exodus of teachers. Thus it makes sense that it may be possible to change other venues too.

I don't think anyone here is suggesting that people who genuinely have no knowledge of floorcraft should be abused. But likewise surely the kindest thing for all involved is to let them know how floorcraft works? The image MsH posted with this Blog doesn't seem offensive. Granted the english is a bit shaky, but surely it can only help matters?

Sabailar said...

I've experienced bumps with all sorts of dancers over the years, both teachers and non-teachers. But both is at least also the teachers fault at the end of the day. I danced downstairs at 33PP all evening last Sunday. I watched one dancer bump into another couple - it was one of the hosts. And I felt an elbow brushing the back of my head - that was one of their teachers.

Game Cat said...

SD - No need to be sorry. And I wasn't being pompous. I disagree with your assertion that teachers on the floor are a major cause of collisions. The traffic is never any better without them. Also, I don't think teachers on the floor are a credible excuse for generally poor floor craft for the rest of us (me included).

I base this on personal observation. If your experience differs, that's okay. Then I don't think we have been in the same milongas at the same times for the last 3 years.

More generally, I agree that accepting a dance with a good leader on a bad floor is probably not going to make a huge difference. However, it must logically be someone's fault that the floor is bad. Good traffic is a "public good". Someone's bad floor craft impairs the satisfaction of others on the floor.

That implies that we can't solve the problem by just changing our own behavour unless ENOUGH people do so. Therefore if we care enough about it, we should be dogmatic about it....just like we are about road safety, not smoking in an oil refinery and sustainable fishing. As Ghost pointed out, it's starting to work at places like 33PP where the milonga manager has imposed it.

While on the topic, I think part of the problem is that a lot of people just plunge onto the floor regardless of how busy it is. I know it sounds obvious but guys please don't do this.

msHedgehog said...

I think it's exactly right that changing our own behaviour can't work unless enough people do so. That's why I think it's mostly necessary to avoid blaming individuals or classes of individuals; because for the reasons Ghost mentioned, it makes people less likely to change, not more. My instinct is that it's better to put good ideas out there and spread them around until people decide it is their own idea to change their own behaviour. Call me womanish, but it's better than having an argument ;) and although it can take a lot of time and patience the effects are permanent rather than temporary.

Those who are simply bonkers obviously won't change, but my instinct is that genuine nutters are rare enough that that doesn't matter.

And seperately I try to avoid blaming individuals or arbitrary classes of individuals firstly because I don't think I'm in a position to judge, and my theories are quite likely to be just wrong; secondly because it's as boring as a Powerpoint presentation about a reorganisation that nobody cares about with sixteen bullet points each of which the speaker reads out, messing up the intonation of the sentences beause he has no idea what he's saying; and thirdly because anyone who half-suspects they may possibly live in a glass house will immediately start throwing stones in self-defence, damaging the credibility of the whole project and making a sad and weary spectacle of themselves.

ghost said...

"I think part of the problem is that a lot of people just plunge onto the floor regardless of how busy it is. I know it sounds obvious but guys please don't do this."

Couple of thoughts to add to this.

The obvious one is "one more couple won't really make any difference to how crowded the dance floor is". Fair enough, if they chose where to enter it ie where there's space. If not, although they may not affect the overall floor, they can make their localised piece of it much more crowded.

The second one is trickier "Can I dance on a floor that crowded (including me in it?)". Strangely "Yes" is not a sufficient answer to do it. "Can the people in the area I'm about to join, dance in a floor that will become that crowded with me in it?" is a much more important question.

Andreas said...

A reasonably compatible way of interpreting the music needs two things in my opinion: a reasonable amount of skill and a halfway similar style of dancing.
Skill: allows you to do what you feel like, and hopefully lets you dance to the music instead of thinking about your next figure. People whose "dance" is about figures cannot listen to the music at the same time, and therefore cannot dance. They disrupt the flow of the ronda and put other dancers at unease because they are unpredictable.
Style: So-called nuevo has a different kind of energy use, and a different way of musical sensibility. The music is used differently, that is IMO the reason why salon dancers perceive them as disruptive even when they don't actually hit anybody. They generate a jarring feeling, they disrupt the flow of a predominantly salon floor, again mostly because they are unpredictable to salon dancers. It might be the same the other way around.
The problem with many of the younger "nuevo" dancers is that they have no grounding in the tango tradition. Chicho of all people has just remarked on that in a recent interview.
About the alleged bumpiness of London teachers, I can only say from my limited London experience that it doesn't mesh with my observations. While there may be some behaving the way Social Dancer describes, I have also seen some dancing in an unassuming and simple fashion, namely Stefano and Alexandra and Leandro and Romina.

ghost said...

I have mixed feelings about the "jarring" and unpredictable. Up to a few months ago I would have agreed with you and indeed could cheerfully have cited many examples. More recently though, I've experienced something different.

The missing factor is space. If someone is behaving unpredicatably, but doing so consistently within a defined area, they become predictable again. I may not know what the heck they're going to do next, but I know not to enter that area. And that's simple enough (provided the area is appropriate to the dancefloor). What is important is that the area needs to include a buffer zone which is bigger the more unpredictable the person is. Which simply means they have to dance in a smaller space than they would normally. Then it appears to work fine.

I'm also inclined to disagree with
"People whose "dance" is about figures cannot listen to the music at the same time, and therefore cannot dance."
The caevat being that they learn the figures sufficently well so
a) they can do them without having to think about them
b) they can adjust the dynamics of each "step" of the sequence

though it would be highly sensible to add
c) can change direction / pause / /abandon the sequence at any point.

After all walking and ocho cortados are basically sequences.

But as a general point, yes people doing sequences without paying attention to the music or the people around them are a meance.

msHedgehog said...

@Andreas/Ghost: do you think that what gives people problems is when they have the impression that the floor is not being shared equally? I wonder if that's the mechanism by which differences of style cause problems.

ghost said...

A few years ago a lot of Cerocers took up WCS. But as there were no real venues they tended to dance it at Ceroc venues. The problem was they dance to a completely different timing. So I would see them moving and think "ah right he'll be about there at about this point in time" and plan my next piece of floorcraft accordingly; it would then completely throw me when the leader moved off the beat and so no longer was when and where I'd expected. The first time I encountered it the only way I could dance near them was to actually dance off the beat myself which got me told off by my follower!

Driving is a pretty good example. If someone drives right up behind me, I'll pull over and let them go past. I don't know them and I'd rather they had their accident somewhere else without me. On the other-hand if a friend is following me through London I don't mind them being right up behind me (and indeed it's probably necessary). Likewise in statioary / very slow traffic I'm comfortable with a stranger being much closer than I am at 70mph.

So for me it's not exactly that I want the space shared out equally. dancefloors are fluid by their very nature. What I want is the space I'm using to be respected. Depending on the local floorcraft I need
a) Space to dance in - not much really
b) Space for my follower - only a problem is she's insisting on doing unled high boleos etc
c) Space to maneuver away from collisions - depends entirely on the other dancers

Someone moving unpredictably causes me to increase c) until I'm happy they have good floorcraft and are staying within a specific space.

Chris, UK said...

> as they perform their sequences
> etc please note who the offenders
> are because 9 out of 10 are "Teachers".

Sure, but let's not blame them as individuals. The typical teacher is disadvantaged from the start by having learnt through the same sequence-based class method he teaches, and then is further handicapped by a work demand that leave him insufficient time to learn the real dance in milongas.

ghost said...

@Chris UK

I'm not sure this is true, at least in London. It seems most teachers have spent time studying in Argentina or studied under a teacher who had.

Mind you Ceroc doesn't teach floorcraft and in my very limited experience neither does Salsa. From what I've heard, neither does Ballroom.

To be honest the more I think about it the more it puzzles me.

Chris, UK said...

> I'm not sure this is true, at
> least in London. It seems most
> teachers have spent time
> studying in Argentina or
> studied under a teacher who had.

Well, there's your cause. Studying under teachers is hopeless for learning to dance as part of a flow of experienced dancers in a milonga... not least because a typical teachers' lesson has no flow of experienced dancers to be part of.

> Mind you Ceroc doesn't teach
> floorcraft and in my very
> limited experience neither does
> Salsa.

Ceroc and Salsa have no need, since they don't sabotage natural floorcaft by teaching anti-social sequences.

ghost said...

Well, there's your cause. Studying under teachers is hopeless for learning to dance as part of a flow of experienced dancers in a milonga... not least because a typical teachers' lesson has no flow of experienced dancers to be part of.

Now that's an interesting idea. The teachers I know who have good floorcraft have / do spend time dancing in the milongas at BAs.

And by extrapolation those without it haven't been to BAs or have been taught by people who haven't?

But then I haven't been to BAs and frankly I have good floorcraft. And I can think of many dancers for whom that's also true (not sure about teachers). So if your theory is right
- what happened to prevent the teachers who learned from teachers who had been to BAs from picking up floorcraft?
- why do I and others have floorcraft?

Ceroc and Salsa have no need, since they don't sabotage natural floorcaft by teaching anti-social sequences.
I don't know about Salsa but one lady sat out for 10 mins last night after taking an elbow to her face at Ceroc. Ceroc clearly teach anti-social sequences. The Columbian (linear giro on a non-progessive dance-floor) is a good example.

I'm wondering if the whole "sequences without floorcraft" is just the way dancing is taught in the UK in the main? And that it's beginning to slowly change in tango?

Chris, UK said...

So if your theory is right

Not mine, and not new :)

what happened to prevent the teachers who learned from teachers who had been to BAs from picking up floorcraft?

Teaching and dancing have very little to do with one another. Floorcraft is got from dancers, not teachers. Floorcraft is needed by dancers, not teachers.

why do I and others have floorcraft?

Why do you and others have pavement-craft or road-craft? :)

...just the way dancing is taught in the UK in the main? And that it's beginning to slowly change in tango?

In UK tango, teaching isn't changing. But learning is.

ghost said...

In UK tango, teaching isn't changing. But learning is.

Very zen :o)

Please elaborate and what can be done to encourage this?

Chris, UK said...

> Please elaborate

I'll have to find the Zen way of doing that... :)